Where Has This Week Vanished: Thoughts on Mishkan T’filah

Dec 27, 2013 by

Where Has This Week Vanished:  Thoughts on Mishkan T’filah

I don’t remember when I first came across David Polish’s reading that now appears in Mishkan T’filah at least twice:  once in the Kabbalat Shabbat service and a second time in the Shabbat Morning service.

Most of us must have encountered the text many, many times.  “Where has this week vanished?  Is it lost for ever…Shabbat, abide.”

I have always liked it.  I have liked the feelings it evoked.  I have liked the way it suggested the core Shabbat opportunity:  “Help me to withdraw for a while from the flight of time…Let me learn to pause…Let me find peace on this day.”

At one point in the last several months, however, something about the reading began to disturb me.  Although I like the image of Shabbat peace offered by the piece, I began to feel uncomfortable with the opening lines.

“Where has this week vanished?  Is it lost forever?  Will I ever recover anything from it? …Will I ever be able to banish the memory of pain, the sting of defeat, the heaviness of boredom?”

The words are too sad.  Am I really that tired and out of sorts when the week comes to a close?  Are the six days of my week regularly painful or so difficult that I need the Sabbath as a respite?

Maybe sometimes.

But much of the time not at all.

That is why I tried an experiment with a small Shabbat morning minyan a few weeks ago.  When we got to the prayer, I indicated that we would read it aloud and then pause to absorb its meaning.  I also continued by saying we would then come back at the prayer to see if we could reframe it.

So we read the prayer together as written in the siddur.  We paused.  And then I said something along these lines,  “What if we use these Shabbat moments to look back on the week we have all had?  But let’s change the approach from what we’ve got here.  What if a modified Sabbath prayer asked this new question…Not ‘how has this week vanished,’ but ‘how has this week brought me blessing…what can I carry forward as I pause on this seventh day?’

The responses to the “new” prayer were moving.

One congregant immediately volunteered that she had traveled to another city in order to help nurse an old friend back to health.  She had come home the day before and felt energized by knowing how much her presence had helped her friend heal.

Another congregant told us about a blessing that had come her way in the form of a note from a grandchild thanking her for being her grandmother.

Another worshiper was a physician who had literally saved someone’s life that week.  Someone else had read a great book.  Someone else was building a ramp on the house of a handicapped neighbor.

Best of all:  We had all come together at the end of this productive week and this pause in our service allowed us to share these blessings.

I still plan to read the “vanished week” prayer with the congregation, but every once in a while I also want to lovingly turn it on its head:  not to sigh at what was lost but rather to smile at what was accomplished.

After all, if we start its week wishing each other a “shavua tov,” why not “end” the week by considering how (at least sometimes) the week really was “tov” or even better.

“How has this week brought me blessing?”

Shabbat shalom.

 Mark Dov Shapiro is the Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Springfield, Massachusetts.

3 Comments

  1. Sheldon Zimmerman

    Love it Mark. Yishar kochachah!
    What I do at Shabbat on the Beach with the kids and their families during the summer months is I ask them to think of the week that has passed, day by day, and find something wonderful or special that happened to them etc and keep the image in mind and at the end we say together “Thank you Gd”…we need to give people an opportunity to express gratitude as part of Shabbat. Good work. Shabbat shalom.
    Shelly Zimmerman

  2. Louis Rieser

    Thank you for highlighting this issue. Shabbat, in my mind, is not a retreat from the week’s burdens but an opportunity to ascend in holiness. Many weeks are not marked by burdens, defeats or boredoms, but filled with accomplishment and enthusiasm for life. If Shabbat is a retreat from burdens, then I might find a warmer retreat under my blankets sleeping late in the morning. On Shabbat I have the opportunity to mark the holiness that infuses my life, even when I am otherwise too frenetic to notice. It is a time to let the blessings roll, and to celebrate all that connects us with the Divine.

  3. vspatz

    But wouldn’t expressing gratitude be more suited to the Modim blessing? Why include gratitude for all and sundry experiences as part of Shabbat’s “Holiness of the Day” blessing?

    This comment [from Sheldon Zimmerman], like the post itself, entirely disregards the specific themes of the various Amidah blessings. There are lots of opportunities, especially early in the service, to let folks consider and express gratitude. Why obliterate the “Holiness of the Day” blessing with this perfectly valid, but completely irrelevant theme?

    The point of the poem — “Let me learn to PAUSE, if only for [one] day,” to find peace and Shabbat — is, appropriately enough, about the Holiness of the Day, but that is missed in both comment and original post. Moreover, the poem in question is EQUALLY balanced into joy/pain, what “must drift away”/”burdens that must return, etc. Why focus only on the “pain” verse, skipping the one preceding it: “The joy of life, the unexpected victory, the realized hope, the task accomplished”?

    I’m all for adapting prayers to suit circumstances and needs. But not at the cost of the sense and flow of the liturgy.

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