(Bamidbar: 8:1-12:16)

(Haftara: Zecharia 2:14-4:7)

(Pirkay Avot, chapter 2)

1. [9:6]  “And the people that were impure… were not able to do the Pesach sacrifice…”  Pesach is the only festival of the year that demands ritual purity to perform one of its main commandments. Why is Pesach different from the other festivals in this regard?

2. [9:18 ]  “…and when the cloud rested [on the mishkan] the children of Israel encamped.”  Sometimes they camped for a long period of time, and sometimes they camped for a day. Either way, the mishkan was set up perfectly with all its parts and its furniture. What lesson for our own lives can we learn from this?

3. [11:13]  “…give us meat and we will eat.”  The children of Israel were not hungry. The ”man” was more than enough for food.  What would the eating of meat do for them and what does it do for us?

4. [Zechariah 3:4] “…take off his filthy clothing…I have removed your sin from you…”  Sin is considered an external piece of clothing and not part of the essential person.  Are there sins which are more part of the essential person, and other sins that are like a removable piece of clothing?

5.  [Pirkay Avot 2:3] “Be careful of the government people. They only get close to a person for their own benefit…but don’t stand by him in his difficult times.”   Why would anyone expect anything different from the governing authorities? Is there any other vision of the relationship between governing authorities and the people?

Commentary

In the congregation of  Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev there was a  prayer leader who had grown hoarse.

The rabbi asked him, “Why are you hoarse?”

“Because I prayed before the pulpit,” he answered.

“Quite right,” said the rabbi. “If one prays before the pulpit, he grows hoarse, but if one prays before the living God, then he will not become hoarse.”

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)

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. [5:7]  “And they will confess the sins that they did…”  Specifying one’s sins through verbal confession is necessary in order to be forgiven by Heaven. Why isn’t it enough that a person sincerely changes his or her behaviour? Why is verbal confession so important?

3.   [5:14] “…and a spirit of jealousy comes on him…”  When a husband suspects his wife of being unfaithful, she drinks something which tests her faithfulness.  One would think that there should be a better way of dealing with this difficult situation. In what kind of a society could this ceremony be understood as an enlightened way of dealing with this difficult situation?

4. [6:25-26] “May God shine his face on you and be gracious to you.”  In Hebrew,a number of single things are written in the plural–for example, sky, life, water and others. These seem to be things which are not simple objects. “Face”, in Hebrew is also in the plural. However, it seems to be a simple object. Why is face in the plural in Hebrew?

5. [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?

Commentary

[7:84] “This is the dedication offering…on the day it was anointed”.

[7:88] “This is the dedication offering…after it was anointed”.

When one begins to get involved with God and with Torah, one feels an awakening, a renewal and an elevation.  After a while, however, the freshness begins to wear off. One must try to keep the clarity of the beginning forever.   One must always return to the original light that one had when one first started getting involved with Torah.

R. Avraham Mordechai Alter of Ger (18661948)

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: 25:1-27:34) \ (Haftara: Jeremiah 16:19-17:14)

(Pirkay Avot: Chapter 5) \ (Sfirat Ha’omer)

1. [27:33] “…and he shall not exchange it…”  One of levels of interpretation of the Torah is the spiritual level.  R. Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, (1902-1994), said that this pasuk can be understood to mean that every person was born with a mission in life that is distinctly, uniquely and exclusively his or her own. How can a person know what his or her purpose in life is?

2. [Jeremiah 16:19] “…to You the nations will come from the ends of the earth.”  We believe that in the future all the people in the world will recognize the one universal God who revealed the Torah to us.  In other words, we will be recognized as the center of the world. In our religious-spiritual system, arrogance is considered a very, very bad quality. How can we believe in our religious-spiritual system in a way that does not lead to arrogance?

3. [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”. If a person is wise, he or she will behave in this way.  Could behaving in this way make a person wise?

4. [Pirkay Avot 5:13] “…when someone says what is mine is mine, and what is yours is yours: that is an average quality, and some say that it is the quality of Sdom (cruelty)”. How can there be an argument on this point? Isn’t this one of the basic principles in ethical behavior?

5. [Pirkay Avot 5:10] “What’s mine is yours and what’s yours is yours is a saintly quality”. Elsewhere in Pirkay Avot [1:14] we are told that “If I do not take care of myself, no-one else will take care of me” —I should worry about myself first and then help others. There is normal, ethical behavior and there is saintly behavior. However, these are religious principles. Shouldn’t we expect everyone to be saintly?

Commentary

“Where is the dwelling of God?”  This was the question with which the rabbi of Kotzk surprised a number of learned men who happened to be visiting him.

