This thriving urban farm takes up 4,000 square feet of Mizmor LeDavid’s outdoor facility and enlivens the neighborhood, providing vegetables and herbage to anyone interested. Nourished by the local community’s compost and the care and labor of its dedicated volunteer family, the garden flourishes. Everyday people from the neighborhood come to harvest the beans, kale, cabbage, tomatoes, basil and much more to enjoy over the next couple of days, as stipulated by the shmitta halachot.

The garden not only provides delicious, healthy produce for the community, but is a springboard for teaching sustainable agriculture. The garden hosts community programs for synagogue members, student groups, and plan to integrate at-risk youth, the elderly, and adults with disabilities.

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Be a part of this holistic, holy effort. Support the Land of Israel by donating a small plant or fruit tree to this shmitta garden. Help cultivate a healthier Jerusalem and a healthier Israel.

You can track the efforts of the community garden with the Garden Digest and our Facebook page.

Donate to the garden HERE.

(Genesis-28:10-32:3)

(Haftara: Hoshea 12:13-14:10)

  1. [29:32…] Ya’akov does not give names to any of his children. His wives name them all. Why is this?
  1. [30:16] “Come to me (for sexual relations) because I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes”. Laya tells Ya’akov that she has hired him for the night. Isn’t this shocking!! Why doesn’t Ya’akov protest?
  1. [31:13] The reason that Ya’akov and his family are leaving Lavan is because God told him to leave. However, when telling his wives, he emphasizes the fact that it’s difficult to live with Lavan and his family. He mentions God’s command to leave only as an afterthought. Why does Ya’akov do this?
  1. [31:27] “…and you did not tell me…” Why didn’t Ya’akov tell Lavan that he and his family were leaving?
  1. [Hosea 13:6] “They were filled, and their heart was exalted/Therefore they have forgotten Me”. Does being satisfied necessarily mean that one forgets God?
  1. [Famous joke question: 28:10] “And Ya’akov left Be’er Sheva…” How is this pasuk a proof that a man should wear a kippah on his head? Answer: Would Ya’akov go without a kippah?

Commentary

[28:10] “And Ya’akov left Be’er Sheva and went to Kharan”.

Rashi: (It is unnecessary to say that Ya’akov left Be’er Sheva.) “This is coming to tell us that when a tzaddik leaves a place, it makes an impression.”

Why is it that when Avraham left his place in Sumer, it does not say, “And Avraham left…” Did his leaving not make an impression, while Ya’akov’s leaving did?

Ya’akov left his father and mother behind, and they were spiritually perceptive people, so they felt Ya’akov’s absence. Avraham, however, left behind a culture of idolatry. They didn’t see that Avraham was special when he was there, and they didn’t notice his absence when he was gone.

–R. Moshe Schreiber, the Chatam Sofer, 1762-1839, Germany/Bratislava

 

(Genesis-25:19-28:9)

(Haftara Malachi 1:1-2:7)

  1. [25:23] “Two nations are in your womb…the greater will serve the younger.” Rivkah was told by God in a prophetic revelation that Ya’akov would be the greater of the brothers.  Then she manipulated events so that Ya’akov got the greater blessing. Does this show a lack of faith in God’s prophecy? Shouldn’t she have been passive and just let God’s prophecy come true?
  1. [25:28] “And Yitzchak loved Esav, because there was food in his mouth…” How can it be that Yitzchak favoured Esav for such a materialistic reason. Our tradition tells us that Yitzchak was a person of noble character.  How can we understand this pasuk in a way that is more sympathetic to Yitzchak?
  1. [26:14] “He had flocks of sheep and herds of cattle and many servants…” Both Yitzchak and Avraham became very wealthy after a while. Our tradition does not discourage wealth, but does tell us that wealth can be a hindrance to spiritual development (Pirkay Avot 2:7: “…the more property, the more worries…”). Why doesn’t our tradition discourage wealth and make spiritual development easier?
  1. [26:27] “Why have you come to me?” asked Yitzchak. “You hate me.” This is a direct and confrontational statement. It is not typical of Middle-Eastern politeness. What was it in Yitzchak’s past that would have made him act and speak in such a challenging way?
  1. [Haftara: Malachi 1:1] “The burden of the word of God…” God is accusing the Jewish people of not being really devoted to the service of God. They serve God in a “lukewarm, mediocre” way. Is it easier to become a real servant of God from a place of mediocre service, or from a place of no service at all?

