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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

18/19 Jan : Beshalach : Shabbat comes in 4:10 pm,  ends  5:19 pm

In Parashat Beshalach, the Israelites leave behind a ruined Egypt and start their journey to the land of their ancestors.  Even now, however, Pharaoh cannot bring himself to let them leave, and so his troops set out in hot pursuit. They catch the Israelites at the Sea of Reeds.  Moshe urges them to “Stand by and witness the deliverance which God will work for you today, for the Egyptians you see today, you will never see again. God will battle for you; you hold your peace!” (Ex. 14:13-14)

So were the Israelites really just passive watchers of all these events? The Sages didn’t like this idea; they saw the need for the people to take active steps to participate in their own redemption. Thus, in the Mekhilta, a midrash on Exodus, they inquire why the verse (Ex. 14:29) says that “the Israelites marched through the sea on dry ground” – it should be one or the other! “Rather, from here you learn that the sea did not split for them until they went into it up to their faces, and after that it became dry for them,” so that they first went “through the sea “and then “on dry ground.”   God created circumstances for the Israelite salvation — but the Israelites had to take the initiative as well.

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman

 

 

 


Shabbat Commentary

11/12 Jan : Bo : Shabbat comes in 3:59 pm,  ends  5:09 pm

Parshat Bo has in a sense three signs or symbols that frame the Parsha.

We open the Parsha with God explaining that he gives the plagues as a sign to Pharaoh.   The next verse explains the purpose of the signs – “otot”:  The signs were done so that we and the Egyptians would know that our God was the true God.

In the middle of the Parsha there is a second sign:  God asks us to put blood on our doorposts – perhaps a forerunner of the mitzvah of putting up a mezuzah.   But we read that: we are to dip hyssop in blood and paint the doorposts of our houses so that God should know which houses to skip in macat habechorot – why is this verse strange?  He seemed to have no problem being able to distinguish between Israelite and Egyptian during all other plagues. What now could possibly cause Hashem to need the assistance of a visual sign to distinguish his nation from the Egyptians? Perhaps the solution lies in a closer reading of the text.    The verse states that the blood shall be a sign “for you.” The Mechilta (a Midrashic interpretation of the Bible) states that the sign is for you (the Jews), not for Me (God), and not for others.This suggests that, in fact, God did not need this sign in order to be able to skip over the Jewish homes when smiting the Egyptian firstborn. He ordered the Israelites to perform this act for their own benefit.   So that they would be reminded who they are.

Similarly, the Parsha ends with a final sign — once again, for us:   God says:   “It shall be a sign upon your arm, and for tefillin between your eyes, for with a strong hand, God removed us from Egypt.”

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman

 

 

 


Shabbat Commentary

4/5 Jan : Vaera : Shabbat comes in 3:50 pm,  ends  5:00 pm

In this week’s portion, God tells Moshe to tell the children of Israel that he will soon take them out of Egypt. In the words of the Torah, “I will bring you out from under the burden of the Egyptians and I will deliver you from their bondage and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm…and I will take you to me for a people. (Exodus 6:6,7)

Here, the Torah mentions four words related to the Exodus from Egypt. I will bring you out (vehotzeiti), I will deliver you (vehitzalti), I will redeem you (vega’alti), and I will take you (velakahti). In fact, the four cups of wine used at the Seder table are meant to symbolize these four words of redemption. Wine is the symbol of joy and hence reflects these words which describe the joyous exodus from Egypt.

Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin notes that the Hebrew term for words often used by the rabbis is leshonot, which literally means languages. For the Netziv, the terms in this portion denote the language of redemption rather than words of redemption. This implies that each term relates to a stage in the redemption process. The stages indicate that redemption, whether personal or national is a process that is gradual.

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman

 

 

 


Shabbat Commentary

28/29 Dec : Shemot : Shabbat comes in 3:43 pm,  ends  4:53 pm

“Joseph died, and all his brothers, and all that generation” (Ex. 1:6).  And “A new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph” (Ex. 1:7).  That was all it took to transform the honoured guests into enemy strangers.

