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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

24/25 May: Behar : Shabbat comes in 8:44 pm,  ends  10:01 pm

The idea of the shmita year — letting slaves go free and letting the land lay fallow in the seventh year — and the law of jubilee year — of returning land to original owners and cancelling debts — strikes me as radical socialism.  I understand that it served an important function of not allowing any person to become extremely rich while others lost their family’s inheritance.   However, Rabbi Hillel eventually did away with the jubilee cancellation of debts since it was preventing healthy commerce (who would lend money if the debt would be cancelled?)

However, in between the verses on shmita and the jubilee there is a strange sentence,  which seems out of place, it says:  “On the day of atonement shall you sound the shofar throughout the land.”

I want to suggest that the mention of Yom Kippur comes here for the important reason of building on the theme of things that do not entirely belong to us —    including our very selves.   Once a year we acknowledge that although we think we are entirely in control of our lives, we do not have total dominion over ourselves.

We are not allowed to intentionally harm our bodies (smoking, dangerous activity etc.) because our body is not entirely ours.   The idea is very powerful.   Sometimes the way to be completely “responsible”  — to take control for our land, our possessions or even ourselves, is to acknowledge that we share responsibility with God.

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman

 

 

 


Shabbat Commentary

17/18 May: Emor : Shabbat comes in 8:35 pm,  ends  9:49 pm

In Parashat Emor (chapter 22, verses 29 through to 33) we read a series of requests from God in great poetic form: “You should slaughter a Thanksgiving offering to God so that it is acceptable to you. It should be eaten on that day; don’t leave it until the morning. I am God. You should keep my commandments and do them. I am God. You should not desecrate My holy name. I will be sanctified among the children of Israel. I am God who sanctified you, the one who took you out of Mitzrayim to be a God to you, I am God.”

Presumably, the Thanksgiving offering relies on the idea that we have things in our lives for which we are grateful, and we direct that gratitude to God.  However, the statement at the end of each of these verses is God’s version of “because I said so.”  Ideally, the mitzvot that we perform are meaningful in our own lives as well independent of our relationship with God.   But sometimes they are not, and this is sometimes difficult to accept.

At first glance, these requests, or demands, really, might turn one off when they are accompanied by God’s ‘because I said so’. There must be an understanding that God’s requests are not destructive or contrary to my own sense of morality.  I believe that the real request through these few verses is not (only) to do the specific acts God mentions, but the imperative is actually to create a relationship with God. Since the foundation of Ani Adoshem is that we have a relationship, I think this text is trying to compel us to reach to God and establish the relationship on which  these statements rely.

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman

 

 

 


Shabbat Commentary

10/11 Apr : Kedoshim : Shabbat comes in 8:24 pm,  ends  9:36 pm

What is Kadosh/Holy? The Hebrew of “Kedoshim tihyu ki kadosh ani” is ambivalent; cast in the future tense for ourselves (“you shall be holy”) and in the present for God (“for I am holy”). It is not actually clear whether God is describing, commanding or causing the holiness that will be ours.  It is a dynamic formulation, capable of any of these interpretations and more. Masorti-Conservative “Etz Hayim” Torah Commentary notes (to Lev. 19:2) that Samson Raphael Hirsch defined holiness as “occurring ‘when a morally free human being has complete dominion over one’s own energies and inclinations and the temptations associated with them, and places them at the service of God’s will’.”

Theologian Martin Buber felt that holiness consists not in rising above one’s neighbours, but in “recognizing the divinity in other people… as God recognizes the latent divinity in each of us.”  In South Asia and among yoga practitioners, the greeting Namaste is common – “I greet the Divine in you.”  It is a greeting that focuses on the other person, far more deeply than our normal “Hi! How are you doing?”   Recognizing and greeting the holy in others — whether an acquaintance on the street or a marriage partner — enhances the holy in us.

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman

 

 

 


Shabbat Commentary

12/13 Apr : Metzora : Shabbat comes in 7:38 pm,  ends  8:43 pm

In this week’s Parshah, we learn how the leper who has become “free”
of the disease becomes purified. It is a detailed ritual involving
animal sacrifices, shaving of body hair, sprinkling of blood and oil,
and the immersion of the person in water. At certain points in the
purification ritual, blood and then oil is placed on the right ear,
the thumb of the right hand, and the big toe of the right foot of the
person to be purified.

While the ceremony at first struck me as odd, messy and inaccessible
in its ancientness, it later struck me as terribly meaningful for a
person who has suffered a life-threatening disease, and who is now, in
a very public and explicit way, being “cleansed” of their disease and
welcomed back into the community.

Sefer Ha-Hinnukh says the leper who bathed his body in water was not
simply cleansing himself. The bathing symbolised rebirth and re-
creation. The experience of illness and recovery made the leper a new
person – that is, someone who now looked at life differently.  I
imagine if I survived a life-threatening illness, I might view life
differently, and I might want a ceremony to mark that positive change
in my life.

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman

 

 

 


Shabbat Commentary

5/6 Apr : Tazria : Shabbat comes in 7:26 pm,  ends  8:31 pm

In Vayikra 13:1-3, we read that the individual afflicted with tzara’at goes to the Kohen, either Aharon or one of his sons, and the Kohen declares the individual as either afflicted with tzara’at, and tame, or not. The Kohen, after checking the skin ailment, determines if the person needs to be removed from the community while they are sick. This isn’t the typical role of the Kohen. He went through training, and was part of a lineage that instructed him on sacrifices and leading an Israelite community. However, we don’t read anywhere in the Torah of any instruction he received on dealing with human wounds.

