(Exodus 13:17-17:16)

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

)Shabbat Shira)

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…”  God could have split the sea in one instant. Why did God want to do it in this more natural way?

 3. [15:1] “I will sing to God, because He is exalted…”  The Kabbalistic thinkers tell us that God does not really need our praises. So why do we praise God so often in our prayers and in our lives?

4. [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?

5. [17:16] “…God makes war with Amalek in every generation”.  Amalek came especially from far away to make war, and they attacked the weakest of the Israelites. What does Amalek represent to us that would make God “make war with Amalek in every generation”?

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 Rivkah Rochel bat Ya’akov haLevi and Chaya Kornberg, and Yechiel Eliezer ben Yitzchok Meir and Rochel Laya Kornberg

And to the memory of Gad Eliahu ben David and Kochava–Eli Zucker

(Numbers 10:1-13:16)

(Haftara:  Jeremiah 46:13-28)

1. [10:1] : “And God said to Moshe ‘Come to Pharaoh’…” Why does God say “Come to Pharaoh” instead of “Go to Pharaoh”?

2. [12:9] “Don’t eat it raw or boiled…”  The last thing that the Israelites were supposed to do in Egypt was to have a meal and eat the Passover lamb quickly, with one’s shoes on and a staff in one’s hand. A number of detailed instructions were involved in this meal. What effect would all of these detailed commandments have on the Israelites? Why is this a good introduction to leaving Egypt?

3. [12:19] “…anyone who eats leavened products, that soul shall be cut off from             the community of Israel…” The punishment that the Torah gives for eating bread or other leavened products on Passover is much more severe than the punishment for eating pig or eating a mixture of milk and meat. Why is this sin so much more serious?

4. [12:38]  “And a mixed multitude also went up with them…” The “mixed multitude” were a bad influence on the Israelites later. Why did Moshe allow non-Israelites to also leave with the Israelites?

5. [12:46] “…and don’t break the bone.”  Why was it forbidden to break any of the bones of the Passover sacrifice while eating it?

Commentary

Whoever thinks that he can repair the world with his actions, but does not know the value of his own soul or the value of spirituality—he has deluded himself.  But whoever knows that every ethical act, every good personal quality, every worthwhile learning…and even a pleasant conversation elevates the spirituality in his soul…his mind expands and he constantly gets closer to the truth.

–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 to the memory of Gad Eliahu ben David and Kochava–Eli Zucker

(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 Rivkah Rochel bat Ya’akov haLevi and Chaya Kornberg, and Yechiel Eliezer ben Yitzchok Meir and Rochel Laya Kornberg

And to the memory of Gad Eliahu ben David and Kochava–Eli Zucker

(Exodus 1:1 – 5:23)

(Haftara: Yirmiahu 1-2:3)

1. [1:12]  “…the more they caused them to suffer, the more they grew…”  What is the nature and the source of this quality of the Jewish people that the more we are oppressed, the stronger we become?

2. [3:2] “…the bush burned with fire and the bush was not consumed.”  If God had revealed Himself in a more impressive way, Moshe might have been more eager to accept God’s mission. Why did God reveal Himself to Moshe in a bush?

3. [3:14] God tells Moshe to tell the Israelites that His name is “Ehyeh asher ehyeh”—usually translated as “I will be what I will be”. Why would God want to be known by this name?

4. [Haftara: Yirmiahu 1:11]  “…I see a rod of an almond tree (shaked)…I watch (shoked) over My word to do it”.    God wanted to tell Yirmiahu that God keeps His word. God could have said that. What purpose is served by sending Yirmiahu a vision of an almond tree?

5.  [Haftara: Yirmiahu 2:2] “You went after me into the wilderness, into a land that was not sown.”  Here, the Jews are praised for trusting God in an unknown situation. Avraham is also praised for trusting God even though he did not know his destination (Breishit 12:1).  After Mount Sinai, the Torah seems very clear and predictable. Where in our lives do we follow God into unknown situations?

Commentary

[Exodus 1:1] “And these are the names of the children of Israel.”

Rashi: (This is written) “to make known His love—that they are compared to stars.”

The Israelites should know that God loves them, and just like He created the stars in order that they should light up the night–  so also He created Israel so that they should spread the light of God and and make it enter the darkest and lowest places.

–The Sfat Emet– Reb Yehuda Leib Alter of Gur—19th century

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 to the memory of Gad Eliahu ben David and Kochava–Eli Zucker

(Genesis-47:28-50:26)

(Haftara: Kings I  2:1-12)

1. [48:15]   “…God, whom my fathers walked in front of…”   Ya’akov says that his forefathers walked in front of God.  Noach, however, walked with God [6:9].  What is the difference between walking “in front of God”, and walking “with God”?

