(Genesis-47:28-50:26)

(Haftara: Kings I  2:1-12)

1. [48:14] “And Israel put his right hand on the head of Ephraim, who was the younger…”  Ya’akov got the rights of the first-born son even though he was younger than Esav. Now he is giving the rights of the first-born to Ephraim even though he is younger than his brother, Menashe.  It seems that the Torah does not really value the rights of the first-born. If so, why does the Torah give the first-born extra rights?

2. [48:20]  “And he blessed them on that day, saying, “By you shall Israel bless, saying…”  On the evening of Shabbat, when we bless our daughters we say, “May God make you like Sara, Rivkah, Rachel and Leah”.  When we bless our sons, we say, “May God make you like Ephraim and Menashe”.  What is so special about Ephraim and Menashe?

3. [49:18] “For your salvation I hope, God”.  Ya’akov says this short prayer in the middle of his blessings for his sons. This prayer does not seem to relate to anything that he is saying. Why does Ya’akov say it?

4. [49:14] “Yissachar…crouching between the borders.” A number of commentators say that this means that Yissachar sleeps in unfamiliar places because he travels in order to teach Torah. What does this tell us about the Torah’s vision of teachers of Torah?

5. [Haftara: Melachim I, 20:6] “Do not let his old head go down to the grave in peace.”  Among  King David’s last words to his son, Shlomo, is this in order to take revenge.  R. Yosef Tzvi Hertz (born 1884) makes a distinction between this kind of revenge—which is to create a feeling of justice in the state—and revenge in one’s personal life.  Revenge for justice in the country can be justified, but personal revenge cannot be justified. Do you agree with this distinction?

Commentary

When a person feels that he is very much lacking and inadequate in his spirituality, he should know that the time has come for him to put up a new structure–more elevated, stable and magnificent than it was before.  And he should strengthen himself and strive to change his actions and his ways in an organized way, with a strong heart and with pure motivations—with a heart full of  strength and inner joy.  God is just and good. Therefore, He teaches sinners the way, directs the humble with justice and teaches the humble His way.

.—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  to the memory of Sarah Bella bat Yitzchak Kummer, Chaim Yosef Yechiel ben Eliyahu Kummer and Eliyahu and Margaret Kummer

(Genesis-44:18-47:27)

(Haftara: Ezekiel 37:15-28)

1. [44:18] Yosef is the model for Messiah ben Yosef. According to the Gaon of Vilna, the final redemption will be modeled on the redemption from Egypt, and one model will be Yosef and everything in his life. Yosef looked like an Egyptian and there was Geulah. The midrash tells us that the b’nei Yisrael, years later, were redeemed because they did not change their names, their language or their clothing.  And that is also a model for the redemption. How can we resolve this contradiction? Is the model of redemption based on Yosef—to be a Jew in one’s heart, but be hidden, or is the model the b’nei Yisrael in Egypt?

2. [45:14] “…and he cried and Binyamin cried on his neck.” Rashi says that they cried over the Temples that would be destroyed in the future—each in the other’s territory.  Each of the brothers had a deep love and compassion for the other in relation to eternal matters. Other commentators say that they cried because they had been separated for so long. What might motivate Rashi to explain the brothers’ deep emotion in such an impersonal way?

3. Some commentators interpret negative actions by our forefathers (like the sale of Yosef by his brothers) in a positive way. They had the most noble motivations. Other commentators see our forefathers as human and developing toward Godliness. Which school of interpretation do you prefer? Why?

4. [Haftara: Yechezkel 37:22] The prophet tells us how in the messianic era, there will be no divisions among the Jews. If that is the ideal, then why was the division into tribes encouraged and reinforced earlier in our history?

5. [Haftara: 37:24] “…and they shall all have one shepherd…” In another messianic vision, we are told that “all your children will be taught by God” (Yeshayah 54:13)—everyone will have a direct relationship with God. Here, we are told that there will be one leader on the model of a shepherd. If everyone will have a direct relationship with God, why is there a need for a shepherd-like leader?

