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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

15/16 Oct: Lech Lecha : Shabbat comes in 5:53 pm, ends 6:52 pm

Parashat Lech Lecha

We learnt last week that Noaḥ was a man who ‘walked with God’ (Genesis 6:9). This week, we see very similar language employed when the Holy One charges Avram with his fate: ‘Walk before Me,’ says God to Avram (Genesis 17:1). The word for ‘walk’ is the same in both instances – hit-haleikh (התהלך) – but the way in which that word is employed differs. Noah walks with God; Avram is told by God to ‘hit-haleikh l’fanai’, הִתְהַלֵּךְ לְפָנַי: ‘Walk before Me.’

Perhaps walking with God and walking before God are the same action. However, were that to be the case, we would need to read Noaḥ as being a superior character to Avram: while Noaḥ was able to walk with the Eternal without external prompting, Avram required the charge. While this makes sense of ‘hit-haleikh’, it does not track well with what we know of their characters. Avram was chosen to be the father of the Jewish people, and not Noaḥ; Avram is given the promise of the Holy Land, and not Noaḥ; we see Avram act righteously in aid of his fellow human beings even when it required arguing with God, whereas Noaḥ’s goodness is only described in terms of comparison with those around him (Gen. 6:9).

Our rabbis of blessed memory read the difference in their walking as a resounding endorsement for the morality of Avram, soon to be Avraham. Noaḥ walked with God, according to the medieval commentator Rashi, because Noaḥ required God’s support. Avram, on the other hand, had the ability to walk in his righteousness without aid. To their eyes, it is precisely Avram’s ability to be strong and righteous without God’s guiding hand that allows Avram to work as God’s partner, and thus to shape the destiny of human worship.

Shabbat shalom, 

Rabbi Natasha

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 

 


Shabbat Commentary

10/11 Sep: Ha’azinu : Shabbat comes in 6:56 pm, ends 7:55 pm

The leadership of Moses is bookended by his songs: the Song of the Sea, and the Song of Moses. Moses first led his people in song after leading them through the split sea. The Song of the Sea, therefore, is appropriately triumphant and celebratory. In Parashat Ha’azinu, Moses sings a very different song. He is now at the end of his leadership, and is preparing for his own death, before the Children of Israel enter the Promised Land. The Song of Moses is a haunting and powerful warning about the necessity of staying true to our covenant with the Divine.

Moses’ final song begins with a call to the heavens and the earth to act as witnesses, and then states (Deuteronomy 32:2): ‘May my teaching come down like the rain, my word distill like the dew, like showers upon young growth, like raindrops upon grass.’ It is a beautiful image: Torah nourishing the world like the rains, linking the witness above (the heavens) to the witness below (the earth).

In Sifrei D’varim (306:31-32), the Midrash claims that the Torah is compared to nourishing waters due to the fact that the same rains yield different results. First, the Midrash describes the rains bringing different flavours: ‘May my teaching come down like the rain: Just as rain is one, and falls upon and the trees and grants each its own flavour – to the grapevine, according to its nature; to the olive tree, according to its nature; to the fig tree, according to its nature – so too words of Torah are all one, and yet they yield Scripture, Mishnah, Halachah, and Aggadah.’ It is one of the wonders of our tradition that one single verse of Torah can give us a library of literature, from the legal to the legendary. It is no small wonder that we are able to reread the Torah every year and discover ever more from its depths. In the words of Ben Bag-Bag (Pirkei Avot 5:26): ‘Turn it and turn it, for everything is within it.’

The Midrash continues with a second lesson: ‘Like the showers upon the young growth: Just as these showers descend upon the grass and cause them to grow, some green, some red, and some white, so too words of Torah produce teachers, worthy people, sages, righteous people, and pious people.’ One Torah yields a great variety of teachings, and also a great variety of learners. The aim of the Torah is not to make us uniform; it is to nourish us to be the best students of Torah we can be, and to contribute to our communities with our own talents and passions.

Moses’ personal Torah is a Torah of leadership. He led us from slavery in Egypt to stand just outside the Promised Land, ready to enter our future. At the end of his life, he displays his leadership again, through his song, teaching us that the Torah will yield ever-increasing fruit, and that we will all be nourished differently through the very same words.

