(Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25)

(Haftara: Isaiah 49:14-51:3)

(Pirkay Avot Chapter 5)

1. [7:22 ]  “slowly, slowly; you cannot remove them quickly…”  Here, the Torah is telling us to be patient. However, when we left Egypt, the Torah told us to move very quickly and leave quickly [Shmot 12:11].  When is the proper time for patience and when is the proper time for haste?

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2. [8:2]  “Remember the way that God took you… in order to make you suffer, in order to test you…”  After things are good, one should remember the suffering in the desert, which was a test from God.  Obviously, they passed the test. What purpose is served by remembering suffering and tests of this kind?

3. [8:7]  “God is bringing you to a good land with brooks of water… going out in the valleys and the hills.”   In our spiritual literature, the land of Israel represents the ideal state of mind. Why is a land of hills and valleys more ideal than a flat land?

4. [Yeshaya 51:1]   “…you that chase after justice, that seek God…”   Why are seekers of God only those who chase after justice.  What about those who chase after love or after peace or inner peace—are they not seekers of God?

5.    [Pirkay Avot 5:13]  “…what’s mine is yours and what’s yours is yours, is a chassid…”  A chassid is someone who does more than is asked of him.  What is the ideal, balanced approach to one’s property and sharing it with others?

Commentary

            When a person is on a trip and he can’t pray or learn Torah in his normal way, then he should serve God in other ways, and he shouldn’t be bothered by this, because God wants him to serve in all ways—sometimes in this way and sometimes in that way.  That’s why he happened to be going on a certain road, or speaking to certain people, in order to serve God in that particular way.

–R. Yisrael ben Eliezer, 1698-1760, Ukraine.

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

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

(Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22)

(Haftara: Shabbat Chazon: Isaiah 1:1-27)

1. [1:17] “…for the judgment is God’s…”  If God is really the only judge, then what is the job of a human judge and how can he do his job successfully?

2. [1:17] “…don’t be afraid of any man, for the judgment is God’s…”  This pasuk is speaking to a judge. What does it mean?

3. [Haftara: Isaiah 1:17] God tells us through the prophet that He has no pleasure in the festivals and sacrifices if the Jews don’t act morally. God says, “Learn to do good, seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the orphan and plead for the widow.” If these acts of justice and kindness are really the most important, then why did God give us all the other commandments? Why didn’t God just give us the commandments of justice and kindness?

4. [Haftara 1:27]  “Zion shall be redeemed with justice, and those that return to her with righteousness”.  Are justice and righteousness enough for redemption? What about love, happiness, health and so on?

5. [Tisha b’Av]  Next Saturday night (the 13th of August) is Tisha b’Av, which commemorates the destruction of the first and second Temples and all other tragedies in Jewish history. The Talmud says, “Whoever mourns for Jerusalem will be worthy to see the joy of Jerusalem, and whoever does not mourn for Jerusalem will not see the joy of Jerusalem”.   Why should seeing joy be dependent on whether someone mourned?

Commentary

1:17 “…that which is difficult for you, you will bring it to me…”

When you are in doubt about a specific act, and you don’t know whether it is permitted or not, separate yourself from the pleasure of that act. Then, if you want to know the truth—whether that act is God’s will or not—you will see the truth. 

Bring it to the life-force of God which is within you. Any difficulty in these areas is caused by the fact that the outside world blocks our vision of the truth, but if one attaches oneself to one’s inner spirituality, then the truth becomes clear.

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

This study page is dedicated to the memory of  Reuven Ben Ephrayim (Frank Morritt) veMalka (Molly Dinitz Morritt) 

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

(Numbers: 30:2-36:13)

(Haftara: Jeremiah 2:4-28, 3:4, 4:1,2)

(Pirkay Avot 2)

1. [Haftara: Jeremiah , 3:4, 4:1,2] : If a haftara ends with a negative statement, then positive psukim are added. That is the purpose of the last psukim in this haftara. Is this wise?  In this haftara, God has been rebuking the Jews. Wouldn’t it be more proper to finish with a negative statement so that the Jews will regret their actions and return to God?

2. [Pirkay Avot 2:2] “Torah, together with work, saves a person from sin. ”  One would think that the more Torah, the less sin. How does work help to save a person from sin?

3. [Pirkay Avot 2:13] The mishna asks, “Which is the good way that a person should go on?” The mishna ends by saying that a “good heart” is the best way because it includes generosity, and a good friend, a good neighbour, and the quality of foreseeing the future. How does a good heart include all of these other qualities?

4.  [Pirkay Avot 2:15] “Warm yourself by the light of the wise men, but be careful…because their bite is the bite of a fox…and all their words are like burning coals.” Shouldn’t our true teachers be constantly loving. Why do they have this “biting” side to them?

5. [Calendar] We are now in the 3 weeks before Tisha b’Av. In these weeks, we have no marriages, no dancing, playing musical instruments, or cutting hair. Our tradition wants to prepare us to mourn properly on Tisha b’Av. Similarly, before Purim, we prepare to be joyful. However, in Jewish life in general, we often change very quickly from one emotion to another—we go from a funeral to a wedding, and so on. What is special about Tisha b’Av that would require this extra preparation?

Commentary

[33:2] “And Moshe wrote their leaving [Egypt] according to their various journeys…”   Why did Moshe have to write down every place that the people stopped?

Leaving Egypt represents leaving behind one’s slavery to the physical—one’s  pleasures and one’s dependencies.  A person might think that after he or she has freed themselves of their enslavement to the physical, one can forget the past, and live in the freedom of the present. The Torah, therefore, is telling us that one must remember the past in order to correct one’s mistakes—the negative acts that one did. Only then can one really live freely in the present.

–R. Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter (18471905),  Góra Kalwaria, Poland

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

(Numbers: 22:2-25:9)

(Haftara: Micah 5:6-6:8)

(Pirkay Avot: Chapter 6) 

1. [24:5] “How good are your tents, Ya’acov…”    Bila’am was originally supposed to curse Israel, but instead, he gave us a beautiful blessing and messianic prediction. Would his blessing have seemed more significant to us if it had started in a positive way, or is it more significant because it started in a negative way? What events in life can illustrate this idea?

2. [24:17] “…a star  will step out of Ya’akov…”  The “star” is understood to be either the Jewish people or the messiah.  Why is a “star” the metaphor which is used.  Wouldn’t “light” be a better image? 

3.  It has been said that Bila’am, at the end, sees the Israelites in such a positive way because he was not part of the Israelites. One has a better perspective from the outside. Can’t one sometimes have a clearer picture by seeing things from the inside?

4. [Michah 6:8] “…what does God ask of you, love kindness…”   When the Temple was destroyed, one of our Rabbis said, “We have another way of  receiving forgiveness from God, which is as good as the sacrifices—acts of kindness”.  Why are acts of kindness so important that God would bring great blessing to the world because of those acts. Shouldn’t God be more interested in our relationship to Him, than He is in our relationship to people?

5. [Pirkay Avot 6:6]   “…the Torah is acquired in 48 ways…with humility…”  There is humility that is a result  of low self-image, and there is a positive kind of humility. What self-image and what relationship to others does a person with positive humility have?

Commentary

Once, when R. Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev was walking in the street, he met a man who held an important position in the community, but was very evil-minded. He said to him, “Sir, I envy you. When you turn to God, each  of your flaws will become a ray of light, and you will shine with a great light. I envy your future radiance.

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 to the memory of Gad Eliahu ben David and Kochava–Eli Zucker

(Numbers: 19:1- 22:2)     

 (Shoftim 11:1-33)

1. [19:2] “This is the law of the Torah…”  This section tells us about purification. The pasuk should say that “This is the law of purification…”.  Why does it say “This is the law of the Torah”?

2. [20:1]And Miriam died there…” In relation to Miriam’s death, the Talmud tells us that “the death of the righteous brings purification from sin.”How can we understand this in a natural, non-mystical way. How does the death of righteous people affect the people he or she left behind and purify them from sin?

3. [20:8] “Take the stick, and gather the congregation…” According to the Rambam, Moshe’s sin at the rock was that he spoke in a disrespectful way to the Israelites.  According to the Ramban, Moshe’s sin was the fact that he hit the rock instead of speaking to it, as he had been commanded.  What is the difference between these two interpretations and which do you prefer?

4. [21:18] “and from the wilderness to Mattanah [gift].”  Our mystical tradition understands that each of these stops in the wilderness represents a psychological, spiritual matter.  From this pasuk it is understood that the Torah–closeness to God and spiritual wholeness– can be acquired even by someone who has not worked at it step by step, but rather acquires the Torah as a gift because of some personal quality or action. What personal quality or action could bring a person to God and spiritual wholeness?

5. [Shoftim: 11:15] “Israel did not take away the land of Moav…” Yiftach felt that he had to morally justify the fact that Israel took over the land of Moav. In the political climate of that time, he did not have to do that. Why did he try to justify the acts of the Israelites?

Commentary

[21:18] “and from the wilderness to Mattanah [gift].”

At first it was thought that a person can integrate the Torah into himself  by developing in the 48 ways (that are enumerated in Pirkay Avot).  Then it was understood that the Torah can be acquired even by someone who has not worked at it, but rather acquires the Torah as a gift. This happens when someone becomes devoted to serving God constantly in every way that he can serve.

Sfat Emet,  R. Yehudah Leib Alter, (1847-1905, Ger, Poland).

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

(Numbers: 16:1-18:32)

(Haftara: Shmuel I, 11:14-12:22)

(Pirkay Avot Chapter 4)

1. [16:3] “Why do you raise yourself above the congregation of God?”  Our tradition tells us that Korach’s sin was the fact that he was motivated by jealousy, even though his arguments had some merit. However, our tradition also values intellectual clarity. Why does Moshe choose to bring a sign from Heaven to contradict Korach, rather than arguing with Korach’s ideas?

2. [18:1]  “…correct the sin of the holy place… and correct the sin of the priesthood”.  Being involved in significant activities means that there will be sin involved. What type of sin is this and how could this apply to our daily lives?

3. [Haftara: Shmuel I 12:3] “…whose ox have I taken; whose donkey have I taken; whom have I cheated…?”  A religious leader must first and foremost be honest. Why can’t a religious leader be knowledgeable and inspiring and also be dishonest?

4. [Pirkay Avot: 4:4] “…Be very humble…”  On the one hand, a person should be very humble. However, the Talmud tells us that each person should also say, “The world was created for my sake”.  How can a person be very humble and also believe that he or she is the center of the universe?

5. [Pirkay Avot 4:27] “… Don’t look at the container, but rather, at what is inside…”  We are told not to judge a person by his or her appearance, but rather by who they really are. However, our tradition teaches us to show extra respect for all old people. Why don’t we judge old people by who they are, rather than the fact that they are old?

Commentary

While praying, listen to the words very carefully. When your heart is attentive, your entire being enters your prayer without your having to force it. 

–R. Nachman of Breslov, 1782-1810, Ukraine.

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

(Bamidbar: 13:1-15:41)

(Haftara: Yehoshua 2, 1-24)

(Pirkay Avot 3)

1. [13:18-20]  “And you will see the land…”      It seems that the spies were only supposed to bring back military information.  However, they also made an emotional evaluation, and therefore the mission was very unsuccessful. Was it Moshe’s fault because his instructions were unclear [13:17-20], or was the failure the fault of the spies?

2. [13:27-29]  “…we are not able to go up to the land because they are stronger than us.”  It seems that the sin of the spies was that they discouraged the Israelites.  In the Torah, “discouraging” is not a specific sin (although it may not be a nice thing to do).  Why is the discouragement of the spies considered such a serious sin?

3. [Yehoshua 2:4]   “And the woman took the two  men and she hid them…”   Rav Hertz (England, 1872-1946) says that Rachav hid the spies because “the oriental concept of hospitality  demands protection for the guest at whatever cost”.  This also happened when Lot protected the angels from the townspeople [Breishit 18:8].  Should this be a Torah value—that one should always protect his or her guests at every cost?

4. [Yehoshua 2:15]  “…go to the mountain and hide yourselves there for three days…”  Rachav, the prostitute, is kind, brave, intelligent and well-informed in military matters.  Why doesn’t the author of this text worry that we might come to value and respect prostitutes?

5. [Pirkay Avot 3:3]  “Three who eat at one table and do not say words of Torah,  it’s as if they ate sacrifices to the dead…”   People come together for many purposes. Why does this mishna focus specifically on people who eat together?

Commentary

When one asks for something in prayer, one should ask that the evil and the darkness should be removed from the world, and goodness and the light of Godly life should be increased in their fullness. These things don’t just fix one area of life, but they fix everything which is deficient.

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

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

(Bamidbar: 8:1-12:16)

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

(Pirkay Avot, chapter 2)

1. [9:6]  “And the people that were impure… were not able to do the Pesach sacrifice…”  Pesach is the only festival of the year that demands ritual purity to perform one of its main commandments. Why is Pesach different from the other festivals in this regard?

2. [9:18 ]  “…and when the cloud rested [on the mishkan] the children of Israel encamped.”  Sometimes they camped for a long period of time, and sometimes they camped for a day. Either way, the mishkan was set up perfectly with all its parts and its furniture. What lesson for our own lives can we learn from this?

3. [11:13]  “…give us meat and we will eat.”  The children of Israel were not hungry. The ”man” was more than enough for food.  What would the eating of meat do for them and what does it do for us?

4. [Zechariah 3:4] “…take off his filthy clothing…I have removed your sin from you…”  Sin is considered an external piece of clothing and not part of the essential person.  Are there sins which are more part of the essential person, and other sins that are like a removable piece of clothing?

5.  [Pirkay Avot 2:3] “Be careful of the government people. They only get close to a person for their own benefit…but don’t stand by him in his difficult times.”   Why would anyone expect anything different from the governing authorities? Is there any other vision of the relationship between governing authorities and the people?

Commentary

In the congregation of  Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev there was a  prayer leader who had grown hoarse.

The rabbi asked him, “Why are you hoarse?”

“Because I prayed before the pulpit,” he answered.

“Quite right,” said the rabbi. “If one prays before the pulpit, he grows hoarse, but if one prays before the living God, then he will not become hoarse.”

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

(Numbers: 4:21-7:89) / (Haftara: Shoftim 13:2-25)

1. [5:6] “…when they do any of the sins of man to betray God.”  Rabbenu Bachya (Spain, 11th century) says that any sin that a person does against his fellow is also treason against God. Why is doing wrong to a person a betrayal of God?

2. [5:7]  “And they will confess the sins that they did…”  Specifying one’s sins through verbal confession is necessary in order to be forgiven by Heaven. Why isn’t it enough that a person sincerely changes his or her behaviour? Why is verbal confession so important?

3.   [5:14] “…and a spirit of jealousy comes on him…”  When a husband suspects his wife of being unfaithful, she drinks something which tests her faithfulness.  One would think that there should be a better way of dealing with this difficult situation. In what kind of a society could this ceremony be understood as an enlightened way of dealing with this difficult situation?

4. [6:25-26] “May God shine his face on you and be gracious to you.”  In Hebrew,a number of single things are written in the plural–for example, sky, life, water and others. These seem to be things which are not simple objects. “Face”, in Hebrew is also in the plural. However, it seems to be a simple object. Why is face in the plural in Hebrew?

5. [Haftara: Shoftim 13:5]  Shimshon (and Shmuel) were born with the restrictions and duties of nazirim. Their mothers had declared that they would be nazirim. In our parsha, the nazir chooses to be a nazir by himself, and does so for a limited amount of time. Who do you think would be more committed to being a nazir—one who doesn’t choose it and does it all his life, or one who chooses it and does it temporarily?

Commentary

[7:84] “This is the dedication offering…on the day it was anointed”.

[7:88] “This is the dedication offering…after it was anointed”.

When one begins to get involved with God and with Torah, one feels an awakening, a renewal and an elevation.  After a while, however, the freshness begins to wear off. One must try to keep the clarity of the beginning forever.   One must always return to the original light that one had when one first started getting involved with Torah.

R. Avraham Mordechai Alter of Ger (18661948)

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

(Leviticus: 25:1-27:34) \ (Haftara: Jeremiah 16:19-17:14)

(Pirkay Avot: Chapter 5) \ (Sfirat Ha’omer)

1. [27:33] “…and he shall not exchange it…”  One of levels of interpretation of the Torah is the spiritual level.  R. Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, (1902-1994), said that this pasuk can be understood to mean that every person was born with a mission in life that is distinctly, uniquely and exclusively his or her own. How can a person know what his or her purpose in life is?

2. [Jeremiah 16:19] “…to You the nations will come from the ends of the earth.”  We believe that in the future all the people in the world will recognize the one universal God who revealed the Torah to us.  In other words, we will be recognized as the center of the world. In our religious-spiritual system, arrogance is considered a very, very bad quality. How can we believe in our religious-spiritual system in a way that does not lead to arrogance?

3. [Pirkay Avot 5:10] “There are 7 qualities in a wise person: …he doesn’t interrupt another’s speech, he answers clearly without confusion, he asks according to the subject and answers properly, he answers in the order of the subjects raised…he admits to the truth”. If a person is wise, he or she will behave in this way.  Could behaving in this way make a person wise?

4. [Pirkay Avot 5:13] “…when someone says what is mine is mine, and what is yours is yours: that is an average quality, and some say that it is the quality of Sdom (cruelty)”. How can there be an argument on this point? Isn’t this one of the basic principles in ethical behavior?

5. [Pirkay Avot 5:10] “What’s mine is yours and what’s yours is yours is a saintly quality”. Elsewhere in Pirkay Avot [1:14] we are told that “If I do not take care of myself, no-one else will take care of me” —I should worry about myself first and then help others. There is normal, ethical behavior and there is saintly behavior. However, these are religious principles. Shouldn’t we expect everyone to be saintly?

Commentary

“Where is the dwelling of God?”  This was the question with which the rabbi of Kotzk surprised a number of learned men who happened to be visiting him.

They laughed at him: “Is not the whole world full of his glory!”

Then he answered his own question: God dwells wherever man lets him in.”

–R. Menachem Mendel, 1787-1859, Poland.

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

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

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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