Commentary

[Yechezkel 37:24] “And my servant David will be king over them…”

In the messianic future, all the Jews will return to God, and will repent totally for all their sins of the past. However, there will be many who will be embarrassed because they have so many sins. For these people, King David will be their inspiring example. From David’s life they will understand that “tshuvah” helps for everything—even the most severe sins– and one’s relationship with God and with the world can always be repaired.

Ahavat Yehonatan, Yonatan Eibeschitz,  (1690-1764), Prague

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

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

(Genesis-41:1-44:17)

(Haftara: Zechariah 2:14-4:7)

(Chanukah)

1. [41:39] “…since God has informed you of all of this…”   Pharoah believed that Yosef’s  interpretations of the his dreams and his servant’s dreams were true interpretations and come from God. On the basis of this, he even raised Yosef from being a prisoner to being Pharoah’s main officer. Nonetheless he remained an idol-worshipper.  How could Pharoah justify to himself the fact that the God of Yosef is so all-knowing and powerful, and yet still not devote himself to Yosef’s God?

2. [41:51]  “And to Yosef were born 2 sons…”  Yosef named his first son Menashe because “God made me forget…my father’s house”, and he named his second son Ephraim because “God has made me prosper” in Egypt.  Some of our commentaries say that Yosef was only masquerading as an Egyptian, but was still a “Hebrew” in his heart.  Others disagree and say that Yosef , while believing in God, saw himself as an Egyptian. On the basis of the names that he gave his sons, which of these interpretations seems to be the better one. Could one also justify the other interpretation?

3. [42:21]  “…we are guilty about our brother…”   Yosef hears his brothers say that they did wrong in selling Yosef.  Still he causes them a lot of trouble. Why doesn’t Yosef tell them who he is?  What more does he expect of them?

4. [Chanukah]  There is a difference of opinion whether after Shabbat, one should first light the havdalah candle which signifies the end of Shabbat or whether one should first light the Chanukah candles.  What might be the reasons that underlie this difference of opinion?

5. [Chanukah]  On Chanukah, we were victorious over the Greeks, and we rejected Greek culture totally. Later, however, many of our rabbis had great respect for Greek philosophy and other aspects of Greek culture. At the time of the Maccabees, why couldn’t we accept some aspects of Greek culture and reject their paganism?

Commentary

The existence and survival of the nation are commemorated in the Chanukah candles and the miracle of Chanukah.  But a person should not think that the existence of the nation is for everyone’s personal gain. “One is not permitted to count money by the light of the Chanukah candles.” Rather, one must know that the purpose of the nation is a very elevated purpose. The name of God is what defines the nation, and the nation carries the covenant of the Torah in its heart.

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

(Genesis-37:1-40:23)

(Haftara: Amos 2:6-3:8)

  1. [ 37:1] “And Ya’akov lived in the land of his father’s dwellings…”  After wrestling with the angel, Ya’akov received the new name, “Yisrael”, and this is considered a more noble name than Ya’akov. However, unlike Avraham and Sara, who also received new names, Ya’akov is still sometimes called by his old name, after receiving the new name. Why is it that after Ya’akov receives the new name, Yisrael, he is still often called Ya’akov?
  1. [37:5] “And Yosef had a dream, and he told his brothers, and they hated him even more.” The Torah tells us that Yosef’s brothers hated him because Yosef was his father’s favourite son. [37:4] Then Yosef told his brothers about his dreams in which his brothers  bowed down to him.  This is strange behaviour. If Yosef knew that they hated him, why did he tell them these dreams?
  1. [39:1] “And Yosef was brought down to Egypt…”  Yosef’s entry into Egypt is the beginning of the exile of the people of Israel. God had told Avraham that there would be an exile in Egypt. Why does it seem that the exile is a necessary condition in Jewish history?
  1. [Haftara Amos 2:7]   “…to profane My holy name.”  The prophet Amos lists the sins of Israel that show man’s inhumanity to man.  He calls these “profaning God’s holy name”? One would think that sins against God are “profaning God’s name”.  Why is “profaning God’s name” applied to sins against man?
  1. [Amos 3:2] “You only have I known of all the families of the earth. Therefore I will bring upon you all your sins.”  God says that because He is closer to us than to the other nations, he makes us suffer for our sins. If God is closer to us shouldn’t He be more lenient with us than with the other nations?

