Numbers 6:2-9:35

 Rosh Chodesh

1. [6:9] “…and they didn’t listen to Moshe because of impatience and hard work”.  If the Israelites had not been impatient and hadn’t worked so hard, they also wouldn’t have listened to Moshe, because their lives would have been easier.  Under what conditions does an oppressed people listen to someone who wants to free them from their oppression?

2. [6:12] “…the children of Israel didn’t listen to me, so why would Pharoah listen to me…”   The Riva (12th century, France) explains the logic in the following way: The children of Israel didn’t listen to me , even though I came for their good, so why would Pharoah listen to me when I’m telling him something that’s not good for him?  Some commentators say that this is faulty logic. What might be faulty about the logic here?

3. [6:14] In the previous parsha, the Torah gave us a list of the tribes. Rashi, our main commentator, says that this shows how much God loves the Israelites. Here the Torah gives us a list of the heads of the tribes. Why does the Torah write lists

of names so often?

4. [6:30] Moshe does not want to be the leader of the Israelites, but God insists that he is the man for the job. What qualities does Moshe have that make him a proper leader? How are these qualities different from the qualities that we usually associate with leadership?

5. [7:19] In this parsha, 7 plagues are mentioned. They are: 1) the changing of the waters of Egypt to blood; 2) frogs everywhere; 3) lice; 4) swarms of flies; 5) disease on the cattle; 6) boils on the body; and 7) hail. The commentators try to find a pattern to the plagues. Do you see a pattern to the plagues?

Commentary

There are 10 words in the Torah for prayer. When the Israelites were in spiritual exile in Egypt, their power of speech—their prayer—was also in exile. (This is seen in everyday life when a person is depressed. The person’s full power of speech is lost—is in exile.) The 10 plagues that removed the exile restored the power of speech so that the Israelites could pray the 10 expressions of prayer.

The Chiddushei HaRim–R. Yitzchak Meir of Ger (1798(?)-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 1:1 – 5:23)

(Haftara: Isaiah 27:6- 28:13, 29:22,23)

1. [1:8] “And a new king arose over Egypt…”  Rashi quotes an argument from the Talmud. One chacham says that it was really a new king, and the other chacham says that it was the same king, but he changed his policies. How does the story change according to each of these opinions?

2. [2:2] “…and she saw that he was good…” In explaining the meaning of “he was good”, Rashi says that the whole house was filled with light. The Sforno (1475-1550—Italy), however says that Moshe was prettier than the average baby. What might have made Rashi give a “miraculous” explanation?

3. [2:10] “…because I pulled him out of the water.” What quality did Pharoah’s daughter show by pulling him out of the water, and how might this choice of name have affected the development of Moshe’s personality?

4. If Moshe was raised in the Pharoah’s palace, what might have caused him to identify so much with the children of Israel?

5. [3:8] “…to a land flowing with milk and honey, the place of the Canaanite and the Hittite…” Why does God also mention that the land is inhabited by these tribes? Wouldn’t that fact be discouraging to Moshe?

Commentary

[4:10] “…I am slow of speech and of a slow tongue.”

Many leaders are very good  and persuasive speakers. Why did God choose Moshe, who had such difficulty with his speech?

God did not want people to say that the reason that the children of Israel accepted the Torah was because they were convinced by a charismatic and persuasive leader. Rather, the reason they accepted the Torah was because of their encounter with God at Mount Sinai.

–Rabbi Nissim (the Ra”n), Spain,  (1320-1380)

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-44:18-47:27)

(Haftara: Ezekiel 37:15-28)

1. [44:18] Yosef is the model for Messiah ben Yosef. According to the Gaon of Vilna, the final redemption will be modeled on the redemption from Egypt, and one model will be Yosef and everything in his life. Yosef looked like an Egyptian and there was Geulah. The midrash tells us that the b’nei Yisrael, years later, were redeemed because they did not change their names, their language or their clothing.  And that is also a model for the redemption. How can we resolve this contradiction? Is the model of redemption based on Yosef—to be a Jew in one’s heart, but be hidden, or is the model the b’nei Yisrael in Egypt?

