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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

21/22 July: Shabbat Mattot-Masei comes in 8:51 pm, goes out 10:03pm

In parshat Mattot-Masei, we read about the conquest and division of the land of Canaan.  The precise boundaries are defined.  One question that is often glossed over is the morality of the conquest, i.e., taking the land from its Canaanite inhabitants.

Steven Bayme, in his book, Understanding Jewish History, brings together the various ways in which our tradition has grappled with this problem.  Rabbinic tradition underscored the biblical rationale for the conquest.  The Canaanites engaged in particularly grievous acts, including child sacrifices.  Because of those acts, the land of Israel effectively “threw out” its native inhabitants.

A second line of reasoning brought by the Rabbis relies on the fact that the Canaanites were not the original inhabitants of the land of Canaan.  An earlier people, whom the Canaanites dispossessed, had once ruled there

The third approach that rabbinic tradition has taken to this issue, which was obviously troubling to the Rabbis, is to historicise the moral issues regarding the conquest.  The Rabbis noted that the command to eliminate the seven nations of Canaan was limited to one generation.  In subsequent years, Israelites and Canaanites lived together in relative degrees of both amity and hostility.


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Paul Arberman


Shabbat Commentary

14/15 July: Shabbat Pinchas comes in 8:58 pm, goes out 10:13pm

Toward the end of parshat Pinchas, God instructs Moses to appoint Joshua to replace him as leader.  The Torah teaches that when Moses lays his hands on Joshua, passing on the mantle of leadership, he only passes on part of his glory.  God says to Moses, “Invest him with some of your authority, so that the whole Israelite community may obey.”  (Numbers 27:20)

Why some, and not all of Moses’ glory?   The Talmud takes off on this passage with a fascinating insight.  “The face of Moses was like that of the sun; the face of Joshua was like that of the moon.”  (Talmud Baba Batra 75a).

What is the difference between the sun and the moon?   The Hasidic Rebbe Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter of Ger wrote, “Unlike the sun which dominates the sky, the moon allows other heavenly bodies to shine.”  Moses who had seen God face-to-face was an overwhelming presence.  Joshua knew that true leadership means not overwhelming others, but allowing others to step forward and share in the glory.  The true leader is the one who can share leadership, and in so doing, can help others also become leaders.

 


 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Paul Arberman


Shabbat Commentary

7/8 July: Shabbat Balak comes in 9.04 pm, goes out 10.21pm

At the end of last week’s Parasha, the Israelites had arrived at the steppes of Moab, prepared to enter the land of Canaan. As we pick up the story this week, Balak, king of Moab, sees the defeat of his neighbouring kings. Fearing a similar fate, he hires the non-Jewish prophet Bilaam to curse the Israelites. However, Bilaam is a true prophet and can only say what G-d has commanded, so he utters blessings instead of curses. Parashat Balak is probably best known for the comical episode of Bilaam’s confrontation with his talking donkey, but I want to take a look at a verse from Bilaam’s first oracle. Looking out over the Israelite camp, Bilaam says:
Who can count the dust of Jacob,
Number the dust-cloud of Israel,
May I die the death of the upright,
May my fate be like theirs.

Regarding the phrase “may I die the death of the upright,” Rashi comments that Bilaam means that he wants to die “among them.”

The Chafetz Chayyim, (Rabbi Israel Meir Hacohen, Poland, early 20th century), explains: Bilaam did not want to live as a believing Jew, but very much wanted to die as one. Why? Because the life of a G-d-fearing Jew is not an easy one: he has to restrain himself and keep away from many things. There are many commandments he must perform. Each day and every hour he has various obligations. The Jew’s death is not like that. For the believing Jew, death is only a transition from a temporary life to a permanent one [the after-life, which the Rabbis call the world to come] . . . and that is why Bilaam wanted to die as a believing Jew. But it is no great feat to die a proper death. The real feat is to live a proper life.


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Paul Arberman


Shabbat Commentary

30 June/1 July: Shabbat Chukat comes in 9.07 pm, goes out 10.26pm


One fascinating aspect of the Jewish tradition is the recognition that human life is a complex mixture of contradictory elements. The two sections of Parshat Chukat give expression to the presence of paradox in life.

