(Numbers 1 :1-4:20) / (Pirkay Avot Chapter)

(Shavuot)

1. [Pirkay Avot 6:1] R. Mayer says, “Anyone who is involved in learning Torah l’shma [for it’s own sake] is worthy of many things…” What does it mean to learn Torah l’shma, and what does it mean to learn Torah not “l’shma”?

2. [6:2] “Only one who is involved in learning Torah can be called a free person”. From a Torah point of view, what does it mean to be a free person? What is the difference between the Torah’s idea of freedom and the world’s idea of freedom?

3. [6:2] How would being involved in learning Torah make one into a free person?

4. [6:3] We learned that one should learn from everyone, and we learn here that one should honour even someone from whom he learned 1 thing. If one learned something from an immoral person (for example, patience from a thief) should one honour the immoral person?

5.  [Shavuot] Our tradition tells us to celebrate the giving of the Torah on Shavuot. However, our tradition also tells us to celebrate the end of the yearly cycle of reading the Torah and the beginning of the new cycle on Simchat Torah—4 months later. Wouldn’t one expect these 2 events to be celebrated on the same day? What is the purpose of having 2 separate days for celebrating the Torah?

Commentary

The basis of religious faith is rooted in the recognition of the greatness and perfection of the Infinite. However we conceive of it is insignificant in comparison…to what it really is. If we lose this basic perception, our faith will become poor and without value…If our faith is to shine in a living light, it must be linked to a level of enlightenment that transcends…

–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

(Leviticus: 26:3-27:34) / (Haftara: Jeremiah 16:19-17:14)

  \ (Sfirat Ha’omer)

1. [26:3] “If you walk in My chukim (statutes)…”  Chukim are commandments whose reasons are either not comprehensible, or very hard to understand. For example, the laws of kashrut and the commandment of tfillin are chukim.  However, God wants us to be rational people (Dvarim 29:8 and others). How can faith in God and His Torah go together with an inquiring mind and clear intellect?

2. [26:36] “the sound of a leaf will chase them…but no-one will be chasing them”. If they don’t walk in My ways, says God, they will be become paranoid and imagine enemies who are not there. What is a natural way of understanding this pasuk? What types of sins could cause a person to become paranoid?

3. [Haftara Jeremiah 16:19] “…to You the nations will come from the ends of the earth.”  We do not believe that in the future all the people in the world will become Jewish, however, we believe that everyone will recognize the one universal God who revealed the Torah to us. This attitude, however, could lead us and especially our children to arrogance. How can we teach our children that our world-view is true, without making them arrogant? 

4. [Haftara: Jeremiah 17:9] “The heart is deceitful above all things and very weak…”    

Can spiritual or psychological weakness make a person deceitful? How? If a person is psychologically weak by nature, how can he or she become psychologically strong?

5. [Sfirat Haomer] During the time between Pesach and Shavuot, we reduce our joyful events (weddings, concerts) in order to commemorate the death of the students of Rabbi Akiva. Our tradition tells us that they died in a plague because they did not respect each other. Wouldn’t it be educationally better to have customs that increase our respect for each other, rather than limiting our joy? Why did our rabbis choose to limit our joy?

Commentary

God arranged creation so that even while in the physical world, man would be able to open a door to the spiritual and experience the Divine. This would constitute the highest perfection that a mortal human can attain.

–Aryeh Kaplan, 1934-1983, USA.

This study page is dedicated to the memory of Gad Eliahu ben David and Kochava–Eli Zucker

And  to the memory of Sarah Bella bat Yitzchak Kummer, Chaim Yosef Yechiel ben Eliyahu Kummer and Eliyahu and Margaret Kummer

(Leviticus: 25:1-26:2)

(Haftara: Yermiahu 32:6-27)

(Pirkay Avot: Chapter 4) / (Sfirat Ha’omer)

1. [25:2]  “…the land will keep a Shabbat for God.”  In the land of Israel, every seven years, one does not work his land, or demonstrate his ownership of the land. This is called the “shmitta” year and it shows us that the land belongs to God. Why do the commandments of  shmitta apply only in the land of Israel? Doesn’t a Jew outside the land of Israel also need to learn that the land really belongs to God?

