(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

(Leviticus: 6:1-8:36)     

(Shabbat Hagadol)

(Haftara: Malachi 3:4-24)

1. [3:17]  “…all chelev and all blood you will not eat.”  “Chelev” is a certain very fatty substance in the kosher animal which is forbidden to us. Rav Kuk tells us that chelev represents too much luxury. However, Jews are permitted to enjoy luxury. What is undesirable about too much luxury? How much luxury in one’s life is considered too much and therefore undesirable?

2. [Malachi 3:24] “He shall turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to their fathers…” This is a vision of the messianic future. In the present time, it seems to us that fathers love their children and children love their fathers. What does this pasuk mean? What will change in the messianic future?

3. [Pesach] In our prayers and in Kiddush, we often say “zecher l’yitziat mitzraim”–in memory of leaving Egypt. Why are liberation and freedom such central values to us. Shouldn’t we also mention justice, kindness, truth and awareness of God in Kiddush.

4. [Pesach] We drink four cups of wine at the Pesach seder because the Torah uses four words for different stages of the liberation process. We are joyful that we were liberated. Why are the different parts of the liberation process so important to us? Doesn’t this attention to examining details take away from our joy?

5. [Pesach]  One of the functions of the Pesach seder is to bring together all ages to learn and transmit our history. We have many customs which make the liberation experience more real and allow all ages to relate to each other and to the liberation experience. In our day, what experiences, discussions and actions could we add to unite all ages and make the experience of liberation very real?

Commentary

Ultimate freedom is relative to the light of supreme kindness. These qualities can only exist when one has purified one’s personality traits. This purity removes all jealousy from the heart…One becomes happy with oneself, defines oneself by one’s spirituality, and is not jealous of another’s physical or spiritual accomplishments.

–R. Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen 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

(Leviticus: 1:1-5:26)     

(Haftara: Isaiah: 43:21-44:23)

1. [Vayikra]  Many commentators believe that there will be animal sacrifices in the messianic Third Temple. Rav Kuk believes that there will be no animal sacrifices, but there will only be flour offerings. Why is it so important for the Jewish people and the individual Jew that there should be offerings offered at the Temple?

2. [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?

3. [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?

4. [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?

5. [Haftara: Isaiah 44:23] “Sing, heavens…shout, lowest parts of the earth…” All of creation will rejoice about the redemption—from the highest to the lowest. What does that fact tell us about the nature of the redemption?

Commentary

[1:9] “…a sweet smell for God.”

A smell can be sensed from far away, so anything that can be sensed before reaching it is called a “smell”.  The most important quality of a sacrifice is that the person who brings it should repent and improve his or her actions in the future. Without that desire for improvement, God says, “Of what use are all of your sacrifices (Isaiah 1:11). The “sweet smell” is the anticipation of the good actions in the future.

–R. Yitzchak Mayer of Gur, Poland, (1799-1866)

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

(Exodus: 35:1-40:38)

(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 Kornberg

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

(Exodus 30:11-34:35)

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

(Shabbat Parah)

1. [21:12]  “When you count the children of Israel… let each man give a ransom for his soul…so that there will not be a plague among them…”  Apparently, counting people (and sometimes other things) stops the flow of blessing to them. Our tradition tells us, “Blessing is not found onsomething which is counted”.  Why does counting people or some things stop them from being blessed? 

2. [30:38 ] “Whoever makes exactly like it [the incense of the Temple] in order to smell it will be cut off from his people.”    Whoever makes the incense for his own esthetic pleasure will be cut off.  We know, however, that in many ways we appreciate things that are pleasing to our senses.  Why is there such a severe punishment for someone who replicates the incense for his own use?

3. [Parshat Para]  We read Parshat Parah before the month of Passover in order to give us a feeling of purity.  In the days of the Temple, we had to be ritually pure in order to eat the Passover sacrifice.  We didn’t have to be ritually pure in order to hear the shofar or to sit in the sukkah. Why did someone have to be ritually pure in order to do the commandments of Passover properly?

