(Numbers 18:1-20:23)

(Haftara: Isaiah 6:1-7:6, 9:5,6)

1. [19:5] “…you will be my own treasure from among all the nations…”  On the one hand, we are told that we are God’s special nation.  On the other hand we are commanded to be humble and not feel superior to people.  How can we resolve this contradiction?

2. [20:2]  “I am the Lord your God…”  Traditionally, we say that this is the first of the commandments and we are being commanded to believe in God. R. Chasdai Crescas (Spain, 1300’s) says that if we are listening to the ten commandments, then obviously, we believe in the One who commands—we don’t need a commandment to believe.  Do you think that it is appropriate to command people to believe in God?

3. [20:12] “Honour your father and your mother…” R. Chaim Falagi (1820, Turkey) says that we don’t need a commandment to honour our parents. That comes natural to us. This commandment is telling us that if we have unreasonable or disturbed parents, we must also honour them. Do you agree with his interpretation?

4. [20:12] “Honour your father and your mother…”   We are commanded to “love your neighbour as yourself”.  Doesn’t that include honouring? Are there limits on honouring someone other than one’s parents? Why is there a special commandment to honour one’s parents?

5. [Haftara: Yeshayahu 6:9]  “…you hear but you don’t understand. You see, but you don’t really know.”  If they already see and hear, but don’t really understand,  what can a prophet do for them? Don’t they need a leader to re-educate them, rather than a prophet to again tell them that they are doing wrong? What can a prophet do for them?

Commentary

Faith is pure when it is full of inner feelings without self-deception and without ulterior motives…Someone who is intelligent will not be content without rational thinking.  For him, a genuine faith will not be real unless it is illuminated by reason.

–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

( Shmot 13:17–17:16)

(Haftara: Judges 4:4-5:31)

1. [14:15] “…why are you crying to me…travel.”  The Talmud tells us that God desires the prayers of righteous people. If so, then why does God tell Moshe not to pray here? When are prayers desirable to God and when are they not appropriate?

2. [14:21] “…God sent a strong east wind the whole night…”  Many in our tradition have said that God prefers to act in the world through nature, rather than through miracles. Here also, God could have split the sea in one instant. Why did God prefer to do it in this more natural way?

3. [16:4] “…a day’s portion every day…” This pasuk seems to say that being able to live each day, without worrying about tomorrow, is a major principle in serving God. What is so important about this quality?

4. [16:32]  “…let the quantity of an omer be kept throughout the generations…”  What is so special about the “mun” that it should be saved for all generations?

5. [Haftara] The midrash says that the redemption from Egypt was because of the merits of the Israelite women. In the haftara, we hear about Devorah the prophet, and Yael’s killing of the enemy general, Sisera. If women are so important to us, why don’t they have more of a leadership role among the Israelites in the desert and afterwards?

Commentary

The fact that people are far from God and don’t get close to God is only because people don’t have presence of mind and don’t relax themselves. The main thing is to try to relax oneself and to ask, “What is the purpose of all the physical pleasures and all the physical pursuits of this world—whether they  have to do with the body or with matters outside the body, like being honoured by others.

If one thinks in this way, one will certainly return to God.

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

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

( Exodus 10:1-13:16)

(Haftara:  Jeremiah 46:13-28)

1.  [10:3]  “…this is what the Lord, God of the Hebrews said…”   The first pasuk in this parsha, tells us that part of God’s plan was to make Himself known to the Egyptians and to the rest if the world.  If so, shouldn’t Moshe and Aharon have called God “the God of the whole world”? Why is He called the “God of the Hebrews”?

2. [10:12, 13]  “And God said to Moshe, ‘Stretch out your hand’…”  “…And Moshe raised his staff on the land of Egypt…”  God told Moshe to extend his hand, but Moshe raised his staff. Why didn’t Moshe just stretch his hand and  why does the staff  have such an important role in the plagues and afterwards?

3. [10:19] “And God brought a very strong west wind which removed the locusts…”  The plagues are obvious miracles. Why does God sometimes use natural means to bring them or remove them? They should also be removed through miracles.

4. [12:11] “…and you shall eat it in haste..”  “Haste” or “energy” is a value in a Torah way of life. But being quiet and at ease is also a value [Jeremiah 46:27].  Does being hasty and energetic contradict the notion of being relaxed and at ease?

5. [Jeremiah 46:26]…and afterwards, it will be inhabited as in the old days…”  Other nations will be destroyed, but Egypt will be restored. In spite of all the suffering that Egypt brought on the Israelites, Egypt will be restored. What merit does Egypt have to be dealt with more positively than the other nations?

Commentary

The general idea of striving for equality, which is the basis of kindness and the pure love of people…is shown in the great vision of transforming everything to full and absolute holiness, in a gradual increase of love, peace, justice, truth and compassion.

–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 to the memory of Sarah Beila Kummer bat Yitzchak and Chana, Chaim Yosef Yechiel ben Eliyahu Kummer and Eliyahu and Margaret Kummer

(Numbers 6:2-9:35)

(Haftara: Ezekiel 28:25-29:21)

1. [6:3] “I appeared to Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’akov as “El Shadai, but my name…”  The different names of God are different revelations of the one God.  What does it mean that there are different revelations of God? Do people also show different revelations of themselves to other people?

2. [6:4] “I set up my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan…”  The land of Canaan (Israel) is on a trading route between Africa, Europe and Asia. It is a crossroads of different cultures. Why is this crossroads a suitable place for a development of God’s society of Torah?

4. [7:5] “…and I took the children of Israel out…” The Chassidic texts tell us that there were sparks of Godliness trapped in Egypt and Israel went down to Egypt in order to raise up the sparks. The sparks are the potential for Godliness which is hidden and trapped. What everyday acts of ours bring Godly potential into expression.

1. [7:17] “…and the water will turn to blood.”    Blood is a recurring image in the Torah. We may not drink blood. We may not have sexual relations after a woman’s period. We sprinkle blood of sacrifices etc. What does blood represent to us?

2. [Haftara: Yechezkel 29:3] “Pharoah…the big dragon that lies in the middle of his rivers, who said to me, ‘ I made it for myself’.”  This is how God describes Pharoah.  Pharoah is self-centered and selfish. In Pirkay Avot, it says, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me…? (Pirkay Avot 1:14)  What is so bad about being selfish and self-centered?

Commentary

The Messiah will judge each person in such a favourable light, that the light of goodness in that person will awake…The most successful way to bring a person back to God is through encouragement and praise. 

–R. Ya’akov M. Shechter, born 1932, Jerusalem.

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

(Exodus 1:1 –6:1)

(Haftara: Isaiah 27:6- 28:13, 29:22,23)

1. [1:21] “…because the midwives feared God, He [he] made them  houses.”  There are two main explanations of this pasuk. One is that God made houses for the mid-wives as a reward for their devotion to God. The other is that Pharoah made houses for Egyptians among the Israelite houses, so that the Egyptians could hear that a new  Israelite baby was born, and they could inform the authorities. From the context of the pasuk (what comes before and after), which of these explanations seems like the better one?

2. [2:23] “…the Israelites sighed because of the work, and screamed…”  When the Israelites screamed, God heard them and the redemption started. The Torah does not say that they screamed to God, but only that they screamed. The screaming was preceded by sighing. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov tells us that a heartfelt sigh is a very precious thing. (Others disagree.) Why are a sigh and a scream so beneficial to a person?

3.  [3:2] “…the bush burned with fire and the bush was not consumed.”  God could have revealed Himself in many ways. Why did God reveal Himself with this rather small miracle?

4. [Haftara: Isaiah 27:12] “…and you will be gathered one by one…”  When Isaiah speaks of the final redemption, he says that we will be “gathered one by one”.  Where in our laws and customs do we see that the individual is very important in our tradition?

5. [Haftara: Isaiah 28:5]  “On that day, the God of hosts will be a crown of glory…”  What does it mean that God will be a “crown of glory” for us?

Commentary

The dynamic expression of the universal, divine psyche will be revealed in every cultivated soul . It will express itself in vision and in song. Its impact will be felt everywhere. At first it will make itself felt among the people of Israel, and before long, it will also be felt throughout mankind…all that has been forgotten will be recalled; and the joy of heaven and earth will return…

–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 to the memory of Sarah Beila Kummer bat Yitzchak and Chana, Chaim Yosef Yechiel ben Eliyahu Kummer and Eliyahu and Margaret Kummer

(Genesis-47:28-50:26)

(Haftara: Kings I 2:1-12)

 1. [49:3] “Reuven, myfirst-born, you are my strength and the beginning of my power…”  Why is Ya’akov’s first born called thebeginning of his power?  How do one’schildren bring him or her power?

