(Vayikra 14:1-15:33)

 (Passover)

1. [Vayikra 14:34] “…and I will put the plague of tzara’at in a house of the land…”  The Talmud tells us that a house can get tzara’at as a result of theft that the people in the house did. Why is the house stricken, rather than the people in it?

2. Our tradition tells us that the disease of tzara’at comes on a person for the sin of “lashon hara”—saying negative things about someone for no constructive purpose. We don’t have the disease of tzara’at any more. Why not, and why do we, nonetheless, keep learning about it?

3. [Pesach]  The author of the Netivot Shalom (R.Sholom Noach Berezovsky 1911- 2000) tells us that the three regalim (Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot) represent a personal process. Why must there be a process at all? Doesn’t the first step alone–freedom–bring joy?

4. [Pesach]   The Pesach seder is our main time for passing our tradition on to our children. Many of our customs at the Pesach seder are practiced in order to keep the children awake and interested. So it would seem that the best time for the seder would be during the day. However, we make the seder at night, in order to be like the “seder” and the liberation in Egypt. Why is it so important to be like the original experience, when it weakens the main purpose of the seder—the education of the children?

5. [Pesach] On the morning of the 14th of Nissan (the 8th of April this year), we burn our remaining chametz. Our tradition tells us that chametz represents the evil inclination and especially arrogance. However, being free from the negative things in our personalities doesn’t happen immediately–it is a process and sometimes a long one. What is the ceremony of the burning and immediate destruction of the chametz supposed to teach us?

Commentary

[Vayikra 14:7] “And he will sprinkle upon the person who is purifying himself…”   Why does the pasuk say, “… who is purifying himself”, rather than “he who is being purified”?

The process of purification is not  passive. It is active. The impure person must help in his own purification through introspection and tshuvah.

Rabbi Meir Simcha HaKohen (1843 – 1926), Dvinsk, Lithuania

 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 12:1-13:59)

 (Parshat Hachodesh)

(Shmot 12:1-20)

(Haftara: Yechezkel 45:16-46:18)

1. A person’s sins are rarely seen in the outward appearance of that person. Why is the punishment for “lashon hara”—tzara’at–  recognized on the skin of the sinner?

2. [Shmot 12:7]  “And they will take some of the blood, and put it on the two side-posts and on the lintel…”   Through this sign the angel of death will know that no-one in this house is to be killed.  The lamb was the idolatry of the Egyptians. Why was this sign used to distinguish the Israelites from the Egyptians?

3. [Haggadah of Pesach]  One of the commandments of  Pesach night is to tell the story of our liberation from Egypt.  The story is supposed to be told through questions and answers.    What does the question-and-answer format contribute to the seder and what does this rule (question-and-answer) tell us about Judaism and the Jews?

4. [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)”.  Why is this an effective educational method?

5. Our holy books tell us that chametz—leaven—represents arrogance. On Pesach, leaven is totally forbidden to us. Arrogance is also totally undesirable to us, so why is leaven only forbidden on the week of Pesach. Why is it not forbidden all year round?

Commentary

Real freedom is connected to real kindness, and only appears in the world when one has the purest personal qualities.  This purity removes all envy from the heart, like the prophetic vision: “I will remove your heart of stone and I will give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 11:19).

–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

(Leviticus: 9:1- 11:47)

Parshat Parah

(Numbers: 19:1-22) / (Haftara: Yechezkel  36, 16-38)

  1. [10:2] “And a fire went out from before God…”   Nadav and Avihu were killed because they were closer to God and therefore were held to a higher standard than the regular people. Moshe was not allowed to enter Israel for the same reason. Is this fair? Shouldn’t those who serve God more, be rewarded rather than punished?
  • [10:3] “And Moshe said to Aharon, “This is what God meant when He said, ‘Through those who are close to Me, I will be made holy…and Aharon was silent’ “.  Is Aharon silent because he was comforted, because he was angry or for some other reason? How can we understand Aharon’s silence?
  • [10:6] When we mourn for a close relative, we tear our clothes and we don’t cut our hair. Aharon and his sons were told not to grow their hair long and not to tear their clothing. Shouldn’t our mourning be a natural expression of our emotion? Why should there be laws of mourning? On the other hand, why shouldn’t the priestly class be allowed to express their emotions in a physical way  like every other Israelite?
  •  [Parshat Parah: Bamidbar 19:11]  “Whoever touches a dead body…shall be impure for 7 days.”  What is “tumah”—spiritual impurity, and why should a person who touches a dead human body be impure?
  • [Haftara: Yechezkel 36:26] “…I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and I will give you a heart of flesh.”  God was complaining that the Jews are involved in idolatry. How will acquiring a “heart of flesh” cause the Jews to give up idolatry?

