(Numbers: 4:21-7:89)

(Haftara: Shoftim 13:2-25)

(Pirkay Avot:Chapter 1)

(Shavuot)

1. [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 does against his fellow is also treason against God. Why is doing wrong to a person a betrayal of God?

2. [Haftara: Shoftim 13:5]  Shimshon (and Shmuel) were born with the restrictions and duties of nazirim. Their mothers had declared that they would be nazirim. In our parsha, the nazir chooses to be a nazir by himself, and does so for a limited amount of time. Who do you think would be more committed to being a nazir—one who doesn’t choose it and does it all his life, or one who chooses it and does it temporarily?

3. [Shavuot: Ruth] Ruth and her daughter-in-law, Naomi, are poor and alone, and then life becomes better through the kindness of others. Why is it suitable to read Megillat Ruth on the “festival of the giving of the Torah”?

4. [Pirkay Avot 1:1] “Moshe received the Torah from Sinai, and passed it on to Yehoshua, and Yehoshua to the elders…” Why doesn’t the mishna say that Yehoshua received it from Moshe and the elders received it from Yehoshua, and so on?

5. [Pirkay Avot 1:1] “They said 3 things…set up many students…”  Why is the advice here to set up many students. Wouldn’t one have more of a positive influence on his generation and on future generations by writing many books?

Commentary

[10 commandments] “Don’t take the name of the Lord, your God in vain”.

Our souls are drawn into the world from the source of Holiness, and the name of God is upon us.  But a person must realize the true value of his or her soul, and not “take [it]…in vain”.  If a person doesn’t see his true potential and doesn’t try to fix his own soul and move in a Godly direction—if he takes the name of God within himself in vain—then he will not receive help from above. But when a person realizes what kind of soul he has, and helps himself, then God will help him.

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

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 cof Gad Eliahu ben David and Kochava–Eli Zucker

(Leviticus: 21:1-24:23)

(Haftara:  Yechezkel 44:15-31)

(Pirkay Avot: Chapter 4)

1. [23:4] “These are the festivals of God…”  The holier the day is, the more one is restricted in one’s physical activities.  For example, on a festival, one may cook food, although there are other restrictions. On Shabbat one may heat up certain cooked foods, but may not cook, and on Yom Kippur one may not cook and one may not even eat or drink. Why should physical freedom of action be dependent on the level of holiness of that day? One might think that more holiness should suggest more freedom of action, rather than the opposite!!

2. [23:24-23:44]  Our tradition tells us that by keeping the Torah, we make everyday life holy. If so, then why are there so many festivals which introduce to us a higher holiness than the everyday?

3. [24:22] “…there will be one law for the stranger and for the home-born…”   When someone converts to Judaism, he or she needs other Jews to supervise their entry into the Jewish people. Why isn’t it enough to simply declare one’s loyalty to God and the Torah?

4. [Haftara: Yechezkel 44:23]   “And they will teach my people the difference between the holy and the common…”   Why do we make such a distinction between the holy and the common?  Why don’t the Kohanim teach that the common is a lower form of holiness and can be raised to a state of holiness?

5. [Pirkay Avot: 4:4] “…Be very humble…” People with a low self-image are sometimes very humble because they feel that they are worthless. This contradicts the truth–that we are all created in the image of God. How can a person be very humble and still know that he or she is very worthy?

Commentary

Not knowing where to go, I go to you. Not knowing where to turn, I turn to you. Not knowing how to speak, I speak to you. Not knowing what to hold, I bind myself to you.  Having lost my way, I make my way to you. Having soiled my heart, I lift my heart to you…Blessed are you whose presence illuminates outrageous evil…Blessed are you, who waits in the world. Blessed are you whose name is in the world.

–Leonard Cohen, Book of Mercy, 1934-2016, Canada, USA.

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

(Leviticus: 16:1-20:27)

(Haftara: Amos 9:7-15)  / (Pirkay Avot: Chapter 3)

1. [19:18] “…and love your fellow person like you love yourself “.  Is it a sin then, not to love oneself? If someone has a low self-image, and does not love himself or herself, what should he or she do? How can a person come to love him or herself? How can a person come to appreciate and love another person?

2. [Haftara: Amos 9:15] “I will plant them on  their land and they shall no more be uprooted…”    Why doesn’t the pasuk say that they will no longer be driven out? Why is the metaphor of planting and being uprooted a good metaphor for the relationship of the Jewish people to the land of Israel?

