(Numbers: 8:1-12:16)

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

(Pirkay Avot, chapter 2)

  1. [9:7] “And those men [who were impure and couldn’t do the first Pesach] said to him, “We are impure…’ “. Whoever is ritually impure or too far away and can’t eat the Passover sacrifice on Passover can do it a month later. This law, however, was only instituted after these people asked for it. Why did God wait for the people to ask before he instituted the law?

  2. [12:2] “And they said, “Has God spoken only with Moshe, hasn’t he also spoken with us?”. Didn’t Miriam and Aharon know that Moshe’s prophecy was so much greater than theirs? What was it about Moshe’s behaviour or about the nature of his prophecy that made them think that they were equal to Moshe in prophecy?

  3. [Pirkay Avot 2:10(-12)] “Let all your acts be for the sake of Heaven”. R. Chaim of Volozhin says that even in satisfying one’s physical desires, one should act for the sake of Heaven. How can one act for the sake of Heaven while satisfying one’s physical desires?

  4. [Pirkay Avot 2:13] “Do not be wicked in your own eyes”. R. Chaim of Volozhin says that if one sees himself as evil, he may think that he can no longer return to God. But we know that if someone is righteous in his own eyes, he or she will also not return to God. What is the best self-image that a person can have in order to return to God?

  5. [Pirkay Avot 2:15] “Rabbi Tarfon says: The day is short, there is a lot of work…” It is more natural to say “Time is short.” What is gained by using this metaphor and saying “The day is short”?

Commentary

[9:21] “And sometimes  the cloud was there from evening until morning, and the cloud would go up in the morning and they travelled…”

The Sanctuary had many sections and parts. A work crew of several thousand Levites assembled the Sanctuary at each camp and dismantled and transported it when the Divine command would come to move on. Yet the “Tent of Meeting” was erected at every encampment–even if only for a single day! This teaches us that each and every one of our “stations” in life is significant. A person may find him or herself in a certain place or in a certain situation for a very brief period, and it may seem to him that he is merely “on the way” to some other place. Yet there is always something in that place or situation to be sanctified–something that can serve as a “Tent of Meeting” between Heaven and earth.

–R. Menachem Mendel Schneersohn of Lubavitch, 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

(Numbers: 4:21-7:89)

(Haftara: Judges 13:2-25)

(Pirkay Avot:Chapter 6)

(Sfirat Haomer)

  1. [5:14] “…and a spirit of jealousy comes on him…” When a husband suspects his wife of being unfaithful, she drinks something which tests her faithfulness.  One would think that there should be a better way of dealing with this difficult situation. In what kind of a society could this ceremony be understood as an enlightened way of dealing with this difficult situation?

  2. [6:25-26] “May God shine His face toward you…” What does it mean for God to shine His face toward someone? What does it mean for God to hide His face?

  3. [5:6] “…when they do any of the sins of man to betray God.” Rabbenu Bachya (Spain, 11th century) says that any sin that a person commits against his fellow is also treason against God. Why is doing wrong to a person a betrayal of God?

  4. [Haftara: Judges 13:3]: “And an angel of God appeared to the woman…” Our tradition tells us that God prefers to work within the laws of nature, rather than do miracles. Miracles are only for special situations. If so, why did an angel tell Shimshon’s mother about Shimshon’samson’s birth? Why couldn’t a human prophet have told her?
  5. [6:1] “R. Meir says, ‘Whoever learns Torah l’shma (literally: for its name) is worthy of many things…’ ” In our tradition, there are 2 main explanations of  “Torah l’shma”.  Torah l’shma is defined as learning Torah without ulterior motives—for the love of God. Others explain  the term as meaning learning Torah in order to learn it as thoroughly and clearly as possible—for the sake of the Torah.  Which explanation do you prefer? Why?

Commentary

When one truly looks at the good side of each and every person, one comes to love people with a deep love. One has no need for even the slightest flattery, because one’s interest in the good that one constantly meets, hides all the negative aspects from him.

