(Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9)

(Haftara: Isaiah 51:12-52:12)

(Pirkay Avot: Chapter 6)

1. [16:18] “…and they will judge the people with justice…”  Rav Kuk tells us that one must be very attached to justice in order to be attached to the “soul of Israel”. Why is justice a more basic value for us than kindness or other values?

2. [17:14] “..and  you will say, “I will put over myself a king like all the  nations…” Some of our rabbis tell us that this is optional and others say that we must set up a king. What might be the reasons for each opinion?

3. [Isaiah 51:16] “I have put my words in your mouth…so that I will plant the heavens and lay the foundations of the earth…” How can words in the mouth of the prophet plant the heavens and lay the foundations of the earth?

4. [Pirkay Avot 6:6] “The Torah is acquired in 48 ways…through joy…”      One of the qualities necessary for acquiring Torah is joy. However, the Torah way of life includes activities that don’t seem joyful—like personal discipline and fighting evil. How can one be joyful while doing those activities?

5. [Month of Elul] We are now in the month of Elul—the month of tshuvah before Rosh Hashana.  It has been said that the idea that one can erase one’s sins by regretting them and making tshuvah is not a logical idea. It is a special kindness from Heaven. How is the idea that one can erase one’s sins through tshuvah not logical?

Commentary

The inner spiritual work has to do with organizing one’s thoughts—which is the essence of a life of focus or meditation—and organizing one’s emotions–which is a life of song and poetry. One must work on the relationship of these qualities so that they can work together in the ways in which they are best balanced with each other, and also work separately.

–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

(Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25)

(Haftara: Isaiah 49:14-51:3)

(Pirkay Avot Chapter 5)

1. [7:22 ]  “slowly, slowly; you cannot remove them quickly…”  Here, the Torah is telling us to be patient. However, when we left Egypt, the Torah told us to move very quickly and leave quickly [Shmot 12:11].  When is the proper time for patience and when is the proper time for haste?

2. [8:2]  “Remember the way that God took you… in order to make you suffer, in order to test you…”  After things are good, one should remember the suffering in the desert, which was a test from God.  Obviously, they passed the test. What purpose is served by remembering suffering and tests of this kind?

3. [8:7]  “God is bringing you to a good land with brooks of water… going out in the valleys and the hills.”   In our spiritual literature, the land of Israel represents the ideal state of mind. Why is a land of hills and valleys more ideal than a flat land?

4. [Yeshaya 51:1]   “…you that chase after justice, that seek God…”   Why are seekers of God only those who chase after justice.  What about those who chase after love or after peace or inner peace—are they not seekers of God?

5.    [Pirkay Avot 5:13]  “…what’s mine is yours and what’s yours is yours, is a chassid…”  A chassid is someone who does more than is asked of him.  What is the ideal, balanced approach to one’s property and sharing it with others?

Commentary

            When a person is on a trip and he can’t pray or learn Torah in his normal way, then he should serve God in other ways, and he shouldn’t be bothered by this, because God wants him to serve in all ways—sometimes in this way and sometimes in that way.  That’s why he happened to be going on a certain road, or speaking to certain people, in order to serve God in that particular way.

–R. Yisrael ben Eliezer, 1698-1760, Ukraine.

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

(Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22)

(Haftara: Shabbat Chazon: Isaiah 1:1-27)

 (Pirkay Avot: Chapter 3)

  1. [1:13] “Get men who are wise, understanding and knowledgeable…”  The first commandment that Moshe recalled is the appointment of judges and the necessity for justice, honesty and integrity. While justice is very important, one would think that proper beliefs, or devotion to God are more basic values in the Torah. Is justice our most basic value?
  1. [2:3] “You have circled this mountain (Sinai) long enough. Travel to the north.” Why were the Israelites circling the mountain? What change in mentality is represented by renewing their traveling?
  • [Pirkei Avot 3:9] “R. Chanina ben Dosa says: ” Anyone whose fear of wrong-doing is more important to him than his wisdom, his wisdom will endure, but anyone whose wisdom is more important to him than his fear of wrong-doing, his wisdom will not endure.”  Why is it that only a moral person can have wisdom?

4. [Pirkei Avot 3:10] He used to say, “Anyone who people like, God also likes, and  anyone who people don’t like, God doesn’t like.”  Why do we equate God’s perception of a person to people’s perception of a person? People can be wrong in their perceptions!

