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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

16/17 Nov : Vayetzei: Shabbat comes in 3:55 pm,  ends  5:00 pm

In this week’s Parasha Jacob (Ya’akov) runs from his brother Esav after stealing his birthright blessing.  Overtaken by night, Ya’akov “stumbles onto [a] place,” and stays there for the night.  It quickly becomes clear what kind of place this is; Ya’akov dreams of a stairway reaching into the heavens, with angels of God ascending and descending it – the famous “Jacob’s Ladder” (Gen. 28:12).

Awakening from his dream state, Ya’akov makes his famous statement: “Surely God is in this place, and I did not know it” (Gen. 28:16).  This place, which Ya’akov refers to as the “gate of heaven,” is traditionally identified with the site of the Temple.

Rashi surmises that Ya’akov knew, at least instinctively, more about this place than he gave himself credit for: “‘He stumbled onto the place’ – but he needed God’s help to stop there:  If you ask, when Ya’akov crossed over the [site of the] Temple, why would he not stop there?   His heart was not drawn to pray at the place where his ancestors had prayed, and so he was detained there by Heaven.”  In his preoccupation with his flight, he nearly passed the place by – yet some inner intuition to the sacred caused his feet to tarry there.  This pattern will come to characterise Ya’akov’s relationship with God: he never seems to realise at the time of events that God is acting in his life, but neither does he ever fail to see it in hindsight.

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman




Shabbat Commentary

9/10 Nov : Toledot: Shabbat comes in 4:05 pm,  ends  5:08 pm

A famine in Canaan drives Yitzchak to the Philistine city of Gerar, much like the hunger that drove Avraham down to Egypt a generation earlier.  Surprisingly, when the Torah says:  “the men of the place asked him about his wife,” Yitzchak’s strategy was the same as his father’s. “He said ‘she is my sister,’ for he was afraid to say ‘my wife,’ thinking, ‘the men of the place might kill me on account of Rivka, for she is beautiful.’” (Genesis 26:5).

Modern biblical commentator Nachum Sarna points out several Canaanite and Greek epics that feature the abduction of the hero’s beautiful wife, parallel to the kidnapping motif that appears three times in the bible.  The Torah’s purposes in telling these stories, says Sarna are:  One:  the unmatched beauty of the Jewish matron and the constant presence of the patriarchs in the king’s court were matters of national pride; Two: the lewdness and corruption of the pagan nations contrast sharply with the morality of the Jews; and finally, these stories show God’s direct protective intervention at the moment when all seems hopeless.

Rabbi David Kimchi, (aka Radak, 13th cent.) is a bit more critical:  “Avraham faced a real moral dilemma: telling the truth might result in his being killed and in his wife being taken anyway.   Lying would allow them both to survive, although at a high cost to Sarah.   It would have been improper to have relied on a miracle, and Avraham made a proper choice.”

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman




Shabbat Commentary

2/3 Nov : Chayei-Sara: Shabbat comes in 4:17 pm,  ends  5:19 pm

Parashat Chayei Sarah, the Torah reading for this Shabbat, opens with the death of Sarah, and with Abraham securing a burial plot for her. Indeed, the entire first chapter of the Parashah is devoted to the intense negotiations between Ephron the Hittite and Abraham.

Part of what strikes the reader so deeply is Abraham’s demeanour during his exchange with Ephron. Having been promised the land as his inheritance, one that will be passed on to his descendants, it is surprising that Abraham behaves with such humility and sensitivity. Two moments stand out in particular. First, Abraham declares to Ephron, “I am a resident alien among you.” Second, Ephron graciously offers to give Abraham the plot he is seeking; Abraham politely refuses and insists on payment.

Abraham’s special quality is that of humility with respect to God and his fellow humans. Far from taking the divine promise for granted (that his descendants will inherit the Land of Israel), he is keenly aware of the reality in which he resides. He is indeed “a stranger in a strange land”; he is a newcomer. And more importantly, he knows that if he is to attain a legitimate foothold in the land, he cannot rely on divine promises alone. He must do so through humility and through the assent of those “in power” (a.k.a., the Hittites). Further, Abraham understands that he cannot take advantage of the magnanimous spirit of Ephron; land cannot be given, it must be acquired.