–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 1:1-4:20)

(Haftara: Hosea 2, 1-22)

(Pirkay Avot Chapter 6)

(Sfirat Ha’omer)

(Rosh Chodesh)

  1. [1:2]  “Count the community of the children of Israel…”  The Hebrew phrase used here for counting people or taking a census means “lifting up the head”.  In what way does lifting up the head mean counting people?

  2. [4:20] “Let them not come and see the sacred things being taken down , or they will die.”   Why would there be such a negative effect on the sons of Kehat. if they saw the tabernacle taken down? What similar things do we have in our lives?

  3.  [Hoshea 2:21, 22]  “And I will betroth you to me…in honesty and in justice, in kindness and in compassion…in faithfulness, and you will know God.”  Honesty, justice, kindness, compassion and faithfulness—is that enough to really know someone, or is more needed?

  4. [Pirkay Avot 6:6]  “…don’t be happy with judging and teaching on matters of Torah law…”  Why should one avoid judging and teaching on matters of Torah law?

  5. [Rosh Chodesh] On Rosh Chodesh we pray the Hallel prayer. What does the following sentence mean: “The stone that the builders despised became the most important stone”?

Commentary

Rabbi Broka was in the marketplace in Babylon when he asked Eliyahu the prophet, “Are there any people with elevated souls in this marketplace?”.  Eliyahu pointed out two people. The man ran to them in order to see who these special people were.  “What do you do?” asked Rabbi Broka. “We are jokers”, they said. “We cheer up the depressed, or if we see two people having an argument, we work at making peace between them.”

–Talmud, Ta’anit 22a.

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

(Leviticus: 25:1-27:34)

(Haftara: Jeremiah 16:19-17:14)

(Pirkay Avot: Chapter 5)

(Sfirat Ha’omer)

  1. 1. [26:3] If you walk in My chukim (statutes)…” Chukim are commandments whose reasons are either not comprehensible, or very hard to understand. For example, the laws of kashrut and the commandment of tfillin are chukim. What quality of character is developed by performing commandments which we don’t understand?
  2. [Jeremiah 16:19] “…to You the nations will come from the ends of the earth.” We believe that in the future all the people in the world will recognize the one universal God who revealed the Torah to us. If this belief is the same for everyone, why do the Jews have so many commandments, while the non-Jews have 7 commandments?

[The numbering of the mishnayot in Pirkay Avot are not the same in all versions.]

  1. [Pirkay Avot 5:20-23] “One should be as brazen as a leopard… the brazen go to hell…” When is brazenness a Godly quality, and when is brazenness an undesirable quality? Do all human qualities have a holy expression and an unholy expression?
  2. [Pirkay Avot 5:10-13] “…what is mine is mine, and what is yours is yours is the quality of the average person, and some say it is the quality of Sodom (cruelty)…” R. Ya’akov Emden (Germany, 1697-1776) says that in order to change this quality a person should give a lot to others constantly, until generous behaviour becomes a part of his nature. Is this good advice? What other practices or advice might be suggested to a person who does not have a generous nature?
  3. 5. [Pirkay Avot 5:16-19] “Any love that is dependent on something–when the thing is gone, the love is also gone. But a love that is not dependent on anything never ceases.” We are told to “Love the person next to you like you love yourself” (Vayikra 19:18).  Is our love for ourselves a love that is dependent on something or a love that is not dependent on anything?

Commentary

[27:33] “…and he shall not exchange it…”

Every person was born with a mission in life that is distinctly, uniquely and exclusively his or her own. No one–not even the greatest of souls–can take his or her place. No other person who ever lived or who ever will live can fulfill that particular aspect of God’s purpose in creation.

