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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

8/9 Nov: Lech Lecha: Shabbat comes in 4:07 pm,  ends  5:10 pm

We learnt last week that Noaḥ was a man who ‘ walked with God’ (Genesis 6:9). This week, we see very similar language employed when the Holy One charges Avram with his fate: ‘ Walk before Me,’ says God to Avram (Genesis 17:1). The word for ‘walk’ is the same in both instances – hit-haleikh (התהלך) – but the way in which that word is employed differs. Noah walks with God; Avram is told by God to ‘hit-haleikh l’fanai’, הִתְהַלֵּךְ לְפָנַי: ‘Walk before Me.’

Perhaps walking with God and walking before God are the same action. However, were that to be the case, we would need to read Noaḥ as being a superior character to Avram: while Noaḥ was able to walk with the Eternal without external prompting, Avram required the charge. While this makes sense of ‘hit-haleikh’, it does not track well with what we know of their characters. Avram was chosen to be the father of the Jewish people, and not Noaḥ; Avram is given the promise of the Holy Land, and not Noaḥ; we see Avram act righteously in aid of his fellow human beings even when it required arguing with God, whereas Noaḥ’s goodness is only described in terms of comparison with those around him (Gen. 6:9).

Our rabbis of blessed memory read the difference in their walking as a resounding endorsement for the morality of Avram, soon to be Avraham. Noaḥ walked with God, according to the medieval commentator Rashi, because Noaḥ required God’s support. Avram, on the other hand, had the ability to walk in his righteousness without aid. To their eyes, it is precisely Avram’s ability to be strong and righteous without God’s guiding hand that allows Avram to work as God’s partner, and thus to shape the destiny of human worship.

Shabbat shalom.

Rabbi Natasha Mann

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Rabbi Paul Arberman.

ZZZZZZ

Abraham Joshua Heschel believed that Adam’s sin was primarily in hiding from God and from himself.  This is not, in Heschel’s eyes, an abstract idea; we all hide from God and from ourselves. 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 himelf, 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

1/2 Nov: Noach: Shabbat comes in 4:19 pm,  ends  5:21 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 allegiances.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Rabbi Paul Arberman.

ZZZZZZ

Abraham Joshua Heschel believed that Adam’s sin was primarily in hiding from God and from himself.  This is not, in Heschel’s eyes, an abstract idea; we all hide from God and from ourselves. 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 himelf, 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

25/26 Oct: Bereishit: Shabbat comes in 5:32 pm,  ends  6:33 pm

Abraham Joshua Heschel believed that Adam’s sin was primarily in hiding from God and from himself.  This is not, in Heschel’s eyes, an abstract idea; we all hide from God and from ourselves. 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 himelf, 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

11/12 Oct: Ha’azinu: Shabbat comes in 6:02 pm,  ends  7:01 pm

The leadership of Moses is bookended by his songs: the Song of the Sea, and the Song of Moses. Moses first led his people in song after leading them through the split sea. The Song of the Sea, therefore, is appropriately triumphant and celebratory. In Parashat Ha’azinu, Moses sings a very different song. He is now at the end of his leadership, and is preparing for his own death, before the Children of Israel enter the Promised Land.

The Song of Moses is a haunting and powerful warning about the necessity of staying true to our covenant with the Divine.Moses’ final song begins with a call to the heavens and the earth to act as witnesses, and then states (Deuteronomy 32:2): “May my teaching come down like the rain, my word distill like the dew, like showers upon young growth, like raindrops upon grass.” It is a beautiful image: Torah nourishing the world like the rains, linking the witness above (the heavens) to the witness below (the earth).

In Sifrei D’varim (306:31-32), the Midrash claims that the Torah is compared to nourishing waters due to the fact that the same rains yield different results. First, the Midrash describes the rains bringing different flavours: “May my teaching come down like the rain: Just as rain is one, and falls upon  the trees and grants each its own flavour – to the grapevine, according to its nature; to the olive tree, according to its nature; to the fig tree, according to its nature – so too words of Torah are all one, and yet they yield Scripture, Mishnah, Halachah, and Aggadah.” It is one of the wonders of our tradition that one single verse of Torah can give us a library of literature, from the legal to the legendary. It is no small wonder that we are able to reread the Torah every year and discover ever more from its depths. In the words of Ben Bag-Bag (Pirkei Avot 5:26): “Turn it and turn it, for everything is within it.”