4. [Haftara: Ezekiel 36:26] “I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh”.   This is a vision of the ideal time—the messianic time. Don’t we, ourselves, have to change our stone hearts into hearts of flesh? Why is heavenly help needed to bring about this transformation?

5. [Haftara: Ezekiel 36:36] “The nations will know …that I, God, have built the destroyed places, and planted that which was desolate… “   Apparently, people will rebuild everything, but the nations will know that this is a miracle from God.  If they see that people did the work and the reconstruction, how will they recognize that it is really a miracle from God?

Commentary

There is a type of person who loves to do good for others. Meeting with others brings him great joy. He greets the other with a happy face…and the greatest pain in his heart is that he may have caused pain to his friend or not been kind enough to him.

R. A. Y. Karelitz, the Chazon Ish, 1878-1953, Belarus 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

(Exodus: 27:21- 30-10)

(Shmuel I, 15:1-34)

(Parshat Zachor, Fast of Esther)

1. [28:3] “…to make him holy, to serve me.”  What is holiness? What does it mean to be holy? What does this phrase in our kedushah prayer mean: “Holy, holy, holy is God. The whole world is full of His glory”?

2. [28:3 ] “…to make him holy, to serve me.”  Rav Kuk (1865-1935, Lithuania, Israel) tells us that for some people serving God is like serving people. That is, it may be a great honour, but it also feels like a burden. For others, however, serving God is an act of freedom.  What does it mean to serve God  from a mentality of  freedom?

3. [Purim] On Purim, we are commanded to hear every word of Megillat Esther. On Shabbat, we are NOT commanded to hear every word of the Torah reading. Why is the megillah  reading different from the Shabbat reading?

4. On Purim, we are told that we should give charity to every person who asks—who puts out his or her hand. During the rest of the year, we are allowed to check people to see if they deserve the charity, but on Purim we are not permitted to question people in this way. Why is Purim different from  the rest of the year in relation to charity?

5. [Megillah of Purim 10:3]  “Because Mordechai…was accepted by most of his brothers…”  Mordechai had done so much to save the Jewish people. Why is it that he was accepted by most of his brothers, and not by all of them?

  Commentary

[Esther 2:11] “And each and every day Mordechai  walked in front of the yard of the women’s house to know how Esther was doing…”

Mordechai went to check on Esther every day for 4 or 5 years. This is really an amazing thing.  Mordechai, the tzaddik, did this because Esther was an orphan, and she was in distress. And because of the merit of his kindness and his concern,  Heaven sent miracles and Haman was beaten.

Sfat Emet,  R. Yehuda Arieh Leib Alter of Gur (1855-1905)

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 25:1-27:20)

(Kings I,  5:26-6:13)

1. In the mishkan, there were things that appealed to all of our senses. The menorah: sight; the bread: taste; the incense: smell; the songs of the Levites: hearing; leaning on the sacrifice: touch. If the mishkan is supposed to be such a spiritual and elevating experience, why are the physical senses such a large part of that experience?

2. Our rabbis tell us that the mishkan is a model of man. The aron represents the, intellect and the faculty of speech; the menorah, represents the eyes and the sense of sight; the table that held the “bread,” corresponds to the sense of taste; the altar for the ketoret, is the sense of smell; and the outer altar represent the digestive system and other “functional” organs. Where are the emotions and intuitions represented?

3. [25:8]  “Make for Me a tabernacle…”  Many of our commentaries tell us symbolic meanings of the furniture and the utensils of the mikdash.  There are, in fact, many fascinating symbolic meanings to many of the commandments. If a person doesn’t think of any symbolic meaning, but just does the commandment with awareness, but in a simple way, how much is he or she losing, or how much is he or she gaining?

 4. We are told that both the broken tablets of the ten commandments and the unbroken ones were in the Ark. What is the purpose of also keeping the broken ones?