Commentary

We must always start from the beginning, from the first thoughts of childhood. Clarify them and refine them, and with purity and strength, bring out the goodness and the light that is in them. We shouldn’t belittle simple thoughts. They help to light up our way more than all the thoughts that we imagine to be elevated and sophisticated.

–R. Avraham Y. H. Kuk, 1865-1935, Lithuania and Israel.

This study page is dedicated to the memory of Gad Eliahu ben David and Kochava—Eli Zucker

And this study page is dedicated to the memory of Sarah Bella bat Yitzchak Kummer, Chaim Yosef Yechiel ben Eliyahu Kummer and Eliyahu and Margaret Kummer

(Genesis 23:1-25:18)

(Haftara: Melachim I,  1:1-31)

  1. [24:50] “…it is God’s doing…” Bethuel and his family were idol worshippers. Why did they say that these events are God’s doing? Can one be an idol worshipper and also believe in the one universal God?
  1. [24:63] “And Yitzchak went ‘lasuach basade’…” Rashi says that Yitzchak was praying in the field. Since this was much before we had a set prayer in the prayerbooks, it means that he spoke to God spontaneously about what was in his heart and on his mind. What are the advantages of set prayer from the prayerbooks and what are the advantages of spontaneous prayer?
  1. [24:67] “…and she became his wife and he loved her…” We are told that Yitzchak loved Rivkah. According to the midrash, Yitzchak was somewhat traumatized because he was almost sacrificed on an altar. What does the fact that Rivkah gave water to the camels without being asked, show about the fact that she was capable of creating a “love” relationship with Yitzchak?
  1. [24:67] “…and he took Rivkah and she became his wife and he loved her…” The Ramban says that Yitzchak loved Rivkah because she was righteous like Sara. Is it “true love” if somebody loves someone because she reminds him of someone else?
  1. [Haftara: Kings I, 1:28 ] “…’Call Bat-sheva to me’…” King David had sinned with Bat-sheva, but he had sincerely regretted his sin, and, in fact, their child, Shlomo became the next king. The Talmud tells us that someone who sins and then sincerely becomes pure and moral is greater than someone who lives a life of total purity and morality and never sins. How is such a person greater?

Commentary

If there is anything that a person can correct and put in order, he should do it without delay. And he should not worry about that which he is unable to fix. One should always concern oneself with self -improvement and with improving the world. This should be done with the greatest mental clarity that one is capable of.

–R. Avraham Y. H. Kuk, 1865-1935, Lithuania and Israel.

This study page is dedicated to the memory of Gad Eliahu ben David and Kochava—Eli Zucker

And this study page is dedicated to the memory of Sarah Bella bat Yitzchak Kummer, Chaim Yosef Yechiel ben Eliyahu Kummer and Eliyahu and Margaret Kummer

(Genesis 18:1-22:24)

(Haftara: II Kings 4:1-37)

  1. [18:3] “…please don’t pass by your servant.” Avraham convinces the 3 angels to accept his hospitality. Based on this story, our tradition teaches us that having guests (hachnassat orchim) is a very important commandment. Is this commandment performed in the best way when the guests are needy, or when they are friends and neighbours, or when they ask to be invited? What is the best way of performing this commandment?
  1. [18:3] “…please don’t pass by your servant.” Why is the commandment of having guests so important in our tradition?
  1. [18:19] “…to keep the way of God, to do kindness [tzedaka] and justice…”  In Hebrew,  the word tzedaka means justice, charity and kindness.  What is the significance of the fact that giving charity is a type of justice? How does this differ from the Western notion of charity?
  1. [18:25] “…will the judge of all the earth not act justly?” It is astounding that Avraham would say this to God.  What does this statement tell us about Avraham? What does it tell us about Avraham’s relationship with God?
  1. [Melachim II, 4:9] “…I know that this is a holy man of God…” This woman of Shunem did not really know Elisha.  She fed him from time to time. What might be the reasons that she thought that he was a holy man?

Commentary

At the initial stage of this nation, the ambition to set up a large compassionate community which would “keep the way of God to practise kindness and justice” was revealed…The goal was to bring mankind to a free life full of  splendour and delight, in the light of the idea of God.

