(Genesis 12:1-17:26)

Haftara (Isaiah 40:27-41:16)

1. [12:2] “And you will be a blessing…and all the families of the earth will be blessed in you.”  What does it mean to be a blessing? Why does the Torah say all the families of the earth? Why doesn’t it say all the nations?

2. [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?

3. [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? 

4. [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?

5. [Haftara: Yeshaya 41:8] “…Avraham, my friend.” How does one qualify to be God’s friend? In what way was Avraham God’s friend?

Commentary

[13:3] “And he went on his journeys from the south to Bet-El…:

Rashi: “Avraham paid back his debts.”

Which debts are these? Would Avraham have gone toward Egypt without money for the journey? It must be that he paid his spiritual debts. But Avraham was already a very moral person, so what spiritual debts did he have?

This is coming to teach us that life-experience and dealing with trials and difficulties makes many people more perceptive and sensitive. On the way down to Egypt, Avraham did things that seemed fine to him. But after his difficult experiences he understood on a deeper level. So on the way back, he corrected the more subtle mistakes that he had made on the way down—he paid his debts.

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 6:9-11:32)

(Haftara: Isaiah 54:1-55:5)

1. [6:9] “Noach was a just, perfect man in his generation”.   Rashi (France, 1040-1105) our main commentator, quotes the midrash which interprets this pasuk in 2 ways. Noach was so righteous in such an evil generation that, had he lived in the generation of Abraham he would have been even more righteous. Or Noach was considered righteous in an evil generation, but in the generation of Abraham, he would only have been an average person. From Noach’s life, what proof do you see for either of these interpretations?

2. [8:21] “And God smelled the sweet fragrance…”  We know that God is not at all physical, and that the Torah gives God physical attributes because “the Torah speaks in the language of  people”.  On the one hand, giving human emotions and actions to God makes God easier to understand, but on the other hand, this is misleading, and could make some people think that God is almost physical. How can one justify giving human emotions and human actions to God? 

3.  [Yeshayahu 54:4]  “Do not fear, because you will not be ashamed…”  Shame is mentioned 3 times in this pasuk.  What makes shame such an undesirable emotion?

4. [Yeshayahu 54:4]  “Don’t be afraid, because you will not be embarrassed [tevoshi] and you will not be ashamed [tikalmi]…”  There are various words in Hebrew for different types or different levels of embarrassment.  What are the different types and different levels of embarrassment?

5. [54:10] “ …my kindness will not depart from you, and my covenant of peace will not be removed…”  Are kindness and peace the highest values of the Torah?

Commentary

The most basic righteousness of a really righteous person is his constant demand for Godliness—to be connected with all his desire, his mind, his will and his emotion to his Creator…This constant connection increases Godly light continually.

–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 of Gad Eliahu ben David and Kochava–Eli Zucker

Breishit 1:1-6:8

Haftara: Isaiah 42:5-43:10

1. [1:27] “And God created man in His image, in the image of God…” How are we created in the image of God?

2. [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?

3. [4:9] “…am I my brother’s keeper?”  The Torah does not have grammatical punctuation. In this pasuk, Cain could be speaking cynically or he could be speaking innocently. What is the difference to the story between these 2 ways of readings the pasuk, and how do each of the 2 different readings change our view of Cain?

4. [6:5] “And God saw…that all the inclinations of the thoughts of his (man’s) heart are only bad all the day.” Christianity believes that people are born sinful—that there is original sin. We do not believe this. How does this pasuk  state that man is not born sinful?

5. [Haftara: Isaiah 42:6] “…for a light for the nations”. The Jews are supposed to be a “light for the nations”. How have the Jews been a “light for the nations” in the past, and what must the Jews do to continue being a “light for the nations”?

Commentary

[1:11] “…a fruit tree making fruit.”

Rashi: “The taste of the tree was supposed to be like the taste of the fruit, but the tree didn’t do that.”

In the future however–the time of messianic mentality—the tree will taste like the fruit. The way to the goal will be as sweet as the goal. The journey will be as meaningful as the destination.  And this way of  living and seeing the world is also within our reach now, if we purify our acts and ourselves.

