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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

26/27 May: Shabbat Bamidbar comes in 8.47 pm, goes out 10.04pm


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 of 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?

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Paul Arberman


Shabbat Commentary

19/20 May: Shabbat Behar-Bechukotai comes in 8.37 pm, goes out 9.53pm


This week’s portion contains laws that limit someone’s right to the land. For six years we can harvest our crops. But on the seventh year we must allow the land to lie fallow. Obviously this leaving the land alone has certain agricultural value. It is an opportunity to replenish the soil. But there is another powerful symbolism in not working the land every seven years. By not working the land, we are reminded that “the earth is the Lord’s.” We only have temporary use of the land.

There is another law in this week’s portion which drives the point home even more strongly. Every fifty years a shofar is sounded on Yom Kippur, and all land reverts to its original owners. Of course this hearkens back to the Biblical days when the land was divided between the various families in the various tribes.

If a family is forced by poverty to sell their land, the new owner does not take possession forever. They have use of the land until the Jubilee year, when it reverts back to its originally owner. This law, perhaps a bit idealistic, prevents property from accumulating in the hands of the wealthy few.

In our modern society we are strong believers in property rights. I am a homeowner and I appreciate the fact that I own a little piece of real estate in Israel. But every now and then it is important to remember that God is not interested in the few accumulating great wealth and control over a lot of real estate. God is interested in ensuring that everyone has a plot of land to call home.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Paul Arberman


Shabbat Commentary

12/13 May: Shabbat Emor comes in 8.27 pm, goes out 9.40pm                


The Torah next tells us of the son of a Israelite woman and an Egyptian man who cursed God’s name. The man was incarcerated pending word from God on how to punish him. The command was to stone him to death.

The rabbis in the Talmud don’t even like discussing this topic and euphemistically called blasphemy “blessing God.” The Mishna (Sanhedrin 56a) raises the problem of a trial for blasphemy. How do we elicit evidence without forcing witnesses to repeat the language? The problem was highlighted in Monty Python’s Life of Brian, where every time the officer of the Sanhedrin reads the conviction announcement, he is stoned for pronouncing the name of God.

I think of blasphemy in the way that I also require my children to speak respectfully about their teachers. They can disagree with them, but they can never call them names (or nicknames). In the stellar series West Wing about presidential politics, President Bartlett reminds a detractor that she doesn’t have to like the president who was elected (himself) but she has to rise when he enters the room because she has to rise for the office. Showing respect in the language we use to reproach teachers or leaders, even those who have demeaned themselves, helps preserve our institutions of education, of democracy and even of religion.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Paul Arberman


Shabbat Commentary

5/6 May: Shabbat Acharei-Kedoshim comes in 8.16 pm, goes out 9.27pm        


Parashat Acharei-Kedoshim contains the Holiness Code, a set of religious and secular laws, including matters pertaining to agriculture, testimony, social ethics, and certain rituals associated with sacrifice.  These include the obligation to judge fairly, to reprove one’s neighbour, to love one’s fellow human being, to not degrade one’s daughter by making her a harlot.

The Talmud Yerushalmi (Nedarim 9:4) records a dispute between Rabbi Akiva and Ben Azzai concerning the identity of the most central ethical principle of Judaism.  Rabbi Akiva quotes Leviticus 19:18, “thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”  It sounds good.   Yet, Ben Azzai selects a different verse, “this is the book of the generations of man…in the image of God was he created” (Genesis 5:1).  Why does Ben Azzai choose a different verse?

The Talmud explains that Akiva’s verse is subjective and personal.  Some might say “since I have been demeaned, let my fellow be demeaned with me” or “since I have been reviled, let my fellow be reviled with me.”   Ben Azzai’s position removes the subjectivity of morality by appealing to common origins and history.

