Shabbat – An Island in a Tumultuous Ocean

With the help of a text written by Abraham Joshua Heschel, we will touch upon Shabbat’s essence as a moment in time in which we take a break from the hustle and bustle of the week, rest and connect to ourselves and to the sublime.

Resource Ages: 12-14


“In the tempestuous ocean of time and toil there are islands of stillness where man may enter a harbor and reclaim his dignity. The island is the seventh day, the Sabbath, a day of detachment from things, instruments and practical affairs as well as of attachment to the spirit.”

Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath

Foundations for Planning

Essential Questions

  • How can my actions make time sacred?
  • What resources support/enable/inspire my growth?
  • How might Jewish practices be meaningful for me even if I don’t define myself as “religious”?

Content Questions Related to the Essential Questions

  • How does resting on Shabbat help us with our personal, emotional, and spiritual development? 
  • What turns Shabbat into a “harbor” compared to our daily experience?
  • How can Shabbat inspire us to create a similar experience in our daily lives?

Background for Teacher

In biblical times, day-to-day work was often physical and exhausting, and the rest afforded by Shabbat allowed people to rest from their daily labor. These days, for many people, daily work isn’t physically difficult. Nevertheless, we still often find ourselves in a tumultuous experience,...

Read more

In biblical times, day-to-day work was often physical and exhausting, and the rest afforded by Shabbat allowed people to rest from their daily labor. These days, for many people, daily work isn’t physically difficult. Nevertheless, we still often find ourselves in a tumultuous experience, racing against time during the week in order to accomplish the many tasks before us. 


Another challenge that has increased in recent times is that of distraction. Even when resting, we often find it challenging to put down our smartphones and experience true connection to ourselves. Abraham Joshua Heschel’s text discusses Shabbat as an “island” in time, when we can experience quiet and rest from the noise and stress of the week. In this respect, Shabbat is similar to meditation. Shabbat teaches us the importance of creating these types of islands in our lives – both on Shabbat and throughout the week, by quieting distractions and connecting to ourselves. 


Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972) was one of the most important Jewish thinkers in the United States during the second half of the 20th century. He was a lecturer at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), a researcher of Jewish thought and a philosopher.

Optional Hooks
In-Depth Discussion
Suggested Activities
Further Study

How do you relieve stress?

Ask the students to write the word STRESS in the middle of a page, they can write the letters in a way which expresses its meaning. Surrounding the word they should write activities that they do to relax. Ask each student to share what they wrote with another student, then invite anyone who is willing to share their work with the class.

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

  1. What metaphor does Heschel use for Shabbat? In your opinion, does this metaphor suit the idea it comes to illustrate? 
  2. What, in your day-to-day experience, is similar to a tumultuous ocean?   
  3. What imagery would you use to describe the different experiences of time in your lives? This can be formulated using the following formula: “My daily experience is like…”, “My experience on Shabbat is like….”  
  4. What makes Shabbat a “harbor”? What elements of Shabbat help create an experience of a different time, compared to the everyday? 
  5. How can times of contemplation and quiet, like meditation, help you? Do you think that Shabbat can work the same way? Under what conditions? 
  6. How can Shabbat rest inspire us throughout the rest of the week? What activities can help you to experience such moments of calm and connection to yourself in your daily lives?

We are so busy throughout the week, moving from one thing to another. What characterizes a busy week for you? Present your week in a drawing. In the drawing, relate to the various elements that make up a busy week in your lives. Now, draw Shabbat, presenting it in a way that shows it as a time you can rest, relax, and release the stresses of the week.

  • Consider William Turner’s drawings which depict physical and emotional tumult. Ask the students to explain how the day-to-day tumult stemming from weekly tasks and intensive work can lead to internal tumult, and to consider some solutions for calming this internal tumult.Have the students find an artistic work that illustrates the day-to-day for them / a work that illustrates Shabbat.
  • Study the section from the Book of Genesis (Bereishit) that describes God resting on the 7th day. Discuss the similarities and differences between God’s rest and human rest. 
  • Learn about Kiddush on Shabbat and the meaning of holiness on Shabbat – What is holiness? How is it expressed? What does it add to our lives?
  • Read Social Psychologist Erich Fromm’s text which depicts Shabbat as fostering a harmonious relationship between humans and nature:
    To begin with the essential point – the concept of work underlying the Biblical and the later Talmudic concept – is not simply that of physical effort but can be defined thus: “Work” is any interference by man, be it constructive or destructive, with the physical world. “Rest” is a state of peace between man and nature. Man must leave nature untouched, not change it in any way, neither by building nor by destroying anything; even the smallest change made by man in the natural process is a violation of “rest.”  The Sabbat is the day of peace between man and nature; work is any kind of disturbance of the man-nature equilibrium.

    Erich Fromm, “The Meaning of the Sabbath”, in “A Shabbat Reader” ed. Dov Peretz Elkins, p. 186

    Ask the students how the way we live our daily lives, as though we are in a race, influences our attitude towards nature. Ask the students to describe, in writing, a vision of harmony, a day that is completely Shabbat, in which humans and nature maintain a harmonious relationship.