2. [45:14] “…and he cried and Binyamin cried on his neck.” Rashi says that they cried over the Temples that would be destroyed in the future—each in the other’s territory.  Each of the brothers had a deep love and compassion for the other in relation to eternal matters. Other commentators say that they cried because they had been separated for so long. What might motivate Rashi to explain the brothers’ deep emotion in such an impersonal way?

3. Some commentators interpret negative actions by our forefathers (like the sale of Yosef by his brothers) in a positive way. They had the most noble motivations. Other commentators see our forefathers as human and developing toward Godliness. Which school of interpretation do you prefer? Why?

4. [Haftara: Yechezkel 37:22] The prophet tells us how in the messianic era, there will be no divisions among the Jews. If that is the ideal, then why was the division into tribes encouraged and reinforced earlier in our history?

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

[Yechezkel 37:24] “And my servant David will be king over them…”

In the messianic future, all the Jews will return to God, and will repent totally for all their sins of the past. However, there will be many who will be embarrassed because they have so many sins. For these people, King David will be their inspiring example. From David’s life they will understand that “tshuvah” helps for everything—even the most severe sins– and one’s relationship with God and with the world can always be repaired.

Ahavat Yehonatan, Yonatan Eibeschitz,  (1690-1764), Prague

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)

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

(Chanukah)

1. [41:39] “…since God has informed you of all of this…”   Pharoah believed that Yosef’s  interpretations of the his dreams and his servant’s dreams were true interpretations and come from God. On the basis of this, he even raised Yosef from being a prisoner to being Pharoah’s main officer. Nonetheless he remained an idol-worshipper.  How could Pharoah justify to himself the fact that the God of Yosef is so all-knowing and powerful, and yet still not devote himself to Yosef’s God?

2. [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.  Some of our commentaries say that Yosef was only masquerading as an Egyptian, but was still a “Hebrew” in his heart.  Others disagree and say that Yosef , while believing in God, saw himself as an Egyptian. On the basis of the names that he gave his sons, which of these interpretations seems to be the better one. Could one also justify the other interpretation?

3. [42:21]  “…we are guilty about our brother…”   Yosef hears his brothers say that they did wrong in selling Yosef.  Still he causes them a lot of trouble. Why doesn’t Yosef tell them who he is?  What more does he expect of them?

4. [Chanukah]  There is a difference of opinion whether after Shabbat, one should first light the havdalah candle which signifies the end of Shabbat or whether one should first light the Chanukah candles.  What might be the reasons that underlie this difference of opinion?

5. [Chanukah]  On Chanukah, we were victorious over the Greeks, and we rejected Greek culture totally. Later, however, many of our rabbis had great respect for Greek philosophy and other aspects of Greek culture. At the time of the Maccabees, why couldn’t we accept some aspects of Greek culture and reject their paganism?

Commentary

The existence and survival of the nation are commemorated in the Chanukah candles and the miracle of Chanukah.  But a person should not think that the existence of the nation is for everyone’s personal gain. “One is not permitted to count money by the light of the Chanukah candles.” Rather, one must know that the purpose of the nation is a very elevated purpose. The name of God is what defines the nation, and the nation carries the covenant of the Torah in its heart.

–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-32:3-36:43)

(Haftara: Ovadiah 1:1-3:21)

1. [32:21]  “…I will appease him with the present that goes before me…”  Ya’akov had seriously hurt Esav, and Esav had wanted to kill him. Ya’akov thought that by giving Esav a generous gift, Esav would forgive him. It would seem that if Esav was ready to forgive Ya’akov, then a gift is unnecessary, and if Esav is not ready to forgive, then a gift is not going to help.  What was Ya’akov thinking in sending this gift to Esav?

2. [32:27]  “…I will not let you go unless you bless me…”   Ya’akov demanded a blessing and the “man” changed Ya’akov’s name to Yisrael.  It seems that if Ya’akov had not demanded a blessing, his name would have remained Ya’akov. The fact that Ya’akov became Yisrael is considered a big spiritual change.  What is the significance of the fact that Ya’akov had to demand the blessing?

3.  [32:29] “And he said, ‘Your name will no longer be Ya’akov, but rather Yisrael, because you have wrestled with God (or  with powers)…”  The Jewish people are called Yisrael.  There are many stories about our forefathers. Why do we, as a nation, have a name that recalls this event?

