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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

17/18 Nov: Shabbat Toledot  comes in 3:54 pm, goes out 4:58 pm

The few Parashot on Yitzhak give us very little insight as to what type of person he was. Here’s what we do know: Yitzhak is born, and next is nearly sacrificed by his father while being tested by G-d, yet is saved by the mercy of G-d. He is married off to Rivkah and has no part in the marriage process. He inherits his father Avraham’s possessions before joining with Ishmael to bury their father. We know that Yitzhak has twin sons, and that he loves the hairy, large son, Esav.

But after this, it seems like many of the accounts of Yitzhak seem to be similar to his father’s life. In fact, the first Rashi commentary on the Parasha sets the stage for viewing Yitzhak as Avraham’s son throughout narrative. Rashi (France, d. 1105) notices the redundancy in the first pasuk stating that Yitzhak was Avraham’s son. He writes that this is there to tell us that Yitzhak’s facial features were formed to look like Avraham because, since Avraham and Sarah were barren for so many years, people might question Avraham as the father of Yitzhak. As proof that Avraham was his father, Yitzhak had to look like him. But did Yitzhak have to act just like him, too?

After the opportunity to be angry with his father after his near-death experience of the Akedah, Yitzhak might have departed from all things that Avraham represented as a person and a monotheist. Instead, Yitzhak walks in his very footsteps to perpetuate the legacy that Avraham created. Yitzhak is a simple man of few words and little action. Yet he is incredibly blessed by G-d and is regarded as one of our fathers. We tend to value creativity, innovation and progressive thinking in our modern world. New ideas and ‘thinking outside the box’ are important components of organisations and committees. Yitzhak, clearly, did not possess these qualities. But we couldn’t be a people if every person was an Avraham. We must be thoughtful enough to know when it’s the time to be an Avraham, or when acting as a Yitzhak might be more appropriate. There’s kedushah in being a link, and Yitzhak is a connector between the innovation that Avraham creates theologically and the community that his son Ya’akov builds.

Written by

Rabbi Paul Arberman.

 

 

 

 

 

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Shabbat Commentary

10/11 Nov: Shabbat Chayei Sara  comes in 4:04 pm, goes out 5:07 pm

Parashat Chayei Sara, the Torah reading for this Shabbat, opens with the death of Sara and Abraham’s 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 G-d 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.

 

 

 

 

 

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Shabbat Commentary

3/4 Nov: Shabbat Vayera comes in 4:15 pm, goes out 5:17 pm

In Parashat Vayera, G-d 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 G-d’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. G-d is seeking a consultation with the human Avraham.

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

So perhaps when Avraham tells his son, “G-d will see to the sheep for the offering, my son,” (Gen. 22:8) he has utter faith that G-d 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 G-d to trust Avraham in return.

Written by

Rabbi Paul Arberman.

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Shabbat Commentary

27/28 Oct: Shabbat Lech Lecha comes in 5:28 pm, goes out 6:29 pm

Many commentators take note of the multiple phrases in G-d’s command: “The Lord said to Avram, ‘Go from your land and from your birthplace and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (Gen. 12:1). There wasn’t any real need for all of this; G-d could have simply said “Go to the land that I will show you.” One of the most interesting comments on the form of G-d’s command comes from the Malbim (R. Meir Lebush ben Yehiel Michal, Russia 19th C.), who explores the psychology inherent in what Avram is doing:

“The point of this leaving [that G-d commanded] was that [Avram] should separate from their ways and from their corrupt deeds, because a person will acquire [such] attributes and characteristics from the land, from its atmosphere and temperament and fortunes; from the city in which he lives and the place of his birth, where he learns customs and patterns of behaviour; and from his father’s house.

And G-d’s command was that his physical exit should also be a mental exit – that he should separate himself from the nature of his land with its bad atmosphere, and from the ways of the people of his birthplace, and also from love of his father’s house, and thus the order [of the verse] was fixed: from his land first, as it is easier to forget one’s land than the place of one’s birth, and easier to forget one’s place of birth than one’s family.”

Written by

Rabbi Paul Arberman.

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Shabbat Commentary

20/21 Oct: Shabbat Noach comes in 5:57 pm, goes out 6:57 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.

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Shabbat Commentary

13/14 Oct: Shabbat Bereishit comes in 6:13 pm, goes out 7:12 pm

Abraham Joshua Heschel believed that Adam’s sin was primarily in hiding from G-d and from himself. This is not, in Heschel’s eyes, an abstract idea; we all hide from G-d and from our selves. 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 his self, 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

22/23 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