(Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19)

(Haftara: Isaiah 54:1-10)

(Pirkay Avot: Chapter 2)

  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. [23:8, 24:14,17] The Torah demands that we be very compassionate with those who have helped us, and with the weaker people in our society. However, the Torah can be very merciless with those who are considered evil. If we were compassionate with the evil, couldn’t many of them become good? Why is the Torah so uncompromising with evil people?
  4. [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?
  5. [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

[21:13] “And she should remove the clothing of her captivity…”

The base thoughts that a person has—thoughts of selfishness and lust—have within them a spark of holiness that yearns to be free and return to its source.  However, this holiness is covered, so to speak with dirty clothing. A person must remove the dirty clothing and the holiness within will shine like the morning light.

–R. Israel Baal Shem Tov (1700-1760)

 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 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. [7:22 ] “slowly, slowly; you cannot remove them quickly…” Here, the Torah is telling us to be patient. However, when we left Egypt, the Torah told us to move very quickly and leave quickly [Shmot 12:11].  When is the proper time for patience and when is the proper time for haste?
  2. [8:2] “Remember the way that God took you… in order to make you suffer, in order to test you…” After things are good, one should remember the suffering in the desert, which was a test from God.  Obviously, they passed the test. What purpose is served by remembering suffering and tests of this kind?
  3. [8:7] “God is bringing you to a good land with brooks of water… going out in the valleys and the hills.”  In our spiritual literature, the land of Israel represents the ideal state of mind. Why is a land of hills and valleys more ideal than a flat land?
  4. [Yeshaya 51:1] “…you that chase after justice, that seek God…” Why are seekers of God only those who chase after justice.  What about those who chase after love or after peace or inner peace—are they not seekers of God?
  5. [Pirkay Avot 5:13] “…what’s mine is yours and what’s yours is yours, is a chassid…”  A chassid is someone who does more than is asked of him.  What is the ideal, balanced approach to one’s property and sharing it with others?

Commentary

            When a person is on a trip and he can’t pray or learn Torah in his normal way, then he should serve God in other ways, and he shouldn’t be bothered by this, because God wants him to serve in all ways—sometimes in this way and sometimes in that way.  That’s why he happened to be going on a certain road, or speaking to certain people, in order to serve God in that particular way.

–R. Yisrael ben Eliezer, 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

(Deuteronomy  3:23-7:11)

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

(Pirkay Avot, Chapter 4 )

  1. 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.

  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

(Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22)

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

 (Pirkay Avot: Chapter 3)

  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. [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?
  3. [Pirkei Avot 3:9] “R. Chanina ben Dosa says: ” Anyone whose fear of wrong-doing is more important to him than his wisdom, his wisdom will endure, but anyone whose wisdom is more important to him than his fear of wrong-doing, his wisdom will not endure.” Why is it that only a moral person can have wisdom?
  4. [Pirkei Avot 3:10] He used to say, “Anyone who people like, God also likes, and anyone who people don’t like, God doesn’t like.” Why do we equate God’s perception of a person to people’s perception of a person? People can be wrong in their perceptions!
  5. [Tisha b’Av]  Tisha b’Av commemorates the destruction of the first and second Temples and all other tragedies in Jewish history. The Talmud says, “Whoever mourns for Jerusalem will be worthy to see the joy of Jerusalem, and whoever does not mourn for Jerusalem will not see the joy of Jerusalem”.   Why should seeing joy be dependent on whether someone mourned?

Commentary

Waves from the higher realm act on our souls ceaselessly. The stirrings of our inner spiritual sensitivities are the result of the sounds released by the violin of our souls, as it listens to the echo of the sound emanating from 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

 

 

 

(Numbers: 30:2-36:13)

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

(Pirkay Avot 2)

  1. [Haftara: Jeremiah , 3:4, 4:1,2] : If a haftara ends with a negative statement, then positive psukim are added. That is the purpose of the last psukim in this haftara. Is this wise? In this haftara, God has been rebuking the Jews. Wouldn’t it be more proper to finish with a negative statement so that the Jews will regret their actions and return to God?
  2. [Pirkay Avot 2:2] “Torah, together with work, saves a person from sin. ” One would think that the more Torah, the less sin. How does work help to save a person from sin?
  3. [Pirkay Avot 2:13] The mishna asks, “Which is the good way that a person should go on?” The mishna ends by saying that a “good heart” is the best way because it includes generosity, and a good friend, a good neighbour, and the quality of foreseeing the future. How does a good heart include all of these other qualities?
  4. [Pirkay Avot 2:15] “Warm yourself by the light of the wise men, but be careful…because their bite is the bite of a fox…and all their words are like burning coals.” Shouldn’t our true teachers be constantly loving. Why do they have this “biting” side to them?
  5. [Calendar] We are now in the 3 weeks before Tisha b’Av. In these weeks, we have no marriages, no dancing, playing musical instruments, or cutting hair. Our tradition wants to prepare us to mourn properly on Tisha b’Av. Similarly, before Purim, we prepare to be joyful. However, in Jewish life in general, we often change very quickly from one emotion to another—we go from a funeral to a wedding, and so on. What is special about Tisha b’Av that would require this extra preparation?

