(Leviticus: 9:1- 11:47)

(Haftara: Shmuel II: 6:1-7:17)

(Pirkay Avot: Chapter 1)

1. [Vayikra: 10:3] “And Moshe said to Aharon, “This is what God meant when He said, ‘Through those who are close to Me, I will be made holy…and Aharon was silent’ “.  Is Aharon silent because he was comforted, because he was angry or for some other reason. How can we understand Aharon’s silence?

2. [Haftara: Shmuel II, 6:14-16] “And David danced before God with all his strength…and Michal [his wife]…despised him in her heart”.  If it was really undignified for David to dance like this, why did he do it? What does this show about a Jewish king?

3. (Sfirat Ha’omer) 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 Rosh Hashana 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, Chapter 1, Mishna 1] …”set up many students…” This is Beit Hillel’s  opinion (Pirkay d’R. Eliezer), but Beit Shamai  believes that one should teach only the best and not waste energy on the weaker students. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each opinion? Which do you agree with?

Commentary

[Vayikra 9:6] “This is the thing which God commands you to do, and the glory of  God will appear to you.”

The Torah, however, does not tell us what the “thing” is that one should do in order to see a revelation of the glory of God. The midrash (Yalkut) tells us that this is “THE thing”:  one must remove from one’s heart the quality of hatred, resentment and argument.  The midrash assures us that when one does this, then there will be a revelation of the glory of God.

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 14:22/Numbers 28:19–25)
(Haftorah: Isaiah 10:32–12:6) / (Song of songs) / (Yizkor)

 1. [Chol Hamoed Pesach]  Chol Hamoed Pesach celebrates the crossing of the Red Sea, when

God split the sea for us. Our mystical texts tell us that at that time, God made the miracles happen even though we had not earned them–we didn’t deserve them. At others times, however, we get miracles because we deserve them. Which miracles are preferable–those that we deserve, or those that are pure kindness from God without us deserving them?

2. [Chol Hamoed Pesach]  The midrash tells us that God split the sea only after one brave (or desperate) person jumped into the Red Sea. This act prompted God to split the sea for us. What is this midrash trying to teach us?

3. [Chol Hamoed Pesach] We say Yizkor (a prayer for our deceased relatives) on the last day of Pesach and on the other festivals. Why do we remember our loved ones on our festivals?

4. [Shmini shel Pesach] We read the Song of Songs on the eighth and last day of Pesach. Our sages tell us that the love between a man and a woman represents the love between us and God. We experience love for many different people and things. Are all our “loves” different expressions of one love, or is every love different from other “loves”?

5. [Haftara Yishayahu 11:6] “The wolf will live with the lamb…”   This is a messianic vision of the time when there will be total peace in the world. Some say that it is a metaphor and others say that we should take this vision literally.  If there is total peace, will there be growth? Doesn’t our creativity need some tension in order to be effective?

Commentary

At two times of the year, a Jew is able to renew himself, so that it is as if he were newly born–on Yom Kippur and on Pesach. On Yom Kippur, it is through one’s own actions. Through tshuvah, one becomes fresh and new. On Pesach, the renewal is an act of love from God.

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

Parshat Vayakhel-Pekuday
(Exodus: 35:1-40:38)
Parshat Hachodesh
(Exodus 12:1-20)
(Haftara: Ezekiel 45:18-46:15)

1. [35:3] We are not permitted to light a fire on Shabbat (light a match, start a stove). What is Shabbat meant to do for us, and how could it be that the lighting of a fire would spoil the effect of Shabbat?

2. [36:9…] In the inner spiritual-psychological life, the mishkan (the tabernacle), represents the place where the pure service of God is done. In the light of this, why does the Torah tell us every small detail of the mishkan?

3. [40:36] The cloud on the mishkan represents the presence of God. When the cloud lifted, the Israelites traveled. How is there a presence of God in our lives? What does it mean in the inner spiritual-psychological life when we say that when the cloud lifts, we travel?

4. [Maftir, Parshat haChodesh: 12:6] The Israelites in Egypt were commanded to take a lamb on the tenth of the month of Nissan, and keep it until the fourteenth and then slaughter it. The lamb, however was an idol of the Egyptians. Isn’t this a very brazen act for a slave-people to do? Why would God command such brazenness?