They laughed at him: “Is not the whole world full of his glory!”

Then he answered his own question: God dwells wherever man lets him in.”

–R. Menachem Mendel, 1787-1859, Poland.

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

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

(Leviticus: 21:1-24:23)

(Haftara: Yechezkel 44:15-31)

(Pirkay Avot: Chapter 4)

(Sfirat Ha’omer)

1. [21:5] “They may not make themselves bald…” Excessive mourning is forbidden to us. There are some present-day Muslims who say that the Jews value life, so the Jews value the physical. Muslims value death and after-life,  so they value the spiritual. And to value the spiritual is a holier attitude. What would we answer to those people who value death?

2. [21:9] “The daughter of a Kohen, if she becomes a prostitute…” The daughter of a Kohen who becomes a prostitute gets a very severe punishment. The Torah says that she has profaned her father, the Kohen. However, we say (Devarim 24:16) that everyone is judged in relation to his or her own life—not in relation to their children or parents. If so, why is the father seen in terms of the sins of his daughter, and therefore the daughter is punished with such severity?

3. [24:22] “…there will be one law for the convert and for the home-born…”   While we encourage everyone in the world to be moral and believe in God, we are quite strict about accepting people who want to convert to Judaism. Shouldn’t we be happy that someone wants to be part of the Torah and the Jewish people. Why are we so strict with potential converts?

4. [Pirkay Avot 4:1] “Who is rich? He who is happy with what he has.”  Many rich people would probably agree with this statement. If so, why do they continue pursuing wealth?

5. [Pirkay Avot 4:2] “…the reward for a mitzvah (a commandment) is another mitzvah.” Why is another mitzvah considered a reward for doing a mitzvah?

Commentary

When one is involved in Torah—in simple things—one sees how the elevated light comes down in such a wondrous way, and rests beautifully in the world of action. One’s mind expands because of the great splendour and the powerful life-force that flows from the source of the Holy of Holies…

–Rabbi 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 ZuckerThis 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

(Leviticus: 16:1-20:27)

(Haftara: Amos 9:7-15)     

(Pirkay Avot: Chapter 3)

1. [18:6] “Do not defile yourself with any of these things…” The Torah emphasizes sexual modesty and there are many rabbinic laws which distance us even more from immodesty. Some communities emphasize these laws, while others keep the laws, but don’t emphasize them as much. Some argue that putting constant emphasis on the laws of sexual immorality is counter-productive, because it causes people to think about sex more than they should. Do you agree or disagree with that thinking?

2. [19:11]  “…don’t lie to each other.”   Our tradition, however, tells us that for the sake of peace, one is allowed or even obligated to lie.  If a child breaks something in the house, and he or she lies about it, there will definitely be more peace at home. However, in most situations, he or she is not permitted to lie. In which situations is one permitted to lie, and in which situations is one not permitted to lie, for the sake of peace?

3[19:14] “Don’t curse the deaf, and don’t put an obstacle before the blind…”  The first commandment in this parsha is “Be holy”.  Cursing the deaf and many other acts are obviously not at all holy. Even an immoral person would agree that these are very depraved actions. Why did the Torah have to specify these actions? Why not just say “Be holy” and leave it at that?

4. [19:15] “Don’t twist judgment. Don’t favour the poor..”   Often,life itself,  has been unjust to the poor. Why can’t we try to correct this injustice in court? How can we try to correct this injustice outside of the courts?

5. [19:18] “…and love your fellow person like you love yourself “.   What is love?

Commentary

Through being joyful, a person can energize someone else and that is a very big thing. Most people are full of suffering and worries and different troubles and it is impossible for them to express what is in their hearts. When a person with a happy face comes along, he is able to energize them.

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

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

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

(Leviticus 12:1-15:33) (Haftara: Melachim II, 7:3-20)

 (Pirkay Avot: Chapter 2) (Sfirat Ha’omer)

Introduction: One becomes tameh (impure) in a number of ways: touching a dead human body, having one’s monthly period for a woman, letting out semen for a man, a woman’s giving birth, etc.  Becoming tameh basically means that there are holy activities that one may not do: entering the Temple area, eating the Kohen’s portion and so on. The skin disease of tzara’at is understood to come about as a result of speaking “lashon hara”—saying something bad about someone without any constructive purpose.

1. [13:2 ] “When a man will have a rising or a scab on the skin of his flesh…”   This parsha seems more like a detailed textbook for Kohanim, rather than something of interest to every Jew.  How is it relevant to everyone and what is it a metaphor for?

