When Vision Replaces Anger

I’ve been thinking about darkness.

In part, that is because there has literally been so much darkness during these last several weeks. Even as January arrives, the nights are still long. We are in the dark far more than the light.

But there has also been a different kind of darkness in the air lately. It’s the darkness that goes along with the disruption of the way we live our lives.

The stock market has got the jitters. Immigrants are corralled into makeshift camps. American foreign policy seems confused. A government shutdown throws people into peril.

And, to be honest, the president can’t stop tweeting. The messages often arrive before the sun has risen. He sits in the dark. He is angry and that scowl of his casts a shadow over our land.

I know I’m not the first to note the president’s behavior. A few weeks ago, The Washington Post described his mood in these words, “Trump was mad – steaming, raging mad.”

The particular circumstance barely matters because, as we have come to know, the president is often angry. That is how he was during the election process when he found ways to insult political opponents. That is pretty much how he has continued to conduct himself in office. One of his employees from as far back as the 1980’s remembers, “the emotional core around which Donald Trump’s personality circles is anger.”

No wonder I’ve been thinking about darkness. It surrounds us.

But it needn’t be so.

Although anger can sometimes motivate us to action, there are other ways to imagine our lives.

I am thinking, for example, about the ways in which various American leaders have moved us to action in the past.

The year is 1984. Ronald Reagan is running for re-election. One of his campaign ads strikes the tone that would lead him back to the White House. The commercial featured images of Americans going to work under a rising sun. The text read, “It’s morning again in America.”

Whether or not you voted for Reagan, you can’t help but feel how he communicated with the country. There was light. There was a sense of purpose and unity.

Much the same holds true for John Kennedy who spoke about a “new frontier” when he ran for president. Kennedy was all about energy and change. He didn’t condemn the country. He rather inspired Americans with his challenge, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”

There was darkness in America when Kennedy was president. He himself was assassinated, but the tone of his leadership inclined towards the light.

Which is what can also be said about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. whom we celebrate this month with a day devoted to his accomplishments.

Dr. King lived in tumultuous times. Tear gas, bullets, and threats were his reality. But the amazing thing about him as a leader is that he never let anger get the better of him. As dark as it might be around him, Dr. King offered hope.

The night before he died King declared that he had been to the mountain top and seen the Promised Land. What’s more, he promised his followers that, even if he did not get there with them, they would get to the Promised Land.

His very last public words that evening were an inspiration. As dark as the next day would be, King affirmed, “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

There was no darkness in Dr. King’s dream.

In fact, that is what makes his most famous public moment so memorable. It was August 28, 1963. Over 250,000 people had assembled in Washington for a huge march on behalf of freedom. A series of speakers had said just about all that could be said regarding the politics of the matter when Dr. King came to the podium.

He didn’t talk about pain or fear. He just led those present and the nation by proclaiming he had a dream. He saw a better world. He saw a transformed world. There would come a time when everyone would be able to say, “Free at last. Free at last, Great God, all mighty. We ae free at last.”

That is leadership. That is vision.

It’s not dark and angry. It’s bright and whole. It’s the kind of “dream” our country needs as 2019 gets underway.

Rabbi Mark Dov Shapiro has served congregations in Springfield, MA, White Plains, NY, and Toronto.  He is also the editor of Gates of Shabbat: A Guide for Observing Shabbat, published by CCAR Press in 1996.


Books shabbat

Creating Holy Moments

A way to deepen the Shabbat experience involves less talking and more silence—something focused more internally. It is a practice called mindfulness. The following essay, exerpted from Gates of Shabbat, Revised Edition, explores how mindfulness can be part of your Shabbat practice.


Be Like God

The opening narrative in the Book of Genesis introduces us to a hard-working and busy God, creating the entire world, according to the Torah, in just six days. The Book of Exodus introduces us to another aspect of God’s identity. Here the Torah reminds us, “On the seventh day [God] ceased from work and was refreshed” (Exodus 31:17). The Hebrew words of this verse, bayom hashvi-i shavat vayinafash, are part of the V’shamru prayer sung on Friday night; they are also used to introduce the Kiddush on Shabbat morning.asset_image

The words tell us about God and speak to the human condition as well. They suggest that on the seventh day, we can be like God. We can become still; we can settle in, breathe deeply, and be refreshed. The rituals for the Shabbat table blessings are built around the Torah’s suggestion that God’s actions on the seventh day of creation are a model for all of us—men and women, teenagers, and even children. Work six days with a full heart at whatever you do and then stop. Stop and do something godlike, shavat vayinafash, sit still and breathe, become refreshed, and then return to the sacred work that fills our days, expressing creativity, working for freedom, repairing a broken world.