2. [25:2]  ..”the land will keep a Shabbat for God.” How do the commandments of  shmitta (giving up ownership of the land for a year) and yovel (slaves and property going back to their original owners) affect the  attitudes, mentality and life of the people?

3. [Yirmiahu 32:18] “…He repays the sin of the fathers into the lap of their children after them…”  The Torah tells us that children will not be punished for the sins of their fathers (Dvarim 24:16). How can we understand that the children do suffer for the sins of their fathers?

4. [Yirmiahu 32:27] “…is there anything too hard for me?”   In pasuk 17 of this chapter. Yirmiahu says to God, “…there is nothing too hard for you”.  In pasuk 27, God says to Yermiyahu in almost the same words, “ …is there anything too hard for me?”. Yirmiyahu knew in theory that God can do anything, but God had to reassure him. This is a major theme in the way of Torah. How can a person take what he or she knows  in theory—in his or her mind—and transfer that understanding to the heart—integrate that knowledge totally into one’s personality?

5. [Pirkay Avot 4:14] “Every gathering which is for the sake of Heaven will have permanent results…” “…For the sake of  Heaven…” means that the people at the gathering are not selfish.  But even a “pure act” gives a person the satisfaction of having done something good or pure. What is an example of a totally selfless act?

Commentary

The firmer a person’s vision of universality, the greater the joy that he will experience, and the more he will merit the grace of divine enlightenment. The reality of God’s providence is seen when the world is seen in its totality.

–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 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

(Leviticus: 21:1-24:23)

(Haftara:Ezekiel 44:15-31)

(Pirkay Avot: Chapter 3, Sfirat Haomer, Siddur.)

1. [21:11] “He (the Kohen Gadol) will not approach any dead body—for his father and mother he shall not become impure”.  However, if the Kohen Gadol finds a dead body that has been abandoned he must become impure and bury the body. What does this law tell us about the Torah’s attitude to death and life and people.

2. [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!!

3. [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?

4. [Pirkay Avot 3:11]   “…someone who embarrasses a person in public…has no portion in the next world.” We would have known that embarrassing a person publicly is a sin, but why is it considered among the worst of all sins?

5. [Siddur, Shaarej Teszuwa, page 434]  On a regular Shabbat we say that we should be joyful in God’s salvation, but on the festival

[page 644]

, we say that we should be joyful in God.  What is the difference between these two expressions?

Why is there a difference between what we say on Shabbat and what we say on the festival?

Commentary

When one is involved in Torah—in simple things—one sees how the elevated light comes down in such a wondrous way, and rests beautifully in the world of action. One’s mind expands because of the great splendour and the powerful life-force that flows from the source of the Holy of Holies…

–Rabbi 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

(Leviticus: 19:1-20:27)

(Haftara: Amos 9:7-15)

(Sfirat Haomer)

(Pirkay Avot 1)

1.  [19:14] “Don’t curse the deaf, and don’t put an obstacle before the blind…”    These behaviours are obviously metaphors for behaviours that are more common. Which behaviours are these metaphors for?  What character traits is the Torah trying to develop in us by telling us not to do these things?

2. [19:11]  “…don’t lie to each other.”   Our tradition tells us that the place in the Torah where a mitzvah is written is significant. It relates to either what comes before or what comes after.  Why does the commandment to be honest with another person come directly after the commandment to care for the poor and the weak?

3. [19:18] “…and love your fellow person like you love yourself “.   The Torah assumes that one loves himself or herself. 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?

4. [Sfirat Haomer]  Because Rabbi Akiva’s students died of a plague, our tradition tells us to observe customs of mourning  (no weddings; no haircuts, etc.) during the majority of the days when we count the omer between Pesach and Shavuot.  On these days we anticipate our receiving of the Torah on Shavuot, so shouldn’t these be days of joy? Do these customs of mourning take away from  the atmosphere of  anticipation of receiving the Torah, or  add to that atmosphere?

(There is a custom to learn Pirkay Avot on Shabbatot between Pesach and Rosh Hashana. Be aware that there are different traditions in numbering the mishnayot in Pirkay Avot.)

 5. [Pirkay Avot 2:2]  “Everyone who works with the community should work with them without expecting reward…”  Many of the commandments of the Torah have to do with our interactions with other people. Why is a vibrant and healthy community so central to the religious values of the Torah? What does getting close to God have to do with community?

Commentary

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

The love of all creations is first; then the love of man; then the love of the people of Israel; which includes everything because in the future, Israel is going to repair all creations. All these loves are meant to be practised—to do good for them and to cause them to be elevated.  And the greatest of all is the love of God…The greatest happiness is for the heart to be full of the love of God.

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

This study page is dedicated to the memory of Gad Eliahu ben David and Kochava–Eli Zucker

And to the memory of Sarah Bella bat Yitzchak Kummer, Chaim Yosef Yechiel ben Eliyahu Kummer and Eliyahu and Margaret Kummer

 (Pirkay Avot 1)

1. [16:11]  “…for himself and for his household…”     From this pasuk  we learn that the High Priest (Kohen Gadol) must be married. He cannot do the service of the Temple unless he is married. Why must the Kohen Gadol be married?

2. [18:6] “Do not defile yourself with any of these things…” The Torah emphasizes sexual modesty and there are many rabbinic laws which distance us even more from immodesty. Some communities emphasize these laws, while others keep the laws, but don’t emphasize them as much. Some argue that putting constant emphasis on the laws of sexual immorality is counter-productive, because it causes people to think about sex more than they should. Do you agree or disagree with that thinking?

3. [18:25] “…and the land will be impure and I will bring its sin against it…”   It seems that the impurity of the land is a result of sexual offenses. On Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year the Torah reading is also about sexual offences. Why do sexual sins seem to be worse here than idolatry and injustice and insensitivity to suffering and other sins?

4. [Pirkei Avot Chapter 1:13]  “…whoever uses the crown  [of  Torah for personal gain] will perish.”  What is the crown of Torah and why is it such a serious offence to use it for personal gain?

5. [Pirkay Avot 1:17]  “…I have not found anything better than silence…whoever increases words, increases sin.”  There are times, however, when it is good to increase words. For example, “whoever says more about our leaving Egypt is praiseworthy”, or speaking to a person in order to create a closer relationship is a good thing.  In which situations is silence better and in which situations is speaking better?

Commentary

When a potential convert approached Hillel, and asked him to summarize the entire Torah on one foot, he replied, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your friend”. Insensitivity and cruelty are diametrically opposed to Judaism. A Jew must be merciful and charitable; to see someone else in pain should be unbearable.

–R. Y. B. Soloveichik, 1903-1993, USA.

This study page is dedicated to the memory of Gad Eliahu ben David and Kochava—Eli Zucker

And 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

(Vayikra 14:1-15:33)

 (Passover)

1. [Vayikra 14:34] “…and I will put the plague of tzara’at in a house of the land…”  The Talmud tells us that a house can get tzara’at as a result of theft that the people in the house did. Why is the house stricken, rather than the people in it?

2. Our tradition tells us that the disease of tzara’at comes on a person for the sin of “lashon hara”—saying negative things about someone for no constructive purpose. We don’t have the disease of tzara’at any more. Why not, and why do we, nonetheless, keep learning about it?

3. [Pesach]  The author of the Netivot Shalom (R.Sholom Noach Berezovsky 1911- 2000) tells us that the three regalim (Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot) represent a personal process. Why must there be a process at all? Doesn’t the first step alone–freedom–bring joy?

4. [Pesach]   The Pesach seder is our main time for passing our tradition on to our children. Many of our customs at the Pesach seder are practiced in order to keep the children awake and interested. So it would seem that the best time for the seder would be during the day. However, we make the seder at night, in order to be like the “seder” and the liberation in Egypt. Why is it so important to be like the original experience, when it weakens the main purpose of the seder—the education of the children?

5. [Pesach] On the morning of the 14th of Nissan (the 8th of April this year), we burn our remaining chametz. Our tradition tells us that chametz represents the evil inclination and especially arrogance. However, being free from the negative things in our personalities doesn’t happen immediately–it is a process and sometimes a long one. What is the ceremony of the burning and immediate destruction of the chametz supposed to teach us?

