Much of Massechet Rosh Hashanah explores the concept of time, and in today’s daf (Rosh Hashanah 9a) we encounter a profound notion about our ability to sanctify time.
Significantly, as has been noted by Rabbi Avraham Joshua Heschel in his exquisite book ‘The Sabbath’, Judaism emphasizes holy time above holy space: “Holiness in space, in nature, was known in other religions. New in the teaching of Judaism was that the idea of holiness was gradually shifted from space to time, from the realm of nature to the realm of history, from things to events… To be sacred, a thing had to be consecrated by a conscious act of man. The quality of holiness is not in the grain of matter. It is a preciousness bestowed upon things by an act of consecration and persisting in relation to God.” (The Sabbath p. 79).
It should be noted that the implications of this idea are vast, because if we can sanctify time by associating it with God, then this can be done not only in relation to fixed periods of holy time such as Shabbat, and not only in relation to periods of holy time that we are commanded to sanctify such as the Festivals, but also to other periods of time as well.
This we see in today’s daf where we learn that we should desist from plowing in Shemitta even prior to the onset of Shemitta, and that we should accord Shemitta sanctity to that which we reap in the eighth year from produce grown in the seventh. And from where, asks our Gemara, do we learn this idea of מוסיפין מחול על קודש – ‘we add from the mundane (i.e. not yet holy time) to holy [time]’? It answers that we learn it from the verses in the Torah about Yom Kippur from which we learn that the fast should begin just prior to the onset of the day, and should end just after the exit of the day because for such a holy day, we should be prepared to add from the mundane to the holy.
Personally, I am enamored by the concept of מוסיפין מחול על קודש – ‘we add from the mundane (i.e. not yet holy time) to holy [time]’, because it empowers us with the option of transforming not-yet-holy time into holy time. This is what I have done since starting to learn and write about daf yomi, and this is what each of us do when we make time for Torah study. Yet this principle goes even further, because those who make time each day or each week to look after themselves (eg. by running, taking yoga or going to the gym), by meditating, or by performing acts of chessed are also adding from the mundane to the holy. In fact, I would argue that any time that we sanctify by choosing to associate it with God and the laws that God wishes us to observe becomes, in one measure or another, holy time.
Ultimately, as Rabbi Sacks explains, “however rich we are, there are still only twenty-four hours in a day, seven days in a week, and a span of years that, however long, is still all too short. Whoever we are, whatever we do… the single most important fact about our life, on which all else depends, is how we spend our time” (Judaism’s Life-Changing Ideas p. 169).