The Midrash continues with a second lesson: “Like the showers upon the young growth: Just as these showers descend upon the grass and cause them to grow, some green, some red, and some white, so too words of Torah produce teachers, worthy people, sages, righteous people, and pious people.” One Torah yields a great variety of teachings, and also a great variety of learners. The aim of the Torah is not to make us uniform; it is to nourish us to be the best students of Torah we can be, and to contribute to our communities with our own talents and passions.

Moses’ personal Torah is a Torah of leadership. He led us from slavery in Egypt to stand just outside the Promised Land, ready to enter our future. At the end of his life, he displays his leadership again, through his song, teaching us that the Torah will yield ever-increasing fruit, and that we will all be nourished differently through the very same words.

Shabbat shalom.

Rabbi Natasha Mann

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Shabbat Commentary

4/5 Oct: Shabbat Shuva (Vayelech): Shabbat comes in 6:17 pm,  ends  7:16 pm

Parashat Veyelech: Writing Your Torah

It is an interesting time of year to think about the writing of books. We are in the midst of the great metaphor of the Books of Life and Death. Just a few days ago, we stood before the ark and sang of our fates: ‘On Rosh HaShanah it is written; on Yom Kippur, it is sealed.’ And now here we are, between the writing and the sealing. The books are open.

Parashat Vayelech is also concerned with the writing of books. It is in this parashah that the Levites are instructed that they must put the Sefer Torah, that Moses has written, into the Ark of the Covenant in order that it will serve as a witness. Likewise, we find in this parashah the command to write ‘this song’ (understood by some commentators to be the following song in Ha’azinu, and others to be the entire Torah), in order that the song will stand as a witness to us.

This latter command has been read by some to mean that all Jews are commanded to write a Sefer Torah. Though it is usually considered enough for us to own books of Torah in our homes, I find this command to write a Torah to be particularly poignant in this time of year, in which we see books as symbols of how we are living our lives. In this metaphor, we usually cast God as the scribe, penning our names into the appropriate book. However, in the text of Parashat Vayelech, we are commanded to be the scribes.

My friend and colleague Rabbi Jonathan Hodson likes to share a piece of advice that he received from his grandmother: ‘You might be the only Bible that some people will ever read.’ Her words seem to echo through these symbols of the season. In what ways are we writing the Torah in our lives? Which of our decisions and actions are the crowns on the letters, or the imperfections of a scribe’s hand trembling? And what Torah are others reading when they interact with us?

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A note on Yom Kippur 

Uv’shofar gadol yitaka – a great shofar will be sounded. It is the sound of the season. Yom Kippur will constitute a break from the shofar; the only voices calling out will be our own. However, after the final moments of Yom Kippur have slipped by, we will complete our prayers with a t’kiah g’dolah – one long blast of the shofar.

The minhag (custom) of HEMS/Mosaic Masorti is to partake in this blast together as a community, with as many shofars and blowers as possible. I have never seen (or heard!) this before, and imagine that it must provide a great crescendo for our Yom Kippur journey. I look forward to experiencing this with you!

G’mar ḥatimah tovah – may you be inscribed for a good year.

Rabbi Natasha

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Shabbat Commentary

27/28 Sept: Nitzavim: Shabbat comes in 6:33 pm,  ends  7:32 pm

Parashat Nitzavim: Lo BaShamayim Hi

This week’s parashah includes one of my all-time favourite quotes (Deuteronomy 30:12-14): ‘It [the Law] is not in Heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to Heaven for us and fetch it for us, to tell it to us, so that we can fulfill it?” And it is not beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us and fetch it for us, to tell it to us, so that we can fulfill it?” Rather, it is very close to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can fulfill it.’

According to this beautiful passage, we do not need to wait for someone else to bring the Torah to us. The Torah already belongs to each of us. The Torah belongs to the ultra-orthodox and the completely secular, the rabbi and the Jew-in-the-pew, completely equally. While we can choose to learn from one another, we should never see anyone as owning Torah more than ourselves as individual Jews.