The Red Heifer is described as a ritual which “purifies the defiled and defiles those who are purified”.   It reminds me of the saying that a rabbi should comfort those who are uncomfortable and make uncomfortable those who live in comfort.   Similarly, Moses is described as a paradoxical character.   Within a few short verses he shines as a charismatic leader and he fails as a person who is a slave to his passions.

We all live with contradictions.   Sometimes we can smooth out the differing aspects of our identity — Moses had to learn that he couldn’t lash out in anger if he wanted to be a leader.    Sometimes we have to learn to embrace the contradictions;  like learning that doing holy work with the red heifer means getting your hands dirty (bloody!) in order to serve the people.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Paul Arberman


Shabbat Commentary

23/24 June: Shabbat Korach comes in 9.08 pm, goes out 10.28pm


Many commentators note the apparent confusion surrounding the various rebellions in parshat Korach.  The medieval commentator Abarvanel suggests that three distinct revolts are intertwined in the parasha:  the Levites against Aaron; Datan and Aviram against Moses; the tribal chieftains against Aaron.  The coalition builder among all the conspirators is Korach.

Rabbinic tradition understands these rebellions to be motivated by envy, ego, and a desire for power and not any substantive issue with Moses’ or Aaron’s leadership.

Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, writing in the aftermath of the Rabin assassination, explores the role of constructive conflict in any democracy and in the covenantal theology of Judaism.  “Disagreements are allowed in a democracy and in a pluralistic religious community.  It is all right –indeed normal– to argue that the other side/position is wrong.  But  to delegitimate is to claim that the other side/position is not just wrong.  Rather, it is illegitimate.  It has no right to exist; it is not worthy of being heard . . . To enter into a covenant is to agree to disagree but not to delegitimate.

“To disagree is to humanize; to delegitimate is to dehumanize.  This is not to say that all positions are legitimate.  Relativism implies that all views are equally valid (which is to say that none is really correct or ultimately true).  But there is a ‘no’ as well as a ‘yes’ in the pluralist system.

The genius of democracy — and of covenantal religion, pluralistically understood — is that they define the inclusionary principle broadly, making room for a much wider range of interests and views than was true in the past. “

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Paul Arberman


Shabbat Commentary

16/17 June: Shabbat Shelach Lecha comes in 9.06 pm, goes out 10.27pm


I have a question for God.   In Parshat Shelach, God instructs Moses to choose twelve chieftains, one from each tribe, to scout out the Land of Israel.  The twelve “spies” are asked to determine what kind of country it is:  “Are the people who dwell in it strong or weak, few or many?  Is the country in which they dwell good or bad?  Are the towns they live in open or fortified?  Is the soil rich or poor?  Is it wooded or not?  And take pains to bring back some of the fruit of the land . . . ” (Numbers 13:18-20)

So they scout about and upon returning from the land of Canaan, the twelve spies presented their reports to the Jewish people concerning all they had seen in their future homeland.  The children of Israel chose to accept the negative report of the majority rather than the optimistic minority report.

Now it is clear that God commands Moses to send the spies to check out the land of Canaan.  Yet, when this plan backfires, God becomes so angry that He nearly destroys the entire Jewish people.   My question is, from the simple reading of the text, why were the Israelites guilty for doing what God had asked them to do?  Scout, report, react.  That is what God wanted!

In fact, it’s clear that God only wanted the spies to scout and report back good things about the Land.   It’s like a colleague who only wants you to read her work and say positive things.  Or a child who only wants you to like their drawing, not g ive constructive criticism.

If I cook dinner for my family, I really only want to hear good things, not  “nice, but it’s a bit oily*”.   So, did I do the wrong thing by asking “How is the dinner?”

We all have to recognize that words only convey half of the meaning behind a question.  At this pivotal moment God only wanted to hear good things.   God had worked hard to take them out of Egypt and across the desert.  God was really just trying to give them some ownership over the decision — which can be a double edged sword.

