(Genesis-44:18-47:27)

(Haftara: Ezekiel 37:15-28)

  1. [44:18] Yosef is the model for Messiah ben Yosef. According to the Gaon of Vilna, the final redemption will be modeled on the redemption from Egypt, and one model will be Yosef and everything in his life. Yosef looked like an Egyptian and there was Geulah. The midrash tells us that the b’nei Yisrael, years later, were redeemed because they did not change their names, their language or their clothing. And that is also a model for the redemption. How can we resolve this contradiction? Is the model of redemption based on Yosef—to be a Jew in one’s heart, but be hidden, or is the model the b’nei Yisrael in Egypt?
  2. [45:14] “…and he cried and Binyamin cried on his neck.” Rashi says that they cried over the Temples that would be destroyed in the future—each in the other’s territory. Each of the brothers had a deep love and compassion for the other in relation to eternal matters. Other commentators say that they cried because they had been separated for so long. What might motivate Rashi to explain the brothers’ deep emotion in such an impersonal way?
  3. Some commentators interpret negative actions by our forefathers (like the sale of Yosef by his brothers) in a positive way. They had the most noble motivations. Other commentators see our forefathers as human and developing toward Godliness. Which school of interpretation do you prefer? Why?
  4. [Haftara: Yechezkel 37:22] The prophet tells us how in the messianic era, there will be no divisions among the Jews. If that is the ideal, then why was the division into tribes encouraged and reinforced earlier in our history?
  5. [Haftara: 37:24] “…and they shall all have one shepherd…” In another messianic vision, we are told that “all your children will be taught by God” (Yeshayah 54:13)—everyone will have a direct relationship with God. Here, we are told that there will be one leader on the model of a shepherd. If everyone will have a direct relationship with God, why is there a need for a shepherd-like leader?

Commentary

[Yechezkel 37:24] “And my servant David will be king over them…”

In the messianic future, all the Jews will return to God, and will repent totally for all their sins of the past. However, there will be many who will be embarrassed because they have so many sins. For these people, King David will be their inspiring example. From David’s life they will understand that “tshuvah” helps for everything—even the most severe sins– and one’s relationship with God and with the world can always be repaired.

Ahavat Yehonatan, Yonatan Eibeschitz,  (1690-1764), Prague

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

And  to the memory of Sarah Bella bat Yitzchak Kummer, Chaim Yosef Yechiel ben Eliyahu Kummer and Eliyahu and Margaret Kummer

 

[Yechezkel 37:24] “And my servant David will be king over them…”

 

In the messianic future, all the Jews will return to God, and will repent totally for all their sins of the past. However, there will be many who will be embarrassed because they have so many sins. For these people, King David will be their inspiring example. From David’s life they will understand that “tshuvah” helps for everything—even the most severe sins– and one’s relationship with God and with the world can always be repaired.

 

Ahavat Yehonatan, Yonatan Eibeschitz,  (1690-1764), Prague

 

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

And  to the memory of Sarah Bella bat Yitzchak Kummer, Chaim Yosef Yechiel ben Eliyahu Kummer and Eliyahu and Margaret Kummer

(Genesis-41:1-44:17)

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

(Chanukah)

  1. [41:39] “…since God has informed you of all of this…” Pharoah believed that Yosef’s  interpretations of the his dreams and his servant’s dreams were true interpretations and come from God. On the basis of this, he even raised Yosef from being a prisoner to being Pharoah’s main officer. Nonetheless he remained an idol-worshipper.  How could Pharoah justify to himself the fact that the God of Yosef is so all-knowing and powerful, and yet still not devote himself to Yosef’s God?
  2. [41:51] “And to Yosef were born 2 sons…” Yosef named his first son Menashe because “God made me forget…my father’s house”, and he named his second son Ephraim because “God has made me prosper” in Egypt.  Some of our commentaries say that Yosef was only masquerading as an Egyptian, but was still a “Hebrew” in his heart.  Others disagree and say that Yosef , while believing in God, saw himself as an Egyptian. On the basis of the names that he gave his sons, which of these interpretations seems to be the better one. Could one also justify the other interpretation?
  3. [42:21] “…we are guilty about our brother…” Yosef hears his brothers say that they did wrong in selling Yosef.  Still he causes them a lot of trouble. Why doesn’t Yosef tell them who he is?  What more does he expect of them?
  4. [Chanukah] There is a difference of opinion whether after Shabbat, one should first light the havdalah candle which signifies the end of Shabbat or whether one should first light the Chanukah candles. What might be the reasons that underlie this difference of opinion?
  5. [Chanukah] On Chanukah, we were victorious over the Greeks, and we rejected Greek culture totally. Later, however, many of our rabbis had great respect for Greek philosophy and other aspects of Greek culture. At the time of the Maccabees, why couldn’t we accept some aspects of Greek culture and reject their paganism?

