(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?
  2. [46:1] “…and he offered sacrifices to the God of his father, Yitzchak.” Why did Ya’akov offer sacrifices to the God of his father Yitzchak. Why doesn’t the pasuk say that he offered sacrifices to his own God?
  3. [47:9] “…few and bad were the days of my life…” Ya’akov sees his life as having been worthless.  However, the midrash sees Ya’akov as being the greatest of our forefathers.  What makes Ya’akov so great?
  4. [Yechezkel 37:15] “And the word (or thing) of God came to me saying.” When a prophet hears “the word (or thing) of God”, what does he hear or experience?  If it is a voice, is it a man’s voice or a woman’s voice, young or old?  The message seems to be in words. How does the prophet experience this?
  5. [Haftara: 37:24] “…and they shall all have one shepherd…” In another messianic vision, we are told that “all your children will be taught by God” (Yeshayah 54:13)—everyone will have a direct relationship with God. Here, we are told that there will be one leader on the model of a shepherd. If everyone will have a direct relationship with God, why is there a need for a shepherd-like leader?

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 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

(Genesis-41:1-44:17)

(Chanukah)

  1. [41:51] “And to Yosef were born 2 sons…” Yosef named his first son Menashe because “God made me forget…my father’s house”, and he named his second son Ephraim because “God has made me prosper” in Egypt.  Yosef seems to be quite happy to be in Egypt. How would that attitude affect the way that he treated his brothers? Later he treated his brothers well. When his attitude to his family changed, did his attitude to Egypt also change?
  1. [42:6] “Yosef was the ruler of the land and Yosef sold grain to the people.” Why did he sell the grain himself, if he was the ruler? The Gaon of Vilna says that Yosef represents an ideal Jewish personality in times of struggle. In what ways is Yosef an ideal Jewish personality?
  1. [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, and the miracle of the oil was unnecessary. Does that mean that Chanukah was unnecessary? What are we supposed to learn from the festival of Chanukah?
  1. [Chanukah] Chanukah celebrates the miracle of the oil and the miracle of the war. What are the differences between these two miracles? Is one more of a miracle than the other?
  1. [Chanukah] 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. Shamai says that we start with 8 candles on the first night and take a candle away each successive night. Some explain this as: Hillel begins with the present and goes toward the potential–the ideal, while Shamai says that one starts with the ideal–the potential and brings it into the present. How can we see each different attitude in everyday life?

Commentary

The flame of the Chanukah candle…represents for us all the lights that have to shine for the nation: the light of Torah, the light of prophecy, the light of wisdom, the light of justice, the light of strength, the light of joy, the light of kindness, the light of love and so on. Before one recognizes the elevated purpose of life, all the lights seem separate…but in the future when there will be clear understanding, all the separate lights will be one light.

–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-37:1-40:23)

(Haftara: Amos 2:6-3:8)

  1. [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?
  1. [37:13] Ya’akov sent Yosef to find his brothers. This was immediately after Ya’akov seemed to be angry with Yosef. [37:10] Are there any hints in the rest of the story that Yosef suspected Ya’akov of conspiring with the brothers against him.?
  1. [38:1] King David is a descendant of Yehudah and Tamar and he is also a descendant of Lot and his daughter. King David is the ancestor of the Messiah. Why does the Messiah have so much sexual sin in his ancestry?
  1. [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?
  1. [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

[37:14] “Go now and see about the peace (the wholeness) of your brothers.”

Ya’akov was telling Yosef to look at the complete aspects (shlaymut) of his brothers. He was telling him to look at the positive and Godly qualities in his brothers. In this way, they would avoid arguing.

–R. Simcha Bunim of Pszycha – 1765-1827

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-32:3-36:43)

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

  1. [32:12] “Save me, please from the hand of Esav, from the hand of my brother…” Why is there a repetition here? The hand of Esav is the hand of his brother. Rashi explains that Esav is not acting like a brother. Rabbenu Bechaya explains that Ya’akov means, “Save me in the present and also for future generations”. Which of these is a better explanation? Is there a simpler explanation?
  1. [32:25] “And Ya’akov remained alone”. Rashi says that Ya’akov remained alone because he forgot some jars and went back for them. Ya’akov is considered in many ways to be the greatest of the 3 fathers. Why is a tzaddik so concerned with physical property?
  1. [32:27] “I will not let you go until you bless me.” Some explain that the angel represents the negative aspects of Ya’akov’s personality. Ya’akov won the fight with the angel, but he was wounded in the thigh. What might this mean on a spiritual-psychological level?
  1. [32:28] “Your name will no longer be called Ya’akov, but rather Yisrael, because you wrestled with God and with people and you won.” The Jewish people are called “Yisrael”. How do we wrestle with God and with people?
  1. [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?

