(Genesis 12:1-17:26)

Haftara (Isaiah 40:27-41:16)

1. [12:1]  “…leave your land and your birthplace and the house of your father…”  This pasuk could have said, “Leave your land”,  and  everything else would have been included.  What is the Torah adding by also mentioning  “your birthplace and the house of your father”?

2. [12:2] “ …and you will be a blessing.”  We understand how someone can give or receive a blessing, but what does it mean to “be a blessing”? 

3. [12:5] “…and they went out to go to the land of Canaan, and they came to the land of Canaan.”  The pasuk could have said, “They went to the land of Canaan”.  Why does the Torah add all the extra words?

4.  [13:9]  “…separate yourself from me…”   After there was an argument between Avram’s shepherds and Lot’s shepherds,  Avram decides that he and his nephew should split up.  Avraham is known for his kindness, and our tradition sees him as a very intelligent and reasonable person.  Avram and Lot could have made peace between the shepherds.  Why did they decide on such a radical step and split up?

5. [Haftara: Yeshaya 40:31]  “Those who hope in God will renew their strength…”  Is this statement saying that the reward for faith in God is that God gives strength, or is it saying that the fact that one has faith in God will give a person more strength?  How does each of these attitudes show a different relationship to God?

Commentary

One can rule over one’s natural drives…in the same way as God made Avraham Avinu rule over all of his limbs.  That is to say, that God made Avraham Avinu successful in directing all his drives toward the good and the holy.

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

(Genesis 6:9-11:32)

Haftara (Isaiah 54:1-55:5)

1. [8:22] “While the earth remains, there will be cold and heat, sowing and harvesting, summer and winter, and day and night will not cease”.  Is this the same idea as “There is a time for every purpose under heaven (Kohelet 3:1)”?  Is there another way of understanding the pasuk?

2. [9:6] “Whichever man spills the blood of another man, he will be killed by man, because He made man in the image of God”.  If man is made in the image of God, then what justification is there to execute the murderer? Wasn’t he also made in the image of God?

3. [11:4] “And they said, ‘Let us build ourselves a city and a tower and its top will be in the heavens, and let us make ourselves a name…”  Did they want to challenge God, or did they want to be famous, or did they want an identity? What proof is there for the answer?

4. [Isaiah 54:6] “And all your children shall be taught of  the Lord.”  In this messianic vision, we are told that God will personally teach everyone. Does that mean that everything will be so clear that there will be no intellectual discussion?

5. [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

The basis of religious faith is rooted in the recognition of the greatness and perfection of the Infinite. However we conceive of it is insignificant in comparison…to what it really is. If we lose this basic perception, our faith will become poor and without value…If our faith is to shine in a living light, it must be linked to a level of enlightenment that transcends…

–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

Breishit 1:1-6:8

  Haftara: Isaiah 42:5-43:10

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?

2. [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?

3. [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?

4. [3:24] “…to guard the way to the tree of life”.  According to Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch, the way to the tree of life—to true life– is guarded , but is open to those who have developed morality and order. What other ideal qualities would be substituted for morality and order by other Jewish philosophies or movements (Chassidut, Mussar, religious-nationalism etc.)? What would an ideal Jewish society be for each of these  philosophies or movements?

5. [4:9] “…am I my brother’s keeper?”  The Torah does not have grammatical punctuation. In this pasuk, Cain could be speaking cynically or he could be speaking innocently. What is the difference to the story between these 2 ways of readings the pasuk, and how do each of the 2 different readings change our view of Cain?

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 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 cof Gad Eliahu ben David and Kochava–Eli Zucker

Parshat Zot Habracha (Deuteronomy: 33:1-34:12) / Parshat Breishit

1. [Shmini Atzeret]  On this festival, we begin to pray for rain. Rain, in its proper balance, represents blessing for us.  What is the meaning of the fact that rain, our main image for blessing, is not always so pleasant and is sometimes inconvenient for us?

2. [Simchat Torah] On Simchat Torah, we circle the central bimah in the synagogue 7 times while singing and dancing. We are joyous about having received God’s Torah.  On the 7th circle, we sing, “He who is dressed in righteousness, may He answer us on the day that we call”.  Why do we say that God is “dressed in righteousness” rather than saying that one of His qualities is righteousness?

3. [Hallel] On this festival, we say the whole Hallel after the Amidah, as a prayer of praise to God. “Hallel”comes from the book of Psalms. In the Hallel, it says, “The stone that the builders disliked, has become the main cornerstone”. What does that mean?

4. [Devarim 33:6] “Let Reuven live…”  One of the last things that Moshe does in this world, is that he blesses each tribe of Israel separately. Since the Torah values unity and togetherness so much, why does Moshe emphasize the individual nature of each tribe rather than the unity of the people of Israel?

5. [V’zot habracha] All year round, we have a full week to be involved with the parsha of the week. The parsha of  “V’zot habracha, however, is different. Most years, we have less than a week and sometimes only a few days.  What is gained educationally by starting Breishit immediately after finishing ‘V’zot habracha” on Simchat Torah, even if Simchat Torah is at the beginning of the week?

