mosaickehila
A warm welcome from Mosaic
Mosaic Liberal
HEMS
Mosaic Reform
Catch up with our monthly magazine
Meet the Rabbis

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

21/22 Jan : Yitro : Shabbat comes in 4:15 pm, ends 5:23pm

Parashat Yitro – The First Commandment

In this week’s Torah portion, the Children of Israel receive the Ten Sayings (also known as the ‘Ten Commandments’). Jews and Christians count these ten in a slightly different order, due to a disagreement about how to begin the list. The two lists read as follows (summarised):

Jewish Understanding

  1. I am Hashem your God
  2. You shall have no other gods before Me
  3. You shall not say God’s name in vain
  4. Remember and sanctify Shabbat
  5. Honour your father and mother
  6. You shall not murder
  7. You shall not commit adultery
  8. You shall not steal
  9. You shall not bear false witness
  10. You shall not covet
Christian Understanding

  1. I am Hashem your God; you shall have no other gods before Me
  2. You shall not say God’s name in vain
  3. Remember and sanctify Shabbat
  4. Honour your father and mother
  5. You shall not murder
  6. You shall not commit adultery
  7. You shall not steal
  8. You shall not bear false witness
  9. You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife
  10. You shall not covet your neighbour’s goods

The advantage of the Christian understanding is that the Ten Commandments all read as commandments. The disadvantage is an awkward reading of the ninth and tenth commandments, in which ‘you shall not covet’ must be split into two.

There has been a conflict in Jewish history over whether to read these ten statements as all being mitzvot, in which case, ‘I am God’ must also be a commandment. Some commentators, such as Abravanel, understand this first statement as being a declaration intended to precede these important commands. Abravanel would approve of the Hebrew terminology ‘Aseret haDibrot’ (‘The Ten Sayings’), because only nine of the sayings are commandments. Maimonides, however, reads ‘I am God’ as a command to belief. This is similar to an age-old question about the Shema: Is ‘you shall love Hashem your God’ a statement about emotion (you shall feel love), or a statement about action (you shall act lovingly, i.e. keep the mitzvot)?

There is no simple answer, and Jews are still in makhloket (holy disagreement) about this subject today. Whatever the answer may be – whether we are commanded to believe and feel, or only to do – it seems that the Children of Israel understand their obligations as being primarily (if not solely) about observance. ‘We will do, and we will hear,’ they say (Ex. 24:7) – understood to mean that we will do first, and understand later. Whether or not we think that belief is an obligation, we do hope that outward practice will affect our inner lives.

Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Natasha 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Shabbat Commentary

14/15 Jan : Beshalach : Shabbat comes in 4:04 pm, ends 5:13pm

Parashat Beshalacḥ – Who Liberated the Israelites?

This week’s Torah portion begins the long story of the Israelites in the wilderness. The Hebrew slaves are saved from their bondage, walk through the miraculously split sea, and sing and dance over their liberation. It’s a beautiful scene. Then, after liberation has been handed to the Hebrews, the story quickly turned to a problem that will continue through to the end of the Torah: the Israelites don’t know how to be free.

The change in tone is almost comically severe. At the end of the Song of the Sea, we are given one verse to transition the Israelites from singing to travelling, and then the text turns immediately to the Israelites grumbling about the lack of water to drink. That situation is resolved with a miracle, and the people continue on for one whole verse before they begin complaining about food. Again, a miracle: bread falls from the sky. Some of the people try to take too much manna, to find that they somehow have only the prescribed amount. Some try to save manna for the morning, even though Moses has warned them against it; the leftover manna rots. The people are told not to collect manna on Shabbat, but some go out to gather anyway – but no manna appears.