When we don’t feel in the mood to love our neighbour, we can turn to our shared origins and history as a people and as Jews.  The reality of a shared past can help us recover our respect for others.   For that reason, Ben Azzai argues the Golden Rule is “this is the book of the generations of man…in the image of God was he created.”

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Paul Arberman

 

 

 

 

 


Shabbat Commentary

27/29 April: Shabbat Tazia/Metzora  comes in 8.04pm, goes out 9.14pm


The opening paragraph of this weeks double parsha, Tazria-Metzorah deals with a mother who gives birth, and the required period of Tum’ah/Impurity that she undergoes. The parsha also mentions in a short verse that the brit takes place on the 8th day.  Our rabbis learn from this that even if the 8th day is Shabbat the bris takes place.

 

Normally the Shabbat law would dictate that one does not do a surgical procedure on Shabbat.  So why does the circumcision take precedence over Shabbat?  Biblically, both Shabbat and circumcision are considered an “Ot” – a sign of the covenantal relationship between God and the children of Israel.

 

Since it is the brit milah that places males into the covenantal relationship in the first place, it makes sense (meaning you can’t observe Shabbat if you were not made Jewish with a bris to begin with)  that a brit milah supersedes Shabbat and is permitted to be observed on this day.

 

Are baby girls just born Jewish?    Many Jewish communities have also had ways of welcoming their daughters into the covenant with celebrations that date as far back as the Middle Ages, but they were more often folk custom than religious ritual per se, and rarely had the same sense of spiritual weight or importance as brit milah.

 

After a few decades of witnessing Brit Bat or Simchat Bat (Bris/covenant welcoming for a girl) ceremonies, Deborah Nussbaum Cohen has written Celebrating Your New Jewish Daughter: Creating Jewish Ways to Welcome Baby Girls into the Covenant (Jewish Lights).  It contains an exploration of the themes and issues related to simchat bat, and a complete collection of blessings, prayers, readings, and songs to choose from, as well as sample ceremonies. Today, welcoming ceremonies for Jewish girls have become so popular that in many circles they have become an expected–if not yet universally practiced–rite of passage.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Paul Arberman


Shabbat Commentary

21/22 April: Shabbat Shemini comes in 7.53 pm, goes out 9.00 pm


Shemini

This week I found the words of Conservative Rabbi Shai Held interesting and meaningful.  Parshat Shemini is difficult in that it relates the story of the sons of Aaron who die after offering up “strange fire” to God.

Following is my edited version of Rabbi Held’s dvar Torah:  

“Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘This is what the Lord meant when He said:  Through those who are near to Me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified'” (10:3).  Moses appears to be saying that God will demonstrate God’s holiness through the priests, “whether by their cooperation with [God] or, as in the present instance, by punishing them.”  How does Aaron respond?  The Torah gives us only two words:  “Va-yidom Aharon” – meaning, according to the conventional translation, “Aaron was silent” (10:3)

But what if Aaron wasn’t silent at all?  Bible scholar Baruch Levine suggests that there are actually two separate meanings to the Biblical Hebrew root d-m-m.  The first, more common meaning is “to be still” – and as we have seen, this is how biblical commentators have almost always understood the term va-yidom when applied to Aaron:  “And Aaron was silent.”  The second, less familiar meaning is “to mourn, to moan.”

 

On Levine’s interpretation, the Torah tells us that “Aaron reacted in the customary manner; he moaned or wailed and was about to initiate formal mourning and lamentation for his two lost sons.”  The whole story now appears in a very different and more subtle light:  Aaron moans and cries out because the agony of a father upon the loss of his children is irrepressible.  But Moses forbids him and his remaining sons from initiating formal rites of mourning, i.e. bearing their heads and rending their garments.  Instead, he assures them, the people will mourn on their behalf (10:6).

