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The Book of Joshua

Perek Yomi
The Book of Joshua
Study Questions

A Project of MACC, the Metro Atlanta Conservative Council

Questions prepared by Steven Chervin, Jennifer Stark-Blumenthal,

and Jill Jarecki

Edited by Steven Chervin

MACC (Metro Atlanta Conservative Council)

MACC is an association of the Conservative institutions in Atlanta,

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The Book of Joshua

including The Epstein School, Ramah Darom, Ahavath Achim Synagogue,


Congregation Etz Chaim, Congregation Beth Shalom, North Fulton Jewish
Center, and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. A central
element in the mission of MACC is to promote Jewish education in the
greater Atlanta community. MACC is co-chaired by Cheryl Finkel, Head of
The Epstein School, and Sue Rothstein of Congregation Etz Chaim.

Perek Yomi Coordinating Council (PYCC)

The Perek Yomi Coordinating Council is co-chaired by Steven Chervin


(Epstein School and AA) and Janet Schatten (Epstein School and AA). Its
members include Toby Goldman and Debra Wolff (AA Synagogue), Rabbi
Shalom Plotkin, Steve Birch and Sue Rothstein (Etz Chaim), Eileen Cohn
and Jennifer Stark-Blumenthal (Beth Shalom), Jill Jarecki (Ramah Darom),
and Steve Horn (North Fulton Jewish Center).

The Book of Joshua

Background

The Book of Joshua opens the second part of the Tanakh known as Nevi’im or
Prophets. It continues the story found in the Torah, with G-d designating Joshua
to succeed Moses as leader of the Israelites. We read here about the conquest of
the Land of Israel, the division of the Land for each of the tribes, and Joshua’s
farewell address to the Israelites.

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The major theme of the book is the holiness or kedusha of the Land of Israel: the
Israelites can only merit this holy Land if they observe G-d’s commandments.
Their military fortunes wax and wane according to whether or not they are faithful
to G-d.

The book also raises a fundamental moral dilemma: how can we justify the
Israelites’ invasion of the Land and their destruction of the peoples living there?

Chapter One: Joshua receives his command from G-d

G-d emphasizes to Joshua that he must observe the Torah of Moses faithfully
because "only then will you be successful."

1. What do you think "observing the Torah faithfully" means?


2. Why is "observing the Torah faithfully" a prerequisite to Joshua’s and the
Israelites’ success?
3. How might "observing the Torah faithfully" affect our own success today,
both as individuals and as a people?
4. What do we mean by "success"?

____________

Steven Chervin teaches Tanakh at the New Atlanta Jewish Community High School and is a
member of Ahavath Achim Congregation. Jennifer Stark-Blumenthal is a former Tanakh
teacher at The Epstein School, and is a member of Congregation Beth Shalom. Jill Jarecki is
Associate Director of Ramah Darom and a member of Ahavath Achim Congregation.

Chapter Two: The mission of the spies to Jericho

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The spies are hidden and protected by a prostitute in Jericho by the name of
Rahab.

1. Why do you think Rahab offers to protect the spies’ identity from the king of
Jericho?
2. Do you believe her when she says "the Lord your G-d is the only G-d in
heaven above and on earth below"?
3. Rahab says that G-d’s show of power – performing wonders and miracles in
Egypt – convinces her that He is the Lord. What does it take today to
convince people to believe in G-d?

Chapter Three: Crossing the Jordan River

In the Book of Exodus we learn that G-d splits the Red Sea so that the Israelites
can cross through on dry land and escape the Egyptians. Now G-d stops the
waters of the Jordan River so that the Israelites can cross through on dry land.
Rather than escaping from an enemy chasing them however, this time they are
preparing to meet their adversaries – the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites, etc.

1. Why do you think G-d needs to perform this miracle again for the people?
2. How do you think the people felt as they were preparing to cross the Jordan?
3. Why did the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant lead the people?
4. How do we prepare ourselves for entering a new phase or experience in our
lives? What special teachings and instructions do we take with us to help us
navigate our way through new and unfamiliar transitions?
5. How do we as Jews prepare ourselves for turning points in our annual cycle
of holidays, e.g. Yom Kippur?

Chapter Four: The 12 stones

1. Why do you think the 12 stones had to be taken from the exact middle of the
Jordan River, where the priests’ feet were standing?
2. Which Jewish holiday is recalled by verse 21: "in time to come when your
children ask their father, ‘What is the meaning of these stones?’ tell your
children . . . "?
3. How do we teach our children today to remember important events in our
past?

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Chapter Five: The camp at Gilgal

Just as Rahab had said earlier (chapter two), the kings of the Amorites and
Canaanites "lost heart and no spirit was left in them because of the Israelites."

1. How do you think the Israelites showed their "spirit"?


2. Why do you think G-d chose this moment for the circumcision of all those
males born after the Exodus?
3. The commander of G-d’s army echoes G-d’s words to Moses from the
Burning Bush: "Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where
you are standing is holy." How is this holy place different from the one where
Moses saw the Burning Bush?

Chapter Six: The fall of Jericho

The Israelites are told in verse 8 not to "take anything from that which is
proscribed (banned)", meaning things were to be dedicated to G-d by being
destroyed.

1. How does destroying something consecrate it to G-d?


2. Why do you think the Israelites were forbidden to take the booty of Jericho
for themselves?
3. Why does G-d command the people to rescue the "silver and gold and
objects of copper and iron" and deposit them in G-d’s treasury? What will
they be used for?

Chapter Seven: Achan’s sin

This chapter introduces the central spiritual and moral dilemma found in the Book
of Joshua: does G-d’s promise to give this Land to the Israelites justify the
displacement of the peoples who live there? Do the beliefs and practices of these
peoples justify their destruction by the Israelites?

1. Does G-d’s ban against the Israelites’ plundering Jericho represent an


ethical standard of warfare? If so, how do we reconcile this with the

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Israelites’ utter destruction of all the people of Jericho (except for Rahab and
her family)?
2. Do you think that all Israel should have suffered (especially the 36 men who
were killed by the men of Ai) for Achan’s sin?
3. Should a nation’s military fortunes be determined by the moral
righteousness of all of the members of that nation?

Chapter Eight: The conquest of Ai

After the battle, Joshua built an altar to G-d and he wrote a copy of the Torah "in
the presence of the Children of Israel." Then "all of the congregation of Israel"
stood there to hear the Torah read.

In chapter 7, "all of the people" were involved in punishing Achan. In this chapter,
"all of the people" are present to see the Torah being written and to hear the
Torah being read.

1. Why do you think there is a continuing emphasis on the presence and


participation of "all of the people?"
2. Do you think this is a value in our modern Jewish communities, as it was in
our Biblical community?
3. If this is a value for us today, how do we express this value? Are there
programs, people, and places, which reach out to the entire community?
4. If this is not a value for us today, why not? What changed? Should this be a
priority for us?

Chapter Nine: The treaty with the Gibeonites

In this chapter, Joshua is developing and testing his leadership skills. Like any
new leader, he must decide when to ask for help and when to make his own
decisions. Here, we are specifically told that Joshua and the men of Israel "did not
ask counsel of the Lord." In this case, Joshua and the men of Israel misjudged the
situation and made the wrong decision. Joshua then comes up with a plan to
minimize the damage.

1. Why do you think Joshua decides not to seek counsel? Should leaders
always seek counsel? How do leaders develop?

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2. How does Joshua respond to those who deceived him? What action does
he take to protect the people? Does he keep his word? What kind of
leadership qualities does he display in his response?
3. What has Joshua learned from this incident? What do we learn from Joshua
about personal growth and development? How can we apply those
principles to our own lives?

Chapter Ten: The sun stands still

1. Why do you think Joshua asked God to have the sun and moon stand still?
2. Why does the text tell us that there has never been and never will be
another day like that?
3. What does that imply about that miracle and about the consistency of our
natural world?
4. How does that affect our view of miracles? Should we request miracles that
go against the flow of nature?

Chapter 11: Victory over the northern coalition

In this chapter we hear Moshe’s name six times. The line is firmly established
from G-d to Moshe and from Moshe to Joshua.

1. Why do you think this chain needs to be emphasized so often in this


chapter?
2. Who, in your opinion, needs to be reminded of the origin of the commands?
The Israelites? The other nations? Future generations?
3. The last pasuk (verse) says, "and the land had rest from war." Why do you
think this is phrased that way? Why "the land" rather than "the people?"
What message does this send about the significance of the land?

Chapter 12: Summary of the conquest

1. Why do you think we are presented with this list?


2. What effect does it have on the reader to see the list of kings that the
Israelites have defeated?
3. How do we feel when we "list" our own accomplishments? How do others
feel when we list their accomplishments? What might this list teach us about

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our encounters with others?

Chapter 13: The land remaining to be conquered

In chapter 12, we just read a long list detailing Joshua’s conquest of the land.
Indeed, the number of kings conquered equals 31! And yet, two verses later, in
13:2, we read: "This is the territory that remains: . . ."

1. To what do you think the author is alluding?… Is Joshua’s job good, but not
good enough?
2. How does this verse clue us into both G-d’s and the peoples’ roles in the
conquest?
3. Is the Tanakh calling for human perfection, or does it recognize that
perfection is beyond our reach?
4. If perfection is beyond our grasp, what is it that we are striving toward?

Chapter 14: The nine and a half tribes divide the land

In 14:6-14, Caleb receives Hebron as his portion of land.

1. Why do you think he receives it? Is it because he was promised it or


because he spoke up for himself, reminding Joshua that he was promised
land?
2. What does this text come to teach us about personal responsibility for one’s
future?
3. What happens to those people who are either unable or afraid to speak up
for their needs?
4. Do others in society have an obligation to speak for those who cannot speak
for themselves?
5. How can one learn to use one’s own voice to help one’s self?

Chapter 15: Judah’s portion

Unfortunately, in the Tanakh we hear too little from the voices of women. Thus,
each reference is precious, offering us insight into the life of our foremothers.

1. What kind of woman is presented to us in Caleb’s daughter?


2. For this question the translation of 15:18 is pivotal. The New JPS translates

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it as "When she came [to him], she induced him to ask her father for
property." However, as relayed in the notes, a Greek translation reads that
"he induced her," (to ask her father for property.)
3. Which reading makes the most sense to you?
4. How does each reading influence the way in which Caleb’s daughter is
portrayed?
5. Which portrayal do you prefer? Why?
6. Why do you think that we hear so little from the female voice in the Tanakh?
7. Has the lack of our foremothers’ voices influenced your relationship to the
text and to Judaism?

Chapter 16: Ephraim’s portion

1. We read in verse 10 that the tribe of Ephraim failed to dispossess the


Canaanites. What is the importance of this detail? Why did they fail?

Chapter 17: Manasseh’s portion

1. Why do you think the fact that Manasseh is Joseph’s first-born is

underscored in this text: 17:1?

2. Do we have a tendency to treat our children differently based on their birth


order?
3. What do we learn from the Josephites’ complaint to Joshua of having too
little land, 17:14-18?
4. What does Joshua’s reply subtly tell the Josephites regarding the threat of
the Canaanites and how to handle them?

Chapter 18: Joshua’s call to complete the division

1. In order to "receive one’s portion" does one wait to be given it, or is one
obligated to go after it on one’s own? (18:1-3)

Are you more comfortable in letting someone else take the lead, or would
you rather be in control?

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Which choice does the text advocate and why?

2. Land is an extremely important commodity in the Book of Joshua. Thus,


casting lots to determine which tribe gets which piece of land seems to be
too random a decision making tool.

Is the apportionment of land random in your view, or somehow divinely


ordained?

To what extent does G-d direct the Israelites’ world?

To what extent does G-d direct our world today?

Are we aware of the types of roles that G-d plays in our lives?

Chapter 19: The portions of Simeon, Zevulun, Issachar, Asher, Naphtali, Dan
and Joshua

1. Why would Joshua or G-d divide the land so another’s surrounds that one
tribe’s portion? In 19:1, Simeon’s portion lay inside the portion of Judah.
Indeed, 19:9 reveals that Simeon received land that had already been given
to Judah.
2. Wouldn’t this arrangement create enmity between the two tribes?
3. Why do you think that G-d would create this possibly problematic situation?
4. What can this text come to teach parents about conflict among children and
how parents can handle it?

Chapter 20: The cities of refuge

1. What is a city of refuge according to the text?


2. The elders are entreated not to hand the manslayer over to his blood
avenger since he killed without intent and he was not the victim’s enemy in
the past.

What does it mean to be someone’s enemy?

3. How would it feel to have your town designated as a city of refuge?


4. What is the ethical principle at work behind the city of refuge system?

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5. What do you think this text comes to teach us?

Chapter 21: The Levitic cities

Here, in chapter 21, verses 1-3, is another example of someone getting what is
his due only after speaking up for it.

1. Can you recall two other examples of groups or individuals getting what is
rightfully theirs only after asking for it.
2. What does this repetitive theme come to teach us?
3. What themes are repeating lately in your own life? What do they come to
teach you?

4. In verses 41-43, what is the process of taking over the land?

6. What part does G-d play and what part do the people play?

In verse 42, we read that "Not one man of all their enemies withstood them."

5. How do you reconcile this statement with the Danites’ experience in 20:47?

6. Do these two accounts conflict, or can you reconcile them? If they conflict, how
do you account for it in this sacred text?

If the Tanakh was written by G-d, how can there be a conflict?

If the Tanakh was written by people, allowing for textual conflicts, how can we
view the Bible as Divine…sacred…?

Chapter 22: The transjordan tribes build an altar

1. How does Joshua summarize the Teaching that Moses taught to the people
of Israel? Is there anything you would add to Joshua’s description?
2. The tribes on the east side of the Jordan build an altar to G-d. Why does the

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building of an altar to G-d cause so much strife? What does the PROCESS
of settling this issue come to teach us?

Chapter 23: Joshua’s admonition

1. Why does Joshua emphasize that G-d is the One fighting Israel’s battles,
and that G-d has fulfilled all of G-d’s promises? Haven’t the people worked
hard alongside G-d? Does G-d need G-d’s ego stroked? Does G-d even
have an ego? What role does this image of G-d play for the Israelites?
2. What do the people of Israel have to do in order to maintain G-d’s presence
and protection? What does it mean to deviate, (vs. 6), from the Teaching? Is
interpretation deviation? Do we, today, deviate from the Teaching?
3. Verses 9-13 can be read as a dictum against intermarriage and assimilation.
Do you think the dangers of intermarriage and assimilation are the same
today?

Chapter 24: Joshua’s farewell address

1. Why does Joshua feel a need to review ALL that G-d had done for the
children of Israel? Verses 11-13 emphasize that the Israelites took other
peoples’ towns and vineyards. What sense of justice is there in attaining
power over the land at the expense of thousands of others’ lives? What is
the driving force behind attaining land and power?
2. In verses 16-18 the people openly declare their choice to serve
3. G-d. Why do they make this decision? Why is it important for the people to
make their own choice about serving G-d?
4. Do we, today, make our own decision in this matter, or do we simply and
somewhat blindly follow the decisions of our ancestors?
5. In your opinion, what is the significance of The Book of Joshua? What is its
purpose, and how well does it achieve its goal?

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Perek Yomi

Perek Yomi
Shoftim: The Book of Judges
Study Questions

A Project of MACC, the Metro Atlanta Conservative Council

Questions prepared by these staff members of The Epstein School, Solomon Schecter
School of Atlanta: Rabbi Bradley Tecktiel, Rabbi in Residence; Myrna Rubel, Director of
the Middle School; Cheryl Finkel, Head of School. Edited by Steven Chervin

MACC (Metro Atlanta Conservative Council)

MACC is an association of the Conservative institutions in Atlanta, including The


Epstein School-Solomon Schechter School of Atlanta, Ramah Darom, Ahavath
Achim Synagogue, Congregation Etz Chaim, Congregation Beth Shalom, North
Fulton Jewish Center, and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. A
central element in the mission of MACC is to promote Jewish education in the

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greater Atlanta community. MACC is co-chaired by Cheryl R. Finkel, Head of


The Epstein School, and Sue Rothstein of Congregation Etz Chaim.

Perek Yomi Coordinating Council

The Perek Yomi Coordinating Council is co-chaired by Steven Chervin (Epstein


School and AA) and Janet Schatten (Epstein School and AA). Its members
include Toby Goldman and Debra Wolff (AA Synagogue), Rabbi Shalom Plotkin,
Steve Birch and Sue Rothstein (Etz Chaim), Eileen Cohn and Jennifer Stark-
Blumenthal (Beth Shalom), Jill Jarecki (Ramah Darom), and Steve Horn (North
Fulton Jewish Center).

The Book of Shoftim (Judges)

Background

This book opens an era of transition for the Jewish nation. Joshua and Moses are
gone, but the age of greatness under David lies far ahead. Without a single
national leader each tribe concentrates on settling its area, struggling against and
succumbing at times to local Canaanite influence. Despite threats from without
and within, a new community and a new pattern of life in keeping with the
principles of God’s Torah was emerging. The judges, chosen by God, led the
people in this time when "…there was no king in Israel; every man did what was
proper in his own eyes…" (17:6, 21:25). The period of the judges lasts for 400
years. Throughout the book the Israelites experience a repeating cycle of sin,
disaster, repentance and rescue.

Chapter 1: Conquest

The Tabernacle is situated in Gilgal during the fourteen years of conquest of the
land. This chapter deals with the geography of the land.

1. What do you think is the significance of putting the tribe of Judah in charge
of the conquest?
2. Israel now becomes the "conqueror" – how do the Israelites treat the tribes

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who are already living in Canaan? Why are some tribes allowed to exist?
Can you make any predictions about the future?
3. Read verse 19 – How do you think modern technology has changed
warfare?

Chapter 2: Introduction

A prophet is sent to warn the people not to make treaties with idol worshippers.

1. Does collective punishment work?


2. What circumstances would cause the people to forsake God?
3. How would you define ‘idol worship"

4. Why is God always testing his people?

Chapter 3: Judges 1 and 2 - Othniel and Ehud

The Israelites live among 5 great nations and must remain true to their God or be
conquered by others. The first few Judges continue with the conquest of the land
by defeating the Moabites.

1. What was a Judge’s job? What leadership qualities did a Judge need?
2. Describe the cycle of events that take place within each Judge’s career.

3. Why do you think the story of Ehud is given so much detail?

Chapter 4: Deborah

The conquest continues with war against the Canaanites. Deborah and Barak
unite the people into an army and defeat Sisera. They rule for forty years.

1. What do we know about Deborah? Why do you think that she is the
only female Judge?

2. Is it significant that this victory is won by two women – Deborah and Yael?

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3. What is Barak’s role?

Chapter 5: The Song of Deborah

The miracle of defeating the Canaanites is put into a poem. This is one of ten
such songs found in the Tanakh. The poem is a historical song of victory to inspire
the people to be grateful to God and to understand why war is necessary.

1. Notice the effects of the rich imagery in the poem.


2. Deborah compares her role as Judge with the role of a mother. What do you
think she means?
3. What acknowledgements and warnings are given to the tribes?

Chapters 6/7: Gideon

The Israelites are now under the rule of Midian. Gideon is selected by God to be a
Judge and to fight the Midianites; he is remembered as a warrior. Both chapters
detail the war and victory.

1. Why do you think Gideon is reluctant to assume leadership?


2. Why isn’t God angered by the "tests" Gideon has made?
3. Was it easy for Gideon to go against his father and community?

4 God wants a small army; can you predict any reactions among the
Israelites?

Chapter 8: Strife in the Israelite camp

1. Why do you think Gideon leaves the Ephramites out of the battle?

2. How did the Ephramites react?

3. Why did Gideon have a hard time finding support for his

campaign against the kings of Midian?

4. What was Gideon’s response to those who refused to help him?

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5. Why was it so important to Gideon to capture and kill the kings of


Midian?

Chapter 9: Abimelech; The Man Who Would Be King

1. As you read Jotham’s analogy of the trees attempting to anoint a


king over themselves, think about what point he was trying to make

2. Do you believe that God was with Abimelech?

3. What do you think causes someone to thrive on power and might?

Chapter 10: The Battles with Ammon

1. What part of the "Shoftim" cycle are we in at the beginning of


Chapter 10 (cf. Question #2, Chapter 3)?

2. How does God respond to the cries of the Israelites?

Chapter 11: Jephtah to the Rescue

1. Why do you think Jephtah was reluctant to help his fellow Israelites?
2. What was the dialogue between Jephtah and the king of Ammon? Why did
the diplomatic approach fail?
3. What deal does Jephtah strike with God?
4. What is the ultimate tragedy of that deal?

Chapter 12: Brother Against Brother

1. Why would the Ephramites attack their fellow Israelites (look

back to chapter 8)?

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2. What would cause a brother to want to kill another brother?

3. Do you think that Jephtah handles the situation in the best possible
way?

Chapter 13: Will They Ever Learn? or The Beginning of Samson

1. What part of the Shoftim cycle are we in at the beginning of chapter


13 (cf. Question #2, Chapter 3)?

2. What do you think it would be like to be a Nazir? Could you see


yourself devoting your whole life to God? Could you give up the
modern vices to which we have become so accustomed?

3. What is missing in the story that Manoach’s wife tells about her
encounter with the angel? Why does she leave this part out?

4. Why are we never told the name of the wife of Manoach?

Chapter 14: Samson meets Delilah

1. What reason does Samson give to his parents for his desire to
marry a non-Israelite?

2. In verses 5-6 we read how Samson is able to rend a lion with his
bare hands like a small goat. The verse tells us that he is able to do
this because the spirit of God sits with him. Why do you think that God
continues to support Samson, even after Samson requests to marry a
heathen?

Chapter 15: Samson’s Revenge on the Philistines

Samson aims to reclaim his wife, but her father has given her to another man.
Samson uses his physical might to take revenge against the whole Philistine
nation.

1. In verse 3, Samson says, "This time, when I do evil to the Philistines, I will
be without blame." What evil has he done them before and why does he

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consider himself guilty for it?


2. Why do the men of Judah bind Samson and hand him over to the
Philistines?
3. Verse 20 indicates that Samson judged Israel "in the days of the Philistines
for twenty years." What does the phrase "the days of the Philistines" indicate
about the status of Israel at that time?

Chapter 16: Samson’s Downfall

1. How does the introductory subplot of Samson’s visit to the prostitute in Gaza
and his uprooting of the city gate (verses 1-3) serve to advance the rest of
the story of Samson and Delilah?
2. Samson keeps the secret of his strength from Delilah until in verse 17 he
"told her all his heart," and reveals the reason he doesn’t cut his hair. Why
does shaving his hair cause Samson’s strength to "depart from him?" When
it begins to grow back (verse 22), why doesn’t he automatically become
strong again?
3. Samson regains one last burst of strength to destroy his enemies and
himself. Why does God grant him this strength?

Chapter 17: The Shrine of Micah

1. Micah’s mother seems confused; she intended to "consecrate the money to


God…for my son to make an idol…" an action forbidden to Israelites. What
is the author of the story trying to say about the people’s observance of
God’s commandments at this time?
2. Is Micah establishing his unauthorized shrine -- even installing in it a Levite
priest -- in a spirit of rebellion or of reverence for God?

Chapter 18: The Migration of the Tribe of Dan

1. What connection might there be between the Danites need to find a new
territory, and the long history of strife between Samson and the Philistines
told in chapters 13-16?
2. What is the implication of the tribe of Dan founding its new capital on the
ashes of the destroyed city of Laish? Why do they establish in Laish their
house of worship with the idol that they stole from Micah?

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Chapter 19: The Rape of the Concubine at Gibeah

1. Compare the sexual attack of the Gibeites upon the Levite man and his
concubine in verses 20-25 with the sexual attack of the people of Sodom
upon Lot’s guests in Bereishit (Genesis) 19: 1-11.
2. Why was the old man, the host, more prepared to let the wicked
townspeople molest his virgin daughter and the Levite man his concubine,
than to let them attack the Levite man himself?
3. The atrocity at Gibeah is announced to all of Israel when the Levite man
sends each tribe a limb of the concubine’s murdered body (!). Was he
justified in desecrating her corpse in order to rouse the people against such
a crime?
4. Compare this message to Saul’s very similar call to war in I Samuel 11:7.

Chapter 20: The War Against Benjamin

1. Why did the people of Benjamin refuse to turn over the Gibeite criminals to
the federation formed by all the rest of the tribes?
2. The Israelite federation seeks God’s military support twice (verses 18 and
23) and are defeated twice. Their third approach to God (verses 26-28) is
followed by victory over the Benjamites. What about this third entreaty made
it more acceptable?

Chapter 21: Reinstatement of Benjamin

1. After the tribe of Benjamin has been almost completely wiped out in this civil
war, the men of the other tribes swear not to intermarry with Benjamites in
the future. What picture do we get of an Israelite society prepared to let one
of the twelve tribes become extinct?
2. How do you understand verse 15,"The people had compassion upon
Benjamin because God made a breach in the tribes of Israel." Did God
cause the breach among the tribes? Was God the source of this (somewhat
belated) compassion?
3. Do you read verses 23-24 as a relatively happy resolution to the story?
4. Why do you think the book ends with a final restatement of the recurring
chorus, "In those days there was no king in Israel; a man would do whatever
seemed right in his eyes"?

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Perek Yomi
Shmuel Aleph: I Samuel
Study Questions

A Project of MACC, the Metro Atlanta Conservative Council

Questions prepared by Miriam Rosenbaum, Middle School Tanakh teacher at The


Epstein School and member of Congregation Etz Chaim.

Edited by Steven Chervin

MACC (Metro Atlanta Conservative Council)

MACC is an association of the Conservative institutions in Atlanta, including The


Epstein School-Solomon Schechter School of Atlanta, Ramah Darom, Ahavath
Achim Synagogue, Congregation Etz Chaim, Congregation Beth Shalom, North
Fulton Jewish Center, and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. A
central element in the mission of MACC is to promote Jewish education in the

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greater Atlanta community. MACC is co-chaired by Cheryl R. Finkel, Head of


The Epstein School, and Sue Rothstein of Congregation Etz Chaim.

Perek Yomi Coordinating Council

The Perek Yomi Coordinating Council is co-chaired by Steven Chervin (Epstein


School and AA) and Janet Schatten (Epstein School and AA). Its members
include Toby Goldman and Debra Wolff (AA Synagogue), Rabbi Shalom Plotkin,
Steve Birch and Sue Rothstein (Etz Chaim), Eileen Cohn and Jennifer Stark-
Blumenthal (Beth Shalom), Jill Jarecki (Ramah Darom), and Steve Horn (North
Fulton Jewish Center).

The Book of Shmuel Aleph: First Samuel

Background Material:

According to tradition, the book of Samuel was written by the prophet/judge


Samuel who lived around the year 1000 B.C.E. Modern analysts of the Tanakh
state that the Book of Samuel was probably written by a member of King David’s
court. This makes the entire narrative of Samuel all the more wonderful in that it
shows David with both his good and bad sides.

Samuel is part of our sacred history, the third book of the middle section of the
Tanakh known as Neviim. Though no absolute archeological finds have shown us
that Samuel was an actual historic character, recent discoveries in Israel have
found proof of the existence of the House of David.

Samuel is a bridge book, connecting the period of the Judges to the period of the
monarchy. Samuel is the last of the judges and stands second only to Moses as a
prophet and leader of Israel.

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The book opens with the Mishkan, the traveling sanctuary created in the desert
stationed in the city of Shiloh. Samuel’s family travels to the site of the Mishkan
regularly to make sacrifices in honor of the three pilgrimage festivals – Passover,
Shavuot and Sukkot.

Chapter 1: Hannah’s Prayer

Chapter One starts with the birth of Samuel. It follows the tradition of miraculous
births we have seen before, including the birth of Isaac, Jacob and Esau, Joseph
and Samson. These men were all born to barren women and became great
leaders of the people of Israel.

1. Why was it so important to Hannah to have a son even when her


husband, Elkanah, told her he loved her more than if she had born him
ten sons?
2. Why does the High Priest Eli rebuke Hannah for being a drunkard and
what does this teach us about how we are to "daven (pray)" today?
3. Why do you think there is so much animosity between Hannah and
Penina?

Chapter 2: Hannah’s Prayer of Thanksgiving

Hannah returns to Shiloh with her young son, Samuel, to return him to God by
having him give service in the Mishkan. We are also reintroduced to the High
Priest’s sons, Hophni and Pinchas. A man of God comes to Eli to give him a
message/prophecy from God.

1. What do you think of Hannah’s prayer of thanksgiving?


2. What do the sons of Eli do, which categorizes them as "base men"?
(Are their actions worse because they are kohanim/priests?)
3. Is the punishment of the prophecy given to Eli equitable with what his
sons have done? Do you think the whole house of Eli should be
punished because of these two "rotten apples"?

Chapter 3: God Calls Samuel

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Samuel receives his calling from God. Eli is the first to perceive what is happening
and demands to know what God has revealed to Samuel.

1. What kind of a relationship do you think Eli and Samuel share?


2. Why is it that Samuel doesn’t realize what is happening to him? Why
does Samuel leave out the word "God" when he first responds to
God’s call?
3. Why do you think it is so important for Eli to know what God has said
to Samuel?

Chapter 4: The Capture of the Ark and the Death of Eli’s Sons

For the next three chapters, you will be reading about one of the wars between
the people of Israel and the more technologically advanced Philistines. Though
the Philistines win the war, they seem to lose the overall battle in their
confrontation with Israel due to God’s intervention. This is a theme which is
repeated a number of times in the book of Samuel.

1. Why do you think the warriors of Israel demand that the Ark of the
Covenant be brought to the battlefield? Were they right in bringing it
there?
2. How is the prophecy of the Man of God fulfilled?
3. How does the name of Pinchas’ son reflect/summarize the events of
the chapter?

*The name of the child in Hebrew is pronounced – Ee Kavod. This is


where the name of Ichabod Crane comes from – The Legend of
Sleepy Hollow.

Chapter 5: The Ark and the Philistines

The Philistines return to their own territory with the Ark of the Covenant as a prize
of their victory. They place it in the Temple of Dagon, the chief god in their
pantheon. Here we can begin to understand one aspect of paganism – the
Philistines saw the Ark as an idol, a representation or embodiment of the
Hebrews’ God. By putting the Ark in Dagon’s temple, they are showing that their
god has been victorious over another nation’s god.

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1. What is the significance of the fallen statue of Dagon?


2. How do the Philistines of Ashdod decide to deal with the problems that
possession of the Ark has brought them? (How do we often deal with
similar problems today – in the same manner?)
3. How do the Philistines perceive God? Can pagans understand the
concept of a universal God?

