(Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22)

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

 (Pirkay Avot: Chapter 3)

  1. [1:13] “Get men who are wise, understanding and knowledgeable…” The first commandment that Moshe recalled is the appointment of judges and the necessity for justice, honesty and integrity. While justice is very important, one would think that proper beliefs, or devotion to God are more basic values in the Torah. Is justice our most basic value?
  2. [2:3] “You have circled this mountain (Sinai) long enough. Travel to the north.” Why were the Israelites circling the mountain? What change in mentality is represented by renewing their traveling?
  3. [Pirkei Avot 3:9] “R. Chanina ben Dosa says: ” Anyone whose fear of wrong-doing is more important to him than his wisdom, his wisdom will endure, but anyone whose wisdom is more important to him than his fear of wrong-doing, his wisdom will not endure.” Why is it that only a moral person can have wisdom?
  4. [Pirkei Avot 3:10] He used to say, “Anyone who people like, God also likes, and anyone who people don’t like, God doesn’t like.” Why do we equate God’s perception of a person to people’s perception of a person? People can be wrong in their perceptions!
  5. [Tisha b’Av]  Tisha b’Av commemorates the destruction of the first and second Temples and all other tragedies in Jewish history. The Talmud says, “Whoever mourns for Jerusalem will be worthy to see the joy of Jerusalem, and whoever does not mourn for Jerusalem will not see the joy of Jerusalem”.   Why should seeing joy be dependent on whether someone mourned?

Commentary

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

(Numbers: 30:2-36:13)

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

(Pirkay Avot 2)

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

Commentary

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

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

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

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

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

 

(Numbers: 25:10-30:1)

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

  1. [25:12] “Therefore I am giving him my covenant of peace.” The Talmud Yerushalmi tells us after Pinchas killed Zimri and Kozbi and stopped the plague, the chachamim wanted to excommunicate him. However, when they saw that Pinchas was rewarded by God with the priesthood and the covenant of peace they changed their minds. How can it be that the wise men of the time were so out of touch with God’s way of seeing this incident?
  2. [27:1] Tzelafchad died and left behind 4 daughters and no sons. The daughters requested that the inheritance go to them, and Moshe asked God and God agreed that the inheritance should go to them. Why wasn’t this law obvious? Why did Moshe have to ask God?
  3. [27:1] Apparently, if the daughters of Tzlafchad had not requested the inheritance, they would not have received it. What might the Torah be trying to teach us here?
  4. [27:15] Moshe asks God to appoint a new leader for the Israelites, who would lead after Moshe dies. In addressing God, Moshe calls Him “God of the spirits of all flesh”. What is the meaning of this description of God, and why specifically at this point does Moshe use this description?
  5. [Haftara: Melachim I, 19:11,12] “…God was not in the wind…God was not in the earthquake…God was not in the fire…a still, small voice.”  God was in the still, small voice. The commentaries say, “…speaking and silence at the same time”.  What does this tell us about the nature of prophecy and communication with God?

Commentary

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

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

(–Rabbi Yitzchak Meir of Ger (1799-1866

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

And this study page is dedicated to the memory of Sarah Bella bat Yitzchak Kummer, Chaim Yosef Yechiel ben Eliyahu Kummer and Eliyahu and Margaret Kummer

(Numbers: 19:1- 22:2)     

 (Shoftim 11:1-33)    

(Pirkay Avot 5)

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

Commentary

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

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

Sfat Emet,  R. Yehudah Leib Alter, (1847-1905, Ger, Poland).

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

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

(Numbers: 16:1-18:32)

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

(Pirkay Avot Chapter 4)

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

Commentary

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

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

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

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

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

(Numbers: 13:1-15:41)

(Haftara: Yehoshua 2, 1-24)

(Pirkay Avot 3)

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

Commentary

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

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

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

–R. Yitzchak of Vorka (1779-1848), Poland.

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

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

 

 

 

(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