Rosh ha-Shanah is around the corner!
Rosh ha-Shanah is around the corner!

Learning Group—Parshat Netzavim-Vayelech

(Deuteronomy 29:9-31:30)

(Isaiah 61:10-63:9)

1. [31:2] Moshe says, “…I can no longer go out and come in”. It says in another place (Deuteronomy 34:7) that Moshe never lost his physical vitality. If so, what does Moshe mean when he says that he can’t “go out and come in anymore”?

2. [Haftara: Isaiah 61:10] “…He has dressed me with the clothing of salvation…” Isn’t clothing a superficial thing? Why doesn’t the pasuk say, “He has brought salvation deep into my heart”?

3. [Haftara: Isaiah 63:8] “For He (God) said, ‘Certainly they are my children, they will not lie.’ So He was their saviour”. It seem in this pasuk that what makes the Jewish people beloved in God’s eyes is the fact that they don’t lie. In many psukim, however, it is stated that keeping the commandments is what makes the people beloved. How can this contradiction be resolved?

4. [Haftara: Isaiah 63:9] “…in His love and in His compassion he redeemed them…” The Malbim (Meir Leibush, Lithuania and Poland, 1809-1879) says that “love” means seeing the best in the person, and “compassion” means seeing the weakness in the person. Do do you agree with the Malbim’s understanding?

5. [pre-Rosh Hashana] The Talmud tells us that the sound of the shofar on Rosh Hashana represents our crying out to God without words. We are also told that the shofar is meant to wake us up from our “waking dream”, and to improve ourselves. Do these 2 explanations contradict each other?

Commentary

[31:12] “Gather the people—the men, the women and the children…”

Why did God say that all the children should all be brought to this gathering? Everyone is supposed to listen to the Torah, and the smaller children disturb one’s concentration. They make noise and they demand attention. This is coming to teach us the following: One’s own spiritual development is very important. But sometimes, in order to serve God, and especially in order to pass the Torah way of life onto one’s children, one has to give up on what seems like one’s own spiritual development. Focussing on others, rather than on oneself, in itself brings a great deal of spiritual growth.

–The Sfat Emet, R. Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter (1847 – 1905), Góra Kalwaria, 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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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 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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Tazria-Metzorah

Learning Group—Parshot Tazria-Metzorah

(Leviticus 12:1-15:33)

(Haftara: Kings II, 7:3-20)

(Pirkay Avot: Chapter 2)

1. Our tradition tells us that the skin disease of tzara’at is a result of speaking “lashon hara”—saying something bad about someone without any constructive purpose. The sin of “lashon hara” is said to be equal to the sins of idolatry, murder and forbidden sexual relations. Why is this sin considered so bad?

2. [12:7] “…he makes an atonement for her and she is pure…” After she is pure, she can enter the holy place. The Torah is understood on both a physical and a spiritual level. What does it mean on a psychological-spiritual level that someone who is pure can go into a holy place?

3. [Chapter 2, Mishna 5] Hillel said, “Don’t judge your fellow-man until you arrive at his situation”. Can one ever arrive at the situation of his or her fellow-man? Under what circumstances would one be allowed to judge another person?

4. [2:15] R. Eliezer says, ” Let your fellow’s honour be as dear to you as your own”. What is the difference between this and “Love your fellow-man as you love yourself”?

5. [2:21] R. Tarfon used to say, “You are not obligated to finish the work, but neither are you free to ignore the work.” What is the “work”? Summarize the message of this mishna.

Commentary

[Leviticus 14:2] …and he shall be brought to the Kohen.”

When a person speaks “lashon hara (nasty gossip about another person)”, it shows that the speaker does not know the power of the spoken word. A nasty word can destroy someone’s world, and similarly, a good word can build someone’s world. The speaker of “lashon hara” becomes afflicted with “tzara’at”—a skin disease. A Kohen decides whether one has “tzara’at” or not. Until a Kohen inspects the person and says “impure”, the person does not have tzara’at. During festivals or Chol Hamoed, for example, inspections for tzara’at cannot be carried out, and the diseased person would still be considered pure because the Kohen has not yet SAID that he is impure. In this way the gossiper understands the power of the spoken word, and should come to guard his speech more closely.

–Ohel Ya’akov—Ya’akov ben Ze’ev Kranz ( 1741-1804), the Maggid of Dubno.

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 Mishpatim

(Shabbat Shekalim)

(Exodus 21:1-24:18)

(Haftara: Melachim 2, 11:17-12:17)

1. [21:1] “These are the laws that you will put in front of them.” The Torah should say, “These are the laws that you will teach them” or “command them”. Why does the pasuk say: “…that you will put in front of them”?

2. [21:37] “…(the thief) will pay 5 cows for stealing a cow, and 4 sheep for stealing a sheep.” Rashi quotes R. Yochanan in the Talmud who says that God has mercy on a sheep thief because he humiliated himself by having to carry the sheep on his shoulders. A cow thief just walks out with the cow and there is no humiliation. The thief did not respect the owner of the sheep so why should the Torah worry about the thief’s honour?

3. [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?

4. [23:5] “When you see your enemy’s donkey suffering under its load…” What quality of personality is the Torah trying to develop in us by telling us to help our “enemy”? Why is this quality worth developing?

5. [Shabbat shekalim] On Shabbat shekalim, we read in the Torah about how everyone must give half a shekel for the tabernacle. The rabbis see this as a commandment that shows that everyone is equal. We know however, that people are not equal. Some are more intelligent, stronger, prettier, richer than others. In what way is everyone equal?

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

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