(Genesis-41:1-44:17)

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

(Chanukah)

1. [42:7] “…and he made himself strange to them and spoke with them roughly…” What did Yosef hope to achieve by pretending that he didn’t recognize his brothers, and by causing them distress?

2. [42:36] “…you have bereaved me, Yosef is no longer alive…”  Yosef was Ya’akov’s favourite son and Yosef had a position of power in Egypt. Why didn’t Yosef inform his father that he was alive in order to save his father from further grief?

3. [Chanukah] We have a rule that if all the people are impure, then pure oil is not needed for the menorah in the Temple. Therefore, the search for pure oil was unnecessary.  In addition to this, even though 1 candle per household is enough, the Jews light an extra candle every night. What is so special about Chanukah (which is a rabbinic mitvah) that  would prompt us to go so far beyond the minimum requirements for the commandment?

4. [Chanukah]  Fire has a major place in many of our commandments and customs—Shabbat candles, Havdalah, Chanukah, Lag ba’Omer.  What does fire represent to us?

5. The Rambam, Maimonides, (1135-1204, Spain and Egypt) says that the lighting of the Chanukah candles is a very precious commandment. He says this only about Chanukah and not about the other festivals.  What makes Chanukah more special than other festivals.

Commentary

In the Talmud, we are told that Hillel says that on the first night of Chanukah, we light 1 candle and we add a candle each night, so that we light 8 candles on the last night. Shammai says that we start with 8 candles on the first night and take a candle away each successive night. Hillel’s reason is that we always try to go higher in holiness and not lower.  This rule is applied to all possible situations—especially to social and spiritual issues. We always try to go higher in holiness.

This study page is dedicated to the memory of Rivkah Rochel bat Ya’akov haLevi and Chaya Kornberg, and Yechiel Eliezer ben Yitzchok Meir and Rochel Laya KornbergAnd to the memory of Gad Eliahu ben David and Kochava–Eli Zucker

(Genesis-37:1-40:23)

(Haftara: Amos 2:6-3:8)

1. [ 37:1] “And Ya’akov lived in the land of his father’s dwellings…”  After God changed Avram’s name to Avraham and Sarai’s name to Sara, they were no longer called by their previous names.  Why is it that after Ya’akov receives the new name Yisrael, he is still often called Ya’akov?

2. [37:5] Yosef’s brothers hated him because Yosef was his father’s favourite son. [37:4] Then Yosef told them about his dreams in which his brothers  bowed down to him.  This is strange behaviour. The Chezkuni (France, 1250) says that by doing this, Yosef hoped that his brothers would hate him less. How could he have expected that they would hate him less?

3. [37:9]   “And they said to each other, “Here comes the dreamer.”    There is an approach in learning the Torah which says that we must see our forefathers as always having good and proper motivations.  The midrash echoes this approach when it tries to justify Yosef’s brothers by saying that they thought that Yosef was planning a type of spiritual murder against them. Another approach says that our forefathers were very God-conscious, but also had negative feelings and motivations at times. Which approach do you prefer in reading the Chumash?

4. [39:10] “…he didn’t listen to her to lay with her…”  Yosef is considered a person of great self-control. He is considered a prince among his brothers. Yehudah is also considered a prince among the tribes. But in this story about Yehudah and Tamar, Yehudah does not seem to have self-control. What happens in this story with Tamar that shows that Yehudah has great nobility of character? Is that enough reason for him be a prince among his brothers?

5. [Amos 3:2] “You only have I known of all the families of the earth. Therefore I will bring upon you all your sins.”  Because God is closer to us he makes us suffer for our sins. Is this fair?

Commentary

[39:2] “And God was with Yosef, and he was a successful person, and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian.”

There are people who serve God in a better way when they are poor—when life is difficult.  They strongly feel what they are missing and they become attached to God by asking for their needs. There are other people who serve God better when they are comfortable, but when life is hard, they lose their direction. Yosef, however, served God when life was easy and when life was difficult. God was with him both when he was a successful person and when he was a slave in an Egyptian’s house.