Commentary

[33:2] “And Moshe wrote their leaving [Egypt] according to their various journeys…”   Why did Moshe have to write down every place that the people stopped?

Leaving Egypt represents leaving behind one’s slavery to the physical—one’s  pleasures and one’s dependencies.  A person might think that after he or she has freed themselves of their enslavement to the physical, one can forget the past, and live in the freedom of the present. The Torah, therefore, is telling us that one must remember the past in order to correct one’s mistakes—the negative acts that one did. Only then can one really live freely in the present.

–R. Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter (18471905),  Góra Kalwaria, 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

 

(Numbers: 25:10-30:1)

(Haftara: Melachim I, 18:46-19:21)

  1. [25:12] “Therefore I am giving him my covenant of peace.” The Talmud Yerushalmi tells us after Pinchas killed Zimri and Kozbi and stopped the plague, the chachamim wanted to excommunicate him. However, when they saw that Pinchas was rewarded by God with the priesthood and the covenant of peace they changed their minds. How can it be that the wise men of the time were so out of touch with God’s way of seeing this incident?
  2. [27:1] Tzelafchad died and left behind 4 daughters and no sons. The daughters requested that the inheritance go to them, and Moshe asked God and God agreed that the inheritance should go to them. Why wasn’t this law obvious? Why did Moshe have to ask God?
  3. [27:1] Apparently, if the daughters of Tzlafchad had not requested the inheritance, they would not have received it. What might the Torah be trying to teach us here?
  4. [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?
  5. [Haftara: Melachim I, 19:11,12] “…God was not in the wind…God was not in the earthquake…God was not in the fire…a still, small voice.”  God was in the still, small voice. The commentaries say, “…speaking and silence at the same time”.  What does this tell us about the nature of prophecy and communication with God?

Commentary

[27:17] “…a leader who will take them out and who will bring them in. And let not the congregation of God be like sheep that have no shepherd”.

Moshe was asking for a real leader—”…who will take them out and who will bring them in”. An ineffective leader follows the will of the people and is dragged into their impurity, but a real leader raises the people out of their impurity and up to the heights of holiness.

(–Rabbi Yitzchak Meir of Ger (1799-1866

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: 19:1- 22:2)     

 (Shoftim 11:1-33)    

(Pirkay Avot 5)

  1. [20:1] “And Miriam died there…” In relation to Miriam’s death, the Talmud tells us that “the death of the righteous brings purification from sin.” How can we understand this in a natural, non-mystical way. How does the death of righteous people affect the people he or she left behind and purify them from sin?
  2. [20:10] “…listen, you rebels, will we bring water for you out of this rock?” The Rambam (Spain, Egypt, 1135-1204) says that Moshe’s sin here was that he angrily said to the people, “Listen you rebels…”. Moshe had gotten angry at the people before. Why is this event considered worse than the other times?
  1. [Pirkei Avot  5:13] “One who wants to give [charity], but does not want others to give..”. Why would a person who gives charity not want others to give? How could one rid himself of this quality?
  2. [Pirkei Avot 5:19-22] “…[those with] a good eye, a lowly spirit and a humble soul are the students of Avraham our father”.  Ovadiah of Bartinuro (Italy, 1400’s) says that “a humble soul” means that the person is careful and in control of his appetites. What is the connection between having a humble soul and being in control of one’s appetites?
  3. [Pirkay Avot 5:21-26] “…the reward is according to the effort.” According to this, the really significant people are the ones who try the hardest. We, however, usually honour the ones who achieve the most. Why don’t we give more honour to the people who try the hardest?

Commentary

[21:18] “and from the wilderness to Mattanah [gift].”

At first it was thought that a person can integrate the Torah into himself  by developing in the 48 ways (that are enumerated in Pirkay Avot).  Then it was understood that the Torah can be acquired even by someone who has not worked at it, but rather acquires the Torah as a gift. This happens when someone becomes devoted to serving God constantly in every way that he can serve.

