(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

Breishit 1:1-6:8

  1. [1:1] “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” The most common way of translating the first pasuk in the Torah is, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Rashi translates it, “In the beginning of the creation of the heavens and the earth, the earth was unformed and void…” What is the difference between these 2 translations?  How do we see creation of the world differently according to each of the translations?
  1. [1:3] “And God said, “Let there be light, and there was light.” God created the world with words. What types of things can we create with words?  In what ways or in what situations are words not sufficient for us? Why does the Jewish mystical tradition attach so much power to  words?
  1. [1:27] “And God created man in His image, in the image of God…” How are we created in the image of God?
  1. [3:12] “…she gave me from the tree, and I ate.” Some commentaries say that Adam’s worst sin was blaming Chava and God, and not accepting responsibility. Certainly blaming others is not acceptable behaviour, but why is it considered  such a  very serious sin?
  1. [3:22] “…man has become like Me knowing good and evil…” What did Adam and Chava lose by eating from the tree and what did they gain?

Commentary

[Breishit 1:1] “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

This one verse is sufficient to teach us to see the world as God’s world and ourselves as God’s creatures, to prepare us for the demand that we are to recognize this world and ourselves as emanations of God, and therefore, as God’s sacred possessions, and that in this world of God, we are to use all of our energies—which also belong to him—solely for the purpose of doing His will.

–R. Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, 1808-1888, Germany.

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

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

Parshat Ha’azinu

(Dvarim 32:1-52)

  1. We start Yom Kippur with Kol Nidrei. We declare publicly that we are clearing ourselves of the promises that we did not keep. All of us have real sins that need to be forgiven—and sometimes heavy sins. Why do we start Yom Kippur by focusing on unkept promises when there are more serious things that we have to deal with?
  1. After Kol Nidrei, we say together to God, “Forgive the whole congregation of Israel, because everyone sinned unintentionally”. Surely some of our sins were intentional. In what way can we interpret our sins as being unintentional?
  1. [Yom Kippur] On Yom Kippur, during the mincha service, we read the book of Yonah. This book tells about how the prophet Yonah is sent by God to Nineveh to prophesy to the people and tell them to repent of their sins. Yonah tries to run away and not go to Nineveh to warn the people. However, in the end, he goes. Why, on Yom Kippur, do we read about a prophet who is so agonized by his call to prophecy?  Why don’t we read about someone who answers God’s call willingly?
  1. [Ha’azinu 32:44] “…all the words of this song…” It seems that a song is effective because it will stay in the minds of the people in a more permanent way than regular spoken words. If songs or poems are so effective, then why isn’t every major statement or commandment in the Torah expressed as a song or poem?
  1. [Ha’azinu 32:52] “…you will not go into the land…” Moshe cannot enter the land of Israel. He is being punished for what seems to us to be a rather small sin. Our sages tell us that very righteous people are held up to a much higher standard than regular people. Much more is expected of the righteous. Is it just and fair that a regular person with many sins could go into Israel, while Moshe, with one small sin, could not go into the land?

Commentary

Sins between people are not forgiven until one has asked forgiveness from his fellow man and has appeased his fellow man. (Talmud Yoma)

On Yom Kippur we all become united. The truth is that we are always very close to each other, but our sins separate us both from God and from other people. We have to repair the wrong that we’ve done to each other in order to return us to our natural state of being close to each other–to return to our natural unity.  But we must remember that in addition to sins like theft and so on, we must especially repair the sins of the heart. We must really love each other.

–R. Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter (18471905), Góra Kalwaria, Poland—the Sfat Emet

This study page is dedicated to the memory of Sarah Bella bat Yitzchak Kummer, Chaim Yosef 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

Shabbat Shuvah

(Deuteronomy 31:1-31:30)

(Hoshea 14:2-10, Michah 7:18-20, Yoel 2:15-27)

  1. [31:2] “…I can no longer go out and come in”, says Moshe. It says in another place (Deuteronomy 34:7) that Moshe never lost his physical vitality. What might be a physical interpretation of this statement and what might be a spiritual interpretation of the statement?
  1. [31:17] “…because God is not within me, these bad things happened”. What does it mean for a person not to have God within him or her? Why does this absence of God make bad things happen?
  1. [31:21] “…and this song will serve as a witness for them…” When the Jews will have turned away from God and  bad things will happen to us, this song will help to return us to God.   What qualities does song have that makes it better than stories or declarations to change a person’s attitudes?
  1. [Haftara: Hosea 14:3] “Take words with you and return to God…” Why does one need words to return to God?  Isn’t  tshuvah an experience which is above words?
  1. [Haftara: Hosea 14:6] “I [God] will be like the dew for Israel…”  What does this image mean and why is it considered such a blessing?

Commentary

[31:12]  “Gather the people—the men, the women and the children…”

Why did God say that all the children should all be brought to this gathering? Everyone is supposed to listen to the Torah, and the smaller children disturb one’s concentration. They make noise and they  demand attention.

