Shabbat is being in the present

In this block we will look at several sources who all approach shabbat as a means to pause and take stock, be present in the moment, and focus on ourselves.

Resource Ages: 15-18


Rabbi Angela Warnick Buchdahl, Be the Architect of Your Time (2018)

Senior rabbi of Central Synagogue in New York City, the first woman to lead the large Reform congregation in its over 180-year history.

. . . The Jewish view of time is refreshingly countercultural. In today’s culture, our most common understanding of time is in terms of Productivity. Accomplishment. “Time is Money.” But Judaism does not judge time like this. Judaism divides time into two distinct categories: the sacred and the ordinary.

In ordinary time, we go to our jobs, do homework, do the dishes, tone our triceps, do volunteer work. We are encouraged to busy ourselves with the important work that enables us to be fed and sustained, healthy and constantly growing. 

But sacred time is completely different. Sacred time is designed to slow us down, to make us fully present, to enable us to see ourselves and the world around us as




Sacred time is a time to just be.

So, here’s the blueprint: Create and build, renovate and improve for six days, but then, one day a week—create a true Shabbat. Forbid the desiring and considering of what is missing. Allow yourself to feel satisfied with who and what you are, without trying to improve it.

Be the architect of your days and create your Sanctuary in time. . . .

Judaism . . . gives us a Sabbath blueprint for our most important building project – which is constructing a life rich in meaning and purpose.

Available online at Viewed May 2021.

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Foundations for Planning

Essential Questions

  • How can my actions make time sacred?
  • How do Jewish cycles shape our lives?
  • What makes time holy?
  • Why are holidays, rituals, customs, important to me, my family, and my community?
  • How do Jewish rituals and practices enrich the way I experience my life and the world?
  • Why/how might Jewish practices be meaningful for me even if I don’t define myself as “religious”?
  • How does being Jewish affect what I do in my daily/weekly life?
  • How do Jewish practices reflect Jewish values?
  • How do Jewish rituals and practices enrich the way I experience my life and the world

Content Questions Related to the Essential Questions

  • What benefit can shabbat observance have on you as an individual?
  • What is the connection between shabbat and mindfulness?
  • What is the benefit of being present in the now, and how can shabbat help you achieve this?
  • What relevance does shabbat have to our contemporary lives?
  • Do you think you need a regular break from technology? Why?
  • Is there any value to observing shabbat if you do not believe in shabbat as a divine command?
  • Have you ever celebrated a ‘secular shabbat’? What did it look like?

Background for Teacher

Rabbi Angela Warnick Buchdahl, Be the Architect of Your Time (2018) Shabbat as the architectural plan for self development: Buchdahl speaks about personal “perfection” – being able to build a life that is meaningful and purposeful. Such a life does not happen automatically: one...

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Rabbi Angela Warnick Buchdahl, Be the Architect of Your Time (2018)

Shabbat as the architectural plan for self development: Buchdahl speaks about personal “perfection” – being able to build a life that is meaningful and purposeful. Such a life does not happen automatically: one needs a plan for it. Shabbat, according to Buchdahl, is that architectural plan, allowing one to focus not on what is outside of oneself, but on what is inside. 

Active rest that creates a positive attitude: What is more, just as God had to actively create the concept of rest, the rest that Shabbat offers is not a passive one. Like Buchdahl says, “rest requires purposeful action.” Shabbat is not just experienced passively by not engaging in ordinary work activities, but actively by creating a positive attitude in oneself to appreciate that which a person has. This rest is linked with feeling “satisfied with who and what you are,” an idea reflected in that summer Shabbat reading, Tractate Avot (4:1) – “Who is rich? One who is happy with their lot.”


Rabbi Jay Henry Moses, The Gift of Shabbat Is Tuning In (2018)

The clear signal of shabbat among the static noise of the week: The imagery of static noise and clear signals made by Moses is very helpful in conveying an imagery for Shabbat. When one is focused on one’s daily activities – the static in one’s life – it is difficult to hear what is truly important. Six days are spent surrounded by such static, while on Shabbat one has the chance to silence those noises and to allow a clear sound to come through.