The story of the generation of freed slaves is fascinating and frustrating. They have experienced great miracles, and yet they cannot trust that they will survive. Even though the Divine performed miracles in Egypt, they assume that they will die at the Sea of Reeds; even though they passed through the sea  dry shod, they assume that they will die of thirst in the wilderness; even though the Holy One provides water to drink, they assume that they will starve. When bread is provided, they want to take extra, just in case. No matter how great the miracles, the Israelites are not ready to feel safe.

The difficulty that the Israelites face when encountering freedom tells us that they were not truly freed at the Sea of Reeds. The Divine could perform miracles, could bring the Hebrews from their bondage into the wilderness, but this is only the beginning of the story of liberation. To truly become free people, the Israelites have to learn to free themselves internally. That is the work that needs to be done before reaching the Promised Land.

Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Natasha 

 

 


Shabbat Commentary

7/8 Jan : Bo : Shabbat comes in 3:54 pm, ends 5:04pm

Parashat Bo – Come to Pharaoh

This week’s Torah portion opens partway through the narrative of the plagues. The opening lines, from which the parashah gets its title, are from God telling Moses to approach Pharaoh to bring about the plague of locusts. Here is how that opening phrase is usually translated (Exodus 10:1):

‘And God said to Moses: “Go to Pharaoh…”’

The word translated ‘go’ is the title of the Torah portion: ‘Bo’. However, ‘bo’ does not easily translate to ‘go’. ‘Bo’ more precisely means ‘come’. The opening phrase should read: ‘And God said to Moses: “Come to Pharaoh…”’ This may seem to be a small change in the language, but it shifts the meaning significantly. For if God tells Moses to ‘come’ to Pharaoh, it implies that God is there with Pharaoh – perhaps even in Pharaoh.

There is a Jewish concept that the spark of the Divine exists in all human beings. We were all made ‘b’tzelem Elokim’, in the image of God. How easy it is to see the Divine in the smiling faces of someone we love. How much more difficult it is to be reminded that the Divine also dwells in a man like Pharaoh.

I wonder what Moses thought when he heard God say ‘come to Pharaoh’. What difference might it have made to Moses’s mission, to know that he was also approaching God when he approached Pharaoh? What might change for us all, if when we were faced by someone we might despise, we reminded ourselves that it is possible to see the spark of the Divine in them?

‘Come to Pharaoh’ does not imply that Pharaoh is good, or that Pharaoh’s actions should be tolerated. But it should have implications for the way in which we approach Pharaoh. In this one small word, the Torah reminds us that we are charged to see the face of God in the places it is least comfortable for us to do so.

Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Natasha 


Shabbat Commentary

24/25 Dec: Shemot : Shabbat comes in 3:40 pm, ends 4:50pm

Parashat Shemot – Changing the World

There is an idea, all too prevalent in discussions on the state of the environment, that each of us is powerless to change anything. The beginning of this week’s parashah disagrees. Here, at the beginning of the Exodus narrative – when Pharaoh has enslaved the Israelites and it attempting to oppress the population through infanticide – the Torah portion hones in on several small stories. These are narratives about the women responsible for the survival of one particular infant: Moses. We, the readers, know who Moses will grow up to be, so when we read these small narratives, we know that they are important and world-changing. But that is not what the actions would have looked like to the characters in play.

First, we encounter the story of the midwives, who disobey orders to slaughter Israelite sons. They cannot save the Israelite children as a whole, but they can find excuses to allow some to live, and so that is what they do. Then, when Pharaoh issues a new command that the sons be thrown into the Nile, we meet Moses’s mother and sister, who hide him until it is no longer possible and then put him in a basket in the river in hopes that he might survive. And then we meet Bat Paroh, the daughter of Pharaoh, who takes the child in as her own – and even agrees to return the infant to his mother to be a wet-nurse. Together, the women of Egypt – the Hebrew slaves, the midwives, the daughter of the king – manage to save the life of one child. And, unbeknownst to them, that one child grows up to liberate the Israelites from slavery.

