(Numbers 6:2-9:35)

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

1. [6:3] “I appeared to Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’akov as “El Shadai, but my name…”  The different names of God are different revelations of the one God.  What does it mean that there are different revelations of God? Do people also show different revelations of themselves to other people?

2. [6:4] “I set up my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan…”  The land of Canaan (Israel) is on a trading route between Africa, Europe and Asia. It is a crossroads of different cultures. Why is this crossroads a suitable place for a development of God’s society of Torah?

4. [7:5] “…and I took the children of Israel out…” The Chassidic texts tell us that there were sparks of Godliness trapped in Egypt and Israel went down to Egypt in order to raise up the sparks. The sparks are the potential for Godliness which is hidden and trapped. What everyday acts of ours bring Godly potential into expression.

1. [7:17] “…and the water will turn to blood.”    Blood is a recurring image in the Torah. We may not drink blood. We may not have sexual relations after a woman’s period. We sprinkle blood of sacrifices etc. What does blood represent to us?

2. [Haftara: Yechezkel 29:3] “Pharoah…the big dragon that lies in the middle of his rivers, who said to me, ‘ I made it for myself’.”  This is how God describes Pharoah.  Pharoah is self-centered and selfish. In Pirkay Avot, it says, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me…? (Pirkay Avot 1:14)  What is so bad about being selfish and self-centered?

Commentary

The Messiah will judge each person in such a favourable light, that the light of goodness in that person will awake…The most successful way to bring a person back to God is through encouragement and praise. 

–R. Ya’akov M. Shechter, born 1932, Jerusalem.

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

(Exodus 1:1 – 5:23)

(Haftara: Yirmiahu 1-2:3)

1. [1:12]  “…the more they caused them to suffer, the more they grew…”  What is the nature and the source of this quality of the Jewish people that the more we are oppressed, the stronger we become?

2. [3:2] “…the bush burned with fire and the bush was not consumed.”  If God had revealed Himself in a more impressive way, Moshe might have been more eager to accept God’s mission. Why did God reveal Himself to Moshe in a bush?

3. [3:14] God tells Moshe to tell the Israelites that His name is “Ehyeh asher ehyeh”—usually translated as “I will be what I will be”. Why would God want to be known by this name?

4. [Haftara: Yirmiahu 1:11]  “…I see a rod of an almond tree (shaked)…I watch (shoked) over My word to do it”.    God wanted to tell Yirmiahu that God keeps His word. God could have said that. What purpose is served by sending Yirmiahu a vision of an almond tree?

5.  [Haftara: Yirmiahu 2:2] “You went after me into the wilderness, into a land that was not sown.”  Here, the Jews are praised for trusting God in an unknown situation. Avraham is also praised for trusting God even though he did not know his destination (Breishit 12:1).  After Mount Sinai, the Torah seems very clear and predictable. Where in our lives do we follow God into unknown situations?

Commentary

[Exodus 1:1] “And these are the names of the children of Israel.”

Rashi: (This is written) “to make known His love—that they are compared to stars.”

The Israelites should know that God loves them, and just like He created the stars in order that they should light up the night–  so also He created Israel so that they should spread the light of God and and make it enter the darkest and lowest places.

–The Sfat Emet– Reb Yehuda Leib Alter of Gur—19th century

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

(Genesis-47:28-50:26)

(Haftara: Kings I  2:1-12)

1. [48:15]   “…God, whom my fathers walked in front of…”   Ya’akov says that his forefathers walked in front of God.  Noach, however, walked with God [6:9].  What is the difference between walking “in front of God”, and walking “with God”?

2. [48:19 ]   “And his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know…”  There are rabbis who say that this speech of Ya’akov’s shows a new self-confidence.  Throughout his life, he was much less sure of himself, and here he reaches a final maturity.  Do you agree that this sentence is so important?

3. [48:22]  “…I saved them from the hand of the Amorite with my sword and my bow”.    The Aramaic translation of Onkelos translates “my sword and my bow” as “my prayer and my request”.  Why is prayer compared to a sword and a bow? 

4. [50:10] “…and they mourned there a very great and very heavy mourning.”  The mourning for Ya’akov lasted about 3 months and was very intense.  The mourning for the other forefathers and mothers was not nearly as intense.  Why was the mourning for Ya’akov’s death so severe?

