Parshat Tzav

Learning Group– Parshat Tzav

(Leviticus: 6:1-8:36)

Shabbat Hagadol

(Haftara: Malachi 3:4-24)

1. Our holy books tell us that chametz—leaven—represents arrogance. On Pesach leaven is totally forbidden to us. Arrogance is totally undesirable to us, so why is leaven only forbidden on the week of Pesach. Why is it not forbidden all year round?

2. [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.

3. Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kuk (1865-1935—Lithuania, Israel) tells us that matzah represents freedom and marror (bitter herbs) represents the limitation to freedom because of listening to God. They are eaten together in korech (the sandwich) and this reminds us of the holy Temple–our ideal. Why do we call Pesach the “festival of freedom” if our freedom is limited?

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. [Malachi 3:24] In a messianic vision, we are told that “he shall turn the hearts of the father’s to the children and the hearts of the children to their fathers”. This seems to express the main change that will occur in the ideal world of the future. Why is this the major messianic image, and not Godly knowledge, political and spiritual independence or social justice?

Commentary

Leviticus 6:13: “…a tenth of an ephah of fine-flour for a meal offering…”

A regular Kohen brought a meal-offering only on the day that he began his work in the mishkan. However the High Priest brought a meal-offering every day. What does this difference suggest to us?

Someone who is on a higher spiritual level– his service is new every day. Every day is like his first day, and it is as if he is born anew.

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

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Parshat Vayikra

Learning Group– Parshat Vayikra

(Leviticus: 1:1-5:26)

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

1. [Leviticus 1:1…] Why are the details of every type of sacrificial offering so different? What type of personality is the Torah trying to develop by forcing us to focus so much on details?

2. [Pesach] Our rabbis tell us that chametz (leaven) represents arrogance. The removal of chametz from our lives is a metaphor for removing arrogance from ourselves. If so, why do we only remove the chametz for 1 week every year? Shouldn’t we distance ourselves from arrogance all year?

3. The Pesach seder is the main ceremony that we have for passing on our religious and historical tradition. Why is it so effective to teach the tradition around the dining –room table?

4. [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?

5. The month of Nissan is the first month of the Jewish year. Therefore, Pesach is the first festival of the Jewish year. Why is it appropriate that Pesach should be the first festival of the year?

Commentary

[1:3] “…he will offer it, for his good will, before God.”

The main purpose of a sacrificial offering is that a person should subjugate his will to the service of the Creator in such a way that all of his spiritual and physical powers should be used only for the will of God.

One should read the pasuk in the following way: “…he should offer his will for God”—his own will should just be an extension of the will of God”

–“Haktav Ve’hakaballah”—Rabbi Ya’akov Tzvi Mecklenberg (1785-1865) -Koenigsburg, Prussia.

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

 

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Parshat
Parshat Vayekhel-Pekuday

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

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The Golden Calf

Learning Group– Parshat Ki Tissa

(Shmot 30:11-34:35)

(Haftara: Parah: Ezekiel 36:16-38)

(Shabbat Parah)

1. [31:1] God called Betzalel ben Uri “by name” to use his talent for craftsmanship. What does it mean to be called “by name” and what does it mean to be called, but not “by name”?

2. [31:13] What does it mean that the Sabbath “is a sign (ot) between Me and you for all generations”?

3. [34:29] When did Moshe put the mask on and when did he take it off? Why would Moshe agree to be an intermediary between God and man? Isn’t this unacceptable to a Torah viewpoint?

4. [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?

5. [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?

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

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Tetzaveh
‘Aharon-Ha-Brit’

Learning Group– Parshat Tetzaveh

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

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Learning Group–Parshat Mishpatim

(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.” Rashi quotes R. Yochanan in the Talmud who says that God has mercy on a sheep thief because he humiliated himself by having to carry the sheep on his shoulders. A cow thief just walks out with the cow and there is no humiliation. The thief did not respect the owner of the sheep so why should the Torah worry about the thief’s honour?

3. [22:20] When the Torah tells us not to oppress the stranger, we are reminded that we were strangers in Egypt. In other commandments, we are not told to remember our own experiences. Why is this extra encouragement or motivation given with this commandment?

4. [23:5] “When you see your enemy’s donkey suffering under its load…” What quality of personality is the Torah trying to develop in us by telling us to help our “enemy”? Why is this quality worth developing?