–Da’at zekainim , ba’alei tosfot (the grandsons and students of Rashi –1100’s and 1200’s)

This study page is dedicated to the memory of Rivkah Rochel bat Ya’akov haLevi and Chaya Kornberg, and Yechiel Eliezer ben Yitzchok Meir and Rochel Laya Kornberg

And this study page is also dedicated to the memory of Gad Eliahu ben David and Kochava–Eli Zucker

(Genesis-32:3-36:43)

(Haftara: Hoshea 11:7-12:13)

1. [32:4 ] “And he sent ‘malachim’ ahead of himself to Esav, his brother…”   The word “malachim” can mean either messengers or angels. Rashi says that Ya’akov sent real angels to Esav, but the Ibn Ezra (Spain, 1089-1167) says that he sent human messengers. Why does Rashi prefer to make the story more supernatural?  How does the story change according to each of the two different interpretations?

2. [32:7] “And Ya’akov was very frightened and terrified…”  Ya’akov initiated this meeting with Esav. He didn’t have to do it. Why is he willing to suffer this much fear in order to meet his brother?

3. [32:32] “Therefore the people of Israel do not eat the “gid hanasheh” which is in the thigh until the present day…”  Like matzah on Pesach, this is supposed to remind us of this historical event. What are we supposed to learn from the fact that Ya’akov wrestled with the angel and won?

4.  [33:10] “…I have seen your face like seeing the face of God and you liked  me.”  After wrestling with God (or a strong entity) Ya’akov said, “I have seen God face to face [32:31].” What does it mean to him to see God?  What does it mean to him to see Esav like seeing God?

5. [Hoshea 11:9]  “…I will not return to destroy Ephraim because I am God and not man…”  What does God mean when He says, “I will not destroy because I am God and not man”?  In the Torah, there are many times when God destroys.

Commentary

[33:18] “And Ya’akov arrived at the city of Shchem shalem (whole or perfected)”.

After Ya’akov’s struggle with the angel, and with Esav and his other struggles, he achieved wholeness. A person with proper motivations is strengthened by his trials and struggles. Overcoming his difficulties is what brings about his spiritual development.

–R. Yehudah Aryeh Leib of Ger, the Sfas Emes, Poland, 1847-1905.

This study page is dedicated to the memory of Rivkah Rochel bat Ya’akov haLevi and Chaya Kornberg, and Yechiel Eliezer ben Yitzchok Meir and Rochel Laya Kornberg

And this study page is also dedicated to the memory of Gad Eliahu ben David and Kochava–Eli Zucker

(Genesis-28:10-32:3)

(Haftara: Hoshea 12:13-14:10)

1. [28:12]  “…a ladder was standing on the ground and its head reached Heaven…”  One interpretation of this prophetic dream is that this represents a  Jew’s ideal frame of mind– feet on the ground, but head in spirituality.  Others say that the ideal is to always be spiritual and not relate much to this world.  Which do you think is the Jew’s ideal state of mind?

2. [29:25] Lavan tricked Ya’akov by giving him Laya as a wife instead of Rachel. Then Lavan told Ya’akov that he must work 7 more years for Rachel. Ya’akov did not protest. Does this show his righteousness, or is it a flaw in his character?

3.  [29:32]  “…now my husband will love me.”  Laya yearned so much for Ya’akov’s love. Some of our commentators see Laya as a very sensitive and a very spiritual person. Did her longing for Ya’akov contribute to these qualities? In Chassidut, longing for God or for goodness is considered a positive quality. What are the positive effects of yearning and what are the negative effects of yearning?

4. [31:27] “…and you did not tell me…”  Why didn’t Ya’akov tell Lavan that he and his family were leaving?

5. [Hosea 13:6] “They were filled, and their heart was exalted/Therefore they have forgotten Me”. Does being satisfied necessarily mean that one forgets God?

Commentary

[31:18 ] “And he lead all the cattle and all the property that he had gathered…”

Ya’akov was in charge and he led all the property. He controlled the physical things in his life. This was in contrast to those who allow their physical property and physical desires to control them.

