(Leviticus: 1:1-5:26)     

(Haftara: Isaiah: 43:21-44:23)

  1. [Leviticus 1:1…] Why are the details of every type of sacrificial offering so different? What type of personality is the Torah trying to develop by forcing us to focus so much on details?
  1. [Pesach] Our rabbis tell us that chametz (leaven) represents arrogance. The removal of chametz from our lives is a metaphor for removing arrogance from ourselves. If so, why do we only remove the chametz for 1 week every year? Shouldn’t we distance ourselves from arrogance all year?
  1. The Pesach seder is the main ceremony that we have for passing on our religious and historical tradition. Why is it so effective to teach the tradition around the dining –room table?
  1. Eating chametz on Pesach is considered a much greater sin than eating other forbidden foods the rest of the year. Why is eating chametz such a serious sin?
  1. The month of Nissan is the first month of the Jewish year. Therefore, Pesach is the first festival of the Jewish year. Why is it appropriate that Pesach should be the first festival of the year?

Commentary

[1:3] “…he will offer it, for his good will, before God.”

The main purpose of a sacrificial offering is that a person should subjugate his will to the service of the Creator in such a way that all of his spiritual and physical powers should be used only for the will of God.

One should read the pasuk in the following way: “…he should offer his will for God”—his own will should just be an extension of the will of God”

–“Haktav Ve’hakaballah”—Rabbi Ya’akov Tzvi Mecklenberg (1785-1865) -Koenigsburg, Prussia.

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

(Exodus: 35:1-40:38)

Parshat Hachodesh

(Exodus 12:1-20)

(Haftara: Ezekiel 45:18-46:15)

  1. [35:31] “And he filled him with the spirit of God in wisdom and in understanding and in knowledge…” These are all intellectual qualities. What other qualities also make up the spirit of God?
  1. [35:34] “And the ability to teach, he put into his heart…” From this pasuk, it would seem that the ability to teach is inborn in a person. Is it possible to learn how to be a very effective teacher if one was not born with the natural qualities of a teacher?
  1. [35:35] “And he filled him with wisdom of heart to do craftsmanship…those who do craftsmanship and think thoughts.” Is craftsmanship more a quality of the mind, more a quality of the heart—of emotion, or more a quality of control of the body?
  1. [Parshat haChodesh, Exodus 12:11] “And this is how you should eat it…in haste…” The Jewish ethical sages praise the quality of haste-energy.  They also praise the quality of calmness.  Can calmness and haste-energy co-exist in someone’s personality and actions?
  1. [Yechezkel 46:18] “And the leader will not take…any person from his possession.” This haftara is read as a preparation for Pesach.  It ends with a matter of  justice.  The leader cannot use his position to do unjust things.  Pesach is a festival of national and personal liberation. What does justice have to do with liberation?

Commentary

The past is not only relevant, but current as well. The liberation from tyranny, and the fight for freedom, is the story of Jewish history as a whole. It is only by identifying personally with the exodus that we can proceed with the Haggadah and truly be grateful to God for His past and present miracles.

–Rabbi J. D. Soloveitchik, 1903-1993, Belarus and the USA. 

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

 

(Shmot 30:11-34:35)

(Haftara: Parah: Ezekiel 36:16-38)

(Shabbat Parah)

  1. [32:19] “…and he threw the tablets from his hands and he broke them…” Although Moshe knew about the sin of the golden calf before he came down from the mountain, he still broke the tablets. [32:7,8]. The Sforno (1475-1550, Italy) says that when Moshe saw how happy the Israelites were, he got angry and threw the tablets down. The Rashbam (10851158, France). says that Moshe lost his strength when he saw the worshippers and he threw the tablets so they wouldn’t fall on his feet when they dropped. Which of these explanations seems better to you?
  1. Rashi says that Aharon co-operated in making the calf because he was scared of being killed. The Ibn Ezra says that Aharon co-operated because he didn’t believe that the calf was idolatry. And if it were idolatry, he would not have done it, even under the threat of death. What is the difference between the way that each of the commentators sees Aharon? How would each viewpoint affect other stories of Aharon in the Torah?
  1. [32:4] Rashi says that the “mixed multitudes”—the non-Israelites who also came out of Egypt–started the sin of the golden calf, and then lured the Israelites into doing the sin. The Torah does not specifically say this. We know that the Israelites are also capable of negative behaviour, so what does Rashi gain by blaming the “mixed multitudes”?
  1. [Haftara: Ezekiel 36:21] “I took pity on my holy name… “ God says that He will return the Jews to their land, and in that way, He will save the honour of His holy name. When the Jews went into exile, how was His holy name desecrated, and how is His holy name honoured by the return of the Jews to the land of Israel? What if the Jews don’t act properly in their land—is there still honour?
  1. [36:26] “I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh”. What specific changes will happen to the individual and then to the nation as a whole, when this prophecy is realized?