2. [Haftara Melachim II, 7:17 ]   “…the people trampled him in the gate and he died…”  The king’s officer was killed as a punishment for his being cynical when he heard the prophet’s words. Our tradition is very critical of cynicism and cynical people. Why is cynicism considered such a bad quality?

3. [Pirkay Avot 2:1]  “…what is the straight (or honest)  way that a person should choose…”    The mishna tells us that we should live our lives in such a way that we balance our own aspirations against other people’s expectations. Why is this called the “straight way”, rather than the “effective way” or the “happy way”?

4. [Pirkay Avot 2:1]   “Be as careful with a light mitzvah as you are with a heavy mitzvah…”  What can this mean?  Can you think of a scenario where a “light mitzvah (making a blessing on food, helping a person carry groceries)”  could have a major impact on someone’s life or on the world?

5. [Sfirat Ha’omer]   During Sfirat Ha’omer  we are commanded to count the days between Pesach and Shavuot. Some say that every day is a separate commandment, and some say that there is only one commandment to count 49 days between Pesach and Shavuot. What might be halachic (legal) or philosophical differences between these 2 approaches?

Commentary

The omer  which is offered on the 16th of Nissan is barley,  which was animal food in former times.  On Shavuot we offer bread which is food for people. Barley represents faith—that which is not open to human intellectual investigation.  Bread represents the human intellect.  We must develop total faith, and also total dedication to logic and  intellect.   In the personality of the Jew, both intellect and faith must be very strong and both must be practiced with total commitment.

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

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

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

(Leviticus: 9:1- 11:47)

(Haftara: Shmuel II: 6:1-7:17)

(Pirkay Avot: Chapter 1)

1. [Vayikra: 10:3] “And Moshe said to Aharon, “This is what God meant when He said, ‘Through those who are close to Me, I will be made holy…and Aharon was silent’ “.  Is Aharon silent because he was comforted, because he was angry or for some other reason. How can we understand Aharon’s silence?

2. [Haftara: Shmuel II, 6:14-16] “And David danced before God with all his strength…and Michal [his wife]…despised him in her heart”.  If it was really undignified for David to dance like this, why did he do it? What does this show about a Jewish king?

3. (Sfirat Ha’omer) In many of our prayerbooks, there is a prayer after we count the omer in which we try to correct one personality trait on each one of the days of the counting. Why do we work on one character trait each day? Couldn’t this fragment our personalities? Wouldn’t it be better to see our personalities as a whole and, in general, work to become better people?

4. [Pirkay Avot 1:1] “…he passed it on to Yehoshua…”    . [On each Shabbat between Pesach and Rosh Hashana 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.)  The first mishna tells us that the Torah is passed on from living person to living person. Why is it so important that our spiritual tradition is passed on from person to person, and not only through writings and ceremonies?

5.  [Pirkay Avot, Chapter 1, Mishna 1] …”set up many students…” This is Beit Hillel’s  opinion (Pirkay d’R. Eliezer), but Beit Shamai  believes that one should teach only the best and not waste energy on the weaker students. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each opinion? Which do you agree with?

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

(Deuteronomy 14:22/Numbers 28:19–25)
(Haftorah: Isaiah 10:32–12:6) / (Song of songs) / (Yizkor)

 1. [Chol Hamoed Pesach]  Chol Hamoed Pesach celebrates the crossing of the Red Sea, when

God split the sea for us. Our mystical texts tell us that at that time, God made the miracles happen even though we had not earned them–we didn’t deserve them. At others times, however, we get miracles because we deserve them. Which miracles are preferable–those that we deserve, or those that are pure kindness from God without us deserving them?

2. [Chol Hamoed Pesach]  The midrash tells us that God split the sea only after one brave (or desperate) person jumped into the Red Sea. This act prompted God to split the sea for us. What is this midrash trying to teach us?

3. [Chol Hamoed Pesach] We say Yizkor (a prayer for our deceased relatives) on the last day of Pesach and on the other festivals. Why do we remember our loved ones on our festivals?

4. [Shmini shel Pesach] We read the Song of Songs on the eighth and last day of Pesach. Our sages tell us that the love between a man and a woman represents the love between us and God. We experience love for many different people and things. Are all our “loves” different expressions of one love, or is every love different from other “loves”?

5. [Haftara Yishayahu 11:6] “The wolf will live with the lamb…”   This is a messianic vision of the time when there will be total peace in the world. Some say that it is a metaphor and others say that we should take this vision literally.  If there is total peace, will there be growth? Doesn’t our creativity need some tension in order to be effective?