In the beginning of Parashat Shemot, the story is moved entirely by small acts of the seemingly powerless. Not one of those acts looks like it will affect the bigger picture. But we know, while we’re reading the story, that they will. How much power we must have, that our small acts of resistance can lead to revolution and redemption.

Shabbat shalom, 

Rabbi Natasha  

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 

 


Shabbat Commentary

17/18 Nov: Vayechi : Shabbat comes in 3:37 pm, ends 4:47pm

Parashat Vayecḥi: When We Are Ready
A year ago, my B’nei Mitzvah was derailed by a conversation about the Messiah. It
was a fairly good reason for a class to be derailed, and so I allowed it, and we spent a
significant portion of class talking about the Messiah. Who is the Messiah supposed to be?
What is the Messiah supposed to do? How will we know that the Messiah has arrived? Of
course, as you can imagine, I was only able to answer based on our various textual
traditions. The Messiah will be a person, a human being, who will usher in the age of peace;
the Messiah is supposed to bring us all back to the Holy Land, to establish the Third Temple,
and to begin a new age; I think we’ll notice when world peace has arrived!

In this week’s Torah portion, Jacob also hints at this mysterious future, when he says
to his sons (Genesis 49:1): “Come together that I may tell you what is to befall you in days to
come.” Our sages understand that Jacob was attempting to reveal prophecies to his sons of
the later days of human existence – the coming of the Messiah – but that God stopped him
from doing so. But why? If Jacob could have told his sons when the Messiah is set to arrive,
then I would have had a much better answer for my students!
Our sages give us two different schedules on which the Messiah might work. The first
is a set timing for the Messiah’s arrival, which we do not know. The second ‘schedule’ is the
idea that the Messiah may come at any point that the People of Israel are ready for him.
Understanding this, it seems that Jacob’s attempt to reveal the Messiah’s arrival would have
been the revelation of the deadline, and thus would have assumed that the People of Israel
would not usher in the Messianic Age early. Perhaps the assumption that we will not bring in
the Messianic Age would be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead, we need to assume that fixing
the world is within our power, and that if we prepare ourselves for peace, peace may
someday come.

Shabbat shalom, 

Rabbi Natasha  

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 

 


Shabbat Commentary

3/4 Nov: Mikeitz : Shabbat comes in 3:39 pm, ends 4:47 pm

Parashat Mikeitz – Joseph and Tamar     

     Last week, our tight narrative of Joseph’s life was interrupted with the story of Tamar. Tamar, Judah’s daughter-in-law, was wronged by her family, and responded through trickery to prove herself in the right. Her trick included disguising herself to interact with her father-in-law, and then using Judah’s seal, cord, and staff to prompt Judah to recognise that he had wronged her. I’ve long thought that the intention of Tamar’s story is to show us how Judah was prompted to develop as a character – how he turns from being a boy willing to sell a brother (Joseph) into slavery into a man who would sell himself into slavery to save a brother (Benjamin).  

    While the story of Judah and Tamar does help us to understand Judah, there are also significant parallels between Tamar and Joseph as characters. Joseph is discussed in feminine terms (e.g. prized for his beauty, given clothing that is described elsewhere in the Bible as being customary for princesses), which is especially clear in midrashic explorations (in which he is described as wearing feminine makeup and attire and being pursued by men). Tamar’s story is of course naturally gendered, as it is about her place as a woman in ancient society, focusing on marriage, fertility, and sexual ownership. This week, we see Joseph – like Tamar, wronged by the family of Israel – disguise himself to interact with his brothers, and trick them using a precious item (in this case, a silver goblet). The culmination of this event, which we will read about next week, is a recognition of how the brothers have wronged Joseph and an ultimate reconciliation. 

    Tamar and Joseph, a pair who have apparently never met, have come to represent a character type. They are the members of the family once considered precious (and perhaps even property), and then wronged and discarded. And when left in that powerless position, both characters use disguise and trickery to wield power once again. They use that power to hold a mirror to the family, to force them to face their wrongdoings. 