NOTE: Many modern commentaries on this chapter state that the


plague discussed in chapters 5 and 6 was the Black Death - Bubonic
Plague, the piles being the boils that appeared on the bodies of those
infected. This would make sense because of the references in these
chapters to mice – in Medieval Europe the Black Death was carried by
rats, whose bodies were infested with the fleas that carried the disease.

Chapter 6: The Return of the Ark

The Philistines make a very logical decision on what to do with the Ark of the
Covenant, although it is not in keeping with their general attitude toward the
Israelites – that we were inferior and therefore our God must also be inferior.

1. Why would the priests and diviners of the Philistines prescribe a return
of the Ark to the Israelites?
2. Why do they tell the leaders of the Philistines to send a guilt offering
with the Ark – verse 3, "If you send away the Ark of the God of Israel,
send it not away empty…"
3. Why does God kill the people of Bet Shemesh? What sin do they
commit that antagonizes God? – This will come up again in various
chapters involving Saul and his battles with the enemies of Israel.
4. Try to locate Bet Shemesh as well as the Philistines’ territory. Did the
Philistine war on Israel accomplish their goal of domination of the
Israelites as they had hoped? (This question can be further answered
with a look at the end of Chapter 7)

Chapter 7: The Israelites Repent

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According to some commentaries, over the 20 years the Ark resided in Kiryat
Yi’arim the Jewish people reverted to pagan practices as they had during the
cycle of events in the Book of Judges. In order for God to protect the people in the
land of Israel, the people must fulfill their part of the contract/brit, which was to
follow the mitzvot. Once they show remorse over their assimilation and do
teshuvah, God returns in full power to protect the people from their enemies.

1. Why do the people gather at Mitzpah? Why is there a need for


communal teshuvah? How does this relate to Yom Kippur today?
2. What is the symbolism of pouring water onto the ground? (Think of
tashlich, the Rosh Hashanah ceremony in which we use bread crumbs
to symbolically cast our sins into the water)
3. How does God respond to the people’s collective act of teshuvah?
4. How does Samuel’s role shift now that there is peace in the land and
the people are again following the mitzvot?

Chapter 8: the Israelites Demand a King

As in other parts of the Tanakh, this chapter teaches us that hereditary leadership
is not always the best choice. If we look at the book of Genesis, we see that the
first born son never inherited the leadership of the original (Jewish) clan. Isaac not
Ishmael became the leader of the people after Abraham. Jacob, not Esau, Isaac
and Rebecca’s first born, became the next leader and depending on how you look
at it, Joseph or Judah become the next leader(s) – not the first of the twelve sons
– Reuben.

Even in the priesthood, inheritance did not always guarantee a good leader.
Neither Hophni nor Pinchas proved worthy of the position of High Priest after Eli.
Now we come to Samuel, a great judge and leader of the people, but his sons
prove unworthy of leadership. This leads the people of Israel to ask Samuel for a
king. This is not a request out of the blue, since God has already foretold of a king
for the people in the Book of Deuteronomy – see chapter 17:14.

1. What marks Samuel’s sons as evil? How does this compare with what
Hophni and Pinchas were doing?
2. How does Samuel feel about anointing a king for the people? How will
he know whom to choose?

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3. What does God tell Samuel? Is this good advice? Is it good advice to
consider today in modern politics?

Chapter 9: Saul Seeks his Father’s Animals

How does one choose a king for a nation like Israel? Samuel has no guidelines
other than God’s voice. A man is chosen from among all the men of Israel and we
need to look into the chapter to see what criteria God goes by to make a choice.

1. Why are we given this genealogy of Saul? Why only go back 6


generations?
2. Why are only Saul’s physical qualities mentioned? What do we learn
about Saul (by reading between the lines) at the end of verse 2?
(Could this relate to the common saying, "He/She is head and
shoulders above the rest"?)
3. What does the conversation between Saul and his servant tell us
about Saul’s personality?
4. What does the conversation between Saul and the young women in
the city tell us about relations between men and women at this time in
the biblical period?
5. What else do we learn about Saul’s personality from his reply to
Samuel in verse 21?
6. At this point, what is your opinion of Saul?

Chapter 10: Saul is Anointed King

Samuel anoints Saul king. The anointing process was a simple procedure of
pouring olive oil over the head of the anointed one. This process was used for all
future kings of Israel.

Two important words come out of this chapter – Nagid, the title with which Samuel
first addresses Saul after the anointing. It is translated as prince, and has been
used for centuries since as a title of honor among the people of Israel. In Spain
during the Golden Age (800-1200 C.E.) the leaders of the Jewish community were
referred to as Nagid – see Shmuel/Samuel HaNagid (or Samuel ibn Nagrela) in
the Encyclopedia Judaica. The other term is Mashiach. It is currently translated as
messiah, but it literally means anointed one. The term appears many times in

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Samuel relating to what we would call the coronations of Saul and David.

In this chapter we again witness Saul’s reluctance to accept the role of king.
Samuel tells him what will happen to him the first few days after he has been
anointed and Saul simply follows instructions. When Saul returns to his home in
the territory of Benjamin, he does not tell his family what has transpired. When the
people are gathered together for the formal coronation, Saul is so bashful he
hides and has to be brought to Samuel.

1. Why does Samuel give Saul such a detailed account of what


will happen to him when they part company?

2. What do you think Samuel means by his predictions of what


will happen to Saul?

3. What is the meaning of verse 9, "God gave him (Saul) another


heart"? Do the legitimate rulers of Israel receive some kind of
grace from God? Keep this in mind for chapter 16.

4. What does the expression from 10:12, "Is Saul also among the
prophets" mean?

5. Why does Saul hide among the baggage during his own
coronation?

6. Why would some people of Israel "despise" Saul as king when


they don’t even know him and have not given him a chance to
prove himself? (Does this relate to our own attitudes toward new
community leaders and/or newly elected politicians?)

Chapter 11: Saul’s First War

In this chapter Saul proves himself as a solid military leader. We meet a notorious
individual, Nahash the Ammonite, who desires to take over some of Israel’s
territory and make the people of Israel his slaves. His name Nahash, means
snake and he proves himself to be one in the following reading.

1. Why does Nahash allow the people of Yavesh-Gilad to send out a

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messenger to ask for help from the other tribes? Does he have so
much contempt for Israel that he feels they are all such cowards that
none would come to help?
2. What is Saul’s immediate reaction to the messenger from Yavesh-
Gilad? How would you react as a leader if you were sent a piece of an
ox and told to rally for battle?
3. Why does the text differentiate between the men of Israel and the men
of Judah – verse 8?
4. How do the men of the army feel about Saul after the battle/victory with
the Ammonites? What do they want to do with those that originally
opposed Saul as king?

Chapter 12: Samuel’s Farewell Address

Now that Samuel has succumbed to the wishes of the people of Israel and given
them a king, and that king has proven himself worthy of their loyalty, Samuel
decides it is time to "retire". He calls the people together for two reasons: 1) to
announce his retirement and charge any member of the community to come
forward with any complaints about his term of leadership; and 2) to admonish the
people to behave properly and honor their covenant with God. This chapter is
similar in character to the chapters of the Book of Deuteronomy that warn the
people of Israel how they are to behave once they enter the Land of Israel.

As we read through the Tanakh, it is interesting to note that there are recurring
themes as well as repetitions of specific commandments and warnings of what will
happen to us as a nation if we break those laws.

1. Look carefully at verse 3. What is Samuel saying to the people? What


do you think would happen to the American political process if all
politicians knew that they would have to open themselves up to this
kind of public critique at the end of their careers?
2. Who is the anointed one that Samuel refers to in his closing speech?
Why does Samuel include this person as a witness for himself?
3. What is Samuel’s closing message to the People of Israel? How do
these admonitions apply to our lives today?

Chapter 13: Saul’s First Act of Disobedience

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How have you imagined Saul up to this point? Was he a young man when he
became king? Now that Samuel has retired as the leader of the people, we
discover that Saul has a son, named Jonathan and he is old enough to fight in the
army of Israel. Does this mean that many years have passed or that he was a
mature man when he was anointed king?

In this chapter we also discover the seeds of God’s discontent with Saul. Saul
makes a sacrifice without benefit of kohen/priest or prophet because he fears
loosing control over his army at a crucial moment in time. The Philistines have
once again risen to try and take over the Land of Israel and indenture the people,
but Saul shows a lack of faith in God and God’s messengers/prophets. It is this
lack of faith, which eventually leads to the end of Saul and his house (keep this in
mind when you go on to II Samuel and start to judge David in his actions).

1. How is Jonathan introduced to us?


2. Why does the Israelite army scatter?
3. Is Saul’s sacrifice a means by which he hopes to endear himself and
the people to God and assure a victory, or does Saul make the
sacrifice to gain favor in the eyes of his troops?
4. What does Samuel say to Saul, which shows that Saul’s sacrifice was
ill advised?
5. Why make mention of the fact that there were no smiths in Israel (who
could forge or work with iron) but there were such men in the land of
the Philistines?

Chapter 14: Victory over the Philistines

What is a heroic act? In this chapter, Jonathan proves himself a true hero,
although some of you may think his actions were foolhardy. Jonathan sees an
opportunity to raid the Philistine camp and thereby cause the Philistines some
discomfort and confusion. As in many other places in the biblical text, the
protagonist states that if a certain thing should come to pass then it is God’s will
and must be followed up.

Through his actions, Jonathan creates circumstances leading to an Israelite


victory over their enemy. But in order to keep the army going and make the battle
truly victorious Saul commands a fast. When he hears that his own son, Jonathan,

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has broken the command, Saul threatens to kill his son, but the troops back
Jonathan and Saul sees it would be foolish to punish his son.

The last part of the chapter gives some background on Saul’s military
accomplishments, his family members and his officers.

1. What is the "sign" which Jonathan uses to assure that his actions
against the Philistines are guided by God? Why do you think he
chooses these words?
2. Why does Saul feel it is necessary to call a fast for the remainder of
the day’s fighting? Will this be a benefit to the troops or a detriment?
3. Why do you think God doesn’t answer Saul’s prayer for guidance
(verse 37)?

(Keep in mind that Saul already has one strike against him for offering
a sacrifice without benefit of a kohen)

4. How do the troops persuade Saul not to kill Jonathan? What do you
think Saul was trying to accomplish by announcing his intention to
execute Jonathan?
5. It is most unusual for the Tanakh to mention the names of wives and
daughters. Why do you think Merav, Michal and Ahinoam are
mentioned at the end of the chapter?

Chapter 15: Saul’s Second Act of Disobedience

This is one of the most dramatic chapters of the entire Tanakh. Through Samuel,
God gives Saul a specific order to destroy all the Amalekites. Saul thinks he has
fulfilled that order, but he is wrong and it costs him his kingship, his hopes of
dynasty and eventually his sanity.

1. What is the specific order, which Saul receives from Samuel?


2. How does Saul fulfill that order?
3. How does Saul explain his "interpretation of God’s command to
Samuel?
4. In verses 22 and 23 how does Samuel explain to Saul how he did not
follow God’s command?

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5. How does this incident relate back to chapter 13?


6. Do you feel that God was right in rejecting Saul at this point, or was
God being overly harsh?
7. What is Samuel’s reaction to God’s decree against Saul?

** This chapter is used as the haftarah on Shabbat Zachor – the Shabbat before
Purim

** If you look at Megillat Esther, when Haman is introduced in chapter 3 you will
see that his ancestry includes an Agagite – the rabbis infer that this is Agag the
king of the Amalekites mentioned in this chapter of I Samuel.

Chapter 16: David is Anointed King

In this chapter we are first introduced to David. Samuel is commanded by God to


find a new king now that Saul and his house have been rejected. God gives
Samuel specific directions on who the next king is to be, but Samuel is afraid to
travel on such a mission because of what Saul may do to him if the king finds out
Samuel’s mission. David is finally anointed and almost simultaneously, Saul loses
God’s grace and begins to lose his sanity.

1. What does God tell Samuel to do in order to hide his true mission to
Bet-Lechem? How can we reconcile the fact that God instructs one of
God’s prophets to deceive someone?
2. Samuel asks Jesse to bring forth all his sons. How does Samuel know
which one is to be chosen as the next king?
3. Why do Saul’s advisors urge him to find a harp player to ease his
spirit?
4. Of all the harp players in Israel at the time, why do you think David is
chosen to come to Saul’s court – is this a coincidence? Is it ordained
by God? Is it part of the master plan to make David king? Is it a test for
Saul? for David?

Chapter 17: David and Goliath

This is the timeless narrative of David and Goliath, the fight between good and
evil. Read Goliath’s physical description carefully and his taunt/challenge to the

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men of Israel. As you read try to consider if Goliath is truly evil, if he is simply a
large man being put to use by the Philistines, or if he is a mercenary.

For a wonderful visual depiction of this "scene" from the Tanakh, check out the
movie, King David, with Richard Gere. This particular scene is very well done and
follows the biblical narrative very closely.

1. Goliath’s challenge is obviously an attempt to humiliate the Israelites


but is it also a more efficient and less bloody way to wage war – a
champion from each side fighting it out?
2. How does David end up at the battlefield?
3. What is the reaction of David’s brothers to David taking up the
challenge? Why do you think they feel this way?
4. How does David actually win the battle? Is his faith in God the key to
this and all his future victories?

Chapter 18: David, Jonathan and Saul

In this chapter, David goes from being Saul’s trusted military commander,
Jonathan’s beloved friend and the light of Michal’s life, to becoming an enemy of
Saul. Why does Saul begin to distrust and dislike David – make sure to give a
moment extra to the reading of verses 6 – 8.

1. What is it that David does to endear himself so completely to


Jonathan?
2. Many feel that the relationship between Jonathan and David was
homosexual in nature, do you agree? (Don’t make up you mind
completely until you have read a few more chapters)
3. Why does Saul become angry/unhappy with David? How do we know
that Saul becomes angry/unhappy with David?
4. Why does Saul offer Merav in marriage to David and then allow her to
marry another?
5. What is David’s reaction to Saul’s offer of Merav and then Michal in
marriage?
6. What is the dowry that Saul demands of David? Why does Saul
choose this "gift"?

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Chapter 19: Saul’s Plot and David’s Escape

Jonathan is able to quell Saul’s desire for David’s death for the time being,
perhaps because the Philistines again rise up against the Israelites and Saul
needs David. David is again successful and when he returns to Saul’s court he
finds that Saul has once again turned against him. Michal proves herself a loyal
wife and helps David escape from her father’s wrath.

1. How does Jonathan defend David to Saul? Why?


2. Why does an evil spirit come upon Saul AFTER the victory over the
Philistines – should he not have been pleased with David at that point?
3. Why does Michal help David to escape from her father?
4. How do you think Michal and Jonathan felt being caught in the middle
between two people they both really loved? How does a person find a
path to follow in such a situation?

Chapter 19: Saul’s Plot and David’s Escape

Jonathan is able to quell Saul's desire for David's death for the time being,
perhaps because the Philistines again rise up against the Israelites and Saul
needs David. David is again successful and when he returns to Saul's court he
finds that Saul has once again turned against him. Michal proves herself a loyal
wife and helps David escape from her father's wrath.

1. How does Jonathan defend David to Saul? Why?

2. Why does an evil spirit come upon Saul AFTER the victory
over the Philistines - should he not have been pleased with David
at that point?

3. Why does Michal help David escape her father?

4. How do you think Michal and Jonathan felt being caught in the
middle between two people they both really loved? How does a
person find a path to follow in such a situation?

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Chapter 20: David and Jonathan

Part of this chapter is the haftarah reading for those Shabbatot which immediately
precede a New Moon/month. The reason for this is the content of the chapter - it
takes place the day before and the first two days of a new month.

In this chapter we see the great love that Jonathan has for David, even to the
point of betraying his own father. Jonathan and David work out an elaborate plan
to inform David, safely, of what will transpire if David returns to Saul's court. It is
almost as if Ian Fleming had read this chapter of Samuel before starting his
famous James Bond series of novels.

1. Why is David so confused about Saul's attempts to kill him?

2. Why do you think David and Jonathan need such an elaborate


set of plans? Are they both really that frightened of Saul? What
would Saul do to the two of them if he found them conspiring
against the king?

3. Try to map out the actual series of events as planned by David


and Jonathan. Try putting it on paper to see just how detailed the
plan is. Are there any contingency plans? Do David and
Jonathan need any?

4. How do David and Jonathan part company? (Make a


prediction) Do you think this will be the last time they both see
one another?

Chapter 21: David and Ahimelech

In this chapter the break between David and Saul becomes completely
irreconcilable. David flees Saul, knowing that he will never again be safe in the
man's presence. On the other hand as future chapters will illustrate, David
continues to hold Saul in respect because Saul is God's anointed.

Over the next few chapters it might be worthwhile to consider why and how Saul
has fallen from grace. What has he done which is so much worse than what David

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will do in II Samuel when David commits adultery and murder?

1. Why does David lie to Ahimelech - the High Priest - about his
business in Nov?

2. Why does Ahimelech hesitate in giving David bread - what


kind of bread is it, that can only be eaten by those who are
"tahor" - ritually clean?

3. What else does Ahimelech give to David - of what significance


is it?

4. Of all people, why does David choose to go to Achish, the king


of Philistine Gat? (consider David's track record with the
Philistines to date)

5. Why pretend to be mad? Of what use could that be to David in


the presence of the Philistine king?

*Remember Doeg the Edomite, he will appear again in the next chapter.
Interesting to note that in Hebrew, doeg means "worry".

Chapter 22: The Destruction of Nov

In Chapter 22, Saul reaches the lowest point in his madness. The actions he
takes make a final and unresolvable break with God. Saul is so lost in his own
delirium, that he no longer understands the difference between right and wrong.

1. Why would all those in Israel who were in distress come to


follow David? Is this similar to those on the fringe of American
society who create supremacy groups and blame the American
government for their predicament or is it more closely related to
those of us who try to change the political process by forming
new political parties or lobby groups?

2. In chapters 6-8 whom is Saul blaming for his hatred of David?


What does he think David has actually done to him to cause him
such anger?
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3. Why do you think Doeg volunteers to kill the priests when the
others (Israelites) won't raise their swords?

4. How does David react to the news brought to him by Avyatar


the priest? How is this different from Saul's reactions to David's
escape? - What does this tell us about the two men?

Chapter 23: Saul Hunts David

Here Saul begins an obsessive search and destroy mission to catch David. Each
time Saul is close to catching David, something occurs and David escapes.
Ironically it is the Philistines who save David at the end of the chapter.

1. Why does David bother to help to people of Keiilah? Is this a

politically motivated action, or is the text showing us one aspect


of David's character?

2. In the previous chapter, David had 400 men; now he has 600;
how/why do you think his army grew?

3. How are David's preparations for battle and his life in general

different from Saul's - think about David's relationship to God as


it is portrayed in this chapter.

4. The only thing that dissuades Saul from his pursuit of David is
a call to arms against the Philistines. Do you sometimes become
so obsessed with one thing that nothing but an impending
catastrophe will draw you away?

Chapter 24: David Spares Saul

David is provided with the perfect opportunity to do away with Saul. He refuses to
take it! Through his actions, David makes Ein Gedi, a place of great beauty, into a
place name that we connect with great respect, love and honor.

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1. What are the reasons which David gives his men (in the cave)
for not harming Saul?

2. Why does David take a piece of Saul's robe?

3. What epiphany does Saul have at Ein Gedi, after hearing


David? Does Saul make his covenant with David out of fear,
humiliation and/or self-realization?

4. How can the humiliation/anger we sometimes feel when


someone else receives honors, a promotion, a raise, etc. help us
to understand human nature and ourselves?

**Note: a) When the text says that Saul was "covering his feet" verse 4, it means
going to the bathroom

b) When reading chapter 26 you will experience some deja vu - it is very similar in
character to this chapter

Chapter 25: David, Naval and Abigail

This chapter reads almost like a parable, one will, literally, reap what one sows. It
is interesting to note that the name of the "villain" is Naval, which in Hebrew
means villain or scoundrel - a base person. Also, this is the second time that a
woman plays a major role in David's life – helping him and eventually becoming
his wife. Remember Michal.

1. Why would David's men bother to help out a local (wealthy)


landowner?

2. Why do you think Avigail tries to stop an attack on her


husband by David - is it only out of self-preservation or is there
another reason(s)?

3. Reread verse 37; how would you describe Naval's reaction to


the news that Avigail gave David such a large payment for his
services to Naval?

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4. How often does greed overtake us? Would it literally kill us to


put an extra 5, 10 or 25 dollars into the tzedakah envelope?

Chapter 26: David Spares Saul Again

In this chapter we have the opportunity to do some biblical analysis from the
literary standpoint. The narrative here is almost identical in nature to that of
Chapter 24. As you read, make two columns to compare and contrast the events
of this chapter with those of 24. When you are finished look over the similarities
and the differences.

1. Are these two narratives the same story with different


locations?

2. Why would the same basic narrative occur twice in such close
proximity in the text?

3. Are these two chapters given to us to show that Saul will never
learn his lesson, or that Saul is so out of control of his emotions
and his mind that he doesn't even realize that this has all taken
place before?

Chapter 27: David Joins Achish

David now admits to himself that he will never be free of Saul's wrath. Whether he
understands Saul's hatred of him or not we will never really know. David resigns
himself to the fact that he has only one choice left if he does not want to confront
Saul and that is to move into the land of the Philistines.

1. Why does David return to Achish? Why not go to Moav (his

great-grandmother was a Moabite - Ruth) or one of the other


surrounding tribes?

2. Why do you think Achish gives David sanctuary in Philistine


lands and even gives him and his followers their own city?

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3. When David raids other towns, caravans and cities does he


raid Israelite cities? Ho does he prevent Achish from hearing
about his raids? Of what use would these raids be to Achish?

4. Do we sometimes need to one thing, which is uncomfortable


for us, in order to gain a more important goal?

Chapter 28: Saul Consults the Medium of En Dor

Here we meet one of the more unique personalities of the Tanach, the Witch of
En-Dor. In the text, she is not referred to as a witch but rather as a woman. The
character of the woman - who remains nameless as so many women in the Bible
do, seems to be a combination of Shakespeare's trio of witches in Macbeth and a
stereotype of a Jewish mother, before she allows Saul to leave her house, she
insists that he eat something. We see in this chapter the desperate levels, which
Saul has sunk to in his desire to remain king

even though he has already admitted to David that his household will no longer be
the kings of Israel.

1. Why does Saul need to ban sorcery and witchcraft when it was
clearly stated in the books of the Torah that soothsayers, witches
and necromancers are not to be tolerated in the community of
Israel?

2. Why does God remain silent when Saul inquires if he is to go


and fight the Philistines? (remember that Saul is no longer king in
the eyes of God)

3. Even with the disguise that Saul puts on, the woman
recognizes him. Why do you think she calls up Samuel's spirit
anyway?

4. What does Saul ask of Samuel and what is the answer - how
does Saul react?

5. What do you think Saul thought to gain by calling upon


Samuel's spirit?
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Chapter 29: The Opposing Forces are Mobilized and David is Sent Away

The Philistines are once again rallying for war against Israel. The problem for
Israel this time, is that David is not with them. David is with Achish, the king of
Gat, who brings David and his men to the battlefield. It is interesting to note that
when Achish is forced to defend David to the other Philistine lords he, swears by
God's name. The Philistines do not believe in the one God, but perhaps this is
because they do believe in the one God as one in their pantheon of gods.

1. What do the other Philistine lords fear David and his men will
do once they are in the heat of battle against Israel?

2. Do you think David is upset or relieved not to have to fight


against his own people? Would he and his men have fought
against Israel or was he planning to do just what the Philistines
were afraid of?

3. When we doubt someone's loyalty what is the correct way to


confront the person about it?

Chapter 30: The Destruction of Ziklag

We are taken from the battle waiting to be fought between Israel and the
Philistines back to Ziklag and a problem, which David must deal with on a
personal basis. The Amalekites once again appear on the scene. This proves that
Saul did not fulfill God's command to utterly destroy them (back in chapter 15).
They again strike "to the rear" as they did in the Torah, attacking and capturing
women, children and the aged, proving their reputation as scum.

1. Do you think the Amalekites waited for David and his men to
leave Ziklag and planned their attack accordingly?

2. Why would the Amalekites "mess" with David's people - did


they not know his reputation? Wouldn't they be afraid of
retaliation? How does this contribute to your opinion of the
Amalekites as a people?

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3. Why does the Egyptian agree to help David find his people?
Does this add to/or change your opinion of the Amalekites?

4. Why does David send the spoils he claims from the


Amalekites to Judah and not to Achish, his overlord? Wouldn't
this confirm the Philistines' opinion of David as someone who
cannot be trusted when it came to Israel and her welfare?

Chapter 31: Saul’s Death

Here the first book of Samuel ends in a very sad and disturbing way. The army of
the Israelites is defeated and the House of Saul is slain. The matter of suicide is
very difficult here, as suicide is against Jewish law.

1. Is the Philistines' victory over Israel a punishment of some kind


– for following Saul, to punish Saul, or as a way to destroy the
House of Saul? Or was it just bad planning on Saul's part?

2. Why does Saul commit suicide? Keep in mind that in ancient


warfare and even today, those who are victorious will often
mutilate the dead and torture the captured - especially the
leaders of the enemy. Is Saul's act one of self-preservation, from
the standpoint that he fears torture and humiliation at the hand of
the Philistines, or is it a way to keep the ultimate humiliation of
the Israelites at a minimum?

3. What kind of courage was necessary for the men of Yavesh-


Gilad to go to Bet Shean and take Saul's body back to his home
for a proper burial? (Keep this act in mind when you enter II
Samuel and see what David has to say about it.)

4. What motivates us to do the right thing even when doing that


thing might put us in political, social, or physical danger?

Hazak, Hazak, VaNithazek

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Perek Yomi: Second Samuel


Study Questions

A Project of MACC, the Metro Atlanta Conservative Council

Questions prepared by Jennifer Stark-Blumenthal, Tanakh teacher and member


of Congregation Beth Shalom.

Edited by Steven Chervin

MACC (Metro Atlanta Conservative Council)

MACC is an association of the Conservative institutions in Atlanta,


including The Epstein School-Solomon Schechter School of Atlanta, Ramah
Darom, Ahavath Achim Synagogue, Congregation Etz Chaim, Congregation
Beth Shalom, North Fulton Jewish Center, and the United Synagogue of
Conservative Judaism. A central element in the mission of MACC is to

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promote Jewish education in the greater Atlanta community. MACC is co-


chaired by Cheryl R. Finkel, Head of The Epstein School, and Sue Rothstein
of Congregation Etz Chaim.

Perek Yomi Coordinating Council

The Perek Yomi Coordinating Council is co-chaired by Steven Chervin


(Epstein School and AA) and Janet Schatten (Epstein School and AA). Its
members include Toby Goldman and Debra Wolff (AA Synagogue), Rabbi
Shalom Plotkin, Steve Birch and Sue Rothstein (Etz Chaim), Eileen Cohn
and Jennifer Stark-Blumenthal (Beth Shalom), Jill Jarecki (Ramah Darom),
and Steve Horn (North Fulton Jewish Center).

The Book of Shmuel Bet: Second Samuel

Background

When we study about King David, a continuing motif is one of relationships. How
he deals with God, his people, his friends, and his family, define David the
servant… the king… the father… the man. We see the development of his
character throughout I and II Samuel. In I Samuel, we learned of David as one
who has a deep respect for God. Indeed, though given the opportunity several
times to kill the vengeful Saul, David restrains himself. David did not want to take
the life of God’s anointed one, despite Saul’s attempts to kill him. How will David’s
expressed respect for God fare in II Samuel?

David’s virtues are clearly established. His military leadership is secured as he


battles the House of Saul, finally conquering it in Abner’s defection and
subsequent death. When he triumphantly brings the Ark to Jerusalem, his
exuberance and joy flow out to the entire people. His capacity for deep friendship
is exhibited in his relationship with Jonathan in I Samuel; his later mourning over

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Jonathan’s death is heart felt. In addition, his desire to provide for Jonathan’s son,
as well as the actuality of his making a place for Mephiboshet at his table,
presents David as a friend who is true to his word.

David’s faults however are equally clear and deeply troubling. As a father, he is
insensitive at best to his children. He does nothing for example, to help his
daughter Tamar after his son Amnon rapes her. He abuses his political power and
advances his own interests at the expense of others, such as Uriah and Obed-
edom.

That David is not perfect is clear. But is he able to rise above his mistakes? How
are we to understand this king who, in tradition, stands on such lofty heights? How
are we to judge him as a person and as a leader? How does God judge David?
How might David judge himself?

Chapter 1: David learns of Saul’s and Jonathan’s deaths

An Amalekite tells David of King Saul’s and Jonathan’s deaths. Mortally wounded,
Saul tells the Amalekite to "finish him off."

1. Is this account of Saul’s death, verses 6-10, in conflict with what we just
read in I Samuel, chapter 31, verses 3-5? If so, how do you resolve it?
2. Is there a difference in how David grieves for Saul and for Jonathan?
3. Why do you think David has such outward displays of grieving for King
Saul? After all, it was Saul who tried to kill David.
4. Is it necessary for David to order the Amalekite’s death?

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Chapter 2: The tribe of Judah anoints David king

The power relationships and conflicts are set up for us here. David appears to be
in control, having direct communication with God. Indeed, David is able to reach
God on his own, whenever he desires God’s counsel. David’s control is
underscored when the people of Judah anoint him as their king. However, David’s
rise to power continues to be challenged by the House of Saul: Saul’s army
commander, Abner, sets up Saul’s son, Ishbosheth, as king over Israel. In
addition, Joab and Abner’s conflict emerges as symbolic of Judah and Israel’s
ongoing antagonism.

1. Why does David suggest that he go to one of the towns of Judah first?
2. God already anointed David king in I Samuel. What is the significance of
having David anointed again here?
3. What is your assessment of David’s leadership abilities thus far?
4. In Joab and Abner’s battle and ensuing chase, what do you make of the two
leaders’ personalities?

Chapter 3: Abner’s defection and subsequent death

The House of David overcomes the House of Saul in battle as well as in politics.
David’s strength blazes on the battlefield, and is accompanied by the numerous
births credited to David. In addition, David’s political strength rises greatly not only
when Abner defects to David’s side, but also when David openly grieves over
Abner’s death.