Shabbat shalom, 

Rabbi Natasha

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 

 


Shabbat Commentary

10/11 Sep: Veyeilekh+ Shabbat Shuva : Shabbat comes in 7:12 pm, ends 8:12 pm

Parashat Veyeilekh: Writing Your Torah

It is an interesting time of year to think about the writing of books. We are in the midst of the great metaphor of the Books of Life and Death. Just a few days ago, we stood before the ark and sang of our fates: ‘On Rosh HaShanah it is written; on Yom Kippur, it is sealed.’ And now here we are, between the writing and the sealing. The books are open.

Parashat Vayeilekh is also concerned with the writing of books. It is in this parashah that the Levites are instructed that they must put the Sefer Torah that Moses has written into the Ark of the Covenant, in order that it will serve as a witness. Likewise, we find in this parashah the command to write ‘this song’ (understood by some commentators to be the following song in Ha’azinu, and others to be the entire Torah), in order that the song will stand as a witness to us.

This latter command has been read by some to mean that all Jews are commanded to write a Sefer Torah. Though it is usually considered enough for us to own books of Torah in our homes, I find this command to write a Torah to be particularly poignant in this time of year, in which we see books as symbols of how we are living our lives. In this metaphor, we usually cast God as the scribe, penning our names into the appropriate book. However, in the text of Parashat Vayeilekh, we are commanded to be the scribes.

My friend and colleague Rabbi Jonathan Hodson likes to share a piece of advice that he received from his grandmother: ‘You might be the only Bible that some people will ever read.’ Her words seem to echo through these symbols of the season. In what ways are we writing the Torah in our lives? Which of our decisions and actions are the crowns on the letters, or the imperfections of a scribe’s hand trembling? And what Torah are others reading when they interact with us?

G’mar ḥatimah tovah – may you be inscribed for a good year.

Rabbi Natasha

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 

 


Shabbat Commentary

3/4 Sep: Nitzavim : Shabbat comes in 7:28 pm, ends 8:29 pm

Parashat Nitzavim: Lo BaShamayim Hi

This week’s parashah includes one of my all-time favourite quotes (Deuteronomy 30:12-14): ‘It [the Law] is not in Heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to Heaven for us and fetch it for us, to tell it to us, so that we can fulfill it?” And it is not beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us and fetch it for us, to tell it to us, so that we can fulfill it?” Rather, it is very close to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can fulfil it.’

According to this beautiful passage, we do not need to wait for someone else to bring the Torah to us. The Torah already belongs to each of us. The Torah belongs to the ultra-orthodox and the completely secular, the rabbi and the Jew-in-the-pew, completely equally. While we can choose to learn from one another, we should never see anyone as owning Torah more than ourselves as individual Jews.

Sforno, a medieval biblical commentator, sees this passage as having special relevance to t’shuvah (repentance) due to its connection with the preceding verses. T’shuvah, he writes, does not require us to seek out prophets, rabbis, or scholars; rather, we are each capable of looking within ourselves and healing our relationships with one another and with the Holy Blessed One. This is a particularly fitting lesson to shepherd us into Rosh Hashanah.

Shabbat shalom, and shanah tovah,

Rabbi Natasha

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 

 


Shabbat Commentary

27/28 Aug: Ki Tavo : Shabbat comes in 7:44 pm, ends 8:46 pm

Parashat Ki Tavo – Seeing Miracles

The Children of Israel have seen ten plagues in their last days as slaves, walked through the split sea, experienced revelation at Mt Sinai, and seen miracles in the wilderness. And yet, according to Moses in this week’s parashah, it is only now, after forty years of wandering, that they have attained ‘a heart to know, eyes to see and ears to hear’ (Deuteronomy 29:3). This statement comes just after the Tokh’kha, the Rebuke, in which blessings are laid out for if we follow the Law of God, and curses for if we do not.

Why has it taken the Israelites so long to internalise what has happened to them? Why does Moses feel that they require this reward-and-punishment theology in order to access the importance of following God? One answer suggested by Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan is that this experience was not unique to the wandering Israelites. It may seem absurd to us that the Israelites do not trust in God after everything God has done for them – but we, too, walk through each day ignoring miracles. From that mindset, the forty years of wandering that it took for the Israelites to process their relationship with the Omnipresent does not seem so absurd.

