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This Shabbat

Mosaic is a unique Jewish Community - in that we offer at least three weekly and festival services from the Liberal, Masorti and Reform traditions. After our services we get together for joint kiddushim, and offer study sessions before or after some of our services.

Our services include Liberal, Masorti and Reform weekly and Festival services and children and family services such as Torah Tots and Shabbat Shira, and Alternative services such as our Friday night contemplative services, interfaith activities (such as our Shabbat at Wembley Central Mosque), and themed Shabbat services - Rock shabbat, anniversary of VE day, supporting social action projects such as Red Nose Day.

Shabbat Commentary

13/14 May: Emor : Shabbat comes in 8:29 pm, ends 9:42 pm

Parashat Emor – Harvesters and Gleaners

‘When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger; I am the Eternal your God.’ – Leviticus 23:22

If this statement feels eerily familiar to you, it might be because we read this law last week. Parashat Emor gives us the second version of the command to leave the corners of our fields for the needy, in almost identical wording to Parashat K’doshim. In fact, the first version of the commandment has slightly more information about our obligation – so why state it again?

The major difference between the two cases of this law is the context in which it appears. Parashat K’doshim, last week’s Torah reading, is largely a blueprint for an ethical society. It is a parashah interested in interpersonal relations and our obligations toward one another. It is, in a sense, the natural place to find such a rule. The second appearance of the obligation to leave the corners of the field for the needy – the version from this week’s Torah portion – comes as an interlude in a long passage regarding holy days and their associated sacrifices. This is not the natural place to find such a ruling!

The major connection between this obligation and the holy days is that many of the festivals are harvest festivals. These are times of the year that we are especially interested in what is happening in the fields. Furthermore, they are periods of time that are specifically intended to be joyous occasions. The context of this repetition can, therefore, serve to remind us that when we are busy and joyous, we are at high risk of overlooking the needs of the poor and the stranger.

Perhaps,  this strange text can serve to remind us that this capacity for kindness still exists when life is ‘normal’, and when being busy and joyous draws our time and attention. Perhaps there is a great deal to be learnt from feeling like a gleaner instead of a harvester.

Shabbat shalom,
Rabbi Natasha

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Shabbat Commentary

8/9 Apr: Metzora + Hagadol : Shabbat comes in 7:31 pm, ends 8:36 pm

Metzora: The Long Road Back to Normal

This week’s Torah portion, Metzora, is about plagues. As well as detailing the affliction of tz’ra’at – the biblical skin disease often mistranslated as ‘leprosy’ – our parashah also details the process of healing and returning to the community. We read about the priest visiting the afflicted person outside the camp, how to declare them no longer unwell, and the ritual for re-entering the camp. It is such a weird and wonderful ritual (including dipping a live bird in blood and then setting it free) that it is easy to overlook this comment at the end of Lev. 14:8: “And he will dwell outside of his tent for seven days.” The commentators are a little confused by this statement. Does this mean that when the previously-stricken individual is back in the camp he may not enter his own tent, because he must avoid marital relations (Rashi)? Or is it an oddly-placed statement about how long he must remain outside of the camp itself (Ibn Ezra)?

This mystery strikes me as particularly poignant this year. Coming back into the world is not simple. The person stricken with tz’ra’at cannot simply go from life outside the camp back to normality in one fell swoop.

And now here we are, experiencing the slow process of return. Perhaps we are like the man recovering from tz’ra’at. We are not outside the camp anymore, but we are not back to normal life, either. And this moment of transition might take a little time.

Shabbat shalom,
Rabbi Natasha

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Shabbat Commentary

1/2 Apr: Tazria + Hachodesh : Shabbat comes in 7:19 pm, ends 8:23 pm

Parashat Tazria – Don’t Touch This!

 There is a pervasive myth in Jewish tradition that menstruating women cannot touch the Torah scroll. This myth hasn’t appeared out of the blue – this week’s Torah portion is about the interaction between ritual purity/impurity and the ability of an individual to enter into the holy space of the Temple, handle ritual objects associated with the Temple, etc. There is even an obscure medieval text to back it up (though this text actually claims that – as a matter of custom – menstruating women did not enter the synagogue at all). However, it’s soundly rejected in Jewish law, by Yosef Karo (the Shulḥan Arukh), by Maimonides (the Mishneh Torah), and so on.

The main reason that there is no halakhic justification for claiming that menstruating women cannot touch the Torah scroll is that, in a world without the Temple, we are all considered ritually impure (or ‘tamei’). Therefore, any halakhic basis for the myth would naturally result in the inability of any person to interact with a Torah scroll. However, the halakhic truth is even weirder than that: the Torah scroll itself is specifically considered impure.

The below Mishnah describes a disagreement between the Sadducees and the Pharisees regarding the status of the Torah scroll. It is worth noting that the Mishnah sides squarely with the Pharisees (and that rabbinic Judaism sprouted from seeds planted by the Pharisees).