Commentary

[9:1] “And it was [Vayehi] the eighth day…”

Wherever the Torah says “vayehi”, it means something bad or painful. What is painful about setting up the mishkan (the Temple) in the desert?

The answer is that the existence of the mishkan itself is a painful fact. At first, God wanted His mishkan to be built in the heart of every Jew. However, after the sin of the golden calf, He was forced to limit His dwelling-place in this world to a physical tent.

–R. Yisrael of Rizhin, 1797-1850.

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: 1:1-5:26)     

1. [Leviticus 1:1…] Why are the details of every type of sacrificial offering so different? What type of personality is the Torah trying to develop by forcing us to focus so much on details?

2. The Rambam (in The Guide for the Perplexed ) says that animal sacrifices were commanded only because the Israelites were used to them in Egypt. However, they were later replaced by prayer. In which ways is prayer a replacement for sacrifices?

3. [2:14] “If you bring an offering of the first grain…”  The first of fruits and grains are offered to God. The first is special. However, in our tradition old age is more respected than youth. In which situations is the first or the new more respected,  and in which situations is the old more respected?

4. [5:21] “A person who sins and commits a “me’ila” offence against God and he lied to his neighbour about…”    “Meila” is a term that means misusing the property of the Temple in a profane way.  This verse says that using God’s name to swear to a lie, is like using a vessel from the Temple for an unholy purpose. How do you understand that comparison?

5. [Purim]  The story and the laws of Purim are quite serious. The customs, however, are much less serious—costumes, noise when we hear “Haman”, purimshpiels etc.  What caused our tradition to make Purim into such a “fun” festival?

Commentary

[1:9] “…a sweet smell for God.”

A smell can be sensed from far away, so anything that can be sensed before reaching it is called a “smell”.  The most important quality of a sacrifice is that the person who brings it should repent and improve his or her actions in the future. Without that desire for improvement, God says, “Of what use are all of your sacrifices (Isaiah 1:11). The “sweet smell” is the anticipation of the good actions in the future.

–R. Yitzchak Mayer of Gur, Poland, (1799-1866)

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

(Exodus 38:2-40:38)

(Haftara: Melachim I, 7:51-8:21)

1.  When the Temple was destroyed, and the Temple service ceased, prayer took the place of animal sacrifice.  Some of our rabbis believe that prayer is a higher form of service than the animal sacrifices. If that is true, then why were animal sacrifices commanded  at all?

2. Our tradition tells us that God is everywhere.  We are also taught that God is more present on the Temple Mount and even more present in the “Holy of Holies”.  What does it mean that God is more present?  Where in our daily lives is God more present and where is God less present?

3. [40:6]  “Put the altar for the sacrifices in front of the opening of the tent…” When the Temple was destroyed, prayer took the place of  the Temple sacrifices.  Some of our rabbis believe that prayer is a higher form of service than the animal sacrifices. What do prayer and animal sacrifices have in common? If there were no prayer, what would be missing in Judaism?

4. [40:24]  “Put the menorah in the tabernacle…”  The Sfat Emet (1847-1905, Poland) says that the oil of the menorah represents the human mind—lucid and clear consciousness.  Is the mind the same as the soul (neshama)?  Do the mind and heart (emotions) together make up the soul? What is the soul?

5. [Haftara: Melachim I, 8:12]  “God has said that He would dwell in the thick darkness.”  Why does God live in the “thick darkness”?

Commentary

The soul of the people of Israel expresses itself in the striving for absolute justice, which to be realized, must include all moral virtues.  It is for this reason that any moral sin committed by an individual Jew weakens his link with the soul of the people. The basic step in tshuvah is to attach oneself again to the soul of the people.

–R. Avraham Y. H. Kuk, 1865-1935, Lithuania, 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

(Exodus: 35:1-40:38)

(Haftara: Parshat Shekalim)

1. [35:1] “And Moshe gathered the whole community of the children of Israel”.  The midrash tells us that before the sin of the golden calf, even an individual could build the mishkan (the tabernacle)—”…any person whose heart is willing…”.  However, after the sin of the golden calf, the mishkan could only be built with the power of the community–an individual was not strong enough. Which religious activities are better carried out by the community and which are better done  by the individual?

Is charity (tzedaka) better carried out by the community or by individuals?

2.  [35:14] “The candlestick for the light…and the oil for the light.”  The Sfat Emet (1847-1905, Poland) says that the oil of the menorah represents the human mind—lucid and clear consciousness. Couldn’t the pure gold of the menorah or the sweet smell of the incense also represent the mind? Why is the oil of the menorah a better symbol for the mind?