  1. [Tisha b’Av]  Tisha b’Av commemorates the destruction of the first and second Temples and all other tragedies in Jewish history. The Talmud says, “Whoever mourns for Jerusalem will be worthy to see the joy of Jerusalem, and whoever does not mourn for Jerusalem will not see the joy of Jerusalem”.   Why should seeing joy be dependent on whether someone mourned?

Commentary

Waves from the higher realm act on our souls ceaselessly. The stirrings of our inner spiritual sensitivities are the result of the sounds released by the violin of our souls, as it listens to the echo of the sound emanating from the realm of the Divine.

–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: 30:2-36:13)

(Haftara: Jeremiah 2:4-28, 3:4, 4:1,2)

(Pirkay Avot 2)

1. [Haftara: Jeremiah , 3:4, 4:1,2] : If a haftara ends with a negative statement, then positive psukim are added. That is the purpose of the last psukim in this haftara. Is this wise?  In this haftara, God has been rebuking the Jews. Wouldn’t it be more proper to finish with a negative statement so that the Jews will regret their actions and return to God?

2. [Pirkay Avot 2:2] “Torah, together with work, saves a person from sin. ”  One would think that the more Torah, the less sin. How does work help to save a person from sin?

3. [Pirkay Avot 2:13] The mishna asks, “Which is the good way that a person should go on?” The mishna ends by saying that a “good heart” is the best way because it includes generosity, and a good friend, a good neighbour, and the quality of foreseeing the future. How does a good heart include all of these other qualities?

4.  [Pirkay Avot 2:15] “Warm yourself by the light of the wise men, but be careful…because their bite is the bite of a fox…and all their words are like burning coals.” Shouldn’t our true teachers be constantly loving. Why do they have this “biting” side to them?

5. [Calendar] We are now in the 3 weeks before Tisha b’Av. In these weeks, we have no marriages, no dancing, playing musical instruments, or cutting hair. Our tradition wants to prepare us to mourn properly on Tisha b’Av. Similarly, before Purim, we prepare to be joyful. However, in Jewish life in general, we often change very quickly from one emotion to another—we go from a funeral to a wedding, and so on. What is special about Tisha b’Av that would require this extra preparation?

Commentary

[33:2] “And Moshe wrote their leaving [Egypt] according to their various journeys…”   Why did Moshe have to write down every place that the people stopped?

Leaving Egypt represents leaving behind one’s slavery to the physical—one’s  pleasures and one’s dependencies.  A person might think that after he or she has freed themselves of their enslavement to the physical, one can forget the past, and live in the freedom of the present. The Torah, therefore, is telling us that one must remember the past in order to correct one’s mistakes—the negative acts that one did. Only then can one really live freely in the present.

–R. Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter (18471905),  Góra Kalwaria, 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

1. [20:29] “…and Aharon died…” Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch says that “only a few days earlier, this same people had made the most serious and unjust accusations against the man whom they now mourned.  This shows that the complaints were a passing mood, but the people appreciated their leaders. ” What does this observation tell us about the people of Israel?  What does it tell us about Aharon?

2. [21:5] “…our soul is sick of this insignificant bread…” This bread was the manna that God gave the Israelites—the miraculous food. How could they belittle the bread in this way? What does this show us about human nature?

3. [23:3]  “And Bila’am said to Balak, “Stand over your offering…” Our tradition has an ambivalent relationship to Bila’am.  On the one hand, Balak considers him a suitable person to curse Israel. On the other hand, he gives Israel an extremely positive blessing, and speaks in beautiful, positive poetic images. The Torah also presents personalities of Israel with their weaknesses, in addition to their strengths. What type of personality is the Torah trying to develop in us, by having us learn about and identify with people with complex personalities?

4.   [23:9] “…a people will live alone, and will not be counted among the nations”.  Is this statement positive or negative?  How does it describe the situation of the Jewish people today?

5. [24:17] “…a star will step out of Ya’akov…”  The Ramban understands that the star, which is in the far ends of the universe, represents the people of Israel, who are in the far ends of the earth. The metaphor of a star is used to represent the Jewish people in a number of places in the Torah. Why is a star a good metaphor for the Jewish people?