Commentary

[32:26] “…whoever is for God, let him come to me, and all the sons of Levi gathered [to Moshe]”.  We know that many Israelites did not worship the golden calf. The sons of Levi were not the only ones. However, the others did not have the courage to actively oppose the wrong-doers. They wanted to remain uninvolved. They did not want arguments.  Only Levi actively opposed the evil. That’s why God says, “The Levi’im are mine. [Bamidbar 3:11]

–R. Yitchak Meir of Ger (1798-1866), 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: 27:21- 30-10)

 (Purim)

  1. [Parsha] This parsha, which tells mainly about the clothing of the High Priest, is the only parsha after the birth of Moshe which does not mention Moshe. Why is Moshe not mentioned?
  1. [Purim] On Purim, we are commanded to hear every word of Megillat Esther. On Shabbat, we are NOT commanded to hear every word of the Torah reading. Why is the megillah reading different from the Shabbat reading?
  1. On Purim, we are told that we should give charity to every person who asks—who puts out his or her hand. During the rest of the year, we are allowed to check people to see if they deserve the charity, but on Purim we are not permitted to question people in this way. Why is Purim different from the rest of the year in relation to charity?
  1. The mitzvah of Mishloach manot is to give 2 foods—ready-to-eat—to at least 1 person. If a person lives in Jerusalem, he celebrates Purim on the 15 of Adar, while others celebrate a day earlier on the 14 of Adar. Should a person in Jerusalem send Mishloach manot to someone outside Jerusalem on the 14 of Adar, or on the 15?
  1. There is a midrash (in Yalkut Shimoni) which says that Haman’s descendants are teaching Torah to children in Bnei Brak. How does this idea fit into the themes of Purim?

Commentary

[Esther 2:11] “And each and every day Mordechai  walked in front of the yard of the women’s house to know how Esther was doing…”

Mordechai went to check on Esther every day for 4 or 5 years. This is really an amazing thing.  Mordechai, the tzaddik, did this because Esther was an orphan, and she was in distress. And because of the merit of his kindness and his concern,  Heaven sent miracles and Haman was beaten.

Sfat Emet,  R. Yehuda Arieh Leib Alter of Gur (1855-1905)

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

 

 

(Numbers 25:1-27:20)

(Kings I,  5:26-6:13)

  1. In the mishkan, there were things that appealed to all of our senses. The menorah: sight; the bread: taste; the incense: smell; the songs of the Levites: hearing; leaning on the sacrifice: touch. If the mishkan is supposed to be such a spiritual and elevating experience, why are the physical senses such a large part of that experience?
  2. Our rabbis tell us that the mishkan is a model of man. The aron represents the, intellect and the faculty of speech; the menorah, represents the eyes and the sense of sight; the table that held the “bread,” corresponds to the sense of taste; the altar for the ketoret, is the sense of smell; and the outer altar represent the digestive system and other “functional” organs. Where are the emotions and intuitions represented?
  3. [25:8] “Make for Me a tabernacle…” Many of our commentaries tell us symbolic meanings of the furniture and the utensils of the mikdash.  There are, in fact, many fascinating symbolic meanings to many of the commandments. If a person doesn’t think of any symbolic meaning, but just does the commandment with awareness, but in a simple way, how much is he or she losing, or how much is he or she gaining?
  4. We are told that both the broken tablets of the ten commandments and the unbroken ones were in the Ark. What is the purpose of also keeping the broken ones?
  5. [Haftara] The mishkan in the wilderness was built with voluntary contributions [Shmot 25:2]. The Temple in Jerusalem was built with a compulsory “mas” a tax—men were compelled to do the work. The Temple could also have been built through volunteers. What are the social advantages of voluntary contributions and what are the social advantages of a tax—compulsory contributions?

