(Exodus 1:1 – 5:23) / (Haftara: Isaiah 27:6- 28:13, 29:22,23)

 1. [1:10] “…and make war with us and leave the land.”   It seems that Pharoah did not want the Israelites in Egypt, but also didn’t want them to leave. What did he want? How do you understand this pasuk?

2. [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?

3. [2:23] When the Israelites screamed, God heard them and the redemption started. The Torah does not say that they screamed to God, but only that they screamed. The Torah speaks both on the physical and the spiritual level. On an individual spiritual level, when a person screams out of his or her pain, why is that the beginning of their redemption?

 4. [4:10] Moshe says that he is not fit for the mission of taking the Israelites out of Egypt because he has some kind of speech impediment. Later his speech seems to be fine and we are never told how he improved. What might have caused the improvement in Moshe’s speech?

5. (Haftara: Isaiah 27:12) When Isaiah speaks of the final redemption, he says that we will be “gathered one by one”. Why not in groups? What does this phrase tell us about the final redemption?

Commentary

[2:10]  “…and she called his name Moshe, and she said, “Because I pulled him out of the water”.

From here you can understand how great is the reward for those who do acts of kindness. Although Moshe had many names, the name by which he is known throughout the Torah is the one which Batyah, the daughter of Pharaoh, called him, and even God called him by the same name.

–Midrash Rabbah

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 to the memory of Gad Eliahu ben David and Kochava–Eli Zucker

(Genesis-47:28-50:26)

(Haftara: Kings I  2:1-12)

1. [48:15]   “…God, whom my fathers walked in front of…”   Ya’akov says that his forefathers walked in front of God.  Noach, however, walked with God [6:9].  What is the difference between walking “in front of God”, and walking “with God”?

2. [48:19 ]   “And his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know…”  There are rabbis who say that this speech of Ya’akov’s shows a new self-confidence.  Throughout his life, he was much less sure of himself, and here he reaches a final maturity.  Do you agree that this sentence is so important?

3. [48:22]  “…I saved them from the hand of the Amorite with my sword and my bow”.    The Aramaic translation of Onkelos translates “my sword and my bow” as “my prayer and my request”.  Why is prayer compared to a sword and a bow? 

4. [50:10] “…and they mourned there a very great and very heavy mourning.”  The mourning for Ya’akov lasted about 3 months and was very intense.  The mourning for the other forefathers and mothers was not nearly as intense.  Why was the mourning for Ya’akov’s death so severe?

5. [Haftara: Melachim I, 2:7 ] “Show kindness for the sons of Barzilai the Gileadite and let them be among those that eat at your table…”   King David could have told Shlomo, his son, to make sure that Barzilai’s children are always financially stable, or that they are always protected.  Why is the greatest kindness expressed by the fact that they will eat at Shlomo’s table?

Commentary

In this concluding sedrah of Genesis, we see the sunset of Jacob’s career…Esau, Dinah, Joseph—what a world of strife and suffering and anguish did each of these tragedies bring him—and yet he dies blessing…he possesses the rare art of extracting good from every buffeting of Destiny.  He errs and he stumbles, but he ever rises again; and on the anvil of affliction his soul is forged.

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

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 to the memory of Gad Eliahu ben David and Kochava–Eli Zucker

(Genesis-44:18-47:27) / (Haftara: Ezekiel 37:15-28)

  1. [45:3] After Yehudah’s speech, Yosef suddenly tells his brothers that he is Yosef.  What did Yehudah say that convinced Yosef to reveal his identity after all this time?
  • [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?
  •  [47:9] When Yosef introduces Ya’akov, his father, to Pharoah,  Pharoah asks Ya’akov how old he is. Ya’akov answers, and then continues to say that his life has been bad. This is unusual. Why did Ya’akov  tell Pharoah that he has had a bad life, even though he had not been asked about his life?
  • [48:16] In the next parsha Ya’akov blesses Yosef’s children. He begins by saying, “The angel who redeemed me from all evil…” In other words, my life was good. This contradicts what Ya’akov said previously. Was his life really bad or was it really good? How can this contradiction be explained?
  • [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?