5. [12:11] At the Passover meal in Egypt, one sat at the table in a state of “chipazon”—staff in hand, dressed, alert and ready to leave Egypt. What do alertness and energy have to do with the themes of Passover?

Commentary

[35:1] “And Moshe gathered the whole community of the children of Israel”.

The midrash tells us that before the sin of the golden calf, even an individual could build the mishkan (the tabernacle)—”…any person whose heart is willing…”.  However, after the sin of the golden calf, the mishkan could only be built with the power of the community–an individual was not strong enough.  As much as we value individual accomplishment, this comes to teach us how much greater is the power of a united community than the power of individuals.

–Shem mi’Shmuel– Rav Shmuel Bornstein: (1856-1926)–the Sochatchover Rebbe.

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

(Shmot 30:11-34:35)

(Haftara: Parah: Ezekiel 36:16-38)

(Shabbat Parah)

1. [32:19] “…and he threw the tablets from his hands and he broke them…” Although Moshe knew about the sin of the golden calf before he came down from the mountain, he still broke the tablets. [32:7,8].  The Sforno (1475-1550, Italy) says that when Moshe saw how happy the Israelites were, he got angry and threw the tablets down. The Rashbam (10851158, France).  says that Moshe lost his strength when he saw the worshippers and he threw the tablets so they wouldn’t fall on his feet when they dropped. Which of these explanations seems better to you?

2.  Rashi says that Aharon co-operated in making the calf because he was scared of being killed. The Ibn Ezra says that Aharon co-operated because he didn’t believe that the calf was idolatry. And if it were idolatry, he would not have done it, even under the threat of death. What is the difference between the way that each of the commentators sees Aharon? How would each viewpoint affect other stories of Aharon in the Torah?

3. [32:4] Rashi says that the “mixed multitudes”—the non-Israelites who also came out of Egypt–started the sin of the golden calf, and then lured the Israelites into doing the sin. The Torah does not specifically say this. We know that the Israelites are also capable of negative behaviour, so what does Rashi gain by blaming the “mixed multitudes”?

4. [Haftara: Ezekiel 36:21] “I took pity on my holy name… “ God says that He will return the Jews to their land, and in that way, He will save the honour of His holy name. When the Jews went into exile, how was His holy name desecrated, and how is His holy name honoured by the return of the Jews to the land of Israel? What if the Jews don’t act properly in their land—is there still honour?

5. [36:26] “I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh”.  What specific changes will happen to the individual and then to the nation as a whole, when this prophecy is realized?

Commentary

[32:26] “…whoever is for God, let him come to me, and all the sons of Levi gathered [to Moshe]”.  We know that many Israelites did not worship the golden calf. The sons of Levi were not the only ones. However, the others did not have the courage to actively oppose the wrong-doers. They wanted to remain uninvolved. They did not want arguments.  Only Levi actively opposed the evil. That’s why God says, “The Levi’im are mine. [Bamidbar 3:11]

–R. Yitchak Meir of Ger (1798-1866), 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 Kornberg

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

(Exodus: 27:20- 30-10)

(Ezekiel 43:10-27)

1. [28:3 ] “…to make him holy, to serve me.” There are a number of ways of relating to God. One can serve. One can love. One can see God as a judge and ruler. One can see God as the miracle-worker, and so on.  Which is the most desirable way to relate to God? Can one be conscious of God without any special relationship? Can one relate to God in all ways at the same time?

2. [28:4]  “This is the clothing that you will make…”   The Cohanim wear special clothing, and change into other special clothing when they do different duties. The clothing is considered a major part of their duties. In our everyday lives, we also wear different clothing for different activities and duties.  Is the change of clothing for the sake of the person doing the action or for the sake of those who see him?

3. [29:1]  “…to consecrate Aaron and his sons as priests/cohanim to me.”   The Jewish people are a nation of cohanim in relation to the world [Shmot 19:6]. Cohanim are priests in relation to the Jewish people. Do the Jewish people act as Cohanim for each other? What does it mean to serve as a Cohan for others?

4.  [Yechezkel 43:11] “If they are embarrassed with all that they have done…”    Must there be embarrassment and regret for a person to make tshuvah and to act in a better way? Can a person relate to his or her undesirable behaviour as a necessary part of life that taught them lessons for the future?  Or is embarrassment and regret necessary for real personal change?