1. Why would Abner leave the House of Saul, given his past loyalty to it?
2. Does David demonstrate wisdom or naivete in his dealings with Abner?
3. Why does the text underscore 3 times that David does not harm Abner?
4. What is your assessment of Joab’s punishment for killing Abner? Does it fit
the crime?
5. Once again, women are integral to the Biblical story. How do you
understand the roles that Ritzpah and Michal play in the rise of King David?
Take note that "ritzpah" translates as "floor."

Chapter 4: The death of Ish-bosheth

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Upon hearing of Abner’s death, Ish-bosheth loses hope in his struggle for power.

1. How did Abner’s death affect Ish-bosheth’s credibility as king?


2. What does Ish-bosheth’s low self-esteem come to teach us about politics?
3. What are Rechab and Baanah trying to gain by killing their "leader," Ish-
bosheth?
4. There has been a lot of inner strife among the Israelites. How does David
attempt to unite Judah and Israel?

Chapter 5: David’s attainment of power over all Israel

David’s ability to unite Israel and Judah is a testimony to the kind of leadership
encouraged by the Biblical text. In order for a king of Israel to be successful, he
must find a way to satisfy both God’s commands as well as the people’s interests.

1. What is the difference between how David and Saul arrive at their respective
kingships? What is the significance of this difference?
2. How does David demonstrate his faith in God in his battle with the
Philistines?

Chapter 6: David brings the Ark to Jerusalem

In an attempt to bring God to the people by bringing the Ark to Jerusalem, the
people, David, and perhaps, even God, falter. Uzzah touches the Ark, despite the
fact that only Levites are permitted to touch it. Following Uzzah’s death at the
hand of God, David steps back, away from God, by sending the Ark to the home
of Obed-edom.

1. Uzzah touches the Ark because the oxen shook it. What was Uzzah trying to
prevent? What does Uzzah’s action say about his faith in God?
2. David has a working relationship with God. We witnessed this in chapter
two, when David suggests to God that he first go to Hebron for support of
his kingship. Should we all have a working relationship with God? Was
Uzzah trying to have such a relationship in which he has a voice in what
happens around him?
3. What does God’s punishment come to teach the people?
4. In verse 8, we read that "David was distressed because the Lord had

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inflicted a breach upon Uzzah." According to David, did God act too rashly in
dealing with Uzzah? What does David learn from this experience?
5. In response to Uzzah’s death, why does David send the Ark to the home of
Obed-edom? Is David willingly putting an individual and his family at risk in
order to save the larger community in Jerusalem? If so, is this a wise
leadership decision or not?
6. Is this story a metaphor for how to handle one’s relationship with God? Is it
possible for us to get too close to God, and in turn, for God to get too close
to us?
7. What is David’s political and religious statement as he dances with and
feeds the populace upon the Ark’s arrival in Jerusalem?
8. Michal is very much a pawn, moved back and forth by those in power. She
does finally speak up for herself – for her dignity – when she sees David
dancing like a commoner. How do you understand the punishment of
barrenness inflicted upon Michal?

Chapter 7: A change in the relationship between David and God

Until now David has had an open line of communication with God. Here in
Chapter 7, Nathan appears as an intermediary between the two.

1. What happened in Chapter 6 to change the relationship between David and


God?
2. Who needs Nathan’s voice to speak to the other party, God or David?
3. David wants to build God a house, but God refuses. Why?
4. God turns the table on David, promising to build up David’s house. What is
God trying to explain to David, symbolically, through this promise?
5. In verse 13 we read that it will be acceptable for David’s son to build a
house for God. Why will it be acceptable then and not now?

Chapter 8: David’s political power grows

David conquers regions, subjugating the people, while gaining fame, and
monetary resources.

1. According to verse six, how does David achieve victory?


2. How would you describe David and God’s relationship at this point?

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3. It states in verse 15 that "David executed true justice among all his people."
Yet it is noteworthy that Joab remains commander of the army, despite his
grievous act of killing Abner. Is it "true justice" to have retained him in his
position of authority?

Chapter 9: David keeps his vow made to Jonathan

Here, in Chapter 9, David seems to stop for a moment to take a breath. He recalls
his vow made with Jonathan in I Samuel, and inquires about living relatives of
Saul and Jonathan. Here he meets Mephiboshet, Jonathan’s son.

1. Why does it take David such a long time before he tries to fulfill with his vow?
2. What is the significance of Mephiboshet being handicapped?
3. What is Mephiboshet’s response to being before the king?
4. Why does the text emphasize that Mephiboshet ate at King David’s table?

Chapter 10: David’s victory over the Ammonites and Arameans

David fails in his attempt to retain good political relations with the Ammonites after
their king’s death. His reputation as a conqueror precedes him, influencing the
new Ammonite king to flex his own muscles first.

1. Why doesn’t David allow his servants to return to Jerusalem, after they are
abused by the Ammonite king?
2. What is your assessment of David’s leadership skills here?
3. Where is God’s voice in the battle plans?

Chapter 11: Uriah’s death

Despite knowing that Bath-sheba is Uriah’s wife, David sends for her to meet with
him privately. Learning that Bath-sheba is pregnant with his baby, David calls for
Uriah to come home from the battlefield. After his attempt to cover up the
pregnancy fails, David orders Uriah’s death.

1. What is David’s relationship with the military in verse 1?


2. Does Bath-sheba willingly engage in sex with King David?
3. How would you describe Bath-sheba? (Look at verse 5)
4. How would you describe Uriah?
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5. Why is David intent on making sure that no one discovers that he


impregnated Bath-sheba?
6. How would you describe King David’s relationship with the people, and the
law, here?

Chapter 12: Nathan’s parable; David’s punishment

God sends Nathan to reprimand David. Nathan corners David into the truth by
presenting him with a parable, which parallels his own actions with Uriah and Bath-
sheba.

1. Why doesn’t God speak directly with David?


2. Why is David’s punishment the death of his child rather than his own death?
Does this seem right? Indeed, once again David’s actions are effecting the
life of another.
3. It seems that God has a vested interest in maintaining David’s kingship.
Why?
4. What is the rest of David’s punishment?
5. What do you imagine Bath-sheba’s thoughts to be?
6. At the end of this chapter we see a hint at the decaying relationship between
David and Joab… between David and the military. Why might Joab want to
split away from David?

Chapter 13: Amnon rapes Tamar

David’s son Amnon plots to rape his half sister Tamar. Though Tamar uses words
to negotiate her way out of the situation, Amnon persists.

1. What are Amnon’s feelings for Tamar?


2. How would you describe Tamar?
3. What are Amnon, Tamar, Absalom and David’s respective reactions to the
rape?
4. In this chapter David loses three of his children. What does he do about his

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loss?

Chapter 14: Absalom returns to Jerusalem

After being presented with a parable of a fight between two brothers, which ends
in one of the brothers’ deaths, King David agrees to allow Absalom back into
Jerusalem. Yet it takes the king two years to permit a meeting between himself
and Absalom.

1. Who arranges for the clever woman to present David with a parable, and
why?
2. What do these words mean: "We must all die; we are like water that is
poured out on the ground and cannot be gathered up"? (verse 14)
3. Why does King David decide to bring Absalom back to Jerusalem?
4. Why does King David choose not to see Absalom for two years after he has
already returned to Jerusalem?
5. Would you describe King David as passive or active in his relationship with
Absalom?

Chapter 15: Absalom’s attempted coup

In chapter 14 we read that after being ignored for two years by his father,
Absalom finally reacts with enough negative behavior to be noticed by King David,
his father. In their meeting, Absalom exhibits great emotion by flinging himself
face down before the king. David responds by kissing him. But things are not as
they seem. For as we meet Absalom in this chapter, he is actively working against
the king, against his father.

1. Why does Absalom choose to denigrate King David in the eyes of the
people, and how does he do so?
2. Apparently it takes 40 years for Absalom to build up his following to the point
where he feels capable to confront the monarchy, his father, militarily. Why
does it take so long? What does this tell us about David’s relationship with
the people?
3. David’s first reaction to Absalom’s military action against him is to flee from
Jerusalem…to flee from Absalom! Why? David is an accomplished warrior
and leader. Why would he give up his city at the first word of physical

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conflict with his son? How does this speak of David as both a military leader
and as a father?
4. After his initial response to flee from Absalom, David seems to regroup.
What are his plans? What do you think enabled him to change direction?
5. King David’s relationship with God also climaxes at this point: David orders
that the Ark of God stay in Jerusalem, rather than with David and the people
during their flight. What does David’s decision tell us about his relationship
with God?
6. Why would David leave his concubines behind in Jerusalem?

Chapter 16: Reactions to David leaving Jerusalem

Now that David is "gone," the truth about the people’s loyalty becomes apparent.

1. According to verses 1-4, how does Mephiboshet see his place in the conflict
between David and Absalom?
2. The servant tells David that Mephiboshet expects Israel to appoint him
(Mephiboshet) king as the rightful heir to Saul’s (i.e. his father’s) throne.
How does David react?
3. David allows Saul’s relative to cast both insults and stones at him, without
retaliating. Why?
4. What is David’s view of his own mistakes, his role as king, and his
relationship with God?
5. Does Absalom actually accept Hushai, David’s friend, into Absalom’s
counsel? Of what does this remind you? What does this tell us about
Absalom, the man and military leader?
6. Absalom’s first act is to have intercourse with all of David’s concubines left
behind in Jerusalem. We already saw that such an act brought down not
only Abner, but also Ish-bosheth’s reign. Why does Absalom want the
people to know that he has committed such a brazen act?

Chapter 17: Ahitophel’s and Hushai’s battle plans

Ahitophel and Hushai present two different plans to wipe out King David.

1. In what two ways do Ahitophel’s and Hushai’s battle plans differ from one
another?

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2. What situation is Hushai helping David to create with his son?


3. In protecting King David, women play an integral role. Why is this role
reserved for women?
4. How does King David actually conquer Absalom? Could the king have done
it alone?
5. Ahitophel’s reaction to the rejection of his battle plan is quite extreme. He
kills himself. Why is this his response?
6. According to the following verses, to what extent does God play a role in this
conflict between Absalom and David: Ch.12, vs.11-12; ch.15, vs. 25-26;
ch.16, vs. 11-12; and ch.17, vs. 14? Are we merely puppets playing out
God’s will? Where does our free will come into play?

Chapter 18: David’s pursuit of Absalom

David has a conflict of interest in that while he wants both to salvage his kingship
and save his people, he also wants to be able to deal gently with his son,
Absalom.

1. The war itself was quite consuming in that at least 20,000 men died. What
alternative could David had taken in order to avoid such bloodshed? Is there
a point in family relations when diplomacy can no longer work?
2. What do you think it was like for King David to stand beside the gate while
the troops marched out in pursuit of Absalom?
3. All of the troops hear that David wants to deal gently with Absalom, verse 5.
What are their thoughts?
4. Why doesn’t Joab follow David’s instructions to deal gently with Absalom,
instead of torturing him to death?

Chapter 19: David learns of Absalom’s death and returns

After learning of his son’s death, King David is shaken. A man of expression,
David openly mourns before both his people and the army.

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1. Why does Joab rebuke King David for mourning over Absalom?
2. Are you surprised that David replaces Joab with Amasa as army
commander? Why or why not?
3. While on his way back to Jerusalem, David meets not only Shimei son of
Gera, who earlier insulted and threw stones at David, but also Mephiboshet,
who David understood to be working against him. How does David deal with
these individuals? What do his rulings signify about his own development as
a person and as a king?

Chapter 20: Loyalty to King David

In 19: 41-44, the men of Judah receive the honor of escorting King David back to
Jerusalem. Meanwhile the men of Israel resent their being supplanted for this role.
However, in chapter 20, these same people – the men of Israel - leave David yet
again: they follow Sheba son of Bichri in a revolt against King David.

1. What do we learn from Israel’s lack of loyalty to King David and Judah’s
steadfast loyalty to him? Indeed, recalling Ish-bosheth and Absalom, this is
the third time that Israel acted against the King.
2. Joab has been dismissed by David. One would expect him to retaliate by
killing his replacement, Amasa. Instead he pursues and kills Sheba, in the
name of David. Why?
3. Why is it that we hear nothing of David’s responses, either to Joab killing
Amasa, or to Joab’s reassuming his position as commander of the military?
4. Again we read of a clever woman, verses 16-22. What role does the clever
woman play here and elsewhere in our text? Why is this role played by a
woman and not a man?

Chapter 21: David seeks help from God for his people

In an effort to restore the crops to the land, David follows through with the
Gibeonites’ request to impale seven of Saul’s sons.

1. Why does David respond to Ritzpah’s guarding the dead bodies of her sons
by burying them with Saul and Jonathan’s bones?
2. There is a sense that war will never cease and that bloodshed will not stop.
Indeed the king’s relationship with the military is an important one. How

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would you describe it here? Look at verses 15-17.


3. David is aging. What is the impact of his reaching his senior years?

Chapter 22: David’s song of praise to God

Ever thankful for his life, and for his kingship, David creates this song of praise to
God.

1. How does David envision God?


2. What is David’s understanding of his and God’s relationship?
3. In verses 22-28, David calls himself "blameless." What do you think of
David’s self-perception?

Chapter 23: A listing of David’s military officials

1. Why do we read of the exploits of several of David’s head soldiers?


2. Do you find it strange that Uriah is among this list?

Chapter 24: God’s anger; David’s response

God’s anger with Israel causes God to incite David against Israel.

1. How does taking a census help God and/or David deal with being angry with
Israel?
2. Why does David react by feeling badly about taking the census—about
numbering the people?
3. Again, God does not speak directly with David. What happened to change
their relationship?
4. What is the point God is making by killing 70,000 people?
5. David’s reaction to this mass destruction is to label himself as guilty, while
the people were innocent. Of what is David guilty?
6. Why must an offering to God cost one something?

CONCLUSION

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1. Why has God shown such favor to David, wanting his monarchy to succeed?
2. How do you judge David in his roles as: king, military leader, father, friend,
role model?
3. How would you characterize his relationships with women? With God?
4. Who is David, the friend?
5. Why does the Tanakh ordain that the Messiah will be a descendant of
David?

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Perek Yomi: First Kings


Study Questions

A Project of MACC, the Metro Atlanta Conservative Council – www.uscj.org/


soeast/atlanta

Summaries and questions prepared by Janice P. Alper, Executive Director


of Jewish Educational Services, Atlanta, and member of Ahavath Achim
Synagogue.

Edited by Steven Chervin

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MACC (Metro Atlanta Conservative Council)

MACC is an association of the Conservative institutions in Atlanta,


including The Epstein School-Solomon Schechter School of Atlanta, Ramah
Darom, Ahavath Achim Synagogue, Congregation Etz Chaim, Congregation
Beth Shalom, North Fulton Jewish Center, and the United Synagogue of
Conservative Judaism. A central element in the mission of MACC is to
promote Jewish education in the greater Atlanta community. MACC is co-
chaired by Cheryl R. Finkel, Head of The Epstein School, and Sue Rothstein
of Congregation Etz Chaim.

Perek Yomi Coordinating Council

The Perek Yomi Coordinating Council is co-chaired by Steven Chervin


(Epstein School and AA) and Janet Schatten (Epstein School and AA). Its
members include Toby Goldman and Debra Wolff (AA Synagogue), Rabbi
Shalom Plotkin, Steve Birch and Sue Rothstein (Etz Chaim), Eileen Cohn
and Jennifer Stark-Blumenthal (Beth Shalom), Jill Jarecki (Ramah Darom),
and Steve Horn (North Fulton Jewish Center).

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Background

The Books of Kings, the last of the Earlier Prophets in the Tanakh, were originally
one book known as Sefer Melachim. The text was divided into two parts by the
translators of the Septuagint sometime between 250-100 BCE. As is often the
case, there is some controversy regarding the authorship of the book. The Talmud
attributes the text to Jeremiah. Modern scholars however, attribute Kings primarily

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to Jeremiah, and secondarily to other authors who succeeded him.

Both I and II Kings continue the history of the monarchy already begun in I and II
Samuel. They tell how God’s promise to David of a continuous succession was
fulfilled in the life of Solomon and his successors, right through to the end, where
there is a record of a surviving prince of the Davidic line held captive in Babylon.

I Kings begins with the story of Solomon and his succession to the throne of
Israel. The account of his rise and fall drives home the lesson that as long as a
person pursues the path of righteousness all will be well with him. When one
deviates from this path he becomes the object of divine retribution. This is true of
everyone, no matter what his station in life. A people who follow the path of
righteousness are rewarded with national security and prosperity. Disobedience is
punished by national calamity.

The first 11 chapters of I Kings tell the story of Solomon. He ascends to the throne
in glory. His adversaries are removed, he is granted great wisdom, wealth and
fame. He succeeds in expanding his empire and building the Temple and palace
in Jerusalem.

Solomon abandons the path of righteousness and devotion to God. He marries


many different women and worships their idols. We see his decline and his death
in chapter 11.

The subsequent chapters of I Kings, 12-22, tell the stories of the divided kingdom.
The Davidic line continues to reign in Judah. While not as loyal to God as their
ancestor, David’s descendants are still rewarded with the monarchy. A few of the
kings remain loyal to the God of Israel themselves, however, they cannot contain
or restrain the people from building personal shrines and worshipping foreign
gods.

The Northern Kingdom of Israel is full of idolators. The text is quick to note that
each king is more evil than the one who preceded him. Thus, there is little or no

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succession to the throne of Israel by the reigning kings. In II Kings we learn that
the kingdom is destroyed, the people taken into captivity and the land is colonized
by foreign settlers.

The appearance of Elijah in chapter 17 is an important element in the narrative.


The world at the time is full of advisors, seers and prophets, yet no one of them
has the status and credibility of Elijah. His performance of wonders and miracles
is not just for the kings, but for all the people, thus providing them with hope from
their miserable existence. This is especially true with his interaction with the
widow.

On a historical note, Israel in the biblical world was a major caravan route from
north to south and vice verse. It was also a corridor for warring factions from the
north, such as Syria and Lebanon; and the south, such as Egypt. In I Kings there
is constant war and a struggle for survival. The people are attacked one time by
enemies from the north and at other times by enemies from the south. Alliances
are not long lasting and dependent on the economic situation of the times.

There is reference to the book the "Annals of the Kings." This is probably a record
of the exploits of the kings that have been lost over time. Subsequent books in the
Tanach, such as Chronicles retell many of the stories, however, there is still the
belief that other records have been lost to us.

There is also reference to Solomon’s "slaves." These were not people who were
enslaved as our ancestors in Egypt or even as the Negroes brought to America
from Africa. They were similar to what we know as indentured servants—people
who were expected to work for a period of time and then acquire their freedom.
There is some evidence that they may not have been treated in the most humane
manner.

Finally, a word about the "prophets." It seems that there was a proliferation of
"prophets" living in the land at that time. These were probably individuals who
were social critics and whose voices were suppressed by the reigning monarchs.
We learn that Jezebel sets out to kill many of them and Obadiah saves them in
chapter 18.

Chapter 1: The Final Days of King David

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First Kings opens in the waning days of King David. We see a man who is old and
advanced in years. A young woman is brought to him to give him comfort.

The palace intrigue that was taking place during the days of David’s monarchy
continues. While it is known to the appropriate people that David’s son Solomon,
also son of Bathsheba, has been designated heir apparent, a struggle emerges.
Adonijah, son of Haggith appoints himself king. He gives a banquet and invites a
number of important people.

Nathan, trusted advisor to David, hears of Adonijah’s proclamation and tells


Bathsheba to report the event to David. She appeals to David. Nathan comes to
validate her story and proclaims Solomon king.

Solomon is taken to the spring of Gihon and anointed king. There is much pomp
associated with this. When Adonijah learns of this he is afraid and begs Solomon
for his life. Solomon spares his life and sends him home.

1. Why do you think Adonijah thought he was going to ascend to the throne?
Do you think his actions reflect a person worthy of leadership as exhibited in
his guest list for his feast and other actions?
2. Look at the verses which describe Solomon’s coronation—38-40 and the
second half of verse 45. Compare the ceremony of the crowning of a king of
Israel with the way we inaugurate a president of the United States today.
What kinds of things are similar/what is markedly different? What does this
tell you about the monarchical society as compared to a modern democracy?

Chapter 2: David’s Death and Solomon’s First Acts

This chapter records the death of David. Before he dies David gives his son
Solomon final instructions.

As the chapter proceeds, Solomon avenges all the wrongs that were done to the
King. The traitors to David are killed one by one. The chapter ends with the
statement, "…Thus the kingdom was secured in Solomon’s hands."

1. Why do you think Bathsheba intervenes on behalf of Adonijah? How would


you describe the relationship between Solomon and his mother in light of his

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actions toward Adonijah?


2. What do you think of the actions of Shimei? Did he believe that three years
were enough for the king to forget his directive and allow him to travel freely
throughout the land, or is this part of some kind of divine plan?
3. In today’s world, how would we deal with those who inflict punishment
leading to death, both pre-meditated and accidental? Is there a parallel
between our legal system and Solomon’s behavior?

Chapter 3: Solomon, the Wise King

The chapter opens with Solomon solidifying the first of his many alliances by
marrying a daughter of Egypt.

Solomon has a dream that he is granted a wise and discerning mind. When he
awakens he makes sacrifices to God and fetes his courtiers. The chapter
proceeds with the famous story of the two women who claim one child. We see
the first overt example of Solomon’s wisdom in how he handles this incident to the
satisfaction of the true mother and the approval of all the people.

1. Dreams are a common occurrence in the Tanakh. Compare Solomon’s


dream to those of Yaakov (Gen. 28:10-15) and Joseph (Gen. 37:6-7, 9).
How do the dreams come about? What subsequent situations emerge as a
result of all of these dreams?
2. Solomon is confronted with a very difficult situation when the women
approach him. What happens when you are confronted with a situation
where you have to make a decision that may not be looked upon favorably
by one party? How do you feel about it? What might the consequences be?

Chapter 4: The Organization of the Kingdom

This chapter delineates the geographic boundaries of Solomon’s kingdom. In


verse 7 we see that Israel is divided into 12 prefects and each one is required to
provide food for the king for one month of the year.

1. Look at a map of modern Israel and see if you can identify some of the
areas named in this chapter. If you look in the Jewish History Atlas by Martin
Gilbert, page 5, you will have a map of the area cited in this chapter.

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2. In looking at the area, what do you think is at the root of the conflict for the
current Palestinian state regarding the territories of Solomon?

Chapter 5: A Momentous Decision—Solomon Plans to Build the Temple

The chapter opens with a description of Solomon’s prosperity. The land is safe, "…
everyone under his own vine and under his own fig tree." (v. 5)

Solomon decides he wants to build a house to the Lord. He enters into a treaty
with Hiram, King of Lebanon. Hiram sends him cedar and cypress logs and in
return Solomon provides him with food. There is a description of the "forced
labor", people who go to Lebanon to bring back the wood and also a description
of those who are hewing the stone for the foundations of the Temple.

1. Why do you think Hiram was so eager to enter into an agreement with
Solomon? What was Solomon’s motivation in seeking out Hiram?
2. How would this chapter go over in the current peace talks? What would you
exchange for peace? How do you think the Israelis feel about this?

Chapter 6: The Temple in all its Glory

In this chapter we have a description of the Temple. It is an impressive building of


many stories. The inside is paneled with cedar wood. There are many
decorations, including carvings of gourds and calyxes and cherubim over the ark.
Pure gold is overlaid on the entire altar of the shrine (v. 22). We see gold overlaid
on floors and in other areas as well. The entry doors are of olivewood.

1. Look at verse 7. Why do you think it was important or necessary to use only
finished stones and not have tools present in the House while it was being
built?
2. Why does the historian go to such lengths to describe the House? Compare
the description here with the synagogue you attend. What elements are
similar/what has been adapted? What is different?
3. How has synagogue architecture been influenced by the areas and times we
live in?

Chapter 7: Construction of the Palace and Temple Equipment

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Here we have an extensive description of some of the elements that are


contained in Solomon’s palace. Hiram is brought to Jerusalem to construct
several items, notably the column and the lavers, among other things. As the
description unfolds, it becomes apparent that the House of the Lord and the
palace are all part of the same compound. The chapter concludes with a
description of the Holy of Holies.

1. What do you think is the purpose of going to such great lengths to describe
the construction and design of this building? What were the rabbis
attempting to tell us by including this chapter in the book?
2. How do the actions of Solomon, particularly in verse 51, reflect the
relationship and the regard he had for his father David?
3. Throughout history kings have been criticized for building and living in
dwellings that are opulent and decorative while the people live in more
humble circumstances. Imagine for a moment that you were living in the
time of Solomon, how would you feel about having such an opulent edifice
erected around you? Compare this to Versailles.

Chapter 8: Dedication of the Temple

The Temple is finally completed. In verse 2 we learn that the people of Israel
gathered in the month of Ethanim—the seventh month. Modern commentators tell
us that is the time of Sukkot. Solomon comes out to bless the people. He reminds
them that while David intended to build a House to the Lord, the actual task of
doing so was left to him.

Beginning in verse 23 and concluding in verse 53 we see a special supplication to


God to look over His chosen people. In this prayer for the people, Solomon
acknowledges the shortcomings of human beings, reminding God that the people
may stray. He says specifically in verse 46: "When they sin against You—for there
is no man who does not sin…"

1. Read through verses 23-53 carefully and note the various times God is
asked to forgive His people Israel. Can you make a connection between this
prayer/supplication and some of the confessions or prayers we recite on
Yom Kippur? What are the similarities?
2. Modern psychology teaches us that when we remove someone from a

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social situation because of inappropriate behavior, we need to find a vehicle


to allow him back into the group. This is particularly true in educational
settings. How are people allowed to come back into the group if they have
sinned against God or other people? Does this work today?
3. In verses 41-43 there is discussion about the foreigner who comes to be
part of the people. How do you regard these verses in light of modern
movements to proselytize Jews or even among Jews themselves?

Chapter 9: Solomon’s Public Works

God appears to Solomon a second time and reinforces His commitment to


Solomon and the people. The alliance between Solomon and Hiram is reinforced.
Solomon gives Hiram twenty towns in the region of Galilee, with which Hiram is
not pleased. However, at the end of the chapter we see that Hiram continues the
alliance by joining seaworthy forces with the Israelites.

In this chapter, Solomon continues to safeguard his land and watch over
Jerusalem. He enslaves the remnants of the Amorites, Hittites and Perizites (vs.
20, 21) and the Israelites who remain loyal to him he promotes to higher ranks (v.
22).

In v. 24 Pharoah’s daughter moves into the palace Solomon has built for her and
he builds a citadel.

1. We are told that Hiram is displeased with his gift of the towns from Solomon
(vs. 11, 12), but he still sends him gold and remains allied with him. Why do
you think Hiram continues the alliance despite his displeasure?
2. Solomon builds a citadel (millo) in Jerusalem and fortifies Hazor, Megiddo
and Gezer. What is Solomon’s motivation in fortifying these places? How do
these acts of fortification contribute to his reign as King of Israel?
3. At the end of the chapter there is the establishment of the royal navy. Given
Israel’s strategic place in the world, which would you build up today, the
infantry/ground forces or a navy? Why?

Chapter 10: A Visit from the Queen of Sheba

In this chapter we see the extent of Solomon’s reputation in the world. He is

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visited by the Queen of Sheba who brings numerous gifts including camels,
spices, gold and precious stones. We also see the opulence of Solomon’s
household. There is a description of an ivory throne (vs. 18-20) as well as
treasures that are brought to the land from all parts of the world. Solomon is
described as excelling all the kings on earth in wealth and wisdom (v. 23).

1. The Queen of Sheba comes to see Solomon and his kingdom for herself
and is left breathless (v. 5). Do you think she may have had an ulterior
motive for coming to see him? Was she genuinely overwhelmed and
returned to her own country without acting on a previous plan?
2. In v. 21 we read that silver did not count for anything in Solomon’s days, yet
in v. 27 we are told that the king made silver as plentiful in Jerusalem as
stones. What does this imply to you regarding silver?
3. Solomon is visited by other royalty who bring him gifts and pay homage to
him. With the decrease in royal houses of the world, how is this played out
today?

Chapter 11: The Last Days of Solomon

In this chapter we learn of the final days of Solomon’s life. Solomon’s


philandering leads him to a lifestyle where he abandons the God of Israel.
God is angry with Solomon and tells him that He will tear the kingdom apart.
The descendants of Solomon will be granted one piece of tribal land,
ultimately Judah, while the adversaries of Solomon will be granted the land
of ten tribes. There is a description of the adversaries who rise up against
Solomon. Jeroboam emerges victorious and inherits the ten tribes of Israel,
the Northern Kingdom. Judah, the Southern Kingdom, with Jerusalem at the
center, remains in the hands of the descendants of David.

1. In earlier chapters we see Solomon telling the Israelites to


remain faithful to the God of Israel and the Covenant.
However, in this chapter we are told that Solomon himself
did not heed his own advice. What do you suppose led to
this turnabout? Do you think there were other mitigating
factors than those described in verses 1-5?
2. Solomon appears to be unable to live a Covenantal life
after he acquires great wealth and many wives. Do you

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know of people who have similar conflicts in today’s world?


How is it possible to live in the contemporary world and still
be an observant Jew? What compromises or adjustments
are necessary to do this?
3. When the break in the kingdom finally takes place, why do
you think the most important piece was left to the direct
descendants of David and not given to a group of people
who may not have sinned at all?

Chapter 12: The Split in the Kingdom

Rehoboam, son of Solomon, confronts Jeroboam and


attempts to fight him to retain control of the kingdom. He
goes to Shechem (Nablus in modern Israel) assuming he is
King over all Israel and confronts Jeroboam. Eventually
Rehoboam is chased out of Israel and flees to Jerusalem.
There he is told by God not to make war on the House of
Israel but to remain in Judah along with the tribe of
Benjamin. The chapter ends with a description of
Jeroboam’s fortification of Shechem and a festival that
takes place in the eighth month of the year at Bethel.

1. We see that the people ask for mercy from


Rehoboam, but he refuses to grant it.
What do you think of his actions? Was he
acting in a human fashion or was there a
Divine Plan for these events?
2. Jeroboam, in fortifying Shechem, also
builds shrines and cult places at various
sites. Why do you think the authors make
a point of giving us this information along
with his military fortification of the land?
3. Do you think the people actually would
have been united if Jeroboam had not
fortified Shechem and provided them with
places of worship? What do you make of
the festival in the eighth month?