The Sages, who, after all, were professional rememberers, found this rather sudden turnaround surprising.  How could something as significant as national salvation simply be forgotten, seemingly within a generation or so ?  They offered some surprisingly modern explanations for the Egyptians’ behaviour.  Midrash Rabbah (Shemot) notes that the Sages Rav and Shmuel disagreed about the verse’s meaning – one of them  [Shmuel] said that “A new king arose” meant just that – now Egypt had a new Pharaoh, and with the new administration came new policies (something we get rather a lot of in modern times, for better or worse).  The other argued that the Torah would have said that the old Pharaoh died if it had meant only that a new Pharaoh was now in office.  Rather, he believed, the same Pharaoh had simply changed his mind.

Yosef’s story is the longest narrative about a single individual in the Torah.  In his life – and death – he left many lessons about how people treat each other and the damage we can do to each other.  He also left many lessons about redemption, about rising above one’s circumstances and bringing good out of them, even pointing out to the very brothers who threw him into the pit and sold him into slavery, that, by doing so, they had managed to provide the key to their own salvation from famine and their preservation as a people.  Perhaps one of the reasons we are still here while the ancient Egyptians are gone is that we, unlike them, remember Yosef.

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman

 

 

 


Shabbat Commentary

21/22 Dec : Vayechi : Shabbat comes in 3:38 pm,  ends  4:48 pm

Yaakov is the first person to be recorded in the Torah as interacting with his grandchildren on any level.  Not only does he interact with them, he actually gives each of them a blessing.  The blessing is so powerful it becomes the standardised blessing of parents to children every Friday night. Placing our hands on our children, we say, “may God make you like Ephraim and Menashe.” (Genesis 48:20)

Yosef (Joseph) takes his sons Ephraim and Menashe to see their grandfather. As they enter, Yaakov proclaims “mi eileh?” “Who are these?” (Genesis 48:8)   Having already been in Egypt for 17 years, is it possible that Yaakov didn’t know the identity of his grandsons? Bearing in mind that Yaakov could no longer see, he might not recognise his grandsons even as they stand before him.  However, some commentators insist that Yaakov asked “who are these?” to precipitate a “nachas report” from Yosef about the moral, spiritual and religious progress of Ephraim and Menashe. (Genesis 48:9)

On the other hand, maybe Yaakov did not recognise his grandchildren because he has little relationship with them (maybe Yosef rarely brought them to visit). Another suggestion: Maybe “mi eileh,” is an existential question. Having grown up in Egypt, Ephraim and Menashe must have, on some level, assimilated into Egyptian society. Standing before Yaakov as Jews living in Egypt, Yaakov asks, “Who are these?” What he is really asking is do my grandchildren identify themselves as Egyptians or Jews?

If allowed to develop, a grandparent’s relationship to a child is deep.  Unencumbered by parental responsibility, a grandparent, blessed with the wisdom and maturity of life can powerfully bestow blessings upon their children.

In a brief instant, a grandparent asks, “mi eileh,” who are these, not so much as a question but as an expression of thanksgiving to God for having been blessed with such glorious grandchildren.

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman

 

 

 


Shabbat Commentary

14/15 Dec : Vayigash : Shabbat comes in 3:36 pm,  ends  4:46 pm

Josef and his family are now united in Egypt.  Josef asks Pharaoh that his family be allowed to settle in Goshen.  Malbim (Ukraine 19th c.) comments that Josef uses a verb (lagur) which means “to sojourn,” or to stay temporarily.  When Pharaoh replies, he uses the verb leshev, which means, in this context, “to settle permanently.”  Josef seems reluctant to impose on Pharaoh’s hospitality, while Pharaoh (despite the famine in Egypt itself) seems more than happy to have the rest of Josef’s family.

Throughout the whole encounter, Josef, the one who would seem to be the most secure, really is the most ill at ease, trying to paper over his family’s size and its “unacceptable” occupation.  He shows himself unwilling to trust either his family or his adopted sovereign to know how to relate to each other.  Unlike his successors, this particular Pharaoh has gone out of his way to provide for his people and to welcome those in need, and in doing so, he offers Josef and his family a lesson in honest dealing.