 

How are we to understand Moses’ conduct?  Faced with the sudden, shocking, and seemingly inexplicable death of Aaron’s two sons, Moses is at a loss.  He turns to his elder brother and offers a theological explanation:  “Through those who are near to Me I will show Myself holy, and before all the people I will be glorified.”  Aaron’s response is extremely telling:  He goes right on mourning.  Moses responds by re-affirming a theological truth he believes can help him (and Aaron) make sense of this unendurable turn of events.  But Aaron will have none of it.  

 

Implicitly, he reminds Moses – and us – that there are moments when theological explanations, whether compelling on their own terms or not, simply have no place.  When a father stares into the abyss and sees two of his children lying dead before him, the first response is not theology but grief.  Moses may need to assure himself that his world has not fully fallen apart, but in sharing his explanation of Nadav and Avihu’s death, he fails to make adequate space for Aaron’s utter devastation.  So Aaron, rightly, ignores Moses’ words.  Emotionally at least, his [reaction] is far wiser than Moses’ speech.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Paul Arberman


Shabbat Commentary

14/15 April: Shabbat Chol Hamoed Pesach comes in 7.41 pm, goes out 8.47 pm


By Rabbi Matthew Berkowitz [from Reflections] 

The experience of the exodus from Egypt, Yeziat Mitzrayim, which we commemorate on Passover, is indelibly marked in the collective consciousness of the Jewish nation. It is this notion — of having been slaves to the Egyptians — that plays such a profound role in defining the moral and ethical demands that the Torah places on us. Having known the experience of oppression, we are commanded to take that to heart, lest we turn to oppress our fellow human beings. Thus, Passover is a time in which we dwell on the essence of what it is that defines us as a people: how does our experience of slavery shape the way we behave today? What does it mean to be a chosen people? And how is that we as a people deal alternately with powerlessness and power?

This latter question comes to the fore in our examination of Parashat Tzav. Rabbi Shmuel Avigdor HaCohen comments that while most of the sacrifices discussed in this parashah come from cattle and sheep, there is also one bird which is permitted as an offering upon the altar — a dove. Why a dove? Talmud Tractate Bava Kamma teaches, “Rabbi Abbahu said: Let a person always be one that is pursued rather than a pursuer, for there is no bird that is pursued more than a dove and it is this bird which the Torah permits as an offering upon the altar. Rabbi Shmuel Avigdor HaCohen continues, “Scripture states that ‘God desires the one who is pursued’ (Ecclesiastes 3:15). Birds of prey cannot achieve the level of holiness required for a sacrificial offering. Only the bird that is pursued, the dove, is desired as an offering. God despises the pursuer and desires the pursued. It is therefore forbidden to bring a sacrifice — to come close to God — by means of an animal of prey, i.e. one that pursues that which is weaker than it.” The message rooted in the experience of the Exodus is clear — do not prey on those weaker than you. As Israelites, we are to act with a keen sense of justice — only this will bring us closer to God.

Renowned artist David Moss, in his extraordinary haggadah, depicts a chilling image toward the beginning of his haggadah. Taking his cue from illustrations of a rabbit hunt at the beginning of medieval European haggadot, Moss illustrates the emblems of nations that have persecuted Jews throughout the ages and notes that many of them took the eagle as their symbol. Moss illustrates the seemingly invincible eagle in each national emblem with a rabbit (the symbol of the pursued) in the beak or talons of the preying eagle. Both Parashat Tzav and David Moss give us pause to think about our role as the pursued as well as the pursuer. Having lived for some two thousand years in a state of powerlessness, the Jewish people are blessed with a country of our own and today, we are indeed in a state of power. This Passover, may we, seated around our precious Passover tables, challenge ourselves to think about the responsibility of power — and how our experience of powerlessness informs this special task. And may our sincere inquiry bring us closer to each other, and as a dove, bring us closer to God.

