(Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9)

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

(Chodesh Elul)

  1. [17:14] “..and you will say, “I will put over myself a king like all the nations…”  The king, apparently, is the political leader, and the High Priest is the religious leader.  Wouldn’t it unify the nation more to have one person as both the religious and the political leader? Why didn’t the Torah command one leader?
  1. [17:20] “So that his heart will not be lifted up above his brothers…” Isn’t a king supposed to be above the other people?  What is the function of a king who is not above the other people?
  1. [21:1] “If a corpse is found on the land…” A very symbolic ceremony is carried out by the elders of the closest town to the corpse. The Rambam, one of our main authorities, says that this ceremony is for publicizing the murder and arresting the murderer. If the Rambam is correct, why did the Torah make this ceremony seem so symbolic and meaningful?
  1. [Haftara: Yeshaya 52:12] “You will not go out in a rush, or by fleeing…” When the Jews will return from Babylon, they will return in a relaxed way. What is the significance of returning in a relaxed way?  Why is this different from the very hasty way that the Israelites left Egypt (Shmot 12:11)?
  1. [Elul] “…God is my light…” From the first day of Rosh Chodesh Elul, we say Psalm 27 twice a day. What is the meaning of “God is my light”?  What makes this psalm suitable for the month which is a preparation for the High Holy Days?

Commentary

Tshuvah is the healthiest feeling of the soul. A healthy soul in a healthy body inevitably comes to the great happiness of Tshuvah.  One feels the greatest natural delight in Teshuvah.  The elimination of all bad spiritual  influences must come when one is both spiritually and physically healthy.

-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 11:26-16:17)

(Haftara: Isaiah 54:11-55:5)

(Pirkay Avot Chapter 6)

  1. [47:26] “…the blessing is listening to the commandments…the curse is if you don’t listen…”  The Torah does not say that if you listen to the commandments, you will get blessing.   The “listening to the commandments” itself, seems to be the blessing.

How is the listening a blessing?  Why is listening to the commandments a blessing, rather than “doing” the commandments?

  1. [11:29] “…the blessing on Mount Grizim and the curse on Mount Eival…”  What educational purpose is served by the blessings and the curses being centered on physical places and being expressed in such a dramatic way?
  1. [12:1] “…you will keep to do…all the days that you live on the earth…”   “What is the meaning  and purpose of the phrase, “…all the days that you live on the earth”?
  1. [Haftara: Isaiah 54:13] “And all your children will be taught by God, and the peace of your children will be great.” In this messianic vision, we are told that when God, himself, will teach us, we will have great peace.  Couldn’t it be true that having God as our teacher would bring us anxiety? How can we possibly live up to God’s expectations?
  1. [Pirkay Avot 1:3] “If one learns from his friend…even one letter, he should treat him with respect.”   What if one laughs with his friend or has a pleasant conversation?  Why is learning so important in our tradition?

Commentary

My mother, Mirl, did not pray from the book  because she could not read.  She only knew how to say the blessings. But wherever she said the blessing in the morning, in that place the radiance of God rested the whole day.

–R. Zusia, 1718-1800, Annipoli.

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

(Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25)

(Haftara: Isaiah 49:14-51:3)

(Pirkay Avot Chapter 5)

  1. [10:16]     “Circumcise the foreskin of your heart…”  Circumcision is a sign of the covenant (agreement) between God and the Jewish people. Why is this sign on the sexual organ?   What does it mean to “circumcise the heart”?
  1. [10:20] “…and to Him you will cling…”   How does one “cling” or “stick” to God?  How does one cling or stick to God in everyday life?
  1. [Isaiah 50:1] “…where is your mother’s document of divorce [from Me]…” The relationship between God and the Jewish people is sometimes expressed in the image of a husband and wife, or of two lovers. Why is this a good image for the relationship between God and the Jewish people?
  1. [Pirkay Avot 5:10] “There are 7 qualities in a wise person: …he doesn’t interrupt another’s speech, he answers clearly without confusion, he asks according to the subject and answers properly, he answers in the order of the subjects raised…he admits to the truth”. The Torah wants everyone to try to develop these qualities. Are these qualities within the reach of every person? What kind of personality is the Torah trying to build?
  1. [Pirkay Avot 5:16-19] “Any love that is dependent on something–when the thing is gone, the love is also gone. But a love that is not dependent on anything never ceases.” We are told to “Love the person next to you like you love yourself” (Vayikra 19:18).  The Torah wants us to love ourselves. Is our love for ourselves a love that is dependent on something or a love that is not dependent on anything?