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 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: 13:1-15:41)

(Haftara: Yehoshua 2, 1-24)

(Pirkay Avot 3)

1. [13:27, 28] Our tradition looks upon the spies as the ultimate traitors. What was so bad about the spies’ message to the Israelites?

2. [13:30] “And Caleb stilled the people”.  Rashi says that Calev said to the people, “Is this the only thing that Moshe has done to us?”. This would get their attention and then he could encourage them to go into the land.  The Sforno says simply that Calev told them to be quiet so that Moshe could be heard.  Each explanation has a different image of the Israelites. What is the difference between the explanations? Which seems more accurate to you?

3. [Haftara: Yehoshua 2:1] Why did Yehoshua send the spies to Rachav, the prostitute, and what significance is there in the fact that Rachav, who protected the spies and helped the Israelites, was a prostitute?

4. [Pirkay Avot 3:2] “Pray for the peace of the government, because without fear of the government, each man would swallow his fellow-man alive.” Rabbenu Yonah (1210-1268, Spain) explains this mishna in the following way: “A person should pray for the peace of the whole world, and feel the pain of others…everyone should have peace. When countries have peace, the world has peace.”  Is Rabbenu Yonah’s view of mankind different from the mishna’s view of mankind?  Why does Rabbenu Yonah change the emphasis of the mishna?

5. [Pirkay Avot 3:14-20] “Beloved is man who was created in the image (of God). It is a sign of greater love that he was informed that he was created in the image…” Wouldn’t it have been more helpful and greater love not to tell man that he was created in the image of God—wouldn’t man have been more humble?

Commentary

[13:32] “…a land that consumes its inhabitants”.

The Hebrew word for “its inhabitants” in this verse—”yoshvehah”–literally means “its settlers”.

The Holy Land does not tolerate those who settle down, who are complacent and content with their achievements. One should always be aspiring to improve—to get closer to God, to people and to one’s real self.

–R. Yitzchak of Vorka (1779-1848), 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

(Numbers: 4:21-7:89)

(Haftara: Judges 13:2-25)

(Pirkay Avot:Chapter 6)

(Sfirat Haomer)

1.   [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?

2.  [6:25-26] “May God shine His face toward you…”  What does it mean for God to shine His face toward someone? What does it mean for God to hide His face?

3. [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 commits against his fellow is also treason against God. Why is doing wrong to a person a betrayal of God?

4. [Haftara: Judges 13:3]: “And an angel of God appeared to the woman…”  Our tradition tells us that God prefers to work within the laws of nature, rather than do miracles. Miracles are only for special situations. If so, why did an angel tell Shimshon’s mother about Shimshon’samson’s birth? Why couldn’t a human prophet have told her?

5.  [6:1] “R. Meir says, ‘Whoever learns Torah l’shma (literally: for its name) is worthy of many things…’ ”     In our tradition, there are 2 main explanations of  “Torah l’shma”.  Torah l’shma is defined as learning Torah without ulterior motives—for the love of God. Others explain  the term as meaning learning Torah in order to learn it as thoroughly and clearly as possible—for the sake of the Torah.  Which explanation do you prefer? Why?

Commentary

When one truly looks at the good side of each and every person, one comes to love people with a deep love. One has no need for even the slightest flattery, because one’s interest in the good that one constantly meets, hides all the negative aspects from him.

–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

(First day: Exodus 19:1-20:23)

(Haftara: Ezekiel 1:1-28, 3:12)

(Second day: Shabbat:  Deuteronomy 14:22-16:17)

(Haftara: Habbakuk 2:20-3:19)

(Megillat Ruth)

1. [Exodus 20:10] In the 10 Commandments, Shabbat is characterized as a day of rest. Why not characterize it as a day of prayer, or a day of thought and meditation, or a day spent with family and friends?

2. [1st day, haftara] The Torah reading the first day is the 10 commandments. The haftara is the very mysterious, mystical experience of Ezekiel. By choosing these very different readings, what message do our rabbis want to convey?

3. [2nd day, Deuteronomy 15:9] On the 2nd day of Shavuot, which is Shabbat this year, we read about lending money to the needy and other acts of kindness. The 1st day we read about revelations of God and other mystical experiences. Why is there this separation? Why not read about both kindness and revelations on both days?