Mishnah Yadayim 4:6:

‘The Sadducees say: “We complain against you, Pharisees, because you say that the Holy Scriptures defile the hands, but the books of Homer [meaning: non-holy books] do not defile the hands!”

Rabban Yoḥanan ben Zakkai said: “Have we nothing against the Pharisees but this? Behold they say that the bones of a donkey are pure, yet the bones of Yoḥanan the high priest are impure!”

They [the Saducees] said to him: “According to the affection for them, so is their impurity – so that nobody should make spoons out of the bones of his father or mother.”

He said to them: “So also are the Holy Scriptures according to the affection for them, so is their uncleanness. The books of Homer which are not precious do not defile the hands.”’

Rabban Yoḥanan’s sarcastic response to the Sadducees forces them to admit that the principle is not that impurity is bad, but rather that we deem things ‘impure’ in order to separate them from regular use, often as a matter of honouring them. The Torah scroll is to be honoured, and therefore should not be handled lightly. As we learn in this week’s Torah portion, the situations in which a person becomes tamei are based on interactions with mortality: birth, death, sickness, etc. It is easy to think of the English terms ‘impure’ and ‘defile’ as implying a certain revulsion, but indeed, the rabbis do not see revulsion in the Torah law. Instead, they see a necessity to separate, which is here based on honour.

Shabbat shalom,
Rabbi Natasha

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Shabbat Commentary

25/26 Mar : Shemini : Shabbat comes in 6:07 pm, ends 7:11 pm

Parashat Shemini – On the Eighth Day…  

I sometimes like to – entirely jokingly – call myself Musaf’s only fan. It’s not true, because plenty of people like Musaf, but I think it’s fair to suggest that it is a rare breed who consider Musaf their favourite service. I, however, adore Musaf.  

My love for Musaf comes from the same place in me that hugely enjoys the second day of festivals. Outside of Israel, Jewish tradition has been to double festival days (hence our two Seder nights in ḥutz la’aretz – ‘outside of the Land’ – and the single Seder night in Israel). Some rabbis, including rabbis in the Conservative Movement of the USA, argue that the second day of the festival should not be considered obligatory anymore. Though my disagreement with them is rooted in halakhah (Jewish law), it is also impacted by the same part of me that loves Musaf.  

I think that it is beautiful that sometimes we finish an obligation, and we decide to do it all over again. We finished Shaḥarit (the morning prayers), and then we say ‘well, it’s a special day, so why not do the Amidah all over again?’. We finish a festival day, but we don’t just let go of it and move back into the world – we decide to stick around and celebrate some more. We finish the Seder, and then we lay the table the next day and do it all over again. It’s an idea that is especially evident in Sukkot, which the Torah tells us is a seven-day festival, and then informs us of our obligations for the eighth day of that seven-day festival.  

Parashat Shemini is also about an eighth day. We are in a section of Torah dealing with the sanctification of the mishkan (the tabernacle – the moving Temple of the Wilderness). For seven days, Aaron and his sons have been engaging in ritual observances in order to inaugurate themselves to the priesthood. Our Torah portion opens up with what happens on the eighth day, which includes more sacrificial services, as they move from their inauguration into the active position of priesthood.  

The love of the extra moments felt especially strange for me in the strange, long days of the Covid pandemic. For many of us, it’s not as easy to feel joy during Shabbat and festivals when we’re unable to congregate. My love of Musaf and the doubling of festival days was certainly harder to access. But the tradition remains here, providing structure for us, reminding us that days are not all the same. Now we are able to be together again  Musaf  feels all the sweeter.   

Shabbat shalom,
Rabbi Natasha

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Shabbat Commentary

11/12 Mar : Vayikra : Shabbat comes in 5:43 pm, ends 6:47 pm

The Sacrifice of Freedom – Parashat Vayikra

We are about to enter Z’man Ḥeiruteinu – the Season of our Freedom. During Passover, we will reflect deeply on the concept of liberation. This week’s Torah portion is the beginning of the Book of Vayikra (‘And He Called’), otherwise known as Leviticus. Our parashah is filled with descriptions of sacrifices to be given to God in the tabernacle, and later in the Holy Temple. It is a system that no longer occurs on a physical basis, as we no longer have a Temple, and has been largely replaced with prayer and other symbolic substitutions.

The Israelites are liberated from slavery in Egypt, but they choose to submit to a different power: the power of God. Freedom does not mean complete self-rule. The Israelites enter into a covenant with a set of obligations; furthermore, the word for worship, avodah, is from the same root as the word ‘slave’ (eved). We have left the service of Pharaoh and entered into the service of God, which is best demonstrated by the sacrifices that God demands of us.

