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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

22/23 Sept: Shabbat Shuvah – Haazinu comes in 6:45 pm, goes out 7:44 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 memorize 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 to 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.

Text by Rabbi Paul Arberman


Shabbat Commentary

15/16 Sept: Shabbat Nitzavim-Vayelech comes in 7:01 pm, goes out 8:00 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.

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

Text by Rabbi Paul Arberman


Shabbat Commentary

8/9 Sept: Shabbat Ki Tavo comes in 7:17 pm, goes out 8:17 pm

Parashat Ki Tavo opens with a description of the ceremony of first fruits, which the Israelites are to perform yearly when they have settled the land.  Each person was to present the first fruits of the crop with the words:

“My father was a fugitive Aramean.  He went down to Egypt and sojourned there for a time, but became there a great and populous nation.  The Egyptians dealt with us harshly and afflicted us, and impressed upon us heavy labour.  And we cried out to Hashem the God of our fathers; and Hashem heard our voices and saw our affliction and our misery and our oppression.  And Hashem freed us from Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with awesome power, signs and wonders.  And God brought us to this place, a land flowing with milk and honey.  And now, behold, I bring the first fruits of the land which Hashem has given me” (Deut. 26:5-10).

These words are used as the Maggid portion of the Passover Seder, during which we tell our story as a people.  Rabbi David Silber, in his book “A Passover Haggadah: Go Forth and Learn” (JPS 2011), notes that this passage “highlights the significance of the storytelling act in contrast to simple remembering…  Remembering is an activity that can be done privately, whereas narrating…is an activity that requires the presence of another, i.e., the Kohen before whom the basket is placed and God, to whom the pilgrim’s statement is directed”.  In a society whose traditions were oral, narrative and performance were key to remembering.

As Rabbi Silber notes, “Deuteronomy is the book that addresses the Jew who, despite the historical divide, is able to say: ‘And the Egyptians did evil to us and abused us’; but [also] ‘I have come into the land’.  The farmer bringing first fruits to the Temple was thanking God not only for the crops, but for this gift of perspective.

Text by Rabbi Paul Arberman


Shabbat Commentary

1/2 Sept: Shabbat Ki Tetze comes in 7:33 pm, goes out 8:34 pm

“All is fair in love and war.” Not so in Judaism.  It’s precisely when soldiers can take advantage of the weak and the captured that the Torah demands that they conduct themselves with the greatest moral fortitude.

Note the law of a woman captured during war. (Deuteronomy 21:10-14) The Torah tells us that such a woman is to shave her hair, let her nails grow and weep for her father and mother a full month.  Only after that process, the Torah says, “she shall be a wife to you.”

A classic difference emerges between Nachmanides and Maimonides. Nachmanides believes that after the thirty-day period, the captured woman can be forced to convert and marry her captor. Still, for Nachmanides, during the thirty days, the soldier must observe firsthand how the captured woman is in deep mourning. Clearly Nachmanides sees this law as the Torah doing all that it can in order to evoke feelings of sympathy towards the captured woman in the hope that ultimately her plight would be heard and she would be freed.

Maimonides takes it much further. The thirty days of mourning were introduced as a time period in which the soldier tries to convince the captured woman to convert and marry. After the thirty days, however, the woman has the right to leave her captor. Under no circumstances can she be forced to convert or marry.  Maimonides tells us that Jewish law prohibits taking advantage of the weak. Indeed, the test of morality is how one treats the most vulnerable.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Paul Arberman


Shabbat Commentary

25/26 Aug: Shabbat Shoftim comes in 7:48 pm, goes out 8:50 pm

In parshat Shoftim we are warned what to do about false leaders and prophets.  Suppose one comes and says, ‘Do so-and-so,” and “I say this by the command of the Holy One blessed be He.”  How, then, can we know whether God has spoken this or not?  The reply is,  “As regards such a case, they have already been commanded that if one comes to lead away from one of the divine commandments, ‘then you shalt not hearken unto him.’ ” (13:12)

This seems clear.   But the rabbis add a wrinkle.  They say, “except when it had been experienced by you that he is a perfectly righteous man, as, for instance, Elijah at the incident on Mount Carmel, who offered sacrifices on Bamah (an improvised altar) at a time when offering on Bamoth was forbidden, but who did so in order to fence Israel in against idolatry. “