–Rav 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 Kornberg

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

[Kohelet 1:14] “I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun and they are all emptiness…” Our tradition tells us that the deeds done under the sun are emptiness, but those done above the sun are meaningful. What deeds are done under the sun and what deeds are done above the sun? Is the metaphor of “under” the sun and “above” the sun a good metaphor?

  • [Pirkay Avot 2:4 or 5] Hillel said,”…don’t say something that cannot be understood, hoping that in the end it will be understood”.  Does this statement leave no room for poetry? Why are the books of Kohelet and Shir Hashirim included in the Scriptures? How should we understand this statement of Hillel’s?
  • [Hallel] On this festival, we say the  Hallel after the Amidah, as a prayer of praise to God. “Hallel”comes from the book of Psalms. In the Hallel, it says, “The stone that the builders disliked, has become the main cornerstone”. What does that mean?
  • [Devarim 33:6] “Let Reuven live…”  One of the last things that Moshe does in this world, is that he blesses each tribe of Israel separately. Since the Torah values unity and togetherness so much, why does Moshe emphasize the individual nature of each tribe rather than the unity of the people of Israel?
  • [V’zot habracha] All year round, we have a full week to be involved with the parsha of the week. The parsha of  “V’zot habracha, however, is different. Most years, we have less than a week and sometimes only a few days.  What is gained educationally by starting Breishit immediately after finishing ‘V’zot habracha” on Simchat Torah, even if Simchat Torah is at the beginning of the week?

Commentary

We say in our prayers, “Spread over us the sukkah of peace”. The sukkah is special to us even though it may be missing parts—it may have only two walls and a small part of the third wall;  the wall may not reach totally down to the ground, and so on. The matter of peace is similar. Peace is precious and positive even if it is not perfect.  One should try to achieve peace even in a partial way—between people, between the individual and the community, or between nations. We pray for peace, even if it’s only like a sukkah (which is not totally perfect). That’s how great peace is.

–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 this study page is dedicated to the memory of Ron ben Malka and Efrayim–Ronald Morritt

(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?

2. 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?

3. [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?

4. [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?

5. [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 Gad Eliahu ben David and Kochava—Eli Zucker

And this study page is dedicated to the memory of Ron ben Malka and Efrayim–Ronald Morritt

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?

2. [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?

3. [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?

4. [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?

5. [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 (18471905),  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 Ron ben Malka and Efrayim–Ronald Morritt

(Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20)

(Isaiah 61:10-63:9)

  1. [29:9] “You are all standing today in front of God—your leaders, your tribes…”  Moshe says that all are standing in front of God today to be part of the covenant. Then he mentions all parts of the people specifically. What purpose is served by mentioning each part of the people separately, after we are told that all the people are being addressed?
  •  [Haftara: Isaiah 63:8] “For He (God) said, ‘Certainly they are my children, they will not lie.’ So He was their saviour”.   God is our savior because we would not lie to Him. Why is lying to someone considered a serious betrayal, even if the lie is about something relatively unimportant?
  • [Haftara: Isaiah 63:9]  “In all their pain, He was pained…”   Isn’t God higher than pain. What does it mean when we are told that God is in pain when the Jews are in pain?
  • [pre-Rosh Hashana]  There are 2 types of tshuvah (return or repentance)– tshuvah as a result of  fear (heavenly punishment) and tshuvah as a result of  love (love of God, of truth, of goodness). The Talmud tells us that when a person makes tshuvah from fear, his or her intentional sins are erased, but when a person makes tshuvah from love, his or her sins become merits.  What psychological process would make a person’s sins become merits?
  • [Rosh Hashana]  Rav Kuk tells us that if a person returns to God, but does not return to his or her authentic self, then this is a false tshuvah. Why is this tshuvah false if the person returned to God?

Commentary

The main ”listening to the voice of God”, is when one pays attention to the  whole process of life in all of its details…The more the details seem to be coming from an elevated spiritual place…in a clear way, the more a person hears with clarity the voice of God speaking to him—teaching and commanding.