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Chapter 13: The Man of God from Judah

A Man of God comes before Jeroboam to warn him that if he does not repent from
his evil ways his kingdom will be destroyed by a member of the Davidic line. The
rest of the chapter is an allegory which underscores what can happen to someone
who scorns the word of God.

The Man of God is lured to the house of a local prophet and given sustenance
even though he was commanded not to accept any. He ultimately is killed by a
lion on the roadside fulfilling the prophecy that he will not be buried with his
people. The prophet, however, recovers the body and buries the Man of God
among his people. The prophet requests of his children to bury him beside the
bones of the Man of God.

1. Why do you think this story is presented here as a means


of encouraging Jeroboam to repent from his evil ways?
2. What do the Man of God, the prophet and the lion
represent?

3. Why do you think Jeroboam continues to appoint priests


for the shrines from among those who requested it (v. 33)
even though he had a warning?

Chapter 14: Death of Abijah, Jeroboam and Rehoboam

Ahijah’s prophecy begins to come true in this chapter, the


House of Jeroboam starts to be wiped out. His son Abijah
takes ill and eventually dies as a result of his father’s sins.
Jeroboam dies and is succeeded by his son Nadab.

Meanwhile, in Judah, Rehoboam, as king, continues to


imitate the abhorrent practices of the surrounding nations
(v. 24). King Shishak, who had been allied with Jeroboam
marches against Jerusalem and carries off many of the
valuable artifacts in the Temple and the palace. Rehoboam
casts shields in bronze in order to insure protection for
himself. After his death he is succeeded by his son Abijam.

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1. Jeroboam’s wife is sent to seek counsel from Ahijah at


Shiloh and to ask for the recovery of her son. Why do you
think she is sent in disguise even though Ahijah is blind?
What does Ahijah’s blindness symbolize?

2. In this chapter there is mention of the name of the


mother of Rehoboam, Na’amah the Ammonitess (v. 21 and
v. 31). Why do you think the authors mention her by name,
when other women are generally referred to as the wife of
someone or the mother of someone? What is the
significance of this?

3. Both Jeroboam and Rehoboam commit acts in violation


of God’s laws. Yet it is the line of Jeroboam that is selected
for annihiliation here and not the line of Rehoboam. Why do
you think this is so?

Chapter 15: Reign of Abijam and Asa in Judah and


Nadab in Israel

Asa, great grandson of David, ascends to the throne after


the death of his father Abijam. The text says he was
wholehearted with the Lord his God all his life (v.14).
Despite his good intentions, expelling the male prostitutes,
and deposing his mother because of her sins, he still
cannot fully cleanse the land.

Like other kings of his time, Asa has to fight a war with King
Baasha of Israel. Ben-hadad of Damascus forms an
alliance with Asa and together they defeat Baasha.

Baasha became king of Israel after killing Nadab, son of


Jeroboam. With the death of Nadab the line of Jeroboam is
finally eliminated and the prophecy of Ahijah is at last
fulfilled. Baasha continued in the evil ways of Jeroboam.

1. Asa emerges as a man who is faithful to the God of

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Israel, yet he cannot completely eliminate all of the evil from


the land of Judah. Why do you think this is the case?

2. Why do you suppose Ben-hadad of Damascus formed


an alliance with Asa? What is the history between them?

3. Baasha succeeds in killing of the line of Jeroboam, yet he


still continues in the evil ways that came before him? Why
doesn’t he take the opportunity to wipe the slate clean and
start all over again?

Chapter 16: Reign of Baasha, Elah, Zimri, Omri and


Ahab

Jehu prophesies the fall of Baasha. This comes true when


Zimri, an officer in the army of Baasha commits treason
against him. Zimri succeeds to the throne for only 7 days
after which Omri is proclaimed king. Zimri commits suicide
and the kingdom splits into two factions. One group follows
Omri and another group follows Tibni; however, Omri
prevails and remains king over all Israel.

Ahab, son of Omri, succeeds him as king. He marries


Jezebel, a Phoenician and a worshipper of Baal. During the
reign of Ahab, the city of Jericho is fortified as promised to
Joshua.

1. Some commentators tell us that Baasha’s


destruction of the House of Jeroboam was
motivated by personal ambition, thus
making him equally impious and worthy of
destruction. Do you agree or disagree with
this? What happens today when a person
dies and leaves no descendents?

2. It seems unimaginable that someone who ruled only 7 days could


be worthy of the condemnation cited in verse 19. On what basis do you

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think the authors make this judgement?

3. How would you describe Ahab’s character, especially in relation to


his wife?

Chapter 17: The Appearance of Elijah

In this and the next two chapters, Elijah is the dominating personality. He appears
on the scene very suddenly. The rabbis in the Talmud attempted to establish a
connection between him and the incident related at the end of the preceding
chapter. Ahab refuses to see the hand of God and cites Israel’s worshipping of
idols as a curse put upon the people by the words of Moses to Joshua.

Elijah’s spectacular appearance in this chapter is marked by two miracles, thus


establishing him as an important prophet of the time and subsequently for all time.

1. Elijah appears very suddenly in this chapter; yet those who are
familiar with even minimal ritual aspects of Jewish life recognize his
name as important. Take a few moments to make a list of the various
occasions or places where we create or ask for a presence from Elijah.
See how many you can count. Compare your list with a friend.

2. How would you describe the relationship between the widow of


Zeraphath and Elijah? Why do you think she blames him for the death
of her son?

3. What is Elijah’s role in Israel now that he is on the scene? Why does
he appear in Israel and not Judah?

Chapter 18: God’s Vindication on Mt. Carmel

Obadiah, the steward of the palace, defies the evil Jezebel by rescuing a hundred
prophets from being killed by her. Elijah appears before Obadiah and tells him to
give Ahab a message. However Obadiah, who knows of Elijah’s sudden
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appearances and disappearances, is afraid and protests, fearing he will be killed.


Obadiah delivers the message and Ahab challenges Elijah to meet him at Mt.
Carmel.

The confrontation between Elijah and Ahab involves the potency of Baal. As
expected, Elijah triumphs and Ahab returns to his home in Jezreel.

1. Obadiah performs a heroic act in the face of adversity by rescuing the


prophets. How does this compare with the rescuers of the Holocaust - the
righteous Gentiles - and others in your mind?
2. If you were to meet Elijah face to face, what would your inclination be if you
were requested to do something on his behalf?
3. In verse 31 we see Elijah take 12 stones and build an altar. This is a sign of
unity for all of Israel. Contrast his actions in this verse with his actions in
verse 40 where he kills the worshippers of Baal. Were there alternatives to
the killing? What might they be? If not, why not?

Chapter 19: Elijah’s Reaction and his Commission from God

Jezebel threatens Elijah and Elijah flees to Beersheva. In Beersheva an angel


touches Elijah and bids him to eat. This is followed by a conversation with God
where Elijah swears his allegiance to God. Elijah is sent back to the North to
anoint a new king, Jehu, son of Nimshi. He is also directed to seek out Elisha.

1. Contrast the vision of Elijah in Beersheva with Jacob’s dream in Gen.


Chapter 28:10-21. What are the similarities/differences? How does each one
react?
2. Why do you think God appears as a small voice/soft murmuring sound in
verse 12? What does this tell you about the relationship God may want to
establish with Elijah?
3. In verses 19 and 20 we see that Elijah overtly recognizes Elisha as his
disciple, yet Elisha goes back to say goodbye to his parents/family. What
does this tell you about Elisha’s character? What do you think of Elijah’s
reaction to this act of "delay?" How do you feel at moments of "separation"
from family members/close friends/other loved ones?

Chapter 20: Ahab’s War with the Syrians

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King Ben-hadad confronts Ahab with a number of demands and threatens to


overtake him. The elders of Israel caution Ahab from capitulating to the demands
of Ben-hadad. Ben-hadad is cocky about his victory and gets drunk. While he is
drunk Ahab receives a prophetic message of encouragement and pursues the
Syrians and defeats them.

Ben-hadad regroups and is defeated once again. The two men enter into an
agreement. However, in the end Ahab is punished for letting Ben-hadad live and
entering into a treaty with him.

1. Why do you think Ben-hadad wanted to attack Israel? What did he have to
gain by defeating his neighbor?
2. It is clear that the army of Ben-hadad is stronger than that of Ahab, yet Ahab
prevails. Why do you think this is so? How would you contrast this incident
as depicted in verses 26-30 with the story of the Maccabees?
3. What is the role of the prophets and the men of God in this chapter? How
does it reflect the times? Who are our "prophets" and "people of God"
today? What role do they play in our lives?

Chapter 21: The Vineyard of Naboth

Ahab makes an offer to acquire Naboth’s vineyard. Naboth refuses to relinquish it.
Ahab tells this to Jezebel who concocts a scheme to get Naboth killed so that
Ahab can get the vineyard. She succeeds!

Elijah learns of Jezebel’s deceit and Ahab’s acquisition of the vineyard. He


confronts Ahab and tells him he will destroy his line. Ahab is distraught, rents his
clothes and fasts. He is temporarily exonerated. His house will not be wiped out
with him, but with his sons.

1. Why does Naboth refuse to give the vineyard to Ahab even for a larger
piece of land? Why would Ahab crave this specific piece of property when,
as king, he probably has access to many places?
2. What do you think of Jezebel’s actions? Do you think that Ahab was
ignorant of her deeds or did he just look the other way?
3. What lesson can be learned from Ahab’s actions at the end of the chapter
and God’s reconsideration of his punishment?

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Chapter 22: Rest of Ahab’s Reign and his Succession by Ahaziah

This is the last chapter in I Kings. It opens with a temporary peace, three years,
between Judah and Israel. It is an alliance against Syria. They consult their
prophets who predict victory. However, Jehoshaphat asks if there is not one
prophet on whom they can rely. Ahab tells him there is a man, Micaiah, who never
prophesies good for him, only misfortune. Michaiah predicts victory, but in the
process he also describes the demise of Ahab. Michaiah’s prophecy, which is
really Elijah’s, is fulfilled (vs. 37-38).

Jehoshaphat rules for 25 years. He was like his father, Asa, in that he did things
that were pleasing to the Lord. Despite this, there was still idol worship and illegal
sacrifices in Judah.

Ahaziah, son of Ahab, becomes king after the death of his father. Like those
before him, he continues to be an idol worshipper and commit acts that are
displeasing to the Lord.

1. Why do you think Jehoshaphat does not want to attack Ramoth-gilead


before consulting with the prophets? Why doesn’t he accept the verdict of
Ahab’s prophets?
2. Why does the king go disguised in battle?
3. Read verses 43-45. What does this tell you about Jehoshaphat’s character?

Hazak, hazak, v’nithazek!

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Perek Yomi Questions – Kings II

Perek Yomi: Second Kings


Study Questions

A Project of MACCJ

the Metro Atlanta Council for Conservative Judaism

http://uscj.org/soeast/atlanta

Summaries and questions prepared by Jill Jarecki, Associate Director –


Director of Education, Ramah Darom, and member of Ahavath Achim
Synagogue.

Edited by Steven Chervin

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Perek Yomi Questions – Kings II

MACCJ (Metro Atlanta Council for

Conservative Judaism)

MACCJ is the umbrella organization for Conservative synagogues and


organizations in Atlanta, including The Epstein School - Solomon Schechter
School of Atlanta, Ramah Darom, Ahavath Achim Synagogue, Congregation
Etz Chaim, Congregation Beth Shalom, North Fulton Jewish Center, the
United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, The Jewish Theological
Seminary, Women’s League for Conservative Judaism, and the Federation
of Jewish Men’s Clubs. A central element in the mission of MACCJ is to
promote Jewish education in the greater Atlanta community. MACCJ is co-
chaired by Sue Rothstein of Congregation Etz Chaim, and Cheryl R. Finkel,
Head of The Epstein School.

Perek Yomi Coordinating Council

The Perek Yomi Coordinating Council is co-chaired by Steven Chervin


(Epstein School and AA) and Janet Schatten (Epstein School and AA). Its
members include Rabbi Shalom Plotkin, Steve Birch and Sue Rothstein (Etz
Chaim); Eileen Cohn and Jennifer Stark-Blumenthal (Beth Shalom); Jill
Jarecki (Ramah Darom); and Steve Horn (North Fulton Jewish Center).

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Perek Yomi Questions – Kings II

II Kings

Background

The Second Book of Kings continues the monarchy begun in

I Samuel. This volume traces the line down to the Babylonian captivity. God’s
promise to David is fulfilled as this book chronicles the Davidic line. The three
main elements recurring throughout this book are the Temple, prophecy, and the
Davidic dynasty.

The rewards of living a life according to God’s word are emphasized, as we see
that the kings who "did what was pleasing" merited national security and personal
fulfillment. The kings who "did what was displeasing" suffered personal loss and
fell victim to conquerors. The book ends with the destruction of Jerusalem and the
exile of the people to Babylon.

The ability to convey God’s message is explored here through the prophets as
well as through the kings themselves. The prophets repeatedly try to remind the
kings and the people of the covenant, and to warn them of the consequences of
disobeying the word of God. The prophets meet with mixed success. Some of the
kings attempt to return to God’s teachings and to lead the people toward the path
of the mitzvot. They, too, meet with limited success.

This book is a lesson in the transmission of knowledge and values from


generation to generation. As we watch the kings, prophets, and people struggle
with how to worship God, we identify with them. In our own day we continue to
struggle with how to worship God, with trying to understand what God wants from
us, and with how to pass that knowledge on to the next generation.

Chapter 1 – Elijah and the Messengers of the King

Ahaziah, son of Ahab, is now the king of Israel. He displeased God. This chapter
starts with Ahaziah falling and getting injured. He then sends messengers to a

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foreign god, in order to inquire whether or not the King will recover. But the
prophet Elijah is told to go and confront the messengers of the King.

1. Why doesn’t Elijah come down to talk to the King’s captain the first time he is
asked?

2. Look carefully at the wording of the demand: "Man of God – by the order of the
King, come down!" What might the phrasing of this demand have to do with
Elijah’s refusal?

3. How does the request of the third captain differ in tone and in implication? Why
do you think Elijah agrees to the third request?

Chapter 2 – Elijah’s Ascent in a Whirlwind

In this chapter, Elijah and Elisha begin a journey as God is about to take Elijah up
to heaven in a fiery chariot.

1. If Elisha and Elijah both know that God is going to take Elijah on this day, why
do they both pretend and continue traveling? Why don’t they confront the
information directly?

2. What actions of Elisha’s reflect his grief over losing Elijah, his master?

3. Why do you think the verses describing Elisha’s "healing the water" are
followed by his cursing of the children who jeered at him?

4. What can we learn from these passages about how to comfort a person in grief?

Chapter 3 – Elisha and the Three Kings

In this chapter, Jehoram, Ahab’s son, becomes King of Israel. He does what is
displeasing to the Lord. However, unlike his father and mother, he removes the
pillars of Baal that his father had made. In this chapter, the king of Israel, the king
of Israel, and the king of Edom set out against the king of Moab.

1. What is Elisha’s reaction to the presence of the kings of Israel, Judah, and
Edom?

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2. Why does Elisha respect King Jehoshaphat?

3. In the last verse, verse 27, why do you think a "great wrath came upon Israel?"

4. How do you think each of the kings reacted to Elisha’s words and the events
which followed? How would you have reacted?

Chapter 4 - Miracles

This chapter describes four miracles in which Elisha participates. They involve oil,
the life of a child, stew, and bread.

1. Why do you think the text describes these miracles?

2. How do you react to the miracles described here?

3. Do you believe in modern miracles? Can you think of any? Who are the people
who participated in these miracles?

4. If you were to write out a description of a modern miracle, how would you
choose to describe it? Would it be similar to or different from these descriptions?
Why do you think these miracles are described this way?

Chapter 5 – The Affliction of Leprosy

In chapter 5, we see Elisha participating in another miracle. This time, he cures a


man of leprosy. At the end of this chapter Elisha’s servant, Gehazi, becomes
afflicted with leprosy.

1. Why does Elisha refuse any gifts from Naaman?

2. What does Gehazi think of his master’s decision? Why does Gehazi run after
Naaman?

3. Why do you think Gehazi is so severely punished for this action?


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4. What do you think is the message of this chapter?

Chapter 6 – The King’s Anger

This chapter begins with Elisha and his disciples setting out on a journey to collect
logs to build bigger living quarters. While they are chopping wood, an iron ax head
falls into the water.

1. Why do you think Elisha bothers to retrieve the ax head? Do you think that the
fact that the ax head was borrowed influences Elisha’s response?

2. In verses 15-23, why does Elisha have the invading armies served a lavish
feast? How does this compare with the response to other invaders?

3. Why does the King of Israel want Elisha’s head? What provokes his anger at
Elisha? Do you think this anger is justified?

Chapter 7 – A Lack of Faith

In this chapter, four lepers help the king to defeat the Aramean army. In the
process, the king’s aide is trampled, as Elisha predicts.

1. How does Elisha respond to the aide of the King?

2. How do Elisha’s words come to pass?

3. Why is the aide punished?

4. What do you think is the message of this chapter?

Chapter 8 – An Eternal Lamp

In this chapter, despite the sins of the people, the Lord refrains from destroying
Judah.

1. Why do you think we are "re-introduced" to the woman whose son Elisha

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revived? Why is it important for the reader to know this piece of the story?

2. Why does Elisha weep?

3. Why does God refrain from destroying Judah, even though the king did what
was "displeasing to the Lord?"

4. Do you think God has "maintained a lamp for his descendants for all time," as
God promised David?

5. How can we each "add light" to that lamp?

Chapter 9 – The Anointing of King Jehu

Jehu is chosen to strike down the House of Ahab and Jezebel.

1. How does Jehu become King?

2. Why does Jehu treat Joram as he did?

3. Why is Jezebel’s death recorded?

4. Why do you think there is such an emphasis here on fulfilling the words of the
Lord, as spoken by Elisha and Elijah?

Chapter 10 – A Brutal Accounting

Jehu kills many people who were considered enemies of the people and unfaithful
to God. However, he ultimately does carefully follow the Teaching of the Lord.

1. What do you think motivates Jehu to commit so many actions which serve to
"fulfill God’s word?"

2. In what way is Jehu not so careful?

3. What evidence do we have from this chapter that Jehu did not follow the
"teaching of the Lord," (verse 31) with all his heart?

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4. What do we learn about "following the letter of the law" from this chapter?

Chapter 11 – The Covenant Between the King, the People, and God

In this chapter, Joash becomes King. The priest Jehoiada solemnizes the
triangular covenant between the King, the people, and God. The people smash
the idols to Baal and they rejoice.

1. How does Joash become King?

2. Why does Athalia tear her clothes when she hears the news?

3. How do the people show that they are "people of the Lord?"

4. Do we show that we are "people of the Lord" today? How and when?

Chapter 12- Honest Men

Jehoash does "what was pleasing to God"; he initiates a repair project for the
House of the Lord.

1. What kind of a king is Jehoash?

2. Do you think he was a role model as a leader? Why or why not?

3. Why do you think we are told, in verse 16, that the men dealt honestly with the
money they were given?

4. Do you think that honesty reflects upon the king, as well as those men?

5. Who do you think is a role model in this chapter? Why?

Chapter 13 – The Death of Elisha

In this chapter, Elisha dies and is buried. A few verses later, in verse 21, we learn
of what happens when a band of Moabites approaches Elisha’s grave.

1. Why does the man being buried "stand up?"

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2. Why do you think this is included in this chapter?

3. Why is the Lord merciful to the Israelites?

4. Why is Joash only able to defeat Ben-hadad three times?

Chapter 14 – Parents, Children, and Responsibility

King Amaziah becomes king and takes care to follow one specific mitzvah from
the Torah quoted here in verse 6.

1. According to the text, how does King Amaziah compare to King David? How
was King David different?

2. What is the significance of the quote of a verse from the Torah, in verse 6?
Whose reputation benefits from the quotation of this verse?

3. This text implies that the actions of parents and children reflect upon each
other. How do you see this in terms of your own personal experience? What
behaviors of yours do you hope have affected your children and/or your parents?

4. Why does God decide at the end of this chapter against blotting out the name
of Israel?

Chapter 15 – The Kings Are Judged

In this chapter, we read a rather bloody account of the transition of kings in Israel
and in Judah. In this account, many of the kings are punished. However, there is a
distinction made between the kings who "do what is pleasing to the Lord" and the
kings who do "that which is displeasing to the Lord."

1. King Azariah does "what was pleasing to the Lord" and acts "just as his father
had done." However he does not remove the shrines. What is his punishment for
this transgression?

2. Why do you think King Azariah was punished with a disease that forced him
into isolated quarters? Do you feel that the punishment fits the crime?
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3. What happens to all of the other kings in this chapter, the kings who do "what
was displeasing to the Lord?" Are their punishments public or private? What is the
significance of a private punishment versus a public punishment? Do any of them
die a natural death?

4. According to the text, some information about each of these kings is recorded
here and the rest is recorded in the "Annals of the Kings of Israel." Why do you
think these particular episodes are recorded here? Do you see a particular pattern
of behavior from which we are to learn?

Chapter 16 – The Evil Deeds of King Ahaz

King Ahaz follows the abhorrent practices of other nations. He also "loots" the
House of the Lord in his attempt to please the king of Assyria.

1. What is included in the list of things that Ahaz does which are "displeasing" to
the Lord?

2. The text specifically notes that Ahaz does something forbidden by Torah law –
"he passes his son through the fire. . . the same abomination as the nations which
God had drawn out before the Israelites." According to this text, what is his
punishment?

3. How does Ahaz’s behavior compare with the behavior of the kings described in
the previous chapter?

4. Why do you think Ahaz does not appear to meet the same end?

Chapter 17 – The Israelites Do Not Keep Their Part of the Covenant

In this chapter the Israelites as a whole are punished for their sins. This chapter
reiterates the words of the Torah in order to show how far the people have strayed
from those words.

1. In verse 7, we are given the direct cause and effect relationship between the
people’s actions and their political state of affairs. Why do you think we are

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reminded here that God freed the people from Egypt, from the hand of Pharaoh?

2. In verses 13-17, we are told of how the people disobeyed God’s laws. We are
also told that God sent many prophets to remind the people of the right path, but
they spurned the laws and the covenant. Why do you think the people did not
listen, despite these reminders?

3. In verse 16, we read that "they went after delusion and were deluded; they
imitated the nations that were about them." Why is the pull of the surrounding
culture so strong? Why did the people continue to follow these forbidden
practices, even with reminders from prophets?

4. Does the description in this chapter apply to us today as well? If not, how are
we different? If so, what changes can we each make to return to our covenant?

Chapter 18 – The Ray of Light from King Hezekiah

In this chapter, Hezekiah, son of King Ahaz becomes King and does "what was
pleasing to the Lord." He emulates King David in that he behaves in accordance
with God’s word, and he abolishes the pagan shrines. We are told that King
Hezekiah "clung to the Lord."

1. Why does King Hezekiah break the bronze serpent that Moses had made?

2. According to the text, why were the Israelites deported to Assyria?

Look at the phrasing in verse 12. We are told that the people "did not listen and
they did not do" their part of the covenant. The words that are used to state this
reflect the exact opposite of what the Israelites promise. In the desert, after
leaving Egypt, the Israelites say, "we will do and we will listen."

3. What is the original covenant between God and the Children of Israel? Why do
you think the Israelites are unable to keep the promises of their ancestors?
Should they be obligated to keep those promises?

4. The depth of the betrayal is felt as we read the same words " do and listen" and
we see that the Israelites did not "do or listen" as they had promised. Do you think
being forced from their land will cause the Israelites to turn back to the covenant?
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5. Do you think that we, the Jewish People today, are keeping the promises of our
ancestors? How? Do you think God considers us loyal to the promise? Why or
why not?

Chapter 19 – Meet Isaiah, the Prophet

The King of Assyria tells the people not to listen to King Hezekiah and not to count
on God to save them. The people are silent and rend their clothes, the traditional
sign of mourning.

We are then introduced to the prophet Isaiah. The King’s ministers go to Isaiah to
see if Isaiah will pray on behalf of the people.

1. Why do the people go to Isaiah? Why don’t they all just begin praying on their
own?

2. Why do you think Hezekiah offers his prayer?

3. Isaiah reports God’s words to Hezekiah. Why do you think God’s word here
appears in the form of a song? Think of other "songs" in the Bible. One is the
song that is sung after the people safely pass through the Red Sea. Another song
is sung by Devorah, after the Israelites defeat an enemy. Thinking about those
two songs, what do you think is the message of these words being spoken in the
form of a song? What affect do you think this message has on the people, both in
terms of its form and its content?

4. What happens to the King of Assyria? Do Isaiah’s words come true?

Chapter 20 – The Recovery of Hezekiah

In this chapter Hezekiah becomes ill. Isaiah tells Hezekiah that he is not going to
recover from this illness – he is going to die. Hezekiah prays to God. God hears
the prayers of Hezekiah and is then healed by God.

1. Why do you think Hezekiah asks Isaiah for a sign?

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2. Why does Hezekiah show his treasure house to the guests from Babylon?
What is Isaiah’s reaction to this? What is God’s reaction?

3. Why does Hezekiah reply that this message is "good?"

4. Is Hezekiah’s reaction to Isaiah’s words consistent with the other behaviors we


have seen? Is it consistent with how Hezekiah is described?

5. There is an allusion here to how Hezekiah brings water into the city.
"Hezekiah’s tunnel" was a major engineering feat that had a lasting impact on
Jerusalem. Perhaps some of you have been to Israel and walked through this
tunnel. Why do you think this significant development is not elaborated upon in
this text?

Chapter 21 – The Most Evil King - Manasseh

Manasseh, Hezekiah’s son, succeeds him as king. He leads the Jews astray to do
even more evil than the nations that God had destroyed from before the Israelites.

1. Manasseh is described as following abhorrent practices and killing so many


innocent people that he "filled Jerusalem with blood." How is it possible for a God-
fearing man to have such a godless son?

2. We don’t know very much about Manasseh’s upbringing – only that he was
twelve years old when he becomes King. Based on what we do know about
Manasseh, what do you suppose his young childhood was like? What kind of a
relationship do you think he had with his father?

3. According to the descriptions above, Hezekiah was not successful in


transmitting his values to his son. Why do you think Manasseh did not follow in his
father’s footsteps? What could Hezekiah have done differently to teach his son his
values?

4. What do we do to teach our children to be the kind of people we want them to


be? What kinds of examples do they see? What do our behaviors, rituals, and
priorities say to our children? What actions of ours declare our values to our
children?

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5. What lessons do we learn from King Hezekiah and his son, King Manasseh?

Chapter 22 – The Lost Scroll

In the next two chapters we read about King Josiah, the son of King Amon, the
grandson of King Manasseh. He was a righteous King, despite having an evil
father and grandfather. During his reign, the High Priest found a "scroll of the
Teaching." When Josiah hears what was written in the scroll, he rends his clothes.
He realizes how far the people have strayed from the teaching of the Lord, and
tries to lead them back to the commandments.

1. Why do you think these teachings were lost? (Many believe that the scroll
found was the Book of Deuteronomy) How is it possible that these teachings,
these scrolls, were not carefully and respectfully guarded?

2. Based upon this scroll, Josiah initiates reforms. He destroys the idolatrous
temples, ends child sacrifice and male prostitution at the Temple. However, his
reforms seem to die with him. Why do you think these reforms don’t last? What
does it take to change an institution? What lessons can we learn from this short-
lived reform?

3. Speaking through the prophetess Huldah, God foretells the destruction of


Jerusalem. However, Josiah is rewarded for his efforts by not having to witness
this destruction. Do you think this is a reward?

4. It seems as if the people, including Josiah, are unfamiliar with the


commandments and rituals, many of which had not been performed for centuries.
Should these people be punished for straying from laws with which they were
unfamiliar? Who is responsible for the education of the people? Isn’t the previous
generation responsible for educating the current generation? Where does the
break in the chain begin? How do we prevent such a break today?

Chapter 23 – The Josianic Reformation

King Josiah holds a public reading of the scroll that had been found. He then
destroys all of the idolatrous temples.

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1. King Josiah has the people "enter into the covenant" after they hear the entire
scroll. How did they enter into the covenant? What did they say or do, to show
their commitment to these laws? What would you have done? What do we do
today to show our commitment?

2. The King commands the people to offer the Passover sacrifice. It had
apparently not been offered for many years. How do you feel knowing that this
important ritual was ignored? What was this ritual like for this generation? What
did they miss by not having someone to pass down the tradition of the Passover
offering?

3. The text states that "there was no king like Josiah…who turned back to the
Lord with all his heart and soul and might…." Do you think Josiah was a good
leader? While we know that he himself was good, how able was he to influence
the people? What qualities enable one to lead others to action? What Jewish
leaders today possess these qualities?

Chapter 24 – Sin and Forgiveness

King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon captures Jerusalem, taking back with him all of
the inhabitants of the city along with the treasures from the Temple. Only the
poorest people are left in the land. The text states that all of this befalls Judah
because of Manasseh’s sins.

1. Do you think this generation should have been punished for the sins of
Manasseh? In what way was this punishment a consequence for Manasseh’s
behavior? What is King Nebuchadnezzar’s role in this punishment? What
responsibility does he bear?

2. What responsibility do the people have for the sins of the kings? What
responsibility do they have the kings’ repentance? Who is ultimately responsible
for the people’s actions, in each generation?

3. It states in verse 4 that Manasseh "filled Jerusalem with the blood of the
innocent, and the Lord would not forgive." This seems to indicate that there are
sins which are unforgivable. Do you agree? Who decides when one can return in
repentance and when one has committed deed that are unforgivable? What are

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the results of forgiveness? Who benefits from forgiveness?

4. How do we apply this text to atrocities committed in our own times?

Chapter 25 – Three Fast Days

This chapter details the destruction of Jerusalem by King Nebuchadnezzar and


the exile of the people to Babylon. This chapter is also one of the sources for
three fast days on the Jewish calendar.

The beginning of the siege of Jerusalem by King Nebuchadnezzar’s forces is


recorded as occurring on the tenth of the Hebrew month of Tevet. Today, that is a
minor fast day on the Jewish calendar.

The saddest day on the Jewish calendar is the ninth of Av – Tisha B’Av. This is a
major fast day and is considered the day on which both the First and Second
Temples were destroyed. Other tragedies in Jewish history are also recorded as
having occurred on this day.

On the third day of the month of Tishrei (immediately following the two days of
Rosh Hashana) is the Fast of Gedaliah. This minor fast commemorates the
slaying of Gedaliah, recorded in this chapter.

