(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

(Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17)

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

(Pirkay Avot Chapter 6)

1. [11:26] “Look, I am putting in front of you to-day…” Here, we are told to look, but in our most well-known prayer, “Shma Yisrael…”, we are told to listen or understand. For educational purposes, which is more effective, seeing or hearing?

2.  [11:29]  “…the blessing on Mount Grizim and the curse on Mount Eival…”  This very dramatic ceremony presented blessings and curses to the people of Israel. In our religious life, we sometimes have dramatic ceremonies (Pesach seder, blowing of the shofar), and sometimes we have more intimate experiences (living in the sukkah, prayer, asking forgiveness). When are dramatic ceremonies more effective in getting us closer to God, and when are intimate experiences more effective?

3.  [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?

4. [Pirkay Avot 6:2] “Only one who is involved in learning Torah can be called a free person”. From a Torah point of view, what does it mean to be a free person? What is the difference between the Torah’s idea of freedom and the world’s idea of freedom?

5. [Pirkay Avot 6:6, 6:8]  Mishna 6 mentions honour (kavod) in a negative way—the Torah is acquired by distancing oneself from “kavod”. However, mishna 8 says that “kavod” is a good quality for a righteous person. Is honour (kavod) a good thing or a bad thing?

Commentary

Negative thoughts and a confused mind are like a turbulent sea. Therefore one has to be sure to clear up one’s thoughts. All holiness…is dependent on this. Each person achieves holiness in relation to how much the thoughts are purified.

–R. Nosson of Breslov,  1780-1844, Ukraine.

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

1. [8:7]  “God is bringing you to a good land with brooks of water… going out in the valleys and the hills.”   In our spiritual literature, the land of Israel represents the ideal state of mind. Why is a land of hills and valleys more ideal than a flat land?

2. [11:24] “Every place that your feet walk will be yours…”   On a spiritual level, this seems to mean that in the ideal mental state, one will feel comfortable wherever one is. On the other hand, we are expected to be sensitive to injustice—to the weak and the poor. Does being comfortable mean that one will be less sensitive to the moral demands of one’s life?

3. [Isaiah 50:1] “…where is your mother’s document of divorce [from Me]…”  Our relationship to God can be like a marriage, or like a master-servant relationship, or like friends and so on. What factors define our relationship to God at any particular time—is it us, or is it our situation in life or is it tradition or some other factor?

4. [Yeshaya 51:1]   “…you that chase after justice, that seek God…”   Why are seekers of God only those who chase after justice.  What about those who chase after love or after peace or inner peace—are they not seekers of God?

5. [Haftara] “…joy and gladness will be found there, thankfulness and the sound of music.” This is a comforting messianic vision. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov says that the quality of thankfulness is considered like the light of Paradise. What makes the quality of thankfulness so special?

Commentary

            When a person is on a trip and he can’t pray or learn Torah in his normal way, then he should serve God in other ways, and he shouldn’t be bothered by this, because God wants him to serve in all ways—sometimes in this way and sometimes in that way.  That’s why he happened to be going on a certain road, or speaking to certain people, in order to serve God in that particular way.

–R. Yisrael ben Eliezer, 1698-1760, Ukraine.

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  3:23-7:11)

(Haftara: Shabbat Nachamu: Isaiah 40:1-26)

1. [4:1] “…the laws which I teach you…”  Moshe was the leader of the Israelites. He gave laws, prayed that they would win wars, defended them and did many other things. However, we call him Moshe Rabbenu—Moshe our teacher.  Why is teaching considered the most praiseworthy role for Moshe and for us?

2. [4:1]  Rav Kuk (1865-1935) respects the role of teacher, but says that there is a negative aspect to teaching–the teacher is in a role that presupposes a kind of superiority—“I know more than you”. Do you agree with this criticism? Is there a way of avoiding this negative aspect of teaching?

3. [4:34] “…by trials, by signs, and by miracles…”  In modern physics, we speak about anti-matter, and black holes in space and many very strange phenomena. What is a miracle in modern times?

4.  [4:39] “…God is God in heaven above and on the earth below…”  There are religious systems that only value heaven, and there are others that only value earth. We try to make heaven on earth—make earth heavenly. What commandments do we have that try to “make earth heavenly”?

5. [Haftara 40:4] “Every valley shall be lifted up and every mountain and hill shall be made low”.      This messianic vision seems to say that in messianic times there will be no need to struggle.  Other sources, however seem to say that there will be struggle in the time of messianic consciousness.  The messianic era is supposed to be the ideal era.  Do you think that there will be struggle in the messianic era or not?

Commentary

[5:5] “I stood between God and you…”

The “I-ness”—the selfish ego of people is that which stands between God and the person. As long as a person is ruled by his or her selfish ego,  he or she cannot come to Godliness, but if one rules over one’s own passions and desires, then one can come to Godliness.