In other words, don’t listen to a leader or a prophet if they are trying to lead you away from God — BUT, if they are trustworthy and acting for a good reason, then in extreme cases we can follow them when they say “do so and so.”   It is not an invitation to wanton change but the rabbis do recognize that sometimes, the needs of the time and the necessity of preserving larger values can necessitate change.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Paul Arberman


Shabbat Commentary

18/19 Aug: Shabbat Re’eh comes in 8:03 pm, goes out 9:07 pm

In Parashat Re’eh, we read, “Be careful to heed all the words that I command you, that it may benefit you and your children after you, forever, when you do what is good and right in the eyes of the Lord your G-d.” The phrase ha-tov v’ha-yashar, good and right, offers a different type of instruction than what we’ve received in the past. The very beginning of the Parashat already reminds us that we will receive blessing in our lives if we follow G-d’s commandments, and if we do not, we will be cursed. But this verse, and doing what is good and right, is different from following G-d’s commandments. If the verse wanted to remind us to be shomrei mitzvot, it would explicitly say so.

Rashi (d. France, 1105) looks at this verse and explains that tov, good, is what is seen as good “b’einei shamayim,” in the eyes of the heavens. In contrast, what is yashar, or, right, is not in the eyes of the heavens but rather in the eyes of other humans. Rashi’s interpretation indicates that we should be drawn to do what we might call “morally right” both from G-d’s perspective (which we can never know for sure) and from other people’s — what we might call what is “socially right/acceptable.” This idea can help us think about the best way to lead our lives. It is important to abide by certain societal standards and what is right by others, yet it must also be OK with G-d. Both of these aspects contribute to our moral compass.


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Paul Arberman


Shabbat Commentary

11/12 Aug: Shabbat Ekev comes in 8:17 pm, goes out 9:22 pm

In parshat Ekev, Moses discusses how the Land of Israel itself is one of the reasons we should be obedient to God.  The Promised Land, unlike Egypt, depends on rain for irrigation, which is given by God only if the people are loyal and keep the laws of God.

It was different in Egypt.   ”There, the grain you sowed had to be watered by your own labour, like a vegetable garden; but the land you are about to cross into and possess, a land of hills and valleys, soaks up its water from the rains of heaven.  It is a land which the Lord your God looks after” (Deut. 11:10-11).

The Land itself becomes a means for educating the people because their dependence on rain teaches them to look to Heaven.   God has set up a system where the children of Israel have to continually return to God and God’s laws, in order to get what they want — I wonder what systems we establish so that people return to us — money? support? love?


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Paul Arberman


Shabbat Commentary

4/5 Aug: Shabbat Vaetchanan comes in 8:29 pm, goes out 9:37pm

The core of the reading of this week’s Parsha is in the repetition of the Ten Commandments. Although scholars and commentators have always carefully compared the two versions for all the minor textual variations, the most important difference is not in the text, but in the context. The first time the Ten Commandments appears it is in the story of the revelation at Sinai. This time, it’s in Moses’ retelling of that story.

On some level, Judaism is not about the events of Mount Sinai, but their recollection and eternal rediscovery through texts and memorial ritual, creating a living community of remembrance. It is not the encounter with the One G-d so much as the teaching about that encounter to subsequent generations. And so, we have our strangely repetitive text. A philosophical truth need be expressed only once. A memory must be repeated—not just from generation to generation, but from day to day, “as you sit in your house, as your go on your way, as you lie down and as you rise up.”

 


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Paul Arberman


Shabbat Commentary

28/29 July: Shabbat Devarim comes in 8:41 pm, goes out 9:51pm

Devarim, also known as the Book of Deuteronomy is made up of the farewell addresses that Moses delivered in the last weeks of his life.   In his first speech, he emphasizes the important themes that mistrusting and disobeying God leads to disaster, and that trusting and obeying God leads to success.

Devarim/Deuteronomy has also been called the “Mishneh Torah” in later Jewish literature. The name Mishneh Torah, a second Torah, refers to the fact that Devarim restates many of the most essential teachings and principles of Jewish life. Rather than being repetitive, however, Deuteronomy gives new depth and meaning to many of the teachings that have already been stated in the first four books of the Torah.

Of course, Moses takes the liberty of picking and choosing which events were worth repeating. If you were reviewing your own life’s journey, which lessons would you choose to emphasize and which would you choose to skip over ?   I would suggest that every experience is part of our education about life and part of our journey.


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Paul Arberman


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