(Numbers: 25:10-30:1)

(Haftara: Melachim I, 18:46-19:21)

(Pirkay Avot, Chapt. 1)

1. [25:12] “Therefore I am giving him my covenant of peace.” The Talmud Yerushalmi tells us after Pinchas killed Zimri and Kozbi and stopped the plague, the chachamim wanted to excommunicate him. However, when they saw that Pinchas was rewarded by God with the priesthood and the covenant of peace they changed their minds. How can it be that the wise men of the time were so out of touch with God’s way of seeing this incident?

2. [27:7] “The daughters of Tzelafchad are correct…” The people of Israel were guilty of 2 major sins in the wilderness—the sin of the golden calf, and the sin of the spies. The midrash (midrash rabba) tells us that in each case, the women of Israel were the ones who were faithful to God and our mission, while the men were the ones who sinned. What is it about the quality of women that would make them more faithful to God and our mission than the men?

3. [Haftara: Melachim I, 19:11,12]  “…God was not in the wind…God was not in the earthquake…God was not in the fire…a still,  small voice.”  God was in the still, small voice. The commentaries say, “…speaking and silence at the same time”.  What does this tell us about the nature of prophecy and communication with God?

4.  [Pirkay Avot 1:6] “…and judge every person to the side of merit”.  This statement is generally understood to mean that if one is doubtful about what someone else has done, then he should assume that the other person acted properly. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, however, understands this statement to mean that even if it is certain that a person did a sinful act, one should look deeper into the person and find the spark of holiness and goodness which is deep within. Does the first opinion disagree with R. Nachman? Does R. Nachman disagree with the first opinion?

5. [Pirkay Avot 1:6-7]  “Distance yourself from a bad neighbour.” [1:12]  “Be one of the students of Aaron–love peace, pursue peace, love people and draw them close to Torah”.  Isn’t there a contradiction here? If one should distance oneself from bad neighbours, how can one draw them close to Torah?

Commentary

[27:16,17] “…set up a leader over the community…who will take them out and who will bring them in…”

“Take them out and …bring them in” implies being part of the physical world and being part of the spiritual world. The leader that Moshe is asking God to appoint for the people of Israel is one who can connect the physical to the spiritual—a leader who can take the physical and infuse it with spirituality.

–The Baal Shem Tov, Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, (1700-1760).

(Numbers: 22:2-25:9)

(Haftara: Micah 5:6-6:8)

(Pirkay Avot: Chapter 5)    

  1. [23:3]  “And Bila’am said to Balak, “Stand over your offering…” Our tradition has an ambivalent relationship to Bila’am.  On the one hand, Balak considers him a suitable person to curse Israel. On the other hand, he gives Israel an extremely positive blessing, and speaks in beautiful, positive poetic images. The Torah also presents personalities of Israel with their weaknesses, in addition to their strengths. What type of personality is the Torah trying to develop in us, by having us learn about and identify with people with complex personalities?
  2.  [23:9] “…a people will live alone, and will not be counted among the nations”.  Is this statement positive or negative?  How does it describe the situation of the Jewish people today?
  3.  [23:19 ]  “God is not a man, that He should lie; or a person who changes His mind…”   However, even in this parsha, God changes His mind [22:12-20].  Our prophets tell us that God is beyond human qualities—is total positivity. However, God reveals Himself to us with human-like qualities. When we pray, should we think about God beyond human qualities, or should we think about God with human-like qualities?
  4. [Haftara: Micah 6:8] “…what does God ask of  you: only to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God”.  Are people who love kindness and walk humbly capable of doing justice.  It would seem that one must be aggressive and obstinate to achieve justice in society.  Is it realistic for the prophet to ask that a person have all three of these qualities?
  5. [Pirkay Avot 5:26]  “According to the pain [effort], is the reward.” Some people are born with  intelligence, charm, money, good-looks etc.  How will they get the  reward?

Commentary

Torah causes expansion of mind and inner joy, even without clinging to God…however, learning Torah in order to cling to God—there is nothing to compare it to—it is beyond all the riches of this world.

