(Numbers: 4:21-7:89)

(Haftara: Shoftim 13:2-25)

(Pirkay Avot: Chapter 1)

  1. [6:1] The nazir chooses an ascetic way of life. In many religious traditions, an ascetic becomes part of the religious establishment, but for us, the nazir remains an ordinary citizen. What does this fact tell us about Judaism?
  1. [6:7] A Kohen may attend the funeral of a close relative, but a nazir may not. Why should the law of a nazir be stricter than the law of a Kohen?
  1. [6:25-26] “May God shine His face toward you…” What does it mean for God to shine His face toward someone? What does it mean for God to hide His face?
  1. [Haftara: Judges 13:3] Our tradition tells us that God prefers to work within the laws of nature, rather than do miracles. Miracles are only for special situations. If so, why did an angel tell Samson’s mother about Samson’s birth? Why couldn’t a human prophet have told her?
  2. [Pirkay Avot 1:1] “They said 3 things…set up many students…” Why is the advice here to set up many students. Wouldn’t one have more of a positive influence on his generation and on future generations by writing many books?

Commentary

When one truly looks at the good side of each and every person, one comes to love people with a deep love. One has no need for even the slightest flattery, because one’s interest in the good that one constantly meets, hides all the negative aspects from him.

–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

(Numbers 1:1-4:20) / (Haftara: Hosea 2, 1-22)

(Pirkay Avot Chapter 6) / (Sfirat Ha’omer) / (Shavuot)

  1. [Haftara: Hosea 2:21] “I will betroth you to me in righteousness (betzedek) and in justice (bemishpat), and in kindness (chesed) and in compassion (rachamim)”. What is the difference between righteousness and justice? What is the difference between kindness and compassion?
  2. [Pirkay Avot 6:1] “…anyone who learns Torah for its own sake (leshma), is worthy of many things…” R. Chaim of Volozhin (1749-1821, Lithuania) says that “Torah for its own sake” means for the sake of the Torah—to understand with the greatest possible depth and clarity. The Chassidic books say that Torah leshma means for the sake of God—loving God and learning in order to get closer to Him.  What kind of personality would be attracted to each of these approaches?
  3. [Pirkay Avot 6:1] “…anyone who learns Torah for its own sake (leshma), is worthy of many things…”    Is it better to learn Torah for a selfish reason or is it better not to learn Torah at all?
  4. [Pirkay Avot 6:6] “…and Torah is acquired with forty-eight qualities. These are: learning, listening, speaking with clarity, understanding…” What does it mean to acquire the Torah?
  5. [[Pirkay Avot 6:6] One of the 48 qualities of acquiring Torah is joy, and another is minimizing pleasure. Can’t physical pleasures give a person joy, at least temporarily? Would having that kind of physical pleasure and joy be a legitimate way of  acquiring Torah?

Commentary

[3:12] “…And  I have taken the Levites from among the children of Israel… and the Levites shall be mine.”

“Not only the tribe of Levi, but each and every person in the world, whose spirit has moved him and has understood himself that he should separate himself to stand before God,  to serve Him, to worship Him, to know God and to walk in a straight way like God made him, and he has given up all the various calculations that men make–this man has become holy like a holy of holies, and God shall be his portion and his inheritance forever, and shall give him his needs in this world, as He has given to the Kohanim and the Levites…”

–Rambam, R. Moshe ben Maimon, 1135-1204, Spain and Egypt

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

(Leviticus: 25:1-27:34)

(Haftara: Yirmiahu 16:19-17:14)

(Pirkay Avot: Chapter 5)

(Sfirat Ha’omer)

  1. [25:1]  “And God spoke to Moshe on Mount Sinai saying:”  Introducing the commandment of shmita—the fact that one does not work the land in the seventh year–the Torah tells us that this commandment was given on Mount Sinai.  Generally, the Torah simply says, “And God spoke to Moshe saying…”. Why is Mount Sinai mentioned in relation to this commandment?
  2. [25:4] “But in the seventh year, there will be a Sabbath of rest for the land…” There are those who say that allowing the land to lie fallow for the seventh year is excellent agricultural practice. It is very good for preserving good farmland. Our tradition tells us that the reason for this commandment is so that we will understand that the land is really God’s and not ours.  Can both reasons be true?
  3. [Yirmiahu 16:19] “God is my strength and my stronghold, my place of escape…”    What does it mean that “God is my strength”?  Don’t I have to be my own strength and live my own life and fight my own battles?
  4. [Yirmiahu 17:11] “He who gets rich in a dishonest way…at his end , he will be a fool.”  How does being dishonest eventually make a person into a fool?
  5. [Pirkay Avot 5:26] “The reward is in proportion to the pain (effort).”  Sometimes a person’s judgment is not good and he or she puts a lot of effort into a project that is worthless.  Will the person be rewarded for that?