1. How do you feel when you read of the destruction of the Temple and of
Jerusalem? What do you think about the three fast days that were added to our
calendar as a result of the events recorded in this chapter?

2. Throughout the Book of II Kings, many people die at the hands of others. Why
do you think the death of Gedaliah warrants a fast day? What is unique about the
circumstances surrounding his death?

3. How would you summarize this book? Is there a single theme that threads
throughout this book? What do we learn from this book that we can apply to our
lives today?

Hazak, hazak, v’nit-hazek!

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Perek Yomi: Isaiah ch 1 - 22

Perek Yomi: Isaiah


Chapters 1-22: Study Questions
A Project of MACCJ

the Metro Atlanta Council for Conservative Judaism

http://uscj.org/soeast/atlanta

Summaries and questions prepared by Arnold M. Goodman, Rabbi, and E.


Noach Shapiro, Assistant Rabbi, of Ahavath Achim Synagogue.

Edited by Steven Chervin

MACCJ (Metro Atlanta Council for

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Perek Yomi: Isaiah ch 1 - 22

Conservative Judaism)

MACCJ is the umbrella organization for Conservative synagogues and


organizations in Atlanta, including The Epstein School - Solomon Schechter
School of Atlanta, Ramah Darom, Ahavath Achim Synagogue, Congregation
Etz Chaim, Congregation Beth Shalom, North Fulton Jewish Center, the
United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, The Jewish Theological
Seminary, Women’s League for Conservative Judaism, and the Federation
of Jewish Men’s Clubs. A central element in the mission of MACCJ is to
promote Jewish education in the greater Atlanta community. MACCJ is co-
chaired by Sue Rothstein of Congregation Etz Chaim, and Cheryl R. Finkel,
Head of The Epstein School.

Perek Yomi Coordinating Council

The Perek Yomi Coordinating Council is co-chaired by Steven Chervin


(Epstein School and AA) and Janet Schatten (Epstein School and AA). Its
members include Rabbi Shalom Plotkin, Steve Birch, Sue Rothstein, Randy
Gorod and Nancy Seifert-Gorod (Etz Chaim); Eileen Cohn and Jennifer Stark-
Blumenthal (Beth Shalom); Jill Jarecki and Rabbi Adam Frank (Ramah
Darom); and Steve Horn (North Fulton Jewish Center).

THE BOOK OF ISAIAH

Background

Found in the middle portion of the Tanakh known as Nevi’im or Prophets, the
Book of Isaiah opens the section known as the Later Prophets (Nevi’im
Achronim). With its 66 chapters, this book is the Bible's largest collection of
prophecies. Isaiah lived in the days of Kings Uziah and Hezekiah, a period of forty-
five years in the eighth century before the Common Era. He lived through a

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variety of significant events in the Kingdoms of Israel and Judea, some of which
are recorded in the first and second Books of Kings. He played a major role in the
political life of the kingdom of Israel.

Though he provided moral guidance and harsh rebukes to the people, Isaiah is
the supreme prophet of consolation. After taking the people to task for their sins –
oppressing the poor and vulnerable, worshiping idols, acting in an unrighteous
manner – he sought to comfort them. A member of the royal family who was also
knowledgeable about the lives and concerns of ordinary residents, Isaiah was
able to communicate with all members of society on their own terms. Perhaps
because of this, he was privileged with a vision of God as He was enthroned in
His Temple as King.

The themes of the book include: the salvation of Jerusalem from the Assyrian
army, the Jews’ return from the Babylonian exile, God’s judgment against the
nations, and the Messianic era. The Prophet is clear that God does not
necessarily desire sacrifices even in the Holy Temple. To God, prayer and fasting
must take place in conjunction with good deeds and acts of loving kindness. This
theme proclaimed in many of his prophecies is the Haftara of Yom Kippur
Morning. The Prophet is perhaps best known for his vision of the end of days: the
sword will disappear from the land, nation will not lift up swordagainst nation,
humanity will be ruled by our King of RighteousnessWho is filled with the spirit of
God.

(These references to the future King of Righteousness is seized upon

by Christian theologians as foretelling the birth of Jesus. We, of

course, read these passages very differently.)

The Book can be divided into three parts: chapters 1 to 35; 36 to 39; and 40 to 66.
The first part (1 to 35) has three basic sections of prophecies:

(a) 1 to 12 - A collection of prophecies in which the Prophet chastises the Kings of


Israel and Judea, as well as those nations that have oppressed Israel.

(b) 13-27 - Prophecies of doom of various nations.

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(c) 28-35 Prophecies of both chastisement and hope for the end of days.

The second section in the book (36-39) contain events which happened in the
days of Hezekiah, and Isaiah's role in these events.

The third section (40 to 66) includes prophecies of consolation in whichthe


Prophet describes the redemption of the People by God,

Who is zealous for His people. He describes Zion's future greatness after the
redemption, and the ultimate glory of Israel, the true

Servant of the Lord, after the days of exile. It concludes with a

proclamation of hope that all nations will ultimately come to

Jerusalem after judgment has been visited upon the evil kingdoms.

Most Biblical scholars agree that this third section (40-66) was

written by an anonymous Prophet who attached his writings to the Book of Isaiah.
This author is commonly referred to as Deutero-Isaiah (the Second Isaiah). It is
believed he lived during the Babylonian Exile and brought hope to his people by
telling them that God had not

abandoned them. Many Biblical scholars insist that references to the destruction
of Babylonia (chapters 13 and 14 ) were not written by the original Isaiah.)

Chapter titles and some background notes are taken from the Living Nach: Later
Prophets, a part of the Living Torah Series.

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Perek Yomi: Isaiah ch 1 - 22

Chapter One: Sin and Repentance

In this, the opening chapter of the book, we find many powerful and memorable
verses such as: "Hear, O heavens, and listen, O earth, for God has spoken . . .
Cleanse and purify yourselves. Remove your evil deeds from My sight, and cease
doing evil. Learn to do good, seek justice, and support the oppressed. Demand
justice for the orphan, and plead the cause of the widow!"

1. In Isaiah's eyes what is the sin of the people? Why does he call Jerusalem a
"harlot"?

2. What does the Prophet see as the difference between Sodom Gomorrah and
Jerusalem?

3. Who in Isaiah's day does he see as the leaders of Sodom and the

nation of Gomorrah?

4. What does Isaiah reject? What does God reject? Why does God reject

their sacrifices, their rituals, and their prostrating before Him?

5. Why is this chapter chosen as the Haftara for the Shabbat before

Tisha B'Av? That Shabbat is called Shabbat Chazon from the opening word in
Chapter one: Chazon Yeshayahu - the vision of Isaiah.

Chapter Two: The Messianic Age

Here we find perhaps the most famous verse in the entire Tanakh – "And they will
beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will
not lift up sword against nation, neither will they learn war any more. (vs. 4)" This
chapter also contains a verse which we sing in the synagogue as we take the
Torah out of the Ark.

1. What is Isaiah's vision for the end of days?

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2. Which verse is quoted in our Torah service?

3. What is the Prophet's verdict on hubris [excessive pride bordering

on arrogance] and how does he express it?

4. In verse 18, what is the Prophet's verdict in regard to idols and

idolatry?

5. How does the Prophet conclude this chapter? Note the standard of

evaluating human effort in the concluding verse of the chapter.

Chapter Three: The Collapse of Israelite Society

1. Who and what are the supports upon which the community relies and how have
they failed Zion?

2. What is God's agenda with the leaders and what is the Prophet's

warning to them? (See verses 12 and 15.)

3. What is the Prophet's description of the physical appearance of

the women he calls the daughters of Zion? Why is he critical of them?

4. What does he predict will be their ultimate fate? [See verse 24.]

Chapter Four: Jerusalem’s Future Glory

1. What is the force of the prophecy that there will be seven women

for one man? What is it that women desire in the relationship and why

is it being withheld from them? Why do they see their unmarried status as a form
of shame?

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2. Verses 2-6 in this brief chapter is a prophecy of restoration. In

verse 5, the Prophet makes references to a cloud by day and a pillar

of fire by night and in verse 6 to a symbolic sukkah or tabernacle. To

what previous experience in the history of his people is the prophet

alluding to?

Chapter Five: God’s Judgment Against the Wicked

1. The song of the farmer and his vineyard. He struggles and farms

the land with great diligence hoping for wonderful grapes. What grows,however,
are wild or unripe grapes. What is the interpretation of this metaphor? Who is the
farmer? What is the vineyard? Who and what are the unripe grapes?

2. Verse 7 reflects God's frustration that He had hoped for mishpat

[justice] and in its place there was mispach [oppression] and in place

of tzedaka [righteousness] there was tze'akah [crying out]. Note the

play on the Hebrew words of mishpat and tzedaka.

3. Verses 8, 11, 18, 20, 21, and 22 begin with the Hebrew word hoy

[woe], an exclamation of sorrow and frustration. What is the cause of

this anguish in each instance where the Prophet cries out hoy?

3. In the second exclamation of hoy, the Prophet affirms the power of

justice and righteousness. Verse 16 is included in the High Holiday

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liturgy. What is the power behind this verse?

4. What is the force of the Prophet's exclamation in verse 20? What

does it say about unwarranted pessimism or optimism? What does the Prophet
expect his people to embrace? How does the Prophet summarize the moral
failure of the people, and what does he see as their fate? [see verses 24 through
30.]

Chapter Six: Isaiah’s Call to Prophecy

1. What heavenly scene does Isaiah see?

2. The angels call out to one another in the words we repeat today, in the blessing
found in the Amidah known as the Kedusha. They call out: "Holy, Holy, Holy is the
Lord of Hosts. The whole earth is full of His glory. (Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh . . .)"

3. What is the Prophet saying about God's power and His presence in

the world? In the Prophet's vision, what physical act stamps him as a

Prophet?

4. Does the Prophet accept his call willingly, or is he a reluctant

Prophet like Moses and Jonah?

5. What is God's charge to Isaiah? When will Isaiah’s mission be successful?

6. Note that the Prophet concludes with some words of comfort assuring the
People that they will return after the destruction. What is the percentage of those
who survive? Note that he compares the survivors to trees that are sturdy and
hardy, and even if cut down, their roots remain from which future trees will come
into being.

Chapter Seven: God’s Sign to Ahaz; The Assyrian Invasion

In this chapter God tells Ahaz (through Isaiah) to request a sign that He will save

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Ahaz from the tribes of Aram and Ephraim. When Ahaz declines, Isaiah says
"God will give you a sign. The young woman will conceive and bear a son. She
will call him Immanuel." (vs. 14)

1. What is God's command to Isaiah? How was he to approach Ahaz, King of


Judea, and who was to accompany Isaiah?

2. What was to be his message to the King? Look at the power of the

assertive forceful affirmation of verse 7.

3. How is verse 14 interpreted in the Christian tradition? Note:

Christian sources translate alma as virgin; however the Hebrew word for virgin is
betulah. Alma means "a young woman" who could certainly be married. Rashi, Ibn
Ezra and Malbim, three Jewish commentators, say the reference is to Isaiah’s
wife; Radak (another Jewish commentator) says it refers to Ahaz’ wife.

4. The son's name Immanuel is the Hebrew Imanu El [God is with us]. As he
matures he will be able to choose between good and evil. What does the Prophet
insist will happen by the time when this child has so matured?

5. What is the force of the prophecy in verse 22 that they would live

only on butter and honey? What has happened to the crops? What can the land
hope to send forth in the future? Is survival possible with only butter and honey?
Note the repetition of butter and honey in verses 15 and 22. What connection is
there between the diet of Immanuel and the prophesied diet of the People?

Chapter Eight: Don’t Follow the People

This chapter is a prophecy against Rezin, King of Aram, and Pekach,

King of Israel, who united to attack Judea. Isaiah contends that had
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Judea and Israel united, Judea would have been able to withstand

Aram's invasion. Isaiah prophesies that Judea's foes will be devoured

by Assyria; this is the work of God's hand.

1. Why is the Prophet told to take a great tablet and to write the message clearly
in common script? Why does the written word have

greater force than the oral statement?

2. The Prophetess (v. 3 ) is believed to be the wife of the Prophet.

Once again a new son is born and named - Maher Shalal Chash Baz (the booty
speedeth the prey hastens.) The end will come for the evil

kingdoms who are Judea's adversaries.

3. The waters of Shiloah (v. 6) a fresh water pool in the southern

part of Jerusalem, is the city's water source. To the Prophet, it is a

metaphor for the Kingdom of David, which began at Hebron at the south of the
city, and is a source of strength and inspiration.

4. Verse 10 is the text of a song sung on Purim. Why is this verse

applicable to the Megillah story? Notice it ends with the words:

EmanuEl (God is with us). Refer back to chapter 6:14 where the

Prophet proclaims that a child, born unto the young woman, shall be

called Emanuel.

5. In verse 18, who are the Prophet's children? His flesh and blood or

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his disciples? Does faith in the Prophet's message make one his

child?

6. The Prophet concludes with a warning not to turn to the ghosts and

to the spirits that chirp as birds. What are the consequences of

turning to soothsayers for direction, solace, guidance? (Verses 20-23)

Chapter Nine: Civil War Among Ephraim, Manasseh, and Judah

1. Who are those who walk in darkness? What is the great light?

2. Verse 3 refers to Midian and the confrontation with this tribe.

See Judges chapters 6 and 7.

3. Verse 4 refers to weapons of war being totally consumed in fire.

The proof of this is the birth of another child. Note specifically the reference to the
last two words of his name, Sar Shalom - Prince of Peace. Why has this become
an important verse in the Christian reading of the Bible? Refer to verse 6.

Verses 9:7 through 10:4 are a series of prophecies on the

Kingdom of Israel, each ending with the words: "Through all of this

His anger is not turned away, but His hand is stretched out still."

The first prophecy is verses 9 to 11; the second 12 to 16; the third

17 to 20; and the fourth 10:1-3.

4. Against whom was the Prophet venting his anger, and what is the force of
saying that God's hand is not to be turned away and His hand is stretched out
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still? Note that the word n'tuyah (outstretched) is the word used in the Book of
Exodus describing how God redeemed us with a z'roa n'tuyah (an outstretched
arm). Can we always be certain that the outstretched arm of the Lord will be a
weapon on our behalf ?

Chapter 10: Assyria is the Rod of God’s Anger

1.Verses l to 4 condemns those Judges who pass judgement against the poor, the
underprivileged, the widows and orphans, those who were especially vulnerable in
days gone by. (Has this changed in our day?) When these Judges face their
punishment, they will look for help, but to no avail.

2. Verse 10:5 through 12:6 is a unit combining words of comfort to

Judea and to Israel while foretelling the destruction of Assyria and

its arrogant King Sencherab. There are seven distinct sections : (a)

10:5-15 Assyria which is an instrument of God to punish Israel will

be punished for not recognizing that it is an agent of God. Assyria

delights in its glory, and relishes destroying Israel as it has other

lands. The powerful opening of verse 5: "Assyria is the rod of My

anger" is a reminder that God uses those who are evil in order to

punish the righteous. (There are many who believe that the Nazis were such an
instrument to punish Jews for their sinful ways. Do you accept that Nazi Germany
was the rod of God's anger?)

Verse 15 is a powerful metaphor. The Prophet compares, an axe

perceiving itself as more significant than the hand that wields it, to

Assyria regarding itself as more powerful than God.

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b. Verses 16 to 19: God will cause the fat to suddenly become lean,

and the light of Israel will be a bright flame.

c. Verses 10:20 - 23: The remnants of Israel will return to their

former glory, but sadly. The people once as plentiful as the sand of

the sea shore will become very few in number.

d. Verse 10:24-27: The Prophet turns to his people and tells them not

to fear Assyria. In verse 26 he makes reference to miracles that took

place in the war against Midian - through the use of a staff believed

to be a reference to the miracle at the Sea of Reeds. Why?

e. Verse 10:20-34: Assyria will conquer a great deal of Judea's land

and lay siege to Jerusalem, but the campaign will fail. The Prophet

traces Sencherab's route from North to South reaching Nov on the

outskirts of Jerusalem, but to no avail. God will frustrate Sencherab

and bring him and his force low.

Chapter 11: "A Shoot Will Grow Out of the Stump of Jesse"

1.Verses 1-10: The Kingdom of Judea will now be under the hegemony of the
righteous and God fearing King, the seed of David. Chapter 11, opens with the
famous text: "a shoot will grow out o the stump of Jesse and the spirit of the Lord
shall rest upon him." We take this as a reference to the Messiah who is yet to
come; whereas Christians interpret this as referring to Jesus. Verses 2-5 describe
his strengthof character. Verse 6 is the very famous prophecy that the lamb and
the lion shall lie together, a time when all of nature will be at

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peace. This section ends with the prophecy that the branch of Jesse

will be a banner for the nations, and all the nations shall seek God.

2. Verses 11 to 16: Judah and Ephraim will no longer be enemies and

the exiles will come together. There will be miracles equal to those

performed at the Exodus. The Prophets have faith that unity will bring

about the ultimate salvation. Such unity was elusive in Isaiah's day;

it continued to plague us throughout history -even to this very day.

Chapter 12: Israel’s Song in Messianic Times

This is essentially a hymn of Thanksgiving, thanking God for having

saved His people.

1. Verses 2 and 3 are the text of the first two verses introducing the

Havdallah . The second part of the second verse: "God is my strength

and my song, and He has been my salvation" is taken from the Song of Moses
following the splitting of the Sea of Reeds. Why are verses 2 and 3, which depict a
great military and spiritual victory, recited

immediately after the Shabbat? Verse 4 has the words hodu l'Adonai, give thanks
unto God. The word Hodu repeated often in the Book of Psalms is a proclamation
of thanksgiving. We give thanks to God for all the good that has come our way.
The Psalm concludes urging the dwellers of Zion to "rejoice for the Great One, the
Holy One of Israel, is in your midst."

Chapter 13: A Prophecy About Babylonia

1. Babylonia was already a powerful force in Isaiah's day, but he

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foresees their future destruction. Babylonia, like all super powers,

relied upon military might, but it would ultimately be superceded by

another super power. (This is a lesson for our day, living as we do in

a super power.)

2. In Verses 2 to 5 the Prophet describes the many nations that will

rise up against Babylonia. In verses 7 and 8, he describes the

condition of the land following its destruction. What is Isaiah's

metaphor for describing God?

3. Verses 6 to 8: The consequences of the coming of the Day of the

Lord. For Babylon it would not be a day of rejoicing, but of

destruction and desolation. What will happen to the heavenly constellations on the
Day of the Lord?

4. Verse 17: God indicates that Media ( the fore runner of Persia

Media) will be awakened to do battle and will engage Babylonia,

but not for loot. This will be a war without an economic component and any desire
for economic gain. Would Marxists believe this? In verse 19, the Prophet makes
reference to the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah and of the total desolation of
Babylon. What was the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah? Why were these cities
destroyed? How do their sins apply to Babylonia?

Chapter 14: A Song About the King of Babylonia

1. In striking terms, Isaiah continues his prophecy about Babylonia's

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doom. With a pen dripping with sarcasm, he powerfully contrasts the

glory of its king while in life, and his fate after death.

2. Verses 1 to 3 contain a prophecy of the people's return to their land.The


nations of the world will unite in making this possible, and they will do so gladly as
the servants and hand maidens of Israel. The Midrash picks up on this theme in
the teaching of the statement that the Messiah will not come until the Children of
Israel have returnedto their land. Do you agree that peace for the world hinges
upon peace for Israel?

3. Verses 3 to 21 describe the terrible fate of the king, high and

mighty in life, and absolutely leveled in death. Biblical texts make

no reference to life after death. The dead are gathered in a place,

Sheol, beneath the earth.

4. Verses 16 and 17 speak of the King's power when he was with his

forces. Verse 19 speaks of his ultimate down fall. Note the Rabbinic

teaching: there is no dominion the day of death.

5. The power of these prophecies is captured in verse 27: "The Lord of Hosts has
proposed and who shall annul it? His hand is stretched out and who shall turn it
back". Once God has spoken, His edict cannot be challenged or nullified.

Chapter 15: A prophecy About Moab

1) Why the reference to balding and beardlessness in 15:2?

2) Since Moab was no particular friend of Israel, why would the Hebrew prophet
say (vs. 5), "My heart cries out for Moab" ?

3) Along the lines of question #2, what is the narrative tone of the prophet here in
this chapter - triumphant or neutral?

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4) In verse 9 there is a word-play with the name of the place, "dimon" and the
noun which soon follows which is "dam" (blood) - The waters of Dimon are filled
with 'Dam', blood." Where else in the Bible have we read about blood filling up
waters, and what can we learn from the allusion?

Chapter 16: The Moabites Seek Aid from Judah

Vs. 1-6 - The Moabites, fleeing the "intruders", arrive in Edom, and appeal to the
powers that be in Jerusalem for asylum.

1) Looking at verse 6, do you think Moab was granted asylum? Why not?

2) In describing the destruction of Moabite cities, why would the prophet


emphasize the destruction of vineyards so strongly (vs. 8-10)? What is it about
that particular destruction which seems to be a

metaphor for loss and destruction?

3) In verse 14, the prophet reports verbatim God's pronounced judgement that
Moab will be destroyed in three years. Why the reference to a "hired laborer?"
What is the image supposed to convey?

Chapter 17: A Prophecy About Damascus and the Fall of the Kingdom of
Israel

1) In verse 5, what is the analogy with a "reaper" meant to convey?

2) In verses 7 and 8, the prophet is making some clear predictions about what our
'spiritual' response will be to the devastation of Israel. How would you characterize
that response?

3) Is it your sense that the attack described in this chapter is being

characterized as a Divine punishment for our spiritual lapses or simply a natural


consequence of our behavior? Do you think there is an important difference
between the two?

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4) In the context of question #3 and given the content of verses 10 and 11, what
do you make of the apparent hope in verses 12-14?

Chapter 18: A prophecy About Ethiopia

In this chapter, Ethiopia is assured that they are safe from the attacks of Assyria.

1) Although it's nice that Ethiopia is being reassured that she remains in safety,
how do we feel about the ongoing graphic detail of the horror that other nations
face?

2) Are we theologically comfortable with an image of God who seems to weigh in


quite heavily on one side or another in conflict?

3) As a reader, do you find reading these passages which talk a lot about very
real, Divine retribution, comfortable? If yes, how? If not, why not?

Chapter 19: A Prophecy for Egypt

1) Why would God choose to create civil strife (verse 2), to punish instead of
straightforward Divine destruction? What would be the different messages in
those two approaches?

2) Respond to the image of women offered in Verse 16.

3) "…several towns speaking the language of Canaan and swearing loyalty to the
God of Hosts" (19:17) is a clear reference to Jews. What does this suggest about
the relationship between Jews and the Egyptians at that time?

4) The next verses (19-22) imply that because of the presence of "loyal" Jews in
Egypt, that Egypt will be saved from total decimation by God. Are we comfortable
with the notion of Jews as a "light unto the nations" which these verses seem to
imply?

5) At the end of this chapter, Jews seem to have facilitated a peace between three
warring parties. Are there still ways in which Jews can be facilitators of peace in
our world? Our local communities? Do we still have the talent or "obligation" to

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bring world peace?

Chapter 20: The Exile of Egypt and Ethiopia

1) Verses 3-4 talk about a kind of a quid pro quo between Isaiah's

"humiliation" and the humiliation of the Egyptians -"young and old"-by the
Assyrian conquerors. There seems to be unabashed collective punishment going
on here-could all the "young and old" been personally responsible for humiliating
Isaiah? As modern readers, how do we respond?

Chapter 21: Prophecies About babylon, Edom and Arabia

In general these are sympathetic, grief-stricken characterizations by Isaiah of the


suffering of these nations.

1) What do you think the 'shomer", the guard, could have meant in verse 12 when
he said: "the morning came and so did night". What if "morning" meant
deliverance and "night", oppression? What theological truth would he be
articulating?

2) There are commentators who think that "come back again" in verse 12 refers to
doing tshuvah, or repenting. In other words, "go and repent, then inquire about
your destiny." What do you think of this reading? Does it seem in this situation
that repentance would have a significant effect on the reality being described
here?

3) Do you think collective punishment can only be redressed by collective


repentance? Or can an individual save him/herself from a collective punishment
by way of individual repentance?

Chapter 22: Calamities to Befall Jersualem

1) How might the phrase 'valley of vision' as a description of Jerusalem be ironic


as it is used here?

2) How is the phrase "the slain are not slain with the sword, nor dead in
battle" (verse 2) taken to be a further example of suffering? What is the message
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in that?

3) In verses 12 and 13, God takes as a particularly grievous sin that the people,
upon hearing their impending fate, instead of responding by repentance and grief,
simply fell deeper into their revelry and debauchery, thinking, "we're doomed
anyway, why not have fun before we go?"

4) Why would God take particular offense at this 'what the heck' reaction (see
verse 14)? How would we characterize the Israelite's fatalistic reaction in modern
terms? Is this response of the people really heretical or just realistic?

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Perek Yomi: Isaiah ch 23 - 39

Perek Yomi: Isaiah


Chapters 23-39: Study Questions
A Project of MACCJ

the Metro Atlanta Council for Conservative Judaism

http://uscj.org/soeast/atlanta

Summaries and questions prepared by Arnold M. Goodman, Rabbi, and E.


Noach Shapiro, Assistant Rabbi, of Ahavath Achim Synagogue.

Edited by Steven Chervin

MACCJ (Metro Atlanta Council for

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Perek Yomi: Isaiah ch 23 - 39

Conservative Judaism)

MACCJ is the umbrella organization for Conservative synagogues and


organizations in Atlanta, including The Epstein School - Solomon Schechter
School of Atlanta, Ramah Darom, Ahavath Achim Synagogue, Congregation
Etz Chaim, Congregation Beth Shalom, North Fulton Jewish Center, the
United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, The Jewish Theological
Seminary, Women’s League for Conservative Judaism, and the Federation
of Jewish Men’s Clubs. A central element in the mission of MACCJ is to
promote Jewish education in the greater Atlanta community. MACCJ is co-
chaired by Sue Rothstein of Congregation Etz Chaim, and Cheryl R. Finkel,
Head of The Epstein School.

Perek Yomi Coordinating Council

The Perek Yomi Coordinating Council is co-chaired by Steven Chervin


(Epstein School and AA) and Janet Schatten (Epstein School and AA). Its
members include Rabbi Shalom Plotkin, Steve Birch, Sue Rothstein, Randy
Gorod and Nancy Seifert-Gorod (Etz Chaim); Eileen Cohn and Jennifer Stark-
Blumenthal (Beth Shalom); Jill Jarecki and Rabbi Adam Frank (Ramah
Darom); and Steve Horn (North Fulton Jewish Center).

Chapter titles and some background notes are taken from The Living Nach: Later
Prophets, a part of the Living Torah Series.

Chapter 23: A prophecy About Tyre and Sidon

A prophecy against two of the great Phoenician cities of the north located on the
shore of the Mediterranean. The destruction of these mighty city-states reflects
God's power. The Prophet insists that after seventy years, Tyre will be restored to
its former greatness, seventy being a significant number in prophecy. Note that

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the first Exile of Judea lasted for seventy years, a span covering the lifetime of
most people alive at the event. In this case, the entire sinful generation would
have perished during these seven decades.

CHAPTERS 24 - 27 are a collection of prophecies against the nations of the


world. Israel is clear that God with His great power exercises

judgement over all nations. The prophecies are without reference to

any specific historical events, and thus probably refer to what is to

occur at the "End of Days" or the time of the Messiah.

Chapter 24: The Land Will be Destroyed

1. Vs. 1-18: God will alter the nature of the world. Since all life is wicked and evil,
the land will no longer provide its harvest, joy will

disappear from the world and only the righteous, now few in number,

will be saved. Verse 17 refers to "terror, pit and trap" of which the

Hebrew words pachat and pach form a beautiful alliteration. Isaiah

describes how even if one is able to flee the terror, he will fall

into the pit, and if he is able to extricate himself from the pit, he

will fall into a trap. These were three different types of punishment, or perhaps
metaphors for Babylonia, Persia and Greece.

2. The Prophet concludes with the imagery of the windows of heaven opening up
and the very foundation of the earth being shaken. This image recalls the words
found in the Book of Genesis, which describe the waters of the Great Flood, with
the windows of heaven opening up, and the rain falling. Even as that flood
destroyed the world, so too will destruction come upon these nations.

3. Verses 19 to 23 continue the theme of the change in the rhythm of

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the world, concluding with a reference in verse 23 to the moon and sun which will
be embarrassed before God, the Lord of Hosts. The idolatrous nations of the
world worshipped the heavenly bodies, and the Prophet dismisses their gods by
affirming that the ultimate power and majesty of Israel's God will confound and
overwhelm them.

Chapte 25: A Hymn to God

1) The last 2 words of the 1st verse "emunah omeyn" are translated

variously as "completely fulfilled," "with faithfulness and truth," "in perfect faith,"
"steadfast faithfulness."

What do you think are the implications of these different translations? Which
translation do you think best fits within the context of the first few verses?

2) Why, in verse 3, does the text go out of its way to use the image

of "fierce" or "strong" people worshipping God? What contrast is the

text drawing here? Why would the strength or attitude of

God-worshippers matter?

3) Many commentators suggest that Moab (verses 10-12) is offered as a


prototypical enemy of Zion/Israel. How does a reader of this text

decide when to read it as sacred literature and when as a history book?

Chapter 26: Trust God Who Will Save You

1) In verse 2, the "righteous nation" can be understood to imply that

only the Israelites should be allowed to enter Jerusalem. But the rabbis have
broadened their understanding of this phrase to

include "righteous gentiles." Which do you think the author meant? Which do you
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Perek Yomi: Isaiah ch 23 - 39

prefer?

2) In verses 16-18, there is a fascinating use of the image of a woman in labor to


describe the experience of the Israelites vis a vis their sense of God's presence in
their lives. What do you think the image is meant to convey - both positively and
negatively? How does Isaiah's use of this image differ or correlate to the same
image in Hosea 13:13 and Micah 4:10?

3) Verse 19 has been understood as a response to the apparently

meaningless suffering described in 16-18. How do you see this verse

as a response to suffering?

4) Commentators understand "shut your doors around you" of verse 20 as a


statement against questioning the justice of Divine decree. Do you read it this
way? If you accept that meaning, are you comfortable with the notion that we
should not challenge God about justice? What do you imagine the tradition has to
say about such questioning?