–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

(Numbers: 19:1- 22:2)     

 (Shoftim 11:1-33)    

(Pirkay Avot 5)

  1. 1.      [20:1] “And Miriam died there…” In relation to Miriam’s death, the Talmud tells us that “the death of the righteous brings purification from sin.”How can we understand this in a natural, non-mystical way. How does the death of righteous people affect the people he or she left behind and purify them from sin?
  2. [20:10] “…listen, you rebels, will we bring water for you out of this rock?” The Rambam (Spain, Egypt, 1135-1204) says that Moshe’s sin here was that he angrily said to the people, “Listen you rebels…”.  Moshe had gotten angry at the people before. Why is this event considered worse than the other times?
  3. [Pirkei Avot  5:13] “One who wants to give [charity], but does not want others to give..”. Why would a person who gives charity not want others to give? How could one rid himself of this quality?
  4. [Pirkei Avot  5:19-22] “…[those with] a good eye, a lowly spirit and a humble soul are the students of Avraham our father”.  R. Ovadiah of Bartinuro (Italy, 1400’s) says that “a humble soul” means that the person is careful and in control of his appetites. What is the connection between having a humble soul and being in control of one’s appetites?
  5. [Pirkay Avot 5:21-26] “…the reward is according to the effort.” According to this, the really significant people are the ones who try the hardest. We, however, usually honour the ones who achieve the most. Why don’t we give more honour to the people who try the hardest?

Commentary

[21:18] “and from the wilderness to Mattanah [gift].”

At first it was thought that a person can integrate the Torah into himself  by developing in the 48 ways (that are enumerated in Pirkay Avot).  Then it was understood that the Torah can be acquired even by someone who has not worked at it, but rather acquires the Torah as a gift. This happens when someone becomes devoted to serving God constantly in every way that he can serve.

Sfat Emet,  R. Yehudah Leib Alter, (1847-1905, Ger, Poland).

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: 8:1-12:16)

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

(Pirkay Avot, chapter 2)

1. [9:7] “And those men [who were impure and couldn’t do the first Pesach] said to him, “We are impure…’ “.  Whoever is ritually impure or too far away and can’t eat the Passover sacrifice on Passover can do it a month later. This law, however, was only instituted after these people asked for it. Why did God wait for the people to ask before he instituted the law?

2. [12:2] “And they said, “Has God spoken only with Moshe, hasn’t he also spoken with us?”.  Didn’t  Miriam and Aharon know that Moshe’s prophecy was so much greater than theirs? What was it about Moshe’s behaviour or about the nature of his prophecy that made them think that they were equal to Moshe in prophecy?

3. [Pirkay Avot 2:10(-12)] “Let all your acts be for the sake of Heaven”.   R. Chaim of Volozhin says that even in satisfying one’s physical desires, one should act for the sake of Heaven. How can one act for the sake of Heaven while satisfying one’s physical desires?

4. [Pirkay Avot 2:13] “Do not be wicked in your own eyes”.  R. Chaim of Volozhin says that if one sees himself as evil, he may think that he can no longer return to God. But we know that if someone is righteous in his own eyes, he or she will also not return to God. What is the best self-image that a person can have in order to return to God?

5. [Pirkay Avot 2:15] “Rabbi Tarfon says: The day is short, there is a lot of work…” It is more natural to say “Time is short.” What is gained by using this metaphor and saying “The day is short”?

Commentary

[9:21] “And sometimes  the cloud was there from evening until morning, and the cloud would go up in the morning and they travelled…”

The Sanctuary had many sections and parts. A work crew of several thousand Levites assembled the Sanctuary at each camp and dismantled and transported it when the Divine command would come to move on. Yet the “Tent of Meeting” was erected at every encampment–even if only for a single day! This teaches us that each and every one of our “stations” in life is significant. A person may find him or herself in a certain place or in a certain situation for a very brief period, and it may seem to him that he is merely “on the way” to some other place. Yet there is always something in that place or situation to be sanctified–something that can serve as a “Tent of Meeting” between Heaven and earth.

–R. Menachem Mendel Schneersohn of Lubavitch, 1902-1994.

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: Judges 13:2-25)

(Pirkay Avot:Chapter 6)

(Sfirat Haomer)

1.   [5:14] “…and a spirit of jealousy comes on him…”  When a husband suspects his wife of being unfaithful, she drinks something which tests her faithfulness.  One would think that there should be a better way of dealing with this difficult situation. In what kind of a society could this ceremony be understood as an enlightened way of dealing with this difficult situation?

2.  [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?

3. [5:6] “…when they do any of the sins of man to betray God.”  Rabbenu Bachya (Spain, 11th century) says that any sin that a person commits against his fellow is also treason against God. Why is doing wrong to a person a betrayal of God?