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman




Shabbat Commentary

26/27 Oct : Vayera: Shabbat comes in 5:30 pm,  ends  6:31 pm

In Parashat Vayera,  God decides to tell Avraham about the problem of Sedom and neighbouring Amorah (Sodom and Gomorrah), and about the decision to destroy them: “Shall I hide from Avraham what I am about to do, since Avraham is to become a great and populous nation and all the nations of the earth are to bless themselves by him?  For I have singled him out, that he may instruct his children and his household after him so that they will follow the way of Hashem, to do the just and the right, in order that Hashemi may bring about what has been spoken to him”(Gen. 18:17-19).

It is unusual to get such a narrative of God’s rationale for doing anything, especially at such length and detail. Clearly, more is at stake than a simple notification that a couple of cities are about to be destroyed. God is seeking a consultation with the human Avraham.

While Avraham obeys God without question when it comes to the command to sacrifice his son, here, he argues back immediately. “Far be it from You to do such a thing, to bring death upon the innocent as well as the guilty…. Far be it from You ! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” (Gen. 18:25).

It seems that Avraham and God learned a lot about each other in this argument over Sedom and Amorah. Avraham learns that you can fight with God.  Apparently, he also learns that he doesn’t necessarily need to do so. There aren’t enough righteous people to make a difference, and while he never even mentions his own family there, they are saved anyway. God had all of that covered; God can be trusted.

So perhaps when Avraham tells his son, “God will see to the sheep for the offering, my son,” (Gen. 22:8) he has utter faith that God will do just that, even up to the last moment as he brings out the knife to slaughter his son. Perhaps it was that demonstration of faith that caused God to trust Avraham in return.

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman




Shabbat Commentary

19/20 Oct : Lech Lecha: Shabbat comes in 5:44 pm,  ends  6:44 pm

Kerouac’s On the Road, Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, Conrad’s Lord Jim. Our forty years of wandering. Such journeys resonate through time, and stay with us.

A relationship is a journey.  In a healthy one we problem-solve; we integrate the conflict. I can’t imagine Avraham divorcing Sarah for being infertile, or Sarah leaving him because he is too old.  They never say: “This is too hard. Forget this.”  Avraham realises early on that he is a driving force for God. It is his responsibility to take step after step…to rise rung after rung…to a place where he can fulfil his divine work here on earth.

Yet Avraham is not described in the Torah as is Noah, “righteous man for his generation” (Gen. 6:9).  According to our sages, this poses a question. Why is Avraham not being introduced with some praise?   I think that if he was already so very righteous he would have a shorter path to travel.  But no, he has a long journey.  Avraham can keep moving forward and transforming, step after step, and so can we.

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman




Shabbat Commentary

12/13 Oct : Noach: Shabbat comes in 5:59 pm,  ends  6:59 pm

Is the flood a “just” punishment for the living creatures on earth?

Rashi (11th Century France) notes that “whenever you find immorality and idolatry, indiscriminate punishment comes upon the world and it kills good and bad alike.” Such is the way of violence, that it invariably assumes a life of its own. Whatever may have been the intentions behind its initial use, violence strikes without attention to particular agendas or allegiance.

In the words of the Mekhilta: “However mighty the man, once the arrows leave his hand, he cannot make them come back . . . However mighty the man, once frenzy and power take hold, even his father, even his mother, and even his nearest kin he strikes as he moves in his wrath.”

So in terms of a punishment for the people of Noah’s time, the flood and the destruction of all living things does seem a bit extreme.  One of my rabbis, Rabbi Brad Artson argues, that is exactly the point the Torah is trying to make.

Destruction, even when it comes from the God who is “slow to anger and abounding in kindness” bursts beyond any manageable or fair limitations. Even punishments, originally intended to be measured and reasonable, provoke unanticipated suffering and hardship.