Commentary

[Vayikra 14:7] “And he will sprinkle upon the person who is purifying himself…”   Why does the pasuk say, “… who is purifying himself”, rather than “he who is being purified”?

The process of purification is not  passive. It is active. The impure person must help in his own purification through introspection and tshuvah.

Rabbi Meir Simcha HaKohen (1843 – 1926), Dvinsk, Lithuania

 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

(Leviticus 12:1-13:59)

 (Parshat Hachodesh)

(Shmot 12:1-20)

(Haftara: Yechezkel 45:16-46:18)

1. A person’s sins are rarely seen in the outward appearance of that person. Why is the punishment for “lashon hara”—tzara’at–  recognized on the skin of the sinner?

2. [Shmot 12:7]  “And they will take some of the blood, and put it on the two side-posts and on the lintel…”   Through this sign the angel of death will know that no-one in this house is to be killed.  The lamb was the idolatry of the Egyptians. Why was this sign used to distinguish the Israelites from the Egyptians?

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 Zucker

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

(Leviticus: 9:1- 11:47)

Parshat Parah

(Numbers: 19:1-22) / (Haftara: Yechezkel  36, 16-38)

  1. [10:2] “And a fire went out from before God…”   Nadav and Avihu were killed because they were closer to God and therefore were held to a higher standard than the regular people. Moshe was not allowed to enter Israel for the same reason. Is this fair? Shouldn’t those who serve God more, be rewarded rather than punished?
  • [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?
  • [10:6] When we mourn for a close relative, we tear our clothes and we don’t cut our hair. Aharon and his sons were told not to grow their hair long and not to tear their clothing. Shouldn’t our mourning be a natural expression of our emotion? Why should there be laws of mourning? On the other hand, why shouldn’t the priestly class be allowed to express their emotions in a physical way  like every other Israelite?
  •  [Parshat Parah: Bamidbar 19:11]  “Whoever touches a dead body…shall be impure for 7 days.”  What is “tumah”—spiritual impurity, and why should a person who touches a dead human body be impure?
  • [Haftara: Yechezkel 36:26] “…I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and I will give you a heart of flesh.”  God was complaining that the Jews are involved in idolatry. How will acquiring a “heart of flesh” cause the Jews to give up idolatry?

Commentary

[9:1] “And it was [Vayehi] the eighth day…”

Wherever the Torah says “vayehi”, it means something bad or painful. What is painful about setting up the mishkan (the Temple) in the desert?

The answer is that the existence of the mishkan itself is a painful fact. At first, God wanted His mishkan to be built in the heart of every Jew. However, after the sin of the golden calf, He was forced to limit His dwelling-place in this world to a physical tent.

–R. Yisrael of Rizhin, 1797-1850.

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

(Leviticus: 1:1-5:26)     

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. 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. [2:14] “If you bring an offering of the first grain…”  The first of fruits and grains are offered to God. The first is special. However, in our tradition old age is more respected than youth. In which situations is the first or the new more respected,  and in which situations is the old more respected?

4. [5:21] “A person who sins and commits a “me’ila” offence against God and he lied to his neighbour about…”    “Meila” is a term that means misusing the property of the Temple in a profane way.  This verse says that using God’s name to swear to a lie, is like using a vessel from the Temple for an unholy purpose. How do you understand that comparison?

5. [Purim]  The story and the laws of Purim are quite serious. The customs, however, are much less serious—costumes, noise when we hear “Haman”, purimshpiels etc.  What caused our tradition to make Purim into such a “fun” festival?

Commentary

[1:9] “…a sweet smell for God.”

A smell can be sensed from far away, so anything that can be sensed before reaching it is called a “smell”.  The most important quality of a sacrifice is that the person who brings it should repent and improve his or her actions in the future. Without that desire for improvement, God says, “Of what use are all of your sacrifices (Isaiah 1:11). The “sweet smell” is the anticipation of the good actions in the future.

–R. Yitzchak Mayer of Gur, Poland, (1799-1866)

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