Commentary

The existence and survival of the nation are commemorated in the Chanukah candles and the miracle of Chanukah.  But a person should not think that the existence of the nation is for everyone’s personal gain. “One is not permitted to count money by the light of the Chanukah candles.” Rather, one must know that the purpose of the nation is a very elevated purpose. The name of God is what defines the nation, and the nation carries the covenant of the Torah in its heart.

–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

 

 

(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 wrestling with the angel, Ya’akov received the new name, “Yisrael”, and this is considered a more noble name than Ya’akov. However, unlike Avraham and Sara, who also received new names, Ya’akov is still sometimes called by his old name, after receiving the new name. Why is it that after Ya’akov receives the new name, Yisrael, he is still often called Ya’akov?
  2. [37:5] “And Yosef had a dream, and he told his brothers, and they hated him even more.” The Torah tells us that Yosef’s brothers hated him because Yosef was his father’s favourite son. [37:4] Then Yosef told his brothers about his dreams in which his brothers  bowed down to him.  This is strange behaviour. If Yosef knew that they hated him, why did he tell them these dreams?
  3. [39:1] “And Yosef was brought down to Egypt…”  Yosef’s entry into Egypt is the beginning of the exile of the people of Israel. God had told Avraham that there would be an exile in Egypt. Why does it seem that the exile is a necessary condition in Jewish history?
  4. [Haftara Amos 2:7]   “…to profane My holy name.”  The prophet Amos lists the sins of Israel that show man’s inhumanity to man.  He calls these “profaning God’s holy name”? One would think that sins against God are “profaning God’s name”.  Why is “profaning God’s name” applied to sins against man?
  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.”  God says that because He is closer to us than to the other nations, he makes us suffer for our sins. If God is closer to us shouldn’t He be more lenient with us than with the other nations?

Commentary

[38:2] “And Yehudah saw the daughter of a Canaanite man…and he married her.” 

The midrash says that the brothers of Yosef were involved in fasting and tshuvah because of what had been done to Yosef, but Yehudah took a wife for  himself and God created the light of the messiah. R. Simcha Bunim of Pzyscha says that God liked Yehudah’s reaction to the sale of Yosef the best and therefore He created the light of the messiah. R. Menachem Mendel of Kotzk explains this in the following way: Yehudah knew that other than feeling regret, there was no way to make up for his part in the selling of Yosef. Therefore he decided to start his life again, and get married and do the first commandment which is to have children.  God was very pleased with this act of starting fresh and new, so he created the light of the messiah (who is one of Yehudah’s descendants).

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

(Genesis-32:3-36:43)

(Haftara: Ovadiah 1:1-3:21)

  1. [32:21] “…I will appease him with the present that goes before me…” Ya’akov had seriously hurt Esav, and Esav had wanted to kill him. Ya’akov thought that by giving Esav a generous gift, Esav would forgive him. It would seem that if Esav was ready to forgive Ya’akov, then a gift is unnecessary, and if Esav is not ready to forgive, then a gift is not going to help.  What was Ya’akov thinking in sending this gift to Esav?
  2. [32:27] “…I will not let you go unless you bless me…”  Ya’akov demanded a blessing and the “man” changed Ya’akov’s name to Yisrael.  It seems that if Ya’akov had not demanded a blessing, his name would have remained Ya’akov. The fact that Ya’akov became Yisrael is considered a big spiritual change.  What is the significance of the fact that Ya’akov had to demand the blessing?
  3. [32:29] “And he said, ‘Your name will no longer be Ya’akov, but rather Yisrael, because you have wrestled with God (or with powers)…”  The Jewish people are called Yisrael.  There are many stories about our forefathers. Why do we, as a nation, have a name that recalls this event?
  4. [Ovadiah 1:15] “…as you have done, it shall be done unto you…” The wicked should receive whatever bad they did to others. However, we see that sometimes the wicked prosper.  If God is totally just, then how can the wicked prosper?
  5. [Ovadiah 3:21] “And saviours shall rise up on mount Zion to judge the mount of Esav, and the kingdom will be God’s”. It seems that judging the mount of Esav will cause God’s kingdom to be revealed.  The pasuk does not speak of a victory over Esav, but rather of “judging” the mount of Esav. How can this judgment bring God’s kingdom?

Commentary

The great dreams are the foundation of the world…the prophets dream…the poets dream while awake…the great thinkers dream of the perfected world…we all dream….The crudeness of conventional life, which is wholly immersed in materialism, removes the light of the dream from the world…Then the vision of the dream will return and it will become a clear revelation.

