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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

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

 

 


Shabbat Commentary

16/17 Aug: Vaetchanan : Shabbat comes in 8:07 pm,  ends  9:11 pm

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 God 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.”

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman

 

 


Shabbat Commentary

9/10 Aug: Devarim : Shabbat comes in 8:20 pm,  ends  9:27 pm

This week we begin the book of Devarim.  The Sages note that the same Moshe who protested to God that “I am not a man of words” (Ex. 4:10) produces a flood of words in this final book of the Torah, whose Hebrew name means, after all, “words.”

Midrash Devarim Rabbah compares this to a trader selling fine crimson, who proclaims his wares, but when the king asks him what he is selling, replies, “nothing at all!”.  The king replies, “I heard your voice calling, ‘fine crimson!’  and you tell me you are selling nothing at all?”.  The trader replies, “My lord!  Yes, it is fine crimson, but to you it is worth nothing”; the midrash concludes, “So it was with Moshe — before the (King) Holy One of Blessing who created the mouth and speech — Moshe said ‘I am not a man of words,’ but in regard to speaking to Israel, it is written of him, ‘These are the words’.”

The Sages of our tradition focus on Moshe’s willingness to speak hard truths to his people.  He does not give them a sugar-coated, heroic narrative of their past and future.  He wants the people’s story of itself to be one that is willing to acknowledge error and to do teshuvah, repentance and re-evaluation of themselves.  The Sages noted that the Book of Numbers ends with the words, “These are the mitzvot … that God commanded through Moshe to the Israelites” (Num. 36:13), and that Deuteronomy begins with “These are the words that Moshe spoke…” (Deut. 1:1).  They said, “Why is the one matter brought up next to the other ?  So God says, the words of Moshe that admonish Israel are as dear to me as all the mitzvot that I gave them” (Midrash Yelamdenu).

It is most appropriate that we read the Book of Deuteronomy over the period leading up to the High Holidays; it helps us to focus on our own process of self-evaluation and teshuvah

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman

 

 


Shabbat Commentary

2/3 July: Mattot-Massei : Shabbat comes in 8:33 pm,  ends  9:41 pm

The first seventeen verses at the beginning of Parashat Mattot describe vows that a person freely assumes by their own declaration.   But the Shulchan Aruch – the code of Jewish law – rules: “Do not become accustomed to making vows. Anyone who makes a vow, even if he fulfils it, is deemed a sinner” [YD 203:1]

The Hebrew word for a vow – “neder” – reflects a certain relationship to reality that was described by the Sefat Emet (R. Judah Aryeh Leib of Gur): “Neder [vow] derives from the root dira [residence].” In other words, a person who makes a vow attempts to create a different reality, in which he can dwell alone, as an island unto himself. The word of God created our reality, our world, and our relationship to one another, and it is that language that makes us full partners to creation every day. In making a vow, a person uses words in an attempt to separate himself, and to isolate himself from our heritage by the creation of a personal reality, a private space.

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman

 

 


Shabbat Commentary

26/27 July: Pinchas : Shabbat comes in 8:44 pm,  ends  9:55 pm

In this week’s Parasha, God makes it clear that Moshe’s time is nearly at hand: “Ascend this mountain of Abarim and look upon the land that I am giving to the Israelites.  And when you have seen it, you will be gathered to your kin also, as was your brother Aharon” (Num. 27:12-13) Moshe doesn’t, as one might expect, renew his pleas to be allowed to enter the Land.  Instead, he responds, “Let Adonai, Source of the breath [ruach; also “spirit”] of all flesh, appoint a person over the congregation.  One who will go out before them and who will come in before them, and who will take them out and bring them in, and do not let the congregation of Adonai be like sheep without a shepherd” (Num. 27:16-17).  God immediately names Yehoshua bin Nun, “a man who has spirit [ruach] in him” (Num. 27:18), upon whom Moshe will lay his hand, and whom he will then present to the Cohanim and the people.

The commentator, Rashi cites a Midrash here that Moshe asks God to, “choose for them a leader who will consider each one according to his outlook.”  In other words, God is both being called upon to exercise a unique ability to see individuals as individuals, and to name a leader whom God knows will do the same.  By putting God in charge of the selection, Moshe is co-opting God into working with the next leader, as God’s choice, just as Moshe himself was God’s choice.  Moreover, despite his own metaphor, Moshe is not asking for a mere shepherd of sheep – he is asking for a leader “who will not be a leader of only their bodies alone, but will lead the spirits” (Malbim [R. Meir Leibush b. Yehiel Michel, Russia 19th C.] to Num. 27:16).