–R. Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, (1902-1994), 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

(Leviticus: 21:1-24:23)

(Haftara:  Yechezkel 44:15-31)

(Pirkay Avot: Chapter 4)

(Sfirat Haomer)

  1. [21:1-2] “…he should not make himself impure for the dead…except for a relative who is close to him…”   The Kohen can go to the funeral of a close relative.  Since the Kohen does not go to a married sister’s funeral, it seems that the factor here is emotional closeness. We know, however, that a good friend can be emotionally closer to us than a close relative.  Were family relationships different in earlier times? Is this law for the sake of the Kohen or for the sake of the honour of the dead relative?
  2. [24:22] “…there will be one law for the stranger and for the home-born…” When someone converts to Judaism, he or she needs other Jews to supervise their entry into the Jewish people. Why isn’t it enough to simply declare one’s loyalty to God and the Torah?

  3. [Haftara: Yechezkel 44:23] “And they will teach my people the difference between the holy and the common…” Why do we make such a distinction between the holy and the common?  Why don’t the Kohanim teach that the common is a lower form of holiness and can be raised to a state of holiness?

  4. [Pirkay Avot 4:1] “…who is honoured? He who honours others…” Is this statement true?  He who honours others could be seen as subservient to the others.

  5. [Pirkay Avot 4:3] “…there is no thing that doesn’t have its place”. Is this statement true.  Is there a place in the world for theft or for insult or for arrogance?

Commentary

Not knowing where to go, I go to you. Not knowing where to turn, I turn to you. Not knowing how to speak, I speak to you. Not knowing what to hold, I bind myself to you.  Having lost my way, I make my way to you. Having soiled my heart, I lift my heart to you…Blessed are you whose presence illuminates outrageous evil…Blessed are you, who waits in the world. Blessed are you whose name is in the world.

–Leonard Cohen, Book of Mercy, Canada, 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

(Leviticus: 16:1-20:27)

(Haftara: Amos 9:7-15)     

(Pirkay Avot: Chapter 3)

(Sfirat Ha’omer)

  1. [19:2] “…be holy, because I, God, your Lord, am holy.” How can God ask us to be like Him? Isn’t this impossible?
  2. [19:11] “…don’t lie to each other.” Our tradition tells us that the place in the Torah where a mitzvah is written is significant. It relates to either what comes before or what comes after, Why does the commandment to be honest with another person come directly after the commandment to care for the poor and the weak?
  3. [19:17] “Don’t hate your brother in your heart, you must rebuke him…” Is the rebuke meant to stop us from hating? If one’s brother doesn’t listen, then the hate might even increase. What is the meaning of this pasuk?
  4. [Haftara: Amos 9:15] “I will plant them on their land and they shall no more be uprooted…”    Why is the metaphor of planting and being uprooted a good metaphor for the relationship of the Jewish people to the land of Israel?  Does every nation relate to its land the way that the Jews relate to Israel or is there a difference between nations?
  5. [Pirkei Avot 3:13] “…silence preserves wisdom.” How does silence help a person keep his or her wisdom?

Commentary

If we emphasize the positive traits of others, we will come to love them with a sincere love. This is not a form of flattery. Neither does it mean ignoring  faults and weaknesses of character. By concentrating on the other person’s positive qualities–and every person has some positive qualities–the undesirable aspects become insignificant.

–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

(Leviticus 12:1-15:33)

(Haftara: Kings II, 7:3-20)

 (Pirkay Avot: Chapter 2)

  1. [13:1] Our tradition tells us that tzara’at (a condition similar to leprosy) is a punishment for the sin of speaking badly about someone (motzi shem ra) with no constructive purpose. The Talmud says that this sin is equal to the sins of idolatry, sexual immorality, and murder”. Why is this sin so severe?

(Be aware that there are different traditions in numbering the mishnayot in Pirkay Avot.)