2. [48:19 ]   “And his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know…”  There are rabbis who say that this speech of Ya’akov’s shows a new self-confidence.  Throughout his life, he was much less sure of himself, and here he reaches a final maturity.  Do you agree that this sentence is so important?

3. [48:22]  “…I saved them from the hand of the Amorite with my sword and my bow”.    The Aramaic translation of Onkelos translates “my sword and my bow” as “my prayer and my request”.  Why is prayer compared to a sword and a bow? 

4. [50:10] “…and they mourned there a very great and very heavy mourning.”  The mourning for Ya’akov lasted about 3 months and was very intense.  The mourning for the other forefathers and mothers was not nearly as intense.  Why was the mourning for Ya’akov’s death so severe?

5. [Haftara: Melachim I, 2:7 ] “Show kindness for the sons of Barzilai the Gileadite and let them be among those that eat at your table…”   King David could have told Shlomo, his son, to make sure that Barzilai’s children are always financially stable, or that they are always protected.  Why is the greatest kindness expressed by the fact that they will eat at Shlomo’s table?

Commentary

In this concluding sedrah of Genesis, we see the sunset of Jacob’s career…Esau, Dinah, Joseph—what a world of strife and suffering and anguish did each of these tragedies bring him—and yet he dies blessing…he possesses the rare art of extracting good from every buffeting of Destiny.  He errs and he stumbles, but he ever rises again; and on the anvil of affliction his soul is forged.

—-R. Yosef Tzvi Hertz, 1872-1946, England.

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

(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?
  • [45:5-8] Yosef  does not blame his brothers at all for selling him into Egypt. He says that it was God who really sent him. If he really believes that, then why did Yosef make so many problems for his brothers in Egypt?
  •  [46:29] Rashi, our main commentator (1040-1105—France), quotes a midrash which tells us that when Ya’akov met Yosef, Ya’akov said the “Shma” (Listen, Israel, God, our Lord, God is One), while Yosef cried and hugged Ya’akov. After all the years that Ya’akov cried and longed for Yosef, why wasn’t he more emotional when he finally was reunited with him?
  •  [47:9] When Yosef introduces Ya’akov, his father, to Pharoah,  Pharoah asks Ya’akov how old he is. Ya’akov answers, and then continues to say that his life has been bad. This is unusual. Why did Ya’akov  tell Pharoah that he has had a bad life, even though he had not been asked about his life?
  • [48:16] In the next parsha Ya’akov blesses Yosef’s children. He begins by saying, “The angel who redeemed me from all evil…” In other words, my life was good. This contradicts what Ya’akov said previously. Was his life really bad or was it really good? How can this contradiction be explained?

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 Rivkah Rochel bat Ya’akov haLevi and Chaya Kornberg, and Yechiel Eliezer ben Yitzchok Meir and Rochel Laya Kornberg

And to the memory of Gad Eliahu ben David and Kochava–Eli Zucker

(Genesis-41:1-44:17)

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

(Chanukah)

1. [42:7] “…and he made himself strange to them and spoke with them roughly…” What did Yosef hope to achieve by pretending that he didn’t recognize his brothers, and by causing them distress?

2. [42:36] “…you have bereaved me, Yosef is no longer alive…”  Yosef was Ya’akov’s favourite son and Yosef had a position of power in Egypt. Why didn’t Yosef inform his father that he was alive in order to save his father from further grief?

3. [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.  In addition to this, even though 1 candle per household is enough, the Jews light an extra candle every night. What is so special about Chanukah (which is a rabbinic mitvah) that  would prompt us to go so far beyond the minimum requirements for the commandment?

4. [Chanukah]  Fire has a major place in many of our commandments and customs—Shabbat candles, Havdalah, Chanukah, Lag ba’Omer.  What does fire represent to us?

5. The Rambam, Maimonides, (1135-1204, Spain and Egypt) says that the lighting of the Chanukah candles is a very precious commandment. He says this only about Chanukah and not about the other festivals.  What makes Chanukah more special than other festivals.

Commentary

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. Shammai says that we start with 8 candles on the first night and take a candle away each successive night. Hillel’s reason is that we always try to go higher in holiness and not lower.  This rule is applied to all possible situations—especially to social and spiritual issues. We always try to go higher in holiness.

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 to the memory of Gad Eliahu ben David and Kochava–Eli Zucker

(Genesis-37:1-40:23)

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

1. [ 37:1] “And Ya’akov lived in the land of his father’s dwellings…”  After God changed Avram’s name to Avraham and Sarai’s name to Sara, they were no longer called by their previous names.  Why is it that after Ya’akov receives the new name Yisrael, he is still often called Ya’akov?

2. [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?

3. [37:9]   “And they said to each other, “Here comes the dreamer.”    There is an approach in learning the Torah which says that we must see our forefathers as always having good and proper motivations.  The midrash echoes this approach when it tries to justify Yosef’s brothers by saying that they thought that Yosef was planning a type of spiritual murder against them. Another approach says that our forefathers were very God-conscious, but also had negative feelings and motivations at times. Which approach do you prefer in reading the Chumash?

4. [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?

5. [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

[39:2] “And God was with Yosef, and he was a successful person, and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian.”

There are people who serve God in a better way when they are poor—when life is difficult.  They strongly feel what they are missing and they become attached to God by asking for their needs. There are other people who serve God better when they are comfortable, but when life is hard, they lose their direction. Yosef, however, served God when life was easy and when life was difficult. God was with him both when he was a successful person and when he was a slave in an Egyptian’s house.

–Da’at zekainim , ba’alei tosfot (the grandsons and students of Rashi –1100’s and 1200’s)

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

(Genesis-32:3-36:43)

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

1. [32:4 ] “And he sent ‘malachim’ ahead of himself to Esav, his brother…”   The word “malachim” can mean either messengers or angels. Rashi says that Ya’akov sent real angels to Esav, but the Ibn Ezra (Spain, 1089-1167) says that he sent human messengers. Why does Rashi prefer to make the story more supernatural?  How does the story change according to each of the two different interpretations?

2. [32:7] “And Ya’akov was very frightened and terrified…”  Ya’akov initiated this meeting with Esav. He didn’t have to do it. Why is he willing to suffer this much fear in order to meet his brother?

3. [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?

4.  [33:10] “…I have seen your face like seeing the face of God and you liked  me.”  After wrestling with God (or a strong entity) Ya’akov said, “I have seen God face to face [32:31].” What does it mean to him to see God?  What does it mean to him to see Esav like seeing God?

5. [Hoshea 11:9]  “…I will not return to destroy Ephraim because I am God and not man…”  What does God mean when He says, “I will not destroy because I am God and not man”?  In the Torah, there are many times when God destroys.

Commentary

[33:18] “And Ya’akov arrived at the city of Shchem shalem (whole or perfected)”.

After Ya’akov’s struggle with the angel, and with Esav and his other struggles, he achieved wholeness. A person with proper motivations is strengthened by his trials and struggles. Overcoming his difficulties is what brings about his spiritual development.

–R. Yehudah Aryeh Leib of Ger, the Sfas Emes, Poland, 1847-1905.

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

(Genesis-28:10-32:3)

(Haftara: Hoshea 12:13-14:10)

1. [28:12]  “…a ladder was standing on the ground and its head reached Heaven…”  One interpretation of this prophetic dream is that this represents a  Jew’s ideal frame of mind– feet on the ground, but head in spirituality.  Others say that the ideal is to always be spiritual and not relate much to this world.  Which do you think is the Jew’s ideal state of mind?

2. [29:25] Lavan tricked Ya’akov by giving him Laya as a wife instead of Rachel. Then Lavan told Ya’akov that he must work 7 more years for Rachel. Ya’akov did not protest. Does this show his righteousness, or is it a flaw in his character?

3.  [29:32]  “…now my husband will love me.”  Laya yearned so much for Ya’akov’s love. Some of our commentators see Laya as a very sensitive and a very spiritual person. Did her longing for Ya’akov contribute to these qualities? In Chassidut, longing for God or for goodness is considered a positive quality. What are the positive effects of yearning and what are the negative effects of yearning?

4. [31:27] “…and you did not tell me…”  Why didn’t Ya’akov tell Lavan that he and his family were leaving?

5. [Hosea 13:6] “They were filled, and their heart was exalted/Therefore they have forgotten Me”. Does being satisfied necessarily mean that one forgets God?

Commentary

[31:18 ] “And he lead all the cattle and all the property that he had gathered…”

Ya’akov was in charge and he led all the property. He controlled the physical things in his life. This was in contrast to those who allow their physical property and physical desires to control them.

–R. Yisroel Taub, Modzitz Poland, (1849-1920).

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