Commentary

When a person is joyful, he can give life and energy to another person. That is a very important thing, because most people are full of suffering and worries and various types of pain, and they are unable to express what is in their hearts. But when a person comes with a happy face, he can give the other person renewed life, and that is a very significant thing.

–R. Nachman, 1772-1812, 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

  1. Among the laws of the Sukkah, there are a number of interesting and very strange laws.  Jewish law allows us to imagine a complete sukkah when only part of the sukkah is there.  For example, if the wall of the sukkah comes within 24 centimeters of the ground, we imagine that it is on the ground.  There are many other examples. As long as the technical criteria are met, one could say that the structure of the sukkah only exists in our minds. Is this similar to cheating, or is it a deep understanding of halachah—Jewish law?
  • The laws of whether the lulav and etrog are kosher involve many details. In fact, many matters of Jewish law are very detailed.  Many in our tradition say that the Torah is trying to make us into people with expanded minds and wide visions. If so, then why must we be involved in so many details?
  • [Sukkot] Rabbi Nachman says that sukkah, and prayer with concentration and the land of Israel all represent the same idea. What do these three commandments have in common?
  • Normative Jewish law tells us to spend time in the sukkah and also to sleep in the sukkah (if the weather allows it).  There are Chassidim who do not sleep in the sukkah because they say that the sukkah is too holy for sleeping activities. What might be the philosophical argument between these two points of view?
  •  [Haftara: 1st day: Zecharia 14:9] “…on that day Hashem will be one and His name will be one.”   What is meant by the name of God (Y-H-V-H)? What is meant by “…on that day God will be one and His name will be one”?

Commentary

We say in our prayers, “Spread over us the sukkah of peace”. The sukkah is special to us even though it may be missing parts—it may have only two walls and a small part of the third wall;  the wall may not reach totally down to the ground, and so on. The matter of peace is similar. Peace is precious and positive even if it is not perfect.  One should try to achieve peace even in a partial way—between people, between the individual and the community, or between nations. We pray for peace, even if it’s only like a sukkah (which is not totally perfect). That’s how great peace is.

–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 cof Gad Eliahu ben David and Kochava–Eli Zucker

First Day: (Genesis 21) / (Shmuel I 1:1-2:10)

Second Day: (Genesis 22) / (Jeremiah 31:2-20)

1. Rosh Hashana is the birthday of the world, but is also Judgment Day for the world. We blow the shofar to awaken ourselves, but we also eat apple and honey to celebrate the sweetness of the new year. What should a person’s mood be on Rosh Hashana—fear of judgment or a celebration of life?

2. Maimonides (the Rambam) tells us that we blow the shofar in order to wake ourselves from our spiritual sleep. Why do we try to awaken ourselves in such an emotional and unsophisticated way? Wouldn’t it be more effective to appeal to the mind with an effective reading from the Torah or the prophets?

3. Rosh Hashana begins the “10 days of tshuvah” which end on Yom Kippur. “Tshuvah” really means return—to God, and one’s people and a purer state. What if one never felt that he or she was involved with God or his people or a purer state? To what is he or she returning?

4. [Shmuel I 1:15] In the Haftara for the first day of Rosh Hashana, Chana says, “I have poured out my soul before God”.  We learn many laws of prayer from Chana, and she is a model of prayer for us. Why is this read on Rosh Hashana?  We pour out our soul in front of a dear friend, not in front of a judge. Should we relate to God with fear, as we would to a judge, or with intimacy, as we would to a good friend?

5. [Jeremiah 31:12] In the Haftara for the second day of Rosh Hashana,  Yirmiahu prophesies a messianic vision. In it, he says, “Their soul shall be like a watered garden”. What does it mean to be “like a watered garden”? Why is this a vision of an ideal time?

Commentary

There are two types of “tshuvah”: lower tshuvah and upper tshuvah. In “lower tshuvah”, a person regrets a particular sin or act, confesses to God, and says that he or she will not do it again. In “upper tshuvah” a person says “I want to be closer to God. I want the light of God to shine within me”. Both are necessary, but the most common tshuvah in modern times will be “upper tshuvah”.

–R. Avraham Yitzchak Hacohen Kuk (1865-1935), Lithuania, 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

(Deuteronomy 29:9-31:30) / (Isaiah 61:10-63:9)

 (Slichot)

1. [29:9] “You are all standing today in front of God—your leaders, your tribes…”  Moshe says that all are standing in front of God today to be part of the covenant. Then he mentions all parts of the people specifically. What purpose is served by mentioning each part of the people separately, after we are told that all the people are being addressed?

2. [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?

3. [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?

4. [Haftara: Isaiah 63:9]  “In all their pain, He was pained…”   Isn’t God higher than pain. What does it mean when we are told that God is in pain when the Jews are in pain?

5. [Slichot] “The soul is yours and the body is your work…” On Saturday night, September 4, we begin saying slichot in order to prepare for Rosh Hashana and tshuvah.  Why do we say, “The soul is yours and the body is your work…”?  It would seem that this does not make us more responsible, it puts all the focus on God. How does saying this prepare us for tshuvah?

