(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

(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