     I’ve always been inclined to see Joseph and Tamar as protagonists in their stories. But perhaps they are also cautionary tales. 

Shabbat shalom, 

Rabbi Natasha  

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 

 


Shabbat Commentary

26/27 Nov: Vayeishev : Shabbat comes in 3:44 pm, ends 4:50 pm

Parashat Vayeishev – Joseph’s Prophetic Dream
This week’s Torah portion opens by describing a ticking time bomb of a family: sons
working hard in the field, while a favoured child receives gifts and praise and brings ‘evil
reports’ of his brothers back to their parents. Ya’akov (Jacob, the father) is only alerted to a
potential problem when Yosef (Joseph, the favourite child) begins to share his dreams with
his family – dreams in which the brothers are all bowing down to Yosef. Ya’akov finally turns
his attention to the matter, and even attempts some kind of equalisation between brothers by
sending Yosef out to the field, but it is apparent that the hatred runs too deep. The brothers
conspire against Yosef, throw him in a pit, sell him into slavery, and tell their father that the
boy died out in the field. Ya’akov is distraught. The brothers keep their secret.

Eventually, after a tumultuous journey involving slavery, false accusations, and
imprisonment, Yosef will rise to power in Egypt as Pharaoh’s right-hand man. The Torah,
which usually wastes no words and is conservative on details, focuses in on the growth and
development of Yosef. He becomes a tzaddik , a righteous man – and a powerful man, too.
When the brothers re-join Yosef’s story, Yosef’s dream becomes reality. His brothers
bow down to him. However, real life is not as glamorous as the dream. Yosef’s brothers
throw themselves at his feet in an attempt to save the youngest, Binyamin, from Yosef.

Finally standing in the place of his dream must feel like a cruel, ironic twist.
At the end of this narrative, Yosef learns that while he has been through a whole
character arc – in which he has grown and changed and learnt – so have his brothers. The
brothers who meet him years later are not the same as the brothers who threw him into a pit.
We are all the main characters of our own stories. We follow our own narratives, our
ups and downs, and experience our own character development. It can be easy to forget
that everyone else is doing the same.

May we all learn to allow each other room for growth.

Shabbat shalom, 

Rabbi Natasha

 

 

 

 

I

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 

 


Shabbat Commentary

19/20 Nov: Vayishlach : Shabbat comes in 3:51 pm, ends 4:56 pm

Parashat Vayishlach – Jacob and Job
Decades after Jacob’s betrayal and consequent fleeing, Jacob is on his way to meet
his brother Esau again. And on his way, we encounter the strange narrative of Jacob
wrestling with an angel.

This moment of Jacob’s journey always brings to my mind the character of Job. Job
is a good man whom we see suffering greatly due to a mysterious game of cosmic chess
between the Divine and the Satan. After that initial storytelling, the following 35 chapters of
the Book of Job describes an endless loop of Job arguing with his friends. Job gets stuck like
an awful, despairing, heart-rending broken record. And in the last chapters, God finally turns
up in a whirlwind to proclaim that Job has to move on without the answers. Job isn’t going to
solve the Problem of Suffering. Job is shaken out of his feedback loop of anguish and,
without the answers he was so desperately seeking, moves on with his life.

Where Job was drowning in despair, Jacob is engulfed by fear. He’s about to face his
brother, whom he betrayed all those years ago, and he doesn’t know what revenge his
brother might have in store. He finds himself alone, behind the messengers, gifts, family, and
possessions he has sent ahead of him. And for a night, he gets stuck there. He struggleswith some anonymous divinity, even sustains an injury from the wrestling, but nonetheless stays in the feedback loop. And then the angel tells him that it’s daytime, and they cannot stay here struggling forever. Jacob demands a blessing. The blessing dispels something; the spell is shattered; the cycle has broken. Jacob moves on.