The answer is we should take the other person’s investment and feelings into consideration; to balance negative and positive in our reports.  When asked, we should not just say what’s wrong with the land (scary giants) but to report on the fruits of the Land as well.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Paul Arberman


Shabbat Commentary

9/10 June: Shabbat Behalotecha comes in 9.02 pm, goes out 10.22pm


The Torah records two means by which the Israelites were notified that they would be continuing their journey through the wilderness.

In Chapter 9, Verses 15-23, we are told that when the Cloud of Glory over the Mishkan (tabernacle) dispersed, it was a sign that it was time to break camp and travel to the next location in the wilderness.

However, in Chapter 10, Verses 1-10, the Torah records the fact that the priests were to blow special trumpets to notify Israel of the impending journey. Why are two means of communications necessary?

People hear and learn in different ways.   One person might be moved to help the poor because God commanded it.  Another person might do it only because a friend says “hey, will you sponsor me in my walk against poverty?”

There is even wisdom is knowing that some people will respond to an e-mail, while others will respond to a phone call.   Some of us are woken up by the words of the prayers and some of us by the music.

If you understand how you yourself hear and learn best  ( written, visual, auditory, commands, requests…) you can help yourself be more productive.  But what you need is not necessarily the same as what your partner, children or colleague needs.   By telling us of the two signals that the Israelites received to move camp, the Torah is teaching that if you recognize how others hear and learn, you can reach them and you can move them.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Paul Arberman


Shabbat Commentary

2/3 June: Shabbat Naso comes in 8.55 pm, goes out 10.14pm


In Parshat Naso, we read the list of gifts, all identical , donated by the tribes in order to build the tabernacle.  Although each tribal prince donated the exact same offering, the Torah doesn’t simply state the offerings once and indicate that each tribe made the identical gift.

Rabbi Shlomo Breur, the son-in-law of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, explains that although the contents did not differ, the way in which each leader made the contribution did.  The experience of giving was highly individual.  Think about different people each bringing food to a dinner, some bring it with joy, some bring it only after great effort.  Some purchase the food out and some have time to prepare it.  Each act of giving in our lives is a chance to not only to give the item but to give of ourselves.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Paul Arberman


Shabbat Commentary

26/27 May: Shabbat Bamidbar comes in 8.47 pm, goes out 10.04pm


In Parshat Bamidbar we read the verse  “This is the line of Aaron and Moses at the time that the Lord spoke with Moses on Mount Sinai.  These were the names of Aaron’s sons:  Nadav, the first-born, and Avihu, Elazar and Itamar.“    This passage begins by saying that it will tell the line of Aaron and Moses, but supplies only the names of Aaron’s sons.

From this, the Talmud concluded,  “One who teaches the son of his neighbour Torah is considered as if he had begotten him,  since Aaron begot and Moses taught them; hence they are [also] called by Moses’s name” (Sanhedrin 19b).

We all have teachers and coaches who greatly add to our appreciation of our life and give it deeper meaning.   Judaism gives them proper recognition as actual givers of life.   Who has done that for you as you were growing up?

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Paul Arberman


Shabbat Commentary

19/20 May: Shabbat Behar-Bechukotai comes in 8.37 pm, goes out 9.53pm


This week’s portion contains laws that limit someone’s right to the land. For six years we can harvest our crops. But on the seventh year we must allow the land to lie fallow. Obviously this leaving the land alone has certain agricultural value. It is an opportunity to replenish the soil. But there is another powerful symbolism in not working the land every seven years. By not working the land, we are reminded that “the earth is the Lord’s.” We only have temporary use of the land.

There is another law in this week’s portion which drives the point home even more strongly. Every fifty years a shofar is sounded on Yom Kippur, and all land reverts to its original owners. Of course this hearkens back to the Biblical days when the land was divided between the various families in the various tribes.

If a family is forced by poverty to sell their land, the new owner does not take possession forever. They have use of the land until the Jubilee year, when it reverts back to its originally owner. This law, perhaps a bit idealistic, prevents property from accumulating in the hands of the wealthy few.

In our modern society we are strong believers in property rights. I am a homeowner and I appreciate the fact that I own a little piece of real estate in Israel. But every now and then it is important to remember that God is not interested in the few accumulating great wealth and control over a lot of real estate. God is interested in ensuring that everyone has a plot of land to call home.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Paul Arberman