Commentary

[25:2] “…and they should take a contribution for me.”

This pasuk should say, “They will give a contribution to me”. Why does it say “take” in the pasuk? When a person gives to God with pure motivation, he or she is really giving to themselves. God doesn’t need anything, so the person is really giving for his or her own good. The giving to God is really a taking for oneself.

–Sfas Emes, Rebbe 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 21:1-24:18)

(Haftara: Jeremiah 34:8-22, 33:25,26)

  1. [21:28] When a person’s animal maliciously damages someone else’s property, the owner of the animal pays for half of the damage the first 3 times, and then the full damage every time after that. What might be the reason for this law? Does it sound just to you?
  1. [22:20] When the Torah tells us not to oppress the stranger, we are reminded that we were strangers in Egypt. In other commandments, we are not told to remember our own experiences. Why is this extra encouragement or motivation given with this commandment?
  1. [22:30] “Be holy to me and don’t eat any meat from an animal that was killed by a predator in the field…” What does being holy have to do with not eating this type of meat?
  1. 4. [24:7] “…we will do and we will hear (understand).” The Talmud understands this pasuk as expressing a very praiseworthy quality of the children of Israel. First they will do the commandments, and afterwards they will try to understand. The Rashbam understands this to mean that they will do the commandment, and then they will listen for the next commandment. Which of these explanations is the greater praise of the children of Israel?
  1. [24:10] “And they saw the God of Israel…” When the group “saw” God, it is described with this metaphor that suggests clarity. When Moshe is with God alone [24:18], the experience is described in terms of a cloud. Why is there this difference between their experiences, and why does Moshe’s experience seem more “cloudy” and less “clear”?

Commentary

[23:12] “…and on the seventh day you shall rest in order that your ox and your donkey should rest…”

You should rest and have peace on the Sabbath in such an intense way that you should influence everyone and everything in your environment. Everything around you should also be at peace.

–Rabbi A. M. Alter of Gur

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

(Exodus 18:1-20:23)

(Haftara: Isaiah 6:1-7:6, 9:5,6)

  1. [18:18] “You will certainly wear yourself out…” Moshe was the only judge for a few million people. He must have known that the job was too big for one person.  What was he thinking that would have caused him to continue being the only judge for all the people?
  1. [18:9] “And Yitro rejoiced for all the good that God had done for Israel…” Yitro identified with the people of Israel, and was joyful for them. Why did he return to Midian instead of staying with Israel?
  1. [19:5] “…you will be my own treasure from among all the nations…” On the one hand, we are told that we are God’s special nation. On the other hand we are commanded to be humble and not feel superior to people.  How can we resolve this contradiction?
  1. [20:12] “Honour your father and your mother…” We are commanded to “love your neighbour as yourself”. Doesn’t that include honouring? Are there limits on honouring someone other than one’s parents? Why is there a special commandment to honour one’s parents?
  1. [Haftara: Yeshayahu 6:9] “…you hear but you don’t understand. You see, but you don’t really know.” If they already see and hear, but don’t really understand,  what can a prophet do for them? Don’t they need a leader to re-educate them, rather than a prophet to again tell them that they are doing wrong? What can a prophet do for them?

Commentary

Faith is pure when it is full of inner feelings without self-deception and without ulterior motives…Someone who is intelligent will not be content without rational thinking.  For him, a genuine faith will not be real unless it is illuminated by reason.

–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

 

(Exodus 13:17-17:16)

(Haftara: Shoftim 4:4-5:31)

(Tu B’shvat)

  1. [14:22 ] “And the Israelites went into the sea on the dry land…” The Israelites were being chased by Pharoah and his army, and they were afraid.  The pasuk seems to tell us that the Israelites went into the dry sea-bed without hesitation.  The midrash, however, says that the Israelites did not trust the miracle, and only entered the sea-bed after great hesitation, and after one brave person jumped in. Which version of the story do you think is most likely to be true?
  1. [15:1] “Then Moshe and the Israelites sang this song to God…” What is the quality of music that makes people want to sing at elevated times?
  1. [15:1] “I will sing to God, because He is exalted…” The Kabbalistic thinkers tell us that God does not really need our praises. So why do we praise God so often in our prayers and in our lives?
  1. [17:3] “Why have you brought us out of Egypt—to kill us and our children and our cattle of thirst?”  Water is more necessary for life than food. God fed the Israelites with the man—the miraculous food from heaven. Why didn’t God also give the people water in abundance?
  1. [Tu B’Shvat] When we make blessings before eating fruit and other foods, we make the blessing which is specific to that family of food. There is one blessing, however, that could apply to every food—”Blessed are You..that everything exists through His word. If one blessing is acceptable for every food, why do we try so hard to make the specific blessing?

