(Numbers 13:17–17:16)

(Haftara: Judges 4:4-5:31)

  1. [13:17] “God did not lead them by the way of the Philistines, even though it was close…” The Sfat Emet says that God didn’t want the Israelites to have an easy time at the beginning, so that later they would be able to deal with difficult situations.   The Israelites had already had a very difficult time as slaves in Egypt. Was this the best educational method to use at the time? What was good about it and what was not good about it?
  2. [14:21] “…God sent a strong east wind the whole night…” God had done so many miracles in Egypt. What was the point of making this miracle seem almost natural?
  3. [14:28] “The water returned and covered…all of Pharoah’s soldier’s…” The midrash tells us that when the Egyptian soldiers were drowning, the angels were singing joyfully. God told them to stop because “my creations are drowning”. In the book of Proverbs, it says “When your enemies fall, do not be joyful (24:17)”. However, it also says, “…when the evil ones lose, there is joy (11:10)”. When there is victory over evil, when is joy allowed and when is joy not allowed?
  4. [15:1] “Then Moshe and the Israelites sang this song to God…” It seems that they sang spontaneously. If we hadn’t been exposed to music from early childhood, would music come naturally to us?  Why is it that music has the power to express our emotions better than words?
  5. [17:16] “…God makes war with Amalek in every generation”. Amalek came especially from far away to make war for no apparent profit. Amalek represents cruelty for no reason. The Rambam tells us that if we know a cruel person, we should suspect that he or she is not really of Jewish descent. Is cruelty the worst human quality? Are there any personal qualities that are worse than cruelty?

Commentary

This is the mystery of the oneness of God. Wherever I take hold of a little bit of it, I take hold of all of it. And since the Torah and all the commandments are radiations of His Being, so whoever does a commandment with sincerity and love, and takes hold of a tiny bit of the oneness of God, has really taken hold of all of it.

–The Ba’al Shem Tov, 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

 

(Numbers 10:1-13:16)

(Haftara:  Jeremiah 46:13-28)

(Rosh Chodesh)

  1. [11:3] “God gave the people (of Israel) charm in the eyes of Egypt; also the man Moshe was very big in the land of Egypt…” The commentaries tell us that the Egyptians liked the Israelites because of Moshe who brought on the plagues. They liked the nation because of the person whom they feared and respected. What does this tell us about the Egyptians, or perhaps about human nature in general?
  2. [11:3] “God gave the people (of Israel) charm in the eyes of Egypt; also the man Moshe was very big in the land of Egypt…” God could have created conditions in such a way that the Israelites could have left Egypt in a less violent way.  Why did God want the Israelites to leave in such a dramatic way?
  3. [12:9] “Don’t eat it raw or boiled…” …” The last thing that the Israelites were supposed to do in Egypt was to have a meal and eat the Passover lamb quickly, with one’s shoes on and a staff in one’s hand, while being protected from the devastation outside by the blood on their door-posts.  What was the point of this kind of departure from Egypt?
  4. [12:11] “…and you shall eat it in haste…” “Haste” or “energy” is a value in a Torah way of life. There is even an opinion that if a commandment is not done with alertness and liveliness, one has not fulfilled the commandment. Why should one’s frame of mind affect whether one has fulfilled the commandment?
  5. [Rosh Chodesh] In the “Ya’aleh v’yavo”  prayer that we say on Rosh Chodesh, there is a difference between the Ashkenazi version of the prayer and the Sefardi. In the Ashkenazi version, we ask God for “life and for peace”, while in the Sefardi version, we ask God for  “a  good life, and for peace”. Surely Ashkenzim also want a good life. What is the significance of this difference?

Commentary

[10:9 ] “And Moshe said, ‘With our youth and with our old,  we will go…”

If a person brings with him his youthfulness, then he can also grow spiritually in his old age.  Through his youth, he can also be in the category of “going” even in his old age.

–R. Elimelech of Lizhensk, the Noam Elimelech, Poland, (1717-1786).