Rabbi Matthew Berkowitz is the director of Israel Programs for the Jewish Theological Seminary

 

 


Shabbat Commentary

7/8 April: Shabbat Hagadol(Tzav) comes in 7.29 pm, goes out 8.34 pm


The laws in the first five chapters of Leviticus were intended for the individual bringing the sacrifice.  Parashat Tzav, on the other hand, is a manual for the priests who offer those sacrifices.  In this aliyah, instructions are given concerning the burnt-offering.  

The burnt-offering is the only sacrifice that is completely burnt on the altar; (hence the name) and nothing is left for the Kohanim to eat.  The Torah notes that every morning the priests were required to remove the ashes from the previous day’s sacrifices.  They had to take out the “garbage.”  Many commentators have pointed out that the priests, not the commoners, have this obligation so that they are less likely to let their status go to their head.  When leaders, religious or otherwise, lose contact with real people they lose a measure of their legitimacy and their ability to serve.

Shabrabbipaulsmlbat Shalom,  Rabbi Paul Arberman


Shabbat Commentary

31 March/1 April: Shabbat comes in 7.17 pm, goes out 8.22 pm


In this week’s parasha we begin reading Sefer Vayikra, the Book of Leviticus, which details the roles of the priests in  sacrifices given to worship God.  Yet isn’t it strange that Judaism, which seems like a relatively rational and peaceful religion, would be so involved with  primitive, bloody and even violent endeavours such as animal sacrifice?

My teacher Rabbi Bradley Artson explains that the sacrifices symbolized that life is not a peaceful, neatly packaged, fully comprehensible endeavour. Moreover, he says, that the deeper layers of the human psyche are nonverbal, contradictory and impulsive. They include drives toward lust, anger, gratification, jealousy and safety — and that all of those competing levels and drives require some mode of expression.

If we attempt to deny them, and consequently to stifle them, they will erupt in destructive or inappropriate ways.

As I’ve said many times, I pray for the establishment of the third Temple,  but I don’t want, and mainstream Jews do not want,  to bring back animal sacrifices.   Rabbi Artson points out that studying about it in our rabbinic texts and mentioning it in our prayers helps us accomplish what ancient Judaism wanted – to allow for us to safely channel and express the entire range of human impulses and drives, confront our own subconscious, face and share our deepest anxieties.

Shabrabbipaulsmlbat Shalom,  Rabbi Paul Arberman


Shabbat Commentary

Shabbat comes in 6.06 pm: goes out 7.09 pm


This week’s Torah portion mentions the holiday of Pesach.  It is probably a good thing too because we need to start preparing. In fact, the issue of preparation is essential to Passover.  In our Torah portion we read: “Let each of them take a lamb to a family, a lamb for each household.  But if the household is too small for a lamb, let him share it with a neighbour who dwells nearby in proportion to the number of persons…”

And all of this had to be pre-arranged. It wasn’t something you left until the last moment.  Four days before Passover the lamb was set aside, and a decision was made as to who would partake of it. It was forbidden to consume a paschal offering to which you weren’t pre-invited.   So why, then, do we bother saying at the beginning of the Seder, “All who are hungry come and eat?”

The commentators on the Haggadah pondered on this question. Some suggested that the statement was an invitation to the people who are present for the Seder to come to the table. The Mishnah says that one should not eat from the hour of the Minchah service (about 3PM) until the Seder begins. So everyone who was already invited would literally be ready for dinner – and we say to them “All who are hungry come and join us!”

But the second part of this statement says something else. “All who are in need, join us for the Pesach Seder.” There is a difference between ‘hunger’ and ‘need.’ There are many people who may not be hungry – they have the means to provide ample food on Passover – but they are emotionally and socially needy; they have no one with whom to celebrate Passover. They’re lonely, or maybe they just don’t have the knowledge to conduct the Seder. They may be too proud to ask for an invitation. But they are in need of a place to be on Passover eve – a family with whom they can celebrate.

If we wait for the Seder to begin, it’s too late. The time to open our hearts and our homes to others is now.

Shabrabbipaulsmlbat Shalom,  Rabbi Paul Arberman