–R. A. 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

(Genesis-28:10-32:3)

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

  1. [28:12] “…a ladder was standing on the ground, and its top reached heaven…” In Ya’akov’s prophetic dream, angels were going up and coming down the ladder. One interpretation of this dream is that this represents a certain type of tzaddik’s frame of mind–feet on the ground—head in heaven.  Another interpretation is that the angels that accompany a person in Israel are not the same as the angels outside of Israel. If this is a prophetic dream, why isn’t its meaning more obvious?
  2. [29:11] “…and he raised his voice and he cried.” When Ya’akov met Rachel, he cried. The midrash says that he was crying because he had a prophetic vision telling him that he would not be buried with her. Another explanation is that he was crying because he had found his soul-mate after this difficult journey. How do each of these interpretations see Ya’akov’s character in a different way?
  3. [29:25] “…why have you tricked me?” 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 about this extra time.  Why did he not protest?
  4. [29:13-32:3] Lavan has been described as a person of high ideals and of low behaviour. His behaviour did not match his philosophy. Is there any other way of understanding his behaviour?
  5. [Haftara: Hoshea 14:10] “The ways of God are straight. The righteous walk on them, but the sinners stumble on them.” If the ways of God are straight, why would sinners stumble on them?

Commentary

When a person makes tshuvah out of love, he has to forgive himself for all his sins, just like he has to appease his friend in order to get his forgiveness. Then after he is free of sin in his own eyes, there will come upon him the holiness that will turn all his sins into merits.

–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 Bella bat Yitzchak Kummer, Chaim Yosef Yechiel ben Eliyahu Kummer and Eliyahu and Margaret Kummer

 

(Genesis-25:19-28:9)

(Haftara Shmuel I, 20:18-42)

  1. [25:31] “Sell me your birthright.” Ya’akov is called an “ish tam”—an honest man [25:28]. However, he takes advantage of Esav’s weakness and buys the birthright from Esav. Can he still be called an honest person after this sale? Can he still be called an honest man after he tricks his father in order to get the blessing?
  2. [26:27] “Why have you come to me?” asked Yitzchak. “You hate me.” Avimelech had driven Yitzchak away and now he wanted to make peace. Yitzchak is at first truthful and antagonistic, and later becomes friendly.  What are Yitchak’s real feelings and what does this encounter tell us about Yitzchak?
  3. [27:46] “Rivkah said to Yitzchak: I am disgusted with life because of those Hittite women.” Rivkah is again deceiving Yitzchak with this speech.  She really wants to protect Ya’akov from Esav.  This whole story is full of deception. However, the mission of this family in the world is to practise and teach the world “kindness and justice” [18:19].  How can such a pure mission come out of a beginning so full of deception?
  4. [Haftara: 20:33] “…And Saul threw his spear at him…” Saul is the first king of the Israelites in the land of Israel, and it is obvious that his mind is unbalanced. Why does our tradition insist on telling us that our heroes are not always heroic and our leaders are sometimes far from perfect?
  5. [Haftara: 20:42] “God will be between me and you, and between my descendants and your descendants forever.” Our tradition considers the love between David and Yehonatan to be a pure love, as opposed to other types of love.  What is a pure love?

Commentary

Since the commandments were given by God in order to bestow His highest good upon us, they should be observed in a thankful spirit befitting such a gift. One should therefore keep the commandments out of love and reverence for God, not because of one’s preferences or logic, or for any other ulterior worldly motive. In all observance, one’s only motive should be to serve God…

–R. Aryeh Kaplan,  1934-1983, USA.

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

And  to the memory of Sarah Bella bat Yitzchak Kummer, Chaim Yosef Yechiel ben Eliyahu Kummer and Eliyahu and Margaret Kummer

(Genesis 23:1-25:18)

Haftara (Kings I  1:1-31)

  1. [23:1 ] “And the life of Sara was 100 years and 20 years and 7 years..” Rashi says that the Torah should have said that Sarah was 127 years old. He quotes a midrash which says that when Sara was 100 years old, she was like a 20 year old in relation to sin, and when she was 20, she was like a 7 year old in relation to beauty. The Ramban says that the extra words here are not meant to teach us anything special, but this is just the way people speak Hebrew. Why does the Ramban reject Rashi’s explanation?
  2. [24:3] “…don’t take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites…” Why was Avraham so opposed to taking a wife for Yitzchak from among the Canaanites? Rivkah also comes from a family of idol worshippers.
  3. [24:63] “And Yitzchak went ‘lasuach basade…’”    Rabbenu Bechaya (11th century, Spain) says that the simple meaning of this phrase is that Yitzchak went to enjoy a stroll among the trees. He then quotes a midrash that tells us that Yitzchak went to pray. How do each of these different interpretations change our image of Yitzchak?
  4. [24:67] “…and he loved her…”  The Torah tells us that Yitzchak loved Rivkah.  Avraham didn’t mention anything about love to Eliezer when he sent him to find a wife for Yitzchak.  Love between a husband and wife seem to be important to the Torah, so why didn’t Avraham mention the factor of love to Eliezer?
  5. [24:67] “…and he took Rivkah and she was his wife and he loved her…” The Ramban says that Yitzchak loved Rivkah because she was righteous like Sara. The Netziv says that he loved Rivkah for herself.  Which is the deeper love?