–R. Yisroel Taub, Modzitz Poland, (1849-1920).

This study page is dedicated to the memory of Rivkah Rochel bat Ya’akov haLevi and Chaya Kornberg, and Yechiel Eliezer ben Yitzchok Meir and Rochel Laya Kornberg.

And this study page is also dedicated to the memory of Gad Eliahu ben David and Kochava–Eli Zucker

(Genesis 23:1-25:18)

(Haftara: Kings I  1:1-31)

  1. [24:3] Why was Avraham so opposed to taking a wife for Yitzchak from among the Canaanites? His family—Rivkah’s family—were also idol worshippers.
  1. [24:14] “…and she will say to me, “Drink, and I will also let your camels  drink …”  In this way, Rivkah showed that she was a kind person. Our tradition tells us that all the commandments are very important, but the commandments of kindness are the most important. Why is kindness more important than justice or devotion to God?
  1. [24:63] “And Yitzchak  went ‘lasuach basade’…”  Rashi says that Yitzchak was praying in the field. Since this was much before we had a set prayer in the prayerbooks, it means that he spoke to God spontaneously about what was in his heart and on his mind. What are the advantages of set prayer from the prayerbooks and what are the advantages of spontaneous prayer?
  1. [24:67] “…and he took Rivkah and she became his wife and he loved her…” The Ramban says that Yitzchak loved Rivkah because she was righteous like Sara.  Is it “true love” if somebody loves someone because she reminds him of someone else?

5. [Haftara: Kings I, 1:28 ] “…’Call Bat-sheva to me’…”  King David had sinned with Bat-      sheva, but he had sincerely regretted his sin, and, in fact, their child, Shlomo became the next king. Who is more praiseworthy—someone who lives a life of total purity and morality and never sins, or someone who sins and then sincerely becomes pure and moral?

Commentary

[24:1] “And Avraham was old, he came with the days”.

Avraham came with all his days. Not one day of his life was wasted. On each and every day he was active and alive.

–based on the Zohar

This study page is dedicated to the memory of Rivkah Rochel bat Ya’akov haLevi and Chaya Kornberg, and Yechiel Eliezer ben Yitzchok Meir and Rochel Laya Kornberg

And this study page is also dedicated to the memory of Gad Eliahu ben David and Kochava–Eli Zucker

(Genesis 18:1-22:24)

(Haftara: II Kings 4:1-37)

1. [18:13] “Why did Sarah laugh saying, ‘Can I give birth when I am so old’”. God told Avraham that Sarah had said that she was too old to have a child. But really Sarah had also said that Avraham was too old to have a child. Rashi tells us that God had lied to Avraham for the sake of peace in the household, and Jewish law allows lying for the sake of peace. What does it mean to lie for the sake of peace? Can a child lie when he or she breaks something in the house?  If he lies, there will be peace with his parents. Where does one draw the line in relation to “lying for peace”?

2.  [18:19] “…to keep the way of God, to do kindness and justice…”  God favours Avraham because his descendants will practice God’s way and spread kindness and justice.  If kindness and justice were the major policies of individuals and countries would that be enough to make a perfect society?

3. [22:5] “I and the boy will go there, and we will pray, and we will return to you.”    There are commentaries which say that Avraham did not lie here, because he knew that God wouldn’t really allow him to sacrifice his son.  The “sacrifice” of Yitzchak is considered Avraham’s last and hardest test.  If Avraham was confident that there would be no sacrifice, then what was the test? How was God testing Avraham?

4. [Haftara–Kings II, 4:3] “‘Go borrow vessels’…”  Elisha told the woman to bring him vessels so that he could do the miracle of giving her oil. The amount of oil would depend on the number of vessels.  If Elisha can miraculously produce an unlimited amount of oil, then why doesn’t he miraculously produce vessels?

5. [Haftara–Kings II, 4:35] “…and the child opened his eyes.” Both this story and the story of Sara and Yitzchak tell us of a miraculous birth, great thanks on the part of the parents, death or near-death of the child, and a rebirth and continuation of life. Our sages tell us that these stories are told in order to teach us life lessons. What are these two stories teaching us?

