Rosh ha-Shanah is around the corner!
Rosh ha-Shanah is around the corner!

Learning Group—Parshat Netzavim-Vayelech

(Deuteronomy 29:9-31:30)

(Isaiah 61:10-63:9)

1. [31:2] Moshe says, “…I can no longer go out and come in”. It says in another place (Deuteronomy 34:7) that Moshe never lost his physical vitality. If so, what does Moshe mean when he says that he can’t “go out and come in anymore”?

2. [Haftara: Isaiah 61:10] “…He has dressed me with the clothing of salvation…” Isn’t clothing a superficial thing? Why doesn’t the pasuk say, “He has brought salvation deep into my heart”?

3. [Haftara: Isaiah 63:8] “For He (God) said, ‘Certainly they are my children, they will not lie.’ So He was their saviour”. It seem in this pasuk that what makes the Jewish people beloved in God’s eyes is the fact that they don’t lie. In many psukim, however, it is stated that keeping the commandments is what makes the people beloved. How can this contradiction be resolved?

4. [Haftara: Isaiah 63:9] “…in His love and in His compassion he redeemed them…” The Malbim (Meir Leibush, Lithuania and Poland, 1809-1879) says that “love” means seeing the best in the person, and “compassion” means seeing the weakness in the person. Do do you agree with the Malbim’s understanding?

5. [pre-Rosh Hashana] The Talmud tells us that the sound of the shofar on Rosh Hashana represents our crying out to God without words. We are also told that the shofar is meant to wake us up from our “waking dream”, and to improve ourselves. Do these 2 explanations contradict each other?

Commentary

[31:12] “Gather the people—the men, the women and the children…”

Why did God say that all the children should all be brought to this gathering? Everyone is supposed to listen to the Torah, and the smaller children disturb one’s concentration. They make noise and they demand attention. This is coming to teach us the following: One’s own spiritual development is very important. But sometimes, in order to serve God, and especially in order to pass the Torah way of life onto one’s children, one has to give up on what seems like one’s own spiritual development. Focussing on others, rather than on oneself, in itself brings a great deal of spiritual growth.

–The Sfat Emet, R. Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter (1847 – 1905), Góra Kalwaria, 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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"The Upcoming New Year is a Time of Renewal"

Learning Group—Parshat Ki Tavo

(Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8)

(Haftara Isaiah 60:1-22)

1. [26:18] “…making you His special [treasured] nation…” What does it mean to be “His special [treasured] nation”? Why are we informed that we are God’s special nation. Won’t this lead to a self-centered attitude and ego?

2. [28:23] “The heavens above your head will be copper, and the earth under you will be iron”. What does this mean in a physical way, and what does it mean in a spiritual-psychological way?

3. [29:8] “…in order that “taskilu” everything that you do.” The Sforno (Italy-1475-1550) understands this pasuk to be saying that one should “do them [the commandments] in order that he should be perceptive and understanding in everything that he does”. What does the Sforno mean? How can doing the commandments make a person perceptive in all that he does?

4. [Haftara: Yeshayahu 60:9] “…to bring your children from far..” This pasuk is referring to the “ingathering of the exiles”—the Jews gathering in the land of Israel. Rav Kuk speaks about a personal “ingathering of one’s exiles”. What are one’s personal exiles? How does a person gather his or her personal exiles?

5. [Elul] For the general non-Jewish world, the New Year is a time of celebrating the beginning of a new year and renewing ourselves. For us the new year is a judgment day in addition to a time of renewal. What is the difference between these 2 approaches?

Commentary

[28:47] “Because you did not serve Hashem, your God, with joy and a happy heart…”

When a person is introspective, and he, himself, judges all the things that he does, then there is no judgment from above. Through this introspection and self-judgment a person can come to such great joy that he wants to dance as a result of his joy.

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

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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"Why do we need to to awakened by the shofar during Elul after Shacharit?"
“Why do we need to to awakened by the shofar during Elul after Shacharit?”