In both cases, the Divine says to the human: you cannot stay here forever. It’s time to
move forward, no matter how unsure you are of how to walk in this uncertain world. It is a
strange call to faith. Neither man is offered an answer; Job gets no explanation for his
suffering, and the angel does not assure Jacob that he will be safe from his brother. Instead,
they are told that they must move forward without certainty.

Shabbat shalom, 

Rabbi Natasha

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 

 


Shabbat Commentary

12/13 Nov: Vayeitzei : Shabbat comes in 4:01 pm, ends 5:04 pm

Parashat Vayeitzei – God Was in This Place
In Parashat Vayeitzei, we follow Jacob on his journey from his home (which he is forced to flee after dramatically deceiving his brother) to meet his extended family in Ḥaran. On the way, Jacob stops to sleep in an unnamed place (often understood by commentators to be Moriah, on which the Temple would one day be built) and dreams of a ladder to the Heavens. Upon waking, Jacob proclaims (Gen. 28:16): ‘Surely God was in this place, and I did not know.’

Jacob’s wonder at his inability to recognise God’s presence reminds me of one of my very favourite midrashim (creative rabbinic commentaries). Exodus Rabbah 24:1 recounts the story of the Israelites crossing the split sea from the perspective of two particular Israelite men called Shimon and Reuven.
While their brethren are singing and celebrating, and gazing in awe at the walls of the sea on either side of them, Reuven and Shimon are complaining about the mud. Egypt had mud, they say, and the sea has mud. What’s so special about that ? Reuven and Shimon are so busy staring at their shoes in the mud that they somehow manage to miss the miracle of the splitting of the sea entirely.

Much like Jacob, Reuven and Shimon are surrounded by a holy miracle, but are instead focused on looking downward. However, Jacob’s vision of the ladder draws his gaze upwards toward the heavens, to wonder and awe, and to a renewed relationship with the Holy Blessed One.  Reuven and Shimon do not appear to be as fortunate. Nobody stops to remind them to look upwards.

May we all remember to look upwards at the miracles around us.

Shabbat shalom, 

Rabbi Natasha

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 

 


Shabbat Commentary

5/6 Nov: Toledot : Shabbat comes in 4:12 pm, ends 5:14 pm

Parashat Toledot – I Do Not Know
‘And Isaac sent Jacob away, and he went to Padena-Aram, to Lavan son of Bethuel the Aramean, brother of Rebecca the mother of Jacob and Esau.’ – Genesis 28:5.

It is accepted by most Torah commentators that the Torah does not waste words. Any seemingly-superfluous information is understood to have a secondary meaning. In this verse, it might seem superfluous to explain that Rebecca was the mother of Jacob and Esau, because the whole narrative of Parashat Toledot is exploring that relationship. This leads the eye of the reader from the text of the Torah to the commentators. The most
famous of all Torah commentators, Rashi, has the following to say on this text:  ‘I do not know what this teaches us.’ It’s an astounding comment, both because it is startlingly honest, and because it seems unnecessary to add. Rashi does not comment on every word of Torah; surely we should be happy to assume that sometimes, Rashi does not know the answer. But here,
Rashi appears to be modelling for us the advice of the Talmud (B’rakhot 4a): ‘Teach your tongue to say, “I do not know.”’

Much later, other commentators returned to this verse, interest piqued by Rashi’s admission, and wove other commentaries around it. Perhaps the text is reminding us that Lavan is also family to both sons in order to teach that Lavan will understand Jacob’s predicament (Bertinoro), or to tell us that it did not look like a punishment (Ha’amek Davar); perhaps we need a reminder that Rebecca is a mother to both sons, in order to teach us that
sending Jacob away was protection for them both (Em Lemikra).

Whatever the text actually means, Rashi’s commentary provides insight into his character. May we all teach our tongues to say, ‘I do not know.’

Shabbat shalom, 

Rabbi Natasha

 

 

 

.