Chapter 27: Jacob’s Iniquity Will be Atoned and Israel Will Flourish

The three monsters referred to in the first chapter of chapter 27 are

considered by commentators to correspond to the three great powers of the


Ancient world: Assyria, Babylonia, and Egypt.

1) In Verse 5 God seems to strike a bargain with Israel - if Israel

proclaims loyalty ("holds fast to my refuge"), then "Israel shall

sprout and blossom". What do you imagine Israel's "holding fast"

might look like? What does God mean? Is it simply a matter of faith?

How would "holding fast" to God translate in our contemporary

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language/world?

2) In verses 9 and 10, the Prophet is clear about the way Israel can

make up for its sinning ways, which appears to be as simple as

forsaking Idol worship. Why do you think polytheism is SO objectionable as to


justify the awesome wrath attributed to God in these passages? Why does it seem
that Israel is given a second chance, whereas the other nations (such as Moab)
are not?

3) How does the great ingathering of all the Jews dispersed and exiled all over the
world to Israel strike you as an image? Given the

tremendous longing for this to happen - which is expressed so frequently in the


Prophetic text - what do we make of the irony that today we have (relatively) free
access to the Holy Land, but many of us decline to live there? Do you think that all
Jews moving to Israel is still a value or is it now simply a metaphor for something
else?

Chapter 28: Rebuke for the Drunkards of Ephraim

The commentators understand Verses 1-4 to be directed toward the

drunken political leadership of the Northern Kingdom. They explain verse 2 –


"God has something strong and mighty" as referring to Israel’s main enemy,
Assyria.

1) What do you make of all the "drunkenness" talk? Do you think, as

many commentators do, that Isaiah was speaking literally about alcohol
consumption, or do you read drunkenness as a metaphor for other negative
traits? Why would the Prophet focus on alcoholism as one of the major sins of the
people?

2) Verses 10 and 13 are examples of withering Prophetic sarcasm and ridicule.


Isaiah uses language which is repetitive and monosyllabic - sounding almost like
a nursery rhyme - in order to express the level of the people's sophistication and
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maturity.

Do you think the tone of prophecy should be constrained in any way? What do
you think of ridicule and contempt as motivational methods in the context of our
texts? Is your answer different if the context is your own life? How do you explain
the validity of different standards

between then and now?

3) In verse 15, the text says that the people have made "falsehood

their refuge". What does that mean? How might falsehood be a refuge? In what
ways have we made "falsehood our refuge" in the modern world?

4) Verses 23-29 make use of an agricultural analogy - what does this

one mean to say? What are modern corollaries to only plowing and never sowing?
Using a tool designed for one kind of plowing, in the process of a different kind of
plowing? What is the "marvelous wisdom (verse 29) of God's that is being
explicated here?

Chapter 29: War Against Jerusalem

A powerful prophecy concerning the future of Jerusalem despite the demise of its
enemies.

1. Ariel has two connotations: (1) the inner hearth of the Temple where the
sacrificial altar was situated, and (2) the city of Jerusalem. Isaiah begins by
referring to Jerusalem and the inevitability of the attack within the year. At that
time Ariel, the city, will be like the

sacrificial altar, where only the charred remains of sacrifices can be found.

3. The tragedy is that the leaders who do not understand God's great deeds and
works, seek foreign alliances. They fail to put their trust in God.

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4. Verse 8 is a powerful metaphor of those who are hungry dreaming at night of


food and those who are thirsty, dreaming of drink. When they are awakened, they
discover neither food nor drink. The meaning: Those who dream of salvation
"outside of God" are like slumberers who will discover that ultimate salvation is
with God - and from God.

5. Verses 9:14 represent a diatribe against leaders who have shown themselves
to be faithless. Verse 13 is an especially powerful denunciation of those who
honor God with their lips but perform mitzvot by rote and thus do not honor God in
their hearts. (They "talk the talk, but don't walk the walk".)

Chapters 30 and 31 are directed to those who would ally themselves

with Egypt in order to resist Assyria.

Chapter 30: Assyria’s Downfall

1. The Prophet castigates those who would rely upon Egypt as

rebellious sons. The Hebrew for sorrerim (rebellious) is used to

describe the rebellious son ben soreh u’moreh) whose parents have given up on
him. The allusion here is to a son who has gone so far astray that God (the
Father) can no longer abide him. At what point does God give up on us? What
could motivate Him to do this today?

2. The disdain for Egypt finds expression in the Prophet's description of Egypt as
b’hamot negev, literally the beasts of the South.

3. Isaiah warns the people that reliance upon Egypt is a prescription

for total disaster. Recalling the harsh warnings in Leviticus(Ch.26)

and Deuteronomy (Ch.28) of the price of faithlessness, the Prophet

predicts that "one thousand shall flee at the shout of one." (v. 17)

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If the people have faith, would one of Israel be able to overcome a

thousand of the enemy? When in recent Jewish history did a few of the enemy
control masses of Jews? When did few Jews overcome larger numbers of the
enemy?

4. Recalling the promise in Deuteronomy (Ch. 11:13-21) that

faithfulness assures successful harvests, the Prophet extols those who defile the
graven images (v.22) and thus will be rewarded with "brooks and
watercourses." (v. 25)

5. Isaiah describes in graphic terms Assyria's fate and downfall (v.

27-33) to be followed by songs of peace and thanksgiving to God the Redeemer


of Israel.

Chapter 32: Justice Will Be Restored

This chapter contains two themes:

a. Vs. 1-8: a description of prosperity in which the people will live

righteously, and the difference between the fates of the righteous and the wicked.

b. Vs. 9-20: a call to weep and wail because of the hard times of

devastation and destruction, concluding with words of hope for the

community now spiritually redeemed.

2. V.3 contains an assurance that the righteous shall not lose their

capacity to see or to hear. Note how the Prophet returns to his theme

that the wicked seek to oppress the poor.

a. What "tools" do they use?

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Perek Yomi: Isaiah ch 23 - 39

b. How does the Prophet describe the "nediv" or the righteous?

3. How does thePProphet describe the devastation?

4. Note the power of v. 17: "For the work of righteousness shall be

peace, and the effect of righteousness, calm and confidence

forever."

a. What is the connection between "righteousness" (tzedekah) and peace


(shalom)?

b. Why is "calm and confidence" a blessing? Does it mean removal of

stress and tension? Is this a total blessing?

Chapter 33: The Restoration of Jerusalem

1. V.1 is a difficult verse. The Hebrew verbs SHDD (to ravage or take spoils) and
BGD (to betray, to lie, to deal falsely) are each repeated four times. The
translation reflects the interpretation that the one who has been guilty of ravaging
and betraying others will never feel secure. Even when he makes the decision to
renounce his evil ways, he will remain at risk of suffering at the hands of others,
just as he caused others to suffer. This verse seems to posit there is a limit to the
power of t'shuva or repentance because people have long memories. Is this a
valid insight? Is it an acceptable moral posture?

2. V.2-5: a prayer of Thanksgiving to God Who has redeemed His people. The
reference to locusts is interpreted to mean that the booty will be consumed even
as locusts consume crops.

3. V.7-11: a condemnation of the foe that has reneged on its commitment to live in
peace, but now engages in war.

a. In v.7, the Prophet refers to Malachai Shalom, messengers or angels of peace.


This is the source of the term used repeatedly in the Shabbat Song - Shalom
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Perek Yomi: Isaiah ch 23 - 39

Aleichem.

b. Is the Prophet referring to the heavenly angels who long for peace

and weep for the lack of Shalom, or is he referring to the human

messengers (Malach means both angel or messenger) sent by Hezekiah to


Sennacherib who carried a message of peace but were rebuffed? (II Kings 18:14)

4. V.15: the Prophet describes those who shall survive the catastrophe of
destruction. Compare this verse with Psalms 24:3-6 which is a description of who
can hope to stand in God's holy place.

5. V.17-24: Jerusalem and Zion shall be redeemed. Either a prophecy of victory


over Senchareb or a prophecy of the End of Days. Two phrases have been
incorporated in our liturgy.

a. V.17: techezena eincha ("your eyes will behold").

b. V. 22: God is referred to as Malkenu ("our King") and Yosheanu ("one Who
shall redeem us"). In which prayers are these phrases found?

Chapter 34: The Destruction of the Nations

1. The Prophet returns to the theme of the destruction of the Evil

Kingdom. The chapter contains a graphic and chilling description of

the total annihilation caused by God's unchecked fury.

2. The opening verse with its reference to "the world and all that is

within it" - is paralleled in the opening verse of Psalms 24. When is

this Psalm chanted/recited in our liturgy?

3. In the concluding verse, the Prophet utilizes the phrase L'dor

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V'dor (from generation to generation)- which has found its way into

our liturgy and is the basis of a popular congregational melody.

4. While the reference is to the destruction of Edom, the Prophet

actually refers to the destruction of all the enemies of Judeah.

Chapter 35: The Ingathering of the Exiles

a. A Song of Deliverance. God's wonders will be beheld not only in the conquest
of the enemy, but in the miracle of the blind getting sight

and the deaf being able to hear and the lame being able to walk. This may refer to
actual miracles of healing or to the miracle of a people that had been blind to
God's ways, deaf to His teachings, and lame when it came to walking in His ways
- now being a changed community, aware of God's presence and willing to hear
His voice and to walk on the path of righteousness

b. The concluding verse is a majestic affirmation of great joy which shall


accompany the redemption of the people. The last phrase v'naso yagon v'anacha
("and sorrow and sighing shall flee") is incorporated in the special Shabbat verse
of the Birkat HaMazon, when the hope is expressed that there will be no yagon
v'anacha on the day of our joy. We are aware that Shabbat joy is so special that
we suspend sitting Shiva on Shabbat.

Chapter 36: King Sennacherib Attacks Judah

The Rabshakeh was a senior official.

1) Read the Rabshakeh's speech (36:4-10). What are the arguments he is making
for the Israelites to offer unconditional surrender? What is he saying about God?

2) What is the significance of representatives of Hezekiah (the Israelites) wanting


to speak Aramean with the Assyrian invaders, a language not spoken by
"everyday" ancient Israelites, but only the elite? What were they worried about,
and why would the Assyrian invaders have cared either way? In fact, why did they

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reject the idea?

3) Traditional commentary suggests that Eliakim and Shebna rent their clothes in
mourning and anger over the threats and blasphemy of the Rabshakeh. Do you
agree with this interpretation? Can you think of any other kind of loss and
mourning which might have caused the rending of clothes?

Chapter 37: Hezekiah Consults Isaiah

1) When Hezekiah's representatives go and talk to Isaiah about all that is going
wrong, they say "the children are come, but there is no strength to bring [them]
forth." (37:3) What do you think this means? Traditionally it was understood as a
phrase expressing helplessness in a critical moment. But why "no strength"?

2) In comforting the representatives of Hezekiah, Isaiah articulates the word of


God which predicts that the Rabshakeh will hear a rumor and then go back home.
Then the text reports God as saying "I shall put in him ('noten bo") a spirit… I will
cause him to fall on his own sword…" (37:7) Is this similar to God hardening
Pharoah's heart? Certainly Pharoah was a bigger player than the Rabshakeh who
is really just a mouthpiece for Sennacherib, the king of Assyria. But isn't this an
example of God taking away someone's ability to do tshuvah - repentance for evil
deeds - and to change? Are we comfortable with the image of God "causing"
someone to die by their sword? Why go through the charade? Why doesn't God
just zap the Rabshakeh

like He did with Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aaron, back in the wilderness?

Chapter 38: Hezekiah’s Illness

1) Do you think that God's telling Hezekiah about his impending death (38:1) was
a blessing or a curse? What about the information that he would live "another 15
years". What would it be like to live with the exact knowledge of when we will die?
How would that information affect the way we live?

2) Note Hezekiah's immediate prayer, which is a response to the bad news of his
own impending death. What does this say about the enterprise of praying? What's
your reaction to the answer he gets from God? What's your reaction to the fact

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that God answers him at all? Is that kind of concrete answer what we look for in
our prayers?

3) Take a close look at Hezekiah's poem after his recovery - how would he have
answered the previous question? In what ways does it seem that he was moved
by his brush with death? How did it make him re-evaluate his relationship with
God?

Chapter 39: Hezekiah and King Merodakh-Baladan

1) What sense do you make of the text's emphasis on how open Hezekiah was in
showing the visiting Babylonian king's representatives all that was in his house?

2) Why, when faced with a gloomy prophecy about the defeat and capture of the
Israelites and their imprisonment in the Land, does Hezekiah King of Israel,
respond that the word of God is "good" (39:8)? Hint: look at the last words of this
chapter and consider someone who no longer wants to deal with trouble.

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Perek Yomi Questions: Isaiah Chapters 40-66

Perek Yomi: Isaiah


Chapters 40-66: Study Questions
A Project of MACCJ

the Metro Atlanta Council for Conservative Judaism

http://uscj.org/soeast/atlanta

Summaries and questions prepared by Rabbi Adam Frank, Associate Director


Ramah Darom, adfrank@innerx.net

Edited by Steven Chervin

<

MACCJ (Metro Atlanta Council for

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Perek Yomi Questions: Isaiah Chapters 40-66

Conservative Judaism)

MACCJ is the umbrella organization for Conservative synagogues and


organizations in Atlanta, including The Epstein School - Solomon Schechter
School of Atlanta, Ramah Darom, Ahavath Achim Synagogue, Congregation
Etz Chaim, Congregation Beth Shalom, North Fulton Jewish Center, the
United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, The Jewish Theological
Seminary, Women’s League for Conservative Judaism, and the Federation
of Jewish Men’s Clubs. A central element in the mission of MACCJ is to
promote Jewish education in the greater Atlanta community. MACCJ is co-
chaired by Sue Rothstein of Congregation Etz Chaim, and Cheryl R. Finkel,
Head of The Epstein School.

Perek Yomi Coordinating Council

The Perek Yomi Coordinating Council is co-chaired by Steven Chervin


(Epstein School and AA) and Janet Schatten (Epstein School and AA). Its
members include Rabbi Shalom Plotkin, Steve Birch, Sue Rothstein, Randy
Gorod and Nancy Seifert-Gorod (Etz Chaim); Eileen Cohn and Jennifer Stark-
Blumenthal (Beth Shalom); Jill Jarecki and Rabbi Adam Frank (Ramah
Darom); and Steve Horn (North Fulton Jewish Center).

Introduction

Chapters 1-39 have taken us through a roller coaster of emotion. As heirs of our
ancestors, we cannot escape the sting of Gd's rebuke of Israel as delivered
through the moral prince we know as Isaiah. His are not words of rhetoric, rather,
they are true words of warning, alarm, and discomfort. Gd will not allow the
nations of the world lives of moral decadence. At a time in history when Gd's
participation was not shrouded in mystery - ignorance, or shall we say ignore-
ance, meant dire consequences. The previous chapters raised us to heights with

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prophecy of future glory, and brought us low with the realization that "future"
meant that, for Isaiah's day, the present generation merited retribution, not
salvation.

Inwardly, we are eased that Gd will "teach lessons" to Israel's enemies, but the
ease is fleeting when we come to realize that our Covenant with Gd means our
own sins surpass those of our enemies.

The last few chapters (36-39) leave us reeling with the chaos of instability. Gd
protects us from the Assyrian army, and the evil of its leader Sennacherib, but
Gd's reward to Hezekiah, a King of Judah who seemingly embodies what is good,
is prophecy of familial punishment. We are part of the People Israel who has
survived the first 39 chapters of heralding and heresy. Our minds are dizzy, our
hearts are heavy, and our souls search for stability. The web of Isaiah's words
need anchoring, and, finally, we hear from this prophet of puzzlement, "Nachamu,
Nachamu, Ami", "Comfort, Comfort, my people."

Chapter 40 - The End of Exile

1) Who is it that hears these words of comfort from Isaiah? Is it the same
audience from Chapter 1, when the messages of woe and rebuke are delivered?

2) Keeping in mind those who are committed enough to remain and lend an ear to
Isaiah, why does Isaiah feel the need to recount Gd's greatness and human
insignificance even while delivering comfort?

3) Using the Gd / Israel model, how does a parent maintain the expression of
unconditional love while constructively disciplining a child?

Chapter 41 - Gd calls the Nations to Judgment

1) Verse 2 speaks of Gd's favor being bestowed on "a man from the East." Our
Tradition reads this verse as either prophecy (King Cyrus of Persia who will allow
Israel's exiles to return from Babylonia to Eretz Yisrael), or as history (Avraham
leaving his homeland and his acquisition of Canaan). Perhaps it is a prophecy of
Messianic times. Which reading speaks most impactfully to you? As an Israelite
during the time of Isaiah, would you prefer the prophecy or the history?

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2) Verse 10 offers relief after the storm of previous chapters. Two areas of Gd's
help are described: verses 11-16 and verses 17-20. Are these areas of Gd's help
significantly different? Having experienced the bite of Gd's wrath for our own
transgressions, and the protection of Gd's shield from our enemies - does the
promise of help by Gd as warrior sound comforting, or otherwise?

3) Verses 21-24 are read with a whip of sarcasm toward idolaters. Verse 24
succinctly expresses our Tradition's view of idol worship. Are you in agreement
with our Tradition? If yes, why? If no, why?

Chapter 42 - Gd's Servant will Judge the Nations

1) This chapter begins with Gd's affirmation of a "chosen servant" in whom Gd


has placed Gd's own spirit. Isaiah's prophecy is that this "chosen one" is to pass
judgment on the other nations, and that this one's flame will not dim until justice
on earth is established. Rashi teaches that this servant is Israel. If so, in the
context of history, is this prophecy accurate?

2) There are those who claim that observant Jewish communities are too insular
to be a light unto the nations. Others claim that social action / community service
without a commitment to Jewish observance does not embody uniquely Jewish
values. How do you respond to these 2 positions?

3) In verse 14, we learn through Isaiah that Gd has kept silent against those who
worship other gods, but now Gd "will cry out (against idolaters) like a woman in
labor, panting and sighing." What does the use of the image of a woman during
childbirth tell us about the urgency of the message? What do we learn about
Gd's / Isaiah's opinion of a woman's labor?

3) Verses 22-25 speak of Israel's trepidation to cling easily to Gd. Gd's attempt to
draw Israel close has included warnings of reward and punishment, the promise
of future glory, the curse of present destruction, the candy of Torah and the
protection from enemies. Still, Israel has not listened. Now, having felt the wrath of
Gd's judgment, Israel is afraid to draw close to Gd. How could Gd have dealt with
Israel's insolence and avoided instilling fear and caution in the people? (or, is fear
and caution Gd's goal?).

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Perek Yomi Questions: Isaiah Chapters 40-66

Chapter 43 - The Ingathering of the Exiles

1) The prophecy of Exile is now followed with one of Ingathering. Our daily Tefillah
(in the Amidah) includes the prayer for our return to the Land of Israel. Should the
ingathering of Jews to the modern State of Israel be viewed as the kernels of the
fulfillment of this prophecy?

2) In verse 10, Gd tells us, the People Israel, that we are "witnesses" to the world
on behalf of Gd's unique and lone existence. In parshat Ki Tisa (Exodus
32:11,12), Moses appeals to Gd not to destroy the Children of Israel over their sin
of the molten calf in order that the Egyptians (i.e., the nations of the world) will not
think the Gd of Israel is one of cruelty and destruction. This theme that Israel, and
our very existence, testifies for Gd is a significant part of our Tradition.

How do you think the nations of the world conceive of Gd based on Jewish
testimony? What is the message about Gd that you, personally, exemplify to
those who view your life as a testimonial?

3) In earlier chapters, Gd calls the sacrifices of Israel meaningless, for they are
merely acts without proper intention. In this chapter, verses 22-24, Gd is upset
with those people who have not offered sacrifices! How do you reconcile this
contradiction? (how does this message apply to modern observance, or lack
thereof, of Jewish practice?).

Chapter 44 - Gd will Bless Israel

1) Verse 3 contains part of Gd's blessing to Israel, "As I pour water on the thirsty
land and liquid on the parched earth, so will I pour My spirit on your children and
My blessing on your offspring."

What connotation accompanies the image of parched earth? Is this image


applicable to Isaiah's Israelites? To today's Israelis? Does this metaphor exclude
any part of the People Israel?

2) Verse 5 speaks of 4 types of Jewish "sprouts" - 4 types of recipients of Gd's


blessing. Rashi gives these 4 as the children of evildoers, the righteous, righteous
converts, and the repentant sinners. In verse 5, which type correlates to which

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"sprout?"

3) Verses 6-20 speak of those who create idols. On the one hand, these
craftspeople use the ubiquitous natural resources for practical, physical needs. On
the other hand, they fashion idols of the same materials in order to explain that
which is only explicable as Gd. Can this claim be made about those who use
Science and Mathematics to negate the existence of Gd?

4) Verse 22. Gd says to Israel, "I have wiped away your sins. Return to me for I
have redeemed you." Rashi says, "Return" means to repent. If Gd has wiped
away Israel's sins, what is the meaning of "repent"?

Chapter 45 - Gd Takes Cyrus by the Hand

1) Gd goes so far as to call King Cyrus of Persia, "Meshicho" - "Gd's anointed


one." And, Gd uses Cyrus as the instrument to enable the Israelites to return from
Exile in Babylonia to the Promised Land. Why King Cyrus? Why not a Moses-type
figure? Why does Gd choose to work through the medium of human action to
return the exiles, and not through miracles similar to those performed during the
Exodus? Does this tell us something about the Israelites, or the human
population, of this generation?

2) In verse 14, Isaiah prophesizes that the Egyptians, Kushites, and Sabaites (all
idolaters) will come to know Gd through the works / victories of Cyrus. Without the
prophecy of Isaiah, would anyone know that Gd is responsible for the victories of
Cyrus and for Israel's return? What would lead idolaters to Gd at the hands of a
gentile leader? Today, are there modern day gentiles whose acts lead us to a
greater belief in Adonai?

3) Verse 17 reads, "Israel will be saved by Gd forever, you will never be shamed
or disgraced." Who will never be shamed or disgraced, Gd or Israel? (see the
Hebrew). Is this prophecy accurate?

Chapter 46 - Gd will Save Israel

1) Through Isaiah, Gd tells the House of Jacob that, in contrast to false idols, Gd
will carry and bear the Israelite people. This theme has been repeated for several

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chapters. When is the last time you recall Isaiah telling Israel what we must do in
order to merit Gd's salvation? Why has Israel's piece of the partnership gone
unmentioned for so long?

2) How does one reconcile verse 10 with the concept of Free Will?

3) We know Isaiah as a person of great moral rectitude and integrity. His renown
as a prophet is due to the truth of his words as they unfold through history.
Imagine what public reaction to Isaiah was like as he repeatedly delivered the
message of Gd's anger, Gd's grace, Gd's unity and Gd's chosen people. Given
the events of the time, how would you have reacted to Isaiah?

Here's a thought: 140 years ago, slavery was the reality in America (not just in the
South). There were individuals calling for change throughout the enslavement, but
most Americans dismissed these people as radicals, not visionaries. As recently
as the 1960's, MLK Jr. was pushed to the periphery by many Americans. And 80
years ago women in the U.S. were not allowed to vote.

Are there modern day visionaries that we marginalize? (Example: is it possible


that "radicals" who call for an all-vegetarian diet may be morally correct? Do we
not already know enough about animals, or will we soon have irrefutable evidence
due to greater communication with the animal world, that will make humans 100
years from now say, "what were people thinking?!" Is it possible that the majority
of humanity either disagrees or chooses to ignore the words of visionaries, not
"radicals?" Just a thought.

Chapter 47 - A Lament over Babylon

This chapter has 3 themes, 3 messages for the Babylonians. These themes are
contained separately in verses 1-7, 8-11, and 12-15. How would you
characterize / distinguish the three themes?

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Chapter 48 - Gd Predicts the Future of the Jews

1) This chapter has Isaiah telling Israel the reason for his prophecy. What is that
reason?

2) In verse 3, Isaiah says, "I have foretold past events long ago." Rashi says the
"past events" refer to the Exodus from Egypt. Isaiah lived nearly 700 years after
the Exodus, so how do you think Rashi would explain this reference of former
prophecy?

3) Verse 19 tells of Gd's reward for a life of observance. Has history proven these
words true (at the macro, rather than micro/individual level)? Do the Jews of
today, the survivors of a history of oppression and dispersion, support this
prophecy of reward by Isaiah?

4) Gd says that for those who follow the mitzvot, "your seed will be like sand."
Typically, the "like sand" simile refers to quantity, but seeing how few are our
numbers, how else can "sand" symbolize the remnant Israel?

5) Who are the wicked that verse 22 refers to?

Chapter 49 - Gd's Message to the Nations

1) Isaiah believes that he had a "calling" from Gd toward his work, that his work
was assigned to him while he was still in his mother's womb. This calling answers
the question for Isaiah, "what is the meaning/purpose of life." Most people ask this
same question of themselves. Has there ever been a time when you felt a calling
toward something? How did you respond? Was your response one that you are
comfortable with, if, in fact, it was initiated by Gd? If this calling was not initiated
by Gd, was your response appropriate?

Does verse 4 apply to you?

2) Verse 7 speaks of Israel as being despised and loathed by the nations - an


accurate prophecy. The verse continues to say that kings will rise before Israel.
Has this prophecy been fulfilled? If this prophecy speaks of messianic times, what
will make kings rise before Israel? Is this acknowledgement by heads of other
nations good, bad, or indifferent?
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3) Theodicy, the idea that Gd rewards righteousness and punishes sinful acts,
allows for an understanding of verses 14 & 15. If one does not accept the
theology of theodicy, what could the message of these verses be?

4) From verse 17 onward, we get a description of a Land of Israel overflowing with


populations never before imaginable. How likely is this population to happen in
our day? Should we recognize the growth of the modern State of Israel as historic
or miraculous? Is "miraculous" dangerous terminology? (is a baby's birth
miraculous?).

Chapter 50 - Gd will Redeem Israel

1) The opening 2 verses of this chapter so closely exemplify a relationship of


miscommunication that discussion of them could last days. Do Gd's words reflect
partnership? Do Gd's words reflect Covenant? (are partnership and Covenant
different?)

What emotions/psychologies accompany the 3 tones of voice found in these 2


verses?

Women - in these verses does Gd sound male or female?

Men - in these does Gd sound male or female?

2) What is the meaning/message of verse 4?

3) Which, if any, emotions are aroused in you by verses 4-9?

4) Can "ordinary" humans act on inspirations and convictions as those described


here by Isaiah? Is this the meaning of the axiom, "A life worth living?" How many
of us have seen a movie, heard a song, read a prophecy (or poem or prose), and
been inspired, even momentarily, to conquer the world on behalf of that which is
just? Would you describe that inspiration as tragic, or euphoric? In order for evil to
succeed, good people must remain silent . . .

Chapter 51 - Gd has Comforted Zion

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1) Sarah shares (almost) top billing with Avraham! Why now? Why does Gd/Isaiah
find the inclusion of Sarah necessary, or helpful, at this point in Jewish history?

2) In verse 6, Gd tells us that Earth, the world as we experience it, is finite. Does
this revelation support or hinder the claims of environmentalism?

3) Verses 9-11: who is speaking to whom?

4) Starting in verse 17, Jerusalem is personified. Is she described as a victim or


willing participant of her own tragedy? What could be the contents of this "cup of
poison?"

5) Challenge: what verse hints at a law of kashrut?

Chapter 52- Zion Will be Redeemed

1) Did you notice the shared language of verse 1 and verses found in the hymn
sung during the Kabbalat Shabbat service, Lecha Dodi?

2) The city Jerusalem is not mentioned in the 5 Books of Moses. Only during the
reign of King David does Jerusalem take on significance as host to the Temple.
With the Temple intact, Jerusalem symbolizes Gd's dwelling amongst Israel. Now,
even after the destruction of the First Temple, Isaiah still describes Jerusalem as
the crown of Israel. Her loss is seen as punishment. How do you respond to those
who are willing to divide her for the chance of peace with the Palestinians? How
do you respond to those who refuse to divide her for the chance of peace with the
Palestinians? Do Isaiah's words shed any light on either position for you?

3) Verse 10 uses language that would seem to indicate Gd's vulnerability, Gd's
exposure. Read in this way, what would you say is Gd's vulnerability?

4) When Israel leaves Egypt, Gd instructs the people to take valuables from the
possessions of the Egyptians, and then the Israelites flee hurriedly from Egypt.
This return to Zion is very different. How and why?

Chapter 53 - Gd's Servant

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1) The final 3 verses of chapter 52 refer to Gd's "servant". Our commentators


have many opinions about the identity of this servant (e.g. Isaiah, Moses, the
Messiah, King Hezekiah), with the majority of them identifying the servant as the
People Israel. Christians however interpret this "suffering servant" as Jesus.

2) A traditional Jewish reading of this chapter suggests that the nations of the
world recognize their responsibility for Israel's suffering (either as perpetrators of
Israel's suffering or as sinners for whom Israel's suffering is atonement).

3) Much of mainstream Christian theology is rooted in this chapter, while virtually


none of mainstream Jewish theology is rooted in this chapter. Is this just a
coincidence?

A reminder: Isaiah does not simply describe the events of his generation, rather,
his words are prophecy. In this light, we must read his words in conjunction with
Jewish history, and the Jewish future, to extract the entirety of the Book's
meaning and truth.

Chapter 54 - The Restoration of Israel

1) Verse 3 speaks of the People Israel "dispossessing nations and settling


desolate cities." In the 2700 years since Isaiah lived, when in Jewish history has
this prophecy proven accurate?

2) Forty years after the Exodus from Egypt, the Children of Israel, led by Joshua,
conquer the Land of Israel and dispossess the Philistines, Canaanites, and other
peoples. In the 20th Century, Jews returned to the Land of Israel and reclaimed
the land through purchase and force. Are these 2 periods of Israel's restoration
comparable? Do the same justifications apply to both? Are there similar ethical
implications that apply to the peoples who were dispossessed by Israel's return?

4) Verse 4 says that, "Israel will forget the shame of your youth, and no longer
remember the disgrace of widowhood (loss of independence)." Is forgetfulness of
this kind a Jewish value?

5) In verse 7, Gd admits to forsaking Israel, "..for a moment I hid my face from


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you." Is this an admission of Gd's desire for evil to befall Israel? How might this
relate to Jewish events of the 20th Century?

6) Verse 16: What are the tools of destruction that Gd admits to fashioning? Does
ownership over the creation of these tools equate to responsibility for the evil
which ensues at their hands? (how does this line of reasoning apply to current
gun control debate?)