5. [Haftara: Melachim I, 2:7 ] “Show kindness for the sons of Barzilai the Gileadite and let them be among those that eat at your table…”   King David could have told Shlomo, his son, to make sure that Barzilai’s children are always financially stable, or that they are always protected.  Why is the greatest kindness expressed by the fact that they will eat at Shlomo’s table?

Commentary

In this concluding sedrah of Genesis, we see the sunset of Jacob’s career…Esau, Dinah, Joseph—what a world of strife and suffering and anguish did each of these tragedies bring him—and yet he dies blessing…he possesses the rare art of extracting good from every buffeting of Destiny.  He errs and he stumbles, but he ever rises again; and on the anvil of affliction his soul is forged.

—-R. Yosef Tzvi Hertz, 1872-1946, England.

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-44:18-47:27)

(Haftara: Ezekiel 37:15-28)

  1. [45:3] After Yehudah’s speech, Yosef suddenly tells his brothers that he is Yosef.  What did Yehudah say that convinced Yosef to reveal his identity after all this time?
  • [45:5-8] Yosef  does not blame his brothers at all for selling him into Egypt. He says that it was God who really sent him. If he really believes that, then why did Yosef make so many problems for his brothers in Egypt?
  •  [46:29] Rashi, our main commentator (1040-1105—France), quotes a midrash which tells us that when Ya’akov met Yosef, Ya’akov said the “Shma” (Listen, Israel, God, our Lord, God is One), while Yosef cried and hugged Ya’akov. After all the years that Ya’akov cried and longed for Yosef, why wasn’t he more emotional when he finally was reunited with him?
  •  [47:9] When Yosef introduces Ya’akov, his father, to Pharoah,  Pharoah asks Ya’akov how old he is. Ya’akov answers, and then continues to say that his life has been bad. This is unusual. Why did Ya’akov  tell Pharoah that he has had a bad life, even though he had not been asked about his life?
  • [48:16] In the next parsha Ya’akov blesses Yosef’s children. He begins by saying, “The angel who redeemed me from all evil…” In other words, my life was good. This contradicts what Ya’akov said previously. Was his life really bad or was it really good? How can this contradiction be explained?

Commentary

[45:13] “Tell my father about all the honour I receive in Egypt”.

Tell my father that I have reached the stage where I can get honour from people without it disturbing my service of God.  The honour I get is meaningless to me and does not affect me at all.

                                       –R. Simcha Bunim of Peshischa (1765-1827)

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

(Genesis-41:1-44:17)

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

(Chanukah)

1. [42:7] “…and he made himself strange to them and spoke with them roughly…” What did Yosef hope to achieve by pretending that he didn’t recognize his brothers, and by causing them distress?

2. [42:36] “…you have bereaved me, Yosef is no longer alive…”  Yosef was Ya’akov’s favourite son and Yosef had a position of power in Egypt. Why didn’t Yosef inform his father that he was alive in order to save his father from further grief?

3. [Chanukah] We have a rule that if all the people are impure, then pure oil is not needed for the menorah in the Temple. Therefore, the search for pure oil was unnecessary.  In addition to this, even though 1 candle per household is enough, the Jews light an extra candle every night. What is so special about Chanukah (which is a rabbinic mitvah) that  would prompt us to go so far beyond the minimum requirements for the commandment?

4. [Chanukah]  Fire has a major place in many of our commandments and customs—Shabbat candles, Havdalah, Chanukah, Lag ba’Omer.  What does fire represent to us?

5. The Rambam, Maimonides, (1135-1204, Spain and Egypt) says that the lighting of the Chanukah candles is a very precious commandment. He says this only about Chanukah and not about the other festivals.  What makes Chanukah more special than other festivals.

Commentary

In the Talmud, we are told that Hillel says that on the first night of Chanukah, we light 1 candle and we add a candle each night, so that we light 8 candles on the last night. Shammai says that we start with 8 candles on the first night and take a candle away each successive night. Hillel’s reason is that we always try to go higher in holiness and not lower.  This rule is applied to all possible situations—especially to social and spiritual issues. We always try to go higher in holiness.

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

(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 God changed Avram’s name to Avraham and Sarai’s name to Sara, they were no longer called by their previous names.  Why is it that after Ya’akov receives the new name Yisrael, he is still often called Ya’akov?