Commentary

…King David’s main aspiration (in the Psalms) was to encourage every Jew to hold fast to God throughout all of life’s trials. Even if a person feels like he is in the depths of hell, he should never abandon hope, God forbid…If a person can hold onto God, even “from the ends of the earth,” he will experience an incredible sense of renewal.

–R. Nosson of Breslov, 1780-1844, Ukraine.

This study page is dedicated to the memory of Rivkah Rochel bat Ya’akov haLevi and Chaya Kornberg, and Yechiel Eliezer ben Yitzchok Meir and Rochel Laya Kornberg

And this study page is also dedicated to the memory of Gad Eliahu ben David and Kochava–Eli Zucker

(Genesis 12:1-17:26)

Haftara (Isaiah 40:27-41:16)

1. [12:2] “And you will be a blessing…and all the families of the earth will be blessed in you.”  What does it mean to be a blessing? Why does the Torah say all the families of the earth? Why doesn’t it say all the nations?

2. [12:10] The first major story about our father, Avraham, is the story of him going down to Egypt because of a famine. As he and Sara enter Egypt, he tells Sara to say that she is his sister, and she agrees. Because of this, she is taken into the Pharoah’s house. The Ramban (Spain, 1194-1285) says that this was an unintentional sin by Avraham. Why does the story of the Jewish people start with such an uninspiring and negative story?

3. [13:2] Avraham accepted gifts from Pharoah, but later [14:23], he refuses to accept gifts from the king of Sodom. Why does he accept them from Pharoah, but not from the king of Sodom? 

4. [Haftara: Yeshaya 40:31]  “Those who hope in God will renew their strength…” Some would say that being realistic makes a person stronger than being optimistic. What do you think?

5. [Haftara: Yeshaya 41:8] “…Avraham, my friend.” How does one qualify to be God’s friend? In what way was Avraham God’s friend?

Commentary

[13:3] “And he went on his journeys from the south to Bet-El…:

Rashi: “Avraham paid back his debts.”

Which debts are these? Would Avraham have gone toward Egypt without money for the journey? It must be that he paid his spiritual debts. But Avraham was already a very moral person, so what spiritual debts did he have?

This is coming to teach us that life-experience and dealing with trials and difficulties makes many people more perceptive and sensitive. On the way down to Egypt, Avraham did things that seemed fine to him. But after his difficult experiences he understood on a deeper level. So on the way back, he corrected the more subtle mistakes that he had made on the way down—he paid his debts.

This study page is dedicated to the memory of Rivkah Rochel bat Ya’akov haLevi and Chaya Kornberg, and Yechiel Eliezer ben Yitzchok Meir and Rochel Laya Kornberg

And this study page is also dedicated to the memory of Gad Eliahu ben David and Kochava–Eli Zucker

(Genesis 6:9-11:32)

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

1. [6:9] “Noach was a just, perfect man in his generation”.   Rashi (France, 1040-1105) our main commentator, quotes the midrash which interprets this pasuk in 2 ways. Noach was so righteous in such an evil generation that, had he lived in the generation of Abraham he would have been even more righteous. Or Noach was considered righteous in an evil generation, but in the generation of Abraham, he would only have been an average person. From Noach’s life, what proof do you see for either of these interpretations?

2. [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? 

3.  [Yeshayahu 54:4]  “Do not fear, because you will not be ashamed…”  Shame is mentioned 3 times in this pasuk.  What makes shame such an undesirable emotion?

4. [Yeshayahu 54:4]  “Don’t be afraid, because you will not be embarrassed [tevoshi] and you will not be ashamed [tikalmi]…”  There are various words in Hebrew for different types or different levels of embarrassment.  What are the different types and different levels of embarrassment?

5. [54:10] “ …my kindness will not depart from you, and my covenant of peace will not be removed…”  Are kindness and peace the highest values of the Torah?

