(Numbers: 16:1-18:32)

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

(Pirkay Avot Chapter 4)

  1. [18:1] “…bear the sin of the holy place…” What is meant by “the sin of the holy place”, and “the sin of the priesthood”?
  1. [18:8-20] “…I have given you the charge of my gifts…” The tribe of Levi gets gifts from the people of Israel. Doesn’t this seem like favouritism toward Levi? Won’t it cause jealousy?
  1. [18:32] “Don’t profane the holy things of the children of Israel so that you will not die.” Why is there such a severe punishment for profaning holy things?
  1. [Haftara: Shmuel I 12:3] “…whose ox have I taken; whose donkey have I taken; whom have I cheated…?” Shmuel is presenting his reliability as the religious leader to the people. Shouldn’t he mention his prophecies, his judgment and his successes. Why does he rely on his ethical behaviour to prove his dependability?
  1. [Pirkei Avot 4:7] “Whichever judge does not judge [but rather compromises] saves himself from hate…” Our tradition is that justice is a supreme value. Why is compromise of greater value than justice?

Commentary

Justice means consideration for every being as a creation of God, for all possessions as having a purpose before God…  Therefore we must be alert to the demands that each of these makes on us.

–R. Shimshon R. Hirsch,  1808-1888, Germany.

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

 

(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?
  1. [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?
  1. [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?
  1. [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?
  1. [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 Gad Eliahu ben David and Kochava—Eli Zucker

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: 8:1-12:16)

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

(Pirkay Avot, chapter 2)

  1. [9:6] “And there were people who were impure and they could not do the Passover offering…” Whoever is ritually impure or too far away and can’t eat the Passover sacrifice on Passover can do it a month later. If one were sick, one can’t hear the shofar later or live in a sukkah later. Why is this the only major commandment that one can do at a later date?
  1. [11:18, 20] “God will give you meat and you will eat it…until it comes out of your nose…” God and Moshe are taking a slave people and trying to make them mature so that they can be a free people. Is this kind of cynical talk (“until it comes out of your nose”) a strategy for effective parenting, or is it a result of losing patience?
  1. 3. [11:28-29] “…and he said, “My master, Moshe, destroy them.” When Eldad and Medad have prophecy, Yehoshua suggests that they be destroyed, but Moshe says that he wishes all the people were prophets. What is the difference between Moshe’s ideal of leadership and Yehoshua’s ideal of leadership?
  1. [Zecharia 2:14] “Sing and rejoice, daughter of Zion, because I am coming…” When telling the Jewish people about the final redemption, God addresses us in the feminine. The midrashic literature tells us that the redemption is especially dependent on the women of Israel. Why do women have such a prominent role in the redemption?
  1. [Pirkei Avot 2:2] “…all Torah study that is not accompanied with work will ultimately be forgotten and cause sin.” One would think that the more Torah one learns, the richer one’s life is in every way. Why does being involved in the world help a person acquire and retain Torah?

Commentary

“Search for God when He can be found (Yeshaya55:6)”—the initiative for the search rests entirely with man…The path to God is not a highway, but rather a narrow winding and challenging road.

–R. Y. D. Soloveitchik, 1903-1993, USA.

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: 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

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