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman




Shabbat Commentary

5/6 Oct : Bereshit  comes in 6:15 pm,  ends  7:14 pm

Abraham Joshua Heschel believed that Adam’s sin was primarily in hiding from God and from himself.  This is not, in Heschel’s eyes, an abstract idea; we all hide from God and from ourselves. Heschel expresses it thus in the third verse of his poem I and Thou:

Often I glimpse Myself in everyone’s form, 

hear My own speech – a distant, quiet voice – in people’s weeping, 

as if under millions of masks My face would lie hidden.

 Heschel is describing a personal experience in which he has hidden from himself, his essence absorbed within society.  His face is masked, hidden from view, making the idea to “know thyself” impossible.

 I’m not sure why we hide from ourselves so well when we are young — or perhaps we just don’t take the time to think through who we are — but I can say definitively, that one of the great joys of getting older is the unmasking — getting to know yourself — what you actually enjoy or don’t enjoy doing.

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman




Shabbat Commentary

22 Sept : Haazinu  comes in 6:47 pm,  ends  7:46 pm

Listen, O heavens, let me speak;

Let the earth hear the words I utter!

May my discourse come down as the rain,

My speech distil as the dew,

Like showers on young growth, Like droplets on the grass.

The singer Craig Taubman, in an essay in The Modern Men’s Torah Commentary, notes that the key to this Parashah is its first word, which means “give ear,” or “listen.”  He writes, “My Aunt Ruth would say, ‘God gave us two ears and one mouth so we would listen twice as much as we speak.’. . . Haazinu reminds us to listen”.  The Israelites are commanded to memorise this poem so that in the future, when they find themselves in exile and their lives and history seem at their lowest point, they can listen to it and be reminded that God will not forget them.

I think there is also importance in the metaphor of words coming down like rain, showers and dew.   So often when we receive wisdom from friends and loved ones we are unable to act on the advice immediately.  It takes time for the words to settle within us — for them to take root — and to help us grow.

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman



Shabbat Commentary

15 Sept : Vayelech-Shuva  comes in 7:03 pm,  ends  8:03 pm

Vayelech is a short Parashah that is seldom read on its own. In most years, it partners with Parashat Nitzavim, which tends to get more attention because of its famous statement about the Torah: “It is not in the heavens” (Deut. 30:12). Often taken as a statement that it is for humans to interpret what the Torah means, and not to wait for heavenly voices or engage in other sorts of divination to get rulings upon it, in reality, this statement is part of a longer narrative that runs throughout the Book of Deuteronomy, and whose practicalities are summed up in Parashat Vayelech.

God could have chosen to hold human hands forever. In every generation, God would need to find a human willing and able to engage in the intense, exhausting process of engagement with God. But God did not choose to keep the Israelites on a leash. God’s purpose was to teach the people to lead ethical, God-centred lives, and to God this meant that they were required to engage in proper relationships with each other.

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman



Shabbat Commentary

31 Aug/1 Sept : Ki Tavo comes in 7:35 pm,  ends  8:36 pm

Ki Tavo contains three major segments that continue the review of the law that Moses began in Ki Tetze. First, he tells the Jewish people that when they enter and settle the land, they are to bring the first fruits as sacrifices and details the ceremony for doing so.

In his Guide for the Perplexed, Maimonides states that this is because “the first of everything is to be devoted to the Lord; and by doing so we accustom ourselves … to limit our appetites for eating and our desire for property.”

Jews in ancient times, after a long pilgrimage to Jerusalem, would bring an offering to the Temple and proclaim, “I have come to the Land which the Lord swore to our fathers to give to them,” and then present their baskets to the priests, saying: ” …..A wandering Aramean was my father, and he went down to Egypt and sojourned there, few in number; and he became there a nation, great, mighty and populous…” (Deuteronomy 26: 3-5).

This verse should sound familiar, because it’s found in the Passover Haggadah and is a part of the narrative of the Exodus. Nechama Leibowitz, the late Israeli Bible commentator, points out that, just as in the Passover Haggadah, we learn that in “every generation every Jew is obliged to see him/herself as if s/he had gone out of Egypt,” so at the time of the offering of the first fruits, “every generation is to also regard itself brought to the Land of Israel by God.”

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman