(Genesis-25:19-28:9)

(Haftara Shmuel I, 20:18-42)

  1. [25:31] “Sell me your birthright.” Ya’akov is called an “ish tam”—an honest man [25:28]. However, he takes advantage of Esav’s weakness and buys the birthright from Esav. Can he still be called an honest person after this sale? Can he still be called an honest man after he tricks his father in order to get the blessing?
  2. [26:27] “Why have you come to me?” asked Yitzchak. “You hate me.” Avimelech had driven Yitzchak away and now he wanted to make peace. Yitzchak is at first truthful and antagonistic, and later becomes friendly.  What are Yitchak’s real feelings and what does this encounter tell us about Yitzchak?
  3. [27:46] “Rivkah said to Yitzchak: I am disgusted with life because of those Hittite women.” Rivkah is again deceiving Yitzchak with this speech.  She really wants to protect Ya’akov from Esav.  This whole story is full of deception. However, the mission of this family in the world is to practise and teach the world “kindness and justice” [18:19].  How can such a pure mission come out of a beginning so full of deception?
  4. [Haftara: 20:33] “…And Saul threw his spear at him…” Saul is the first king of the Israelites in the land of Israel, and it is obvious that his mind is unbalanced. Why does our tradition insist on telling us that our heroes are not always heroic and our leaders are sometimes far from perfect?
  5. [Haftara: 20:42] “God will be between me and you, and between my descendants and your descendants forever.” Our tradition considers the love between David and Yehonatan to be a pure love, as opposed to other types of love.  What is a pure love?

Commentary

Since the commandments were given by God in order to bestow His highest good upon us, they should be observed in a thankful spirit befitting such a gift. One should therefore keep the commandments out of love and reverence for God, not because of one’s preferences or logic, or for any other ulterior worldly motive. In all observance, one’s only motive should be to serve God…

–R. 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

(Genesis 23:1-25:18)

Haftara (Kings I  1:1-31)

  1. [23:1 ] “And the life of Sara was 100 years and 20 years and 7 years..” Rashi says that the Torah should have said that Sarah was 127 years old. He quotes a midrash which says that when Sara was 100 years old, she was like a 20 year old in relation to sin, and when she was 20, she was like a 7 year old in relation to beauty. The Ramban says that the extra words here are not meant to teach us anything special, but this is just the way people speak Hebrew. Why does the Ramban reject Rashi’s explanation?
  2. [24:3] “…don’t take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites…” Why was Avraham so opposed to taking a wife for Yitzchak from among the Canaanites? Rivkah also comes from a family of idol worshippers.
  3. [24:63] “And Yitzchak went ‘lasuach basade…’”    Rabbenu Bechaya (11th century, Spain) says that the simple meaning of this phrase is that Yitzchak went to enjoy a stroll among the trees. He then quotes a midrash that tells us that Yitzchak went to pray. How do each of these different interpretations change our image of Yitzchak?
  4. [24:67] “…and he loved her…”  The Torah tells us that Yitzchak loved Rivkah.  Avraham didn’t mention anything about love to Eliezer when he sent him to find a wife for Yitzchak.  Love between a husband and wife seem to be important to the Torah, so why didn’t Avraham mention the factor of love to Eliezer?
  5. [24:67] “…and he took Rivkah and she was his wife and he loved her…” The Ramban says that Yitzchak loved Rivkah because she was righteous like Sara. The Netziv says that he loved Rivkah for herself.  Which is the deeper love?

Commentary

[23:4] “I am a stranger and a resident with you…”

The Jew is a “resident” in the world. The Torah tells us not to escape the events and reality of this world, but rather to live in the world and elevate it. However, at the same time, the Jew feels himself a “stranger”. His true home is the world of spirituality, holiness and Godliness.