Commentary

Every person has  the ability to enrich the whole world from his spiritual treasure-house, should he have the strength to reveal it. And this refers not only to the wise and learned, but also to a simple person. The natural wealth which is in the soul is immeasurable since it is the light of God in the world.

  1. 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 1:1-3:22)

(Haftara: Shabbat Chazon: Isaiah 1:1-27)

(Pirkay Avot: Chapter 3)

  1. [1:17] “…don’t be afraid of any man, for the judgment is God’s…” This pasuk is speaking to a judge. What does it mean?
  2. [Haftara: Isaiah 1:11] “What do I need your many sacrifices for? says God.” God tells us through the prophet that He has no pleasure in the festivals and sacrifices if the Jews don’t act morally. Can giving sacrifices with the right motivation help to make a person moral? What effect are the sacrifices supposed to have on us?
  3. [Haftara 1:27] “Zion shall be redeemed with justice, and those that return to her with righteousness”. It seems that the collective redemption is dependent on justice, while the individual redemption is dependent on righteousness. Is there individual redemption without collective redemption? What is the difference between justice (mishpat) and righteousness (tzedek)?
  4. [Pirkei Avot 3:15] “Everything is foreseen, and free choice is given…” The Rambam (1135-1204) understands this mishna to be saying that God foresees everything, but, nonetheless, there is free-choice for mankind. It seems to be a paradox, and that is the usual explanation. Our main commentator on the mishna, R. Ovadia (late 1400’s), however, says that this statement means that God knows even secret things that a person does, and a person can choose to do good. Why didn’t R. Ovadia accept the usual explanation? Why did he disagree with the Rambam?
  5. [3 weeks before Tisha B’Av] Our tradition tells us that the Messiah is born on Tisha B’Av, and that Tisha B’Av will be a joyful festival in the future. In our every-day lives, how can tragedy have a positive outcome in the future?

Commentary

Waves from the higher realm act on our souls ceaselessly. The stirrings of our inner spiritual sensitivities are the result of the sounds released by the violin of our souls, as it listens to the echo of the sound emanating from the realm of the Divine.

–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: 30:2-36:13) / (Haftara: Jeremiah 2:4-28, 3:4, 4:1,2) / (Pirkay Avot 2)

  1. [30:3]  “When a person makes a vow…” The Talmud tells us that vows—promising to separate oneself from things that are permitted–is the first step to refined spirituality. What do vows have to do with more refined spirituality?
  2. [35:11-34] “…cities of refuge will be for you…” If someone killed a person accidentally, he could run away to a “city of refuge”, and he would be safe there from revenge. In those days, it was rare that someone killed by accident. Why does the Torah devote so much space to the “cities of refuge”?  What principles of law and behaviour are being taught here?
  3. [Haftara: 2:19] “Your own wickedness will correct you…”  How does one’s wickedness correct him or her? Is this an effective way of learning or an inferior way of learning?
  4. [Pirkay Avot 2:1] Be as careful with a minor mitzvah as with a major one, for you do not know the rewards of the mitzvot.”  If we read this mishna in a simple way, it seems to say that one should not choose between mitzvot, but rather, do whatever mitzvah comes to hand even if there seems to be a more important mitzvah to do. That, however, cannot be true. What is this mishna coming to teach us?
  5.  [2:1] “Which is the right path for man to choose for himself? Whatever is proper for the one who does (or made) it, and proper in the eyes of others.”  Rav Ovadiah of Bartinuro (16th century, Italy) understands this to mean that one should find a balance between one’s own desires and the expectations of the community. However, R. Moshe Zacuto, (1625-1697) says that one should do balance both what God expects and what the community expects. How is this mishna understood differently by each of these explanations?

Commentary

[33:1]   “These are the journeys of the children of Israel…”

The forty-two “stations” from Egypt to the land of Israel happen in the life of every person from his birth until his return to his source. Leaving Egypt represents birth, and one moves on until one comes to the land of elevated life (elevated life in this world and in the next world).