4.  [Ovadiah 1:15] “…as you have done, it shall be done unto you…” The wicked should receive whatever bad they did to others.  However, we see that sometimes the wicked prosper.  If God is totally just, then how can the wicked prosper?

5. [Ovadiah 3:21]  “And saviours shall rise up on mount Zion to judge the mount of Esav, and the kingdom will be God’s”.   It seems that judging the mount of Esav will causeGod’s kingdom to be revealed.  The pasuk does not speak of a victory over Esav, but rather of “judging” the mount of Esav. How can this judgment bring God’s kingdom?

Commentary

The great dreams are the foundation of the world…the prophets dream…the poets dream while awake…the great thinkers dream of the perfected world…we all dream….The crudeness of conventional life, which is wholly immersed in materialism, removes the light of the dream from the world…Then the vision of the dream will return and it will become a clear revelation.

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

(Genesis 23:1-25:18)

Haftara (Kings I  1:1-31)

  1. [23:1 ] “And the life of Sara was 100 years and 20 years and 7 years..” Rashi says that the Torah should have said that Sarah was 127 years old. He quotes a midrash which says that when Sara was 100 years old, she was like a 20 year old in relation to sin, and when she was 20, she was like a 7 year old in relation to beauty. The Ramban says that the extra words here are not meant to teach us anything special, but this is just the way people speak Hebrew.  Why does the Ramban reject Rashi’s explanation?
  • [24:3] “…don’t take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites…” Why was Avraham so opposed to taking a wife for Yitzchak from among the Canaanites?  Rivkah also comes from a family of idol worshippers.
  •  [24:63] “And Yitzchak went ‘lasuach basade…’”    Rabbenu Bechaya (11th century, Spain) says that the simple meaning of this phrase is that Yitzchak went to enjoy a stroll among the trees. He then quotes a midrash that tells us that Yitzchak went to pray. How do each of these different interpretations change our image of Yitzchak?
  •  [24:67] “…and he loved her…”  The Torah tells us that Yitzchak loved Rivkah.  Avraham didn’t mention anything about love to Eliezer when he sent him to find a wife for Yitzchak.  Love between a husband and wife seem to be important to the Torah, so why didn’t Avraham mention the factor of love to Eliezer?
  •  [24:67] “…and he took Rivkah and she was his wife and he loved her…” The Ramban says that Yitzchak loved Rivkah because she was righteous like Sara. The Netziv says that he loved Rivkah for herself.  Which is the deeper love?

Commentary

[23:4] “I am a stranger and a resident with you…”

The Jew is a “resident” in the world. The Torah tells us not to escape the events and reality of this world, but rather to live in the world and elevate it. However, at the same time, the Jew feels himself a “stranger”. His true home is the world of spirituality, holiness and Godliness.

–R. Menachem M. Schneersohn, the Lubavitcher rebbe, USA, (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

(Genesis 12:1-17:26)

Haftara (Isaiah 40:27-41:16)

1. [12:10] The first major story about our father, Avraham, is the story of him going down to Egypt because of a famine. As he and Sara enter Egypt, he tells Sara to say that she is his sister, and she agrees. Because of this, she is taken into the Pharoah’s house. The Ramban (Spain, 1194-1285) says that this was an unintentional sin by Avraham. Why does the story of the Jewish people start with such an uninspiring and negative story?

2. [13:2] Avraham accepted gifts from Pharoah, but later [14:23], he refuses to accept gifts from the king of Sodom. Why does he accept them from Pharoah, but not from the king of Sodom?

3. [15:14] Why did God tell Avram that his descendants would be slaves for 400 years? There were also very good things that He could have said. Why does the relationship between God and Avram begin with bad news?

4. [16:1] Our mothers Sara, Rivka and Rachel all had difficulty in having children. How did this trial help in their personal development?

5. [17:10] Why is circumcision the physical sign of the agreement between God and the Jewish people?

Commentary

[15:5]  “…look at the sky and count the stars…so will be your descendants”.

God compares the Jewish people to the stars. Why is this an effective comparison?

The stars look to us like small points in the sky, but really, they are amazingly big worlds. So also, the Jews in the eyes of the world look like a small ordinary people. In reality, however, the Jews are an amazingly wonderful world of people.

R. Yisrael ben Eliezer—the Ba’al Shem Tov (1700-1760)

(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

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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