–Rabbi Moshe Pallier of Kobrin, Belarus (Chassidic Rebbe, 1784 – 1858)

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

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

(Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22)

(Haftara: Shabbat Chazon: Isaiah 1:1-27)

(Pirkei Avot: Chapter 3)

  1. [1:9] “…I am not able to carry you alone…”  The book of Devarim is called Mishneh Torah (second Torah) because it is mainly a summary and a repetition of commandments and past events.  The first thing Moshe says is that he never wanted to be the solitary leader of the Israelites. Why does he begin such an important speech with such a negative statement?
  • [1:17] “…don’t be afraid of any man…”  It is a sin for the judges to give a judgment based on fear or any factor other than justice.  This statement is understood by our tradition to be a proper quality for everyone—”fear no human”.  Is it reasonable to expect the average person to be able to achieve this state of mind?
  •  [1:22] “…and you said, “Let us send people before us…” The first and only major sin mentioned here is the sin of the spies.  Of all the sins of the desert, why is this sin considered the most severe? 
  • [Haftara 1:27]  “Zion shall be redeemed with justice, and those that return to her  with righteousness”.  Do justice and righteousness make a perfect society, or are other qualities also needed? 
  •  [Tisha b’Av]   Tisha b’Av commemorates the destruction of the Temples and all the other calamities in Jewish history. Our tradition tells us that in the future, Tisha b’Av will become a festival—a celebration. Chassidut also tells us that “yeridah l’tsorech aliyah”—a going-down precedes an elevation. What does one gain when one has a descent in one’s mood or one’s life’s events? How does this contribute to an elevation in the future?

Commentary

To be attached to God is the most natural aspiration of a person…There can be no substitute in existence for the longing to be absolutely linked with the living God, with the infinite light. As we are under a compulsion to live, to be nourished, to grow, so are we under a compulsion to be connected to God.

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 Sarah Bella bat Yitzchak Kummer, Chaim Yosef Yechiel ben Eliyahu Kummer and Eliyahu and Margaret Kummer

(Numbers: 30:2-36:13)

(Haftara: Jeremiah 2:4-28, 3:4, 4:1,2)

  1. [35:11-34] “…cities of refuge will be for you…” If someone killed a person accidentally, he could run away to a “city of refuge”, and he would be safe there from revenge. In those days, it was rare that someone killed by accident. Why does the Torah devote so much space to the “cities of refuge”?  What principles of law and behaviour are being taught here?
  2.  [Bamidbar 33:1]   “These are the journeys of the children of Israel…” The  Baal Shem Tov, (1700-1760), the founder of modern Chassidism, tells us that the stopping places of the Israelites represent levels in spiritual-psychological development toward a more perfected, whole personality. Why does Chassidism talk about levels (madregot) of development? Doesn’t this make a person self-conscious and self-centered? Why not just say that a person should be more compassionate, more controlled, and so on, and ignore what level a person may or may not be on?
  3. [Haftara: 2:19] “Your own wickedness will correct you…”  How does one’s wickedness correct him or her? Is this an effective way of learning or an inferior way of learning?
  4. [Haftara: Jeremiah , 3:4, 4:1,2]  If a haftara ends with a negative statement, then positive psukim are added. That is the purpose of the last psukim in this haftara. Is this wise?  In this haftara, God has been rebuking the Jews. Wouldn’t it be more proper to finish with a negative statement so that the Jews will regret their actions and return to God?
  5.  [Calendar]  We are now in the 3 weeks before Tisha b’Av. During this time, we have no weddings, no dancing, no playing musical instruments, or cutting hair. Our tradition wants to prepare us to mourn properly on Tisha b’Av. Why do we need 3 weeks to prepare us to mourn on Tisha b’Av?

Commentary

[33:1]   “These are the journeys of the children of Israel…”

The forty-two “stations” from Egypt to the land of Israel happen in the life of every person from his birth until his return to his source. Leaving Egypt represents birth, and one moves on until one comes to the land of elevated life (elevated life in this world and in the next world).

–R. Yisroel Baal Shem Tov, (1700-1760)

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

(Numbers: 25:10-30:1) / (Haftara: Jeremiah 1:1-2:3)

1. [25:12] “Therefore I am giving him my covenant of peace.” The Talmud Yerushalmi tells us after Pinchas killed Zimri and Kozbi and stopped the plague, the chachamim wanted to excommunicate him. However, when they saw that Pinchas was rewarded by God with the priesthood and the covenant of peace they changed their minds. How can it be that the wise men of the time were so out of touch with God’s way of seeing this incident?