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

[23:12] “…and on the seventh day you shall rest in order that your ox and your donkey should rest…”

You should rest and have peace on the Sabbath in such an intense way that you should influence everyone and everything in your environment. Everything around you should also be at peace.

–Rabbi A. M. Alter of Gur

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

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Learning Group– Parshat Yitro

(Numbers 18:1-20:23)

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

1. [18:14-18:25] Yitro, Moshe’s father-in-law, suggested to Moshe that Moshe should totally reorganize the Israelites? Moshe does this with God’s approval. Shouldn’t God have told Moshe to do this? Why did such a very important change come from Yitro and not from God?

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. [19:6] What do you think are the qualities of a “nation of priests; a holy nation”?

4. [20:1] The last Lubavitcher rebbe, R. Menachem M. Schneersohn said that each of the 10 commandments was a greater revelation of Godliness than the previous one. How can one understand this statement? Is “Don’t be jealous…” a greater revelation of Godliness than “Keep the Shabbat” or “I am the Lord, your God”?

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

“I am always afraid to be more clever than I am religious. I would rather be religious than clever. But better than both religious or clever, I would like to be good.”

–R. Pinchas Shapira, 1726-1791, Koretz, Poland.

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

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Parshat Beshalach
Parshat Beshalach

(Exodus 13:17-17:16)

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

)Shabbat Shira)

(Tu B’shvat)

1. [14:12-14] The Israelites are brought to a situation of great fear and stress before God saves them. God could have just done a miracle and saved them. What is gained by bringing the Israelites to such a crisis?

2. [14:28] The midrash tells us that when the Egyptian soldiers were drowning, the angels were singing joyfully. God told them to stop because “my creations are drowning”. Why did God allow the Israelites to sing joyfully?

3. [15:1] “Then Moshe and the Israelites sang this song to God…” It seems that they sang spontaneously. If we hadn’t been exposed to music from early childhood, would music come naturally to us? Why is it that music has the power to express our emotions better than words?

4. [15:2] “…this is my God and I will make him beautiful (ve’anvayhu)…” “Neve” in Hebrew also means home. Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch understands the word “ve’anvayhu” as the idea that my body should be a suitable place for God–God should have a home in one’s life and one’s body. How can one make one’s body and one’s life a suitable place for God?

5. [Tu B’Shvat] When we make blessings before eating fruit and other foods, we make the blessing which is specific to that family of food. There is one blessing, however, that could apply to every food—”Blessed are You..that everything exists through His word. If one blessing is acceptable for every food, why do we try so hard to make the specific blessing?

Commentary

This is the mystery of the oneness of God. Wherever I take hold of a little bit of it, I take hold of all of it. And since the Torah and all the commandments are radiations of His Being, so whoever does a commandment with sincerity and love, and takes hold of a tiny bit of the oneness of God, has really taken hold of all of it.

–The Ba’al Shem Tov, 1698-1760, Ukraine.

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

1. [1:10] “…and make war with us and leave the land.” It seems that Pharoah did not want the Israelites in Egypt, but also didn’t want them to leave. What did he want? How do you understand this pasuk?

2. [2:10] “…because I pulled him out of the water.” What quality did Pharoah’s daughter show by pulling him out of the water, and how might this choice of name have affected the development of Moshe’s personality?

3. [2:23] 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 Torah speaks both on the physical and the spiritual level. On an individual spiritual level, when a person screams out of his or her pain, why is that the beginning of their redemption?

4. [4:10] Moshe says that he is not fit for the mission of taking the Israelites out of Egypt because he has some kind of speech impediment. Later his speech seems to be fine and we are never told how he improved. What might have caused the improvement in Moshe’s speech?

5. (Haftara: Isaiah 27:12) When Isaiah speaks of the final redemption, he says that we will be “gathered one by one”. Why not in groups? What does this phrase tell us about the final redemption?

Commentary

[2:10] “…and she called his name Moshe, and she said, “Because I pulled him out of the water”.

From here you can understand how great is the reward for those who do acts of kindness. Although Moshe had many names, the name by which he is known throughout the Torah is the one which Batyah, the daughter of Pharaoh, called him, and even God called him by the same name.

–Midrash Rabbah

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