–R. A. Y. H. Kuk, 1865-1935, Lithuania and Israel.

This study page is dedicated to the memory of Gad Eliahu ben David and Kochava—Eli Zucker

And this study page is dedicated to the memory of Sarah Bella bat Yitzchak Kummer, Chaim Yosef Yechiel ben Eliyahu Kummer and Eliyahu and Margaret Kummer

 

(Genesis 12:1-17:26)

Haftara (Isaiah 40:27-41:16)

  1. [12:8] …and he set up his tent to the west of Beit-El…” Our forefathers were nomadic herders. How would this occupation shape their personalities in order to make our forefathers ethical monotheists and fathers of the Jewish people?
  1. [12:11] “…I know that you are a beautiful woman…” Rashi (1040-1105, France) brings 2 explanations of this statement. One is that Avram and Sarai were so modest with each other, that Avram never saw her beauty. Another explanation is that Avram knew that Sarai was beautiful, but was impressed by the fact that she remained beautiful even on a journey. How can a religious tradition have such different viewpoints on how to relate to one’s wife?
  1. [13:8] “…let there not be an argument between me and you…” Avram chooses between his own financial good and his relationship with his nephew. He prefers to keep a good relationship. Some say that this shows his humility. What other qualities might this act show?
  1. [14:23] “…so you shouldn’t be able to say I made Avram rich…” This is an insulting statement to say to one of the powerful kings of the area. Avram could have said this in a less aggressive way.  What was Avram’s motivation in saying this?
  1. [Haftara: Yeshaya 40:31] “Those who hope in God will renew their strength…” Some would say that being realistic makes a person stronger than being optimistic. What do you think?

Commentary

[12:3] “…in you, all the families of the earth will be blessed”.

Israel shall be a “light of the nations” (Isaiah 42:6).  Through him, all men were to be taught the existence of the Most High God, and the love of righteousness, thereby opening for themselves the same treasury of blessings which he enjoyed.

—-R. Yosef Tzvi Hertz, 1872-1946, England.

This study page is dedicated to the memory of Gad Eliahu ben David and Kochava—Eli Zucker

And this study page is dedicated to the memory of Sarah Bella bat Yitzchak Kummer, Chaim Yosef Yechiel ben Eliyahu Kummer and Eliyahu and Margaret Kummer

 

(Genesis 6:9-11:32)

(Haftara: Isaiah 54:1-55:5)

  1. [6:11] “And the land was corrupted in front of God…” The Ibn Ezra (Spain, 1089-1167), explains that “in front of God” means “in public”, or it could mean only “in front of God”—in private. Which is worse—to be corrupt in front of everyone, or to have a good public image, but be corrupt in private?
  1. [9:6] “Whichever man spills the blood of another man…because He made man in the image of God”. The Torah gives us a reason that murder is forbidden. Why do we need a reason here? Isn’t it understood intuitively by everyone that murder is forbidden?
  1. 3. [9:26] “God will enlarge Yefet, and he will live in the tents of Shem…” Our tradition understands Yefet to mean Greece and an appreciation of beauty. What role should appreciation of beauty have in a Torah world-view?
  1. [11:6] “…one nation and one language for everyone, and this is what they have started to do…” Our tradition tells us that God wants unity between people.  This story tells us that when there is unity, negative things happen.  How can we ensure that unity will bring only good results?
  1. [Haftara 54:10] “…my kindness will not depart from you, and my covenant of peace will not be removed…” In what way are kindness and peace similar? What other values are similar to kindness and peace?

Commentary

[6:16] “Make a tzohar (window /brightness) for the tayva (ark/word).

“Tayva” means an ark, but in mishnaic Hebrew it also means a “word”.  A word of Torah, or of prayer, properly said, can save the world from a devastating flood of materialism and physicality. This pasuk can be understood to mean “make the word bright”.  Every word of Torah or prayer that comes out of your mouth should be clear and bright.

–R. Yehudah Leib Alter, the Sfat Emet, Poland, 1847-1905.

