Parshat EmorLearning Group– Parshat Emor

(Leviticus: 21:1-24:23)

(Haftara: Yechezkel 44:15-31)

(Pirkay Avot: Chapter 4)

1. [23:4] “These are the festivals of God…” The holier the day is, the more one is restricted in one’s physical activities. For example, on a festival, one may cook food, although there are other restrictions. On Shabbat one may heat up certain cooked foods, but may not cook, and on Yom Kippur one may not cook and one may not even eat or drink. Why should physical freedom of action be dependent on the level of holiness of that day? One might think that more holiness should suggest more freedom of action, rather than the opposite!!

2. [23:24-23:44] Our tradition tells us that by keeping the Torah, we make everyday life holy. If so, then why are there so many festivals which introduce to us a higher holiness than the everyday?

3. [24:22] “…there will be one law for the stranger and for the home-born…” When someone converts to Judaism, he or she needs other Jews to supervise their entry into the Jewish people. Why isn’t it enough to simply declare one’s loyalty to God and the Torah?

4. [Haftara: Yechezkel 44:23] “And they will teach my people the difference between the holy and the common…” Why do we make such a distinction between the holy and the common? Why don’t the Kohanim teach that the common is a lower form of holiness and can be raised to a state of holiness?

5. [Pirkay Avot: 4:4] “…Be very humble…” People with a low self-image are sometimes very humble because they feel that they are worthless. This contradicts the truth–that we are all created in the image of God. How can a person be very humble and still know that he or she is very worthy?

Commentary

Not knowing where to go, I go to you. Not knowing where to turn, I turn to you. Not knowing how to speak, I speak to you. Not knowing what to hold, I bind myself to you. Having lost my way, I make my way to you. Having soiled my heart, I lift my heart to you…Blessed are you whose presence illuminates outrageous evil…Blessed are you, who waits in the world. Blessed are you whose name is in the world.

–Leonard Cohen, Book of Mercy, born 1934, Canada, USA.

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 Acharay--Kedoshim
Parshat Acharay–Kedoshim

Learning Group– Parshot Acharay–Kedoshim

(Leviticus: 16:1-20:27)

(Haftara: Amos 9:7-15)

(Pirkay Avot: Chapter 3)

1. [19:18] “…and love your fellow person like you love yourself “. Is it a sin then, not to love oneself? If someone has a low self-image, and does not love himself or herself, what should he or she do? How can a person come to love him or herself? How can a person come to appreciate and love another person?

2. [Haftara: Amos 9:15] “I will plant them on their land and they shall no more be uprooted…” Why doesn’t the pasuk say that they will no longer be driven out? Why is the metaphor of planting and being uprooted a good metaphor for the relationship of the Jewish people to the land of Israel?

3. [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 one’s wisdom dependent on how careful one is in his or her morality?

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 compare God’s perception of a person to people’s perception of a person? People can be wrong!

5. [Pirkei Avot 3:13] R. Akiva says, “…silence preserves wisdom.” Wouldn’t one think that interacting with the world and being talkative would add to wisdom? Why do we say that”…silence preserves wisdom”?

Commentary

[19:18] “…and love your fellow person like you love yourself “.

A learned but ungenerous man said to R. Avraham of Stretyn (mid 1800’s–Poland): “They say that you give people mysterious drugs, and that your drugs are effective. Offer me one that will give me the fear of God.”

” I don’t know any drug for the fear of God,” said R. Avraham. “But if you like, I can give you one for the love of God.”

“That’s even better!” said the man. “Just give it to me.”

“It’s the love of your fellow men,” answered the tzaddik.

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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Tazria-Metzorah

Learning Group—Parshot Tazria-Metzorah

(Leviticus 12:1-15:33)

(Haftara: Kings II, 7:3-20)

(Pirkay Avot: Chapter 2)

1. Our tradition tells us that the skin disease of tzara’at is a result of speaking “lashon hara”—saying something bad about someone without any constructive purpose. The sin of “lashon hara” is said to be equal to the sins of idolatry, murder and forbidden sexual relations. Why is this sin considered so bad?

2. [12:7] “…he makes an atonement for her and she is pure…” After she is pure, she can enter the holy place. The Torah is understood on both a physical and a spiritual level. What does it mean on a psychological-spiritual level that someone who is pure can go into a holy place?

3. [Chapter 2, Mishna 5] Hillel said, “Don’t judge your fellow-man until you arrive at his situation”. Can one ever arrive at the situation of his or her fellow-man? Under what circumstances would one be allowed to judge another person?

4. [2:15] R. Eliezer says, ” Let your fellow’s honour be as dear to you as your own”. What is the difference between this and “Love your fellow-man as you love yourself”?

