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