This study page is dedicated to the memory of Gad Eliahu ben David and Kochava–Eli Zucker

And to the memory of Sarah Beila Kummer bat Yitzchak and Chana, Chaim Yosef Yechiel ben Eliyahu Kummer and Eliyahu and Margaret Kummer

Breishit 1:1-6:8

  1. [1:1] “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” The most common way of translating the first pasuk in the Torah is, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Rashi translates it, “In the beginning of the creation of the heavens and the earth, the earth was unformed and void…” What is the difference between these 2 translations?  How do we see creation of the world differently according to each of the translations?
  1. [1:3] “And God said, “Let there be light, and there was light.” God created the world with words. What types of things can we create with words?  In what ways or in what situations are words not sufficient for us? Why does the Jewish mystical tradition attach so much power to  words?
  1. [1:27] “And God created man in His image, in the image of God…” How are we created in the image of God?
  1. [3:12] “…she gave me from the tree, and I ate.” Some commentaries say that Adam’s worst sin was blaming Chava and God, and not accepting responsibility. Certainly blaming others is not acceptable behaviour, but why is it considered  such a  very serious sin?
  1. [3:22] “…man has become like Me knowing good and evil…” What did Adam and Chava lose by eating from the tree and what did they gain?

Commentary

[Breishit 1:1] “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

This one verse is sufficient to teach us to see the world as God’s world and ourselves as God’s creatures, to prepare us for the demand that we are to recognize this world and ourselves as emanations of God, and therefore, as God’s sacred possessions, and that in this world of God, we are to use all of our energies—which also belong to him—solely for the purpose of doing His will.

–R. Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, 1808-1888, Germany.

This study page is dedicated to the memory of Gad Eliahu ben David and Kochava–Eli Zucker

And to the memory of Sarah Beila Kummer bat Yitzchak and Chana, Chaim Yosef Yechiel ben Eliyahu Kummer and Eliyahu and Margaret Kummer

Parshat Ha’azinu

(Dvarim 32:1-52)

  1. We start Yom Kippur with Kol Nidrei. We declare publicly that we are clearing ourselves of the promises that we did not keep. All of us have real sins that need to be forgiven—and sometimes heavy sins. Why do we start Yom Kippur by focusing on unkept promises when there are more serious things that we have to deal with?
  1. After Kol Nidrei, we say together to God, “Forgive the whole congregation of Israel, because everyone sinned unintentionally”. Surely some of our sins were intentional. In what way can we interpret our sins as being unintentional?
  1. [Yom Kippur] On Yom Kippur, during the mincha service, we read the book of Yonah. This book tells about how the prophet Yonah is sent by God to Nineveh to prophesy to the people and tell them to repent of their sins. Yonah tries to run away and not go to Nineveh to warn the people. However, in the end, he goes. Why, on Yom Kippur, do we read about a prophet who is so agonized by his call to prophecy?  Why don’t we read about someone who answers God’s call willingly?
  1. [Ha’azinu 32:44] “…all the words of this song…” It seems that a song is effective because it will stay in the minds of the people in a more permanent way than regular spoken words. If songs or poems are so effective, then why isn’t every major statement or commandment in the Torah expressed as a song or poem?
  1. [Ha’azinu 32:52] “…you will not go into the land…” Moshe cannot enter the land of Israel. He is being punished for what seems to us to be a rather small sin. Our sages tell us that very righteous people are held up to a much higher standard than regular people. Much more is expected of the righteous. Is it just and fair that a regular person with many sins could go into Israel, while Moshe, with one small sin, could not go into the land?

Commentary

Sins between people are not forgiven until one has asked forgiveness from his fellow man and has appeased his fellow man. (Talmud Yoma)

On Yom Kippur we all become united. The truth is that we are always very close to each other, but our sins separate us both from God and from other people. We have to repair the wrong that we’ve done to each other in order to return us to our natural state of being close to each other–to return to our natural unity.  But we must remember that in addition to sins like theft and so on, we must especially repair the sins of the heart. We must really love each other.