  1. [Pirkay Avot 2:4 or 5] Hillel said, “Don’t judge your fellow-man until you arrive at his situation”. Rav Ovadiah from Bartinoro (Italy-15th century) says, “If you see someone in a difficult situation, and he does not act properly, don’t judge him until you come to that same situation and you DO act properly.” But how can we ever judge another? Do we ever know another person’s life history and what internal and external pressures that person is dealing with?
  2. [Pirkay Avot 2:4 or 5] Hillel said,”…don’t say something that cannot be understood, hoping that in the end it will be understood”. Does this statement leave no room for poetry? Why are the books of Kohelet and Shir Hashirim included in the Scriptures? How should we understand this statement of Hillel’s?
  3. [Pirkay Avot 2:5 or 6] “In a place where there are no people, try to be a decent person”. This statement is usually understood to mean that if one is in a place where there are no decent people, one should try to be a decent person. Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin (1749-1821–Lithuania), however, understands this statement to mean that it is good to isolate oneself at times; and you should also act properly at that time because God sees you. Certainly R. Chaim would agree with the first interpretation. What might have prompted R. Chaim to give his interpretation?
  4. [Pirkay Avot 2:8 or 9] “If you learned a lot of Torah, don’t take credit for yourself, because that’s what you were created for.” Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin understands this to mean that you were created to learn according to your abilities. But your real duty is to go beyond your natural abilities, and make an effort to learn beyond what comes easily and naturally. Is R. Chaim saying something new to us or is he just explaining more fully the  original statement?

Commentary

[Vayikra 14:7] “And he will sprinkle upon the person who is purifying himself…”   Why does the pasuk say, “… who is purifying himself”, rather than “he who is being purified”?

The process of purification is not  passive. It is active. The impure person must help in his own purification through introspection and tshuvah.

Rabbi Meir Simcha HaKohen (1843 – 1926), Dvinsk, Lithuania

  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

(Leviticus: 9:1- 11:47)

(Haftara: Shmuel II: 6:1-7:17)

(Pirkay Avot: Chapter 1)

  1. [Parsha: 10:3] “And Moshe said to Aharon, “This is what God meant when He said, ‘Through those who are close to Me, I will be made holy…and Aharon was silent’ “. Is Aharon silent because he was comforted, because he was angry or for some other reason. How can we understand Aharon’s silence?
  1. [Haftara: Shmuel II, 6:14-16] “And David danced before God with all his strength…and Michal [his wife]…despised him in her heart”. If it was really undignified for David to dance like this, why did he do it? What does this show about a Jewish king?
  1. [On each Shabbat between Pesach and Rosh Hashana there is a custom to read and learn one chapter of “The Ethics of the Fathers”. On this Shabbat, we begin with the first chapter. (It can be found in a regular Siddur after the afternoon service of  Shabbat.) In each mishna, one of the Rabbis summarizes his life’s thoughts about ethics for the Jews.]

[Pirkay Avot, Chapter 1, Mishna 1] …”set up many students…” This is Beit Hillel’s  opinion (Pirkay d’R. Eliezer), but Beit Shamai  believes that one should teach only the best and not waste energy on the weaker students. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each opinion? Which do you agree with?

  1. [Pirkay Avot 1:3] This mishna tells us not to serve God in order to get a prize, but rather serve God out of pure love. Then the mishna says, “…and let the fear of Heaven be upon you”. What does the fear of Heaven have to do with serving out of pure love.
  1. [Pirkay Avot 1:7] “…don’t despair of punishment“. Why doesn’t this mishna say, “Worry about punishment” or “Be aware that there is punishment”. To which kind of person is this mishna speaking and what is the meaning of this phrase?

Commentary

[Pirkay Avot 1:6] “…and judge every person to the side of merit”.

This statement is generally understood to mean that if one is doubtful about the propriety of what someone has done, then assume that the person acted properly.

Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, however, understands this differently. He says that even if it is certain that a person did a sinful act, don’t judge the person by the act he did. Rather, look deeper into the person and find the spark of holiness and goodness which is deep within. Judge the person by the holiness within.

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 14:22/Numbers 28:19–25)

(Haftorah: Isaiah 10:32–12:6) / (Song of songs) / (Yizkor)

  1. [Chol Hamoed Pesach] Chol Hamoed Pesach celebrates the crossing of the Red Sea, when

God split the sea for us. Our mystical texts tell us that at that time, God made the miracles happen even though we had not earned them–we didn’t deserve them. At others times, however, we get miracles because we deserve them. Which miracles are preferable–those that we deserve, or those that are pure kindness from God without us deserving them?