Commentary

[38:2] “And Yehudah saw the daughter of a Canaanite man…and he married her.” 

The midrash says that the brothers of Yosef were involved in fasting and tshuvah because of what had been done to Yosef, but Yehudah took a wife for  himself and God created the light of the messiah. R. Simcha Bunim of Pzyscha says that God liked Yehudah’s reaction to the sale of Yosef the best and therefore He created the light of the messiah. R. Menachem Mendel of Kotzk explains this in the following way: Yehudah knew that other than feeling regret, there was no way to make up for his part in the selling of Yosef. Therefore he decided to start his life again, and get married and do the first commandment which is to have children.  God was very pleased with this act of starting fresh and new, so he created the light of the messiah (who is one of Yehudah’s descendants).

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

(Genesis-32:3-36:43)

(Haftara: Ovadiah 1:1-3:21)

1. [32:21]  “…I will appease him with the present that goes before me…”  Ya’akov had seriously hurt Esav, and Esav had wanted to kill him. Ya’akov thought that by giving Esav a generous gift, Esav would forgive him. It would seem that if Esav was ready to forgive Ya’akov, then a gift is unnecessary, and if Esav is not ready to forgive, then a gift is not going to help.  What was Ya’akov thinking in sending this gift to Esav?

2. [32:27]  “…I will not let you go unless you bless me…”   Ya’akov demanded a blessing and the “man” changed Ya’akov’s name to Yisrael.  It seems that if Ya’akov had not demanded a blessing, his name would have remained Ya’akov. The fact that Ya’akov became Yisrael is considered a big spiritual change.  What is the significance of the fact that Ya’akov had to demand the blessing?

3.  [32:29] “And he said, ‘Your name will no longer be Ya’akov, but rather Yisrael, because you have wrestled with God (or  with powers)…”  The Jewish people are called Yisrael.  There are many stories about our forefathers. Why do we, as a nation, have a name that recalls this event?

4.  [Ovadiah 1:15] “…as you have done, it shall be done unto you…” The wicked should receive whatever bad they did to others.  However, we see that sometimes the wicked prosper.  If God is totally just, then how can the wicked prosper?

5. [Ovadiah 3:21]  “And saviours shall rise up on mount Zion to judge the mount of Esav, and the kingdom will be God’s”.   It seems that judging the mount of Esav will causeGod’s kingdom to be revealed.  The pasuk does not speak of a victory over Esav, but rather of “judging” the mount of Esav. How can this judgment bring God’s kingdom?

Commentary

The great dreams are the foundation of the world…the prophets dream…the poets dream while awake…the great thinkers dream of the perfected world…we all dream….The crudeness of conventional life, which is wholly immersed in materialism, removes the light of the dream from the world…Then the vision of the dream will return and it will become a clear revelation.

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

(Genesis-28:10-32:3)

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

1. [28:12]  “…a ladder was standing on the ground, and its top reached heaven…”  In Ya’akov’s prophetic dream, angels were going up and coming down the ladder. One interpretation of this dream is that this represents a certain type of tzaddik’s frame of mind–feet on the ground—head in heaven.  Another interpretation is that the angels that accompany a person in Israel are not the same as the angels outside of Israel. If this is a prophetic dream, why isn’t its meaning more obvious?

2. [29:11]  “…and he raised his voice and he cried.” When Ya’akov met Rachel, he cried. The midrash says that he was crying because he had a prophetic vision telling him that he would not be buried with her.  Another explanation is that he was crying because he had found his soul-mate after this difficult journey. How do each of these interpretations see Ya’akov’s character in a different way?

3. [29:25]  “…why have you tricked me?”  Lavan tricked Ya’akov by giving him Laya as a wife instead of Rachel. Then Lavan told Ya’akov that he must work 7 more years for Rachel. Ya’akov did not protest about this extra time.  Why did he not protest?