Chapter 55 - Listen to Gd Who Will Make a Covenant with Israel

1) On public fast days (except Yom Kippur), there is a special Haftarah that is
chanted during the afternoon tefillah service. This Haftarah begins with verse 6 of
Chapter 55. Why do you think the first 5 verses of the chapter are excluded?

2) Verse 6 says, "seek Gd when Gd may be found." The use of the word "when" is
quite remarkable. It does not say "where Gd may be found" nor does it read "how
Gd may be found." Why "when"? When is "when"?

3) What does the message of this chapter, particularly from verse 8 forward, do
for your understanding of Gd?

Chapter 56 - Everyone Who Observes Gd's Word Will Be Saved

1) Significant commentators (including Rashi and Rav Yosef Karo) believe the
opening line of this chapter is directed toward potential converts. Why do they
make this distinction?

2) How do you define, "Happy" as used in verse 2?

3) Why does Gd address the foreigner (non-Jew) and the eunuch? (what is it
about them that would cause Gd to want to speak specifically to them?)

4) Verses 1-8 seem to address those people who are outside the fold of Israel.
Who is addressed in verses 9-12?

5) The Holocaust Memorial in Israel, Yad Vashem, derives its name from verse 5.
The Hebrew reads, "yad vashem" - literally, "hand and name," and the English

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translation reads, "memorial." What is the connection between the literal Hebrew
words and the English meaning?

Chapter 57 - A Lament for the Righteous

1) If verse 1 is correct, how can we live with ourselves?

2) Verses 3-13 are full of sexual imagery. Our tradition reads these verses as
pertaining to the lechery of idol worship. At the Passover Seder, it is common that
we speak of modern forms of idolatry that enslave us (money, greed, materialism,
the media). What are other forms of modern idolatry? Do/should Isaiah's words of
warning about idolatry resonate with us today?

3) Verses 14-21 speak of Gd's forgiveness toward the penitent: "Clear the way,
remove obstacles (to Gd)," Isaiah instructs. Then we are told that the humble are
those in whom the spirit of God dwells. What is the process, the "way" to true
humility? If you were asked to identify those in your life who could learn from this
lesson (take time to think), do you start with yourself? (the answer to this question
should awaken each of us).

Chapter 58 - True Repentance

This chapter comprises the bulk of the Haftarah that is read in shul on Yom Kippur
morning. It is an impassioned plea for ethical behavior. The examples of
goodness and Gdly behavior truly paint a messianic picture. Christianity teaches
that the moral and ethical values of the Bible remain relevant, but that observance
of Jewish law and ritual are no longer a requirement of being in covenant with Gd.
Much of Jewish custom and law can be viewed as a polemic against Christian
teachings. The Rabbinic Tradition is absolute in its dedication and obligation to
the observance of Jewish law.

1) In light of the above, why then did the ancient compilers of our Jewish liturgy
choose this chapter, a chapter that seems to espouse much of Christian ideology,
for the most prominent Haftarah reading of the year?

2) Why select a reading that places such little emphasis on ritual observance, and
so much emphasis on moral prescription?

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Chapter 59 - Israel's Sins have Distanced Her from Gd

1) The first lines of this chapter speak of Gd turning away from Israel. Should Gd's
protection of Israel be unconditional? Is unconditional protection the same as
unconditional love? Should it be? What is the result of a parent's unconditional
protection of a child? (is Gd being responsible or irresponsible by "turning away"
from the recalcitrant child, Israel?

2) Verses 9-15 are written in first person form. What are the possibilities for who is
speaking? (do not be bound by historical times in coming up with possibilities). Of
these possibilities, which is most plausible for you?

3) Beginning with verse 15, why is Gd displeased? (see verse 16). Does Gd have
reason for this same displeasure today?

4) Verse 20 is the opening line to a significant prayer in our daily liturgy. Is the
spoken of 'redeemer' the Messiah? If so, this line insinuates that it is not
necessary for all of Israel to comply with Jewish practice in order to initiate the
Coming, which seems to contradict Tradition. If this 'redeemer' is not the Messiah,
then to whom does the term refer?

Chapter 60 - Jerusalem Will Shine

1) The lines in the 5th stanza of Lecha Dodi correlate to the first line of this
chapter, however, the order of the words is different. Why did the poet/author of
Lecha Dodi change the order of the words? How does the new order change the
nuance of the message?

2) According to Isaiah, what will make the adults of Israel 'glow?' Does it speak to
adults of this generation? What is Gd's role in this phenomenon today?

3) Isaiah's description of Gd's salvation appears to be messianic. Which elements


of the described salvation conflict with Judaism's idea of the Messianic era?
Which elements conflict with your personal definition of a messianic era?

Chapter 61 - Gd Will Comfort the Mourners of Zion

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1) In the opening verse, Isaiah claims, "the spirit of Gd is upon me." What actions
does Isaiah mention that, as an outgrowth of being filled with the spirit of Gd, we,
too, can emulate today?

2) Verse 9: "Everyone who sees them (the Children of Israel) will recognize them,
for they are the seed blessed by Gd." Is this a blessing? Do/should Jews want to
be recognized? In the past, has being recognized as the seed blessed by Gd
dissuaded the 'recognizers' from mistreating the People Israel?

3) Verse 10 & 11 speak of Gd's benevolence toward Israel. In so many previous


chapters, Gd's gifts to Israel include destruction and punishment of gentile
nations. Are both types of Gd's reward to Israel necessary? What are the benefits
of either?

Chapter 62 - The Vindication of Zion

1) Gd's affection and attachment to Jerusalem and the Land of Israel are depicted
in the chapter's opening lines. After reading of our Tradition's understanding of
Gd's relationship to this land, and Gd's relationship to the People, is it logical that
the Jews should feel a responsibility to safeguard and occupy the land?

2) Part of the blessings we say when laying tefillin each morning uses the image
of Gd betrothing Israel. Isaiah, too, speaks of this same image in describing Gd's
relationship with Jerusalem (v. 4 and 5). Why the Gd/Land spousal image rather
than parent/child?

3) Verses 8-12. Isaiah prophesized of a return from Exile. A return did occur, and
the Second Temple was built. The Second Temple stood for 650 years, but it fell
to the Romans in 70 CE. How do these events surrounding the Second Temple fit
with the last 4 verses of this chapter?

Chapters 63 & 64 - The Destruction of Edom

1) The first 6 verses of the chapter are curiously, and amazingly, presented as a
dialogue between Gd and Isaiah. What impact does a presentation of exchange
like this one have on the reader that would be absent if written as soliloquy?

2) Why does Isaiah recount Gd's deeds to Israel? (v. 7-14) To whom does Isaiah
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address?

3) From verse 15 through chapter 64, Isaiah makes a plea to Gd for Divine mercy.
How many different ways does Isaiah attempt to illicit Gd's mercy? (I count more
than 10) (example: v.15 - "Where is Your zeal? Where is Your might?" -
challenging Gd's potency)

Chapter 65 - The People's Sins

1) Verses 1-7. Gd answers Isaiah's rebuke/plea. How many different reasons


does Gd give to justify Gd's actions?

2) In verse 8, Gd makes a beautiful analogy. The juice of the grape is used to


sanctify seasons and times. What does this analogy say about Israel?

3) Verse 10 speaks of "pastures for flocks" and "cattle meadow." Korbanot


(sacrifices) were the form of worship of this period, so describing a land ripe for
animal sustenance communicates that a 'restored' and 'saved' Israel means one
in which worship flourishes. Since the destruction of the Second Temple, tefillah
(prayer) has replaced sacrifices as our form of worship. In trying to discern the
text's message for our day, what is prayer's equivalent of "pastures for flocks" and
"cattle meadow?"

4) In verse 13, Gd speaks of the punishment for idolaters in the World to Come. In
this verse, we learn Gd's definition of severe and painful circumstances: hunger,
thirst, shame. There are many, many people who suffer these circumstances in
our own day, which are not to be viewed as divine punishment. What are our
responsibilities and obligations toward them? (Ethiopia, Sudan, India.)

5) Verse 25 ends chapter 65 with a vision of wonder. The most natural of enemies
will co-exist, and the king of carnivores will no longer choose destruction to satiate
appetite. This image is one of our Tradition's visions of Peace on Earth.
Christianity teaches of heaven above, while Judaism teaches of heaven in the
living world. To be a Jew means to be active - proactive. Where can the individual
contribute to the vision of verse 25?

Chapter 66 - Gd Does Not Desire the Sacrifices of the Wicked

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Perek Yomi Questions: Isaiah Chapters 40-66

1) This final chapter begins with a rebuke of hypocrisy. The sacrifices of the
wicked are more evil than good. Can/should this message extend to Jewish
observance and ritual of today? (I do not believe that it should - can you make my
argument for me?)

2) Verses 7-9. The "she" of verse 7 is Zion/Jerusalem. Who is the "boy" she
delivered? (historic, present, Messianic?) (According to Rashi, these verses speak
about the process of Redemption).

3) Chapter 62 compares Gd's relationship with Zion as spousal. Verse 11 speaks


of a relationship between Land and People as mother/child. Is this image
coincidental? How is the parent/child image more appropriate than the spousal
image to describe Israel's relationship with the Land?

We've come to the very last chapter of a long Book of Isaiah. One would expect
the last words of this text to be some type of summary, to give some bottom line
as to the meaning of the experience of Gd through Isaiah. However, like most of
the other 65 chapters, the reader is left emotionally spent, puzzled and searching
for meaning. The Gd / Israel relationship.go figure.

Hazak, hazak, v’nitzhazek!

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The Book of Jeremiah

Perek Yomi: Jeremiah


Study Questions
Summaries and questions prepared by Rabbi Shalom Lewis of
Congregation Etz Chaim

Edited by Steven Chervin

A Project of MACCJ

the Metro Atlanta Council for Conservative Judaism

http://uscj.org/soeast/atlanta

MACCJ (Metro Atlanta Council for

Conservative Judaism)

MACCJ is the umbrella organization for Conservative synagogues and

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organizations in Atlanta, including The Epstein School - Solomon Schechter


School of Atlanta, Ramah Darom, Ahavath Achim Synagogue, Congregation
Etz Chaim, Congregation Beth Shalom, North Fulton Jewish Center, the
United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, The Jewish Theological
Seminary, Women’s League for Conservative Judaism, and the Federation
of Jewish Men’s Clubs. A central element in the mission of MACCJ is to
promote Jewish education in the greater Atlanta community. MACCJ is co-
chaired by Sue Rothstein of Congregation Etz Chaim, and Cheryl R. Finkel,
Head of The Epstein School.

Perek Yomi Coordinating Council

The Perek Yomi Coordinating Council is co-chaired by Steven Chervin


(Epstein School and AA) and Janet Schatten (Epstein School and AA). Its
members include Rabbi Shalom Plotkin, Steve Birch, Sue Rothstein, Randy
Gorod and Nancy Seifert-Gorod (Etz Chaim); Eileen Cohn and Jennifer Stark-
Blumenthal (Beth Shalom); Jill Jarecki Mainzer and Rabbi Adam Frank
(Ramah Darom); and Steve Horn (North Fulton Jewish Center).

THE BOOK OF JEREMIAH

Background

With its 52 chapters, the Book of Jeremiah is considered by many scholars to be


the remnant of a longer text. The book contains both the words of Jeremiah as
well as narratives about his life. Jeremiah himself is also considered the author of
the Books of Lamentations, and First and Second Kings (BB 15a). Verses from
the Book of Jeremiah are chanted in eight haftarot, and often serve as appropriate
readings during times of sorrow.

Son of Hilkiah the priest, Jeremiah came from the town of Anatoth in the territory
of Benjamin. He was the last major prophet before the Babylonian destruction of
the Temple in 586 BCE. He prophesied during a climate of dark religious and
social conditions for the Jews, from the year 627 to 586 BCE. He career ended
most probably with his death in Egypt.

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Jeremiah witnessed and condemned, uncompromisingly and uncontrollably, the


excesses of the Jewish people: their social cruelty, idolatrous flirtation and empty
sacrificial offerings. His life spanned a period of great turmoil: the kingdoms of
Judea and Israel were caught in the middle of the Egyptian and Assyrian military
conflict, as well as the growing Babylonian empire. Additionally, a barbaric tribe,
the Scythians, posed a threat from the north. Simply stated, Israel and Judea
were the battleground for the conflicting powers and were subjugated by
whomever was in ascendancy. Ultimately, it was Babylonia that emerged as the
preeminent, dominating power.

Known as "the lonely man of faith," Jeremiah lived a tortured life apart from other
Jews. In his eloquence, he alternately expressed both love and bitter denunciation
for his people, and had similar feelings toward God as well. Throughout his life he
resisted his divine appointment, and suffered ridicule and persecution at the
hands of the Jews he wished to help. His "jeremiads" were taken as treasonous
attacks rather than as noble and divine cautions for a people on the precipice.

The Book of Jeremiah is one of the richest accounts of all biblical books in
regards to biographical information about its author. Jeremiah’s life is portrayed in
detail, from his humiliations to his greatest oratory and achievements. His life was
a paradox in the sense that the Jews whom he loved abused him endlessly, while
he found protection at significant moments in his life among the enemy.

We are privy not only to the extensive, external biography, but also to his inner
most emotions, which are revealed to us in pathetic, painful and powerful detail.
His agony and sorrow cannot help but move us to pity this towering yet shattered
prophetic giant. Jeremiah does more than preach – he opens himself up and
shares his deep confusion and anguish as a coerced spokesman for God. He is a
reluctant prophet, unmarried and lonely, friendless and vindictive. He profoundly
resents the day of his birth. Jeremiah was a tragic personality, a lone voice who
performed his duty but in the process, lost his self and untimely his life as well.

Questions to Ponder

❍ Why is Jeremiah seen as a tragic figure?


❍ Why was Jeremiah perceived as a traitor?
❍ How was Jeremiah like Moses

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❍ Why did Jeremiah curse the day of his birth?


❍ Are there any parallels between Jeremiah the prophet and the rabbis
of today?
❍ Jeremiah was judged a hero by history, though not by contemporaries
– why?
❍ Jeremiah attacked what behavior by the Jews?
❍ How did Jeremiah prove his love for the Jewish people and his hope in
the future?
❍ What did Jeremiah think of sacrifices?
❍ How was Jeremiah the re-enforcer of ethical-monotheism?
❍ Who was Baruch and what role did he play?
❍ Is God a source of comfort or distress for Jeremiah?
❍ Were the Jews seen as a source of comfort or distress for Jeremiah?
❍ Was Jeremiah an optimist or a pessimist?

Chapter 1-The Call to Prophecy

This introductory chapter is Jeremiah’s call to become a prophet. God indicated


that this was Jeremiah’s destiny even before his birth. Jeremiah experiences
prophetic visions regarding the Jews’ fate and the text concludes with words of
encouragement.

1. What text is used by the anti-choice community in their


condemnation of abortion? How? (V.5)

1. How do we know Jeremiah was a prophet for all people?


2. Jeremiah’s reluctance to serve reminds us of what other personality?
(V.6-9)
3. What are the two visions Jeremiah has? (V.11-14)
4. What imagery does God use to fortify and encourage Jeremiah on his
mission?

Chapter 2 - Jeremiah’s Challenge to the Jews’ Faithlessness

The theme of this chapter is on the Jews’ foolish embrace of idolatry.

1. What imagery does Jeremiah invoke on the relationship between the

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Jew and God? (V.2)


2. Who specifically does Jeremiah condemn as leading the Jews astray?
(V.8)
3. How does Jeremiah criticize the Jewish apostasy? (V.13)
4. How is God portrayed as a rejected lover?
5. In the final verse, how would you explain "hands upon your head"?

Chapter 3 – Jewish Sinfulness and Apostasy

This chapter continues the theme of Jewish infidelity with adultery as Jeremiah’s
metaphor.

1. What are some of the specific references used to describe the Jews’
wandering?
2. God, as the rejected partner, offers an olive branch and reassurance of
forgiveness by saying what? (V.13-15)

Chapter 4 – The Invader from the North and Jeremiah’s Pain

This chapter introduces us to the threat from the north and is the first of
Jeremiah’s self laments on his inner pain as a prophet.

1. What is the "foreskin of the heart?" (V.4)


2. The text refers graphically to the impending destruction – what
visualization is used? (V. 9-13)
3. Jeremiah describes deep pain – is it physical, mental, or spiritual?
(V.18-19)

Chapter 5 – The Bankruptcy of Moral Heroes.

In this chapter Jeremiah asks the Jews to search Jerusalem for righteous souls.

1. How does this remind us of Abraham? (V.1)


2. Jeremiah’s sorrow is not only for the absence of the righteous but also
for the tolerance of righteousness. How?
3. Why does God encourage the enemy to destroy Jerusalem?
4. What is the fate of the Jews for their depravity? (V.17)

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Chapter 6 – The Assault Continues

1. How are the Jews to prepare for the catastrophe? (V.l, V.6)
2. Who will suffer in this attack? (V.11)
3. What does the word "lightly" mean in this context? Explain this famous
verse -"peace peace when there is no peace." (V.14)
4. How does this verse describe the hopelessness of penance?

Chapter 7 – Sacrifices of the Corrupt Will Not Save Jerusalem.

1. "Temple" is referred to three times by Jeremiah in his exhortation.


What

link is there to the pilgrimage festivals in his message? (V.4)

2. How is the Jewish hypocrisy addressed? (V.9, 10)


3. How does Jeremiah refer to the exodus in chastising the Jews? (V.22-
26)
4. The closing verses are found in the wedding ceremony. What is the
irony here?

Chapter 8 – Condemnation of Complacency

This chapter addresses the oblivious nature of the Jews regarding their sinful
ways. They are led to believe by their leaders that all will be well and that peace
will prevail.

1. What references are made to the naïve nature of the Jews?


2. Can we relate this confidence to Jewry today – i.e. the inability to
grasp "cause and effect" between deeds and results? (V.12)
3. Though angry with the Jews’ actions, Jeremiah nonetheless pities and
loves them. Is there paradox in his behavior? Can it be related to
rabbis of today? (V.21-23)

Chapter 9 – Jeremiah Mourns the Coming Destruction

1. There is "no honor among thieves" is Jeremiah’s opening theme. What

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surprised Jeremiah is the Jewish corruption. (V.3, 4)

2. Maimonides refers to this verse as a "ladder of enlightenment"


toward perfection. How does this text refer to either stages of
growth or categories of a society? (V.22, 23)

I. 3. In the closing verses Jeremiah discusses circumcision. Why?

Chapter 10 – The Foolishness of Idol Worship

1. Why is Judaism so hostile to idolatry?


2. List some of the proofs used by Jeremiah to mock and condemn
idolatry. (V.4,5,14)
3. The final verse is found in the Haggadah. Some suggest that it should
be deleted, though historically this text had its place. Do the
ecumenical values of our age warrant the removal of this verse from
the Haggadah? (V.25)

Chapter 11 – Remember the Covenant

This chapter refers to the covenantal relationship between God and the Jews. The
covenant was to create a centralized religious cult in Jerusalem and borrows text
from Deuteronomy. (V.3, 4,5)

1. What does the concept of a covenant imply? What parties


were involved? Was there a time limit? (V.2-5)

1. What is meant by "a conspiracy? (V.9,10)


2. What saddens Jeremiah intensely despite his love of his people?
(V.19,20)
3. What does Jeremiah promise will happen to his townsfolk? (V.23)

Chapter 12 – God and Jeremiah Debate God’s Way

This chapter discusses the age-old theological frustration of righteous suffering.


Jeremiah challenges God and reveals both his pain and anger.

1. How do we explain why the wicked prosper? Do they receive their "just

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desserts" in the "world to come"? How can we relate these ideas to the
Holocaust? (V.1)
2. God uses this powerful verse in His dialogue with Jeremiah in what
manner? How can we understand and apply it to our lives? (V.5)
3. What hope is offered in the two closing verses?

Chapter 13 – A Sermon on a Girdle and a Wine Bottle

Prophets used familiar motifs and items in preaching and teaching. In this chapter
Jeremiah refers to the Jewish fate as a rotted girdle and a useless wine jug.

1. How does Jeremiah use the girdle in this message? The wine bottle?
(V.1 to 14)
2. How is the exile described in this verse? (V.16) Does darkness invoke
fear?
3. How does Jeremiah describe the habituated evil of the Jews? (v.23)

Chapter 14 – Drought as a Punishment

In this chapter God instructs Jeremiah not to pray for rain. He reminds Jeremiah
that the Jews are sinners and their prayers will not be answered.

1. Why is a drought so devastating economically, socially and


theologically?
2. What did God tell Jeremiah His response would be, if the people were
to fast and bring burnt offerings? (V.12)
3. Why do you think Jeremiah prayed for the Jews anyway? (V.19-21)
4. What does this tell us about Jeremiah and his relationship to God? To
the Jews?

Chapter 15 – Do Not Pray for the Jews

This chapter continues God’s admonition to Jeremiah not to intercede on behalf of


the Jews.

1. Why did God mention Moses and Samuel?


2. Why do you think Jeremiah continued to preach despite his suffering

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and pain? (V.15-18)


3. How does God respond to Jeremiah’s misery? Is this a sensitive
response? (V.19)

Chapter 16 – Jeremiah is Commanded to Practice Self Denial

1. Was Jeremiah’s required celibacy good or bad? (V.1,2)


2. How would a family have impacted on Jeremiah and his mission?
Contrast with Moses.
3. The closing verse is difficult to understand. Some feel it means that all
nations will know God’s might. Others interpret the text as meaning
that in the future the gentiles will also recognize the foolishness of
idolatry. What is your interpretation?

Chapter 17 – Idolatry, Trust in God, Shabbat

Scholars consider this chapter a mix of unconnected poetry and prose.

1. Why are an iron pen and a diamond point used in this imagery? (V.1)
2. Why is Shabbat brought in, in the closing verse? Is there a messianic
message?

Chapter 18 – God as a Potter at a Wheel

The Jews are to God like clay in a potter’s hands. Only if they repent of their evil,
will He change His mind about punishing them.

1. This text rings familiar – from where do we recognize it? (V.6)


2. The assault on Jeremiah continues from where and why? (V.18)

Chapter 19 – Jeremiah Attacks Child Sacrifices

1. Gehenom is considered to be "hell" in Jewish belief. Why? What is the


source? (V.2,5,6)
2. What sense does the term "hissing" evoke? (V.8)
3. Cannibalism as a fate is horrendous on a variety of levels. Why is it
invoked here and why is it so repugnant? (V.9)

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Chapter 20 – Jeremiah is Arrested and Put in Stocks

Pashur, the overseer and chief priest of the Temple hears of Jeremiah’s
preaching, hits him and has him put in stocks. Jeremiah concludes without a
pathetic self-appraisal of his life.

1. Why did Pashur hit and arrest Jeremiah? (V.2)


2. What did Jeremiah say when freed from the stocks? (V.5,6)
3. The word "enticed" is understood as "raped" by many commentaries.
Why is "rape" non-reflective of Jeremiah’s predicament? (V.7)
4. If Jeremiah was so distressed with his mission why didn’t he simply
stop? (V.9)
5. The five closing verses sum up the utter sorrow Jeremiah experienced,
including regretting his birth. If one’s life were full of misery, wouldn’t it
be better not to have been born at all?

Chapter 21 – The Beginning of the Siege in Jerusalem

This chapter begins the siege of Jerusalem in 588 BCE and marks the end of King
Jehoiakim’s reign and the start of Zedekiah’s. The King asks Jeremiah to plead for
the city of Jerusalem but Jeremiah says that it is too late.

1. What did the king ask Jeremiah to do? (V.1)


2. What was the response? (V.2-7)
3. Recalling the early imagery of Judah and God as lovers what does this
chapter evoke using that image?

Chapter 22 – Jeremiah Addresses the Four Kings of Judah

1. What does Jeremiah urge the King to do to avert disaster? (V.3,4)


2. Rashi teaches that Jerusalem is referred to as Gilead – a healing
balm. But another commentary teaches that Gilead, which had been
destroyed, was a preview of Jerusalem’s fate. Which view do you feel
is appropriate? (V.6)
3. The "burial of an ass" was a term used to refer to the burial of
apostles. What image is evoked in contrast without a proper Jewish
burial? (V.19)

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4. What messianic implications are in this verse? What hope was


crushed by this statement? (V.30)

Chapter 23 – Hope Restored and Condemnation of False Prophets

This chapter offers us hope that someday a righteous king will lead the Jewish
people. The balance of the text is an attack on the false prophets and the warning
that heeding their words will lead to disaster.

1. Who does God blame for the exile? (V.1,2)


2. This verse refers to a messianic age that will come from David’s
lineage. What messianic views exist today? Is belief in a personal
Messiah realistic? If a third Temple were rebuilt would it be a source of
harmony or tension? (V.5)
3. Why were false prophets such a danger to the Jewish People? Are
there false prophets today who confuse and endanger our people?
(V.11,13,14,15)
4. Parochial gods were the pattern for many in antiquity (see the Jonah
story for example) yet here God affirms His omnipresence and
omnipotence. Why was this such a revolutionary idea? (V.23,24)
5. What is meant by the "burden of the Lord"? Why shouldn’t these words
be used? (V.36-39)

Chapter 24 – The Sermon on the Righteousness of Being in Exile.

The Jews who were left behind in the Land of Israel felt that they were the
righteous ones, because they were not living in exile. However Jeremiah
preaches that only those enduring the exile would return.

1. What is the message of the two baskets of figs? What do the baskets
represent? (V.1-10)

Chapter 25 – A Turning Point

Chronologically this chapter comes before the last four chapters and was written
in the year 604 BCE. It is clear that Jeremiah realized that this was
Nebuchadrezzars first year as King of Babylonia and that soon Babylonia would

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set its sights on Judea.

1. God warns the Jews that He, God, will send Nebuchadrezzar to
destroy them. What reason do the Biblical writers rely upon to see our
enemies as tools of God? Is there a disturbing side to this? (V.9)
2. Why is the text able to be specific in saying seventy years? (V.11)
3. "Take this cup of wine…" is a prophetic vision rather than a literal text.
Where else do we come across an image of "a cup"? (V.15,16,17)
4. What is Sheshach and why is the word written cryptically? (V.26)

Chapter 26 – Jeremiah’s Biography and History

Thus far the text has been a collection of Jeremiah’s words. This section
introduces us to biographical and historical material. Some sermons and poetry
find their way into the text but a new style now emerges. Much of the text is in the
third person, perhaps, related by Baruch, Jeremiah’s secretary and companion.
This chapter tells of Jeremiah’s arrest by the priests for foretelling the destruction
of the Temple. He stands trial and defends himself by saying that he only said
what God had instructed him.

1. What specifically had Jeremiah said that incurred the anger of the
priests? (V.8)
2. Who comes to the aid of Jeremiah when he is threatened with death?
(V. 11-15)

Chapter 27 – Do Not Resist the Armies of Nebuchadrezzar

The unified theme in this chapter, despite some chronological inconsistencies, is


that the Jews were to submit to Nebuchadrezzar’s forces. In a sense, defeat
meant spiritual cleansing.

1. Why was Nebuchadrezzar’s power theologized by God? (V.6)


2. Who does Jeremiah warn the Jews not to listen to and why? (V.9-11)
3. Salvation would come only through what act? (V.22)

Chapter 28 – Jeremiah versus Hananiah: A Prophet Debate

This chapter pits Jeremiah against the false prophet Hananiah. What did
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Hananiah predict? (V. 1,2)

1. How did Jeremiah respond? (V. 5-9)


2. What imagery did Hananiah and Jeremiah use in their prophecies?
(V.13,14)

Chapter 29 – Jeremiah’s Letter of Hope to the Exiled

In this letter of encouragement to the exiled Jews, Jeremiah urges them to build
homes and be patient. Though there would be no quick return to Judea, their exile
would not be oppressive. A prophet in Babylonia resents Jeremiah’s words and
asks the authorities to silence him.

1. What does Jeremiah tell the exiled Jews to do? (V. 5,6,7)
2. Scholars see the rise of the synagogue as a result of the Babylonian
experience. The need for sites of prayer and socialization evolves into
the synagogue which was brought back to Judea when the exile
ended. How has the institution of the synagogue saved and preserved
the Jews throughout our history? (V.7)
3. Name the two false prophets who attacked Jeremiah (V.22)

Chapter 30 & 31 – Words of Consolation

Since the style of these chapters is more similar to second Isaiah and since the
theme of consolation is rarely found in the Book of Jeremiah, scholars question
whether this section was an original part of the book. These two chapters are
directed at the Ten Tribes whose exile preceded that of Judea.

1. Why would these words be written in a book rather than orally


delivered? The prevailing view was save the consolation for later, now
is the time for punishment. (V. 2,3)
2. A quote reads "Historians are Skeptical about Judaism but History is
Not." How does that fit with the text? (V.12-17)
3. Who was Ephraim and in what way is he mentioned here? Who does
he represent? (V.6)
4. How does the prophet describe the return from exile? (V.8)
5. What does Jeremiah say will help the Jews in their return? (V.21)

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6. What role reversal is involved to show renewed Jewish unity with God?

(V.22)

7. In the final verses what is described in detail? (V. 38,39)

Chapter 32 – Jeremiah’s Faith and Real Estate

1. What did Jeremiah do to show his faith in a Jewish return to Judea?


(V.6-15)
2. Can this be related to Israel Bonds today?
3. What did God say to encourage Jeremiah? (V.26-44)

Chapter 33 – The Consolation Continues

This message comes while Jeremiah is imprisoned.

1. What is the "it" that God established? (V.2)


2. The rabbis asked what the episode of the Golden Calf was to teach –
They answered that it shows that there is divine forgiveness even
when one is ensnared in the depths of sin. How does this idea relate to
our text? (V.8,9)
3. Did messianism emerge from despair? (V. 14,15)
4. What two siblings are referred to here? (v.24)

Chapter 34 – Moral Backsliding and Jerusalem’s Fate

This chapter continues the historical narrative and condemns the Jews for re-
enslaving their once-freed slaves.

1. What promise was made to Zedekiah? (V. 4,5)

1. Why did the Jews re-enslave their slaves?

Chapter 35 – The Rechabites and Their Example

The nonchronological narrative continues in this chapter with Jeremiah’s message


focusing on the Rechabites. Their tribal origin is obscure; some feel they are

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descendants of Judah, others feel they come from the family of Jethro. Their
teetotaling is used by Jeremiah to show fidelity to tradition and proper behavior.