–R. Menachem M. Schneersohn, the Lubavitcher rebbe, USA, (1902-1994)

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 18:1-22:24)

(Haftara: II Kings 4:1-37)

  1. [18:13] “God said to Avraham, “Why did Sara laugh, saying ‘Will I really give birth when I am so old’”. God told Avraham that Sarah had said that she was too old to have a child. Rashi tells us that God had lied to Avraham here.  Really Sarah had also said that Avraham was too old to have a child, and our tradition allows lying for the sake of peace. Why didn’t God tell the truth to show how much we value the truth?
  2. [18:24] “Maybe there are 50 righteous…” Why did Avraham negotiate with God?  Why didn’t he simply say that for the sake of even 10 righteous people the cities should not be destroyed?
  3. [19:8] “…I have two daughters…” When the people of Sdom wanted to rape Lot’s guests, Lot said that he would give them his young virgin daughters. Lot made a moral choice which may not have been the best choice.  We often prefer situations where the correct moral choice is more obvious. What does the Torah want to teach us by putting people into difficult moral situations?
  4. [22:2] “And He said, “Take your son, your only son…” Our tradition understands the commandment to sacrifice Yitzchak  as Avraham’s last trial. It seems, however, that God commanded him and Avraham was ready to do this without hesitation. Why is this a trial?
  5. [Haftara–Kings II, 4:3]  “And he said, “Go borrow vessels…”  Elisha told the woman to bring him vessels so that he could do the miracle of giving her oil. We are told in our spiritual tradition that one has to have a vessel in order to be blessed.  What does it mean to have a vessel and how does one develop a vessel for oneself?

Commentary

The light that comes from the source of the soul has a special character. The light that is drawn from words and thoughts of Torah has a special character. And the light that is drawn from knowledge of the world and  its phenomena also has a special character. The wholeness of a person comes when one can unite these three factors and lights, and they can nurture and affect each other. There are many colours in fire,  and this is why we bless for Havdalah:  “Blessed is He who creates the lights of the fire.

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

(Genesis 12:1-17:26)

Haftara (Isaiah 40:27-41:16)

  1. [12:1] “… ‘Leave (lech lecha) your land’…”  R.  Menahem Mendel of Kotzk (1787-1859, Poland) says that the phrase “lech lecha” means, “Go to your true self.”  What is the difference between one’s “true self” and one’s “untrue self”? How do each of these “selves” behave differently?
  2. [12:2] “And you will be a blessing…and all the families of the earth will be blessed in you.”  Why doesn’t the Torah say that “all the families of the earth will be blessed by you? Why is the emphasis here on “families” rather than tribes or nations?
  3.  [15:6]  “And he believed in God, and he (He) considered it tzedaka (justice or charity) on his part.”  Rashi says that God considered it tzedaka on the part of Avraham. The Ramban (1194-1270) says that Avraham considered it tzedaka on the part of  God.  What does it mean that it was considered “tzedaka” according to each of these explanations?
  4. [15:8]  “And he said, ‘My Lord, God, how will I know that I will inherit it’?”  The midrash tells us that Avraham and his descendants are punished because Avraham questioned God by saying, “How will I know that I will inherit the land”.  On the other hand, Avraham is rewarded when he says to God in relation to Sdom, “Will the judge of the earth not do justice?” Why is Avraham punished for questioning God in the first statement, but not in the second one?
  5. [Haftara: 41:8] “…Avraham, my friend.”  In what way was Avraham God’s friend? What types of relationship can a person have with God  other than that of a friend?

Commentary

The nation which does not have the collective power to rise to holiness,  cannot collectively pass on to its children the desire to live purely and ethically. Only the nation that has holiness resting in its deepest spiritual depths can encourage its children to be ethically pure, to the point where the individual will also rise up to holiness.

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

(Genesis 6:9-11:32)

(Haftara: Isaiah 54:1-55:5)

  1. [6:11] “And the land was corrupted in front of God…”  The Ibn Ezra (Spain, 1089-1167), explains that “in front of God” means “in public”, or it could mean only “in front of God”—in private. Which is worse—to be corrupt in front of everyone, or to have a good public image, but be corrupt in private?
  2. [6:12] “…because all flesh corrupted its way…” Rashi explains that this       means that all the living things had sexual relations with other species. Why is that so bad that it deserves the flood?
  3. [8:21] “And God smelled the sweet fragrance…”  We know that God is not at all physical, and that the Torah gives God physical attributes because “the Torah speaks in the language of  people”.  On the one hand, giving human emotions and actions to God makes God easier to understand, but on the other hand, this is misleading, and could make some people think that God is almost physical. How can one justify giving human emotions and human actions to God?
  4. [11:4]  “And they said, ‘Let us build ourselves a city and a tower and its top will be in the heavens, and let us make ourselves a name…”  What was the sin of these people?
  5.  [11:30] “And Sarai was childless…”  Sarah, Rivkah and Rachel were all childless for long periods of time. How did this affect them and how does it affect us?

Commentary

[6:16] “Make a tzohar (window /brightness) for the tayva (ark/word).

“Tayva” means an ark, but in mishnaic Hebrew it also means a “word”.  A word of Torah, or of prayer, properly said, can save the world from a devastating flood of materialism and physicality. This pasuk can be understood to mean “make the word bright”.  Every word of Torah or prayer that comes out of your mouth should be clear and bright.

–R. Yehudah Leib Alter, the Sfat Emet, Poland, 1847-1905.

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

Chol Hamoed

  1. [Sukkot] There is a commandment in the Torah to be joyful on Sukkot. The books of Jewish Law tell us to eat foods that we like and to buy and wear new clothing that we like etc. If we value spiritual joy, why do we also attach value to physical enjoyments? Shouldn’t we emphasize the fact that spiritual joy is the real joy?
  2. [Sukkot] On Sukkot, we wave the palm branch together with the willow branches, myrtle branches and the etrog. Our tradition tells us that each article represents a different type of person, and taking them together shows the unity of the Jewish people. The books also talk about each article representing a different part of the body. There are many different metaphorical interpretations of this commandment. If a person takes the articles without thinking of any metaphorical meaning, is he or she doing the commandment in a worse way, or in a better way?
  3. [Sukkot] Rabbi Nachman says that sukkah, and prayer with concentration and the land of Israel all represent the same idea. What do these three commandments have in common?
  4. [Zechariah 14:21–Haftara of first day of Sukkot] “…on that day, there will no longer be a merchant (of religious articles) in the house of God.” We have nothing against merchants in general. Why, and in what situations, do we find it offensive when people make profits from religion and religious articles?
  5. [Kohelet 5:1] “…a time to search and a time to lose…” Kohelet is telling us that there is a time for everything in the world. When is the time to lose?  Don’t we know that everything has its proper time? What new understanding is Kohelet trying to teach us?  

Commentary

When, because of tshuva, one reduces the life-force…there is also a reduction of the will to do good. The vitality of the pure life is also weakened…Therefore, the time of repentance is followed by days of holy joy and happiness, in order to restore the will for good and the pure vitality of life. Then the repentance becomes complete.

–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

  1. [Yom Kippur] The “Sfat Emet” (18471905, Góra Kalwaria, Poland) says that on Yom Kippur,  “…we must remember that in addition to sins like theft and so on, we must especially repair the sins of the heart. We must really love each other”.  To return the value of something that was stolen is rather simple. But how can one change oneself and really love others?
  2. [Machzor of Yom Kippur] “Forgive the whole congregation of Israel, because everyone sinned unintentionally”. On Yom Kippur, we take responsibility for our actions, and want to correct our behavior. If so, why do we say to God at the beginning of the Yom Kippur service that we sinned unintentionally? Isn’t this a denial of our behavior, and avoiding responsibility?
  3. [Machzor of Yom Kippur] “…for the sin that we sinned in front of you out of confusion…” In the confessions of Yom Kippur, we ask forgiveness for sins we committed “out of  confusion”.  Are sins that were done out of confusion better or worse than sins that were done because we lost control of ourselves?
  4. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov tells us that if a person is introspective and judges himself or herself all year round, then there is no judgment from Heaven. If there is no judgment and no need for forgiveness, how should an introspective person relate to Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur?
  5. On Yom Kippur, many people have a custom to learn the laws and procedures of the Yom Kippur service in the Temple in Jerusalem. The climax of this is the Kohen Gadol– the high priest–going into the Holy of Holies. The high priest was the only one who was allowed to go in once a year. How does learning these laws and procedures help a person achieve pardon and purity on Yom Kippur?

                                                   Commentary

The future will show the remarkable power of tshuva.  This revelation will be of much more interest to the world than all the amazing things that one usually sees in the vast areas of life and existence. This new revelation will attract and influence everyone. Then the world will really be renewed and sin will come to an end. The spirit of impurity will be purged away, and all evil will vanish like smoke.

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

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

 

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 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 29:9-31:30)

(Isaiah 61:10-63:9)

(Pirkay Avot Chapters 5 & 6)

  1. [30:2] “And you will return to God, and you will listen to His voice…” The Torah values someone who returns to God. The Talmud tells us that someone who returns to God is greater than someone who was always righteous. In what ways is one who returns greater, and what causes this greatness?
  2. [31:2] “I am 120 years old to-day; I can no longer go out and come in.” The Torah tells us in another place that Moshe still had his physical strength, so this pasuk must mean that he can no longer go out and come in psychologically or spiritually. What does it mean in a spiritual sense that he can no longer “go out and come in”?
  3. [Haftara: Isaiah 63:8] “For He (God) said, ‘Certainly they are my children, they will not lie.’ So He was their saviour”. God is our savior because we would not lie to Him. Why is lying to someone considered a serious betrayal, even if the lie is about something relatively unimportant?
  4. [Pirkay Avot 5:23] “…the shy (bashful) go to Paradise.” Why are the shy rewarded with Paradise?
  5. [Elul] On the night after next Shabbat, we begin saying Slichot, and then we say them in the early morning on most days until Yom Kippur. In the Slichot, we ask God to forgive us, “for the sake of Your name…for the glory of Your name”. What does it mean that God should forgive us for the sake or the glory of His name?

Commentary

Through tshuvah, everything returns to Godliness. Because of the existence of the power of tshuvah in all the worlds, everything returns and connects to Godly perfection. Through thoughts of tshuvah, understanding tshuvah and its emotions, all of our thoughts, imagination and knowledge, our desires and our emotions are transformed and again placed within the realm of the Divine.

–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 26:1-29:8)

(Haftara Isaiah 60:1-22)

(Pirkei Avot Chapter 3-4)

  1. [26:13] “I have not transgressed your commandments, nor have I forgotten them”. The Sfat Emet  (Poland: 1847-1905) says that this means, “I have not transgressed your commandments, and I have been totally present while doing them”. How can a person be aware of God and be totally present at the same time?
  2.  [26:18] “…making you His special [treasured] nation…” What does it mean to be “His special [treasured] nation”? Knowledge of this fact can lead to group ego for us and jealousy from others. Why did God tell us “publicly” that we are His special nation?”
  3. [28:45-48] “These curses will come upon you…because you did not serve God joyfully”.    What does joy add to the service of God that makes that service into the genuine service of God?
  4. [29:8] “…do them in order that you should ‘taskilu’ in everything that you do.”   The Sforno (Italy-1475-1550) understands this pasuk to be saying that one should “do them [the commandments] in order that you should be perceptive and understanding in everything that you do”. Some people would say that one should do the commandments in order to show devotion to God. Which of these two attitudes is the higher service of God?
  5.  [Yeshayahu 60:14]    “…all those that despised you will bow down at the soles of      your feet…”    This is a messianic vision. One would think that in the ideal world, there will be equality. What purpose is served by our enemies bowing at our feet?

Commentary

Let everyone express in truth and in faithfulness whatever his soul reveals to him. Let him bring his spiritual creativity from potential to actual, without any deception. Out of these sparks, torches of  light will be made, and they will light up the whole world with their glory. And out of fragments of inner truth, the great truth will emerge.

  1. 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