4. [29:13-32:3]  Lavan has been described as a person of high ideals and of low behaviour.  His behaviour did not match his philosophy. Is there any other way of understanding his behaviour?

5. [Haftara: Hoshea 14:10] “The ways of God are straight. The righteous walk on them, but the sinners stumble on them.”  If the ways of God are straight, why would sinners stumble on them?

Commentary

When a person makes tshuvah out of love, he has to forgive himself for all his sins, just like he has to appease his friend in order to get his forgiveness. Then after he is free of sin in his own eyes, there will come upon him the holiness that will turn all his sins into merits.

–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  to the memory of Sarah Bella bat Yitzchak Kummer, Chaim Yosef Yechiel ben Eliyahu Kummer and Eliyahu and Margaret Kummer

(Genesis-25:19-28:9) / (Haftara Malachi 1:1-2:7)

1. Yitzchak was almost sacrificed on the altar by his father, Avraham.  How might that event have affected him and his relationships with his family? Would this story of Ya’akov and Esav have been different if that event had not occurred?

2. [27:19] “…I am Esav, your first-born.”  Our tradition tells us that the main quality of God is Truth. Ya’akov lied to his father, Yitzchak. If a desperate gangster asks you where a friend of yours can be found, should you tell him the truth?  When is a person permitted to not tell the truth?

3. [27:33] “And Yitzchak was terrified with a terrible terror…and he really will be blessed.”  Yitzchak seems to be totally disoriented at first, and then he seems to be very self-confident when he says, “…and he (Ya’akov) really will be blessed”. What might have been going through his mind when he was so confused, and what made him so sure of himself after that?

4. [27:34] “…and he screamed a big and bitter scream…”  In the story of      Ya’akov and Esav, the heroes (Rivkah and Ya’akov) are not totally innocent and the villain (Esav) is shown to be very human and is not totally guilty.  What is the Torah trying to teach us by making this story so complex?

 5. [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

[ 25:22 ]   “And the children struggled within her…”

Ya’akov and Esav were twins, but they were very different from each other. Ya’akov was more studious and meditative, but Esav was more active. And really, every child should be raised and educated according to his own personality. However, both Ya’akov and Esav were educated in the same way—to be studious and meditative. Had Esav been educated to channel his own energies and talents toward Godly matters,  he may have had a better future.

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

This study page is dedicated to the memory of Rivkah Rochel bat Ya’akov haLevi and Chaya Kornberg, and Yechiel Eliezer ben Yitzchok Meir and Rochel Laya Kornberg

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

(Genesis 23:1-25:18)

Haftara (Kings I  1:1-31)

  1. [23:1 ] “And the life of Sara was 100 years and 20 years and 7 years..” Rashi says that the Torah should have said that Sarah was 127 years old. He quotes a midrash which says that when Sara was 100 years old, she was like a 20 year old in relation to sin, and when she was 20, she was like a 7 year old in relation to beauty. The Ramban says that the extra words here are not meant to teach us anything special, but this is just the way people speak Hebrew.  Why does the Ramban reject Rashi’s explanation?
  • [24:3] “…don’t take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites…” Why was Avraham so opposed to taking a wife for Yitzchak from among the Canaanites?  Rivkah also comes from a family of idol worshippers.
  •  [24:63] “And Yitzchak went ‘lasuach basade…’”    Rabbenu Bechaya (11th century, Spain) says that the simple meaning of this phrase is that Yitzchak went to enjoy a stroll among the trees. He then quotes a midrash that tells us that Yitzchak went to pray. How do each of these different interpretations change our image of Yitzchak?
  •  [24:67] “…and he loved her…”  The Torah tells us that Yitzchak loved Rivkah.  Avraham didn’t mention anything about love to Eliezer when he sent him to find a wife for Yitzchak.  Love between a husband and wife seem to be important to the Torah, so why didn’t Avraham mention the factor of love to Eliezer?
  •  [24:67] “…and he took Rivkah and she was his wife and he loved her…” The Ramban says that Yitzchak loved Rivkah because she was righteous like Sara. The Netziv says that he loved Rivkah for herself.  Which is the deeper love?