3. [Pirkei Avot 3:9] “R. Chanina ben Dosa says: ” Anyone whose fear of wrong-doing is more important to him than his wisdom, his wisdom will endure, but anyone whose wisdom is more important to him than his fear of wrong-doing, his wisdom will not endure.”  Why is one’s wisdom dependent on how careful one is in his or her morality?

4. [Pirkei Avot 3:10] He used to say, “Anyone who people like, God also likes, and anyone who people don’t like, God doesn’t like.”  Why do we compare God’s perception of a person to people’s perception of a person? People can be wrong!

5. [Pirkei Avot 3:13] R. Akiva says, “…silence preserves wisdom.” Wouldn’t one think that interacting with the world and being talkative would add to wisdom? Why do we say that”…silence preserves wisdom”?

Commentary

[19:18] “…and love your fellow person like you love yourself “. 

A  learned but ungenerous man said to R. Avraham of Stretyn (mid 1800’s–Poland): “They say that you give people mysterious drugs, and that your drugs are effective. Offer me one that will give me the fear of God.”

” I don’t know any drug for the fear of God,” said R. Avraham. “But if you like, I can give you one for the love of God.”

“That’s even better!” said the man. “Just give it to me.”

“It’s the love of your fellow men,” answered the tzaddik.

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 cof Gad Eliahu ben David and Kochava–Eli Zucker

(Leviticus 12:1-15:33) /

(Rosh Chodesh: Haftara: Isaiah 66:1-24)

(Sfirat Haomer)

(Pirkay Avot: Chapter 2)

1. [Vayikra 14:4] Our tradition tells us that “tzara’at” is  a disease that comes to a person for saying lashon hara—negative, unconstuctive things about another person. When the metzorah (leper) comes to purify himself or herself after being healed from the disease, he or she must bring 2 pure birds. One is slaughtered. The other bird and some other things are dipped into the blood of the first bird, and then this blood is sprinkled on the metzorah 7 times. He or she is then pure, and the living bird is freed into an open field. What might this symbolize?

2. [Haftara: Isaiah 66:1] God said, “The heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool.” Why is this a good image for God’s relationship to our world?

3. [Chapter 2, Mishna 5] Hillel said, “Don’t judge your fellow-man until you arrive at his situation”.   Can one ever arrive at the situation of his or her fellow-man? Under what circumstances would one be allowed to judge another person?

4. [2:15] R. Eliezer says, ” Let your fellow’s honour be as dear to you as your own”.  What is the difference between this and “Love your fellow-man as you love yourself”?

5. [2:21] R. Tarfon used to say, “You are not obligated to finish the work, but neither are you free to ignore the work.” What is the “work”? Summarize the message of this mishna.

Commentary

[Leviticus 14:2] …and he shall be brought to the Kohen.”

When a person speaks “lashon hara (nasty gossip about another person)”,  it shows that the speaker does not know the power of the spoken word. A nasty word can destroy someone’s world, and similarly, a good word can build someone’s world. The speaker of “lashon hara” becomes afflicted with “tzara’at”—a skin disease. A Kohen decides whether one has “tzara’at” or not. Until a Kohen inspects the person and says “impure”, the person does not have tzara’at. During festivals or Chol Hamoed, for example, inspections for tzara’at cannot be carried out, and the diseased person would still be considered pure because the Kohen has not yet SAID that he is impure. In this way the gossiper understands the power of the spoken word, and should come to guard his speech more closely.

–Ohel Ya’akov—Ya’akov ben Ze’ev Kranz ( 1741-1804), the Maggid of Dubno.

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

(Leviticus: 9:1- 11:47)

(Haftara: Shmuel II: 6:1-7:17)

(Pirkay Avot: Chapter 1)

1.  [Last days of Pesach] Pesach and Sukkot are both about a week long, while Shavuot, Rosh Hashana, and Yom Kippur are celebrated for only a day or two.  Pesach is the festival of freedom and Sukkot  could be called the festival of trust in God.  Why are Pesach and Sukkot a week long, while Shavuot (the giving of the Torah),  Rosh Hashana (Judgment Day) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Forgiveness) are so much shorter?

2. [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?

3. [Pirkay Avot] On each Shabbat between Pesach and Shavuot, there is a custom to read and learn one chapter of  “The Ethics of the Fathers”.  On this Shabbat, we begin with the first chapter. (It can be found in a regular Siddur after the Afternoon service of  Shabbat.) In each Mishna, one of the Rabbis summarizes his life’s thoughts about ethics for the Jews. In the second Mishna, we are told that the world is based on Torah, on work (or the Temple service) and on the practice of kindness. Aren’t there other things that are very important? What about justice and health and other qualities?

