(Numbers: 16:1-18:32)

(Haftara: Shmuel I, 11:14-12:22)

(Pirkay Avot Chapter 3)

1. [16:3]  “All the people in the community are holy…”   We are also told that “Your nation are all righteous (Yeshaya 60:21).”  We all know Jews who don’t seem to be righteous. How can we understand that “All the people in the community are holy…” ? 

2. [16:3]  “All the people in the community are holy…”   Korach’s argument is a good argument, but his is our classical case of an argument which is not “l’shem shamayim” – not argued out of pure motives. However our sages tell us (Talmud Nazir) that one should learn Torah even if not “l’shem shamayim”, and he will eventually achieve learning which is for pure motives. What is the difference between Korach’s lack of pure motives and a lack of pure motives in learning?

3. [Haftara: Shmuel I 12:11] “…God sent Yiftach and Shmuel and saved you…”  Yiftach, a judge of Israel, was on a much lower moral level than Shmuel. Based on this pasuk, our tradition tells us that “Yiftach in his generation is like Shmuel in his generation”. In other words, any religious authority should be respected in his generation, the way that greater authorities were respected in their generations. What are the positive and what are the negative aspects of this rule?

4. [Pirkay Avot 3:15]  “Whoever shames his friend in public…has no portion in the next world.”  This is the most severe punishment that is possible. Why is shaming someone publicly so terrible?  Is shaming a person privately a lot less severe or only a little better?

5. [Pirkay Avot 3:16] “…receive everyone with joy.” In Pirkay Avot 1:15, it says, “…receive every person with a pleasant face…”.  What is the difference between these two sayings?

Commentary

The holy point within everyone–if one fixes it and lights it up it properly—this is the revelation of one’s private messiah…This point lights up for him all of his Jewishness, and he goes out of his private exile—the exile of being controlled by his desires and appetites—and he achieves the salvation of his soul…

–R. Ya’akov M. Schechter, presently in Jerusalem.

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

(Numbers: 13:1-15:41)

(Haftara: Yehoshua 2, 1-24)

(Pirkay Avot 3)

1.  [13:27, 28] “…the people who live in the land are fierce…”  The spies visited a place that was wonderful, but seemed too challenging. What life situations does this remind us of? How can we find inspiration for our own lives through this story?

2. [13:30] “Let us go up and inherit it (the land) because we have the ability”.  Calev and Yehoshua were confident that the Israelites could conquer the land. The rest of the spies were frightened and lacked confidence. What causes some people to be frightened while others are confident in a certain situation? Is this a function of different personalities or because of an intellectual process in the people?

3. [Haftara: Yehoshua 2:1] “…and they went and they came to the house of a prostitute and her name was Rachav…”  Rachav’s motivation in helping the Israelites seems to be to save herself and her family in the future. Our tradition appreciates her efforts.  Why should we admire a person who has no loyalty to her own people?

4. [Pirkay Avot 3:2] “Pray for the peace of the government, because without fear of the government, each man would swallow his fellow-man alive.”  We know the excesses of a government which is too strong. Why doesn’t the mishna mention that?

5. [Pirkay Avot 3:14-20] Beloved is man who was created in the image (of God). It is a sign of greater love that he was informed that he was created in the image…”  What does it do for a person and one’s life when one knows that he or she was created in the image of God? 

Commentary

You cannot find peace anywhere except within your self…When one has made peace within himself, he will be able to make peace within the whole world.

R. Simcha Binim, 1765–1827, Przysucha, 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

(Numbers: 13:1-15:41)

(Haftara: Yehoshua 2, 1-24)

(Pirkay Avot 2)

 1. [13:27, 28] “…the people who live in the land are fierce…”  Our tradition looks upon the spies as traitors. The spies were not betraying the Israelites. They were afraid. Is fear a sin? Is fear a betrayal? Why are people sometimes afraid of changing a bad situation for a better situation?

2. [13:30]   “And Calev stilled the people…”   There are a number of different explanations for why the Israelites became quiet, and what they expected Calev to say. How many different explanations can there be for this action? How does our image of the Israelites change according to the different explanations? Why does the Torah leave certain stories or actions open to interpretation?

3. [Haftara: Yehoshua 2:1] “…they came to the house of a prostitute…”  Yehoshua send the spies to Rachav, the prostitute. Avraham, Moshe, Yitro and others are also outsiders to their societies and are heroes to us.  Why are we so sympathetic to outsiders?

4. . [Pirkay Avot 2:1]  “…What is the straight way that a person should choose for himself…”    A person should choose a balance between his or her needs and other people’s expectations.   Why is this called the “straight way”, rather than the correct way or the balanced way? 

5. [Pirkay Avot 2:2]  “Everyone who works with the community should work with them without expecting reward…”  Many of the commandments of the Torah have to do with our interactions with other people. Why is a vibrant and healthy community so central to the religious values of the Torah? What does getting close to God have to do with community?

Commentary

If a person feels that he has a special talent or emotional quality that others don’t have, he should know and believe that this is not accidental. It is a clear hint from God for him to know what his special talent or quality is for serving God and bringing His presence into the world.

–R. Y. M. Shechter, presently in Jerusalem.

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

(Numbers: 8:1-12:16) / (Haftara: Zecharia 2:14-4:7)

1.  [9:6] “And there were people who were impure and they could not do the Passover offering…” Whoever is ritually impure or too far away and can’t eat the Passover sacrifice on Passover can do it a month later.  If one were sick, one can’t hear the shofar later or live in a sukkah later. Why is this the only major commandment that one can do at a later date?

2. [11:18, 20]   “God will give you meat and you will eat it…until it comes out of your nose…”  God and Moshe are taking a slave people and trying to make them mature so that they can be a free people. Is this kind of cynical talk (“until it comes out of your nose”) a strategy for effective parenting, or is it a result of losing patience?

3. [11:28-29]  “…and he said, “My master, Moshe, destroy them.”  When Eldad and Medad have prophecy, Yehoshua suggests that they be destroyed, but Moshe says that he wishes all the people were prophets. What is the difference between Moshe’s ideal of leadership and Yehoshua’s ideal of leadership?

4. [12:3] Moshe knows through prophecy that there will never be another prophet like him (Deuteronomy 34:10). Knowing that, how can he be “the humblest of all people”?

5. [Zecharia 2:14]  “Sing and rejoice, daughter of Zion, because I am coming…”  When telling the Jewish people about the final redemption, God addresses us in the feminine. The midrashic literature tells us that the redemption is especially dependent on the women of Israel. Why do women have such a prominent role in the redemption?

Commentary

[9:21] “And sometimes  the cloud was there from evening until morning, and the cloud would go up in the morning and they travelled…”

The Sanctuary had many sections and parts. A work crew of several thousand Levites assembled the Sanctuary at each camp and dismantled and transported it when the Divine command would come to move on. Yet the “Tent of Meeting” was erected at every encampment–even if only for a single day! This teaches us that each and every one of our “stations” in life is significant. A person may find him or herself in a certain place or in a certain situation for a very brief period, and it may seem to him that he is merely “on the way” to some other place. Yet there is always something in that place or situation to be sanctified–something that can serve as a “Tent of Meeting” between Heaven and earth.

–R. Menachem Mendel Schneersohn of Lubavitch, 1902-1994.

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

(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