Commentary

[23:4] “I am a stranger and a resident with you…”

The Jew is a “resident” in the world. The Torah tells us not to escape the events and reality of this world, but rather to live in the world and elevate it. However, at the same time, the Jew feels himself a “stranger”. His true home is the world of spirituality, holiness and Godliness.

–R. Menachem M. Schneersohn, the Lubavitcher rebbe, USA, (1902-1994)

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

(Deuteronomy 29:9-31:30)

(Isaiah 61:10-63:9)

(Pirkay Avot Chapters 5 & 6)

1. [30:2] “And you will return to God,  and you will listen to His voice…” The Torah values someone who returns to God. The Talmud tells us that someone who returns to God is greater than someone who was always righteous. In what ways is one who returns greater, and what causes this greatness?

2. [31:2] “I am 120 years old to-day; I can no longer go out and come in.”  The Torah tells us in another place that Moshe still had his physical strength, so this pasuk must mean that he can no longer go out and come in psychologically or spiritually. What does it mean in a spiritual sense that he can no longer “go out and come in”?

3. [Haftara: Isaiah 63:8] “For He (God) said, ‘Certainly they are my children, they will not lie.’ So He was their saviour”.   God is our savior because we would not lie to Him. Why is lying to someone considered a serious betrayal, even if the lie is about something relatively unimportant?

4. [Pirkay Avot 5:23] “…the shy (bashful) go to Paradise.”  Why are the shy rewarded with Paradise?

5. [Elul] On the night after next Shabbat, we begin saying Slichot, and then we say them in the early morning on most days until Yom Kippur.  In the Slichot, we ask God to forgive us, “for the sake of Your name…for the glory of Your name”. What does it mean that God should forgive us for the sake or the glory of His name?

Commentary

Through tshuvah, everything returns to Godliness. Because of the existence of the power of tshuvah in all the worlds, everything returns and connects to Godly perfection. Through thoughts of tshuvah, understanding tshuvah and its emotions, all of our thoughts, imagination and knowledge, our desires and our emotions are transformed and again placed within the realm of the Divine.

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

(Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8)

(Haftara Isaiah 60:1-22)

(Pirkei Avot Chapter 3-4)

  1. [26:13] “I have not transgressed your commandments, nor have I forgotten them”. The Sfat Emet  (Poland: 1847-1905) says that this means, “I have not transgressed your commandments, and I have been totally present while doing them”. How can a person be aware of God and be totally present at the same time?
  1.  [26:18] “…making you His special [treasured] nation…” What does it mean to be “His special [treasured] nation”? Knowledge of this fact can lead to group ego for us and jealousy from others. Why did God tell us “publicly” that we are His special nation?”
  1. [28:45-48] “These curses will come upon you…because you did not serve God joyfully”.    What does joy add to the service of God that makes that service into the genuine service of God?
  1. [29:8] “…do them in order that you should ‘taskilu’ in everything that you do.”   The Sforno (Italy-1475-1550) understands this pasuk to be saying that one should “do them [the commandments] in order that you should be perceptive and understanding in everything that you do”. Some people would say that one should do the commandments in order to show devotion to God. Which of these two attitudes is the higher service of God?
  1.  [Yeshayahu 60:14]    “…all those that despised you will bow down at the soles of      your feet…”    This is a messianic vision. One would think that in the ideal world, there will be equality. What purpose is served by our enemies bowing at our feet?

Commentary

Let everyone express in truth and in faithfulness whatever his soul reveals to him. Let him bring his spiritual creativity from potential to actual, without any deception. Out of these sparks, torches of  light will be made, and they will light up the whole world with their glory. And out of fragments of inner truth, the great truth will emerge.

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

Location

Mizmor LeDavid meets at the Mesorati High School, 8 Beitar Street, in the auditorium. There is another minyan that meets there, we are the one further north. Accessible from Beitar, the single gate at the bottom of the semi-circle of steps, or from the north end of Efrata Street, through the gate on the right, then turn left.

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