It turns out that being free does not mean being self-governed, or not owing anyone anything – at least, it doesn’t mean that in the Jewish understanding. The Season of our Freedom means that we are able to submit ourselves to the Highest Power, without any Pharaohs standing in our way. And we submit ourselves to God through sacrifices – through giving up something that is precious to us. In the era of the Temple, these sacrifices were (for the most part) what sustained the Tribe of Levi. We were caught up in a system in which we submitted to God and looked after one another, all in one action of sacrifice.

We have also been living in an age of sacrifice. We have each been called upon to sacrifice our time with those we love, and even human contact – all because we believe in looking after one another. We are still free. We are not being oppressed by a Pharaoh. Instead, we are making these choices as a larger whole, because we believe that we owe one another this sacrifice.

Shabbat shalom,
Rabbi Natasha

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Shabbat Commentary

4/5 Mar : Pekudei : Shabbat comes in 5:31 pm, ends 6:34 pm

Parashat Pekudei – The Sacred Spreadsheet
Here at the very end of the Book of Exodus, we encounter an accounting. After all the
instructions about the exact expanse of the beams in the mishkan, after the collecting of
precious metals for the building, comes a parashah that reads like a spreadsheet. Exactly
how much was donated? Which metals were used where? For someone without a mind for
mathematics, it can seem a dizzying parashah indeed.

But counting, however confounding, is crucial. Later in the Torah, we will be given another                                  rule about measuring methods (Deuteronomy 25:13-15): “You shall not have in your bag two                          kinds of weights, large and small. You shall not have in your house two kinds of measures, large                      and small. You shall have only a full and honest weight; you shall have only a full and honest measure…”

The Kli Yakar notes that there is an apparent redundancy in this ruling. Surely the text only
needed to say either a) do not have dishonest weights/measures, or b) have only honest
weights/measures. By saying both that we must not have dishonest weights and that we
must only have honest weights, the Torah might appear to be repeating herself.
The Kli Yakar suggests that this repetition comes to teach us about the status of an honest
weight beside a dishonest weight. We might think to have both in our possession, and we
might think that the transgression lies only with the dishonest weight. However, in such a
circumstance, the honest weight becomes a tool for deceit. It does not exist in a moral
vacuum; it is possible to sin even with an honest weight.

When it comes to matters of taxes and tz’dakah, the spreadsheet is sacred. It’s an odd
parashah for those of us who aren’t mathematically minded, but little Pekudei should not be underestimated.

Shabbat shalom,
Rabbi Natasha

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Shabbat Commentary

25/26 Feb : Vayakhel : Shabbat comes in 5:18 pm, ends 6:22 pm

Parashat Vayakhel – Mirror, Mirror, in the Mishkan
Sefer Sh’mot can be divided into roughly three parts: the story of slavery and exodus;
revelation at Mt Sinai; and the instructions for building the mishkan, the portable sanctuary of
the wilderness.

Here at the end, we have an allusion to a particular disagreement between
Moses and the Divine regarding the physical structure of the sanctuary itself, embedded into
a strange verse:
‘He made the laver of copper and its stand of copper,’ explains Exodus 38:8, ‘from the
mirrors of the assembling women at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting.’
What is the significance of these mirrors? The midrash explains that these were the mirrors
that the wives in slavery used in flirtation with their husbands, and that it was through these
flirtations that the Israelites continued to procreate during slavery. When the mishkan was
being built and the people were bringing gifts, the Israelite women presented their mirrors,
but Moses intended to reject them; mirrors, after all, are symbols of vanity. God, however,
insisted on their inclusion.

These mirrors bring us back to the beginning of Sefer Sh’mot. When we tell this story during
Pesach, we focus on the place of the Divine within the story; without God, after all, we would
still be slaves to Pharaoh. However, here at the end of the book, we are reminded of our own
resilience. Divine intervention was necessary to bring us to liberation, but human resilience
was a necessary factor in living to see freedom.

Shabbat shalom,
Rabbi Natasha

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Shabbat Commentary

4/5 Feb : Terumah : Shabbat comes in 4:40 pm, ends 5:46 pm

Parashat Terumah – Head and Heart

This Torah portion marks the turn of the Book of Exodus from the narratives of exodus to the building of the mishkan (the portable sanctuary of the wilderness). The portion gets its name from the command (Ex. 25:2): ‘You must bring me terumah.’ Though terumah refers to the gifts that were given by the Children of Israel in order to build the sanctuary, many commentators read terumah as being linked intrinsically to tz’dakah (our obligations to give to those in need). In both cases, we give that which we might rather keep for our own benefit, in order to create a better society.

Rabbi Alter picks up on the connections between this command to give terumah and the previous statement of the Children of Israel (Ex. 24:7): ‘We will do, and we will hear.’ Rabbi Alter understands that since the people began that statement with ‘we will do’, the Holy One immediately followed with the command for terumah. According to Rabbi Alter: ‘The commandment of tz’dakah requires action without excessive contemplation, without excessive consideration, but rather to “do” and afterwards to “listen”. This is because if one contemplates and considers beforehand, one will never arrive at “we will do”.’