Learning Group—Parshat Ki Tetzay

(Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19)

(Haftara: Isaiah 54:1-10)

1. [22:1] “ …you must return them to your brother.” The matter of lost articles and their return to their owners is an important issue in halacha and in Chassidut. A complete and rather long tractate in the Talmud is devoted to this topic. Why is this matter so important in our social lives and in our psychological-spiritual lives?

2. [22:4] “…lift them up with him.” The Torah tells us that we must help a person who needs help. Rashi and other commentaries further tell us that we must help only if the other person also lifts, but not if he expects us to do it all. How is this an excellent model for helping people? Are there times when one should help even if the other person does not take part?

3. There are many commandments of kindness in this week’s parsha. Who is more praiseworthy—the person who is naturally kind or the person who is not naturally kind, but acts in a kind way because he or she is commanded?

4. [Haftara: 54:7,8] God tells us here that His anger is for a moment, but His kindness is forever. The Rambam and other sources tell us that God does not have human qualities (except for kindness and love). If so, what does it mean when we say that God is angry? What is the purpose of God’s anger if He really is kind?

5. [Elul] In the month of Elul, we blow the shofar every morning after the prayer service. Maimonides tells us that this is in order to wake us up. What does it mean when we say that we are usually sleeping?

Commentary

[22:4] “You shall not see your brother’s donkey fallen by the way…you will certainly lift it up with him (“hakem takim imo”).

Why is there a repetition in Hebrew of the word “lift it up”?

When a person is helping someone else, he or she is also helping himself and herself. By helping another, one is fixing one’s personal qualities so that one becomes or remains honest and loving. One helps the other and also helps oneself.

–The “Sfat Emet”, Rebbe Yehudah Leib Alter of Gur (1847-1905)

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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"Justice,justice shall you seek!"
“Justice,justice shall you seek!”

Learning Group—Parshat Shoftim

(Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9)

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

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. [17:20] “So that his heart will not be lifted up above his brothers…” Isn’t a king supposed to be above the other people? What is the function of a king who is not above the other people?

4. [Haftara: Yeshaya 52:12] “You will not go out in a rush, or by fleeing…” When the Jews will return from Babylon, they will return in a relaxed way. What is the significance of returning in a relaxed way? Why is this different from the very hasty way that the Israelites left Egypt (Shmot 12:11)?

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

Elevated tshuvah comes from a flash of goodness—of the Godly goodness that exists in all the worlds, the light of the Eternal, the soul of everything–which spreads out. It takes form in front of us in its splendour and holiness—as much as the heart can absorb.

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

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 Re’eh

(Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17)

(Haftara: Isaiah 54:11-55:5)

1. [11:26] “Look, I am putting in front of you to-day…” To hear and understand something seems like a more significant activity than seeing something. Why does this parsha begin with the word “look”, rather than the more usual “shma”—hear or understand?

2. [11:28] “…the way which I command you today…” We are commanded–obligated to keep the commandments. Why weren’t our actions suggested to us, like we sometimes say to others: “If you do this it’s good for you and for other people”. Why is our spiritual path a path of obligation?

3. [15:7] “When there will be a poor man among your brothers…” The Torah tells us that we should give a poor person enough charity to return to his former financial state. Therefore, someone who was previously rich would get much more charity than someone who was previously poor. What is the logic in this?

4. [Haftara: Isaiah 54:13] “And all your children will be taught by God…” The Malbim says that this pasuk means that since everyone will be taught by God Himself, therefore there will be no arguments in understanding. There are also people today who prefer to learn from one authority without arguments. What are the advantages of arguing and discussing in order to come to clarity, and what are the advantages of having an authority who explains everything to us?

5. [Haftara 55:4] “I have made him a witness for the nations…” How are the Jewish people a witness for the nations. To what are we witnessing?

Commentary

[14:24] “And if the way is long for you, so that you are not able to carry it, because the place is far from you…”

If a person is excited about doing something, then the task is not hard for him and it does not make him tired. However, if he does not really want to do the task, then it just becomes a big burden for him.

If one is not excited about doing the commandments—if the way is long and tires him out—this is a sure sign that God is far from him.