Commentary

Those who are continually reproving others and correcting everyone but themselves are like water which cleans away the dirt, but becomes muddy itself  in the process.

  1. David Twersky, 1808-1882, Talna, Ukraine.

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

(Leviticus: 16:1-20:27) /  (Pirkay Avot: Chapter 3)

(Sfirat Ha’omer)

  1. [19:2] “…be holy because I, God, your Lord, am holy”. The Ramban (1194-1270, Spain) tells us that one can keep all the other commandments of the Torah and still not be a proper Jew. Therefore, there is a special commandment to be holy. What must we do in addition to the other commandments of the Torah to make us holy?

  2. [19:18] “…and love your fellow person like you love yourself “. Is it a sin then, not to love oneself? If someone has a low self-image, and does not love himself or herself, what should he or she do? How can a person come to love him or herself? How can a person come to appreciate and love another person?

  3. [Pirkay Avot 3:2] “Pray for the peace of the government, because without fear of the government, each man would swallow his fellow-man alive.” Is this a pessimistic view of people or a realistic view of people? If everyone kept the Torah, would we still say that each man would swallow his fellow-man alive”?

  4. [Pirkay Avot 3:2] “If two sit, and between them there are words of Torah, then the Presence of God rests between them.” Shouldn’t it say that the Presence of God rests upon them? What does it mean when it says that “the Presence of God rests between them”? In everyday terms, what is “the Presence of God”?
  1. [Pirkay Avot 3:7] “He who walks on the way and is learning, and he stops his learning to say, “How beautiful is that tree…”, has committed a mortal sin.”

This is usually understood to mean that whoever stops learning to admire a tree has done something very bad. Some, however, understand this to mean the following: whoever is learning and admires a tree, and thinks that the world with its trees and other beautiful things is not a part of the Torah and its world-view—that person has committed a serious sin. Which interpretation do you agree with?

Commentary

[19:18] “…and love your fellow person like you love yourself “. 

A  learned but ungenerous man said to R. Avraham of Stretyn (mid 1800’s–Poland): “They say that you give people mysterious drugs, and that your drugs are effective. Offer me one that will give me the fear of God.”

” I don’t know any drug for the fear of God,” said R. Avraham. “But if you like, I can give you one for the love of God.”

“That’s even better!” said the man. “Just give it to me.”

“It’s the love of your fellow men,” answered the tzaddik.

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

(Leviticus: 9:1- 11:47) / (Haftara: Machar Chodesh: Shmuel I, 20 :18-42)

(Sfirat Haomer) / (Pirkay Avot: Chapter 1)

  1. [10:10] “To distinguish between the holy and the profane, and between the impure and the pure.” We are commanded to make precise distinctions in our lives and in our learning. On the other hand, we say in our prayers, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord, the whole world is full of His glory” (Yishayahu 6:3). It has been said that “Until one sees the uniqueness of everything, one cannot see the holiness in common ”. Do you agree with this statement or not?
  2. [Haftara: Shmuel I, 20:18] David and Yehonatan, Naomi and Ruth, Pirkay Avot (“Acquire for yourself a friend”)–the Torah values friendship. The Torah commands us to do acts of kindness and to love our fellow people in general. Why doesn’t the Torah command us to have at least one good friend?
  3. (Sfirat Haomer) In many of our prayerbooks, there is a prayer after we count the omer in which we try to correct one personality trait on each one of the days of the counting. Why do we work on one character trait each day? Couldn’t this fragment our personalities? Wouldn’t it be better to see our personalities as a whole and, in general, work to become better people?
  4. [Pirkay Avot 1:1] “…he passed it on to Yehoshua…” On each Shabbat between Pesach and Shavuot, there is a custom to read and learn one chapter of “The Ethics of the Fathers”.  On this Shabbat, we begin with the first chapter. (It can be found in a regular Siddur after the Afternoon service of  Shabbat.)  The first mishna tells us that the Torah is passed on from living person to living person. Why is it so important that our spiritual tradition is passed on from person to person, and not only through writings and ceremonies?
  5. [Pirkay Avot 1:1] “…be careful and deliberate in judging…” The first behavior mentioned in Pirkay Avot is for judges to be very careful in their judgments. How does a very fair system of justice, benefit the whole society and the relationships within the society?

Commentary

The first night of Pesach brings expanded consciousness, because the light of the Creator is suddenly revealed at that time. Then the expanded mind goes away and a person falls to constricted mind. A person must then collect the holy lights one by one during the days of sfirah rising from one quality to another until one comes to the festival of Shavuot, the day of the giving of our Torah, and one returns to that original light of the first night of Pesach.