5. [Purim]  One of the commandments of Purim is to eat a meal. Our literature speaks in general about eating in a holy way? How does one eat in a holy way?

Commentary

In the matter of the clothing of the Cohanim…all inner, spiritual work should be covered and have clothing. Therefore, the Cohanim, who are inner-directed and spiritual, need special clothing. The Levi’im, however, whose work is done publicly don’t need special clothing.

–R. Avrohom Borenstein, 1838 – 1910), rebbe from Sochatchov, 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 Kornberg

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

(Numbers 25:1-27:20)

1. [25:8] “…and I will live among them.” How does a central place of holiness cause God to dwell “among” or “between” the people?  What does it mean to “dwell among” the people?

2. [25:15] What is the purpose of never removing the poles with which one carries the Ark? If they are only used for carrying, why must they always be in place?

3. We are told that both the broken tablets of the ten commandments and the unbroken ones were in the Ark. What is the purpose of also keeping the broken ones?

4. [25:8]  “Make for Me a tabernacle…”  Many of our commentaries tell us symbolic meanings of the furniture and the utensils of the mikdash.  There are, in fact, many fascinating symbolic meanings to many of the commandments. If a person doesn’t think of any symbolic meaning, but just does the commandment with awareness, but in a simple way, how much is he or she losing, or how much is he or she gaining?

5. If the Temple were to move between the tribes of Israel, it would give the message that God is everywhere.  What purpose is served by having the Temple fixed in Jerusalem?

Commentary

[25:2] “…and they should take a contribution for me.”

This pasuk should say, “They will give a contribution to me”. Why does it say “take” in the pasuk?

When a person gives to God with pure motivation, he or she is really giving to themselves. God doesn’t need anything, so the person is really giving for his or her own good. The giving to God is really a taking for oneself.

–Sfas Emes, Rebbe 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 Kornberg

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

(Numbers 21:1-24:18)

(Haftara: Jeremiah 34:8-22, 33:25,26)

1. [21:16] “Someone who steals a person and sells him…must be put to death.” Someone who steals property must repay the value of the property or pay double if he is convicted in court , and does not confess. However, someone who steals a person—kidnaps—gets the death penalty. Why does a kidnapper get such a severe penalty?

2. [21:37] “…(the thief) will pay 5 cows for stealing a cow, and 4 sheep for stealing a sheep.”  Rashi quotes R. Yochanan in the Talmud who says that God has mercy on a sheep thief because he humiliated himself by having to carry the sheep on his shoulders. A cow thief just walks out with the cow and there is no humiliation. The thief did not respect the owner of the sheep so why should the Torah worry about the thief’s honour?

3. [22:2]  The punishment for stealing property is that the thief must pay double. However, if someone kills a night burglar he is not punished. A burglar is not subject to the death penalty. Why is one permitted to kill a night burglar?

4. [22:17] “Don’t allow a witch to live”.  A witch tries to manipulate forces so that desirable things will happen in the world. We try to persuade God in prayer to make desirable things happen. We understand that what a witch does is a negative thing, but why is his or her punishment so severe?

5. [24:11]  “…and they saw God and they ate and drank.” Why would they eat and drink after seeing God?

Commentary

[24:17] “And the vision of the glory of God was like a consuming fire…”

If a person wants to know if he is serving God properly, he should check if he feels an excitement and a “fire” in serving God.

–Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, 1740-1810.

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

(Exodus 18:1-20:23)

(Haftara: Isaiah 6:1-7:6, 9:5,6)

1. [18:18]  “You will certainly wear yourself out…”  Moshe was the only judge for a few million people. He must have known that the job was too big for one person.  What was he thinking that would have caused him to continue being the only judge for all the people?

2. [18:9] “And Yitro rejoiced for all the good that God had done for Israel…”  Yitro identified with the people of Israel, and was joyful for them. Why did he return to Midian instead of staying with Israel?

3. [19:5] “…you will be my own treasure from among all the nations…”  On the one hand, we are told that we are God’s special nation.  On the other hand we are commanded to be humble and not feel superior to people.  How can we resolve this contradiction?

4. [20:12] “Honour your father and your mother…”   We are commanded to “love your neighbour as yourself”.  Doesn’t that include honouring? Are there limits on honouring someone other than one’s parents? Why is there a special commandment to honour one’s parents?