Commentary

The main ”listening to the voice of God”, is when one pays attention to the  whole process of life in all of its details…The more the details seem to be coming from an elevated spiritual place…in a clear way, the more a person hears with clarity the voice of God speaking to him—teaching and commanding.

–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

(Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19)

(Haftara: Isaiah 54:1-10)

1. [22:1]   “ …you must return them to your brother.”  The matter of lost articles and their return to their owners is an important issue in halacha and in Chassidut. A complete and rather long tractate in the Talmud is devoted to this topic.  Why is  this matter so important in our social lives and in our psychological-spiritual lives?

2. [22:4] “…lift them up with him.”  The Torah tells us that we must help a person who needs help.  Rashi and other commentaries further tell us that we must help only if the other person also lifts, but not if he expects us to do it all. How is this an excellent model for helping people? Are there times when one should help even if the other person does not take part?

3. There are many commandments of kindness in this week’s parsha. Who is more praiseworthy—the person who is naturally kind or the person who is not naturally kind, but acts in a kind way because he or she is commanded?

4. [Haftara: 54:7,8] God tells us here that His anger is for a moment, but His kindness is forever. The Rambam and other sources tell us that God does not have human qualities (except for kindness and love). If so, what does it mean when we say that God is angry? What is the purpose of God’s anger if He really is kind?

5. [Elul]  In the month of Elul, we blow the shofar every morning after the prayer service. Maimonides tells us that this is in order to wake us up.  What does it mean when we say that we are usually sleeping?

Commentary

[22:4] “You shall not see your brother’s donkey fallen by the way…you will certainly lift it up with him (“hakem takim imo”).

Why is there a repetition in Hebrew of the word “lift it up”?

When a person is helping someone else, he or she is also helping  himself and herself.  By helping another, one is fixing one’s personal qualities so that one becomes or remains honest and loving. One helps the other and also helps oneself.

–The “Sfat Emet”,  Rebbe Yehudah Leib Alter of Gur (1847-1905)

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

(Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17)

(Haftara: Isaiah 54:11-55:5)

(Pirkay Avot Chapter 6)

1. [11:26] “Look, I am putting in front of you to-day…”   To hear and understand something seems like a more significant activity than seeing something. Why does this parsha begin with the word “look”, rather than the more usual “shma”—hear or understand? 

2. [15:7] “When there will be a poor man among your brothers…” The Torah tells us that we should give a poor person enough charity to return to his former financial state. Therefore, someone who was previously rich would get much more charity than someone who was previously poor.  What is the logic in this?

3. [Haftara: Isaiah 54:13] “And all your children will be taught by  God…” In this messianic vision, we are told that everyone will be directly taught by God. What is the difference between being taught by God directly and being taught indirectly by God?

4. [Haftara 55:4] “I have made him a witness for the nations…”  How are the Jewish people a witness for the nations. To what are we witnessing?

5. [Pirkay Avot 6:6, 6:8]  Mishna 6 mentions honour (kavod) in a negative way—the Torah is acquired by distancing oneself from “kavod”. However, mishna 8 says that “kavod” is a good quality for a righteous person. Is honour (kavod) a good thing or a bad thing?

Commentary

Even though learning Torah and  performing the commandments of the Torah purify one’s personal qualities and one’s personality, one cannot rely on those things alone. One must also work purposefully on the improvement of one’s character.

–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 7:12-11:25)

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

(Pirkay Avot Chapter 5)

1. [8:7]  “God is bringing you to a good land with brooks of water… going out in the valleys and the hills.”   In our literature, the land of Israel represents the ideal state of mind, and its government represents the ideal government—“a light unto the nations” (Yeshayahu 42:6). However, “valleys and hills” seem to represent failures and successes.  How can there be failures if we’re talking about an ideal state of mind and an ideal world?

2. [10:16] “Circumcise the foreskin of  your heart…”  Our texts also talk about the circumcision of the tongue. Our tradition speaks quite naturally about sex and related issues. We, unlike Western culture and religion, do not see sex as “original sin”. On the other hand, we have many restrictions about when sex is permitted and who our sexual partners can be. How can we, at the same time, be so guiltless about sex, and still have so many restrictions?

3. [11:24] “Every place that your feet walk will be yours…”   On a spiritual level, this seems to mean that in the ideal mental state, one will feel comfortable wherever one is. On the other hand, we are expected to be sensitive to injustice—to the weak and the poor. Does being comfortable mean that one will be less sensitive to the moral demands of one’s life?

4. [Isaiah 50:1] “…where is your mother’s document of divorce [from Me]…”  Our relationship to God can be like a marriage, or like a master-servant relationship, or like friends and so on. What factors define our relationship to God at any particular time—is it us, or is it our situation in life or is it tradition or some other factor?

5. [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 not really wise, but has these qualities, does that make the person wiser?

Commentary

Whoever loves true “wholeness” must remove from his heart every trace of arrogance. Arrogance eliminates the grandeur of the spirit. And when arrogance is gone…it leaves behind an impression of joy and true humility.

–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