Guest Post: “Quiet Places & Stillness: The Importance of Shabbat in a Busy World”

This guest post is from cantorial soloist and CBI member Ziva Larson, who led Shabbat services on Saturday, March 2, 2024.

Quiet Places & Stillness: The Importance of Shabbat in a Busy World, from Parashat Ki Tisa - Exodus 31:12-14

In our Torah portion this week, Ki Tisa, we read about God’s commandment to the Israelites to keep Shabbat.

Exodus 31:12-14 reads, “And יהוה said to Moses: Speak to the Israelite people and say: Nevertheless, you must keep My sabbaths, for this is a sign between Me and you throughout the ages, that you may know that I יהוה have consecrated you. You shall keep the sabbath, for it is holy for you. One who profanes it shall be put to death: whoever does work on it, that person shall be cut off from among [their people].”

On the surface, the consequences for failing to keep Shabbat – to refrain from working on Shabbat – seem extreme. Being cut off from our people, from our fellow inhabitants of Planet Earth? Death?? Why are the consequences so severe and inhumane???

But if we delve a little deeper, there is actually a really important and beautiful message behind these words.

Shabbat is traditionally a day of rest, a day during which we don’t do work. From a contemporary perspective, it is a time for us to unplug, recharge, and reconnect – with ourselves, with others, and with the world around us.

We spend so much time throughout the rest of the week tackling items on our endless to-do lists, often going nonstop from the time we wake up in the morning until the time we go to bed at night. We frequently feel frazzled, stressed, and stretched too thin. There isn’t enough time or energy for everything. As we bounce around through our week like pinballs in a pinball machine, it is very easy to become disconnected (from ourselves, others, and the world around us) and burnt out. As a result, our health and relationships often suffer, and what we are able to accomplish often doesn’t represent our best.

It can be very difficult to step away from the constant go-go-go, even for a single hour, let alone a whole day. However, the passage from Torah we read today intimates why keeping Shabbat – why taking time to rest – is so important.

When we don’t take time to rest – whether that is literally taking a nap or engaging in activities that rejuvenate us and bring us joy – we become disconnected and burnt out, and our capacity to take care of ourselves and others is greatly diminished and can even disappear entirely.

The common saying, “You can’t pour from an empty cup,” illustrates this concept well. If we don’t regularly take time to rest and recharge, we cannot give of ourselves in our relationships, our work, or the things that matter to us. If we don’t regularly take time to rest and recharge, we become – as it says in Torah – cut off from other people because we don’t have the energy or bandwidth to connect with them fully. If we don’t regularly take time to rest and recharge, we risk death. Perhaps not literal death, although there are health risks that accompany chronic burnout and exhaustion. However, we do become shells of ourselves when we are burnt out and exhausted. We are no longer fully ourselves. It is as if part of ourselves has died.

That is why regularly taking time to rest and recharge is so important. And that is why the language in the verses of Torah we read today is so extreme. It is vital to keep Shabbat – for our own benefit as well as for the benefit of others and our world.

Of course, “keeping Shabbat” might look different for different people. One person might find it meaningful and helpful to keep Shabbat in a traditional manner. Another person might prefer to take some of the core concepts of Shabbat and incorporate them into their life in their own unique way. What is important is that we each make time to rest and recharge in ways that work for each of us individually so that we can take care of ourselves, connect deeply with and care for other people, and show up in the world as our whole selves, ready to engage fully in this world we all inhabit.

I’d like to close with an excerpt from a poem by Priscilla Stern:

We reach for You, our God
from our quiet places.

May we stand still,
for a brief moment, and
listen to the rain –

Stand still, for a brief
moment, and watch the
play of sunlight and
shadow on the leaves.

For a brief moment –
listen to the world.

Let us stop the wheels
of every day to be aware of
Shabbat. Find the stillness
of the sanctuary
which the soul cherishes.

We need a quiet
space to test the balance
of our days. The weight
of our own needs
against the heaviness
of the world’s demands.

Quiet places and
stillness – where we will
hear our own best
impulses speak.

Quiet places and
stillness – from which
we will reach out to
each other.

May we each find quiet places and stillness in which to rest and recharge, and may our connections with ourselves, each other, and the world around us be ever strengthened.

Shabbat shalom.


  • Sefaria:
  • “We Reach for You, Our God” – poem by Priscilla Stern; published in The Torah: A Women’s Commentary (editors: T. Cohn Eskenazi & A.L. Weiss), p. 518