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 6:2-9:35)

(Haftara: Ezekiel 28:25-29:21)

  1. [6:2,3] “I appeared to Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’akov as “almighty God”, but by my name…” The Sforno (Ovadiah Sforno— Italy 14751550) says that “almighty God (El Shadai)” means God as the creator, while the 4 letter name of God refers to God as the constant operator of the world. He constantly keeps the world going. If the Patriarchs spoke to God, how could they not have known God by His 4 letter name. Doesn’t speaking with God mean that they knew God in His aspect of keeping the world going?
  2. [6:6,7, 8] “…I took you out, I saved you…” Our tradition speaks about 4 terms for redemption: “I took you out (of Egypt)… I saved you…I redeemed you (also spiritually) and I took you (to myself as a nation). The Torah is eternal and speaks on both a physical and a spiritual level. How do these terms apply to every redemption and how do they apply on a spiritual-psychological level?
  3. [7:3] “I will harden the heart of Pharoah and increase my signs and wonders…” The Sforno says that God wanted to increase His signs and wonders so that Egypt would release the children of Israel because of a recognition of God’s greatness and goodness, and not because of fear of the plagues. This explains why God hardened Pharoah’s heart. Did the Egyptians recognize God’s greatness and goodness. Is the Sforno’s explanation a good one?
  4. [7:5] “…and I took the children of Israel out…” The Chassidic texts tell us that there were sparks of Godliness trapped in Egypt and Israel went down to Egypt in order to raise up the sparks. In everyday terms, how did they raise up the sparks and how might we do it in our daily lives?
  5. [8:1] The plagues begin in this parsha. In the next parsha, God says “On all the gods of Egypt, I will make judgments”. Could these plagues be considered judgments against the gods of Egypt?

Commentary

[6:2] “And I appeared to Avraham to Yitzchak and to Ya’akov…”

On this phrase, Rashi comments, “And I appeared to the Avot (the forefathers…” What is Rashi adding here? We know that these are our forefathers. The Chatam Sofer (Pressburg, 1762-1838) says that Rashi is playing on the word, “avot”, which can also be understood in Hebrew as “those who are willing”.  So God is saying, “I appeared to those who wanted to have me appear to them”. The Rambam says something similar in relation to God calling Himself “Ehieh asher ehieh (I will be what I will be)”.  The Rambam explains, “I will be with those who want me to be with them”. Similarly the Kotzker Rebbe (Poland, (17871859) once asked his students, “Where can God be found?” He answered, “Wherever you let Him in.”

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

(Exodus 1:1 – 5:23)

(Haftara: Yirmiahu 1-2:3)

  1. [2:1] “A man from the house of Levi took a woman from the house of Levi (as a wife).” Our tradition tells us that Moshe’s father married his own aunt, and that that act was permitted before the Torah was given at Mt. Sinai. Why did the Hebrews have different laws before the Torah was given from the laws after the Torah was given?
  2. 2. [3:2] “…the bush burned with fire and the bush was not consumed.” If God had revealed Himself in a more impressive way, Moshe might have been more eager to accept God’s mission. Why did God reveal Himself to Moshe in a bush?
  3. [3:13] “…and they will say to me, ‘What is His name’, what shall I say to them?” Why does God need a name? Why can’t Moshe say that our God is so universal that He is beyond names?
  4. [4:10] “…I am slow of speech and of a slow tongue.” The Israelites had to be convinced to leave Egypt, and Pharoah had to be convinced to let them leave. Why didn’t God choose a more eloquent and charismatic leader for the Israelites?
  5. [Haftara: Yirmiahu 2:2] “I remember for you the affection of your youth…” In the way of the Torah, we are always trying to renew ourselves, and return to fresh perceptions. However, our cycle of the year in almost the same as last year and our daily prayers are almost the same as yesterday’s. How is it that we can have such regular practices and at the same time value fresh perceptions?

 

Commentary

Under all conditions it is important to find the quality of goodness in a person, and if its light is weak, it must be brightened through Torah and prayer.