This teaches us the importance of stepping outside of our prescribed roles for the needs of the community. This seems to be the first mention to  Aharon of the need to have the role of tzara’at examiner, and we see no fight from Aharon that this role is outside of his jurisdiction. When someone is in pain, we step up to help them. In a society that is based on community, we sometimes have to take responsibility and act in ways we wouldn’t expect.

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman

 

 

 


Shabbat Commentary

29/30 Mar : Shemini : Shabbat comes in 6:14 pm,  ends  7:18 pm

In Shemini, we are faced with a biblical narrative that seemingly punishes two priests, appointed by God, for aiming to keep their ritual original and inventive. Nadav and Avihu, Aaron’s eldest sons, are instantly killed in a divine fiery blaze after offering a strange fire before God.

The majority of commentators agree that Aaron’s sons performed unauthorized and innovative acts of ritual. No matter what the two men actually did wrong, it’s clear that they did something that wasn’t expressly spelled out by the rites that were previously in place.  However, Judaism is an ever evolving faith — leading to its historical longevity !

So some commentators point out that directly after the death of Nadav and Avihu, God instructs Aaron as follows: “Do not drink wine or strong drink, you and your sons with you, when you enter the Tent of Meeting, lest you die” (Lev. 10:9-11).   From this comparison of verses, Rashi infers that Nadav and Avihu were, in fact, guilty of sacrificing under the influence. This transgression warranted a swift punishment from above, not because of any malicious intent, but because these men were chosen as leaders and role models of their community and they should have behaved accordingly.

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman

 

 

 


Shabbat Commentary

22/23 Mar : Tzav : Shabbat comes in 6:02 pm,  ends  7:06 pm

According to Parshat Tzav, the priests’ first task of the day was to remove the ashes from the offering sacrificed the previous day. (Leviticus 6:3)   Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch suggests that this is a constant reminder that service of the new day is connected to the service of the previous day.  After all, the ashes from the remains of yesterday’s sacrifice had to be removed before the new sacrifice could be offered.

Another thought:  It is specifically the priest who begins the day by removing the ashes — to illustrate the importance of his remaining involved with the mundane. Too often, those who rise to important lofty positions separate themselves from the people and withdraw from the everyday menial tasks. The Torah, through these laws teaches it shouldn’t be this way.

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman

 

 

 


Shabbat Commentary

16/16 Mar : Vayikra : Shabbat comes in 5:50 pm,  ends  6:53 pm

In Parshat Vayikra, we learn of the many sacrifices of animals and grain; these were familiar to all of the people of the ancient world.  Most societies, however, used these sacrifices to propitiate and “feed” their Gods, who would become angry and destructive if they weren’t fed.  God, in contrast, turned sacrifice into communication, with the assistance of the Levitical priests, the Kohanim.

Some offerings were to be made, either daily or upon certain occasions, by the Kohanim on behalf of the entire community; many, however, were brought as needed by members of the community.  Both gratitude and repentance could be expressed through the language of sacrifice.

Rather than an expression of fear, sacrifice became a mode of communication.  That alone was a major step toward knowing God.  Later would come words, prayers — as the prophet Hosea said, prayers are “the sacrifices/bulls of our lips” (Hosea 14:2).

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman

 

 

 


Shabbat Commentary

8/9 Mar : Pekudei : Shabbat comes in 5:38 pm,  ends  6:41 pm

In Parshat Pekudei, Moses provides a detailed account of how the contributions to the Tabernacle were put to use.  A Midrash addresses this as follows:

Why did Moses give them accounts? The Holy One, may His name be blessed, trusted him as it says: “Not so with My servant Moses; he is trusted throughout My household” (Numbers 12:7).  So why did Moses say to the Israelites, come let us discuss the Tabernacle and I will give you accounts?  It is because Moses heard malicious Israelites speaking behind his back (Exodus Rabba (Vilna) 51).

The Midrash explains that the accounts were required due to rumours spread by Israelites, who suspected him of misappropriating funds for his own benefit.  Moses understands this and instead of being insulted, he shows that at times, even leaders must explain themselves; and he lists where all the gifts have gone to use in the Mishkan.

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman

 

 

 


Shabbat Commentary

1/2 Mar : Vayakhel : Shabbat comes in 5:25 pm,  ends  6:29 pm

Near the beginning of this week’s reading, we learn that Moses asked the people to donate the materials needed to make the Mishkan.  The men and women responded generously, so much so that the Torah says:   The artisans who were engaged in the tasks of the sanctuary came . . . and said to Moses, “The people are bringing more than is needed for the tasks entailed in the work that the Lord has commanded to be done.”  Moses thereupon had this proclamation made throughout the camp – let no man or woman make further effort toward gifts for the sanctuary.

This was the first – and very possibly the last – time in the history of Jewish fundraising that people were told to stop donating.  However, as Moses’ accounting shows, all the donations were used for their intended purpose, with nothing left over for operating expenses or an endowment fund.

According to the Midrash Tanhuma, it took only two days to collect all of the materials needed for the Mishkan.  I imagine there must have been hundreds, even thousands, of people who had things they sincerely wanted to contribute to the project, but they waited – just a little bit.  We never know how much time we have.  We go around assuming we can take care of this or that task tomorrow or next week, and quite often this is fine.  Our Parasha reminds us that sometimes putting it off for even a day or two means you will be too late.

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman