First Day: (Genesis 21) / (Shmuel I 1:1-2:10)

Second Day: (Genesis 22) / (Jeremiah 31:2-20)

1. Rosh Hashana is the birthday of the world, but is also Judgment Day for the world. We blow the shofar to awaken ourselves, but we also eat apple and honey to celebrate the sweetness of the new year. What should a person’s mood be on Rosh Hashana—fear of judgment or a celebration of life?

2. Maimonides (the Rambam) tells us that we blow the shofar in order to wake ourselves from our spiritual sleep. Why do we try to awaken ourselves in such an emotional and unsophisticated way? Wouldn’t it be more effective to appeal to the mind with an effective reading from the Torah or the prophets?

3. Rosh Hashana begins the “10 days of tshuvah” which end on Yom Kippur. “Tshuvah” really means return—to God, and one’s people and a purer state. What if one never felt that he or she was involved with God or his people or a purer state? To what is he or she returning?

4. [Shmuel I 1:15] In the Haftara for the first day of Rosh Hashana, Chana says, “I have poured out my soul before God”.  We learn many laws of prayer from Chana, and she is a model of prayer for us. Why is this read on Rosh Hashana?  We pour out our soul in front of a dear friend, not in front of a judge. Should we relate to God with fear, as we would to a judge, or with intimacy, as we would to a good friend?

5. [Jeremiah 31:12] In the Haftara for the second day of Rosh Hashana,  Yirmiahu prophesies a messianic vision. In it, he says, “Their soul shall be like a watered garden”. What does it mean to be “like a watered garden”? Why is this a vision of an ideal time?

Commentary

There are two types of “tshuvah”: lower tshuvah and upper tshuvah. In “lower tshuvah”, a person regrets a particular sin or act, confesses to God, and says that he or she will not do it again. In “upper tshuvah” a person says “I want to be closer to God. I want the light of God to shine within me”. Both are necessary, but the most common tshuvah in modern times will be “upper tshuvah”.

–R. Avraham Yitzchak Hacohen Kuk (1865-1935), Lithuania, Israel.

This study page is dedicated to the memory of Rivkah Rochel bat Ya’akov haLevi and Chaya Kornberg, and Yechiel Eliezer ben Yitzchok Meir and Rochel Laya Kornberg

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

(Deuteronomy 29:9-31:30) / (Isaiah 61:10-63:9)

 (Slichot)

1. [29:9] “You are all standing today in front of God—your leaders, your tribes…”  Moshe says that all are standing in front of God today to be part of the covenant. Then he mentions all parts of the people specifically. What purpose is served by mentioning each part of the people separately, after we are told that all the people are being addressed?

2. [30:2] “And you will return to God and you will listen to His voice…”  Rav Kuk tells us that we hear the voice of God speaking to us as individuals and as groups, in our everyday lives.  In what ways do we hear the voice of God speaking to us?

3. [31:21]  “…and this song will serve as a witness for them…”    When the Jews will have turned away from God and  bad things will happen to us, this song will help to return us to God.   What qualities does song have that makes it better than stories or declarations to change a person’s attitudes?

4. [Haftara: Isaiah 63:9]  “In all their pain, He was pained…”   Isn’t God higher than pain. What does it mean when we are told that God is in pain when the Jews are in pain?

5. [Slichot] “The soul is yours and the body is your work…” On Saturday night, September 4, we begin saying slichot in order to prepare for Rosh Hashana and tshuvah.  Why do we say, “The soul is yours and the body is your work…”?  It would seem that this does not make us more responsible, it puts all the focus on God. How does saying this prepare us for tshuvah?

Commentary

The main ”listening to the voice of God”, is when one pays attention to the  whole process of life in all of its details…The more the details seem to be coming from an elevated spiritual place…in a clear way, the more a person hears with clarity the voice of God speaking to him—teaching and commanding.

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

This study page is dedicated to the memory of Rivkah Rochel bat Ya’akov haLevi and Chaya Kornberg, and Yechiel Eliezer ben Yitzchok Meir and Rochel Laya Kornberg

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

(Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19)

(Haftara: Isaiah 54:1-10)

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

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

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

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

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

Commentary

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

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

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

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

This study page is dedicated to the memory of Rivkah Rochel bat Ya’akov haLevi and Chaya Kornberg, and Yechiel Eliezer ben Yitzchok Meir and Rochel Laya Kornberg

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

(Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17)

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

(Pirkay Avot Chapter 6)

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

2. [15:7] “When there will be a poor man among your brothers…” The Torah tells us that we should give a poor person enough charity to return to his former financial state. Therefore, someone who was previously rich would get much more charity than someone who was previously poor.  What is the logic in this?

3. [Haftara: Isaiah 54:13] “And all your children will be taught by  God…” In this messianic vision, we are told that everyone will be directly taught by God. What is the difference between being taught by God directly and being taught indirectly by God?

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

5. [Pirkay Avot 6:6, 6:8]  Mishna 6 mentions honour (kavod) in a negative way—the Torah is acquired by distancing oneself from “kavod”. However, mishna 8 says that “kavod” is a good quality for a righteous person. Is honour (kavod) a good thing or a bad thing?

Commentary

Even though learning Torah and  performing the commandments of the Torah purify one’s personal qualities and one’s personality, one cannot rely on those things alone. One must also work purposefully on the improvement of one’s character.

–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

(Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25)

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

(Pirkay Avot Chapter 5)

1. [8:7]  “God is bringing you to a good land with brooks of water… going out in the valleys and the hills.”   In our literature, the land of Israel represents the ideal state of mind, and its government represents the ideal government—“a light unto the nations” (Yeshayahu 42:6). However, “valleys and hills” seem to represent failures and successes.  How can there be failures if we’re talking about an ideal state of mind and an ideal world?

2. [10:16] “Circumcise the foreskin of  your heart…”  Our texts also talk about the circumcision of the tongue. Our tradition speaks quite naturally about sex and related issues. We, unlike Western culture and religion, do not see sex as “original sin”. On the other hand, we have many restrictions about when sex is permitted and who our sexual partners can be. How can we, at the same time, be so guiltless about sex, and still have so many restrictions?

3. [11:24] “Every place that your feet walk will be yours…”   On a spiritual level, this seems to mean that in the ideal mental state, one will feel comfortable wherever one is. On the other hand, we are expected to be sensitive to injustice—to the weak and the poor. Does being comfortable mean that one will be less sensitive to the moral demands of one’s life?

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

5. [Pirkay Avot 5:10] “There are 7 qualities in a wise person: …he doesn’t interrupt another’s speech, he answers clearly without confusion, he asks according to the subject and answers properly, he answers in the order of the subjects raised…he admits to the truth”.  If a person is not really wise, but has these qualities, does that make the person wiser?

Commentary

Whoever loves true “wholeness” must remove from his heart every trace of arrogance. Arrogance eliminates the grandeur of the spirit. And when arrogance is gone…it leaves behind an impression of joy and true humility.

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

This study page is dedicated to the memory of Rivkah Rochel bat Ya’akov haLevi and Chaya Kornberg, and Yechiel Eliezer ben Yitzchok Meir and Rochel Laya Kornberg

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

(Deuteronomy  3:23-7:11)

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

(Pirkay Avot, Chapter 4 )

1. [4:7] “…listen to the laws and judgments…so you can live and come and inherit the land…”   The mission of the Jews is mainly publicizing one universal God, and spreading the importance of justice and compassion. Our mission can be carried out anywhere. Why do we need a land?

2. [4:30] “…and you will return to God…”  The Torah tells us that after sinning, the Jews will be dispersed all over the world, and then, as a result of their suffering, they will return to God.   Why does returning to God happen through suffering, rather than through positive events and joy?

3. [Haftara,  Isaiah 40:4] “Every valley shall be lifted up and every mountain and hill shall be made low.” This is a vision of the ideal life in  the messianic future.  The Radak, R. David Kimchi, (1160-1235),  says that in messianic times there will be no need to struggle.  Other sources, however seem to say that there will be struggle in the time of messianic consciousness.  Do you think that there will be struggle in the ideal messianic era or not?

4. [Pirkay Avot 4:1] “Who is strong? He who subdues his evil inclination..”  Why does it say, “He who subdues” rather than he who “eliminates”  his evil inclination?

5. [Pirkay Avot 4:1] “Who is strong?  He who subdues his evil inclination…”   The Ba’al Shem Tov says that one should use the evil inclination in the service of God.  How does one use the evil inclination in the service of God?

Commentary

When the longing to be good to everyone becomes intensified in a person,  then he knows that an illumination from the higher realm has come to him.  He is praiseworthy if he prepares a proper place in his heart, his mind, his actions and in all his feelings to receive this elevated light. It is the most precious asset on earth.  Let him hold onto it and not let it go.

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

This study page is dedicated to the memory of Rivkah Rochel bat Ya’akov haLevi and Chaya Kornberg, and Yechiel Eliezer ben Yitzchok Meir and Rochel Laya Kornberg

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

(Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22)

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

  1. [1:13] “Get men who are wise, understanding and knowledgeable…”  The first commandment that Moshe recalled is the appointment of judges and the necessity for justice, honesty and integrity. While justice is very important, one would think that proper beliefs, or devotion to God are more basic values in the Torah. Is justice our most basic value?
  2. [1:17] “…don’t be afraid of any man, for the judgment is God’s…”  This pasuk is speaking to a judge. What does it mean?
  3. [2:3] “You have circled this mountain (Sinai) long enough. Travel to the north.” Why were the Israelites circling the mountain? What change in mentality is represented by renewing their traveling?
  4.  [Haftara: Isaiah 1:11] “What do I need your many sacrifices for? says God.” God tells us through the prophet that He has no pleasure in the festivals and sacrifices if the Jews don’t act morally.  Can giving sacrifices with the right motivation help to make a person moral? What effect are the sacrifices supposed to have on us?
  5. [Haftara 1:27]  “Zion shall be redeemed with justice, and those that return to her with righteousness”.  It seems that the collective redemption is dependent on justice, while the individual redemption is dependent on righteousness. Is there individual redemption without collective redemption? What is the difference between justice (mishpat) and righteousness (tzedek)?

Commentary

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

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

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

–R. Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter (18471905),  Góra Kalwaria, Poland—the Sfat Emet

This study page is dedicated to the memory of Rivkah Rochel bat Ya’akov haLevi and Chaya Kornberg, and Yechiel Eliezer ben Yitzchok Meir and Rochel Laya Kornberg

And this study page is also dedicated to the memory cof Gad Eliahu ben David and Kochava–Eli Zucker

(Numbers: 30:2-36:13)

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

(Pirkei Avot 2) 

  1. [32:1] “And the sons of Reuven had a lot of cattle…”  Two  and a half of the tribes of Israel had many cattle and wanted to remain on the other side of the Jordan River in order to take advantage of the pasture land there. An agreement was made which would allow them to stay on the other side of the Jordan. How can this agreement be possible? Wasn’t the goal of leaving Egypt to be a unique nation in the very holy and special land of Israel?
  • [36:3] “…their inheritance will be taken away from the inheritance of their fathers…”   The Torah prefers that the land of one tribe remain within that tribe.  However we know that one of the most important values of the Torah is unity between people.  What is the Torah’s message here?  Do we want unity or do we want clear differentiation?
  •  [3 weeks before Tisha b’Av]  We are now in the 3 weeks before Tisha b’Av. During these days we prepare for mourning for the first and second Temples and many other tragedies in Jewish history. The Temples, however, are just physical structures. What does the Temple and its service represent that would make us mourn so deeply.
  • [Pirkei Avot 2:1] “Be as careful with a minor mitzvah as with a major one, because you don’t know the rewards for the mitzvot.”  We do know that some mitzvoth are more important than others.  For example, Shabbat is very important and the mitzvoth of kindness are the most important.  Therefore their rewards should be greater than those of other mitzvoth. What does the mishna mean when it says that one should not make a distinction between mitzvoth?
  • [Pirkei Avot 2:2] “…all Torah study that is not accompanied with work will ultimately be forgotten and cause sin.”  One would think that the more Torah one learns, the richer one’s life is in every way.Why does being involved in the world help a person acquire and retain Torah? 

Commentary

The higher holiness is full of  love, compassion and tolerance, when it is in its most perfect state… The more intense the search for God is in a person’s heart, the more the love of all people will grow in him.

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

This study page is dedicated to the memory of Rivkah Rochel bat Ya’akov haLevi and Chaya Kornberg, and Yechiel Eliezer ben Yitzchok Meir and Rochel Laya Kornberg

And this study page is also dedicated to the memory cof Gad Eliahu ben David and Kochava–Eli Zucker

(Numbers: 25:10-30:1)

(Pirkay Avot, Chapt. 1)

1. [27:15] Moshe asks God to appoint a new leader for the Israelites, who would lead after Moshe dies. In addressing God, Moshe calls Him “God of the spirits of all flesh”. What is the meaning of this description of God, and why specifically at this point does Moshe use this description?

2. [Pirkay Avot 1:1] “Moshe received the Torah at Sinai, and passed it to Yehoshua, and Yehoshua passed it…”  Why doesn’t the Mishna say that Yehoshua received it from Moshe, and the elders received it from Jehoshua etc.?

3. [Pirkej Awot 1:6] “… and judge each according to his merits.” This statement is usually understood in this way that when there is doubt concerning someone’s actions, then you have to assume that this person has acted accordingly. Rabbi Nachman understands, however, that sentence in such a way that if you suspect that someone committed an unworthy act, you should look deeper into this man and find the spark of Holiness and goodness that is deeply hidden. Does the first opinion not agree with the opinion of R. Nachman? Does R. Nachman not agree with the first opinion?

4. [Pirkay Avot 1:6]  “…judge every person to the side of merit.”  If we are doubtful about whether a person did the right thing or not, we should assume that the person did the right thing. It would be more truthful to leave open the possibility that the person did not do the right thing. Why are we advised to judge every person in a positive way?

5. [Pirkay Avot 1:6-7]  “Distance yourself from a bad neighbour.” [1:12]  “Be one of the students of Aaron–love peace, pursue peace, love people and draw them close to Torah”.  Isn’t there a contradiction here? If one should distance oneself from bad neighbours, how can one draw them close to Torah?

Commentary

“Search for God when He can be found (Yeshaya 55:6)”—the initiative for the search rests entirely with man…The path to God is not a highway, but rather a narrow winding and challenging road.

–R. Y. D. Soloveitchik, 1903-1993, USA.

This study page is dedicated to the memory of Rivkah Rochel bat Ya’akov haLevi and Chaya Kornberg, and Yechiel Eliezer ben Yitzchok Meir and Rochel Laya Kornberg

And this study page is also dedicated to the memory cof Gad Eliahu ben David and Kochava–Eli Zucker

1. [20:29] “…and Aharon died…” Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch says that “only a few days earlier, this same people had made the most serious and unjust accusations against the man whom they now mourned.  This shows that the complaints were a passing mood, but the people appreciated their leaders. ” What does this observation tell us about the people of Israel?  What does it tell us about Aharon?

2. [21:5] “…our soul is sick of this insignificant bread…” This bread was the manna that God gave the Israelites—the miraculous food. How could they belittle the bread in this way? What does this show us about human nature? 1.        

3. [23:3]  “And Bila’am said to Balak, “Stand over your offering…” Our tradition has an ambivalent relationship to Bila’am.  On the one hand, Balak considers him a suitable person to curse Israel. On the other hand, he gives Israel an extremely positive blessing, and speaks in beautiful, positive poetic images. The Torah also presents personalities of Israel with their weaknesses, in addition to their strengths. What type of personality is the Torah trying to develop in us, by having us learn about and identify with people with complex personalities?

4.   [23:9] “…a people will live alone, and will not be counted among the nations”.  Is this statement positive or negative?  How does it describe the situation of the Jewish people today?

5. [24:17] “…a star will step out of Ya’akov…”  The Ramban understands that the star, which is in the far ends of the universe, represents the people of Israel, who are in the far ends of the earth. The metaphor of a star is used to represent the Jewish people in a number of places in the Torah. Why is a star a good metaphor for the Jewish people?

Commentary

“I am always afraid to be more clever than I am religious. I would rather be religious than clever. But better than both religious or clever, I would like to be good.”

–R. Pinchas Shapira, 1726-1791, Koretz, Poland.

This study page is dedicated to the memory of Rivkah Rochel bat Ya’akov haLevi and Chaya Kornberg, and Yechiel Eliezer ben Yitzchok Meir and Rochel Laya Kornberg

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