4. [Haftara: Judges 13:3]: “And an angel of God appeared to the woman…”  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 Shimshon’s mother about Shimshon’samson’s birth? Why couldn’t a human prophet have told her?

5.  [6:1] “R. Meir says, ‘Whoever learns Torah l’shma (literally: for its name) is worthy of many things…’ ”     In our tradition, there are 2 main explanations of  “Torah l’shma”.  Torah l’shma is defined as learning Torah without ulterior motives—for the love of God. Others explain  the term as meaning learning Torah in order to learn it as thoroughly and clearly as possible—for the sake of the Torah.  Which explanation do you prefer? Why?

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

(Genesis-25:19-28:9)
(Haftara Shmuel I, 20:18-42)

  1. [25:31] “Sell me your birthright.” Ya’akov is called an “ish tam”—an honest man
    [25:28]. However, he takes advantage of Esav’s weakness and buys the birthright
    from Esav. Can he still be called an honest person after this sale? Can he still be
    called an honest man after he tricks his father in order to get the blessing?
  2. [26:27] “Why have you come to me?” asked Yitzchak. “You hate me.” Avimelech
    had driven Yitzchak away and now he wanted to make peace. Yitzchak is at first
    truthful and antagonistic, and later becomes friendly. What are Yitchak’s real
    feelings and what does this encounter tell us about Yitzchak?
  3. [27:46] “Rivkah said to Yitzchak: I am disgusted with life because of those Hittite
    women.” Rivkah is again deceiving Yitzchak with this speech. She really wants to
    protect Ya’akov from Esav. This whole story is full of deception. However, the
    mission of this family in the world is to practise and teach the world “kindness and
    justice” [18:19]. How can such a pure mission come out of a beginning so full of
    deception?
  4. [Haftara: 20:33] “…And Saul threw his spear at him…” Saul is the first king of
    the Israelites in the land of Israel, and it is obvious that his mind is unbalanced.
    Why does our tradition insist on telling us that our heroes are not always heroic and
    our leaders are sometimes far from perfect?
  5. [Haftara: 20:42] “God will be between me and you, and between my descendants
    and your descendants forever.” Our tradition considers the love between David and
    Yehonatan to be a pure love, as opposed to other types of love. What is a pure love?

Commentary

Since the commandments were given by God in order to bestow His highest good
upon us, they should be observed in a thankful spirit befitting such a gift. One
should therefore keep the commandments out of love and reverence for God, not
because of one’s preferences or logic, or for any other ulterior worldly motive. In all
observance, one’s only motive should be to serve God…
–R. Aryeh Kaplan, 1934-1983, USA.

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

(Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8)

(Haftara Isaiah 60:1-22)

1.   [26:2] “And you will take from the first of all the fruits of the ground…” The               

Sfat Emet says that “this is in order to emphasize and to celebrate newness and   

freshness”.  What is so special about newness and freshness?  Shouldn’t we celebrate tradition and experience?

2. [28:45-48] “These curses will come upon you…because you did not serve God joyfully”.  If one serves God, but not joyfully, is that service of God worthless?

3. [29:8] The Sforno (Italy-1475-1550) understands this pasuk to be saying that one should “do them [the commandments] in order that you should be perceptive and understanding in everything that you do”. What does he mean? How can doing the commandments make a person perceptive in all that he does?

4. [Haftara: Yeshayahu 60:9] “…to bring your children from far..” This pasuk is referring to the “ingathering of the exiles”—the Jews gathering in the land of Israel.  Rav Kuk speaks about a personal “ingathering of one’s exiles”.  What are one’s personal exiles? How does a person gather his or her personal exiles?

5. [Calendar] Our tradition tells us that the month of Elul, has the same letters that begin the words, “I am my Beloved’s and  my Beloved is mine”. It is a time of intimacy between God and the Jewish people—both as a people and as individuals.  How is it that the time before the Days of Judgment is such an intimate time?

Commentary

[28:47] “Because you did not serve Hashem, your God,  with joy and a happy heart…”

When a person is introspective, and he, himself, judges all the things that he does, then there is no judgment from above. Through this introspection and self-judgment a person can come to such great joy that he wants to dance as a result of his joy.

–R. Nachman of Breslov (Ukraine, 1772-1810).

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)

(Pirkay Avot: Chapter 2)

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. [23:8, 24:14,17] The Torah demands that we be very compassionate with those who have helped us, and with the weaker people in our society. However, the Torah can be very merciless with those who are considered evil. If we were compassionate with the evil, couldn’t many of them become good?  Why is the Torah so uncompromising with evil people?