— R. Moshe Alsheich (1520 – 1600, Saloniki & Safed)

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

"Shma Yisrael"
“Shma Yisrael”

Learning Group—Parshat Ekev

(Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25)

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

1. [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?

2. [11:24] “Every place that your feet walk will be yours…” On a spiritual level, this seems to mean that in the ideal mental state, one will feel comfortable wherever one is. On the other hand, we are expected to be sensitive to injustice—to the weak and the poor. Does being comfortable mean that one will be less sensitive to the moral demands of one’s life?

3. [Isaiah 50:1] “…where is your mother’s document of divorce [from Me]…” Our relationship to God can be like a marriage, or like a master-servant relationship, or like friends and so on. What factors define our relationship to God at any particular time—is it us, or is it our situation in life or is it tradition or some other factor?

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. [Haftara] “…joy and gladness will be found there, thankfulness and the sound of music.” This is a comforting messianic vision. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov says that the quality of thankfulness is considered like the light of Paradise. What makes the quality of thankfulness so special?

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

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The Ten Commandments
The Ten Commandments

Learning Group—Parshat Ve’etchanan

(Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11)

(Haftara: Shabbat Nachamu: Isaiah 40:1-26)

1. [4:1] “…the laws which I teach you…” Moshe was the leader of the Israelites. He gave laws, prayed that they would win wars, defended them and did many other things. However, we call him Moshe Rabbenu—Moshe our teacher. Why is teaching considered the most praiseworthy role for Moshe and for us?

2. [4:1] Rav Kuk (1865-1935) respects the role of teacher, but says that there is a negative aspect to teaching–the teacher is in a role that presupposes a kind of superiority—“I know more than you”. Do you agree with this criticism? Is there a way of avoiding this negative aspect of teaching?

3. [4:34] “…by trials, by signs, and by miracles…” In modern physics, we speak about anti-matter, and black holes in space and many very strange phenomena. What is a miracle in modern times?

4. [4:39] “…God is God in heaven above and on the earth below…” There are religious systems that only value heaven, and there are others that only value earth. We try to make heaven on earth—make earth heavenly. What commandments do we have that try to “make earth heavenly”?

5. [Haftara 40:4] “Every valley shall be lifted up and every mountain and hill shall be made low”. This messianic vision seems to say that in messianic times there will be no need to struggle. Other sources, however seem to say that there will be struggle in the time of messianic consciousness. The messianic era is supposed to be the ideal era. Do you think that there will be struggle in the messianic era or not?

Commentary

[5:5] “I stood between God and you…”

The “I-ness”—the selfish ego of people is that which stands between God and the person. As long as a person is ruled by his or her selfish ego, he or she cannot come to Godliness, but if one rules over one’s own passions and desires, then one can come to Godliness.

–Rabbi Moshe Pallier of Kobrin, Belarus (Chassidic Rebbe, 1784 – 1858)

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 Devarim

Learning Group—Parshat Devarim

(Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22)

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

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?

2. [1:17] “…don’t be afraid of any man, for the judgment is God’s…” This pasuk is speaking to a judge. What does it mean?

3. [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?

4. [Haftara: Isaiah 1:11] “What do I need your many sacrifices for? says God.” God tells us through the prophet that He has no pleasure in the festivals and sacrifices if the Jews don’t act morally. Can giving sacrifices with the right motivation help to make a person moral? What effect are the sacrifices supposed to have on us?

5. [Haftara 1:27] “Zion shall be redeemed with justice, and those that return to her with righteousness”. It seems that the collective redemption is dependent on justice, while the individual redemption is dependent on righteousness. Is there individual redemption without collective redemption? What is the difference between justice (mishpat) and righteousness (tzedek)?

Commentary

1:17 “…that which is difficult for you, you will bring it to me…”

When you are in doubt about a specific act, and you don’t know whether it is permitted or not, separate yourself from the pleasure of that act. Then, if you want to know the truth—whether that act is God’s will or not—you will see the truth.

Bring it to the life-force of God which is within you. Any difficulty in these areas is caused by the fact that the outside world blocks our vision of the truth, but if one attaches oneself to one’s inner spirituality, then the truth becomes clear.