–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 this study page is dedicated to the memory of Ron ben Malka and Efrayim–Ronald Morritt

(Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8)

(Haftara Isaiah 60:1-22)

(Pirkei Avot Chapter 3)

  1. [26:3] “Today I am affirming to Hashem, your God…”  Why does he

say “Hashem , your God”, rather than “Hashem my God”, or “Hashem our God”?

  1. [26:5] “My ancestor was a homeless Aramean…”  The person is finally feeling a sense of “coming home” and accomplishment.  Why must he speak now of the difficult times of the past?
  1. [26:15] “Look down from Your holy habitation—from Heaven…” The Torah says [Devarim 4:39 and in other places], “He is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath”.Why, in this pasuk, do we see God only as being beyond the earth?
  1. [26:18] “…making you His special

[treasured]

nation…” What does it mean to be “His special [treasured] nation”? Is it in the “genes”, or does it come through education? Does it mean that there is extra responsibility or does it mean that there is extra blessing?

  1. [Pirkei Avot 3:1]  “Reflect upon three things and you will not come to the hands of  transgression…from where you came–from a putrid drop; where you are going–to a place of dust, maggots and worms…”  Why is this stated in such negative terms? Our ethical and mystical books tell us that depression leads to sin. To keep us from sin, wouldn’t it have been better to tell us what a noble and Godly soul we have?

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-judgement 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 this study page is dedicated to the memory of Ron ben Malka and Efrayim–Ronald Morritt

(Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19)

(Haftara: Yishayahu 54:1-10)

1. [21:12] “…and she shall cut her hair and grow her nails…”   The woman should make herself unattractive, and then if he still wants her, he may marry her.   It seems that the Torah wants him to be sure that he loves her and has not become infatuated with her appearance.  Why doesn’t the Torah tell every engaged couple to do the same thing?

2. [22:1]   “ …you must return them to your brother.”  The Torah and Torah literature speak at great length about the return of lost articles.  Why is the return of lost articles so important, and how does it affect the nature of our society?

3. There are many commandments of kindness in this week’s parsha. Who is more praiseworthy—the person who is naturally kind or the person who is not naturally kind, but acts in a kind way because he or she is commanded?

4. [Haftara: 54:7,8] God tells us here that His anger is for a moment, but His kindness is forever. The Rambam and other sources tell us that God does not have human qualities (except for kindness and love). If so, what does it mean when we say that God is angry? What is the purpose of God’s anger if He really is kind?

5. [Elul]  In the month of Elul, we blow the shofar every morning after the prayer service. Maimonides tells us that this is in order to wake us up.  What does it mean when we say that we are usually sleeping?

Commentary

[21:13] “And she should remove the clothing of her captivity…”

The base thoughts that a person has—thoughts of selfishness and lust—have within them a spark of holiness that yearns to be free and return to its source.  However, this holiness is covered, so to speak with dirty clothing. A person must remove the dirty clothing and the holiness within will shine like the morning light.

–R. Israel Baal Shem Tov (1700-1760)

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 Ron ben Malka and Efrayim–Ronald Morritt

(Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9)

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

1. [16:18] “…and they will judge the people with justice…”  Rav Kuk tells us that one must be very attached to justice in order to be attached to the “soul of Israel”. Why is justice a more basic value for us than kindness or other values?

2. [17:14] “..and  you will say, “I will put over myself a king like all the  nations…” Some of our rabbis tell us that this is optional and others say that we must set up a king. What might be the reasons for each opinion?

3. [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?

4. [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)?

5. [Month of Elul] We are now in the month of Elul—the month of tshuvah before Rosh Hashana.  It has been said that the idea that one can erase one’s sins by regretting them and making tshuvah is not a logical idea. It is a special kindness from Heaven. How is the idea that one can erase one’s sins through tshuvah not logical?

Commentary

Elevated tshuvah comes from a flash of goodness—of the Godly goodness that exists in all the worlds, the light of the Eternal, the soul of everything–which spreads out. It takes form in front of us in its splendour and holiness—as much as the heart can absorb.

–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 this study page is dedicated to the memory of Ron ben Malka and Efrayim–Ronald Morritt