We have a tendency to be a rather cerebral people. We like to study, and to think through multiple scenarios, and to debate. These are all wonderful aspects of the Jewish people. Nonetheless, there are some mitzvot that require acting from the heart, and letting the head catch up later.

Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Natasha 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Shabbat Commentary

21/22 Jan : Yitro : Shabbat comes in 4:15 pm, ends 5:23pm

Parashat Yitro – The First Commandment

In this week’s Torah portion, the Children of Israel receive the Ten Sayings (also known as the ‘Ten Commandments’). Jews and Christians count these ten in a slightly different order, due to a disagreement about how to begin the list. The two lists read as follows (summarised):

Jewish Understanding

  1. I am Hashem your God
  2. You shall have no other gods before Me
  3. You shall not say God’s name in vain
  4. Remember and sanctify Shabbat
  5. Honour your father and mother
  6. You shall not murder
  7. You shall not commit adultery
  8. You shall not steal
  9. You shall not bear false witness
  10. You shall not covet
Christian Understanding

  1. I am Hashem your God; you shall have no other gods before Me
  2. You shall not say God’s name in vain
  3. Remember and sanctify Shabbat
  4. Honour your father and mother
  5. You shall not murder
  6. You shall not commit adultery
  7. You shall not steal
  8. You shall not bear false witness
  9. You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife
  10. You shall not covet your neighbour’s goods

The advantage of the Christian understanding is that the Ten Commandments all read as commandments. The disadvantage is an awkward reading of the ninth and tenth commandments, in which ‘you shall not covet’ must be split into two.

There has been a conflict in Jewish history over whether to read these ten statements as all being mitzvot, in which case, ‘I am God’ must also be a commandment. Some commentators, such as Abravanel, understand this first statement as being a declaration intended to precede these important commands. Abravanel would approve of the Hebrew terminology ‘Aseret haDibrot’ (‘The Ten Sayings’), because only nine of the sayings are commandments. Maimonides, however, reads ‘I am God’ as a command to belief. This is similar to an age-old question about the Shema: Is ‘you shall love Hashem your God’ a statement about emotion (you shall feel love), or a statement about action (you shall act lovingly, i.e. keep the mitzvot)?

There is no simple answer, and Jews are still in makhloket (holy disagreement) about this subject today. Whatever the answer may be – whether we are commanded to believe and feel, or only to do – it seems that the Children of Israel understand their obligations as being primarily (if not solely) about observance. ‘We will do, and we will hear,’ they say (Ex. 24:7) – understood to mean that we will do first, and understand later. Whether or not we think that belief is an obligation, we do hope that outward practice will affect our inner lives.

Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Natasha 


Shabbat Commentary

14/15 Jan : Beshalach : Shabbat comes in 4:04 pm, ends 5:13pm

Parashat Beshalacḥ – Who Liberated the Israelites?

This week’s Torah portion begins the long story of the Israelites in the wilderness. The Hebrew slaves are saved from their bondage, walk through the miraculously split sea, and sing and dance over their liberation. It’s a beautiful scene. Then, after liberation has been handed to the Hebrews, the story quickly turned to a problem that will continue through to the end of the Torah: the Israelites don’t know how to be free.

The change in tone is almost comically severe. At the end of the Song of the Sea, we are given one verse to transition the Israelites from singing to travelling, and then the text turns immediately to the Israelites grumbling about the lack of water to drink. That situation is resolved with a miracle, and the people continue on for one whole verse before they begin complaining about food. Again, a miracle: bread falls from the sky. Some of the people try to take too much manna, to find that they somehow have only the prescribed amount. Some try to save manna for the morning, even though Moses has warned them against it; the leftover manna rots. The people are told not to collect manna on Shabbat, but some go out to gather anyway – but no manna appears.

The story of the generation of freed slaves is fascinating and frustrating. They have experienced great miracles, and yet they cannot trust that they will survive. Even though the Divine performed miracles in Egypt, they assume that they will die at the Sea of Reeds; even though they passed through the sea  dry shod, they assume that they will die of thirst in the wilderness; even though the Holy One provides water to drink, they assume that they will starve. When bread is provided, they want to take extra, just in case. No matter how great the miracles, the Israelites are not ready to feel safe.

The difficulty that the Israelites face when encountering freedom tells us that they were not truly freed at the Sea of Reeds. The Divine could perform miracles, could bring the Hebrews from their bondage into the wilderness, but this is only the beginning of the story of liberation. To truly become free people, the Israelites have to learn to free themselves internally. That is the work that needs to be done before reaching the Promised Land.

Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Natasha