Sfat Emet,  R. 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 to the memory of Sarah Beila Kummer bat Yitzchak and Chana, Chaim Yosef Yechiel ben Eliyahu Kummer and Eliyahu and Margaret Kummer

(Numbers: 16:1-18:32)

(Haftara: Shmuel I, 11:14-12:22)

(Pirkay Avot Chapter 4)

  1. [16:3] “All the people in the community are holy…”  Rashi explains that “all the people” is referring to the whole nation, and this is the most common understanding of the story of Korach.  Rabbenu Bachya, however, explains that this phrase is referring only to the first-born males.  How is Rabbenu Bachya’s  understanding of  Korach’s motivation  different from Rashi’s understanding? How is the whole story different according to Rabbenu Bachya?
  2. [Haftara: Shmuel I 12:3] “…whose ox have I taken; whose donkey have I taken; whom have I cheated…?”  Shmuel is presenting his reliability as the religious leader to the people. Why does he mention his ethical behaviour rather than his prophecies or military success?
  3. [Haftara: Shmuel I 12:17] “…your wickedness is great in asking for a king”.  Why is wanting a king so bad? Why did God and Shmuel, nonetheless, appoint a king for the Israelites?
  4. [Pirkay Avot 4:4, 5]  [4:4] “…Be very, very humble”.[4:5]  “…One who learns Torah in order to teach, is given the opportunity to learn and teach.”  Teaching Torah is considered a very good activity—in fact it is a commandment of the Torah to teach what one knows.  It is also very important to be humble. Doesn’t teaching show a lack of humility? Isn’t a teacher giving the message, “I know, and you don’t know”? How can one be a teacher and be humble?
  5. [Pirkay Avot 4:17] “Greater is one hour of repentance and good deeds in this world than all of the world to come. And one hour of bliss in the world to come is greater than all of this world.”  Which world is more desirable, this world, or the world to come?

Commentary

[17:23]  “…the rod of Aharon, of the house of Levi, blossomed, and it put out buds and blossoms and ripe almonds”.

This was a miracle.  Blossoms fall away before the fruit grows. Why did the flower remain even after the fruit came out? In matters of spirituality, the efforts and the preparations toward the goal are as precious as the goal itself.  In fact, achieving the goal without working toward it and making efforts, is a deficiency in the whole spiritual activity. So here, the blossoms remained with the fruit to show the importance of the means to the goal, as well as the goal.

–R. Moishe Feinstein, (1895-1986, Byelorussia, USA.)

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: 13:1-15:41)

(Haftara: Yehoshua 2, 1-24)

(Pirkay Avot 3)

  1. [13:27, 28] Our tradition looks upon the spies as the ultimate traitors. What was so bad about the spies’ message to the Israelites?
  2. [13:30] “And Caleb stilled the people”. Rashi says that Calev said to the people, “Is this the only thing that Moshe has done to us?”. This would get their attention and then he could encourage them to go into the land. The Sforno says simply that Calev told them to be quiet so that Moshe could be heard.  Each explanation has a different image of the Israelites. What is the difference between the explanations? Which seems more accurate to you?
  3. [Haftara: Yehoshua 2:1] Why did Yehoshua send the spies to Rachav, the prostitute, and what significance is there in the fact that Rachav, who protected the spies and helped the Israelites, was a prostitute?
  4. [Pirkay Avot 3:2] “Pray for the peace of the government, because without fear of the government, each man would swallow his fellow-man alive.” Rabbenu Yonah (1210-1268, Spain) explains this mishna in the following way: “A person should pray for the peace of the whole world, and feel the pain of others…everyone should have peace. When countries have peace, the world has peace.” Is Rabbenu Yonah’s view of mankind different from the mishna’s view of mankind? Why does Rabbenu Yonah change the emphasis of the mishna?
  5. [Pirkay Avot 3:14-20] “Beloved is man who was created in the image (of God). It is a sign of greater love that he was informed that he was created in the image…” Wouldn’t it have been more helpful and greater love not to tell man that he was created in the image of God—wouldn’t man have been more humble?

Commentary

[13:32] “…a land that consumes its inhabitants”.

The Hebrew word for “its inhabitants” in this verse—”yoshvehah”–literally means “its settlers”.

The Holy Land does not tolerate those who settle down, who are complacent and content with their achievements. One should always be aspiring to improve—to get closer to God, to people and to one’s real self.

–R. Yitzchak of Vorka (1779-1848), 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