5. [Haftara: Yeshayahu 6:9]  “…you hear but you don’t understand. You see, but you don’t really know.”  If they already see and hear, but don’t really understand,  what can a prophet do for them? Don’t they need a leader to re-educate them, rather than a prophet to again tell them that they are doing wrong? What can a prophet do for them?

Commentary

Faith is pure when it is full of inner feelings without self-deception and without ulterior motives…Someone who is intelligent will not be content without rational thinking.  For him, a genuine faith will not be real unless it is illuminated by reason.

–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

(Exodus 13:17-17:16)

(Haftara: Shoftim 4:4-5:31)

)Shabbat Shira)

(Tu B’shvat)

1. [14:12-14] The Israelites are brought to a situation of  great fear and stress before God saves them. God could have just done a miracle and saved them. What is gained by bringing the Israelites to such a crisis?

2. [14:28] The midrash tells us that when the Egyptian soldiers were drowning, the angels were singing joyfully. God told them to stop because “my creations are drowning”. Why did God allow the Israelites to sing joyfully?

3.  [15:1] “Then Moshe and the Israelites sang this song to God…”   It seems that they sang spontaneously. If we hadn’t been exposed to music from early childhood, would music come naturally to us?  Why is it that music has the power to express our emotions better than words?

4. [15:2] “…this is my God and I will make him beautiful (ve’anvayhu)…”  “Neve” in Hebrew also means home.Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch understands the word “ve’anvayhu”  as the idea that my body should be a suitable place for God–God should have a home in one’s life and one’s body. How can one make one’s body and one’s life a suitable place for God?

5. [Tu B’Shvat] When we make blessings before eating  fruit and other foods, we make the blessing which is specific to that family of food. There is one blessing, however, that could apply to every food—”Blessed are You..that everything exists through His word.  If one blessing is acceptable for every food, why do we try so hard to make the specific blessing?

Commentary

This is the mystery of the oneness of God. Wherever I take hold of a little bit of it, I take hold of all of it. And since the Torah and all the commandments are radiations of His Being, so whoever does a commandment with sincerity and love, and takes hold of a tiny bit of the oneness of God, has really taken hold of all of it.

–The Ba’al Shem Tov, 1698-1760, 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 KornbergAnd to the memory of Gad Eliahu ben David and Kochava–Eli Zucker

(Numbers 6:2-9:35)

(Haftara: Ezekiel 28:25-29:21)

1. [6:6,7, 8] “…I took you out, I saved you…”  Our tradition speaks about 4 terms for redemption: “I took you out (of Egypt)… I saved you…I redeemed you (also spiritually) and I took you (to myself as a nation). The Torah is eternal and speaks on both a physical and a spiritual level. How do these terms apply to every redemption and how do they apply on a spiritual-psychological level?

2. [6:12] “…the children of Israel didn’t listen to me, so why would Pharoah listen to me…”   The Riva (12th century, France) explains the logic in the following way: The children of Israel didn’t listen to me , even though I came for their good, so why would Pharoah listen to me when I’m telling him something that’s not good for him?  Some commentators say that this is faulty logic. What might be faulty about the logic here?

3. [6:30] Moshe does not want to be the leader of the Israelites, but God insists that he is the man for the job. What qualities does Moshe have that make him a proper leader? How are these qualities different from the qualities that we usually associate with leadership?

4. [Haftara: Yechezkel 28:26] “…they will live safely on it…and plant vineyards…”  There are many plants that farmers plant. Why is planting vineyards a sign that one is living safely in the land?

5. [Haftara: Ezekiel 29:2] God addresses Ezekiel and other prophets as “son of man”. Ezekiel is a prophet and a spiritual leader of the people. Why is “son of man” a suitable title for a prophet of God and a spiritual leader?

Commentary

If a person, despite all efforts, does not succeed in concentrating on his prayer, he can resort to supplication, asking God to have compassion on him, like a father who takes pity on his children. For we are a part of God as children can be said to be a part of their parents. It is, in a sense the last argument: “O, Lord, even if we are not worthy of your glory or grace, at least for your own sake, since we are a part of You, a spark of Your holiness, come to our aid.”

–R. Adin Steinsaltz, born in 1937, 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 to the memory of Gad Eliahu ben David and Kochava–Eli Zucker