–R. Sholom Noach Berezovsky, the Slonimer rebbe, 1911- 2000, 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

(Shmot 33:12-34:26)

(Ezekiel 37:1-14)

(Sfirat Haomer)

  1. [Shmot 33:20-23]: “…you are not able to see my face…and you will see my back…” This is obviously a metaphor, since God does not have a body. What does it mean to see God’s face and what does it mean to see God’s back?
  2. [Shmot 34:7] “…visiting the sins of the fathers on the children and on the grandchildren until the third and fourth generations.” The Torah tells us that the children and grandchildren will suffer because of the parents’ sins. Elsewhere [Dvarim 24:16], however, it says, “…each person will die only for his own sin.” How can we understand the first pasuk in a way that seems fair and makes sense to us?
  3. [Ezekiel 37:11] “…our hope is lost…” In the prophetic passage, the Jewish people are saying that hope is lost. In the national anthem of the state of Israel, Hatikvah [The Hope], the poet uses these same words from Ezekiel, but changes them to say that our hope is not lost. What is it about the way of the Torah or about the Jewish people that does not allow us to say that our hope is lost?
  4. For the Chassidim, each day of the 49 days of the omer—the days between Pesach and Shavuot—has a personal characteristic attached to it. One tries to correct that quality on that day as a preparation for accepting the Torah on Shavuot. How does becoming a better person prepare one for accepting the Torah?
  5. [Sfirat Haomer] On every night between Pesach and Shavuot, we count the Omer. We anticipate Shavuot and our receiving of the Torah by counting every day. However, if we forget to count for one full day, we can no longer make the blessing on this commandment. Why is this so strict? What educational message is being communicated by the strictness of this law?

Commentary

[Pesach Seder] Through Pesach and especially through the matzah that one eats on Pesach night, one acquires an elevated state of mind, and realizes that God’s Light fills the whole world. However, in order to acquire this state of mind in a more permanent way, one has to pass through obstacles. These obstacles are symbolized by the maror—the bitters—that we eat at the Pesach seder.  These obstacles could be from one’s surroundings or they could be from one’s own stubborn personality. However, God reduces the effect of these obstacles, and this is symbolized by dipping the marror into the charoset (mixture of nuts and honey).  By passing through these obstacles, one comes to that elevated state of mind.

–R. Natan of Breslov (1780-1844) based on R. Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810)

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

 

Haggadah

  1. [Haggadah of Pesach] The passage in the haggadah about the 4 sons teaches us that each son should be taught in a way which is suitable to his understanding. This is a model of Jewish education, as it says in the book of Mishle, “Teach the youth according to his way (Mishle 22:6)”. Where in our religious tradition do we see this principle applied?
  2. [Haggadah] In the Haggadah, R. Eliezer deduces that there were not just 10 plagues on the Egyptians, but there were really 240 plagues. What purpose is served by adding onto the number of plagues written in the Torah?
  3. [Haggadah] At the Pesach seder, we remember the Egyptian experience by retelling the story. We also remember the bitterness of the slavery in Egypt by eating bitters; we remember the haste of the liberation by eating matza; and we remember the liberation by drinking wine. Why are talking and eating our main ways of reliving the Egyptian experience and the redemption? Why not something more experiential, similar to the sukkah on Sukkot?
  4. [Pesach] One of the commandments of the Pesach seder is to tell the story of the liberation from Egypt.  The story is supposed to be told through questions and answers. It should be interactive. Which is more educationally effective–a very clear and entertaining lecture from a skilled teacher, or a question and answer format with a less skilled teacher?
  5. [Pesach] On the personal level, the word Mitzrayim (Egypt) can also be pronounced metzarim in Hebrew—narrow places. Narrowness is a narrowness of mind and of emotion. It suggests fear and unwillingness to expand or to love. It suggests being enslaved by one’s negative habits, opinions, emotions and behaviours. What can a person do to try to free himself or herself from this narrowness?

Commentary

Through the fact that all the souls join together, joy is created…because the soul is like a lit candle, as it says “The lit candle of God is the soul of man” (Proverbs 20). When souls come together light is created, and through that joy is created.
–R. Nachman, 1782-1810, Breslov, Ukraine.

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

(Leviticus: 1:1-5:26)     

(Haftara: Yechezkel 45:16)

(Shabbat HaChodesh)

(Shabbat Rosh Chodesh)

  1. [1:2] “…when a man brings an offering to God…” The root of the word for sacrifice—”korban” means coming close. How would animal sacrifices make the person who brings them come closer to God?
  2. The Rambam (in The Guide for the Perplexed ) says that animal sacrifices were commanded only because the Israelites were used to them in Egypt. However, they were later replaced by prayer. In which ways is prayer a replacement for sacrifices?
  3. [Haggadah of Pesach] One of the commandments of Pesach night is to tell the story of our liberation from Egypt.  The story is supposed to be told through questions and answers.    What does the question-and-answer format contribute to the seder and what does this rule (question-and-answer) tell us about Judaism and the Jews?
  4. [Haggadah of Pesach] The passage in the haggadah about the 4 sons teaches us that each son should be taught in a way which is suitable to his understanding. This is a model of Jewish education, as it says in the book of Mishle, “Teach the youth according to his way (Mishle 22:6)”. Why is this an effective educational method?
  5. Our holy books tell us that chametz—leaven—represents arrogance. On Pesach, leaven is totally forbidden to us. Arrogance is also totally undesirable to us, so why is leaven only forbidden on the week of Pesach. Why is it not forbidden all year round?

