Breath & The Web of Life – Activity


To teach the students about the interconnectedness and interdependency of all nature including humans

To explore breath and the oxygen cycle as a basis for this interconnectedness

To explore the breath of life as expressed in Jewish prayer

Duration: 25 minutes

Materials: String or Yarn; Index cards or construction paper; Markers or colored pencils


The Oxygen and Carbon Dioxide exchange made by plants and animals is just one of many interactions that tie all creation together. In this activity, we will explore how parts of our ecosystem interact. Please draw special attention to relationships that include breath/air exchange and regulate climate.



1. Arrange students seated in a circle

2. Assign Breath of Life Roles: (1 per participant)

Human, Bird, Reptile, Insect (Mosquito), Mushroom, Tree, Shrub, Ocean, Sun, Water (including vapor), Earth’s Atmosphere, Polar Bear, etc.

3. Give each student an index card and marker and have them write and draw their role. Display roles on ground or lap.

4. Take a ball of yarn and hand it the Human.

5. Have this person say what they are, and choose another part of the ecosystem in the circle with which they are connected. Examples of connections include air, nutrient or resource exchange. (Example: the human gets Oxygen from the tree, a tree provides housing for a squirrel, the squirrel drinks water that spends time in the ocean, the ocean absorbs Carbon Dioxide emitted by the Human).

6. While holding on to one side of the yarn, have the first person throw the yarn to the second person.

7. Repeat step 6. Continue until everyone has received the yarn once and therefore a web has formed. Be sure to include all students. In small groups, allow students to receive the yarn twice.

8. Have everyone step back slightly till the rope is taut. Explore the connection that has formed between everyone. Notice that if one person pulls on the rope, everyone feels it. This is the premise of the interconnectedness of Creation.

9. Recite shabbat Scharcrit Prayer, Nishmat:

Nishmat Kol Chai, tevarech et shimcha

The Breath of all life, blesses your name

10. Discuss why is breath important? How does breath praise God?

11. Ask the students if there is anything in the circle they wish the world could be without. (If you assigned a mosquito, they will always choose it.)

12. Now “kill” one of the items, drive them to extinction because of human activity (pesticides, logging, etc.,) Have them drop their string, and have the web readjust to get tight again. Notice the major shift of individuals closely connected. Have one of students who was directly connected to the mosquito (or other extinct species) drop his or her string, and repeat. Watch the effects, then discuss the effect of that extinction on the whole community.

13. Read Genesis Rabbah 10:7

“Even though you may think superfluous in the world things such as fleas, gnats, and flies, even they are included in the creation of the world. The Holy One has a purpose for everything.”


An ecosystem will rarely collapse from the extinction of one species, but rather the integrity of the ecosystem will be compromised. For example, in the Northeast, there has been a deer population explosion caused by the extinction of the wolf in the area, and the continued housing development creating open lawns for grazing. This has in turn increased the deer tick population and thus the presence of lyme disease. The huge deer population has overgrazed the shrubs which songbirds use for nests and has hurt the population of birds like vireos and warblers.

Discussion Questions:

What can we learn from what we see here?

What are some of the responsibilities that are placed on us as a part of this web?

What is the lesson from Midrash Genesis Rabbah, written about 1600 hundred years ago. How is it still important in our lives today?

Materials developed by Noam Dolgin

All content is subject to the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. (Ie. Tell other where you got it from and don't sell it)

Based on work by the Teva Learning Center, the Shalom Center and others

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