The Invitation

Shabbat is an invitation to slow down, to become more mindful of your self and your place in creation. The table blessings and rituals are tools to help make the transition from busy to not. It can be challenging to accept this sacred invitation, which is why it helps to keep the following in mind:

  • Slowing down is important.
  • Silence is good.
  • Posture makes a difference.
  • Any attempt at prayer is enough.
  • Even smiling helps!

Accepting the invitation to Shabbat and preparing to celebrate at the table can help us change pace and enable us to pay attention to how we move our bodies, use our breath, and quiet our minds. It’s a tiny taste of how we could live our lives, more attuned to the natural world, with greater connections to other people and greater awareness of God’s example.


Your Preparation

Even the physical act of setting out the candlesticks, the Kiddush cup, and the challah can help you begin to move into Shabbat with intention. The mindfulness meditations, which are offered along with the Home Service, can lead you further. You might try using one each week; perhaps do the same one for a few weeks in a row, or rotate them at other times. Some Fridays the process will feel right. You’ll know it has “worked.” Other times you may have less success. Remember that it is a practice, so we keep practicing, being grateful when we succeed and forgiving ourselves when we don’t.


Creating the Moment—Even Before Saying the Blessings

Experiment with the following steps when your friends and family arrive at the table ready to welcome Shabbat.

Stand with your feet planted about shoulders’ width apart. (This can also be done by those who

choose to remain seated.) This is a sturdy and deliberate stance.

Push your shoulders down and lengthen your spine to actually feel taller.
Close your eyes in order to focus better on your breath. If that is uncomfortable, just lower your

gaze to give everyone at the table some privacy.

Unclench your jaw, and loosen the muscles around your mouth.

Take one or two or even three long, slow, deep cleansing breaths in and out—inhaling so

deeply that you can actually feel your heart lift and ribs rise in your chest. It’s good to hear the sound of the breath, making its way from the world into the body and out again.

Open your eyes or raise your gaze.


Turn to the Home Service or one of the readings or meditations in Gates of Shabbat.

Read aloud—slowly, very slowly—paying attention to the pause of each comma, the rest after

each period, the open space between each paragraph.

When you are done reading, pause again—counting to five in your head. There is no rush.

Take another deep breath in and out.
Smile again.
Notice how Shabbat has arrived.

Shavat vayinafash. Now you are into the moment. Hold an image or a word in your mind and then . . . then it is time, depending on which meditation you are using, to strike the match, raise the Kiddush cup, or remove the cover from the challah and begin to bless.

Mark Dov Shapiro is Rabbi Emeritus of Sinai Temple in Springfield, MA. He is the editor of Gates of Shabbat, Revised Edition, published in 2016 by CCAR Press.

Excerpted from Gates of Shabbat, Revised Edition, edited by Rabbi Mark Dov Shapiro and published in 2016 by CCAR Press.



Aspiring to Shabbat: Gates of Shabbat Revised

I think Shabbat is an aspiration.

I think Shabbat is also a brilliant, healing, gracious gift from our tradition.

But for most modern Jews, Shabbat is also not a given.  They/we “aspire” to the possibility of a day set aside.  They/we pretty much know what the world might feel like if we could enter the “Gates of Shabbat,” but it somehow doesn’t quite happen as much as we might wish it to be so.

All this is why I’ve taken a journey over the last few years along with several colleagues and friends to revise the book, Gates of Shabbat, which I helped create back in 1991.Gates of Shabbat Revised Edition Cover Image Final

To be honest, when Rabbi Hara Person first asked if I wanted to revisit Gates of Shabbat, I wasn’t sure what else to say about Shabbat that wasn’t already in the existing text.

Then I began to think and I realized that, although Shabbat remains Shabbat, the world around Shabbat has changed substantially in these last 25 years.  A changed world has to inspire new ways to engage the seventh day, and that is what emerged as Gates of Shabbat, Version 2.0…Version 2016 took shape.

Here are a few of the developments that my committee and I responded to as we developed the new book.

First, we noted that technology has transformed our lives in ways we couldn’t have anticipated years ago.  If we were “busy” in 1991, we are busier still today.  We are plugged in 24/7.  We are bombarded with news and connections to the world that have a life of their own.  Is it for good or is it all for bad?  I won’t tell you how we resolved the issue, but the new Gates of Shabbat does address the critical intersection of Shabbat and electronics.

