Shabbat – A Palace in Time

Abraham Joshua Heschel compares Shabbat to a “palace in time” – a superior and special place we come to once a week.

Resource Ages: 12-14


The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation 

[…] The Seventh day is a palace in time which we build. It is made of soul, of joy, and reticence.

Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man p. 13, 15

Foundations for Planning

Essential Questions

  • What makes time holy? 
  • How can my actions make time sacred?
  • How does being Jewish affect what I do in my daily/weekly life?
  • How do Jewish rituals and practices enrich the way I experience my life and the world?

Content Questions Related to the Essential Questions

  • How is the sanctity of time expressed in Judaism?
  • In what ways is the sanctity of time different to the sanctity of space/place?
  • What contribution does Shabbat make to a person’s spiritual connection?

Background for Teacher

Many religions relate to the idea of holy places. Judaism also has its holy places, particularly ones associated with the Temple and Jerusalem. However, the great innovation of the Torah and Jewish tradition is the demand that humans should sanctify time as well as...

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Many religions relate to the idea of holy places. Judaism also has its holy places, particularly ones associated with the Temple and Jerusalem. However, the great innovation of the Torah and Jewish tradition is the demand that humans should sanctify time as well as place.

Indeed, in Judaism the sanctity of time is more important that any material sanctity. Shabbat is one of the most important manifestations of the sanctity of time in Jewish tradition. 

The philosopher Abraham Joshua Heschel chose to explain the sanctity of Shabbat by comparing it to a palace. This comparison includes several of the key features of the day as these emerged in Jewish tradition. For example, a palace is a noble and splendid building where the most important people live. A palace is separated from and different to the surrounding homes. The same is true of Shabbat, which in the Talmud was compared to a bride and a queen. According to tradition, we are required to enjoy ourselves and make ourselves more splendid in honor of Shabbat (see the resource Oneg Shabbat).

Just as people see a palace from a distance and long to reach it, so over the week we look forward to Shabbat, anticipate its arrival, and make plans for it. When people enter a palace to meet a king or queen, they must prepare for the visit. The same is true of Shabbat, and Jewish tradition suggests various ways we should enter the Palace of Shabbat. Thus we meet the Shabbat Queen every week, but at the same time, when we enter the Palace of Shabbat, we become a bit like kings and queens ourselves.

Heschel wrote poetically. Here are some suggested explanations of the ideas he expressed:

“the tyranny of things of space” – the control some of our commitments have over us: home, work, tasks. 

“to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation” – to live in harmony with creation, not to control it, to be and not to have or do.

“It is made of soul, of joy”   – the ‘walls’ of  the Shabbat Palace which make it joyous may include acts of prayer, study, enjoyable meals, and interaction with loved ones


Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907 Warsaw – 1972 New York) was a Jewish philosopher and thinker. He came from a respected Hassidic family. He served as a professor of Jewish ethics and Kabbalah at the rabbinical seminary of the Conservative movement (JTS). Alongside his intellectual activities, Heschel also became well-known for his public support for human and civil rights struggles, such as the struggle for equality of African-Americans in the US, as well as for dialogue and rapprochement between Jews and Christians. His thought centers on questions concerning the relationship between humans and God, as well as on the sanctity of time in Judaism.

Optional Hooks
In-Depth Discussion
Suggested Activities
Further Study
  • Explain to the students that from the outside, stopping work might seem like laziness or a waste of time (for example, in ancient Rome, where there was no weekly day of rest, Jews were considered lazy because they did not work on Shabbat). Ask: In what ways can taking a break from work or from any other task have a positive impact in its own right? Give some examples from your own life.
    How would you respond to the suggestion that taking time off work means that someone is lazy?
  • Ask the students to think about these three sentences:
    “Take a moment to think about it”
    “Would you like to take some time out to discuss it?”
    “Can you give me a minute of your time”
    What is the function of time in these sentences? How does “time” help? Give an example from your everyday life.

Click here to view our consolidated list of suggested interactive pedagogies for classroom discussion.

  1. Why do you think Heschel chose the metaphor of a “palace” to describe Shabbat? Why didn’t he choose a beach or an open field, for example? Try to suggest some similarities between Shabbat and a palace.
  2. Do you identify in any way with the metaphor? Give an example of a way in which Shabbat functions for you as a “palace in time.”
  3. Heschel says that during the week we “live under the tyranny of the things of space.” How can Shabbat free you from some things or commitments that dominate your life during the week? Give some examples. 
  4. According to Heschel, the palace of Shabbat is built both out of things we do and things we avoid doing. Why is this so?
  5. Think about the way you mark Shabbat now. What could you do to add to the feeling of a “palace in time” – a special time separated from the rest of the week?

Describing the palace of Shabbat, Heschel writes: “It is made of soul”.

How can we build a palace whose walls are made of soul? Ask the students to suggest ways to build a palace for Shabbat. What materials and objects will they use? Since this is a palace in time, not in space – we don’t mean actual physical materials. Maybe the palace could be made from ideas or values associated with Shabbat, voices/sounds of Shabbat, emotions, and symbols. If they like, the students can draw their palace of Shabbat.

  • Jewish poetry – religious and secular – since the Middle Ages has presented many images of Shabbat. One famous example is the piyut (religious poem) Lecha Dodi, written by Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz in the sixteenth century, which compares Shabbat to a bride.
  • Another image Heschel offers in his book compares Shabbat to an island in a stormy sea. This metaphor highlights the emotional and psychological rest that Shabbat offers us.