2. [37:5] Yosef’s brothers hated him because Yosef was his father’s favourite son. [37:4] Then Yosef told them about his dreams in which his brothers  bowed down to him.  This is strange behaviour. The Chezkuni (France, 1250) says that by doing this, Yosef hoped that his brothers would hate him less. How could he have expected that they would hate him less?

3. [37:9]   “And they said to each other, “Here comes the dreamer.”    There is an approach in learning the Torah which says that we must see our forefathers as always having good and proper motivations.  The midrash echoes this approach when it tries to justify Yosef’s brothers by saying that they thought that Yosef was planning a type of spiritual murder against them. Another approach says that our forefathers were very God-conscious, but also had negative feelings and motivations at times. Which approach do you prefer in reading the Chumash?

4. [39:10] “…he didn’t listen to her to lay with her…”  Yosef is considered a person of great self-control. He is considered a prince among his brothers. Yehudah is also considered a prince among the tribes. But in this story about Yehudah and Tamar, Yehudah does not seem to have self-control. What happens in this story with Tamar that shows that Yehudah has great nobility of character? Is that enough reason for him be a prince among his brothers?

5. [Amos 3:2] “You only have I known of all the families of the earth. Therefore I will bring upon you all your sins.”  Because God is closer to us he makes us suffer for our sins. Is this fair?

Commentary

[39:2] “And God was with Yosef, and he was a successful person, and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian.”

There are people who serve God in a better way when they are poor—when life is difficult.  They strongly feel what they are missing and they become attached to God by asking for their needs. There are other people who serve God better when they are comfortable, but when life is hard, they lose their direction. Yosef, however, served God when life was easy and when life was difficult. God was with him both when he was a successful person and when he was a slave in an Egyptian’s house.

–Da’at zekainim , ba’alei tosfot (the grandsons and students of Rashi –1100’s and 1200’s)

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-32:3-36:43)

(Haftara: Hoshea 11:7-12:13)

1. [32:4 ] “And he sent ‘malachim’ ahead of himself to Esav, his brother…”   The word “malachim” can mean either messengers or angels. Rashi says that Ya’akov sent real angels to Esav, but the Ibn Ezra (Spain, 1089-1167) says that he sent human messengers. Why does Rashi prefer to make the story more supernatural?  How does the story change according to each of the two different interpretations?

2. [32:7] “And Ya’akov was very frightened and terrified…”  Ya’akov initiated this meeting with Esav. He didn’t have to do it. Why is he willing to suffer this much fear in order to meet his brother?

3. [32:32] “Therefore the people of Israel do not eat the “gid hanasheh” which is in the thigh until the present day…”  Like matzah on Pesach, this is supposed to remind us of this historical event. What are we supposed to learn from the fact that Ya’akov wrestled with the angel and won?

4.  [33:10] “…I have seen your face like seeing the face of God and you liked  me.”  After wrestling with God (or a strong entity) Ya’akov said, “I have seen God face to face [32:31].” What does it mean to him to see God?  What does it mean to him to see Esav like seeing God?

5. [Hoshea 11:9]  “…I will not return to destroy Ephraim because I am God and not man…”  What does God mean when He says, “I will not destroy because I am God and not man”?  In the Torah, there are many times when God destroys.

Commentary

[33:18] “And Ya’akov arrived at the city of Shchem shalem (whole or perfected)”.

After Ya’akov’s struggle with the angel, and with Esav and his other struggles, he achieved wholeness. A person with proper motivations is strengthened by his trials and struggles. Overcoming his difficulties is what brings about his spiritual development.

–R. Yehudah Aryeh Leib of Ger, the Sfas Emes, Poland, 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

(Genesis-28:10-32:3)

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

1. [28:12]  “…a ladder was standing on the ground and its head reached Heaven…”  One interpretation of this prophetic dream is that this represents a  Jew’s ideal frame of mind– feet on the ground, but head in spirituality.  Others say that the ideal is to always be spiritual and not relate much to this world.  Which do you think is the Jew’s ideal state of mind?

2. [29:25] 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. Does this show his righteousness, or is it a flaw in his character?

3.  [29:32]  “…now my husband will love me.”  Laya yearned so much for Ya’akov’s love. Some of our commentators see Laya as a very sensitive and a very spiritual person. Did her longing for Ya’akov contribute to these qualities? In Chassidut, longing for God or for goodness is considered a positive quality. What are the positive effects of yearning and what are the negative effects of yearning?