  1. [Chol Hamoed Pesach] The midrash tells us that God split the sea only after one brave (or desperate) person jumped into the Red Sea. This act prompted God to split the sea for us. What is this midrash trying to teach us?
  1. [Chol Hamoed Pesach] We say Yizkor (a prayer for our deceased relatives) on the last day of Pesach and on the other festivals. Why do we remember our loved ones on our festivals?
  1. [Shmini shel Pesach] We read the Song of Songs on the eighth and last day of Pesach. Our sages tell us that the love between a man and a woman represents the love between us and God. We experience love for many different people and things. Are all our “loves” different expressions of one love, or is every love different from other “loves”?
  1. [Haftara Yishayahu 11:6] “The wolf will live with the lamb…” This is a messianic vision of the time when there will be total peace in the world. Some say that it is a metaphor and others say that we should take this vision literally. If there is total peace, will there be growth? Doesn’t our creativity need some tension in order to be effective?

Commentary

At two times of the year, a Jew is able to renew himself, so that it is as if he were newly born–on Yom Kippur and on Pesach. On Yom Kippur, it is through one’s own actions. Through tshuvah, one becomes fresh and new. On Pesach, the renewal is an act of love from God.

R. Sholom Noach Berezovsky, the Slonimer rebbe, 1911- 2000, 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

 

 

 

(Haftara: Yehoshua 5:2-6:1 & 6:27)

  1. [Pesach] The author of the Netivot Shalom (R. Sholom Noach Berezovsky,1911- 2000) tells us that the three regalim (Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot) represent a personal process. One first must be free (Pesach–the festival of freedom), then one can accept the Torah (Shavuot–the time of receiving the Torah), and then, about four months later, one has joy (Sukkot–the time of our joy). What do the four months between Shavuot and Sukkot represent. What personal process does a person go through between Shavuot–becoming committed to serving God–and Sukkot–achieving joy?
  1. [Pesach] The author of the Netivot Shalom (R.Sholom Noach Berezovsky1911- 2000) tells us that the three regalim (Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot) represent a personal process. Why must there be a process at all? Doesn’t the first step alone–freedom–bring joy?
  1. [Pesach] One of the commandments of the Pesach seder is to tell the story of the liberation from Egypt.  The story is supposed to be told through questions and answers. It should be interactive. Which is more educationally effective–a very clear and entertaining lecture from a skilled teacher, or a question and answer format with a less skilled teacher?
  1. [Pesach] The festival of Passover is called “Pesach” in Hebrew because God “passed  over” the homes of the Israelites when the first-born of the Egyptians was killed (Shmot 12:13). A number of our festivals involve wars and violence and our victories. Wouldn’t it be better to focus on positive memories, rather than recounting the extreme difficulties in our history, and our victories?
  1. [Pesach] On the personal level, the word Mitzrayim (Egypt) can also be pronounced metzarim in Hebrew—narrow places. Narrowness is a narrowness of mind and of emotion. It suggests fear and unwillingness to expand or to love. It suggests being enslaved by one’s negative habits, opinions, emotions and behaviours. What can a person do to try to free himself or herself from this narrowness?

Commentary

[Pesach Seder] Through Pesach and especially through the matzah that one eats on Pesach night, one acquires an elevated state of mind, and realizes that God’s Light fills the whole world. However, in order to acquire this state of mind in a more permanent way, one has to pass through obstacles. These obstacles are symbolized by the maror—the bitters—that we eat at the Pesach seder.  These obstacles could be from one’s surroundings or they could be from one’s own stubborn personality. However, God reduces the effect of these obstacles, and this is symbolized by dipping the marror into the charoset (mixture of nuts and honey).  By passing through these obstacles, one comes to that elevated state of mind.

–R. Natan of Breslov (1780-1844) based on R. Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810)