Commentary

The love for people must break out from the source of compassion. It must not come to us as a prescribed law, because then it would lose its most luminous quality. It must come as a spontaneous, powerful movement from the deepest depths of the person.

–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

Numbers 6:2-9:35

 Rosh Chodesh

  1. [6:9] “…and they didn’t listen to Moshe because of impatience and hard work”. If the Israelites had not been impatient and hadn’t worked so hard, they also wouldn’t have listened to Moshe, because their lives would have been easier. Under what conditions does an oppressed people listen to someone who wants to free them from their oppression?
  1. [6:12] “…the children of Israel didn’t listen to me, so why would Pharoah listen to me…” The Riva (12th century, France) explains the logic in the following way: The children of Israel didn’t listen to me , even though I came for their good, so why would Pharoah listen to me when I’m telling him something that’s not good for him? Some commentators say that this is faulty logic. What might be faulty about the logic here?
  1. [6:14] In the previous parsha, the Torah gave us a list of the tribes. Rashi, our main commentator, says that this shows how much God loves the Israelites. Here the Torah gives us a list of the heads of the tribes. Why does the Torah write lists of names so often?
  1. [6:30] Moshe does not want to be the leader of the Israelites, but God insists that he is the man for the job. What qualities does Moshe have that make him a proper leader? How are these qualities different from the qualities that we usually associate with leadership?
  1. [7:19] In this parsha, 7 plagues are mentioned. They are: 1) the changing of the waters of Egypt to blood; 2) frogs everywhere; 3) lice; 4) swarms of flies; 5) disease on the cattle; 6) boils on the body; and 7) hail. The commentators try to find a pattern to the plagues. Do you see a pattern to the plagues?

Commentary

There are 10 words in the Torah for prayer. When the Israelites were in spiritual exile in Egypt, their power of speech—their prayer—was also in exile. (This is seen in everyday life when a person is depressed. The person’s full power of speech is lost—is in exile.) The 10 plagues that removed the exile restored the power of speech so that the Israelites could pray the 10 expressions of prayer.

The Chiddushei HaRim–R. Yitzchak Meir of Ger (1798(?)-1866)

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

 

(Exodus 1:1 – 5:23)

(Haftara: Isaiah 27:6- 28:13, 29:22,23)

  1. [1:8] “And a new king arose over Egypt…” Rashi quotes an argument from the Talmud. One chacham says that it was really a new king, and the other chacham says that it was the same king, but he changed his policies. How does the story change according to each of these opinions?
  1. [2:2] “…and she saw that he was good…” In explaining the meaning of “he was good”, Rashi says that the whole house was filled with light. The Sforno (1475-1550—Italy), however says that Moshe was prettier than the average baby. What might have made Rashi give a “miraculous” explanation?
  1. [2:10] “…because I pulled him out of the water.” What quality did Pharoah’s daughter show by pulling him out of the water, and how might this choice of name have affected the development of Moshe’s personality?
  1. If Moshe was raised in the Pharoah’s palace, what might have caused him to identify so much with the children of Israel?
  1. [3:8] “…to a land flowing with milk and honey, the place of the Canaanite and the Hittite…” Why does God also mention that the land is inhabited by these tribes? Wouldn’t that fact be discouraging to Moshe?

Commentary

[4:10] “…I am slow of speech and of a slow tongue.”

Many leaders are very good  and persuasive speakers. Why did God choose Moshe, who had such difficulty with his speech?

God did not want people to say that the reason that the children of Israel accepted the Torah was because they were convinced by a charismatic and persuasive leader. Rather, the reason they accepted the Torah was because of their encounter with God at Mount Sinai.

–Rabbi Nissim (the Ra”n), Spain,  (1320-1380)

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