 5. [Haftara] The mishkan in the wilderness was built with voluntary contributions [Shmot 25:2]. The Temple in Jerusalem was built with a compulsory “mas” a tax—men were compelled to do the work. The Temple could also have been built through volunteers. What are the social advantages of voluntary contributions and what are the social advantages of a tax—compulsory contributions?

Commentary

[25:2] “…and they should take a contribution for me.”

This pasuk should say, “They will give a contribution to me”. Why does it say “take” in the pasuk? When a person gives to God with pure motivation, he or she is really giving to themselves. God doesn’t need anything, so the person is really giving for his or her own good. The giving to God is really a taking for oneself.

–Sfas Emes, Rebbe Yehudah Leib Alter, (1847-1905), Ger, 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

(Shabbat Shekalim)

(Exodus 21:1-24:18)

(Haftara: Melachim 2, 11:17-12:17)

1. [21:1] “These are the laws that you will put in front of them.”  The Torah should say, “These are the laws that you will teach them” or “command them”. Why does the pasuk say: “…that you will put in front of them”?

2. [21:37] “…(the thief) will pay 5 cows for stealing a cow, and 4 sheep for stealing a sheep.”  The Talmud tells us that the Torah makes the thief pay more for stealing a cow because a cow can do work and the Torah is showing us that it values work. If the Torah values physical work so much, why isn’t there a commandment telling us that we must work physically?

3. [22:30] “And people of holiness you will be for me…”.  At the beginning of the book of Vayikra, the Torah says, “Be holy ones”. What is the Torah adding here by saying, “Be holy people…”?

4. [23:5 ] “If you see the donkey of someone who hates you weighed down by its load…help him.”   Some translate “your enemy” as “someone who hates you” and some say that it makes no difference whether you hate him or he hates you, you must help him.  What is the difference between these two translations?

5. [Shabbat shekalim]  On Shabbat shekalim, we read in the Torah about how everyone must give half a shekel for the tabernacle. The rabbis see this as a commandment that shows that everyone is equal. We know however, that people are not equal. Some are more intelligent, stronger, prettier, richer than others. In what way is everyone equal?

Commentary

The goal of the people of Israel in the world is not the spreading of ideas through teaching or openly expanding their influence.  But when the people of Israel keep faithfully to their unique attributes, this itself elevates mankind.

–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

(Numbers 18:1-20:23)

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

1. [9:13] “…when the ram’s horn sounds, they shall go up on the mountain”.  Rashi (our main commentator), quotes a midrash which says that this is the horn of the ram in the story of Yitzchak, when Avraham almost sacrificed Yitzchak. What does the revelation at Mount Sinai have in common with Yitzchak?

2. [19:17] “…and they stood under the mountain”. Rashi quotes a midrash which says that God held the mountain over the Israelites as a threat to force them to accept the Torah. This is understood to mean that the intensity of the experience forced them to accept the Torah, and this is understood to be a lower level than the free acceptance of the Torah. Why is total lack of doubt at Sinai considered a lower level?

3. [20:15] “And the entire nation saw the thunder and lightning and the sound of the horn…”  Rashi quotes a midrash that tells us that they saw that which is impossible to see. What does this fact add to the experience of Sinai?

4. [20:15] When God revealed himself at Sinai it was a very “loud” experience. When God revealed himself to Eliahu in the cave, it was a very “quiet” experience (Kings I, 19:11,12). Both seem to have been intense experiences. What is the difference between them, and which is the most effective?

5. [Haftara: Isaiah: 6:3] “Holy, holy, holy..the whole earth is full of His glory”.

How does God’s glory fill the whole earth?

Commentary

Shmot [18:5] : “…to the wilderness where he (Moshe) was camping there– to the mountain of God…”

Because he was staying there, it became the mountain of God. Through Moshe, the place became elevated until the Holy Presence of God rested there.   A person can be somewhere, and through his or her actions and attitudes, transform that location into a Godly place–a place where God is present.

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