5. [2:21] R. Tarfon used to say, “You are not obligated to finish the work, but neither are you free to ignore the work.” What is the “work”? Summarize the message of this mishna.

Commentary

[Leviticus 14:2] …and he shall be brought to the Kohen.”

When a person speaks “lashon hara (nasty gossip about another person)”, it shows that the speaker does not know the power of the spoken word. A nasty word can destroy someone’s world, and similarly, a good word can build someone’s world. The speaker of “lashon hara” becomes afflicted with “tzara’at”—a skin disease. A Kohen decides whether one has “tzara’at” or not. Until a Kohen inspects the person and says “impure”, the person does not have tzara’at. During festivals or Chol Hamoed, for example, inspections for tzara’at cannot be carried out, and the diseased person would still be considered pure because the Kohen has not yet SAID that he is impure. In this way the gossiper understands the power of the spoken word, and should come to guard his speech more closely.

–Ohel Ya’akov—Ya’akov ben Ze’ev Kranz ( 1741-1804), the Maggid of Dubno.

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 Shemini

Learning Group– Parshat Shmini

(Leviticus: 9:1- 11:47)

(Haftara: Shmuel II: 6:1-7:17)

(Pirkay Avot: Chapter 1)

1. [Vayikra: 10:3] “And Moshe said to Aharon, “This is what God meant when He said, ‘Through those who are close to Me, I will be made holy…and Aharon was silent’ “. Is Aharon silent because he was comforted, because he was angry or for some other reason. How can we understand Aharon’s silence?

2. [Haftara: Shmuel II, 6:14-16] “And David danced before God with all his strength…and Michal [his wife]…despised him in her heart”. If it was really undignified for David to dance like this, why did he do it? What does this show about a Jewish king?

3. (Sfirat Ha’omer) In many of our prayerbooks, there is a prayer after we count the omer in which we try to correct one personality trait on each one of the days of the counting. Why do we work on one character trait each day? Couldn’t this fragment our personalities? Wouldn’t it be better to see our personalities as a whole and, in general, work to become better people?

4. [Pirkay Avot 1:1] “…he passed it on to Yehoshua…” . [On each Shabbat between Pesach and Rosh Hashana 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.) The first mishna tells us that the Torah is passed on from living person to living person. Why is it so important that our spiritual tradition is passed on from person to person, and not only through writings and ceremonies?

5. [Pirkay Avot, Chapter 1, Mishna 1] …”set up many students…” This is Beit Hillel’s opinion (Pirkay d’R. Eliezer), but Beit Shamai believes that one should teach only the best and not waste energy on the weaker students. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each opinion? Which do you agree with?

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

 

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Enjoying Chol Hamo'ed Pesah!

Learning Group—for Shabbat Chol Hamoed Pesach

(Shmot 33:12-34:26)

(Ezekiel 37:1-14)

(Sfirat Haomer)

(Shir Hashirim [Song of Songs])

1. [Shmot 33:20-23]: “…you are not able to see my face…and you will see my back…” This is obviously a metaphor, since God does not have a body. What does it mean to see God’s face and what does it mean to see God’s back?

2. The midrash tells us that the angels started singing praises to God when the Egyptians were being drowned in the sea. God told them to stop singing because it wasn’t right to sing while His creations were dying. Because of this midrash, we sing only part of the Hallel—the song of praise—all the week of Pesach after the first days. Does Pesach have a universal theme or is it specifically a Jewish national festival?

3. [Chol Hamoed Pesach] Chol Hamoed Pesach celebrates the crossing of the Red Sea, when God split the sea for us. Our mystical texts tell us that at that time, God made the miracles happen even though we had not earned them–we didn’t deserve them. At others times, however, we get miracles because we deserve them. Which miracles are preferable–those that we deserve, or those that are pure kindness from God without us deserving them?

4. For the Chassidim, each day of the 49 days of the omer—the days between Pesach and Shavuot—has a personal characteristic attached to it. One tries to correct that quality on that day as a preparation for accepting the Torah on Shavuot. How does becoming a better person prepare one for accepting the Torah?

5. [Shir Hashirim] Shir Hashirim is a love song between a man and a woman that represents the love between Israel and God, or the love between a person and God, and every pure love. The Rambam says that, “Just like a man who loves a particular woman cannot remove her from his thoughts, a person should love God with that same intensity”. If that is true, why is there such an emphasis in the Torah on the fear and the awe of God?

Commentary

R. Akiva said, “…all the holy books are holy, but that the “Song of Songs” is the holy of holies”.

For Rabbi Akiba and for Judaism, love is one flame expressing itself on many different levels. To diminish the flame on any one level is to weaken the capacity of love on all levels.

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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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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