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 Rivkah Rochel bat Ya’akov haLevi and Chaya Kornberg, and Yechiel Eliezer ben Yitzchok Meir and Rochel Laya KornbergAnd this study page is also dedicated to the memory of Gad Eliahu ben David and Kochava–Eli Zucker

(Genesis-41:1-44:17)

(Haftara: Kings I 3:15-4:1)

                                                            (Chanukah)

1. [40:23] Yosef asked Pharoah’s minister to remember him and mention him to Pharoah in order to get him out of prison. Rashi quotes a midrash that says that Yosef was punished with 2 extra years in prison because he asked the minister to intervene and didn’t trust God.  We are, however, taught elsewhere that one should not rely on miracles, but rather put effort into getting out of difficult situations. Is Rashi’s explanation incompatible with the fact that one should not rely on miracles, or can Rashi be explained in a different way?

2. [Chanukah] We are told that the miracle of Chanukah is that there was enough pure oil to last 1 day, and the oil lasted 8 days. But really the first day was not a miracle. There was enough oil for 1 day. So we should celebrate 7 days to mark the miracle rather than 8 days. Why do we celebrate 8 days? (There are many answers to this question. Try to create a scenario for the miracle different from the accepted one.)

3. [Chanukah] We have a rule that if all the people are impure, then pure oil is not needed for the menorah in the Temple. Therefore, the search for pure oil was unnecessary.  In addition to this, even though 1 candle per household is enough, the Jews light an extra candle every night. What is so special about Chanukah (which is a rabbinic mitvah) that  would prompt us to go so far beyond the minimum requirements for the commandment?

4. [Chanukah] With the lighting of the Chanukah candles, we celebrate the miracle of the oil. But in the “Al Hanissim”—an addition to the Amidah prayer and the blessings after a meal– we mention only the miracle of the war.  Which is the real miracle—the oil or the war?

5. The Rambam (Maimonides, (1135-1204, Spain and Egypt) says that the lighting of the Chanukah candles is a very precious commandment. He says this only about Chanukah and not about the other festivals.  What makes Chanukah more special than other festivals.

Commentary

In the Talmud, we are told that Hillel says that on the first night of Chanukah, we light 1 candle and we add a candle each night, so that we light 8 candles on the last night. Shammai says that we start with 8 candles on the first night and take a candle away each successive night. Hillel’s reason is that we always try to go higher in holiness and not lower.  This rule is applied to all possible situations—especially to social and spiritual issues. We always try to go higher in holiness.

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

(Genesis-32:3-36:43)

(Haftara: Ovadia 1:1-21)

1. [32:29]  “…Your name will no longer be called Ya’akov, but rather Yisrael…”  The fact that Ya’akov became Yisrael is considered a big spiritual change. Maimonides understands that this wrestling was a dream. Can a person undergo a real spiritual change as a result of a dream?

2. [32:31]  “…I have seen God face to face and my life was saved.”  Ya’akov wrestled with

a man or with an angel or with his imaginary image of Esav. When or how did he see “God face to face”?

3. [35:10] Ya’akov’s name is changed from Ya’akov –manipulator– to Yisrael –he who wrestled with God (or with angels). His name was changed to something much more desirable.  In which ways is wrestling with God so much more desirable than being a manipulator?

4.  [Ovadiah 1:15] “…as you have done, it shall be done unto you…” The wicked should receive for themselves whatever bad they did to others.  Is this the ultimate form of justice, or is it educational, or is it a punishment?

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”.   Other enemies of Israel will be destroyed, but Esav (Edom) will be judged. Does that make Edom an enemy. How should we relate to Esav (Edom)?

Commentary

The future approaches, it comes closer to us. Let us raise ourselves a little, let us cleanse our feelings and our minds, and we are near it…Happy nis he who has filled his heart with life’s hope, and with the anticipation of redemption. He can already see the light of deliverance, as it sends out its rays.