4. The third Mishna tells us not to serve God in order to get a prize, but rather to serve God out of pure love.  We are told elsewhere, however, that serving God does often bring us reward in this world and the world after death.  Isn’t it too great a challenge to expect the average person to serve God out of pure love?

5. The sixth Mishna advises us to “acquire” a good friend.  In other words, even “bribe” a person to be your friend. How can real friendship be bought? Shouldn’t it just happen in an honest and natural way?

Commentary

[Vayikra 9:6] “This is the thing which God commands you to do, and the glory of  God will appear to you.”

The Torah, however, does not tell us what the “thing” is that one should do in order to see a revelation of the glory of God. The midrash (Yalkut) tells us that this is “THE thing”:  one must remove from one’s heart the quality of hatred, resentment and argument.  The midrash assures us that when one does this, then there will be a revelation of the glory of God.

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

Haggadah

1. [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)”. Where in our religious tradition do we see this principle applied?

2. [Haggadah] In the Haggadah,  R. Eliezer deduces that there were not just 10 plagues on the Egyptians, but there were really 240 plagues. What purpose is served by adding onto the number of plagues written in the Torah?

3. [Haggadah] At the Pesach seder, we remember the Egyptian experience by retelling the story. We also remember the bitterness of the slavery in Egypt by eating bitters; we remember the haste of the liberation by eating matza; and we remember the liberation by drinking wine. Why are talking and eating our main ways of reliving the Egyptian experience and the redemption? Why not something more experiential, similar to the sukkah on Sukkot?

4. [Pesach]  One of the commandments of  the Pesach seder is to tell the story of the liberation from Egypt.  The story is supposed to be told through questions and answers. It should be interactive. Which is more educationally effective–a very clear and entertaining lecture from a skilled teacher, or a question and answer format with a less skilled teacher?

5. [Pesach] On the personal level, the word Mitzrayim (Egypt) can also be pronounced metzarim in Hebrew—narrow places. Narrowness is a narrowness of mind and of emotion. It suggests fear and unwillingness to expand or to love. It suggests being enslaved by one’s negative habits, opinions, emotions and behaviours.  What can a person do to try to free himself or herself from this narrowness?

Commentary

Through the fact that all the souls join together, joy is created…because the soul is like a lit candle, as it says “The lit candle of God is the soul of man” (Proverbs 20). When souls come together light is created, and through that joy is created.

–R. Nachman, 1782-1810, Breslov, Ukraine.

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

(Leviticus: 6:1-8:36)     

(Shabbat Hagadol)

(Haftara: Malachi 3:4-24)

1. [3:17]  “…all chelev and all blood you will not eat.”  “Chelev” is a certain very fatty substance in the kosher animal which is forbidden to us. Rav Kuk tells us that chelev represents too much luxury. However, Jews are permitted to enjoy luxury. What is undesirable about too much luxury? How much luxury in one’s life is considered too much and therefore undesirable?

2. [Malachi 3:24] “He shall turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to their fathers…” This is a vision of the messianic future. In the present time, it seems to us that fathers love their children and children love their fathers. What does this pasuk mean? What will change in the messianic future?

3. [Pesach] In our prayers and in Kiddush, we often say “zecher l’yitziat mitzraim”–in memory of leaving Egypt. Why are liberation and freedom such central values to us. Shouldn’t we also mention justice, kindness, truth and awareness of God in Kiddush.

4. [Pesach] We drink four cups of wine at the Pesach seder because the Torah uses four words for different stages of the liberation process. We are joyful that we were liberated. Why are the different parts of the liberation process so important to us? Doesn’t this attention to examining details take away from our joy?

5. [Pesach]  One of the functions of the Pesach seder is to bring together all ages to learn and transmit our history. We have many customs which make the liberation experience more real and allow all ages to relate to each other and to the liberation experience. In our day, what experiences, discussions and actions could we add to unite all ages and make the experience of liberation very real?

Commentary

Ultimate freedom is relative to the light of supreme kindness. These qualities can only exist when one has purified one’s personality traits. This purity removes all jealousy from the heart…One becomes happy with oneself, defines oneself by one’s spirituality, and is not jealous of another’s physical or spiritual accomplishments.

–R. Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kuk, 1865-1935, Lithuania and Israel.

