Shabbat – Time To Contemplate Anew

Shabbat offers an opportunity to rest from the hectic pace of the week and to take a fresh look at our lives. We will study a text by Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan regarding this aspect of Shabbat.

Resource Ages: 12-14


An artist cannot be continually wielding his brush. He must stop at times in his painting to freshen his vision of the object, the meaning of which he wishes to express on his canvas. Living is also an art….The Sabbath represents those moments when we pause in our brushwork to renew our vision of this object. Having done so we take ourselves to our painting with clarified vision and renewed energy.

Rabbi Mordecai M. Kaplan, The Meaning of God in Modern Jewish Religion. p. 59

Foundations for Planning

Essential Questions

  • How do I grow as a result of the Jewish calendrical cycle?
  • How do Jewish rituals and practices enrich the way I experience my life and the world?

Content Questions Related to the Essential Questions

  • How does Shabbat enable us to take a fresh look at our lives?
  • What contribution does Shabbat make to the other days of the week?

Background for Teacher

In the hectic paceof life during the week it can be difficult to stop and take a look at our lives. Deep questions surface when we give ourselves a chance to rest. Then we can take a break and ask ourselves about the path...

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In the hectic paceof life during the week it can be difficult to stop and take a look at our lives. Deep questions surface when we give ourselves a chance to rest. Then we can take a break and ask ourselves about the path we’re taking,  the thoughts and actions that guide us, our hidden desires, and our driving hopes. Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan’s comments suggest that Shabbat offers an opportunity to take time out from the weekly routine in order to rest and reflect on our lives. Rabbi Kaplan explains this idea through the metaphor of the artist. The artist stops from time to time and does not draw an entire painting in one session. Taking time out in this way during the creative process allows the artist to take a fresh look at their work, identify changes that need to be made, and return to the task with renewed energy. 

Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan (1881-1983) was the founder of the Reconstructionist stream of Judaism. He was a thinker who had a profound impact on American Jewry in the twentieth century, and who saw Judaism not only as religion, but also as a culture and society. His philosophical writings and the religious stream he established have also had an impact outside the United States.

Optional Hooks
In-Depth Discussion
Suggested Activities
Further Study

Ask the students to answer reflective questions about the past week. For example:

  1. Discuss a meaningful or special event that happened over the past week.
  2. Write about an unpleasant incident over the past week and explain how you coped with it.
  3. What would you like to happen next week? Describe the best possible way the coming week could turn out.

(We recommend asking the students to answer the questions in an active manner, such as think-pair-share, chevruta pairs, etc.)

Ask the students whether they have asked themselves these kinds of questions before. Discuss opportunities when people tend to ask themselves questions about their lives, and consider whether we usually have time for these kinds of questions over the course of the week.

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

  1. Explain the metaphor Rabbi Kaplan uses for Shabbat in your own words.
  2. Why does an artist need to stop from time to time to look at their work? What can we learn from this about the importance of the time out that Shabbat offers us?
  3. Do you think it’s important to stop from time to time to think about our lives? Why?
  4. What makes Shabbat a good opportunity to stop and take a fresh look at life?
  5. According to Rabbi Kaplan, how does Shabbat influence us when we return to routine life? What impact does it have in your experience?
  6. How could you increase the impact of Shabbat in your lives? Give some examples.
  7. In what way can Shabbat contribute to the way we look at our actions, behaviors, experiences, and thoughts over the course of the week? Why?
  • On Friday, ask the students to think about a difficulty, challenge or something that has been bothering them over the past week. For example, it could be in their social life or at school. Ask them to write it down on a piece of paper that they then fold, so the text will be hidden. At the beginning of the week, ask them to look again at what they wrote down and to consider whether the Shabbat break had any impact on the way they see the issue. Ask students who are willing to do so to share their thoughts with the class.
  • Come up with your own metaphor for the reflection Shabbat facilitates (a different metaphor to the one Kaplan offered, but which conveys the same idea). Prepare a skit presenting a conversation between Rabbi Kaplan and a member of his community who does not mark Shabbat in any way, and use the metaphor you suggested.
  • Play Two Lies and One Truth with the students. In the game, the students have to present examples of times when they felt that “time” helped make something better, led to a positive change in a process they were engaged in, or gave them a flash of insight. At least one of the stories has to be connected to Shabbat.
  • Study the excerpt from Genesis referring to Shabbat as a day of rest for God after the six days of Creation (this resource is intended for 5th grade and above). Following Rabbi Kaplan’s comments, think about the days of Creation as works of art. Based on his comments, how can we interpret God’s rest? Do you think God also looks at what God has done and considers whether it is satisfactory or whether something in Creation needs to be changed?
  • Study Heschel’s description of Shabbat as an island of calm in a stormy sea. How does Heschel understand Shabbat rest? In what ways is his perception similar or different to the idea of Shabbat as an opportunity for fresh reflection? Can one of these ideas exist without the other?
  • Study the verses from Exodus concerning keeping Shabbat. According to these verses, Shabbat observance applies to everyone equally, including slaves, and gerim (non-Jewish residents). Even animals should be allowed to rest on Shabbat. Discuss the importance of fresh reflection regarding the hierarchical relations that exist over the week, and consider the idea that Shabbat allows a chance for balance and equality within this system, once a week.
  • For younger students: Translate and tell the story of the gift based on Rabbi Kaplan’s comments.
    – Why do you think Noam’s attempts to cope with the difficulties he encountered in the painting were unsuccessful? What should he have done to solve the problem?
    – What happened on Shabbat that helped Noam see the problem in the painting? In what way did he look at the painting differently on Sunday compared to Friday?
    – How can Shabbat help us reflect on our actions, behaviors, experiences, and thoughts during the week? Why?