(Genesis-47:28-50:26)

(Haftara: Kings I  2:1-12)

  1. [48:14] “And Israel put his right hand on the head of Ephraim, who was the younger…” Ya’akov got the rights of the first-born son even though he was younger than Esav. Now he is giving the rights of the first-born to Ephraim even though he is younger than his brother, Menashe. It seems that the Torah does not really value the rights of the first-born. If so, why does the Torah give the first-born extra rights?
  2. [48:20] “And he blessed them on that day, saying, “By you shall Israel bless, saying…” On the evening of Shabbat, when we bless our daughters we say, “May God make you like Sara, Rivkah, Rachel and Leah”.  When we bless our sons, we say, “May God make you like Ephraim and Menashe”.  What is so special about Ephraim and Menashe?
  3. [49:18] “For your salvation I hope, God”. Ya’akov says this short prayer in the middle of his blessings for his sons. This prayer does not seem to relate to anything that he is saying. Why does Ya’akov say it?
  4. [49:14] “Yissachar…crouching between the borders.” A number of commentators say that this means that Yissachar sleeps in unfamiliar places because he travels in order to teach Torah. What does this tell us about the Torah’s vision of teachers of Torah?
  5. 5. [Haftara: Melachim I, 20:6] “Do not let his old head go down to the grave in peace.” Among King David’s last words to his son, Shlomo, is this in order to take revenge.  Yosef Tzvi Hertz (born 1884) makes a distinction between this kind of revenge—which is to create a feeling of justice in the state—and revenge in one’s personal life.  Revenge for justice in the country can be justified, but personal revenge cannot be justified. Do you agree with this distinction?

Commentary

When a person feels that he is very much lacking and inadequate in his spirituality, he should know that the time has come for him to put up a new structure–more elevated, stable and magnificent than it was before.  And he should strengthen himself and strive to change his actions and his ways in an organized way, with a strong heart and with pure motivations—with a heart full of  strength and inner joy.  God is just and good. Therefore, He teaches sinners the way, directs the humble with justice and teaches the humble His way.

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

(Genesis-44:18-47:27)

(Haftara: Ezekiel 37:15-28)

  1. [44:18] Yosef is the model for Messiah ben Yosef. According to the Gaon of Vilna, the final redemption will be modeled on the redemption from Egypt, and one model will be Yosef and everything in his life. Yosef looked like an Egyptian and there was Geulah. The midrash tells us that the b’nei Yisrael, years later, were redeemed because they did not change their names, their language or their clothing. And that is also a model for the redemption. How can we resolve this contradiction? Is the model of redemption based on Yosef—to be a Jew in one’s heart, but be hidden, or is the model the b’nei Yisrael in Egypt?
  2. [45:14] “…and he cried and Binyamin cried on his neck.” Rashi says that they cried over the Temples that would be destroyed in the future—each in the other’s territory. Each of the brothers had a deep love and compassion for the other in relation to eternal matters. Other commentators say that they cried because they had been separated for so long. What might motivate Rashi to explain the brothers’ deep emotion in such an impersonal way?
  3. Some commentators interpret negative actions by our forefathers (like the sale of Yosef by his brothers) in a positive way. They had the most noble motivations. Other commentators see our forefathers as human and developing toward Godliness. Which school of interpretation do you prefer? Why?
  4. [Haftara: Yechezkel 37:22] The prophet tells us how in the messianic era, there will be no divisions among the Jews. If that is the ideal, then why was the division into tribes encouraged and reinforced earlier in our history?
  5. [Haftara: 37:24] “…and they shall all have one shepherd…” In another messianic vision, we are told that “all your children will be taught by God” (Yeshayah 54:13)—everyone will have a direct relationship with God. Here, we are told that there will be one leader on the model of a shepherd. If everyone will have a direct relationship with God, why is there a need for a shepherd-like leader?

Commentary

[Yechezkel 37:24] “And my servant David will be king over them…”

In the messianic future, all the Jews will return to God, and will repent totally for all their sins of the past. However, there will be many who will be embarrassed because they have so many sins. For these people, King David will be their inspiring example. From David’s life they will understand that “tshuvah” helps for everything—even the most severe sins– and one’s relationship with God and with the world can always be repaired.

Ahavat Yehonatan, Yonatan Eibeschitz,  (1690-1764), Prague

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

 

[Yechezkel 37:24] “And my servant David will be king over them…”

 

In the messianic future, all the Jews will return to God, and will repent totally for all their sins of the past. However, there will be many who will be embarrassed because they have so many sins. For these people, King David will be their inspiring example. From David’s life they will understand that “tshuvah” helps for everything—even the most severe sins– and one’s relationship with God and with the world can always be repaired.

 

Ahavat Yehonatan, Yonatan Eibeschitz,  (1690-1764), Prague

 

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

(Genesis-41:1-44:17)

(Haftara: Zechariah 2:14-4:7)

(Chanukah)

  1. [41:39] “…since God has informed you of all of this…” Pharoah believed that Yosef’s  interpretations of the his dreams and his servant’s dreams were true interpretations and come from God. On the basis of this, he even raised Yosef from being a prisoner to being Pharoah’s main officer. Nonetheless he remained an idol-worshipper.  How could Pharoah justify to himself the fact that the God of Yosef is so all-knowing and powerful, and yet still not devote himself to Yosef’s God?
  2. [41:51] “And to Yosef were born 2 sons…” Yosef named his first son Menashe because “God made me forget…my father’s house”, and he named his second son Ephraim because “God has made me prosper” in Egypt.  Some of our commentaries say that Yosef was only masquerading as an Egyptian, but was still a “Hebrew” in his heart.  Others disagree and say that Yosef , while believing in God, saw himself as an Egyptian. On the basis of the names that he gave his sons, which of these interpretations seems to be the better one. Could one also justify the other interpretation?
  3. [42:21] “…we are guilty about our brother…” Yosef hears his brothers say that they did wrong in selling Yosef.  Still he causes them a lot of trouble. Why doesn’t Yosef tell them who he is?  What more does he expect of them?
  4. [Chanukah] There is a difference of opinion whether after Shabbat, one should first light the havdalah candle which signifies the end of Shabbat or whether one should first light the Chanukah candles. What might be the reasons that underlie this difference of opinion?
  5. [Chanukah] On Chanukah, we were victorious over the Greeks, and we rejected Greek culture totally. Later, however, many of our rabbis had great respect for Greek philosophy and other aspects of Greek culture. At the time of the Maccabees, why couldn’t we accept some aspects of Greek culture and reject their paganism?

Commentary

The existence and survival of the nation are commemorated in the Chanukah candles and the miracle of Chanukah.  But a person should not think that the existence of the nation is for everyone’s personal gain. “One is not permitted to count money by the light of the Chanukah candles.” Rather, one must know that the purpose of the nation is a very elevated purpose. The name of God is what defines the nation, and the nation carries the covenant of the Torah in its heart.

–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

 

 

(Genesis-37:1-40:23)

(Haftara: Amos 2:6-3:8)

  1. [ 37:1] “And Ya’akov lived in the land of his father’s dwellings…”  After wrestling with the angel, Ya’akov received the new name, “Yisrael”, and this is considered a more noble name than Ya’akov. However, unlike Avraham and Sara, who also received new names, Ya’akov is still sometimes called by his old name, after receiving the new name. Why is it that after Ya’akov receives the new name, Yisrael, he is still often called Ya’akov?
  2. [37:5] “And Yosef had a dream, and he told his brothers, and they hated him even more.” The Torah tells us that Yosef’s brothers hated him because Yosef was his father’s favourite son. [37:4] Then Yosef told his brothers about his dreams in which his brothers  bowed down to him.  This is strange behaviour. If Yosef knew that they hated him, why did he tell them these dreams?
  3. [39:1] “And Yosef was brought down to Egypt…”  Yosef’s entry into Egypt is the beginning of the exile of the people of Israel. God had told Avraham that there would be an exile in Egypt. Why does it seem that the exile is a necessary condition in Jewish history?
  4. [Haftara Amos 2:7]   “…to profane My holy name.”  The prophet Amos lists the sins of Israel that show man’s inhumanity to man.  He calls these “profaning God’s holy name”? One would think that sins against God are “profaning God’s name”.  Why is “profaning God’s name” applied to sins against man?
  5. [Amos 3:2] “You only have I known of all the families of the earth. Therefore I will bring upon you all your sins.”  God says that because He is closer to us than to the other nations, he makes us suffer for our sins. If God is closer to us shouldn’t He be more lenient with us than with the other nations?

Commentary

[38:2] “And Yehudah saw the daughter of a Canaanite man…and he married her.” 

The midrash says that the brothers of Yosef were involved in fasting and tshuvah because of what had been done to Yosef, but Yehudah took a wife for  himself and God created the light of the messiah. R. Simcha Bunim of Pzyscha says that God liked Yehudah’s reaction to the sale of Yosef the best and therefore He created the light of the messiah. R. Menachem Mendel of Kotzk explains this in the following way: Yehudah knew that other than feeling regret, there was no way to make up for his part in the selling of Yosef. Therefore he decided to start his life again, and get married and do the first commandment which is to have children.  God was very pleased with this act of starting fresh and new, so he created the light of the messiah (who is one of Yehudah’s descendants).

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

(Genesis-32:3-36:43)

(Haftara: Ovadiah 1:1-3:21)

  1. [32:21] “…I will appease him with the present that goes before me…” Ya’akov had seriously hurt Esav, and Esav had wanted to kill him. Ya’akov thought that by giving Esav a generous gift, Esav would forgive him. It would seem that if Esav was ready to forgive Ya’akov, then a gift is unnecessary, and if Esav is not ready to forgive, then a gift is not going to help.  What was Ya’akov thinking in sending this gift to Esav?
  2. [32:27] “…I will not let you go unless you bless me…”  Ya’akov demanded a blessing and the “man” changed Ya’akov’s name to Yisrael.  It seems that if Ya’akov had not demanded a blessing, his name would have remained Ya’akov. The fact that Ya’akov became Yisrael is considered a big spiritual change.  What is the significance of the fact that Ya’akov had to demand the blessing?
  3. [32:29] “And he said, ‘Your name will no longer be Ya’akov, but rather Yisrael, because you have wrestled with God (or with powers)…”  The Jewish people are called Yisrael.  There are many stories about our forefathers. Why do we, as a nation, have a name that recalls this event?
  4. [Ovadiah 1:15] “…as you have done, it shall be done unto you…” The wicked should receive whatever bad they did to others. However, we see that sometimes the wicked prosper.  If God is totally just, then how can the wicked prosper?
  5. [Ovadiah 3:21] “And saviours shall rise up on mount Zion to judge the mount of Esav, and the kingdom will be God’s”. It seems that judging the mount of Esav will cause God’s kingdom to be revealed.  The pasuk does not speak of a victory over Esav, but rather of “judging” the mount of Esav. How can this judgment bring God’s kingdom?

Commentary

The great dreams are the foundation of the world…the prophets dream…the poets dream while awake…the great thinkers dream of the perfected world…we all dream….The crudeness of conventional life, which is wholly immersed in materialism, removes the light of the dream from the world…Then the vision of the dream will return and it will become a clear revelation.

–R. A. 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

(Genesis-28:10-32:3)

(Haftara: Hoshea 12:13-14:10)

  1. [28:12] “…a ladder was standing on the ground, and its top reached heaven…” In Ya’akov’s prophetic dream, angels were going up and coming down the ladder. One interpretation of this dream is that this represents a certain type of tzaddik’s frame of mind–feet on the ground—head in heaven.  Another interpretation is that the angels that accompany a person in Israel are not the same as the angels outside of Israel. If this is a prophetic dream, why isn’t its meaning more obvious?
  2. [29:11] “…and he raised his voice and he cried.” When Ya’akov met Rachel, he cried. The midrash says that he was crying because he had a prophetic vision telling him that he would not be buried with her. Another explanation is that he was crying because he had found his soul-mate after this difficult journey. How do each of these interpretations see Ya’akov’s character in a different way?
  3. [29:25] “…why have you tricked me?” Lavan tricked Ya’akov by giving him Laya as a wife instead of Rachel. Then Lavan told Ya’akov that he must work 7 more years for Rachel. Ya’akov did not protest about this extra time.  Why did he not protest?
  4. [29:13-32:3] Lavan has been described as a person of high ideals and of low behaviour. His behaviour did not match his philosophy. Is there any other way of understanding his behaviour?
  5. [Haftara: Hoshea 14:10] “The ways of God are straight. The righteous walk on them, but the sinners stumble on them.” If the ways of God are straight, why would sinners stumble on them?

Commentary

When a person makes tshuvah out of love, he has to forgive himself for all his sins, just like he has to appease his friend in order to get his forgiveness. Then after he is free of sin in his own eyes, there will come upon him the holiness that will turn all his sins into merits.

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