3. [35:34] “And the ability to teach, he put into his heart…”  What qualities make up the ability to teach?

4. [35:35] “And he filled him with wisdom of heart to do craftsmanship…those who do craftsmanship and think thoughts.”  What is craftsmanship? Can a person of low intelligence be a craftsman? What qualities must a craftsman have?

5. [36:17…] “And he made 50 loops on the edge of the curtain…”  In the inner spiritual-psychological life, the mishkan (the tabernacle), represents the place where the pure service of God is done.  The furniture of the mishkan is a metaphor for acts that one does in serving God, and in one’s personal development. In the light of this, why does the Torah tell us every small detail of the mishkan?

Commentary

Bless the Lord, O my soul, who made you a singer in his holy house forever, who has given you a tongue like the wind, and a heart like the sea, who has journeyed you from generation to generation to this impeccable moment of sweet bewilderment.

–Leonard Cohen, born 1934, Canada, USA.

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

(Shmot 30:11-34:35)
(Haftara: Melachim I, 18:1-39)

  1. [30:38] “If a person makes it (the incense) to enjoy its smell, he shall be cut off from his people.” There is a rule in the Talmud which says, “Commandments were not given for enjoyment (or for personal gain)”. We know, however, that we are encouraged by our tradition to “enjoy” doing God’s commandments, and we get pleasure from many commandments. What does the Talmud mean when it says, “Commandments were not given for enjoyment”?
  2. [31:2] “Look, I have called by name Betzalel ben Uri…” God called Betzalel ben Uri “by name”, to use his talent for craftsmanship. Our tradition tells us that each of us has a special job to do in this world. What is so special about Betzalel being called “by name”—all of us are called “by name”?
  3. [31:3] “I filled him with the spirit of God—with wisdom, understanding and knowledge, and the talent for craftsmanship.” Does this mean that wisdom, understanding and knowledge, and the talent for craftsmanship are the spirit of God, or does it mean that the spirit of God was joined with wisdom, understanding and knowledge, etc.?
  4. [32:4] “He took it from their hands and he formed it in a form and cast it into a calf…” Some say that the main sin of the golden calf was the fact that it was an unchanging, rigid form. They wanted to convey the message that the ideal life is stable and lived with a fixed personality. This is the opposite of the Torah life that demands dynamic movement toward holiness. According to that opinion, is the sin of the golden calf a sin of idolatry or is it the sin of having the wrong outlook on life?
  5. [Haftara: Melachim I, 18:21] “…how long will you stay between two opinions. If God is God, then follow Him, and if Ba’al then follow him…” Eliyahu thought that this was an effective educational method. What was the people’s religious mentality, if this would be an effective educational method?

Commentary

When a person turns his gaze upwards and wants to change the direction of his soul from bad to good—immediately he finds the way open in front of him. Moreover, even though he is still far and has not been able to purify all of his actions, as soon as his heart agrees to return [to goodness and to God] he enters into the realm of holiness.

–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: 27:21- 30-10)

(Yechezkel 43:10-27)

1. [28:2] “This is the clothing that they will make…”  If the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) or the regular kohen do their ceremonial work in the tabernacle or Temple without their special clothing, then the work is not acceptable, and they have done a sin. What is the status of the clothing? When it is worn out, must it be disposed of in a holy way, or can it just be discarded like any old clothing? What is the “holy status” of other ceremonial objects—tefillin, lulav and etrog, a Kiddush cup, etc.?

2. [28:3] “…to make him holy, to serve me.”  What is holiness? What does it mean to be holy? What does this phrase in our kedushah prayer mean: “Holy, holy, holy is God. The whole world is full of His glory”?

3.  [28:3 ] “…to make him holy, to serve me.”  Rav Kuk (1865-1935, Lithuania, Israel) tells us that for some people serving God is like serving people. That is, it may be a great honour, but it also feels like a burden. For others, however, serving God is an act of freedom.  Pirkay Avot tells us that in the religious life, effort is what counts (Pirkay Avot 5:26).  Which of these two types of people is more praiseworthy?

4. [29:1]  “…to consecrate Aaron and his sons as priests to me.´The position of Kohen Gadol (High Priest) is not hereditary—the most worthy person is chosen. The position of kohen (priest), however, is hereditary. The son of a kohen is a kohen. Why isn’t a regular kohen’s position also based on merit?

5. [Yechezkel 43:11] “If they are embarrassed with all that they have done…”   Only if the Jews regret the sins that brought about the destruction of the first Temple, will they be prepared for building the second Temple. If there is no regret, then there is no second Temple. Couldn’t one argue that by building the Temple, a central place for holiness and forgiveness, the Jews will be encouraged to regret their acts and turn to God? Why is this possibility not considered?