Here’s a related development.  As a result of the Internet, we communicate differently.  A new kind of “literature” has developed.  People blog.  People tell stories.  People share first-person narratives about their experience in ways that were not a part of our lives earlier.  The new Gates of Shabbat will do the same.  We have assembled fourteen original reflections from both laypeople and rabbis.  Each small essay offers readers a new and personal way of encountering Shabbat.

And, of course, the world has changed insofar as new family constellations have become part of the landscape.  As expected, the new Gates of Shabbat will speak to those who are married with children, but it will also speak to households without children, to same-sex couples, to singles, and to a new growing population – those who are retired.  Here is a question that just didn’t occur to us 25 years ago:  What does Shabbat mean for retirees who are more less “free” every day?

Finally, these last 25 years have seen a new dimension of Jewish life emerge.  Or to put it more accurately, during these last few decades our liberal Jewish world has shown renewed interest in classic matters like spirituality and faith.  Meditation and mindfulness are part of our new vocabulary.  As a result, the new Gates of Shabbat introduces texts from Chasidic literature.  Readings from Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav and Rabbi  Zalman Schachter-Shalomi are part of the mix.  You can even find several places in the new book entitled, Creating Holy Moments.  They are designed to help readers slow down and cultivate a deeper sense of k’dushah in Shabbat.


All in all, I hope Gates of Shabbat 2016 brings something refreshing and important to the search for Shabbat.  I believe the book can speak to vatikim because it contains what was best about the earlier volume along with the innovations mentioned above plus some wonderful new texts and readings.  I believe too that the book will read well for those who are considering the seventh day for the very first time.

Personally, I love the book because, among its many offerings, I continue to be moved by two very brief poems that capture my sense of Shabbat’s magic.

 a day



Mark Shapiro is Rabbi Emeritus of Sinai Temple in Springfield, MA.  He is the editor of Gates of Shabbat, which is now available for pre-order and will be ready in time for Fall Classes.

Books General CCAR Prayer Reform Judaism

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.

Books Machzor Prayer

Machzor Blog: Liturgy with a Coat of Many Colors

Several years ago one of my congregants captured the essence of a discussion about a future Reform Machzor by saying, “I would like the liturgy to be like a coat of many colors.”

All of us present for the conversation understood.  This congregant was referring to the way in which the standard High Holiday liturgy mostly presents a single image of God.  “He” is enthroned on high; God rules, decides, and forgives a very frail humanity.

Before Mishkan Hanefesh had taken shape, my congregants and I were hoping for a Machzor that went beyond the “black and white” theology presented in the historic liturgy.  We were hoping to move, you might say, to “full color,” to the multi-faceted way in which Jews of the past have explored divinity, prayer, and life as well as the ways in which contemporary Jews continue that process.

The good news from my perspective is that, on the whole, my prayers and those of my congregants are on their way to being answered.

Back on a chilly Sunday morning in April, we used the new pilot service for Yom Kippur Morning and found much of what we experienced moving, challenging, and relevant.

Opposite Mi Chamocha, we encountered a reading based on the Mechilta’s assertion that the mighty God can sometimes be a silent God.  Later in the Viddui another text began with these words, “It is not easy to forgive God…The human suffering that surrounds us feels utterly unforgivable.”

There was sweetness too among other readings.   A beautiful poem on the page facing Ki Anu Amecha played with the metaphors of God as a Shepherd or Master.  The text invited worshipers to imagine God was a caring Gardener (1) and to consider what it might be like to experience love and tenderness from such a divine source.

From my perspective, several translations also elegantly reframed the connection between God and humanity.  “Avinu, Malkeinu, enter our names in the Book of Lives Well Lived.”  “For all these wrongs, God of forgiveness, forgive us, pardon us, help us atone.”

As you can tell, I liked this new presentation of the Yom Kippur liturgy.  Perhaps because my congregants have spent so much time with me considering and reconsidering faith and theology, they too were intrigued.  There was less formality in this proposed Machzor.  God isn’t as high.  Then again, we humans are not as low.  Both parties play a more balanced and significant covenantal role.  Both parties are where they need to be in order to have the kind of encounter that can make the High Holidays as meaningful as they really ought to be.

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

Learn more about the new CCAR Machzor.  For more information about participating in piloting, email