–R. Yisroel Baal Shem Tov, (1700-1760)

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

(Numbers: 25:10-30:1)

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

(Pirkay Avot, Chapt. 1)

  1. [27:15] Moshe asks God to appoint a new leader for the Israelites, who would lead after Moshe dies. In addressing God, Moshe calls Him “God of the spirits of all flesh”. What is the meaning of this description of God, and why specifically at this point does Moshe use this description?
  1. [Pirkay Avot 1:1] “Moshe received the Torah at Sinai, and passed it to Yehoshua, and Yehoshua passed it…” Why doesn’t the Mishna say that Yehoshua received it from Moshe, and the elders received it from Jehoshua etc.?
  1. [Pirkej Awot 1:6] “… and judge each according to his merits.”This statement is usually understood in this way that when there is doubt concerning someone’s actions, then you have to assume that this person has acted accordingly. Rabbi Nachman understands, however, that sentence in such a way that if you suspect that someone committed an unworthy act, you should look deeper into this man and find the spark of Holiness and goodness that is deeply hidden. Does the first opinion not agree with the opinion of R. Nachman? Does R. Nachman not agree with the first opinion?
  1. [Pirkay Avot 1:6] “…judge every person to the side of merit.” If we are doubtful about whether a person did the right thing or not, we should assume that the person did the right thing. It would be more truthful to leave open the possibility that the person did not do the right thing. Why are we advised to judge every person in a positive way?
  1. [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

“Search for God when He can be found (Yeshaya 55:6)”—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 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: 22:2-25:9)

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

(Pirkay Avot: Chapter 6)

  1. [23:19 ] “God is not a man, that He should lie; or a person who changes His mind…” Our prophets also tell us that God is beyond human qualities—is total positivity. If that is true, why does God often seem so human in the Torah?
  1. This is the only parsha in the Torah (after Avraham) that is not centered in the camp or in the life of the Israelites. Some say that this parsha is coming to tell us how the people of Israel look so dignified and ideal from the outside. We know, however, about all the complaints, fears and arguments of the Israelites. What purpose is served by the Torah telling us that the Israelites looked so good from the outside?
  1. [Haftara: Micah 6:8] “…what does God ask of you: only to do justice, to love chesed, and to walk humbly with your God”. If these are the main things that God asks of us, what is the purpose of the other commandments of the Torah like eating kosher, keeping Shabbat, and so on.
  1. [Pirkei Avot 6:1] “…whoever learns Torah for its own sake (and not with ulterior motive) is called a beloved friend, who loves God and loves people, etc…” How does learning Torah make someone into a lover of people?
  1. [Pirkei Avot 6:8] “…old age and children are appreciated by tzaddikim (righteous people) and the world”. Is a tzaddik someone who has a certain state of mind, or is he or she someone who does many mitzvoth and good deeds?

Commentary

Every person must personally look upon himself as a partner with God…Creation exists for the sake of man, and it is man’s duty to work toward fulfilling God’s goal. Our sages thus teach us that everyone should say, “The world was created for my sake.”

–R. Aryeh Kaplan, 1934-1983. U.S.A.

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)

(Pirkei Avot 5)

  1. [20:12] “…You will not bring this congregation to the land…”    Moshe is later buried on Mount Nevo which, at first,  is outside of the land of Israel (Deuteronomy 34),  but later becomes part of Eretz Yisrael.  Therefore, even though God said that Moshe would not enter the land, Moshe really had entered the Land of Israel.    What can we learn from this fact?

 

  1. [21:9] “And Moshe made a serpent of brass…” When the Israelites were attacked by poisonous snakes, God tells Moshe to put a statue of a snake on a high stick. Whoever would look up at the model of the snake would be cured of the poisoning.  How can we understand this and what lessons can we learn from this?

 

  1. [Shoftim: 11:15] “Israel did not take away the land of Moav…” Yiftach felt that he had to morally justify the fact that Israel took over the land of Moav. In the political climate of that time, he did not have to do that. Why did he try to justify the acts of the Israelites?

 

  1. [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?

 

  1. [Pirkei Avot 5:17] ” …that [argument] which is not for selfless motives will not endure.”  How does an argument for selfless motives endure?

Commentary

A person should serve God with all his strength, because everything has a holy aspect, and God wants a person to serve him in all ways.  Sometimes a person is talking to people, or is on a journey, and cannot serve God with prayer and learning. Nonetheless, God wants people to serve Him in all possible ways, so God sends someone to different places in order to do some service there.

–R. Yisroel ben Eliezer, the Ba’al Shem Tov, 1698-1760, Carpathia.

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: 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