–R. Avraham Y. H. 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 cof Gad Eliahu ben David and Kochava–Eli Zucker

(Genesis-28:10-32:3)

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

1. [28:12]  “…a ladder was standing on the ground and its head reached Heaven…”  One interpretation of this prophetic dream is that this represents a  Jew’s ideal frame of mind– feet on the ground, but head in spirituality.  Others say that the ideal is to always be spiritual and not relate much to this world.  Which do you think is the Jew’s ideal state of mind?

2. [28:16]  “…’Surely God is in this place, and I didn’t know'”.  A Chassidic interpretation of this statement is that God is present in this world and Ya’akov only now realized that.  Where is God present in this world?

3. [28:22]   “…and everything that you give me, I will give a tenth to you.” Ya’akov said that he would give God a tenth of everything that he gets. How does a person give a gift to God?

4. [31:2]  “And Ya’akov saw Lavan’s face, and it was not like it used to be.”  Ya’akov returned to the land of Israel because God told him to do it. If so, why are we told that Lavan was jealous of Ya’akov?  How does Lavan’s attitude affect the story?

5. [Hoshea 14:7]  “…his beauty will be like the olive tree.”  Israel, in its best state, is compared to a deeply-rooted tree. Special people are also sometimes compared to trees (Psalms 1:3). Why is a tree a good metaphor for a people or a person at his best?

Commentary

[28:17]    “…this is none other than the house of God and this is the gate of Heaven”.

Its message to Jacob is its message to all men in all ages—that the earth is full of the glory of God , that He is not off in His heavenly abode and heedless of what men do on earth. Every spot on earth may be for man ‘the gate of heaven’.

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

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

(Genesis-25:19-28:9) / (Haftara Malachi 1:1-2:7)

1. Yitzchak was almost sacrificed on the altar by his father, Avraham.  How might that event have affected him and his relationships with his family? Would this story of Ya’akov and Esav have been different if that event had not occurred?

2. [27:19] “…I am Esav, your first-born.”  Our tradition tells us that the main quality of God is Truth. Ya’akov lied to his father, Yitzchak. If a desperate gangster asks you where a friend of yours can be found, should you tell him the truth?  When is a person permitted to not tell the truth?

3. [27:33] “And Yitzchak was terrified with a terrible terror…and he really will be blessed.”  Yitzchak seems to be totally disoriented at first, and then he seems to be very self-confident when he says, “…and he (Ya’akov) really will be blessed”. What might have been going through his mind when he was so confused, and what made him so sure of himself after that?

4. [27:34] “…and he screamed a big and bitter scream…”  In the story of      Ya’akov and Esav, the heroes (Rivkah and Ya’akov) are not totally innocent and the villain (Esav) is shown to be very human and is not totally guilty.  What is the Torah trying to teach us by making this story so complex?

 5. [Haftara: Malachi 1:1] “The burden of the word of God…” God is accusing the Jewish people of not being really devoted to the service of God. They serve God in a “lukewarm, mediocre” way”. Is it easier to become a real servant of God from a place of mediocre service, or from a place of no service at all? 

Commentary

[ 25:22 ]   “And the children struggled within her…”

Ya’akov and Esav were twins, but they were very different from each other. Ya’akov was more studious and meditative, but Esav was more active. And really, every child should be raised and educated according to his own personality. However, both Ya’akov and Esav were educated in the same way—to be studious and meditative. Had Esav been educated to channel his own energies and talents toward Godly matters,  he may have had a better future.

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

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

(Genesis 23:1-25:18)

Haftara (Kings I  1:1-31)

1. [23:3]  “And Avraham came to eulogize Sara and to cry for her.”  Do we eulogize at a funeral for the sake of the mourners or for the sake of the deceased?  How truthful should a eulogy be? There are joyful times during the Jewish year when Jewish Law tells us not to say eulogies at funerals. Is it realistic to expect mourners to do without eulogies?

2.  [24:1]   “…and God blessed Avraham bakol—“with everything” or “in everything”. We know that Avraham was still lacking things.  What does it mean that “God blessed Avraham bakol—‘with everything’ or ‘in everything’ ”?

3. [24:15]  “…and behold, Rivkah came out…”  There are many people who find the story of Rivkah and Eliezer at the well to be an appealing and  charming story. What makes this story so charming?

