The Division of the Land
The Division of the Land

Learning Group—Parshat Pinchas

(Numbers: 25:10-30:1)

(Haftara: Jeremiah 1:1-2:3)

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. [26:52] When the land of Israel was divided among the tribes, the Torah tells us that the bigger tribes should get bigger portions and the smaller tribes should get smaller portions. Then the portions were divided according to a lottery. How was the land divided according to the size of the tribes if there was a lottery? The Talmud and the commentaries tell us that it was miraculous—the larger plots of land went to the bigger tribes in the lottery. What was the point of the lottery if it was all “fixed” anyway.

3. [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?

4. [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?

5. [27:7] “The daughters of Tzelafchad are correct…” The people of Israel were guilty of 2 major sins in the wilderness—the sin of the golden calf, and the sin of the spies. The midrash (midrash rabba) tells us that in each case, the women of Israel were the ones who were faithful to God and our mission, while the men were the ones who sinned. What is it about the quality of women that would make them more faithful to God and our mission than the men?

Commentary

[27:16,17] “…set up a leader over the community…who will take them out and who will bring them in…”

“Take them out and …bring them in” implies being part of the physical world and being part of the spiritual world. The leader that Moshe is asking God to appoint for the people of Israel is one who can connect the physical to the spiritual—a leader who can take the physical and infuse it with spirituality.

–The Baal Shem Tov, Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, (1700-1760).

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

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Ha-shem warns Bil'am
Ha-shem warns Bil’am

Learning Group—Parshat Balak

(Numbers: 22:2-25:9)

(Haftara: Micah 5:6-6:8)

1. [23:9]  “…a people that will dwell alone and will not  be counted among the nations.” This is presented as a blessing. How is this a blessing?

 

2.  [23:19 ]  “God is not a man, that He should lie; or a person who changes His mind…”   However, even in this parsha, God changes His mind [22:12-20].  Our prophets tell us that God is beyond human qualities—is total positivity. However, God reveals Himself to us with human-like qualities. When we pray, should we think about God beyond human qualities, or should we think about God with human-like qualities?

 

3. [Haftara: Micha 5:6] “And the remnant of Ya’akov will be in the midst of many nations like dew from God, like showers on the grass…”  This pasuk is understood by some commentators as negative in relation to the situation of the Jews, and by other commentators as positive in relation to the situation of the Jews. How can this pasuk be understood in a negative way and how can it be understood in a positive way?

 

4. [Haftara: Micah 6:8] “…what does God ask of  you: only to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God”.  Are people who love kindness and walk humbly capable of doing justice.  It would seem that one must be aggressive and obstinate to achieve justice in society.  Is it realistic for the prophet to ask that a person have all three of these qualities?

 

5. [Haftara: Micah 6:8] “…what does God ask of you: only to do justice, to love chesed, and to walk humbly with your God”.  If these are the main things that God asks of us, what is the purpose of the other commandments of the Torah like eating kosher, keeping Shabbat, and so on.

 

Commentary

[24:17] “…a star will step out of Jacob…”

This pasuk is telling us that every Jew has a spark of the Messiah in his soul.

–The Baal Shem Tov, Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, (1700-1760).

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

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Parshat Chukat: "The Red Cow " Offering to Hashem

 

Learning Group—Parshat Chukat

(Numbers: 19:1- 22:2)

(Shoftim 11:1-33)

1. [19:2] “This is the law of the Torah…” This section tells us about purification. The pasuk should say that “This is the law of purification…”. Why does it say “This is the law of the Torah”?

2. [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?

3. [20:8] “Take the stick, and gather the congregation…” According to the Rambam, Moshe’s sin at the rock was that he spoke in a disrespectful way to the Israelites. According to the Ramban, Moshe’s sin was the fact that he hit the rock instead of speaking to it, as he had been commanded. What is the difference between these two interpretations and which do you prefer?

4. [21:18] “and from the wilderness to Mattanah [gift].” Our mystical tradition understands that each of these stops in the wilderness represents a psychological, spiritual matter. From this pasuk it is understood that the Torah–closeness to God and spiritual wholeness– can be acquired even by someone who has not worked at it step by step, but rather acquires the Torah as a gift because of some personal quality or action. What personal quality or action could bring a person to God and spiritual wholeness?

5. [Shoftim: 11:15] “Israel did not take away the land of Moav…” Yiftach felt that he had to morally justify the fact that Israel took over the land of Moav. In the political climate of that time, he did not have to do that. Why did he try to justify the acts of the Israelites?

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

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Parshat Korach

 

Learning Group—Parshat Korach

(Numbers: 16:1-18:32)

(Yeshayahu 66:1-24)

(Rosh Chodesh)

1. [16:3]  “All the people in the community are holy…”  What is so bad about what Korach said?  It sounds true.

2. [16:3]  “All the people in the community are holy…”   Korach’s argument is a good argument, but his is our classical case of an argument which is not “l’shem shamayim” – not argued out of pure motives. However our sages tell us (Talmud Nazir) that one should learn Torah even if not “l’shem shamayim”, and he will eventually achieve learning which is for pure motives. What is the difference between Korach’s lack of pure motives and a lack of pure motives in learning?