Commentary

At two times of the year, a Jew is able to renew himself, so that it is as if he were newly born–on Yom Kippur and on Pesach. On Yom Kippur, it is through one’s own actions. Through tshuvah, one becomes fresh and new. On Pesach, the renewal is an act of love from God.

R. Sholom Noach Berezovsky, the Slonimer rebbe, 1911- 2000, 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

Parshat Vayakhel-Pekuday
(Exodus: 35:1-40:38)
Parshat Hachodesh
(Exodus 12:1-20)
(Haftara: Ezekiel 45:18-46:15)

1. [35:3] We are not permitted to light a fire on Shabbat (light a match, start a stove). What is Shabbat meant to do for us, and how could it be that the lighting of a fire would spoil the effect of Shabbat?

2. [36:9…] In the inner spiritual-psychological life, the mishkan (the tabernacle), represents the place where the pure service of God is done. In the light of this, why does the Torah tell us every small detail of the mishkan?

3. [40:36] The cloud on the mishkan represents the presence of God. When the cloud lifted, the Israelites traveled. How is there a presence of God in our lives? What does it mean in the inner spiritual-psychological life when we say that when the cloud lifts, we travel?

4. [Maftir, Parshat haChodesh: 12:6] The Israelites in Egypt were commanded to take a lamb on the tenth of the month of Nissan, and keep it until the fourteenth and then slaughter it. The lamb, however was an idol of the Egyptians. Isn’t this a very brazen act for a slave-people to do? Why would God command such brazenness?

5. [12:11] At the Passover meal in Egypt, one sat at the table in a state of “chipazon”—staff in hand, dressed, alert and ready to leave Egypt. What do alertness and energy have to do with the themes of Passover?

Commentary

[35:1] “And Moshe gathered the whole community of the children of Israel”.

The midrash tells us that before the sin of the golden calf, even an individual could build the mishkan (the tabernacle)—”…any person whose heart is willing…”.  However, after the sin of the golden calf, the mishkan could only be built with the power of the community–an individual was not strong enough.  As much as we value individual accomplishment, this comes to teach us how much greater is the power of a united community than the power of individuals.

–Shem mi’Shmuel– Rav Shmuel Bornstein: (1856-1926)–the Sochatchover Rebbe.

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

(Shmot 30:11-34:35)

(Haftara: Parah: Ezekiel 36:16-38)

(Shabbat Parah)

1. [32:19] “…and he threw the tablets from his hands and he broke them…” Although Moshe knew about the sin of the golden calf before he came down from the mountain, he still broke the tablets. [32:7,8].  The Sforno (1475-1550, Italy) says that when Moshe saw how happy the Israelites were, he got angry and threw the tablets down. The Rashbam (10851158, France).  says that Moshe lost his strength when he saw the worshippers and he threw the tablets so they wouldn’t fall on his feet when they dropped. Which of these explanations seems better to you?

2.  Rashi says that Aharon co-operated in making the calf because he was scared of being killed. The Ibn Ezra says that Aharon co-operated because he didn’t believe that the calf was idolatry. And if it were idolatry, he would not have done it, even under the threat of death. What is the difference between the way that each of the commentators sees Aharon? How would each viewpoint affect other stories of Aharon in the Torah?

3. [32:4] Rashi says that the “mixed multitudes”—the non-Israelites who also came out of Egypt–started the sin of the golden calf, and then lured the Israelites into doing the sin. The Torah does not specifically say this. We know that the Israelites are also capable of negative behaviour, so what does Rashi gain by blaming the “mixed multitudes”?

4. [Haftara: Ezekiel 36:21] “I took pity on my holy name… “ God says that He will return the Jews to their land, and in that way, He will save the honour of His holy name. When the Jews went into exile, how was His holy name desecrated, and how is His holy name honoured by the return of the Jews to the land of Israel? What if the Jews don’t act properly in their land—is there still honour?

5. [36:26] “I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh”.  What specific changes will happen to the individual and then to the nation as a whole, when this prophecy is realized?

Commentary

[32:26] “…whoever is for God, let him come to me, and all the sons of Levi gathered [to Moshe]”.  We know that many Israelites did not worship the golden calf. The sons of Levi were not the only ones. However, the others did not have the courage to actively oppose the wrong-doers. They wanted to remain uninvolved. They did not want arguments.  Only Levi actively opposed the evil. That’s why God says, “The Levi’im are mine. [Bamidbar 3:11]

–R. Yitchak Meir of Ger (1798-1866), 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 of Gad Eliahu ben David and Kochava–Eli Zucker