Shabbat as a personal day off: Moses does see the Shabbat in more universal terms, thinking about it as “the greatest gift of the ancient Jewish people to human civilization.” In one way or another, Shabbat, or the Sabbath, the idea of taking one day off each week from work for personal time, has become widespread in the Western world. Even in modern Israel, the Druze community did not have such a concept of having a day off for personal time until coming under the influence of the modern State of Israel. Unlike Judaism, Christianity, and Islam that all have a concept of a sabbath, or a day for prayer and devotion to God, the Druze community in Israel are only now coming to adopt such an idea. This universal aspect of the Shabbat may be reflected in the verses of the Torah in Shemot (20:8–11 and 31:12–17) and Devarim (5:12–15) .

Some of the themes explored in this source can also be found in the final source, from Rabbi Micah Goodman. If time is short, then you can choose to only include one of them.


Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, The Power of Now

Three versions of shabbat: There are three main accounts of shabbat in the Torah. The first is found in the first description of the Ten Commandments in the Book of Shemot (Shemot 20:8-11). In this version of the command to observe shabbat, shabbat is a reminder of creation (see the block “Shabbat and Creation”). Because God rested on the seventh day of creation, so we rest on the seventh day of the week. In the second telling of the Ten Commandments in the Book of Devarim (Devarim 5:11-15) there is no reference to creation. Instead the Torah speaks about a historical event: the Exodus. We keep Shabbat because God took our ancestors out of Egypt, from slavery to freedom. Therefore, Shabbat is a day of freedom. One day in seven, no one is a slave (see the block “Shabbat and the Exodus”).

There is a third account of Shabbat, in the Book of Vayikra, which mainly deals with the laws of the cohanim (priests). There ( Vayikra 23:1-3) shabbat is described as a mo’ed” and a mikra kodesh”. Mo’ed means an appointed time with a fixed date on the calendar and  Mikra kodesh means either a sacred assembly, a time at which the nation gathered at the central Sanctuary, or a day made holy by proclamation through the human court’s determination of the calendar. Shabbat is none of these things. It has no fixed date on the calendar. It is not a time of national assembly. And it is not a day made holy by the proclamation of the human court. Shabbat was the day made holy by God Himself at the beginning of time.

Shabbat is a call to pause and be holy and connect to God’s holiness: Rabbi Sacks explains in this text that the meaning of mikra kodesh in the context of shabbat is a call to holiness (this is the meaning of the word “vayikra”) and moed is a call to meeting God. The shabbat of Vayikra is a call to us to stop and connect to God in His holiness and in our potential holiness.

Shabbat is being in the present: Creation, revelation, and redemption represent the three basic relationships within which Judaism and human life are set. Creation is God’s relationship to the world. Revelation is God’s relationship with us. When we apply revelation to creation, the result is redemption: the world in which God’s will and ours coincide. The shabbat of the Book of Shemot looks back to creation. The Shabbat of the book of Devarim looks forward to an age of redemption (a utopian age of freedom for all). The Shabbat of Vayikra encourages us to be present in the moment and to search for God in the here and now. 

Notes on the text:

  • This text ends with a reference to a well known book and system of thought entitled “The Power of Now”, authored by Eckhart Tolle. This is an approach to achieving enlightenment through meditation and mindfulness, in order to focus and fully be present in the now.


Micah Goodman, Shabbat as a Digital Detox

Shabbat is an antidote to unhealthy technology habits: In the appendix to his book which explores the phenomenon of secular Israelis reconnecting to Jewish traditions on their own terms (without the traditional absolute commitment to halacha and faith in God) Goodman describes how some secular Israelis are realizing that the experience of a digital-free shabbat is an antidote to our generations unhealthy technology habits. These include screen addiction, low emotional aptitude due to the new form of human communications created by a technology saturated existence, the inability to be present in the moment and unstimulated,  and the desperate need for external validation due to immersion in social media.