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman

 

 

 


Shabbat Commentary

7/8 Dec : Miketz (Shabbat Chanukah): Shabbat comes in 3:37pm,  ends  4:40 pm

The theme of God’s intervention in history marks both the holiday of Hanukkah and this week’s Parashah.  Joseph is rescued from prison and becomes the second most powerful man in Egypt.  He is able to rescue his brothers, the same brothers who sold him into slavery.  A series of natural historical events separates and then reunites the brothers.  Yet Joseph in next week’s portion will say to his brothers, “So it was not you who sent me here, but God.”  (Genesis 45:8)   God is at work behind the scenes.
One way to look at miracles is as natural events; yet it becomes a miracle when a person of faith looks at the event and sees the hand of God.  A miracle is an event that points towards a greater reality, a consciousness beyond the physical or material world.

It is possible to go through life without ever seeing a miracle. As the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism taught, “The world is full of wonders and miracles; but we take our hands, and cover our eyes, and see nothing.”  What Hanukkah tries to do is teach us to uncover our eyes, look out at the world, and see the hand of God.   On Hanukkah may we learn to look out at the world and declare, “A great miracle happened here.”

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman

 

 

 


Shabbat Commentary

7/8 Dec : Miketz (Shabbat Chanukah): Sha bbat comes in 3:41pm,  ends  4:48 pm

The Torah gives a substantial prologue to Yosef:  We are told about his age, his pursuits, his relationships with his brothers and with  his father, as well as about his favoured status.  The characteristic that emerges from the many details, however, is less than flattering: Joseph is terribly immature.

Although almost an adult, he seems to spend much of his time prattling about his brothers’ perceived misdeeds.  Oblivious to the sensitivities of his siblings, he delights in reminding them of his special rank as his father’s favourite.  In his dreams, Joseph betrays his ambitions and his egocentrism.  He believes himself to be superior to his brothers and to deserve their adulation.

Thus far, we have been introduced to a young man saturated with hubris, self-admiration and overbearing confidence.  The recurring phrases in Yosef’s descriptions are all possessive:  ‘my dream,’ ‘my sheaf,’ and ‘me.’  His brothers, on the other hand, are consistently described as ‘hating him,’ ‘jealous,’ and ‘full of enmity.’  It is a great beginning to a story about how our important ancestor went through trials and tribulation to become a mature and moral individual.

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman

 

 

 


Shabbat Commentary

23/24 Nov : Vayishlach: Shabbat comes in 3:47pm,  ends  4:53 pm

In Parashat Vayishlach, Jacob/Ya’akov faces the most fateful river crossing of his life, at the river Yabbok.  Crossing it, he leaves behind his exile in the household of Lavan, his uncle and father-in-law. But he is not yet ready to re-enter the covenantal Land to which he is the heir. To pass through the no-man’s-land between the rivers and enter into his covenantal heritage, he must first transform himself.

In Judaism, water is a powerful transformative agent. Immersing in it can make the forbidden permitted, and purify the ritually impure. Crossing the Sea of Reeds began the transformation of the Israelite slave society into a free nation. Crossing the Jordan transformed Israel from a group of landless wanderers into a nation that possessed a Land of its own, able to begin the process of taking physical possession of it.

As Ya’akov crosses and re-crosses the Yabbok (with family and possessions), he must transform himself from a wily trickster into a man of emunah, faithfulness.  It is at the river bank that “a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn” (Gen. 32:25). The identity of this “ish,” as he is called in the Torah, is the topic of much debate – was he an angel, or perhaps a representation or guardian of Esav, or even some part of Ya’akov’s own spirit?

In the end, the mysterious entity with whom Ya’akov struggles gives him a new name, Yisrael, perhaps showing the renewal of spirit and identity that Ya’akov must undergo. Radak (R. David Kimhi, Provence 12th-13th C.) notes a debate over whether Yisrael replaced or is just an additional name, since the Torah actually continues to refer to him as Ya’akov.  No transformation happens overnight; although given a new name, Ya’akov must still earn his way to it.

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman

 

 

 


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