–R. Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter (1847 – 1905), Góra Kalwaria, Poland—the Sfat Emet

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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Mattot
Mattot

Learning Group—Parshat Mattot-Masay

(Numbers: 30:2-36:13)

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

1. [35:11-34] “…cities of refuge will be for you…” If someone killed a person accidentally, he could run away to a “city of refuge”, and he would be safe there from revenge. In those days, it was rare that someone killed by accident. Why does the Torah devote so much space to the “cities of refuge”? What principles of law and behaviour are being taught here?

2. [Bamidbar 33:1] “These are the journeys of the children of Israel…” The Baal Shem Tov, (1700-1760), the founder of modern Chassidism, tells us that the stopping places of the Israelites represent levels in spiritual-psychological development toward a more perfected, whole personality. Why does Chassidism talk about levels (madregot) of development? Doesn’t this make a person self-conscious and self-centered? Why not just say that a person should be more compassionate, more controlled, and so on, and ignore what level a person may or may not be on?

3. [Haftara: 2:19] “Your own wickedness will correct you…” How does one’s wickedness correct him or her? Is this an effective way of learning or an inferior way of learning?

4. [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?

5. [Calendar] We are now in the 3 weeks before Tisha b’Av. During this time, we have no weddings, no dancing, no playing musical instruments, or cutting hair. Our tradition wants to prepare us to mourn properly on Tisha b’Av. Why do we need 3 weeks to prepare us to mourn on Tisha b’Av?

Commentary

[33:1] “These are the journeys of the children of Israel…”

The forty-two “stations” from Egypt to the land of Israel happen in the life of every person from his birth until his return to his source. Leaving Egypt represents birth, and one moves on until one comes to the land of elevated life (elevated life in this world and in the next world).

–R. Yisroel Baal Shem Tov, (1700-1760)

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 Division of the Land
The Division of the Land

Learning Group—Parshat Pinchas

(Numbers: 25:10-30:1)

(Haftara: Jeremiah 1:1-2:3)

1. [25:12] “Therefore I am giving him my covenant of peace.” The Talmud Yerushalmi tells us after Pinchas killed Zimri and Kozbi and stopped the plague, the chachamim wanted to excommunicate him. However, when they saw that Pinchas was rewarded by God with the priesthood and the covenant of peace they changed their minds. How can it be that the wise men of the time were so out of touch with God’s way of seeing this incident?

2. [26:52] When the land of Israel was divided among the tribes, the Torah tells us that the bigger tribes should get bigger portions and the smaller tribes should get smaller portions. Then the portions were divided according to a lottery. How was the land divided according to the size of the tribes if there was a lottery? The Talmud and the commentaries tell us that it was miraculous—the larger plots of land went to the bigger tribes in the lottery. What was the point of the lottery if it was all “fixed” anyway.

3. [27:1] Tzelafchad died and left behind 4 daughters and no sons. The daughters requested that the inheritance go to them, and Moshe asked God and God agreed that the inheritance should go to them. Why wasn’t this law obvious? Why did Moshe have to ask God?

4. [27:1] Apparently, if the daughters of Tzlafchad had not requested the inheritance, they would not have received it. What might the Torah be trying to teach us here?

5. [27:7] “The daughters of Tzelafchad are correct…” The people of Israel were guilty of 2 major sins in the wilderness—the sin of the golden calf, and the sin of the spies. The midrash (midrash rabba) tells us that in each case, the women of Israel were the ones who were faithful to God and our mission, while the men were the ones who sinned. What is it about the quality of women that would make them more faithful to God and our mission than the men?

Commentary

[27:16,17] “…set up a leader over the community…who will take them out and who will bring them in…”

“Take them out and …bring them in” implies being part of the physical world and being part of the spiritual world. The leader that Moshe is asking God to appoint for the people of Israel is one who can connect the physical to the spiritual—a leader who can take the physical and infuse it with spirituality.

–The Baal Shem Tov, Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, (1700-1760).

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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