May we all be blessed to take note of the miracles around us.

Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Natasha 

 

 

 

    

 

 


Shabbat Commentary

20/21 Aug: Ki Teitzei : Shabbat comes in 7:59 pm, ends 9:02 pm 

Enemies First: Learning Love From Hatred
Parashat Ki Teitzei brings the peculiar case of your fellow’s ox, a situation
presumably already covered in Parashat Mishpatim with the ox of your enemy. The rule in Parashat Mishpatim (Ex. 23:4-5) reads as follows: ‘If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you must surely bring it back to him. If you see the donkey of someone who hates you lying under its burden, and you would refrain from helping it, you must surely help him with it.’ Presumably we can interpret from this that we are all responsible for one another’s oxen; if we are obligated to help our enemy’s ox, kal v’chomer (‘all the moreso’) we are obligated to help the oxen of our
loved ones. However, this week’s Torah portion reads (Deuteronomy 22:1): ‘You must not see your brother’s ox or his sheep driven out and turn yourself away from them; you must surely return them to your brother.’ Why give us a rule for our enemy’s ox, and then reiterate with the ox of our fellow? From the perspective of animal welfare, this reiteration of the law seems superfluous.
The sages of the Talmud (Bava Metzia 32b) teach that this rule is given first
for the enemy and then for the fellow to teach us about prioritisation. In a
hypothetical dilemma between helping a friend’s ox and an enemy’s ox, say the sages, one must first help one’s enemy. Furthermore, they conclude that if helping the friend’s ox would fulfil the biblical mitzvah but the enemy requires help in loading his animal (which is not a biblical requirement), one must still prioritise the enemy.
This counterintuitive order of priority exists, according to the sages, to ‘conquer one’s (evil) inclination’. Thus we are urged to consider those we dislike as equal in humanity and need with those we love; moreover, we are taught to prioritise them in order to train ourselves out of the impulse to ignore them. As we are more likely to be acutely aware of the needs of those we love, prioritising our enemies allows us to
ensure that their needs do not go ignored.

Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Natasha 

 

 

 

    

 

 


Shabbat Commentary

13/14 Aug: Shoftim : Shabbat comes in 8:13 pm, ends 9:18 pm 

Parashat Shoftim: Man is a Tree of the Field  

When my grandmother arrived in England in 1960, it was midwinter. She was faced for the first time with leafless trees, because the trees of her girlhood in Singapore were evergreens. The sight of these seemingly lifeless trees was frightening to my grandmother, who assumed that there had been a great fire. It’s a story that’s often told with a smile in my family.  

I’m thinking of this story this week, because Parashat Shoftim gives us an interesting and strange rule about trees: when we engage in war, we must not destroy fruit-bearing trees. The reasoning for this is given in this strange phrase: ki ha-adam eitz ha-sadeh. Depending on how we parse the sentence, this could be understood in two opposing ways. We could read it as: ‘Is the tree of the field a man?’ This would highlight our differences; wars are fought between people, not between men and trees. On the other hand, it could be translated as: ‘For man is a tree of the field.’ Instead of telling us how trees are not men, this could instead be reminding us of our similarities and interdependence.  

Rabbi Mordechai Greenberg suggests that it is no calendrical coincidence that we read Parashat Shoftim at the beginning of the month of Elul, the beginning of the season of repentance. The Torah reminds us that man is a tree of the field because of the same lesson that my grandmother learnt in the winter of 1960: trees, like people, go through a yearly cycle. We sometimes lose our spiritual leaves – for Rabbi Greenberg, this is the despair of Tisha B’Av – but we can burst forth with life again.  

May this prove to be a fruitful Elul.  

Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Natasha 

 

 

 

    

 

 


Shabbat Commentary

6/7 Aug: Re’eh : Shabbat comes in 8:26 pm, ends 9:33 pm 

Parashat Re’eh – See and Listen

Parashat Re’eh (the Torah portion entitled ‘See’) begins with a charge to take note of the ramifications of following the ways of the Torah. The opening verses read as follows:
‘See, I place before you today a blessing and a curse. The blessing, that you will listen to the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today, and the curse, if you will not listen to the commandments of the Lord your God…’
The Sefat Emet (‘The Language of Truth’), the late 19th Century Ḥasidic commentary of Rabbi Yehudah Leib Alter of Ger, points to an interesting oddity in this opening: the verse introduces the blessing with the words ‘that you listen’, and the curse with the words ‘if you will not listen’. The assumption of the Torah is that we will walk with God in the world; falling away from this is a possibility, but not the default.
Do we enter the world ultimately good, and learn evil, or vice versa? According to the Sefat Emet’s reading of the opening verses of Parashat Re’eh, goodness is in our nature. It is a perspective that may encourage us to listen more keenly to our instincts, our consciences, and the still small voice.

Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Natasha 

 

 

 

    

 

 


Shabbat Commentary

30/31 July: Eikev : Shabbat comes in 8:38 pm, ends 9:47 pm 

Parashat Eikev: Not On Bread Alone

This week’s Torah portion, Parashat Eikev, includes the description of our wanderings in the wilderness and dependence on manna with the statement ‘man cannot live on bread alone’ (Deuteronomy 8:3). The manna is an incredible symbol of resilience and recognition of life’s fragility. We were given this miraculous bread, but told only to gather enough for each day, and no more. There was no ‘backup’ manna. Anything extra that was taken would go bad. The people had to learn to live a day at a time.

I am stuck with this image this year about the uncertainty that we live with. Many of us are consumed with thoughts of tomorrow, and for good reason: we do not feel secure. This is also true of our ancestors in the wilderness. Without the luxury of land, without permanent homes, the future must have consumed their thoughts. However, with this act of relying on the manna on a day-to-day basis, the Holy One taught them that awareness of fragility does not have to result in fear. It can also result in gratitude. Being grateful for what we have today – the metaphorical manna in our hands – is a powerful religious act.

It’s also a difficult one. It takes practice. The manna symbol did not only happen once; it occurred daily. Each day, being grateful for the manna in their hands built up the practice of gratitude for our ancestors.

May we learn from the experiences of our ancestors, and learn to hold today’s manna with gratitude, resilience, and peace.

Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Natasha 

 

    

 

 


Shabbat Commentary

16/17 July: V’etchanan : Shabbat comes in 8:48 pm, ends 10:00 pm 

Parashat V’etḥanan: Shamor v’Zakhor

This week’s Torah portion recalls the giving of the Ten Commandments. We see the Ten Sayings laid out again before us, harkening back to the revelatory experience at Mt Sinai. However, there are some small differences in this retelling of the story. Most famously, we are given two verbs for what we are supposed to do regarding Shabbat: according to the Exodus narrative, we are commanded to zakhor et-yom haShabbat (to remember the Sabbath day); here in Deuteronomy, we are told to shamor et-yom haShabbat (to observe the Sabbath day).

Interestingly, this isn’t the only difference. Each of the versions of the Shabbat commandment comes with an explanation. We must ‘remember Shabbat’ (zakhor) because the Divine created the world in six days and rested on the seventh; we must ‘observe Shabbat’ (shamor) because the Divine brought us out of slavery in Egypt. It occurs to me that these two explanations for the Shabbat day are about paradigms of power. Humans exert power over one another in a variety of ways. One of those ways is that we manipulate material around us. When we build and we burn, we are exerting the kind of power that God exerted over creation. The second mode of power is that we form societal structures in which we exert social power over one another. When we participate in trade, when we go to work and act as employers or employees, we are partaking in a stratification of society that, at its most extreme, is like Egypt.

These paradigms of power shed some light on the concept of rest. Shabbat is a freeing experience – it gives us a break from cooking and cleaning, from being glued to our email inboxes, from going to our workplaces, and so much more. But here, it seems that Shabbat is freeing from a different perspective. For one day every week, we pull back from exerting power over the world, and we pull back from exerting power over one another.

We live in a time in which we might not feel acutely the power that we possess. There are many unknowns. But perhaps Shabbat can remind us to do better with the areas of control that we do hold, and with the incredible potential of being human in this world.

Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Natasha