4. [31:27] “…and you did not tell me…”  Why didn’t Ya’akov tell Lavan that he and his family were leaving?

5. [Hosea 13:6] “They were filled, and their heart was exalted/Therefore they have forgotten Me”. Does being satisfied necessarily mean that one forgets God?

Commentary

[31:18 ] “And he lead all the cattle and all the property that he had gathered…”

Ya’akov was in charge and he led all the property. He controlled the physical things in his life. This was in contrast to those who allow their physical property and physical desires to control them.

–R. Yisroel Taub, Modzitz Poland, (1849-1920).

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. [24:3] Why was Avraham so opposed to taking a wife for Yitzchak from among the Canaanites? His family—Rivkah’s family—were also idol worshippers.
  1. [24:14] “…and she will say to me, “Drink, and I will also let your camels  drink …”  In this way, Rivkah showed that she was a kind person. Our tradition tells us that all the commandments are very important, but the commandments of kindness are the most important. Why is kindness more important than justice or devotion to God?
  1. [24:63] “And Yitzchak  went ‘lasuach basade’…”  Rashi says that Yitzchak was praying in the field. Since this was much before we had a set prayer in the prayerbooks, it means that he spoke to God spontaneously about what was in his heart and on his mind. What are the advantages of set prayer from the prayerbooks and what are the advantages of spontaneous prayer?
  1. [24:67] “…and he took Rivkah and she became his wife and he loved her…” The Ramban says that Yitzchak loved Rivkah because she was righteous like Sara.  Is it “true love” if somebody loves someone because she reminds him of someone else?

5. [Haftara: Kings I, 1:28 ] “…’Call Bat-sheva to me’…”  King David had sinned with Bat-      sheva, but he had sincerely regretted his sin, and, in fact, their child, Shlomo became the next king. Who is more praiseworthy—someone who lives a life of total purity and morality and never sins, or someone who sins and then sincerely becomes pure and moral?

Commentary

[24:1] “And Avraham was old, he came with the days”.

Avraham came with all his days. Not one day of his life was wasted. On each and every day he was active and alive.

–based on the Zohar

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 18:1-22:24)

(Haftara: II Kings 4:1-37)

1. [18:13] “Why did Sarah laugh saying, ‘Can I give birth when I am so old’”. God told Avraham that Sarah had said that she was too old to have a child. But really Sarah had also said that Avraham was too old to have a child. Rashi tells us that God had lied to Avraham for the sake of peace in the household, and Jewish law allows lying for the sake of peace. What does it mean to lie for the sake of peace? Can a child lie when he or she breaks something in the house?  If he lies, there will be peace with his parents. Where does one draw the line in relation to “lying for peace”?

2.  [18:19] “…to keep the way of God, to do kindness and justice…”  God favours Avraham because his descendants will practice God’s way and spread kindness and justice.  If kindness and justice were the major policies of individuals and countries would that be enough to make a perfect society?

3. [22:5] “I and the boy will go there, and we will pray, and we will return to you.”    There are commentaries which say that Avraham did not lie here, because he knew that God wouldn’t really allow him to sacrifice his son.  The “sacrifice” of Yitzchak is considered Avraham’s last and hardest test.  If Avraham was confident that there would be no sacrifice, then what was the test? How was God testing Avraham?

4. [Haftara–Kings II, 4:3] “‘Go borrow vessels’…”  Elisha told the woman to bring him vessels so that he could do the miracle of giving her oil. The amount of oil would depend on the number of vessels.  If Elisha can miraculously produce an unlimited amount of oil, then why doesn’t he miraculously produce vessels?

5. [Haftara–Kings II, 4:35] “…and the child opened his eyes.” Both this story and the story of Sara and Yitzchak tell us of a miraculous birth, great thanks on the part of the parents, death or near-death of the child, and a rebirth and continuation of life. Our sages tell us that these stories are told in order to teach us life lessons. What are these two stories teaching us?

Commentary

…King David’s main aspiration (in the Psalms) was to encourage every Jew to hold fast to God throughout all of life’s trials. Even if a person feels like he is in the depths of hell, he should never abandon hope, God forbid…If a person can hold onto God, even “from the ends of the earth,” he will experience an incredible sense of renewal.

–R. Nosson of Breslov, 1780-1844, 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