4. [Pirkei Avot 2:1] “Be as careful with a minor mitzvah as with a major one, because you don’t know the rewards for the mitzvot.”  We do know that some mitzvoth are more important than others.  For example, Shabbat is very important and the mitzvoth of kindness are the most important.  Therefore their rewards should be greater than those of other mitzvoth. What does the mishna mean when it says that one should not make a distinction between mitzvoth?

5. [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

[21:13] “And she should remove the clothing of her captivity…”

The base thoughts that a person has—thoughts of selfishness and lust—have within them a spark of holiness that yearns to be free and return to its source.  However, this holiness is covered, so to speak with dirty clothing. A person must remove the dirty clothing and the holiness within will shine like the morning light.

–R. Israel Baal Shem Tov (1700-1760)

 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 16:18-21:9)

(Haftara: Isaiah 51:12-52:12)

(Pirkay Avot: Chapter 6)

1. [16:18] “…and they will judge the people with justice…”  Rav Kuk tells us that one must be very attached to justice in order to be attached to the “soul of Israel”. Why is justice a more basic value for us than kindness or other values?

2. [17:14] “..and  you will say, “I will put over myself a king like all the  nations…” Some of our rabbis tell us that this is optional and others say that we must set up a king. What might be the reasons for each opinion?

3. [Isaiah 51:16] “I have put my words in your mouth…so that I will plant the heavens and lay the foundations of the earth…” How can words in the mouth of the prophet plant the heavens and lay the foundations of the earth?

4. [Pirkay Avot 6:6] “The Torah is acquired in 48 ways…through joy…”      One of the qualities necessary for acquiring Torah is joy. However, the Torah way of life includes activities that don’t seem joyful—like personal discipline and fighting evil. How can one be joyful while doing those activities?

5. [Month of Elul] We are now in the month of Elul—the month of tshuvah before Rosh Hashana.  It has been said that the idea that one can erase one’s sins by regretting them and making tshuvah is not a logical idea. It is a special kindness from Heaven. How is the idea that one can erase one’s sins through tshuvah not logical?

Commentary

The inner spiritual work has to do with organizing one’s thoughts—which is the essence of a life of focus or meditation—and organizing one’s emotions–which is a life of song and poetry. One must work on the relationship of these qualities so that they can work together in the ways in which they are best balanced with each other, and also work separately.

–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. [7:22 ]  “slowly, slowly; you cannot remove them quickly…”  Here, the Torah is telling us to be patient. However, when we left Egypt, the Torah told us to move very quickly and leave quickly [Shmot 12:11].  When is the proper time for patience and when is the proper time for haste?

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2. [8:2]  “Remember the way that God took you… in order to make you suffer, in order to test you…”  After things are good, one should remember the suffering in the desert, which was a test from God.  Obviously, they passed the test. What purpose is served by remembering suffering and tests of this kind?

3. [8:7]  “God is bringing you to a good land with brooks of water… going out in the valleys and the hills.”   In our spiritual literature, the land of Israel represents the ideal state of mind. Why is a land of hills and valleys more ideal than a flat land?

4. [Yeshaya 51:1]   “…you that chase after justice, that seek God…”   Why are seekers of God only those who chase after justice.  What about those who chase after love or after peace or inner peace—are they not seekers of God?

5.    [Pirkay Avot 5:13]  “…what’s mine is yours and what’s yours is yours, is a chassid…”  A chassid is someone who does more than is asked of him.  What is the ideal, balanced approach to one’s property and sharing it with others?

Commentary

            When a person is on a trip and he can’t pray or learn Torah in his normal way, then he should serve God in other ways, and he shouldn’t be bothered by this, because God wants him to serve in all ways—sometimes in this way and sometimes in that way.  That’s why he happened to be going on a certain road, or speaking to certain people, in order to serve God in that particular way.

–R. Yisrael ben Eliezer, 1698-1760, Ukraine.

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 Rivkah Rochel bat Ya’akov haLevi and Chaya Kornberg, and Yechiel Eliezer ben Yitzchok Meir and Rochel Laya Kornberg

Location

Mizmor LeDavid meets at the Mesorati High School, 8 Beitar Street, in the auditorium. There is another minyan that meets there, we are the one further north. Accessible from Beitar, the single gate at the bottom of the semi-circle of steps, or from the north end of Efrata Street, through the gate on the right, then turn left.

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