–R. Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter (18471905), Góra Kalwaria, Poland—the Sfat Emet

This study page is dedicated to the memory of Sarah Bella bat Yitzchak Kummer, Chaim Yosef This study page is dedicated to the memory of Gad Eliahu ben David and Kochava–Eli Zucker

And to the memory of Sarah Beila Kummer bat Yitzchak and Chana, Chaim Yosef Yechiel ben Eliyahu Kummer and Eliyahu and Margaret Kummer

Shabbat Shuvah

(Deuteronomy 31:1-31:30)

(Hoshea 14:2-10, Michah 7:18-20, Yoel 2:15-27)

  1. [31:2] “…I can no longer go out and come in”, says Moshe. It says in another place (Deuteronomy 34:7) that Moshe never lost his physical vitality. What might be a physical interpretation of this statement and what might be a spiritual interpretation of the statement?
  1. [31:17] “…because God is not within me, these bad things happened”. What does it mean for a person not to have God within him or her? Why does this absence of God make bad things happen?
  1. [31:21] “…and this song will serve as a witness for them…” When the Jews will have turned away from God and  bad things will happen to us, this song will help to return us to God.   What qualities does song have that makes it better than stories or declarations to change a person’s attitudes?
  1. [Haftara: Hosea 14:3] “Take words with you and return to God…” Why does one need words to return to God?  Isn’t  tshuvah an experience which is above words?
  1. [Haftara: Hosea 14:6] “I [God] will be like the dew for Israel…”  What does this image mean and why is it considered such a blessing?

Commentary

[31:12]  “Gather the people—the men, the women and the children…”

Why did God say that all the children should all be brought to this gathering? Everyone is supposed to listen to the Torah, and the smaller children disturb one’s concentration. They make noise and they  demand attention.

This is coming to teach us the following: One’s own spiritual development is very important. But sometimes, in order to serve God, and especially in order to pass the Torah way of life onto one’s children, one has to give up on what seems like one’s own spiritual development. Focusing on others, rather than on oneself, in itself brings a great deal of spiritual growth.

–The Sfat Emet, R. Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter (1847-1905),  Góra Kalwaria, Poland

This study page is dedicated to the memory of Gad Eliahu ben David and Kochava—Eli Zucker

And this study page is dedicated to the memory of Sarah Bella bat Yitzchak Kummer, Chaim Yosef Yechiel ben Eliyahu Kummer and Eliyahu and Margaret Kummer

 

(Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20)

(Isaiah 61:10-63:9)

  1. [29:28] “…the hidden things are God’s…” What are the “hidden things” ? What are the “revealed things”? Why are the “hidden” things in the world at all, if they are not for us to relate to?
  1. [30:2] “And you will return to God and you will listen to His voice…” Rav Kuk tells us that we hear the voice of God speaking to us as individuals and as groups, in our everyday lives. In what ways do we hear the voice of God speaking to us?
  1. [30:11-12] This mitzvah which I command you today… It is not in heaven…” The Talmud teaches us that matters of Jewish law are decided by the majority of Rabbis. “It is not in heaven…”–the rabbis should argue about the law and decide.  If  Jewish law is telling us how

to do the will of God, then how can the majority of rabbis decide what the will of God is?

  1. [30:14] We are told that the ultimate purpose and greatest good of life is “not in heaven or across the sea, but rather is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart to do it.” What are these “things” which are the greatest good, and are so close to us?
  1. [Haftara: Isaiah 63:8] “For He (God) said, ‘Certainly they are my children, they will not lie.’ So He was their saviour”. It seem in this pasuk that what makes the Jewish people beloved in God’s eyes is the fact that they don’t lie. In many psukim, however, it is stated that keeping the commandments is what makes the people beloved. How can this contradiction be resolved?

Commentary

[Devarim  29: 9,10]  “You are standing this day, all of you, before the Lord, your God: your leaders, your tribes, your elders, and your policemen, and each Israelite man; your little ones, your wives, and your stranger that is in your camp, from your woodchopper, to your water-drawer”.

In the Talmud (Pesachim 50a) Rav Yosef  had a near-death experience. About this experience, he said,  “I saw an upside-down world. Those who are on top here, are on the bottom there; and those who are regarded as lowly here, are elevated in Heaven.”  In our world, the leader or the wise-man is superior to the woodchopper or the water-carrier.  But in the ultimate reality, in God’s eyes, it is very different.

–R. Moshe Alsheich, Turkey, 16th century

This study page is dedicated to the memory of Gad Eliahu ben David and Kochava–Eli Zucker

And to the memory of Sarah Beila Kummer bat Yitzchak and Chana, Chaim Yosef Yechiel ben Eliyahu Kummer and Eliyahu and Margaret Kummer