4. [24:67] “…and he took Rivkah and she became his wife and he loved her…” The Ramban says that Yitzchak loved Rivkah because she was righteous like Sara.  Is it “true love” if somebody loves someone because she reminds him of someone else?

5. [1:5] Then Adoniyya…exalted himself saying I will be king.”  It seems that almost from the beginning of  the Israelite Kings, there was intrigue and trouble.  If so, why did God allow kings?  What advantages are there to having a king and  kingdom?

Commentary

All the spiritual work  for a person should be an involvement in the present moment—to try with his whole heart not to waste one moment of the world which is in front of him.  He should think that all that exists in his world is this day and this hour and his heavenly responsibility at this time.

–based on Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, 1772-1810, 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

(Genesis 18:1-22:24)

(Haftara: II Kings 4:1-37)

1. [18:13] God told Avraham that Sarah had said that she was too old to have a child. But really Sarah had also said that Avraham was too old to have a child. Rashi tells us that God had lied to Avraham for the sake of peace in the household, and Jewish law allows lying for the sake of peace. Is this really so wise?  Perhaps God should have told the truth to show how much we value the truth.

2. [18:25] “Will the judge of all the earth not do justice?” Why did God have to be reminded that He is the judge of all the earth? How can it be that Avraham sounds more just than God?

3. [19:8] “…I have two daughters…”  When the people of Sdom wanted to rape Lot’s guests, Lot said that he would give them his young virgin daughters. Lot made a moral choice which may not have been the best choice.  We often prefer situations where the correct moral choice is more obvious. What does the Torah want to teach us by putting people into difficult moral situations?

4. [22:3] “…and he saddled his donkey…”  The midrash says that this is the same donkey that Moshe rode to Egypt (Shmot 4:20), and the same donkey upon which the Mashiach will arrive (Zechariah 9:9).  How does the midrash understand this metaphor of the donkey?

5.   [Haftara–Kings II, 4:3]  “And he said, “Go borrow vessels…”  Elisha told the woman to bring him vessels so that he could do the miracle of giving her oil. We are told in our spiritual tradition that one has to have a vessel in order to be blessed.  What does it mean to have a vessel and how does one develop a vessel for oneself?

Commentary

Midrash: “Bringing guests into one’s home is more important than being with God”.

This is coming to teach us that even though having guests involves some negative things—one doesn’t learn as much during this time, and one might get involved in gossiping and so on—nonetheless “bringing guests into one’s home is more important than being with God”.

–Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer , The Ba’al Shem Tov, (1700-1760)

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

(Genesis 12:1-17:26)

Haftara (Isaiah 40:27-41:16)

1. [12:1]  “…leave your land and your birthplace and the house of your father…”  This pasuk could have said, “Leave your land”,  and  everything else would have been included.  What is the Torah adding by also mentioning  “your birthplace and the house of your father”?

2. [12:2] “ …and you will be a blessing.”  We understand how someone can give or receive a blessing, but what does it mean to “be a blessing”? 

3. [12:5] “…and they went out to go to the land of Canaan, and they came to the land of Canaan.”  The pasuk could have said, “They went to the land of Canaan”.  Why does the Torah add all the extra words?

4.  [13:9]  “…separate yourself from me…”   After there was an argument between Avram’s shepherds and Lot’s shepherds,  Avram decides that he and his nephew should split up.  Avraham is known for his kindness, and our tradition sees him as a very intelligent and reasonable person.  Avram and Lot could have made peace between the shepherds.  Why did they decide on such a radical step and split up?

5. [Haftara: Yeshaya 40:31]  “Those who hope in God will renew their strength…”  Is this statement saying that the reward for faith in God is that God gives strength, or is it saying that the fact that one has faith in God will give a person more strength?  How does each of these attitudes show a different relationship to God?

Commentary

One can rule over one’s natural drives…in the same way as God made Avraham Avinu rule over all of his limbs.  That is to say, that God made Avraham Avinu successful in directing all his drives toward the good and the holy.

–R. A. Y. H. 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 KornbergAnd this study page is also dedicated to the memory of Gad Eliahu ben David and Kochava–Eli Zucker