Commentary

[23:4] “I am a stranger and a resident with you…”

The Jew is a “resident” in the world. The Torah tells us not to escape the events and reality of this world, but rather to live in the world and elevate it. However, at the same time, the Jew feels himself a “stranger”. His true home is the world of spirituality, holiness and Godliness.

–R. Menachem M. Schneersohn, the Lubavitcher rebbe, USA, (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

(Genesis 18:1-22:24)

(Haftara: II Kings 4:1-37)

  1. [18:13] “God said to Avraham, “Why did Sara laugh, saying ‘Will I really give birth when I am so old’”. God told Avraham that Sarah had said that she was too old to have a child. Rashi tells us that God had lied to Avraham here.  Really Sarah had also said that Avraham was too old to have a child, and our tradition allows lying for the sake of peace. Why didn’t God tell the truth to show how much we value the truth?
  2. [18:24] “Maybe there are 50 righteous…” Why did Avraham negotiate with God?  Why didn’t he simply say that for the sake of even 10 righteous people the cities should not be destroyed?
  3. [19:8] “…I have two daughters…” When the people of Sdom wanted to rape Lot’s guests, Lot said that he would give them his young virgin daughters. Lot made a moral choice which may not have been the best choice.  We often prefer situations where the correct moral choice is more obvious. What does the Torah want to teach us by putting people into difficult moral situations?
  4. [22:2] “And He said, “Take your son, your only son…” Our tradition understands the commandment to sacrifice Yitzchak  as Avraham’s last trial. It seems, however, that God commanded him and Avraham was ready to do this without hesitation. Why is this a trial?
  5. [Haftara–Kings II, 4:3]  “And he said, “Go borrow vessels…”  Elisha told the woman to bring him vessels so that he could do the miracle of giving her oil. We are told in our spiritual tradition that one has to have a vessel in order to be blessed.  What does it mean to have a vessel and how does one develop a vessel for oneself?

Commentary

The light that comes from the source of the soul has a special character. The light that is drawn from words and thoughts of Torah has a special character. And the light that is drawn from knowledge of the world and  its phenomena also has a special character. The wholeness of a person comes when one can unite these three factors and lights, and they can nurture and affect each other. There are many colours in fire,  and this is why we bless for Havdalah:  “Blessed is He who creates the lights of the fire.

–R. A. 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 Bella bat Yitzchak Kummer, Chaim Yosef Yechiel ben Eliyahu Kummer and Eliyahu and Margaret Kummer

(Genesis 12:1-17:26)

Haftara (Isaiah 40:27-41:16)

  1. [12:1] “… ‘Leave (lech lecha) your land’…”  R.  Menahem Mendel of Kotzk (1787-1859, Poland) says that the phrase “lech lecha” means, “Go to your true self.”  What is the difference between one’s “true self” and one’s “untrue self”? How do each of these “selves” behave differently?
  2. [12:2] “And you will be a blessing…and all the families of the earth will be blessed in you.”  Why doesn’t the Torah say that “all the families of the earth will be blessed by you? Why is the emphasis here on “families” rather than tribes or nations?
  3.  [15:6]  “And he believed in God, and he (He) considered it tzedaka (justice or charity) on his part.”  Rashi says that God considered it tzedaka on the part of Avraham. The Ramban (1194-1270) says that Avraham considered it tzedaka on the part of  God.  What does it mean that it was considered “tzedaka” according to each of these explanations?
  4. [15:8]  “And he said, ‘My Lord, God, how will I know that I will inherit it’?”  The midrash tells us that Avraham and his descendants are punished because Avraham questioned God by saying, “How will I know that I will inherit the land”.  On the other hand, Avraham is rewarded when he says to God in relation to Sdom, “Will the judge of the earth not do justice?” Why is Avraham punished for questioning God in the first statement, but not in the second one?
  5. [Haftara: 41:8] “…Avraham, my friend.”  In what way was Avraham God’s friend? What types of relationship can a person have with God  other than that of a friend?

Commentary

The nation which does not have the collective power to rise to holiness,  cannot collectively pass on to its children the desire to live purely and ethically. Only the nation that has holiness resting in its deepest spiritual depths can encourage its children to be ethically pure, to the point where the individual will also rise up to holiness.

–R. A. 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 Bella bat Yitzchak Kummer, Chaim Yosef Yechiel ben Eliyahu Kummer and Eliyahu and Margaret Kummer

(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