Shabbat as a technology-free zone ‘island of time’: Quoting Professor Sherry Turkle, an expert on the impact of technology on society, Goodman describes a culture that regulates our relationship with technology would set aside times to be free of digital technology and would mark out “digital technology-free zones” in homes. He terms these “islands of time” for people to disconnect from digital technology and “islands of space” free of digital technology as well. These would give people opportunities to encounter themselves and others, free of screens and technological mediation. Goodman argues that Shabbat provides this for those who observe a digital-free shabbat, and describes the pioneers of a revitalized Israeli shabbat who have already internalized this idea. They are secular Israelis who are not “shabbat observant” in the accepted religious sense of the term, but some of them define themselves as “screen observant”. By announcing a temporary break from digital technology, they liberate themselves from its tyranny. 

Optional Hooks
In-Depth Discussion
Suggested Activities

Here are a few possible triggers to use to start a discussion about how shabbat can help us navigate our busy technology addicted lives and take some time for ourselves every week:


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

The first two sources in this block both approach shabbat as a vehicle to focusing one day a week on our own life and wellbeing, and being present in the moment for ourselves. You may wish to use these questions to help explore them with your students:

  • How can shabbat as sacred time ‘slow us down’, and allow us to ‘just be’?
  • Why is it important to ‘slow down’ and ‘just be’?
  • How does shabbat distract us from focusing on ‘desiring and considering what is missing’ and rather encourage us to feel satisfied with who we are?
  • In Rabbi Jay Henry Moses’ metaphor, what is the noise and what is the (radio) connection?
  • What examples does he bring from shabbat that help us ‘just be’? Why don’t we do these during the week also?

Rabbi Sacks explains that there are three aspects of shabbat: one that encourages us to consider the past (creation), one that encourages us to consider the future (redemption inspired by the Exodus), and one that is focused on the present (revelation, found in the book of Vayikra). These questions may help your students consider what they think this third aspect of shabbat can bring us:

  • What are the benefits to focusing on the past and the future?
  • What are the dangers that come with doing this?
  • Why is it also important to focus on the present?
  • Shabbat is the ‘call’ to be in the represent. What, according to Rabbi Sacks, are we to experience and connect to in the present?
  • How is Rabbi Sacks’ approach different from the other texts in this block (who is the focus of the other texts and who is the ultimate focus of this text)?

Finally Micah Goodman shows us that shabbat is as relevant to our contemporary times as it has ever been, showing us a model for healthy living in our technological age, where we struggle to maintain a healthy balance in our lives between our devices and actually being present and living our lives. These questions may help explore his approach with your students:

  • How can we maint a healthy approach to technology and device use?
  • Why do you think there are so many people addicted to their screens?
  • How does shabbat give us a model to do this?
  • How does this give shabbat a new meaning and significance for you?



Ask your students to participate in a social experiment. Ask them to refrain from use of technology (or at least their personal devices) for as long as they can over the period of the 25 hours of shabbat (everyone should begin at sundown on Friday night. Those that can make it through all the way to the end of shabbat (nightfall on the following day) should. You could also ask your students to repeat this experiment on the following weeks and compare the impact each week to previous weeks. Have your students journal their experience of going without their personal devices paying particular attention to these questions:

  • Was it difficult to abstain from using your personal devices?
  • What did you miss the most?
  • How much extra time did you find you had for other activities?
  • How did you spend this time?
  • Did this experiment have an impact on relationships in your life?
  • If you did this over multiple weeks, how did each week compare with the others? Did it become easier as you became used to it? Did you find you were using your time differently as the weeks went by?
  • Was this on the whole a positive and worthwhile experience or a difficult one you would rather not do again?