3. [18:1] “…bear the sin of the holy place…”   What is meant by “the sin of the holy place”, and “the sin of the priesthood”?

4. [18:8-20] “…I have given you the charge of my gifts…”  The tribe of Levi gets gifts from the people of Israel.  Doesn’t this seem like favouritism toward Levi? Won’t it cause jealousy?

5. [Rosh Chodesh] Rosh Chodesh is our time for renewal. Is the fact that we need rejuvenation a fault of ours, or a natural part of life? Is there a way that we could live where everything always seems fresh and new?

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

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Parshat Shlach

Learning Group—Parshat Shlach-Lecha

(Numbers: 13:1-15:41)

(Haftara: Yehoshua 2, 1-24)

1. [13:27, 28] “…the people who live in the land are fierce…” Our tradition looks upon the spies as the ultimate traitors. What was so bad about the spies’ message to the Israelites?

2. [13:27, 28] “…the people who live in the land are fierce…” Our tradition looks upon the spies as traitors. The spies were not betraying the Israelites. They were afraid. Is fear a sin? Is fear a betrayal? Why are people sometimes afraid of changing a bad situation for a better situation?

3. [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?

4. [14:29-35] “In this wilderness, your bodies will fall…” The Israelites complained before the episode of the spies, but this time they were punished with 40 years in the desert. What exactly was their sin? Isn’t this too severe a punishment for their sin?

5. [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?

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

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Learning Group—Parshat Naso

(Numbers: 4:21-7:89)

(Haftara: Shoftim 13:2-25)

1. [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 does against his fellow is also treason against God. Why is doing wrong to a person a betrayal of God?

2. [5:7] “And they will confess the sins that they did…” Specifying one’s sins through verbal confession is necessary in order to be forgiven by Heaven. Why isn’t it enough that a person sincerely changes his or her behaviour? Why is verbal confession so important?

3. [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?

4. [6:25-26] “May God shine his face on you and be gracious to you.” In Hebrew, a number of single things are written in the plural–for example, sky, life, water and others. These seem to be things which are not simple objects. “Face”, in Hebrew is also in the plural. However, it seems to be a simple object. Why is face in the plural in Hebrew?

5. [Haftara: Shoftim 13:5] Shimshon (and Shmuel) were born with the restrictions and duties of nazirim. Their mothers had declared that they would be nazirim. In our parsha, the nazir chooses to be a nazir by himself, and does so for a limited amount of time. Who do you think would be more committed to being a nazir—one who doesn’t choose it and does it all his life, or one who chooses it and does it temporarily?

Commentary

[7:84] “This is the dedication offering…on the day it was anointed”.

[7:88] “This is the dedication offering…after it was anointed”.

When one begins to get involved with God and with Torah, one feels an awakening, a renewal and an elevation. After a while, however, the freshness begins to wear off. One must try to keep the clarity of the beginning forever. One must always return to the original light that one had when one first started getting involved with Torah. — R. Avraham Mordechai Alter of Ger (1866-1948)

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

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Learning Group—Parshat Bamidbar

(Numbers 1:1-4:20)

(Haftara: Hosea 2, 1-22)

(Pirkay Avot Chapter 6)

1. [3:12] “I took the Levites from among the Israelites in place of the first-born…” The priestly tribe was originally supposed to be the first-born males. After the sin of the golden calf, the first-born lost their status as the priestly class, and Levi took their place, because they were loyal to God. What qualities would the first-born have that would have made them suitable to be the priestly class?

2. [Haftara: Hosea 2:21] “I will betroth you to me in righteousness (betzedek) and in justice (bemishpat), and in kindness (chesed) and in compassion (rachamim)”. What is the difference between righteousness and justice? What is the difference between kindness and compassion?

3. [Haftara: Hosea 2:21] “I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, and in kindness and in compassion”. One would think that this should say, “I will marry you to me…” Why does it say, “I will become engaged to you”?

4. [Pirkay Avot 6:6] “…the Torah is acquired in 48 ways…with humility…” There is humility that is a result of low self-image, and there is a positive kind of humility. What self-image and what relationship to others does a person with positive humility have?

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

[3:12] “…And I have taken the Levites from among the children of Israel… and the Levites shall be mine.”

“Not only the tribe of Levi, but each and every person in the world, whose spirit has moved him and has understood himself that he should separate himself to stand before God, to serve Him, to worship Him, to know God and to walk in a straight way like God made him, and he has given up all the various calculations that men make–this man has become holy like a holy of holies, and God shall be his portion and his inheritance forever, and shall give him his needs in this world, as He has given to the Kohanim and the Levites…”

–Rambam, R. Moshe ben Maimon, 1135-1204, Spain and Egypt

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

Image

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Parshot har-bekhukotai

Learning Group– Parshot Behar-Bechukotai

(Leviticus: 25:1-27:34)

(Haftara: Yirmiahu 16:19-17:14)

(Pirkay Avot: Chapter 5)

                                                               

1. [26:37] “the sound of a leaf will chase you…but no-one will be chasing you”. What psychological condition does this sound like? Are there other psychological illnesses mentioned in these psukim?