2. [26:52] When the land of Israel was divided among the tribes, the Torah tells us that the bigger tribes should get bigger portions and the smaller tribes should get smaller portions. Then the portions were divided according to a lottery. How was the land divided according to the size of the tribes if there was a lottery? The Talmud and the commentaries tell us that it was miraculous—the larger plots of land went to the bigger tribes in the lottery. What was the point of the lottery if it was all “fixed” anyway.

3. [27:1] Tzelafchad died and left behind 4 daughters and no sons. The daughters requested that the inheritance go to them, and Moshe asked God and God agreed that the inheritance should go to them. Why wasn’t this law obvious? Why did Moshe have to ask God?

4. [27:1] Apparently, if the daughters of Tzlafchad had not requested the inheritance, they would not have received it. What might the Torah be trying to teach us here?

5. [27:7] “The daughters of Tzelafchad are correct…” The people of Israel were guilty of 2 major sins in the wilderness—the sin of the golden calf, and the sin of the spies. The midrash (midrash rabba) tells us that in each case, the women of Israel were the ones who were faithful to God and our mission, while the men were the ones who sinned. What is it about the quality of women that would make them more faithful to God and our mission than the men?

Commentary

[27:16,17] “…set up a leader over the community…who will take them out and who will bring them in…”

“Take them out and …bring them in” implies being part of the physical world and being part of the spiritual world. The leader that Moshe is asking God to appoint for the people of Israel is one who can connect the physical to the spiritual—a leader who can take the physical and infuse it with spirituality.

–The Baal Shem Tov, Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, (1700-1760).

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

(Numbers: 22:2-25:9)

(Haftara: Micah 5:6-6:8)

1. [23:9]  “…a people that will dwell alone and will not  be counted among the nations.” This is presented as a blessing. How is this a blessing?

2.  [23:19 ]  “God is not a man, that He should lie; or a person who changes His mind…”   However, even in this parsha, God changes His mind [22:12-20].  Our prophets tell us that God is beyond human qualities—is total positivity. However, God reveals Himself to us with human-like qualities. When we pray, should we think about God beyond human qualities, or should we think about God with human-like qualities?

3. [Haftara: Micha 5:6] “And the remnant of Ya’akov will be in the midst of many nations like dew from God, like showers on the grass…”  This pasuk is understood by some commentators as negative in relation to the situation of the Jews, and by other commentators as positive in relation to the situation of the Jews. How can this pasuk be understood in a negative way and how can it be understood in a positive way?

4. [Haftara: Micah 6:8] “…what does God ask of  you: only to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God”.  Are people who love kindness and walk humbly capable of doing justice.  It would seem that one must be aggressive and obstinate to achieve justice in society.  Is it realistic for the prophet to ask that a person have all three of these qualities?

5. [Haftara: Micah 6:8] “…what does God ask of you: only to do justice, to love chesed, and to walk humbly with your God”.  If these are the main things that God asks of us, what is the purpose of the other commandments of the Torah like eating kosher, keeping Shabbat, and so on.

Commentary

[24:17] “…a star will step out of Jacob…”

This pasuk is telling us that every Jew has a spark of the Messiah in his soul.

–The Baal Shem Tov, Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, (1700-1760).

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

(Numbers: 19:1- 22:2)     

 (Shoftim 11:1-33)    

(Pirkay Avot 4)

1. [19:2] “This is the law of the Torah…”  This section tells us about purification. The pasuk should say that “This is the law of purification…”.  Why does it say “This is the law of the Torah”?

2. [21:18] “and from the wilderness to Mattanah [gift].”  Our mystical tradition understands that each of these stops in the wilderness represents a psychological, spiritual matter.  From this pasuk it is understood that the Torah–closeness to God and spiritual wholeness– can be acquired even by someone who has not worked at it step by step, but rather acquires the Torah as a gift because of some personal quality or action. What personal quality or action could bring a person to God and spiritual wholeness?

3. [Pirkay Avot 4:1]   “Who is wise: he who learns from every person…”  This type of person is a good or an efficient learner. Why is someone who learns from everyone considered wise? What is wisdom?

4.  [Pirkay Avot 4:7] “…anyone who gets personal gain from the Torah, takes his life from the world…”  Is it true that using anyone or anything for personal gain is an undesirable thing to do? When can exploiting someone be justified? Can one ever justify using the Torah for personal gain?

5.  [Pirkay Avot 4:15] “…let the honour of your friend be like the respect that you have for your teacher (rabbi)…”  How can one compare the honour that one gives to one’s friend to the respect that one has for one’s teacher? Doesn’t a person want a more intimate relationship with one’s friend than with one’s teacher?

Commentary

Judaism reveals the purpose of life in this world…to transform the world into a kingdom of the Almighty. Every Jew must serve his Creator by gearing all his actions, words and thoughts toward this goal. Every Jew builds and repairs his personal world, and all of the nation of Israel build and repair the entire world.

–R. Yechiel Bar-Lev, born 1943, Israel.

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

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