This is coming to teach us the following: One’s own spiritual development is very important. But sometimes, in order to serve God, and especially in order to pass the Torah way of life onto one’s children, one has to give up on what seems like one’s own spiritual development. Focusing on others, rather than on oneself, in itself brings a great deal of spiritual growth.

–The Sfat Emet, R. Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter (1847-1905),  Góra Kalwaria, Poland

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

And this study page is dedicated to the memory of Sarah Bella bat Yitzchak Kummer, Chaim Yosef Yechiel ben Eliyahu Kummer and Eliyahu and Margaret Kummer

 

(Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20)

(Isaiah 61:10-63:9)

  1. [29:28] “…the hidden things are God’s…” What are the “hidden things” ? What are the “revealed things”? Why are the “hidden” things in the world at all, if they are not for us to relate to?
  1. [30:2] “And you will return to God and you will listen to His voice…” Rav Kuk tells us that we hear the voice of God speaking to us as individuals and as groups, in our everyday lives. In what ways do we hear the voice of God speaking to us?
  1. [30:11-12] This mitzvah which I command you today… It is not in heaven…” The Talmud teaches us that matters of Jewish law are decided by the majority of Rabbis. “It is not in heaven…”–the rabbis should argue about the law and decide.  If  Jewish law is telling us how

to do the will of God, then how can the majority of rabbis decide what the will of God is?

  1. [30:14] We are told that the ultimate purpose and greatest good of life is “not in heaven or across the sea, but rather is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart to do it.” What are these “things” which are the greatest good, and are so close to us?
  1. [Haftara: Isaiah 63:8] “For He (God) said, ‘Certainly they are my children, they will not lie.’ So He was their saviour”. It seem in this pasuk that what makes the Jewish people beloved in God’s eyes is the fact that they don’t lie. In many psukim, however, it is stated that keeping the commandments is what makes the people beloved. How can this contradiction be resolved?

Commentary

[Devarim  29: 9,10]  “You are standing this day, all of you, before the Lord, your God: your leaders, your tribes, your elders, and your policemen, and each Israelite man; your little ones, your wives, and your stranger that is in your camp, from your woodchopper, to your water-drawer”.

In the Talmud (Pesachim 50a) Rav Yosef  had a near-death experience. About this experience, he said,  “I saw an upside-down world. Those who are on top here, are on the bottom there; and those who are regarded as lowly here, are elevated in Heaven.”  In our world, the leader or the wise-man is superior to the woodchopper or the water-carrier.  But in the ultimate reality, in God’s eyes, it is very different.

–R. Moshe Alsheich, Turkey, 16th century

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

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

(Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8)

(Haftara Isaiah 60:1-22)

(Pirkei Avot Chapter 3 & 4)

(Elul)

  1. [26:2] “And you will take from the first of all the fruits of the ground…” Why is the first of anything so special to us?
  1. [26:3] “Today I am affirming to Hashem, your God…” The person who brings the first-fruits says this. Why does he say “Hashem , your God”, rather than “Hashem my God”, or “Hashem our God”?
  1. [28:23] “The heavens above your head will be copper, and the earth under you will be iron”. What does this mean in a physical way, and what does it mean in a spiritual-psychological way?
  1. [Haftara: Yeshayahu 60:9] “…to bring your children from far..” This pasuk is referring to the “ingathering of the exiles”—the Jews gathering in the land of Israel. Rav Kuk speaks about a personal “ingathering of one’s exiles”.  What are one’s personal exiles? How does a person gather his or her personal exiles?
  1. [Elul] For the general non-Jewish world, the New Year is a time of celebrating the beginning of a new year and renewing ourselves. For us the new year is a judgment day in addition to a time of renewal. What is the difference between these 2 approaches?

Commentary

[28:47] “Because you did not serve Hashem, your God,  with joy and a happy heart…”

When a person is introspective, and he, himself, judges all the things that he does, then there is no judgment from above. Through this introspection and self-judgment a person can come to such great joy that he wants to dance as a result of his joy.

–R. Nachman of Breslov (Ukraine, 1772-1810).

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

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

(Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9)

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

(Chodesh Elul)

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

Commentary

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

-R. Avraham Y. H. Kuk, 1865-1935, Lithuania and Israel.

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

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

(Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17)

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

(Pirkay Avot Chapter 6)

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

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

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

Commentary

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

–R. Zusia, 1718-1800, Annipoli.

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

And this study page is dedicated to the memory of Sarah Bella bat Yitzchak Kummer, Chaim Yosef Yechiel ben Eliyahu Kummer and Eliyahu and Margaret Kummer

(Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25)

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

(Pirkay Avot Chapter 5)

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

Commentary

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

  1. Avraham Y. H. Kuk, 1865-1935, Lithuania and Israel.

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

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