Commentary

The most basic righteousness of a really righteous person is his constant demand for Godliness—to be connected with all his desire, his mind, his will and his emotion to his Creator…This constant connection increases Godly light continually.

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

This study page is dedicated to the memory of Rivkah Rochel bat Ya’akov haLevi and Chaya Kornberg, and Yechiel Eliezer ben Yitzchok Meir and Rochel Laya Kornberg

And this study page is also dedicated to the memory of Gad Eliahu ben David and Kochava–Eli Zucker

Breishit 1:1-6:8

Haftara: Isaiah 42:5-43:10

1. [1:27] “And God created man in His image, in the image of God…” How are we created in the image of God?

2. [3:12] “…she gave me from the tree, and I ate.”  Some commentaries say that Adam’s worst sin was blaming Chava and God, and not accepting responsibility.  Certainly blaming others is not acceptable behaviour, but why is it considered  such a  very serious sin?

3. [4:9] “…am I my brother’s keeper?”  The Torah does not have grammatical punctuation. In this pasuk, Cain could be speaking cynically or he could be speaking innocently. What is the difference to the story between these 2 ways of readings the pasuk, and how do each of the 2 different readings change our view of Cain?

4. [6:5] “And God saw…that all the inclinations of the thoughts of his (man’s) heart are only bad all the day.” Christianity believes that people are born sinful—that there is original sin. We do not believe this. How does this pasuk  state that man is not born sinful?

5. [Haftara: Isaiah 42:6] “…for a light for the nations”. The Jews are supposed to be a “light for the nations”. How have the Jews been a “light for the nations” in the past, and what must the Jews do to continue being a “light for the nations”?

Commentary

[1:11] “…a fruit tree making fruit.”

Rashi: “The taste of the tree was supposed to be like the taste of the fruit, but the tree didn’t do that.”

In the future however–the time of messianic mentality—the tree will taste like the fruit. The way to the goal will be as sweet as the goal. The journey will be as meaningful as the destination.  And this way of  living and seeing the world is also within our reach now, if we purify our acts and ourselves.

–Rav A. Y. H. Kuk (1865-1935), Lithuania and Israel.

This study page is dedicated to the memory of Rivkah Rochel bat Ya’akov haLevi and Chaya Kornberg, and Yechiel Eliezer ben Yitzchok Meir and Rochel Laya Kornberg

And this study page is also dedicated to the memory of Gad Eliahu ben David and Kochava–Eli Zucker

[Kohelet 1:14] “I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun and they are all emptiness…” Our tradition tells us that the deeds done under the sun are emptiness, but those done above the sun are meaningful. What deeds are done under the sun and what deeds are done above the sun? Is the metaphor of “under” the sun and “above” the sun a good metaphor?

  • [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?
  • [Hallel] On this festival, we say the  Hallel after the Amidah, as a prayer of praise to God. “Hallel”comes from the book of Psalms. In the Hallel, it says, “The stone that the builders disliked, has become the main cornerstone”. What does that mean?
  • [Devarim 33:6] “Let Reuven live…”  One of the last things that Moshe does in this world, is that he blesses each tribe of Israel separately. Since the Torah values unity and togetherness so much, why does Moshe emphasize the individual nature of each tribe rather than the unity of the people of Israel?
  • [V’zot habracha] All year round, we have a full week to be involved with the parsha of the week. The parsha of  “V’zot habracha, however, is different. Most years, we have less than a week and sometimes only a few days.  What is gained educationally by starting Breishit immediately after finishing ‘V’zot habracha” on Simchat Torah, even if Simchat Torah is at the beginning of the week?

Commentary

We say in our prayers, “Spread over us the sukkah of peace”. The sukkah is special to us even though it may be missing parts—it may have only two walls and a small part of the third wall;  the wall may not reach totally down to the ground, and so on. The matter of peace is similar. Peace is precious and positive even if it is not perfect.  One should try to achieve peace even in a partial way—between people, between the individual and the community, or between nations. We pray for peace, even if it’s only like a sukkah (which is not totally perfect). That’s how great peace is.

–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 Ron ben Malka and Efrayim–Ronald Morritt