2. [49:7] “Let their anger be cursed…I will disperse them in Ya’akov and scatter them in Israel.”  Ya’akov thinks that violence will be reduced by scattering Shimon and Levi. However,perhaps violence will increase by their contact and influence on more people.Why would Ya’akov think that by spreading them around, their violence would be reduced?

3. [49:20] “From Asher will come the fattest bread, he will provide the king’s delights.”  This is Asher’s complete blessing. Asher will have very tasty food and give it to others.  How is this a serious blessing or even a serious description. Is there a symbolic meaning here which points to something spiritual? What is the meaning of this blessing?

4. [49:28]  “And he blessedthem–each person according to his blessing…”   Many of these

blessings seem more like Ya’akov telling his sons about their true nature.  How can telling a person about his true nature be a blessing?

5. [Melachim 1, 2:7]  “Showkindness to the sons of Barzilai…”   David asks Shlomo to be kind to those who showed kindness to David. Pay back the kindness. But David knows that real kindness does not want to be repaid.  Why is this so important that it is among David’s last words to his son?

Commentary

An illumination constantly flows from the source of the Torah.  It brings light from the highest realm of the Divine. It includes within it the values of the spiritual and the material, the temporal and the eternal, the ethical and the practical, the individual and thegroup, the smallest details and the cosmic truths.  These bring life to all who are in contact with them, and guard them in their purity.

–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 to the memoryof Sarah Beila Kummer bat Yitzchak and Chana, Chaim Yosef Yechiel ben EliyahuKummer and Eliyahu and Margaret Kummer

(Genesis-44:18-47:27)

(Haftara: Ezekiel 37:15-28)

  1. [45:3] After Yehudah’s speech, Yosef suddenly tells his brothers that he is Yosef. What did Yehudah say that convinced Yosef to reveal his identity after all this time?
  2. [46:1] “…and he offered sacrifices to the God of his father, Yitzchak.” Why did Ya’akov offer sacrifices to the God of his father Yitzchak. Why doesn’t the pasuk say that he offered sacrifices to his own God?
  3. [47:9] “…few and bad were the days of my life…” Ya’akov sees his life as having been worthless.  However, the midrash sees Ya’akov as being the greatest of our forefathers.  What makes Ya’akov so great?
  4. [Yechezkel 37:15] “And the word (or thing) of God came to me saying.” When a prophet hears “the word (or thing) of God”, what does he hear or experience?  If it is a voice, is it a man’s voice or a woman’s voice, young or old?  The message seems to be in words. How does the prophet experience this?
  5. [Haftara: 37:24] “…and they shall all have one shepherd…” In another messianic vision, we are told that “all your children will be taught by God” (Yeshayah 54:13)—everyone will have a direct relationship with God. Here, we are told that there will be one leader on the model of a shepherd. If everyone will have a direct relationship with God, why is there a need for a shepherd-like leader?

Commentary

[45:13] “Tell my father about all the honour I receive in Egypt”.

Tell my father that I have reached the stage where I can get honour from people without it disturbing my service of God.  The honour I get is meaningless to me and does not affect me at all.

–R. Simcha Bunim of Peshischa (1765-1827)

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

(Genesis-41:1-44:17)

(Chanukah)

  1. [41:51] “And to Yosef were born 2 sons…” Yosef named his first son Menashe because “God made me forget…my father’s house”, and he named his second son Ephraim because “God has made me prosper” in Egypt.  Yosef seems to be quite happy to be in Egypt. How would that attitude affect the way that he treated his brothers? Later he treated his brothers well. When his attitude to his family changed, did his attitude to Egypt also change?
  1. [42:6] “Yosef was the ruler of the land and Yosef sold grain to the people.” Why did he sell the grain himself, if he was the ruler? The Gaon of Vilna says that Yosef represents an ideal Jewish personality in times of struggle. In what ways is Yosef an ideal Jewish personality?
  1. [Chanukah] We have a rule that if all the people are impure, then pure oil is not needed for the menorah in the Temple. Therefore, the search for pure oil was unnecessary, and the miracle of the oil was unnecessary. Does that mean that Chanukah was unnecessary? What are we supposed to learn from the festival of Chanukah?
  1. [Chanukah] Chanukah celebrates the miracle of the oil and the miracle of the war. What are the differences between these two miracles? Is one more of a miracle than the other?
  1. [Chanukah] In the Talmud, we are told that Hillel says that on the first night of Chanukah, we light 1 candle and we add a candle each night, so that we light 8 candles on the last night. Shamai says that we start with 8 candles on the first night and take a candle away each successive night. Some explain this as: Hillel begins with the present and goes toward the potential–the ideal, while Shamai says that one starts with the ideal–the potential and brings it into the present. How can we see each different attitude in everyday life?