2. [27:33] “…and he shall not exchange it…”  One of levels of interpretation of the Torah is the spiritual level.  R. Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, (1902-1994), said that this pasuk can be understood to mean that every person was born with a mission in life that is distinctly, uniquely and exclusively his or her own. How can a person know what his or her purpose in life is?

3. [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.  In other words, we will be recognized as the center of the world. In our religious-spiritual system, arrogance is considered a very, very bad quality. How can we believe in our religious-spiritual system in a way that does not lead to arrogance?

4. [Yirmiahu 32:27] “…is there anything too hard for me?”   In pasuk 17 of this chapter. Yirmiahu says to God, “…there is nothing too hard for you”.  In pasuk 27, God says to Yermiyahu in almost the same words, “ …is there anything too hard for me?”. Yirmiyahu knew in theory that God can do anything, but God had to reassure him. This is a major theme in the way of Torah. How can a person take what he or she knows  in theory—in his or her mind—and transfer that understanding to the heart—integrate that knowledge totally into one’s personality?

5. [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?

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

 

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Parshat EmorLearning Group– Parshat Emor

(Leviticus: 21:1-24:23)

(Haftara: Yechezkel 44:15-31)

(Pirkay Avot: Chapter 4)

1. [23:4] “These are the festivals of God…” The holier the day is, the more one is restricted in one’s physical activities. For example, on a festival, one may cook food, although there are other restrictions. On Shabbat one may heat up certain cooked foods, but may not cook, and on Yom Kippur one may not cook and one may not even eat or drink. Why should physical freedom of action be dependent on the level of holiness of that day? One might think that more holiness should suggest more freedom of action, rather than the opposite!!

2. [23:24-23:44] Our tradition tells us that by keeping the Torah, we make everyday life holy. If so, then why are there so many festivals which introduce to us a higher holiness than the everyday?

3. [24:22] “…there will be one law for the stranger and for the home-born…” When someone converts to Judaism, he or she needs other Jews to supervise their entry into the Jewish people. Why isn’t it enough to simply declare one’s loyalty to God and the Torah?

4. [Haftara: Yechezkel 44:23] “And they will teach my people the difference between the holy and the common…” Why do we make such a distinction between the holy and the common? Why don’t the Kohanim teach that the common is a lower form of holiness and can be raised to a state of holiness?

5. [Pirkay Avot: 4:4] “…Be very humble…” People with a low self-image are sometimes very humble because they feel that they are worthless. This contradicts the truth–that we are all created in the image of God. How can a person be very humble and still know that he or she is very worthy?

Commentary

Not knowing where to go, I go to you. Not knowing where to turn, I turn to you. Not knowing how to speak, I speak to you. Not knowing what to hold, I bind myself to you. Having lost my way, I make my way to you. Having soiled my heart, I lift my heart to you…Blessed are you whose presence illuminates outrageous evil…Blessed are you, who waits in the world. Blessed are you whose name is in the world.

–Leonard Cohen, Book of Mercy, born 1934, Canada, USA.

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

 

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Parshat Acharay--Kedoshim
Parshat Acharay–Kedoshim

Learning Group– Parshot Acharay–Kedoshim

(Leviticus: 16:1-20:27)

(Haftara: Amos 9:7-15)

(Pirkay Avot: Chapter 3)

1. [19:18] “…and love your fellow person like you love yourself “. Is it a sin then, not to love oneself? If someone has a low self-image, and does not love himself or herself, what should he or she do? How can a person come to love him or herself? How can a person come to appreciate and love another person?

2. [Haftara: Amos 9:15] “I will plant them on their land and they shall no more be uprooted…” Why doesn’t the pasuk say that they will no longer be driven out? Why is the metaphor of planting and being uprooted a good metaphor for the relationship of the Jewish people to the land of Israel?

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 one’s wisdom dependent on how careful one is in his or her morality?

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 compare God’s perception of a person to people’s perception of a person? People can be wrong!

5. [Pirkei Avot 3:13] R. Akiva says, “…silence preserves wisdom.” Wouldn’t one think that interacting with the world and being talkative would add to wisdom? Why do we say that”…silence preserves wisdom”?

Commentary

[19:18] “…and love your fellow person like you love yourself “.

A learned but ungenerous man said to R. Avraham of Stretyn (mid 1800’s–Poland): “They say that you give people mysterious drugs, and that your drugs are effective. Offer me one that will give me the fear of God.”

” I don’t know any drug for the fear of God,” said R. Avraham. “But if you like, I can give you one for the love of God.”

“That’s even better!” said the man. “Just give it to me.”

“It’s the love of your fellow men,” answered the tzaddik.

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

 

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