(Leviticus: 9:1- 11:47) / (Haftara: Machar Chodesh: Shmuel I, 20 :18-42)

(Sfirat Haomer) / (Pirkay Avot: Chapter 1)

  1. [10:10] “To distinguish between the holy and the profane, and between the impure and the pure.” We are commanded to make precise distinctions in our lives and in our learning. On the other hand, we say in our prayers, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord, the whole world is full of His glory” (Yishayahu 6:3). It has been said that “Until one sees the uniqueness of everything, one cannot see the holiness in common ”. Do you agree with this statement or not?
  2. [Haftara: Shmuel I, 20:18] David and Yehonatan, Naomi and Ruth, Pirkay Avot (“Acquire for yourself a friend”)–the Torah values friendship. The Torah commands us to do acts of kindness and to love our fellow people in general. Why doesn’t the Torah command us to have at least one good friend?
  3. (Sfirat Haomer) 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 Shavuot, 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 1:1] “…be careful and deliberate in judging…” The first behavior mentioned in Pirkay Avot is for judges to be very careful in their judgments. How does a very fair system of justice, benefit the whole society and the relationships within the society?

Commentary

The first night of Pesach brings expanded consciousness, because the light of the Creator is suddenly revealed at that time. Then the expanded mind goes away and a person falls to constricted mind. A person must then collect the holy lights one by one during the days of sfirah rising from one quality to another until one comes to the festival of Shavuot, the day of the giving of our Torah, and one returns to that original light of the first night of Pesach.

–R. Sholom Noach Berezovsky, the Slonimer rebbe, 1911- 2000, 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

(Shmot 33:12-34:26)

(Ezekiel 37:1-14)

(Sfirat Haomer)

  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. [Shmot 34:7] “…visiting the sins of the fathers on the children and on the grandchildren until the third and fourth generations.” The Torah tells us that the children and grandchildren will suffer because of the parents’ sins. Elsewhere [Dvarim 24:16], however, it says, “…each person will die only for his own sin.” How can we understand the first pasuk in a way that seems fair and makes sense to us?
  3. [Ezekiel 37:11] “…our hope is lost…” In the prophetic passage, the Jewish people are saying that hope is lost. In the national anthem of the state of Israel, Hatikvah [The Hope], the poet uses these same words from Ezekiel, but changes them to say that our hope is not lost. What is it about the way of the Torah or about the Jewish people that does not allow us to say that our hope is lost?
  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. [Sfirat Haomer] On every night between Pesach and Shavuot, we count the Omer. We anticipate Shavuot and our receiving of the Torah by counting every day. However, if we forget to count for one full day, we can no longer make the blessing on this commandment. Why is this so strict? What educational message is being communicated by the strictness of this law?

Commentary

[Pesach Seder] Through Pesach and especially through the matzah that one eats on Pesach night, one acquires an elevated state of mind, and realizes that God’s Light fills the whole world. However, in order to acquire this state of mind in a more permanent way, one has to pass through obstacles. These obstacles are symbolized by the maror—the bitters—that we eat at the Pesach seder.  These obstacles could be from one’s surroundings or they could be from one’s own stubborn personality. However, God reduces the effect of these obstacles, and this is symbolized by dipping the marror into the charoset (mixture of nuts and honey).  By passing through these obstacles, one comes to that elevated state of mind.

–R. Natan of Breslov (1780-1844) based on R. Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810)

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

 

Haggadah

  1. [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?
  2. [Haggadah] In the Haggadah, R. Eliezer deduces that there were not just 10 plagues on the Egyptians, but there were really 240 plagues. What purpose is served by adding onto the number of plagues written in the Torah?
  3. [Haggadah] At the Pesach seder, we remember the Egyptian experience by retelling the story. We also remember the bitterness of the slavery in Egypt by eating bitters; we remember the haste of the liberation by eating matza; and we remember the liberation by drinking wine. Why are talking and eating our main ways of reliving the Egyptian experience and the redemption? Why not something more experiential, similar to the sukkah on Sukkot?
  4. [Pesach] One of the commandments of the Pesach seder is to tell the story of the liberation from Egypt.  The story is supposed to be told through questions and answers. It should be interactive. Which is more educationally effective–a very clear and entertaining lecture from a skilled teacher, or a question and answer format with a less skilled teacher?
  5. [Pesach] On the personal level, the word Mitzrayim (Egypt) can also be pronounced metzarim in Hebrew—narrow places. Narrowness is a narrowness of mind and of emotion. It suggests fear and unwillingness to expand or to love. It suggests being enslaved by one’s negative habits, opinions, emotions and behaviours. What can a person do to try to free himself or herself from this narrowness?