Commentary

The flame of the Chanukah candle…represents for us all the lights that have to shine for the nation: the light of Torah, the light of prophecy, the light of wisdom, the light of justice, the light of strength, the light of joy, the light of kindness, the light of love and so on. Before one recognizes the elevated purpose of life, all the lights seem separate…but in the future when there will be clear understanding, all the separate lights will be one light.

–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 to the memory of Sarah Beila Kummer bat Yitzchak and Chana, Chaim Yosef Yechiel ben Eliyahu Kummer and Eliyahu and Margaret Kummer

(Genesis-37:1-40:23)

(Haftara: Amos 2:6-3:8)

  1. [37:5] Yosef’s brothers hated him because Yosef was his father’s favourite son. [37:4] Then Yosef told them about his dreams in which his brothers bowed down to him. This is strange behaviour. The Chezkuni (France, 1250) says that by doing this, Yosef hoped that his brothers would hate him less. How could he have expected that they would hate him less?
  1. [37:13] Ya’akov sent Yosef to find his brothers. This was immediately after Ya’akov seemed to be angry with Yosef. [37:10] Are there any hints in the rest of the story that Yosef suspected Ya’akov of conspiring with the brothers against him.?
  1. [38:1] King David is a descendant of Yehudah and Tamar and he is also a descendant of Lot and his daughter. King David is the ancestor of the Messiah. Why does the Messiah have so much sexual sin in his ancestry?
  1. [39:10] “…he didn’t listen to her to lay with her…” Yosef is considered a person of great self-control. He is considered a prince among his brothers. Yehudah is also considered a prince among the tribes. But in this story about Yehudah and Tamar, Yehudah does not seem to have self-control. What happens in this story with Tamar that shows that Yehudah has great nobility of character? Is that enough reason for him be a prince among his brothers?
  1. [Amos 3:2] “You only have I known of all the families of the earth. Therefore I will bring upon you all your sins.” Because God is closer to us he makes us suffer for our sins. Is this fair?

Commentary

[37:14] “Go now and see about the peace (the wholeness) of your brothers.”

Ya’akov was telling Yosef to look at the complete aspects (shlaymut) of his brothers. He was telling him to look at the positive and Godly qualities in his brothers. In this way, they would avoid arguing.

–R. Simcha Bunim of Pszycha – 1765-1827

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

(Genesis-32:3-36:43)

(Haftara: Hoshea 11:7-12:13)

  1. [32:12] “Save me, please from the hand of Esav, from the hand of my brother…” Why is there a repetition here? The hand of Esav is the hand of his brother. Rashi explains that Esav is not acting like a brother. Rabbenu Bechaya explains that Ya’akov means, “Save me in the present and also for future generations”. Which of these is a better explanation? Is there a simpler explanation?
  1. [32:25] “And Ya’akov remained alone”. Rashi says that Ya’akov remained alone because he forgot some jars and went back for them. Ya’akov is considered in many ways to be the greatest of the 3 fathers. Why is a tzaddik so concerned with physical property?
  1. [32:27] “I will not let you go until you bless me.” Some explain that the angel represents the negative aspects of Ya’akov’s personality. Ya’akov won the fight with the angel, but he was wounded in the thigh. What might this mean on a spiritual-psychological level?
  1. [32:28] “Your name will no longer be called Ya’akov, but rather Yisrael, because you wrestled with God and with people and you won.” The Jewish people are called “Yisrael”. How do we wrestle with God and with people?
  1. [32:32] “Therefore the people of Israel do not eat the “gid hanasheh” which is in the thigh until the present day…” Like matzah on Pesach, this is supposed to remind us of this historical event. What are we supposed to learn from the fact that Ya’akov wrestled with the angel and won?

Commentary

[32:13] “…he took from that which came to his hand as a gift for Esav…”

When a person takes the first thing that comes to his hand, he is giving a gift to Esav. When a person doesn’t pay attention to his actions, but rather just does the first thing that comes to mind, then he is strengthening  the qualities of  uncontrolled appetite and mental and emotional sloppiness in himself and in the world.

–based on R. Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, the Kotzker Rebbe (17871859), Poland.

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