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

(Leviticus: 1:1-5:26)     

(Haftara: Isaiah: 43:21-44:23)

1. [Vayikra]  Many commentators believe that there will be animal sacrifices in the messianic Third Temple. Rav Kuk believes that there will be no animal sacrifices, but there will only be flour offerings. Why is it so important for the Jewish people and the individual Jew that there should be offerings offered at the Temple?

2. [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)”. Where in our religious tradition do we see this principle applied?

3. [Haggadah] In the Haggadah,  R. Eliezer deduces that there were not just 10 plagues on the Egyptians, but there were really 240 plagues. What purpose is served by adding onto the number of plagues written in the Torah?

4. [Haggadah] At the Pesach seder, we remember the Egyptian experience by retelling the story. We also remember the bitterness of the slavery in Egypt by eating bitters; we remember the haste of the liberation by eating matza; and we remember the liberation by drinking wine. Why are talking and eating our main ways of reliving the Egyptian experience and the redemption? Why not something more experiential, similar to the sukkah on Sukkot?

5. [Haftara: Isaiah 44:23] “Sing, heavens…shout, lowest parts of the earth…” All of creation will rejoice about the redemption—from the highest to the lowest. What does that fact tell us about the nature of the redemption?

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 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

(Exodus: 35:1-40:38)

(Exodus 12:1-20)

(Haftara: Ezekiel 45:18-46:15)

1. [35:3] We are not permitted to light a fire on Shabbat (light a match, start a stove). What is Shabbat meant to do for us, and how could it be that the lighting of a fire would spoil the effect of Shabbat?

2. [36:9…] In the inner spiritual-psychological life, the mishkan (the tabernacle), represents the place where the pure service of God is done. In the light of this, why does the Torah tell us every small detail of the mishkan?

3. [40:36] The cloud on the mishkan represents the presence of God. When the cloud lifted, the Israelites traveled. How is there a presence of God in our lives? What does it mean in the inner spiritual-psychological life when we say that when the cloud lifts, we travel?

4. [Maftir, Parshat haChodesh: 12:6] The Israelites in Egypt were commanded to take a lamb on the tenth of the month of Nissan, and keep it until the fourteenth and then slaughter it. The lamb, however was an idol of the Egyptians. Isn’t this a very brazen act for a slave-people to do? Why would God command such brazenness?

5. [12:11] At the Passover meal in Egypt, one sat at the table in a state of “chipazon”—staff in hand, dressed, alert and ready to leave Egypt. What do alertness and energy have to do with the themes of Passover?

Commentary

[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.  As much as we value individual accomplishment, this comes to teach us how much greater is the power of a united community than the power of individuals.

–Shem mi’Shmuel– Rav Shmuel Bornstein: (1856-1926)–the Sochatchover Rebbe.

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

(Exodus 30:11-34:35)

(Haftara: Parah: Ezekiel 36:16-38)

(Shabbat Parah)

1. [21:12]  “When you count the children of Israel… let each man give a ransom for his soul…so that there will not be a plague among them…”  Apparently, counting people (and sometimes other things) stops the flow of blessing to them. Our tradition tells us, “Blessing is not found onsomething which is counted”.  Why does counting people or some things stop them from being blessed? 

2. [30:38 ] “Whoever makes exactly like it [the incense of the Temple] in order to smell it will be cut off from his people.”    Whoever makes the incense for his own esthetic pleasure will be cut off.  We know, however, that in many ways we appreciate things that are pleasing to our senses.  Why is there such a severe punishment for someone who replicates the incense for his own use?

3. [Parshat Para]  We read Parshat Parah before the month of Passover in order to give us a feeling of purity.  In the days of the Temple, we had to be ritually pure in order to eat the Passover sacrifice.  We didn’t have to be ritually pure in order to hear the shofar or to sit in the sukkah. Why did someone have to be ritually pure in order to do the commandments of Passover properly?

4. [Haftara: Ezekiel 36:26] “I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh”.   This is a vision of the ideal time—the messianic time. Don’t we, ourselves, have to change our stone hearts into hearts of flesh? Why is heavenly help needed to bring about this transformation?

5. [Haftara: Ezekiel 36:36] “The nations will know …that I, God, have built the destroyed places, and planted that which was desolate… “   Apparently, people will rebuild everything, but the nations will know that this is a miracle from God.  If they see that people did the work and the reconstruction, how will they recognize that it is really a miracle from God?

Commentary

There is a type of person who loves to do good for others. Meeting with others brings him great joy. He greets the other with a happy face…and the greatest pain in his heart is that he may have caused pain to his friend or not been kind enough to him.

R. A. Y. Karelitz, the Chazon Ish, 1878-1953, Belarus and Israel.

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