Commentary

[32:13] “…he took from that which came to his hand as a gift for Esav…”

When a person takes the first thing that comes to his hand, he is giving a gift to Esav. When a person doesn’t pay attention to his actions, but rather just does the first thing that comes to mind, then he is strengthening  the qualities of  uncontrolled appetite and mental and emotional sloppiness in himself and in the world.

–based on R. Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, the Kotzker Rebbe (17871859), 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

(Genesis-28:10-32:3)

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

  1. [29:32…] Ya’akov does not give names to any of his children. His wives name them all. Why is this?
  1. [30:16] “Come to me (for sexual relations) because I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes”. Laya tells Ya’akov that she has hired him for the night. Isn’t this shocking!! Why doesn’t Ya’akov protest?
  1. [31:13] The reason that Ya’akov and his family are leaving Lavan is because God told him to leave. However, when telling his wives, he emphasizes the fact that it’s difficult to live with Lavan and his family. He mentions God’s command to leave only as an afterthought. Why does Ya’akov do this?
  1. [31:27] “…and you did not tell me…” Why didn’t Ya’akov tell Lavan that he and his family were leaving?
  1. [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?
  1. [Famous joke question: 28:10] “And Ya’akov left Be’er Sheva…” How is this pasuk a proof that a man should wear a kippah on his head? Answer: Would Ya’akov go without a kippah?

Commentary

[28:10] “And Ya’akov left Be’er Sheva and went to Kharan”.

Rashi: (It is unnecessary to say that Ya’akov left Be’er Sheva.) “This is coming to tell us that when a tzaddik leaves a place, it makes an impression.”

Why is it that when Avraham left his place in Sumer, it does not say, “And Avraham left…” Did his leaving not make an impression, while Ya’akov’s leaving did?

Ya’akov left his father and mother behind, and they were spiritually perceptive people, so they felt Ya’akov’s absence. Avraham, however, left behind a culture of idolatry. They didn’t see that Avraham was special when he was there, and they didn’t notice his absence when he was gone.

–R. Moshe Schreiber, the Chatam Sofer, 1762-1839, Germany/Bratislava

 

(Genesis-25:19-28:9)

(Haftara Malachi 1:1-2:7)

  1. [25:23] “Two nations are in your womb…the greater will serve the younger.” Rivkah was told by God in a prophetic revelation that Ya’akov would be the greater of the brothers.  Then she manipulated events so that Ya’akov got the greater blessing. Does this show a lack of faith in God’s prophecy? Shouldn’t she have been passive and just let God’s prophecy come true?
  1. [25:28] “And Yitzchak loved Esav, because there was food in his mouth…” How can it be that Yitzchak favoured Esav for such a materialistic reason. Our tradition tells us that Yitzchak was a person of noble character.  How can we understand this pasuk in a way that is more sympathetic to Yitzchak?
  1. [26:14] “He had flocks of sheep and herds of cattle and many servants…” Both Yitzchak and Avraham became very wealthy after a while. Our tradition does not discourage wealth, but does tell us that wealth can be a hindrance to spiritual development (Pirkay Avot 2:7: “…the more property, the more worries…”). Why doesn’t our tradition discourage wealth and make spiritual development easier?
  1. [26:27] “Why have you come to me?” asked Yitzchak. “You hate me.” This is a direct and confrontational statement. It is not typical of Middle-Eastern politeness. What was it in Yitzchak’s past that would have made him act and speak in such a challenging way?
  1. [Haftara: Malachi 1:1] “The burden of the word of God…” God is accusing the Jewish people of not being really devoted to the service of God. They serve God in a “lukewarm, mediocre” way. Is it easier to become a real servant of God from a place of mediocre service, or from a place of no service at all?

Commentary

We must always start from the beginning, from the first thoughts of childhood. Clarify them and refine them, and with purity and strength, bring out the goodness and the light that is in them. We shouldn’t belittle simple thoughts. They help to light up our way more than all the thoughts that we imagine to be elevated and sophisticated.

–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

(Genesis 23:1-25:18)

(Haftara: Melachim I,  1:1-31)

  1. [24:50] “…it is God’s doing…” Bethuel and his family were idol worshippers. Why did they say that these events are God’s doing? Can one be an idol worshipper and also believe in the one universal 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 she became his wife and he loved her…” We are told that Yitzchak loved Rivkah. According to the midrash, Yitzchak was somewhat traumatized because he was almost sacrificed on an altar. What does the fact that Rivkah gave water to the camels without being asked, show about the fact that she was capable of creating a “love” relationship with Yitzchak?
  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?
  1. [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. The Talmud tells us that someone who sins and then sincerely becomes pure and moral is greater than someone who lives a life of total purity and morality and never sins. How is such a person greater?

Commentary

If there is anything that a person can correct and put in order, he should do it without delay. And he should not worry about that which he is unable to fix. One should always concern oneself with self -improvement and with improving the world. This should be done with the greatest mental clarity that one is capable of.