Sforno, a medieval biblical commentator, sees this passage as having special relevance to t’shuvah (repentance) due to its connection with the preceding verses. T’shuvah, he writes, does not require us to seek out prophets, rabbis, or scholars; rather, we are each capable of looking within ourselves and healing our relationships with one another and with the Holy Blessed One. His is a particularly fitting lesson to shepherd us into Rosh Hashanah.

Shabbat shalom, and shanah tovah,

Rabbi Natasha

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Shabbat Commentary

20/21 Sept: Ki Tavo : Shabbat comes in 6:49 pm,  ends  7:48 pm

Parashat Ki Tavo – Seeing Miracles

The Children of Israel have seen ten plagues in their last days as slaves, walked through the split sea, experienced revelation at Mt Sinai, and seen miracles in the wilderness. And yet, according to Moses in this week’s parashah, it is only now, after forty years of wandering, that they have attained ‘a heart to know, eyes to see and ears to hear’ (Deuteronomy 29:3). This statement comes just after the Tokh’kha, the Rebuke, in which blessings are laid out for if we follow the Law of God, and curses for if we do not.

Why has it taken the Israelites so long to internalise what has happened to them ? Why does Moses feel that they require this reward-and-punishment theology in order to access the importance of following God? One answer suggested by Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan is that this experience was not unique to the wandering Israelites. It may seem absurd to us that the Israelites do not trust in God after everything God has done for them – but we, too, walk through each day ignoring miracles. From that mindset, the forty years of wandering that it took for the Israelites to process their relationship with the Omnipresent does not seem so absurd.

Shabbat shalom.

Rabbi Natasha Mann

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Shabbat Commentary

13/14 Sept: Ki Tetze : Shabbat comes in 7:05 pm,  ends  8:05 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.

Written By Rabbi Paul Arberman

 

 

 


Shabbat Commentary

6/7 Sept: Shoftim : Shabbat comes in 7:21 pm,  ends  8:22 pm

Parashat Shoftim: Judging Ourselves

‘Set judges and law enforcement officials for yourself’’, begins Parashat Shoftim. This week’s Torah portion is interested in setting up leadership (judges, sages, prophets, and kings), holding our leaders to high standards, and trusting in their judgments.

According to the first ever Ḥasidic work ever published, Toldot Ya’akov Yosef, that oft-overlooked word – ‘l’kha’, ‘for yourself’ – adds a layer of meaning to the concept of judgment. ‘For yourself’, Toldot Ya’akov Yosef explains, means that this is an internal process as well as an external one. We each have an obligation to weigh our own behaviours, for the same reason that societies require judges: to hold ourselves responsible, and hopefully to aid healthier behaviour.

However, we can often be our own worst judges. We can be overly lenient, judging ourselves on intention when we would judge others on action; we can be overly strict with ourselves, allowing self-judgment to weigh us down with guilt. In this month of Elul, this month of teshuvah (‘returning’ to our better selves), it is important that we judge ourselves, and also that we hold our own ability to judge to a high standard.

Shabbat shalom.

Rabbi Natasha Mann

 

 


Shabbat Commentary

30/31 Aug: Re’eh : Shabbat comes in 7:37 pm,  ends  8:38 pm

Parashat Re’eh – See and Listen

Parashat Re’eh (the Torah portion entitled ‘See’) begins with a charge to take note of the ramifications of following the ways of the Torah. The opening verses read as follows: ‘See, I place before you today a blessing and a curse. The blessing, that you will listen to the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today, and the curse, if you will not listen to the commandments of the Lord your God..’.

The Sefat Emet (‘The Language of Truth’), the late 19th Century Ḥasidic commentary of Rabbi Yehudah Leib Alter of Ger, points to an interesting oddity in this opening: the verse introduces the blessing with the words ‘that you listen’, and the curse with the words ‘if you will not listen’. The assumption of the Torah is that we will walk with God in the world; falling away from this is a possibility, but not the default.

Do we enter the world ultimately good, and learn evil, or vice versa?  According to the Sefat Emet’s reading of the opening verses of Parashat Re’eh, goodness is in our nature. It is a perspective that may encourage us to listen more keenly to our instincts, our consciences, and the still small voice.

Shabbat shalom.

Rabbi Natasha Mann