Commentary

Certainly the Holy Temple cannot hold God’s honour and greatness.  However, because of God’s love for Israel, He contracted his greatness so that His presence could rest on the Temple, and His kingdom could be revealed. In this way, we are able to take on the job of keeping His commandments and revealing His kingdom in the world.

–R. Nachman of Breslov, 17772-1810, Ukraine.

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

(Numbers 25:1-27:20)

(Kings I  5:26-6:13)

1. Parshat Trumah tells us about the vessels and “furniture” of the Tabernacle in the wilderness. Next week’s parsha, Tetzaveh, speaks mainly about the clothing of the Kohen Gadol (the High Priest). Then, surprisingly, at the end of  Parshat Tetzaveh [30:1] , the golden altar—the incense altar—is spoken about. This should have been in Parshat Trumah. Why is the incense altar not mentioned with the other furniture and why is it brought after the Torah speaks about all the furniture and the clothing of the High Priest?

2. In the mishkan, there were things that appealed to all of our senses. The menorah: sight; the bread: taste; the incense: smell; the songs of the Levites: hearing; leaning on the sacrifice: touch. If the mishkan is supposed to be such a spiritual and elevating experience, why are the physical senses such a large part of that experience?

3. [25:4] “And blue and purple and scarlet…”  The Tabernacle in the desert had a wide variety of colours and materials. What is the reason for this variety, and how does the variety affect the people?

4. Our rabbis tell us that the mishkan is a model of man. The aron represents the, intellect and the faculty of speech; the menorah, represents the eyes and the sense of sight; the table that held the “bread,” corresponds to the sense of taste; the altar for the ketoret, is the sense of smell; and the outer altar represent the digestive system and other “functional” organs. Where are the emotions and intuitions represented?

5. [Haftara] The mishkan in the wilderness was built with voluntary contributions [Shmot 25:2]. The Temple in Jerusalem was built with a compulsory “mas” a tax—men were compelled to do the work. The Temple could also have been built through volunteers. What are the social advantages of voluntary contributions and what are the social advantages of a tax—compulsory contributions?

Commentary

[Haftara: 6:12] “As for this house which you are building, if you will walk in my laws…I will live among the Israelites, and not leave them”.

God said to Shlomo, the king, “Don’t think that this building with all its magnificence is what will bring my Presence to the people. Rather, it is proper behaviour and spirituality which bring my Presence. And through the spirituality, my Presence will remain even after the building is destroyed: “I will live among the Israelites, and not leave them”.

–Kochav M’Ya’akov, R. Yaakov Weidenfeld (1840-1894), Grimalov

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

(Numbers 21:1-24:18)

(Haftara: Jeremiah 34:8-22, 33:25,26)

1. [21:18] “When men fight and one hits the other…”  The aggressive person must pay for “embarrassment” when he hits someone. How do the judges decide how much to pay for embarrassment? Is a person more embarrassed when hit by a child or when hit by an older person?  Is a person more embarrassed when hit by an important person or when hit by an unimportant person? 

2. [21:18] “When men fight and one hits the other…”  The aggressive person must also pay for physical pain that he caused when he hit someone. There is no fixed amount. Every case is different. How do the judges decide how much he must pay for pain?

3. [21:28] “If one person’s ox injures the ox of another person, and it dies…”  When a person’s animal maliciously damages another’s animal, the owner of the animal pays for half of the damage the first 3 times. The Talmud offers two explanations of  the payment of half damages. One is that the owner should really pay full damages

because he should have watched the animal, and the Torah is being nice to him. The other explanation is that the owner really shouldn’t pay anything, because the animal had no history of damage. However, the Torah is being nice to the injured party, so the damager pays half. Which opinion do you agree with?

4. [23:5] “When you happen upon your enemy’s ox or donkey going astray, bring it back to him.” This person seems to be a neighbour. We are commanded to love our neighbours. How did this person become an enemy? Is there a type of enemy whom you would not help, or to whom you would not return lost articles?

5. [24:11]  “…and they saw God and they ate and drank.” Why would they eat and drink after seeing God? R. Bachya (1340) says that their joy when they saw God was like the joy of eating and drinking.  The Chizkuni (1240) says that they ate sacrifices to God. Which explanation do you like better?

Commentary

God wants people to serve Him in all ways and situations…A person might be  travelling and cannot pray or learn. He should serve God in other ways…because God wants to be served in all ways…Therefore a person may find himself  on the road or speaking to people, in order to serve God in that particular situation.

–R. Yisrael, Ba’al Shem Tov, 1700-1760, Ukraine.

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