–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

(Genesis 18:1-22:24)

(Haftara: II Kings 4:1-37)

  1. [18:3] “…please don’t pass by your servant.” Avraham convinces the 3 angels to accept his hospitality. Based on this story, our tradition teaches us that having guests (hachnassat orchim) is a very important commandment. Is this commandment performed in the best way when the guests are needy, or when they are friends and neighbours, or when they ask to be invited? What is the best way of performing this commandment?
  1. [18:3] “…please don’t pass by your servant.” Why is the commandment of having guests so important in our tradition?
  1. [18:19] “…to keep the way of God, to do kindness [tzedaka] and justice…”  In Hebrew,  the word tzedaka means justice, charity and kindness.  What is the significance of the fact that giving charity is a type of justice? How does this differ from the Western notion of charity?
  1. [18:25] “…will the judge of all the earth not act justly?” It is astounding that Avraham would say this to God.  What does this statement tell us about Avraham? What does it tell us about Avraham’s relationship with God?
  1. [Melachim II, 4:9] “…I know that this is a holy man of God…” This woman of Shunem did not really know Elisha.  She fed him from time to time. What might be the reasons that she thought that he was a holy man?

Commentary

At the initial stage of this nation, the ambition to set up a large compassionate community which would “keep the way of God to practise kindness and justice” was revealed…The goal was to bring mankind to a free life full of  splendour and delight, in the light of the idea of God.

–R. A. 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

 

(Genesis 12:1-17:26)

Haftara (Isaiah 40:27-41:16)

  1. [12:8] …and he set up his tent to the west of Beit-El…” Our forefathers were nomadic herders. How would this occupation shape their personalities in order to make our forefathers ethical monotheists and fathers of the Jewish people?
  1. [12:11] “…I know that you are a beautiful woman…” Rashi (1040-1105, France) brings 2 explanations of this statement. One is that Avram and Sarai were so modest with each other, that Avram never saw her beauty. Another explanation is that Avram knew that Sarai was beautiful, but was impressed by the fact that she remained beautiful even on a journey. How can a religious tradition have such different viewpoints on how to relate to one’s wife?
  1. [13:8] “…let there not be an argument between me and you…” Avram chooses between his own financial good and his relationship with his nephew. He prefers to keep a good relationship. Some say that this shows his humility. What other qualities might this act show?
  1. [14:23] “…so you shouldn’t be able to say I made Avram rich…” This is an insulting statement to say to one of the powerful kings of the area. Avram could have said this in a less aggressive way.  What was Avram’s motivation in saying this?
  1. [Haftara: Yeshaya 40:31] “Those who hope in God will renew their strength…” Some would say that being realistic makes a person stronger than being optimistic. What do you think?

Commentary

[12:3] “…in you, all the families of the earth will be blessed”.

Israel shall be a “light of the nations” (Isaiah 42:6).  Through him, all men were to be taught the existence of the Most High God, and the love of righteousness, thereby opening for themselves the same treasury of blessings which he enjoyed.

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

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

 

(Genesis 6:9-11:32)

(Haftara: Isaiah 54:1-55:5)

  1. [6:11] “And the land was corrupted in front of God…” The Ibn Ezra (Spain, 1089-1167), explains that “in front of God” means “in public”, or it could mean only “in front of God”—in private. Which is worse—to be corrupt in front of everyone, or to have a good public image, but be corrupt in private?
  1. [9:6] “Whichever man spills the blood of another man…because He made man in the image of God”. The Torah gives us a reason that murder is forbidden. Why do we need a reason here? Isn’t it understood intuitively by everyone that murder is forbidden?
  1. 3. [9:26] “God will enlarge Yefet, and he will live in the tents of Shem…” Our tradition understands Yefet to mean Greece and an appreciation of beauty. What role should appreciation of beauty have in a Torah world-view?
  1. [11:6] “…one nation and one language for everyone, and this is what they have started to do…” Our tradition tells us that God wants unity between people.  This story tells us that when there is unity, negative things happen.  How can we ensure that unity will bring only good results?
  1. [Haftara 54:10] “…my kindness will not depart from you, and my covenant of peace will not be removed…” In what way are kindness and peace similar? What other values are similar to kindness and peace?

Commentary

[6:16] “Make a tzohar (window /brightness) for the tayva (ark/word).

“Tayva” means an ark, but in mishnaic Hebrew it also means a “word”.  A word of Torah, or of prayer, properly said, can save the world from a devastating flood of materialism and physicality. This pasuk can be understood to mean “make the word bright”.  Every word of Torah or prayer that comes out of your mouth should be clear and bright.

–R. Yehudah Leib Alter, the Sfat Emet, Poland, 1847-1905.

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