Shabbat: A break from hectic week, giving teens time to reflect

(Photo by Jennifer Rubin and Madison Ginsberg)


Imagine a world in which on one day every week, everyone would take a break from their distractions and focus on the simplicities of life. They would refrain from using technology that constantly provides immediate gratification. They would slow down from their busy lives to appreciate the world God created. People would have the opportunity to pay attention to those around them. On Shabbat, Jews have this opportunity. As Orthodox Jews, we walk everywhere, we eat with family and friends and we don’t need to worry about work or school.

On Shabbat, Jews are commanded not to do any work that was done to build the mishkan, or holy tabernacle. Today that translates to tasks such as turning on and off lights and using appliances. Observant Jews prepare what they need for the holiday before it begins. Common practices include leaving on necessary lights such as those in the kitchen, living room and bathrooms or turning on an oven in advance to heat up food during Shabbat.

Some find these procedures unnerving or feel that leaving on lights and appliances throughout Shabbat is a waste of electricity. However, despite engaging in what are seen as wasteful practices, observant Jews refrain from many other energy consuming activities. For example, Shabbat observers do not use computers, cell phones, game systems, televisions or cars. Shabbat literally means “rest.” On this day all over the world, observant Jews take a break from their fast-paced lives and relax. The Ohr Hachaim, a revered scholar, states, “every Shabbat enables the world to continue for a further six days. Just as the soul gives life to the body, so too Shabbat gives life to all of existence.” He explains that Shabbat is the reason the world survives from one week to the next. If no one would guard or remember the Shabbat from week to week, life as we know it would come to an end.

In our families, a typical Shabbat begins with lighting candles to welcome the Shabbat and going to synagogue. After walking home from services, we generally gather to eat dinner. We use this time to connect through discussions about our week, school, work and words of Torah. Through this, we develop stronger relationships with our parents and siblings. We also use this time to vent through any feelings or events that bothered us throughout the week.

Saturday mornings, we attend services at our synagogues. We set aside this time to build our relationship with God. After the service, most synagogues host a communal Kiddush, or sanctification of the Shabbat over wine. Our synagogues usually have refreshments such as doughnuts, cakes and soda. We take advantage of this time by talking to friends and others in the community, including rabbis, who are often available to discuss questions or concerns on our minds.

Then, we head home for lunch and spend the afternoon relaxing with family and friends. Saturday afternoons we can attend a variety of programs, including youth groups or classes on interesting topics. In the evening, we return to synagogue to pray and eat seudat shlishit, or the third meal of Shabbat. After Shabbat ends, we say the havdalah, which means separation. This service includes saying a prayer over a candle with multiple wicks, a cup of wine and spices. Our congregations say this special prayer when Shabbat ends, but our fathers say it again when they return home. These rituals help us transition from Shabbat back to the rest of the week.

As teenagers, our lives can be very stressful. We look forward to Shabbat each week because it revitalizes us for the week to come. Shabbat is a time when we do not have to worry about homework or tests. During Shabbat we have the opportunity to focus on the more important parts of or lives, such as family, friends and spirituality. We find ourselves counting down to Shabbat the entire week, not only because God commanded us to observe it, but also because we love it.