Commentary

Through the fact that all the souls join together, joy is created…because the soul is like a lit candle, as it says “The lit candle of God is the soul of man” (Proverbs 20). When souls come together light is created, and through that joy is created.
–R. Nachman, 1782-1810, Breslov, 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

(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

(Exodus: 35:1-40:38)

Parshat Para

  1. [Parsha] These 2 parshiot are unusual because they are mainly a repetition of Trumah and Tzaveh. The commentaries tell us that in Trumah and Tzaveh the commandments were given and in these parshiot the commandments were fulfilled. We also find in the Torah that in relation to sins, first the Torah gives a warning not to do a particular sin, and then the Torah tells us what the punishment is. Why must there be 2 distinct steps that are strongly emphasized and developed? Why not mention the commandment and say that it was done or mention the sin and its punishment all in one statement?
  2. [Parshiot Para, Hachodesh and Hagadol] We read Parshat Para to remind us that we have to purify ourselves as a preparation for Pesach. We read Parshat Hachodesh to remind us that Pesach is approaching and we read Parshat Hagadol to remind us that Pesach is very close. The other festivals do not have so many reminders in the synagogue that the festival is approaching. Why is there this emphasis on preparing for Pesach?
  3. [Pesach] On Pesach, we are not permitted to eat or drink bread or grain products, and, in addition, we are not even allowed to have them in our possession. Some rabbis say that, if one would suffer a financial loss by throwing out his grain products, he can sell them in a legal sale to a non-Jew, and then try to buy them back after Pesach. Other rabbis do not allow this sale for the regular Jew, but only for big commercial companies. What do you think is the logic for each side of this halachic argument?
  4. [Pesach] In Jewish ethical thought, the rising of the dough in bread and cakes represents the evil inclination. Why is this a good metaphor for the inclination to do evil?
  5. [Pesach] Someone cleaned his or her house and removed all the chametz (grain products). Then he or she saw a cat go into the house with bread in its mouth. Would one have to clean the house again, or could one assume that the cat will eat the bread?

Commentary

Sometimes a person can’t speak at all, and it seems to him that he is not able to open his mouth in prayer and meditation. He is too attached to material things, or he has physical and spiritual troubles. Nonetheless, at a time like that, he should force himself to call out to God from the place of his trouble….through that forcing, he will be worthy, usually, to experience a spiritual release, and  he will be able to pray and to express himself as he should.

–Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, 1772-1810, 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

 

(Shmot 30:11-34:35)

(Haftara: Kings I [Melachim I] 18, 1-39)

(Purim)

  1. [31:2] “Look, I have called by name Betzalel ben Uri…” Betzalel is called by name, and  Moshe is also called by name [33:12]. What does it mean to be called “by name” and what does it mean to be called, but not “by name”?
  2. [31:13] “…it is a sign (ot) between me and you…” Shabbat is a sign (ot) between God and man, and tfillin are just called a sign (ot). What does it mean that Shabbat and tfillin are an “ot”? Why is Shabbat an “ot” between man and God, and tfillin is simply an “ot”?
  3. . [32:4] “And he (Aharon) took it from them… and made it a molten calf”. Aharon was not really punished for the sin of the golden calf. Why wasn’t he punished?
  4. [Haftara: Kings I (Melachim I) 18:21] “…how long will you stay between two opinions. If God  is  God, then follow Him, and if Ba’al then follow him…”   Isn’t this a dangerous educational method? The people could have said that they choose Ba’al.  Why did Eliyahu choose these words, rather than simply rebuking the people for being  idolators?
  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

The will makes the ethical decision; the body implements and executes; through his will, man becomes master of his body. The moral act starts with the will,  but is only completed by the body through mitzvoth ma’asiyot, actual mitzvah performances. This is a unique feature of Judaism, to proclaim the will as all-powerful, sufficient to transform the whole of life.

–R. Yoseph Dov Soloveitchik,  1903-1993, Lithuania, 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

(Exodus: 27:21- 30-10)

(Shmuel I, 15:1-34)

(Parshat Zachor, Fast of Esther, Purim)

  1. [27:20 ] “And you will command the children of Israel and they will take for you pure olive oil…” The language of this pasuk is very strong in Hebrew. The olive oil for the menorah is the job of the Kohanim and could have been part of a longer list of articles for the mishkan. What is so important about the olive oil for the menorah that makes the Torah emphasize it so much?
  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.  Pirkay Avot tells us that in the religious life, effort is what counts (Pirkay Avot 5:26).  Which of these two types of people is more praiseworthy?
  3. [Shmuel I, 15:9] “And Shaul and the people spared Agag…” Shaul was a wealthy king and he was specifically told that God commanded him to destroy all of Amalek. He meticulously carried out most of the commandment. What was Shaul thinking that caused him to spare the king of Amalek and other things.
  4. [Purim] Purim seems to us to be the festival which is most suitable for children. However, our tradition tells us that Purim is one of our most important and serious festivals. Why is Purim so important, and why has it been made into such a “fun” festival?
  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

Know yourself and your world. Know the meditations of your heart and of every thinker. Find the source of your own life and of the life beyond you and around you—the glorious splendour of the life in which you have your being.

–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

 

(Numbers 25:1-27:20)

(Kings I,  5:26-6:13)

  1. [25:8] “…and I will live among them.” How does a central place of holiness cause God to dwell “among” or “between” the people? What does it mean to “dwell among” the people?
  2. [25:15] What is the purpose of never removing the poles with which one carries the Ark? If they are only used for carrying, why must they always be in place?
  3. We are told that both the broken tablets of the ten commandments and the unbroken ones were in the Ark. What is the purpose of also keeping the broken ones?
  4. [25:8] “Make for Me a tabernacle…” Many of our commentaries tell us symbolic meanings of the furniture and the utensils of the mikdash.  There are, in fact, many fascinating symbolic meanings to many of the commandments. If a person doesn’t think of any symbolic meaning, but just does the commandment with awareness, but in a simple way, how much is he or she losing, or how much is he or she gaining?
  5. If the Temple were to move between the tribes of Israel, it would give the message that God is everywhere. What purpose is served by having the Temple fixed in Jerusalem?

Commentary

[25:2] “…and they should take a contribution for me.”

This pasuk should say, “They will give a contribution to me”. Why does it say “take” in the pasuk?

When a person gives to God with pure motivation, he or she is really giving to themselves. God doesn’t need anything, so the person is really giving for his or her own good. The giving to God is really a taking for oneself.

–Sfas Emes, Rebbe Yehudah Leib Alter, (1847-1905), Ger, Poland

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

 

(Numbers 21:1-24:18)

(Haftara: Jeremiah 34:8-22, 33:25,26)

  1. [21:37] “…(the thief) will pay 5 cows for stealing a cow, and 4 sheep for stealing sheep.” The midrash says that God has mercy on a sheep thief because, unlike the cow thief, he humiliated himself by having to carry the sheep on his shoulders. Why does the Torah worry about the thief’s honour?
  2. [22:20] “…because you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” The Torah tells us not to oppress the stranger, and we are reminded that we were strangers in Egypt. In other commandments, we are not told to remember our own experiences. Why is this extra encouragement or motivation given with this commandment?
  3. [23:5] “When you see your enemy’s donkey suffering under its load…” What quality of personality is the Torah trying to develop in us by telling us to help our “enemy”? Why is this quality worth developing?
  4. [24:11] “…and they saw God and they ate and drank.” After having a very elevated vision of God, the elders ate and drank. Why would they eat and drink after such an experience?
  5. [Yirmiahu 34:9] “That everyone should let his slave…go free…” The Torah does not seem to like slavery, but slavery is allowed with very specific limitations. The Torah does not hesitate in forbidding many things. Why didn’t the Torah totally forbid slavery?

Commentary

Which is the way to love God and to be in awe of Him? When a person looks deeply into His actions and His wondrous creations, and he sees His limitless wisdom, immediately he loves and praises and deeply desires to know the great God.

–R. Moshe ben Maimon, the Rambam, 1135-1204, Spain and Egypt.

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 18:1-20:23)

(Haftara: Isaiah 6:1-7:6, 9:5,6)

  1. [18:1] According to Rashi, the Torah is not written in chronological order. According to the Ramban (R. Moshe ben Nachman 1194-1270, Spain), the Torah is written in the order in which it happened. So Rashi thinks that Yitro and the total reorganization of the Israelites occurred after the revelation at Mount Sinai, and according to the Ramban it happened before. How is the story of the revelation at Sinai different according to each of these opinions?
  2. [19:21] “…so they shouldn’t break through to God to see, and many of them will fall”. The Sforno (Ovadiah Sforno, 14751550—Italy) says that the Israelites will rise to Moshe’s level during the revelation–meeting God face to face—and they should not think that they can also go up onto Mount Sinai. If they are at Moshe’s spiritual level, why can’t they go up onto the mountain?
  3. [20:2] “…who brought you out of the land of Egypt”. Why doesn’t God present himself as He “who created the world”?
  4. [Midrash Rabba, Bamidbar 1:7] The midrash says that “anyone who does not make himself ownerless (hefker) like the wilderness cannot acquire wisdom and Torah”. What does that mean?
  5. [Haftara, Isaiah 6:11] “…until cities be waste without inhabitant…” According to our tradition and our sources, there will be a difficult time before the final redemption. Why must there be this difficult time?

Commentary

[19:2] “And Israel camped before the mountain”. [Rashi] “Like one man with one heart…”

Unity among people is possible only when there is humility. If some of the people consider themselves superior to others, then there cannot be real unity.  When the Israelites looked at Mount Sinai and saw that it was lower than the other mountains, they acquired humility.

 –R.  Chaim Yosef David Azulai (Chida), (1724-1806), Jerusalem .

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