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman

 

 

 


Shabbat Commentary

19/20 July: Balak : Shabbat comes in 8:53 pm,  ends  10:06 pm

At the end of last week’s Parasha, the Israelites had arrived at the steppes of Moab, prepared to enter the land of Canaan. As we pick up the story this week, Balak, king of Moab, sees the defeat of his neighbouring kings.  Fearing a similar fate, he hires the non-Jewish prophet Bilaam to curse the Israelites.  However, Bilaam is a true prophet and can only say what God has commanded, so he utters blessings instead of curses.  Parashat Balak is probably best known for the comical episode of Bilaam’s confrontation with his talking donkey, but let us take a look at a verse from Bilaam’s first oracle.  Looking out over the Israelite camp, Bilaam says:

Who can count the dust of Jacob,

Number the dust-cloud of Israel,

May I die the death of the upright,

May my fate be like theirs.

Regarding the phrase “may I die the death of the upright,” Rashi comments that Bilaam means that he wants to die “among them.”

The Hafetz Hayyim, (Rabbi Israel Meir Hakohen, Poland, early 20th century), explains:   Bilaam did not want to live as a believing Jew, but very much wanted to die as one.  Why?  Because the life of a God-fearing Jew is not an easy one: he has to restrain himself and keep away from many things.  There are many commandments he must perform.  Each day and every hour he has various obligations.  The Jew’s death is not like that. For the believing Jew, death is only a transition from a temporary life to a permanent one [the afterlife, which the Rabbis call the world to come] . . . and that is why Bilaam wanted to die as a believing Jew.  But it is no great feat to die a proper death.  The real feat is to live a proper life.

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman

 

 

 


Shabbat Commentary

12/13 July: Chukat : Shabbat comes in 9:00 pm,  ends  10:16 pm

Parshah Chukat reports the deaths of Miriam and Aharon.   While the seven day period of impurity described in the Parashah is not itself the source for the practice of “sitting Shiva”, the thirty days in which the Israelites “cried for the loss of Aharon” is the source for the practice of sheloshim.

The thirty days that the Israelites cried for Aharon explicitly responds to the people’s need to articulate their grief. According to the Musaf Rashi commentary (additional writings by Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki, France 1040-1105, which were not included in his linear commentary), the Israelites grieved for Aharon because he “pursued peace and established peace between neighbours and spouses”. They felt the loss of this tangible element of his leadership, and the Torah reports that their emotional reaction was to cry for 30 days.  With Aharon’s death, the Torah indicates that the full emotional response to the loss of a person who was loved and admired can’t be contained within the confines of a purity ritual. Rather, such grief needs time.

It may be a cliché to say that time heals such wounds as are caused by the death of a loved one, but Chukat reminds us just how important it is to give ourselves time to grieve.   The message of Chukat is that at a time of loss, we need to be patient with ourselves and with others. While rituals provide us with an essential supportive framework in the earliest and darkest days, the Torah also recognizes that the emotional impact of our loss will be felt well beyond that first week. In honouring Aharon as a man who pursued peace in Israel during his lifetime, may the grief expressed by those he led be a model that brings us towards peace in remembering those who we dearly miss.

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman

 

 

 


Shabbat Commentary

5/6 July: Korach : Shabbat comes in 9:05 pm,  ends  10:23 pm

Korach’s rebellion was deemed by the rabbis to have been destructive in large part because he refused any real dialogue with Moshe. (Numbers 16:12)  An essential principle of controversy ‘for the sake of Heaven’ is the recognition that no single person has the monopoly on truth. Although one may be committed to a particular position, he or she must be open and respectful of dissenting views.

Rabbi Eliezer Ashkenazi, a 16th century commentator, notes that when Hillel and Shammai disagreed they still wanted the Halachic system to endure, hence, their controversy was ‘for the sake of Heaven’. Unlike Korach, whose purpose in disagreeing with Moshe was to destroy the system of the priesthood.

So, too, in Israeli politics. Rav Kook stated that the duly elected government of Israel has the status of malkhut, the biblical status of king.  Thus, an individual has the right to disagree with government policy, but can never regard those policies as null and void.

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman