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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

20/21 July: Shabbat Devarim comes in 8:52 pm,  ends  10:05 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, he 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

13/14 July: Shabbat  Matot- Masei comes in 8:59 pm,  ends  10:15 pm

The first seventeen verses at the beginning of Parashat Matot 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

6/7 July: Shabbat  Pinhas comes in 9:05 pm,  ends  10:22 pm

Toward the end of parshat Pinchas, God instructs Moses to appoint Joshua to replace him as leader.  The Torah teaches that when Moses lays his hands on Joshua, passing on the mantle of leadership, he only passes on part of his glory.  God says to Moses, “Invest him with some of your authority, so that the whole Israelite community may obey.”  (Numbers 27:20)

Why some, and not all of Moses’ glory?   The Talmud takes off on this passage with a fascinating insight.  “The face of Moses was like that of the sun; the face of Joshua was like that of the moon.”  (Talmud Baba Batra 75a). What is the difference between the sun and the moon?   The Hasidic Rebbe Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter of Ger wrote, “Unlike the sun which dominates the sky, the moon allows other heavenly bodies to shine.”  Moses who had seen God face-to-face was an overwhelming presence.  Joshua knew that true leadership means not overwhelming others, but allowing others to step forward and share in the glory.  The true leader is the one who can share leadership, and in so doing, can help others also become leaders.

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman


Shabbat Commentary

29/30 June: Shabbat  Balak comes in 9:07 pm,  ends  10:27 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 G-d 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 I want to 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

22/23 June: Shabbat  Chukat comes in 9:08 pm,  ends  10:28 pm

Parshat 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 day period 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 recognises 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

15/16 June: Shabbat  Korach comes in 9:05 pm,  ends  10:26 pm

Many commentators note the apparent confusion surrounding the various rebellions in parshat Korach.  The medieval commentator Abarvanel suggests that three distinct revolts are intertwined in the parasha:  the Levites against Aaron; Datan and Aviram against Moses; the tribal chieftains against Aaron.  The coalition builder among all the conspirators is Korach.

Rabbinic tradition understands these rebellions to be motivated by envy, ego, and a desire for power and not any substantive issue with Moses’ or Aaron’s leadership.

Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, writing in the aftermath of the Rabin assassination, explored the role of constructive conflict in any democracy, and in the covenantal theology of Judaism.  “Disagreements are allowed in a democracy and in a pluralistic religious community.  It is all right – indeed normal – to argue that the other side/position is wrong.  But to delegitimate is to claim that the other side/position is not just wrong.  Rather, it is illegitimate.  It has no right to exist; it is not worthy of being heard . . . To enter into a covenant is to agree to disagree but not to delegitimate.

“To disagree is to humanise; to delegitimate is to dehumanise.  This is not to say that all positions are legitimate.  Relativism implies that all views are equally valid (which is to say that none is really correct or ultimately true).  But there is a ‘no’ as well as a ‘yes’ in the pluralist system. The genius of democracy — and of covenantal religion, pluralistically understood — is that they define the inclusionary principle broadly, making room for a much wider range of interests and views than was true in the past. “

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman


Shabbat Commentary

8/9 June: Shabbat  Shelach Lecha comes in 9:01 pm,  ends  10:21 pm

The episode of the spies in this week’s Parashat, shows that the challenges facing the Israelites after we left Egypt were not merely a temporary phase.   Remember as we left Egypt, we complained that we lacked food and water.   Even after we received the Ten Commandments, we built the golden calf at Sinai.  The story of the spies and the punishment of the people to wander the desert for forty years is not an exception to the behaviour of the people, it rather fits the pattern of a people constantly struggling to believe in God..

There is a Hebrew saying that “Kol Hatchalot Kashot” – literally, “all beginnings are difficult.”  One wonders why we say “beginnings” in the plural, why not “every beginning is difficult.”   You could say that it relates to many ventures.  However, the late Dr Samuel Belkin taught that the reality is, that often when we begin even a single venture, there are many beginnings. You start, you fail, you start again, and you fall “but to succeed, one must be tenacious and never give up.”

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman


Shabbat Commentary

1/2 June: Shabbat  Behalotacha comes in 8:54 pm,  ends  10:13 pm

It’s not clear how the sacrifices brought by the chieftains at the end of last week’s portion, Naso, and this week’s subject — Aharon lighting the menorah in Behalotacha — are connected to one another.  The commentator Rashi (d.1105 France) answers that when Aharon heard about all of the sacrifices the chieftains were bringing he felt he was missing out on their experience. Therefore, God said to him “By your life, your contribution is greater than theirs !  You are the one that lights and prepares the lamps!”

Ramban (d. 1270 Eretz Yisrael) explains (by way of Midrash Rabbah) that Aharon’s problem was his inability to see the impact his actions on the future.  Unlike the sacrifices which are dependent upon the Temple’s existence — Aharon’s contribution and his role with the menorah is eternal, since we still light the Chanukiah in our day. These lights continued to be  lit even after the destruction of the Temple, and are the eternal connection that we have to Aharon lighting the menorah in the Temple.

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman


Shabbat Commentary

25/26 May: Shabbat  Naso comes in 8:46 pm,  ends  10:03 pm

The subject matter of Parashat Naso seems scattered.  There are rules about ritual impurity and about theft of sacred property.  There is the ritual of the Sotah, the woman whose husband has become so jealous of her perceived misconduct with other men that he subjects her to a strange ritual of trial by “ordeal.”  There is the Nazirite vow to live life in an even stricter fashion than is expected of the Kohanim themselves.  Finally, there is the presentation of each tribe’s gifts at the dedication of the Mishkan.

What do all of these have in common?   Most show how to physically enact the holiness code that the Israelites received at Sinai — moving out of the camp so as not to transmit ritual impurity; confessing and returning stolen objects; drinking the sotah ritual’s bitter waters; the various abstentions and sacrifices of the Nazirite; the bringing of the dedication gifts.

The Israelites are beginning to act on the life they have so far only heard about.   And life is in the details.

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman


Shabbat Commentary

18/19 May: Shabbat  Bamidbar comes in 8:36 pm,  ends  9:51 pm

In Parshat Bamidbar we read the verse  “This is the line of Aaron and Moses at the time that the Lord spoke with Moses on Mount Sinai.  These were the names of Aaron’s sons:  Nadav, the first-born, and Avihu, Elazar and Itamar.“    This passage begins by saying that it will tell the line of Aaron and Moses, but supplies only the names of Aaron’s sons.

From this, the Talmud concluded,  “One who teaches the son of his neighbour Torah is considered as if he had begotten him, since Aaron begot and Moses taught them; hence they are [also] called by Moses’s name” (Sanhedrin 19b).

We all have teachers and coaches who greatly add to our appreciation for our life and give it deeper meaning.  Judaism gives them proper recognition as actual givers of life.  Who has done that for you as you were growing up?

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman