(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

 

(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.