Commentary

Real freedom is connected to real kindness, and only appears in the world when one has the purest personal qualities.  This purity removes all envy from the heart, like the prophetic vision: “I will remove your heart of stone and I will give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 11:19).

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

(Exodus: 35:1-40:38)

Parshat Para

  1. [Parsha] These 2 parshiot are unusual because they are mainly a repetition of Trumah and Tzaveh. The commentaries tell us that in Trumah and Tzaveh the commandments were given and in these parshiot the commandments were fulfilled. We also find in the Torah that in relation to sins, first the Torah gives a warning not to do a particular sin, and then the Torah tells us what the punishment is. Why must there be 2 distinct steps that are strongly emphasized and developed? Why not mention the commandment and say that it was done or mention the sin and its punishment all in one statement?
  2. [Parshiot Para, Hachodesh and Hagadol] We read Parshat Para to remind us that we have to purify ourselves as a preparation for Pesach. We read Parshat Hachodesh to remind us that Pesach is approaching and we read Parshat Hagadol to remind us that Pesach is very close. The other festivals do not have so many reminders in the synagogue that the festival is approaching. Why is there this emphasis on preparing for Pesach?
  3. [Pesach] On Pesach, we are not permitted to eat or drink bread or grain products, and, in addition, we are not even allowed to have them in our possession. Some rabbis say that, if one would suffer a financial loss by throwing out his grain products, he can sell them in a legal sale to a non-Jew, and then try to buy them back after Pesach. Other rabbis do not allow this sale for the regular Jew, but only for big commercial companies. What do you think is the logic for each side of this halachic argument?
  4. [Pesach] In Jewish ethical thought, the rising of the dough in bread and cakes represents the evil inclination. Why is this a good metaphor for the inclination to do evil?
  5. [Pesach] Someone cleaned his or her house and removed all the chametz (grain products). Then he or she saw a cat go into the house with bread in its mouth. Would one have to clean the house again, or could one assume that the cat will eat the bread?

Commentary

Sometimes a person can’t speak at all, and it seems to him that he is not able to open his mouth in prayer and meditation. He is too attached to material things, or he has physical and spiritual troubles. Nonetheless, at a time like that, he should force himself to call out to God from the place of his trouble….through that forcing, he will be worthy, usually, to experience a spiritual release, and  he will be able to pray and to express himself as he should.

–Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, 1772-1810, Ukraine.

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

 

(Shmot 30:11-34:35)

(Haftara: Kings I [Melachim I] 18, 1-39)

(Purim)

  1. [31:2] “Look, I have called by name Betzalel ben Uri…” Betzalel is called by name, and  Moshe is also called by name [33:12]. What does it mean to be called “by name” and what does it mean to be called, but not “by name”?
  2. [31:13] “…it is a sign (ot) between me and you…” Shabbat is a sign (ot) between God and man, and tfillin are just called a sign (ot). What does it mean that Shabbat and tfillin are an “ot”? Why is Shabbat an “ot” between man and God, and tfillin is simply an “ot”?
  3. . [32:4] “And he (Aharon) took it from them… and made it a molten calf”. Aharon was not really punished for the sin of the golden calf. Why wasn’t he punished?
  4. [Haftara: Kings I (Melachim I) 18:21] “…how long will you stay between two opinions. If God  is  God, then follow Him, and if Ba’al then follow him…”   Isn’t this a dangerous educational method? The people could have said that they choose Ba’al.  Why did Eliyahu choose these words, rather than simply rebuking the people for being  idolators?
  5. [Purim] The story and the laws of Purim are quite serious. The customs, however, are much less serious—costumes, noise when we hear “Haman”, purimshpiels etc. What caused our tradition to make Purim into such a “fun” festival?

Commentary

The will makes the ethical decision; the body implements and executes; through his will, man becomes master of his body. The moral act starts with the will,  but is only completed by the body through mitzvoth ma’asiyot, actual mitzvah performances. This is a unique feature of Judaism, to proclaim the will as all-powerful, sufficient to transform the whole of life.

–R. Yoseph Dov Soloveitchik,  1903-1993, Lithuania, USA. 

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

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