4. [Megillat Ruth] We read the book of Ruth on the 2nd day of Shavuot. The main theme of the book of Ruth is kindness. To give a more realistic picture of Judaism, shouldn’t the book of Ruth have more laws?

5. Shavuot is also the festival of the 1st fruits. Farmers brought their first fruits to Jerusalem. Why is it fitting that the giving of the Torah and the celebration of the first fruits should fall on the same day?

Commentary

[Ruth 3:18] “The man will not rest unless he finishes the thing (the marriage) today.”

Boaz wasted no time and insisted that he do the act of kindness and marry Ruth immediately. The midrash tells us that if Boaz had waited another day, it would have been too late. We know that King David and the Messiah are the descendants of Boaz and Ruth. This comes to tell us that in relation to acts of kindness, one must act immediately and waste no time.

–R. Yisrael Mayer Kagan, the Chafetz Chaim—Radin, Poland

(Leviticus: 6:1-8:36)

Shabbat Hagadol

(Haftara: Malachi 3:4-24)

(Passover)

1. [6:2] “… it is the law of the olah.” The sacrifice called the “chatat” is partially burned on the altar, and partly eaten by the Kohanim. The sacrifice “shlamim” is in part burned on the altar, in part eaten by the Kohanim, and in part eaten by the person who brought the sacrifice. The sacrifice “olah” is completely burnt on the altar, and is the only one which may be brought by a non-Jew. Why is the olah the most appropriate sacrifice for a non-Jew?

2. [Malachi 3:24] “and returns the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children toward their fathers.” This happens in the ideal Messianic era. Do fathers now not love their children, and do children not love their fathers? How will this change and why it is so important for the ideal messianic society of the future?

3. [Passover] In ethical Jewish thought, risen dough in bread and cakes represents arrogance and evil in general. Why is risen dough a good metaphor for the arrogance and the tendency toward evil?

4. [Passover] In many of our commandments we, mention the departure from Egypt. Why does this seem to be even more important than getting the Torah on Sinai?

5. [Passover] The feast of Pesach is called so in Hebrew because God “passed over” the houses of the Israelites when the firstborn of the Egyptians were killed (Shmot 12:13). This appears to be a small detail in the whole process of deliverance. Why is the festival named after this small detail? 

Commentary

[Haggadah for Passover] “This is the bread of the poor.”

The bread of the poor is the modesty which the Israelites had before they received the Torah. It is, in fact, that which allowed them to receive the Torah. Without modesty, it would have been impossible for the Israelites to adopt the holiness of Torah. Through modesty – poverty – and the awareness that without divine influence there cannot be wisdom and knowledge, the Israelites were able to accept the sublime light.

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

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

And in memory of Sarah Beila Kummer bat Yitzhak and Chana, Chaim Yechiel Yosef ben Eliyahu Kummer and Eliyahu and Margaret Kummer

(Leviticus: 1:1-5:26)     

(Haftara: Yechezkel 45:16)

(Shabbat HaChodesh)

(Shabbat Rosh Chodesh)

1. [1:2]  “…when a man brings an offering to God…” The root of the word for sacrifice—”korban” means coming close. How would animal sacrifices make the person who brings them  come closer to God?

2. The Rambam (in The Guide for the Perplexed ) says that animal sacrifices were commanded only because the Israelites were used to them in Egypt. However, they were later replaced by prayer. In which ways is prayer a replacement for sacrifices?

3. [Haggadah of Pesach]  One of the commandments of  Pesach night is to tell the story of our liberation from Egypt.  The story is supposed to be told through questions and answers.    What does the question-and-answer format contribute to the seder and what does this rule (question-and-answer) tell us about Judaism and the Jews?

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)”.  Why is this an effective educational method?

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

Commentary

Real freedom is connected to real kindness, and only appears in the world when one has the purest personal qualities.  This purity removes all envy from the heart, like the prophetic vision: “I will remove your heart of stone and I will give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 11:19).

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

Location

Mizmor LeDavid meets at the Mesorati High School, 8 Beitar Street, in the auditorium. There is another minyan that meets there, we are the one further north. Accessible from Beitar, the single gate at the bottom of the semi-circle of steps, or from the north end of Efrata Street, through the gate on the right, then turn left.

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