1. Why were the Rechabites invited into the Temple and offered a drink?
(V. 2,6,7,10,14)
2. Can Jews learn morality and ethical behavior from non-Jews? Can
Jews have

non-Jewish heroes and role models?

Chapter 36 – Baruch Reads Jeremiah’s Sermons in the Temple

Jeremiah dictates his text to Baruch, his scribe, who reads it at the Temple. It is
subsequently burned but then re-written.

1. Why did Jeremiah ask Baruch to read the text? (V.60


2. How did the princes respond to Baruch’s words? (V.25)
3. How did the King respond to Baruch’s words? (V.23)
4. How does Jeremiah show defiance? (V.28-32)

Chapter 37 – Jeremiah is Accused of Treason

Zedekiah asks Jeremiah to pray for the Jewish people but he is told that it is too
late. In a brief lifting of the Babylonian siege Jeremiah leaves Jerusalem and is
accused of desertion to the enemy. He is thrown in jail, once again, but is soon
released and protected by the palace guards.

1. Why did the Babylonians lift their siege? (V.5)


2. Where did Jeremiah try to go after the siege was lifted? (V.12)
3. Where was Jeremiah’s help? (V.15)
4. What did Jeremiah eat? (V. 21)
5. Why was Zedekiah inclined to help and protect Jeremiah?

Chapter 38 – The Final Days of Jerusalem

Jeremiah is thrown into a muddy pit and almost dies. Jerusalem is about to fall to
the Babylonians.

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1. Why do the princes throw Jeremiah into a pit? What is he saying that
scares them? (V.2-6)
2. Who took Jeremiah out of the pit? (V. 11)
3. Why was Jeremiah afraid to tell Zedekiah the truth? (V.15)
4. What did Jeremiah tell the King? (V. 17-21)

Chapter 39 – The Fall of Jerusalem

1. What was done to Zedekiah and his family when Jerusalem fell? (V. 6-
9)
2. Who did the Babylonians leave behind? (V.10)
3. Nebuchadezzar puts Jeremiah in protective custody. Why would he
protect a Jewish prophet?

Chapter 40 – After the Fall of Jerusalem

Gedaliah is appointed by the Babylonian king as ruler of the city, but is murdered
shortly thereafter.

1. How do you explain Nebuchadrezzar’s protection of Jeremiah, even


though Jeremiah is bound in chains? (V.1)
2. Jeremiah chose to remain in Judea rather than join the exiled. Do you
agree with his choice? Would you choose to go into exile or remain in
a vanquished land?

Chapter 41 – More After the Fall

1. Gedaliah is assassinated by Ishmael ben Nathaniah. When, where and


how?
2. What is odd about this verse, i.e. men dressed in mourning clothes
bringing sacrifices to the Temple? (v. 5)
3. Who finally catches up to Ishmael and exacts punishment for his
violence? (v. 11-18)

Chapters 42 and 43 – Events after Gedaliah’s Death

The remaining Jews migrate to Egypt against God’s wishes and take Jeremiah

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and Baruch along.

1. Why did the Jews flee to Egypt?


2. What would their fate be?

Chapter 44 – The Last Words of Jeremiah

In Egypt, Jeremiah continues to criticize the people for their idolatry, telling them
they have learned nothing from their experiences.

1. What did the people argue about and defend? (v. 15-19)
2. Why did Jeremiah specifically address the women? (v. 24)
3. Who was Hophra and what was Hophra an anagram for? (v.30)

Chapter 45 – Jeremiah’s Advice to Baruch

1. Why was Baruch upset? Might he have been jealous of the


relationship Moses and Joshua, knowing that he would not follow in
Jeremiah’s footsteps?
2. What solace did Jeremiah give him?
3. Should Baruch have been rewarded for his loyalty to Jeremiah?

Chapter 46 – Oracle Against Egypt

This chapter begins a series of nine oracles against a variety of nations. This text
is primarily dialogue with assorted speakers. The chapter ends with God’s
reassurance that the remaining Jews in Egypt will survive. The first oracle mocks
Egypt for its defeat at Carchemish and the second oracle describes the imminent
invasion of Egypt by Nebuchadnezzar.

1. What is Egypt likened to? (v.8) why?


2. Who is mocked as being a "paper tiger"? (v. 17)
3. Who is the "it" and who are the people of the North? (v. 23-24)

Chapter 47 – Oracle Against the Philistines

1. What imagery is used to describe the enemy? (v. 2)


2. Parents will be unconcerned about their children because of what?

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(v.3)
3. What expressions of pagan grief are mentioned in this verse? (v.5)
4. In direct reaction to such pagan practices what did Judaism prohibit?

Chapter 48 – Oracle Against Moab

1. Why is Moab likened to a tomarisk? (v.6)


2. Explain "shouting will be no shouting." (v.33)
3. What will be the result of fear? (v.44)

Chapter 49 – Prophecies of Doom Against Five Nations

1. Who are the five nations?


2. Who are the daughters? (v.2)
3. What nation is descended from Esau? (v.10)
4. To what is the nation of Edom compared? (v.16)
5. What geographically does not make sense in this text? (v. 23) How
would you resolve discrepancy?
6. Kedar and Hazor were what kind of tribes?
7. Elam was a great distance from Israel, so why was she included in this
prophecy?

Chapters 50 and 51 – Judgement Against Babylonia

These two chapters serve as a lengthy unit. Their combined text is longer than the
other oracles of doom because Babylonia was the most immediate conqueror of
the Jews and consequently generated more hostility.

1. Why will many nations rejoice at Babylonia’s fall? (v.2)


2. What is the "habitation" of justice? Is it God or the Temple? (v.7)
3. Babylonia was not destroyed because she destroyed Jerusalem – that
was God’s will. Why then was she crushed? (v.11)
4. Why would agriculture in Babylonia end? (v. 16)
5. Babylonia is referred to as the what "of the earth?" (v. 23)
6. In the opening verse Leb Kamai is a cipher for the Chaldeans. Why
this oblique reference? (v.1)
7. So desolate will Babylonia be that her backs will be useless for what?

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(v. 26)
8. The invading army is referred to as what? (v. 42)
9. To symbolize Babylonia’s ultimate collapse what did Jeremiah tell
Seraiah to do when he arrived in Babylonia? (v. 39-64)

Chapter 52 – The Fall of Jerusalem

The Book of Jeremiah technically ends with the final words of Chapter 51.
Chapter 52 serves as an appendix and describes Jerusalem’s fall relying on
material from II Kings.

1. What was Zedekiah’s fate after the collapse of Jerusalem? (v. 10-11)
2. What specifically was taken to Babylonia from the Temple? (v.17-23)
3. How many Jews did Nebuchadrezzar take captive? (v.28-31)
4. What happened to Jehoiachid, King of Judah? (v. 31-34)

Hazak, Hazak, V’nithazek!

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Perek Yomi: Ezekiel


Chapters 1-24
Study Questions
Summaries and questions prepared by Jennifer Stark-Blumenthal, of
Congregation Beth Shalom

Edited by Steven Chervin

A Project of MACCJ

the Metro Atlanta Council for Conservative Judaism

http://uscj.org/soeast/atlanta

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MACCJ (Metro Atlanta Council for

Conservative Judaism)

MACCJ is the umbrella organization for Conservative synagogues and organizations


in Atlanta, including The Epstein School - Solomon Schechter School of Atlanta,
Ramah Darom, Ahavath Achim Synagogue, Congregation Etz Chaim, Congregation
Beth Shalom, North Fulton Jewish Center, the United Synagogue of Conservative
Judaism, The Jewish Theological Seminary, Women’s League for Conservative
Judaism, and the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs. A central element in the mission
of MACCJ is to promote Jewish education in the greater Atlanta community.
MACCJ is co-chaired by Sue Rothstein of Congregation Etz Chaim, and Cheryl R.
Finkel, Head of The Epstein School.

Perek Yomi Coordinating Council

The Perek Yomi Coordinating Council is co-chaired by Steven Chervin (Epstein


School and AA) and Janet Schatten (Epstein School and AA). Its members include
Rabbi Shalom Plotkin, Steve Birch, Sue Rothstein, Randy Gorod and Nancy Seifert-
Gorod (Etz Chaim); Eileen Cohn and Jennifer Stark-Blumenthal (Beth Shalom); Jill
Jarecki Mainzer and Rabbi Adam Frank (Ramah Darom); and Steve Horn (North
Fulton Jewish Center).

THE BOOK OF EZEKIEL

Background

Ezekiel is the last of the three great "literary prophets," following Isaiah and Jeremiah. As
a young man he served as a priest or kohen in the Temple. In 598 BCE when the
Babylonians first occupied Jerusalem he was exiled to Babylon, becoming the first
prophet to live outside the land. From there, he prophesied that Jerusalem would be
destroyed, as it was in 587 BCE. He lived in Babylonia for 22 years, during which time he
predicted that the Jews would return to their homeland. Exile must have been particularly

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difficult for him as a priest, because of his concerns over ritual purity.

The Book of Ezekiel is most notable for its remarkable visions of G-d and Israel’s future,
and its use of sexual imagery (see chapters 16 and 23). In the book’s most famous vision
(37:1-14), G-d sets Ezekiel down in a valley filled with "dry bones" representing the
seemingly "dead" House of Israel. G-d asks, "O mortal, can these bones live again?" to
which Ezekiel replies, "Only You know." That the bones return to life is a powerful
message of the indestructibility of the Jewish people.

Chapter 1: Ezekiel’s First Vision

Ezekiel begins his book with a bang, getting our attention quickly with his vision of G-d’s
Glory upon a chariot. The question for Ezekiel is whether or not he was able to get his
primary audience’s attention.

1. In verses 1-3, Ezekiel establishes his context. He is among

those already exiled from the land, from Judah. Even before

Nebuchadnezer, king of Babylonia, takes Jerusalem and

burns down the Temple, Babylonia retains a political hold over

the city. Indeed, King Jehoyakhin is exiled years before the

destruction of Jerusalem along with many others. It is

interesting to note that throughout the book, Ezekiel puts

himself within the historical context.

Why does he feel the necessity to place himself in an historical context?

2.a.What is your reaction to Ezekiel’s vision?

b. How does it influence your first impression of this prophet?

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c. What is Ezekiel trying to accomplish by placing this vision of

G-d within the first chapter of his work?

3. Surely Ezekiel’s vision is unique! One who has lived through

the era of the Sixties, and the drug culture, might wonder what drug Ezekiel was taking to
elicit such a spiritual experience! And yet, we are forced to ask ourselves whether one can
achieve such an experience without drugs.

Is one able to attain such intimacy with and knowledge of G-d, and to recognize the
experience as such, without being "crazy" or using mind altering drugs? If so, how?

4. Verses 1 – 28, Ezekiel’s vision of the Divine, form part of the

haftarah for Shavuot. During this holiday we celebrate G-d’s giving Moses and the
Israelites the Ten Commandments. Why do you think the Rabbis chose to read this
specific section during Shavuot?

Chapter 2: G-d Speaks to Ezekiel

1. G-d refers to Ezekiel as "Mortal," literally, ben adam, or son of man. Ezekiel is the only
prophet with whom G-d uses this term. a. What message does G-d convey to Ezekiel by
using this term?

b. Why do you think Ezekiel is singled out in this way?

1. Ezekiel’s mission is to be a prophet to this rebellious people.

Despite the glorious encounter we just read of in chapter one, G-d couches Ezekiel’s
mission in a somewhat dispassionate tone. Indeed, two times within seven verses G-d tells
him to prophesize "whether they listen or not," (2:5; 2:7).

a. Why do you think G-d sends Ezekiel if G-d acknowledges that the people probably
won’t listen to his message?

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This tone runs throughout the material. We later see it in chapter three (verses 7 and 11).

b. What is G-d’s message?

c. Does G-d care anymore whether the people listen?

d. Is G-d resigned to them not listening? If so, why even try to speak to them anymore?

Chapter 3: Ezekiel Eats the Scroll; G-d Outlines This Prophet’s Responsibilities to
the People

1. Ezekiel readily presents himself as a different kind of prophet. He is more eccentric


than Jeremiah in the visions he declares and the symbolic actions he takes. Indeed, a
vision does not even precede Jeremiah’s first call from G-d, while Ezekiel has an elaborate
vision of the chariot and G-d’s Glory. Both prophets share the concept of being fed words
by G-d. However, again, Ezekiel’s encounter is much more dramatic than Jeremiah’s. In
Jeremiah 1:9, "G-d stretched out His Hand and touched my mouth. Then He said to me, ‘I
have put My word in your mouth.’" But with Ezekiel the language is much more graphic:

He said to me, Mortal, "…eat this scroll and go, speak to the Israelites." So I
opened my mouth and He fed me the scroll. Then He said to me, "Mortal,
feed your belly and fill your intestines with this scroll, which I give you," (3:1-
3).

a. Why do you think Ezekiel works in such a dramatic way?

b. Do you think that this method would work for or against him?

c. Does this method work today?

2. In verse 14, Ezekiel speaks of being carried up. He "went

bitterly, with an angry spirit…’

a. Why would he feel anger after having just encountered the Glory of G-d?

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b. What is the source of his anger?

3. After arriving at Tel Aviv (not the modern city, but a Babylonian name), Ezekiel sits
among the exiles in silence for seven days. Later in this chapter G-d silences Ezekiel,
binding him with ropes and making him unable to speak.

What is G-d’s purpose for these silences?

4. G-d has put a tremendous amount of responsibility onto Ezekiel. Indeed, if Ezekiel is
told by G-d that a wicked man will die, and he (Ezekiel) does not warn that man, then not
only will the wicked man die, but G-d will "demand his blood from… Ezekiel" (3:18).
Alternately, if Ezekiel does warn the wicked man, despite the man’s lack of repentance
and his ensuing death, Ezekiel’s own soul will be saved.

a. What is at stake here: the saving of the people’s soul or the saving of Ezekiel’s soul?

b. What does it mean to have a worthy soul?

c. To what extent is the individual dependent on the community and vice versa for
salvation?

Chapter 4: The Portrayal of the Siege of Jerusalem

1. G-d tells Ezekiel not only to carve a scene of Jerusalem on a

brick, but also to carve out a siege on the city.

a. Why would a display of the siege by necessary?

b. What will it accomplish that Ezekiel’s words will not?

2. We encounter Ezekiel being commanded to carry out actions, which will symbolize the
people’s suffering under the city’s siege. His bread and water are to be measured out
denoting a lack of life sustaining supplies. What is G-d’s intention here: Is this a
preview of what is coming or is this a depiction of a horrible scene that the people

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can avoid by turning back to G-d?

3. G-d tells Ezekiel that part of his job description as prophet is to suffer for the sins of
Israel. What kind of a job is this? Not only does he have to face this rebellious people with
G-d’s words, but he has to suffer for them as well.

a. What will his suffering accomplish? Will it atone for Israel’s sins, as many rabbinic
texts would suggest, (Sanhedrin 39b, Moed Katan 28a, Isaiah 53:4-6)?

b. If so, what happens to Israel after such atonement? If they are still to be destroyed
despite their atonement, what is the purpose in Ezekiel’s suffering?

c. How does this passage compare to the view of Christian theology, that Jesus died for the
people’s sins?

4. Ezekiel has not questioned any of G-d’s requests until 4:12, when he is told to bake a
mixture of grains into bread over a fire fed by human dung. By insisting that he has been
ever most vigilant in maintaining bodily "cleanliness,’ he beseeches G-d to find another
way. He must endure 390 days of lying on his left side in order to bear the iniquity of
Israel’s sins, and then another 40 for the "iniquity of the house of Judah". But this act is
beyond him. G-d’s response is one of compromise, changing the type of dung used.

a. What do we learn about G-d in this dialogue?

b. What do we learn about Ezekiel from his reaction here?

c. What do we learn about the relationship between G-d and prophet?

d. What do we learn about the relationship between G-d and ourselves?

Chapter 5: The cutting of Ezekiel’s Hair; Jerusalem Will Be Punished for Her Sins

1. G-d directs Ezekiel to cut his hair in a rather bizarre and

dangerous way. Again Ezekiel’s body is used to demonstrate the future to this
rebellious nation. What might Ezekiel’s hair represent?
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2. What does each directive given regarding his hair represent

vis-a-vis the Israelite nation?

3. Destroying the corners of one’s beard is prohibited by the Torah

(Lev.19:27). How can we reconcile this law with G-d’s order to pass a sharp sword
over his head and beard?

4. Why do you think G-d tells Ezekiel to take a few hairs and to tie them up in the
corner of his garment?
5. God wants to unleash G-d’s fury over this people’s

rebellious behavior. G-d wants to destroy Jerusalem by unthinkable means… all in the
sight of the other nations.

Why? What is to be gained by the other nations witnessing the battering of the Israelites?

Chapter 6: Idol Worship

1. Ezekiel tells not only of the impending destruction and defilement of the altars of the
idol worshipers, but also of the destruction of those Israelites themselves who worship
idols.

What message is G-d sending in this specific future destruction?

1. Ezekiel speaks of a remnant of refugees, which will be

scattered among the nations. It specifically states that among

this remnant will be those who had turned away from G-d in

the past (verse 9).

a. Are you surprised by this verse?


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b. What does G-d want to achieve by allowing this remnant to survive, (verse 10)?

Chapter 7: The Judgement of Israel is Near

1. Listen to the sounds of the words, as they form sentences.

a. Is the rhythm slow or fast?

b. What message does this rhythm convey to the listener?

2. What are some of the specific crimes which the Israelites have committed? Look to
the following verses:

a. verse 11

b. verse 19

c. verse 20

d. verse 24

3. What can one do to escape G-d’s wrath?

4. G-d wants to be known, recognized, respected and followed as the Law Giver. G-d
appears devastated that the great majority of people have rejected G-d’s laws, and
therefore G-d. The future looks bleak, filled with doom, as G-d speaks of acting out G-d’s
anger in a wild display of inflicted pain and suffering.

a. What do you think would be the end result of such a violent reaction from G-d?

b. Are there moments in parenting, in leading, when it is acceptable and even necessary to
punish with such an extreme use of violence?

c. What, if any, should be the acceptable level of violence used in punishments?

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d. What did the use of violence teach the Israelites?

e. What does the use of violence teach our children?

f. What is the result of the violence to which our children are exposed (from TV, video
games, friends, movies, music, etc.)?

Chapter 8: The Depth to Which Idolatry has Infested G-d’s Temple

1. Ezekiel uses many anthropomorphic terms to describe G-d,

(8:1,2).

a. What is the literary effect of this method of description?

b. How do you respond to this method?

c. Does the use of anthropomorphisms conflict with your own understanding of G-d, and if
so, how do you reconcile it?

2. In Ezekiel’s vision, the religious leaders are worshipping idols within the Temple. They
do so believing that "G-d does not see us. G-d has abandoned the land," (8:12).

a. What do our leaders try to get away with because they don’t think that we are watching?

b. Have we in the United States abandoned the electoral process, thereby making it appear
as if we don’t care what our leaders do?

c. How can we revive an interest in our leadership?

Have we been too lax regarding our leaders’ misconduct?

3. In verse 12 we get a look at some of G-d’s expectations for the

leadership. Believing that G-d has abandoned them, they feel justified in their use of idols.

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And yet, despite all of G-d’s anger with this people, G-d usually speaks of retaining a
remnant… a remnant that will find its way back to G-d.

a. Do you think that G-d will ever leave this people?

b. Based on this verse, what is one thing that G-d wants from the leadership?

1. What are the two main abominations concerning G-d in this

chapter?

a. verse 1

b. verse 10

Chapter 9: Vision of G-d Commanding the Destruction of Jerusalem while Marking


Off a Remnant

Ezekiel’s vision continues from that of Israelite idol worshiping to G-d’s commanding the
defilement of the Temple and the killing of the people.

1. What happened to the concept of repentance (teshuva) of which we’ve read so


much? The belief that one is able to overcome sin is a fundamental tenet in Judaism.
Isn’t that what we pray for on Yom Kippur?

a. Is there a point at which a person becomes so wicked that he/she cannot be


rehabilitated and therefore deserves his/her own destruction?

b. What does this passage imply regarding the death penalty? How do you react to
this implication?

2. According to verse 4, G-d is still willing to permit a remnant of the people to


survive. In Hebrew, the singular person belonging to this remnant is referred to as
ish, man.

a. What is the significance of this blatant exclusion of women

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from this remnant? (As a note of reference, Ezekiel uses female imagery harshly,
against the nation, specifically in chapter 16.)

b. Does Ezekiel recognize that there are women who deserve to

be a part of this remnant? Can you find a "proof text" to support your argument?

1. The criterion for being a part of this remnant requires that one "moan and groan
over all the abominations," (verse 4).

What does it mean to "moan and groan over all the abominations"?

2. Ezekiel’s response to G-d’s directive to kill almost everyone is

quite powerful.

How do you explain the spirit of his response to G-d’s command?

3. In verse 9, G-d responds to Ezekiel’s challenge, retorting that

the Israelites deserve this great punishment. For G-d, in this verse, their great mistake was
to believe that "G-d has abandoned the land, G-d does not see."

a. From G-d’s perspective, fundamentally, what has happened to

this group?

b. Do we, today, believe that G-d is with us?


c. Do we, today, believe that G-d sees us… you and me?
d. Do we, today, believe in G-d?

Chapter 10: G-d Departs From the Temple

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1. In verse 7, a cherub puts the fire in the hand of the chosen

leader in this destruction.

a. Why wouldn’t the leader take the fire himself?

b. Can this be understood as a form of reluctance to serve G-d’s

will of destruction?

a. How bold can one be in disobeying orders of destruction?


b. How bold can one be in disobeying authority in general?

1. In verse 4, G-d’s Glory enters the Temple.

a. Why would G-d even go into the courtyard, if what went on in

there angered G-d to such an extent?

b. Why would G-d enter the Temple right before giving the order

to set it on fire?

Chapter 11: Jerusalem’s Wicked Leaders Will Be Judged; G-d Will Restore Israel

Ezekiel’s vision takes him to Jerusalem’s leadership, which is gathered at the main
gateway to the city. There they react to the reality of the many Israelites already exiled to
Babylonia.

1. The leaders view Jerusalem as a pot and they are the meat

inside it, (verse 3). In other words, the walls of Jerusalem will protect those who are
within the city, just as a pot protects the meat. G-d reacts to this understanding two times,
in verses 7, and 11. What is G-d’s response?

2. Ezekiel cries out to G-d for a third time when Pelatyahu dies, (verse 13).

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a. Why is Ezekiel shocked by this man’s death?

b. What does Ezekiel seem to fear most about G-d’s desire to destroy Jerusalem?

3. There is a sense from verses 3 and 15 that the leadership was willing to profit from the
exiles’ situation:

…These are the men who plan sin and plot evil in this city, who say, ‘No need
to build houses,’ (verse 3) and

‘the land was given to us as an inheritance,’ (verse 15).

How is the leadership planning to take advantage of the reality of the first exile?

1. G-d compensates the exiles in verse 16 by becoming "a small sanctuary in the lands
where they have gone."

a. What does it mean that G-d is a "small sanctuary?"

b. What symbolism is at play here?

2. G-d shines a light of hope onto the exiles, telling Ezekiel that it is the exiles
themselves who will restore Jerusalem to G-d. In order to do this they will need G-d
to give them a "new spirit" (verse 19).

a. Is it impossible for people to change on their own? Do they need G-d’s intervention?

b. If so, how does one become worthy of deserving G-d’s intervention according to the
theology of our text?

Chapter 12: G-d Uses Ezekiel as a Sign for the People

G-d tells Ezekiel to be a sign for the people of their exile to come. In placing the
horrifying consequences of their behavior before their eyes, G-d is hoping to persuade this
people to recognize their role as a rebellious people…to admit to doing something wrong,

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(verse 4).

1. In verse 2, it is made perfectly clear, that despite being

equipped physically "to see," and "to hear," the Israelites could not see and could
not hear.

a. Clearly, this is a metaphor. What could they not see and not hear?

b. What does this verse point out about the relationship between people and G-d?

c. All of us at times choose to block out various things. What or whom do you
choose not to see and not to hear?

2. Ezekiel’s prophecy is quite bold in that it is physical - full of action and live drama.
Was the author dealing with the concept that people learn in different ways? Perhaps
with Ezekiel G-d addresses the visual learners, while with Isaiah

G-d addresses the auditory learners.

Which of these two learning styles – visual (Ezekiel), or auditory (Isaiah) – do


you prefer?

3. G-d is willing to prove G-d’s Self to this people, according to the standards that the
people, themselves, set forth. G-d realizes that the people do not listen to the
prophetic word because the actual prophecy is not about the present, but rather
about the future. Therefore, in order to grab their attention, G-d claims that

"none of My words will be drawn out. What I say will come about…(verse
28) For in your lifetimes… I will say the word and I will do it, (verse 25)."

Based on this text, who seems to have the upper hand in this conflict?

Chapter 13: A prophecy against the false prophets

1. Verses 4 and 5 describe what the false prophets did not do,

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thereby setting guidelines for distinguishing between true and false prophecy.

Based on this information, what are some of the expectations G-d has of true
prophets?

2. In verses 10-12, G-d speaks of the false prophets as building a

wall and covering it with plaster, which washes away in the rain.

What do you think the wall, plaster, and rain symbolize?

Chapter 14: A prophecy against false prophets and idol worshipers

1. a. Why does the next note specifically that "some," not all of "the men of the elders of
Israel came and sat before… Ezekiel" (verse 1)?

b. What is the religious/spiritual orientation of these elders?

c. Does this one word, "some," make a difference in one’s understanding of the text or
not? If so, how?

2. One distinguishing theological difference between Judaism and Christianity is that


Judaism is based on law and action while Christianity is based on belief… on thoughts.
Yet here, in verse 5, we read that G-d will hold "Israel accountable for their thoughts
through which they have all withdrawn from Me with their idols."

If other evil thoughts are not punishable within Judaism, why is idolatry?

1. Ezekiel mentions in verses 12-14 that in a country marked by

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persistent faithlessness, even the most righteous men, (here, Noah, Daniel and Job),
can only save their own lives.

What does this verse come to teach us about individual and communal
responsibility?

2. G-d seems to try to console Ezekiel about the oncoming massive

destruction with the knowledge that there will be survivors,

(verse 22).

Do you think that seeing the deeds of these survivors will console Ezekiel, leading him to
a better understanding of his role in announcing and portraying the destruction? If so, how?

Chapter 15: The parable of the grapevine

In this short chapter, Ezekiel concentrates on the question of the future for the inhabitants
of Jerusalem. He describes the wood of a grapevine in great detail, using it as a metaphor
for the inhabitants of Jerusalem. It is clear that by questioning the usefulness of this
grapevine, Ezekiel questions the future usefulness of his people (verse 3).

1. Another important symbol used here is that of fire. The grapevine, or people, was
consumed by fire on both ends, leaving the center charred, but intact (verse 4).

What event, or two events could correspond to the fire consuming the wood at both
ends?

2. When asking rhetorically whether or not the charred piece of

wood could be useful, especially given that it was not useful before the fire, Ezekiel sets a
grim view of the future of those left in Jerusalem, (verse 5). In verse 7, G-d states that
indeed, the Israelites in Jerusalem have escaped the fire, but the fire will consume them.
This too appears extremely grim.

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How does one’s understanding of this verse differ when reading it literally, as fire,
and when viewing it metaphorically, as _(fill in the blank)________?

It is in these two approaches to the text that we find Ezekiel’s angst over whether or not
there will be a remnant, and if there is, how it will function, vis a vis G-d.

Chapter 16: The marriage between G-d and Israel

In his longest chapter, Ezekiel rails against the Israelites through a metaphor of a husband
devastated by his wife’s sexual betrayal. The introduction provides a picture of a man
going out of his way to aid an otherwise outcast baby, who later grows into a mature
woman. He takes her as his own, only later to be extremely pained by her licentious
behavior.

1. Look at verses 8-9:

Then, your time for love had come. I spread My cloak over you and covered your
nakedness. I gave you My oath and entered a covenant with you, says the Lord G-d,
and you were Mine.

What is your emotional response to the image of Israel and G-d embraced in a
relationship between lovers?

2. A.Why does Ezekiel use this metaphor?

b. Why is Israel portrayed as a woman?

c. What effect might this negative use of the image of women have on the listener’s
concept of women?

d. Do you think it’s possible that Ezekiel is transferring some of his own personal
anger onto women in general through this metaphor?

3. In this description, we only hear from G-d’s perspective. We

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learn about all of those wonderful things that G-d did for this woman - this people.
We never hear about any positive things that this woman – Israel - did for G-d. Is
the relationship really so one sided.

What are some positive things that Israel has done for G-d?

4. A. In this metaphor, what does it mean that Israel relied on her

beauty (verse 15)?

b. What lessons can we derive for women today from this statement in verse 15?

5. The enraged husband sets a plan to physically destroy his wife

in order to "relieve My anger against you," (verse 42).

a. Is there a point in a marriage in which a wife’s behavior merits physical


punishment?

If not, then what is G-d doing here?

If yes, then does this text condone physical abuse as a method of controlling one’s
wife?

Neither answer is satisfying. Perhaps it leads us to the harsh reality that abuse within
marriage is a reality, whether we condone it as a religion or not. Despite our
unwillingness to see it, it is there. Men -Jewish men - within the walls of marriage
beat women - Jewish women.

b. The question then begs itself: What are we doing as a community to help both our
women and our men learn to expect and to live within supportive, loving
relationships?

6. In the end, G-d is willing to recommit to this nation. What do we learn about the
biblical view of marital relationships from this scenario, (verses 60-63)?

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Chapter 17: The Parable of the Eagles and the Vine

Ezekiel presents a parable of an eagle that takes the top of a cedar tree to a different city.
The eagle replaces what it took with a seedling, which becomes a low-lying vine.
Introduced is yet another eagle to which this low vine bends, hoping to be taken better
care of by it than by the first eagle. Yet, claims the text, the seeds had been already in a
good location, one in which they could grow and thrive.

1. Directly following this parable are three possible interpretations of it: verses 11-18,
verses 19-21, and verses 22-24.

How do these interpretations differ from one another?

2.With Babylonia taking control of Judah, and King Zedekiah attempting a rebellion with
Egypt’s help, which interpretation do you find to be most consistent with this political
situation?

3.According to this parable, what does Ezekiel think the leadership should do vis-à-vis
Babylonia’s political hold on the nation?

4.Why does Ezekiel find it necessary to add the third, more positive interpretation, (verses
22-24)?

Chapter 18: Sin – Responsibility – Repentance

1. In verse 2, we hear G-d’s anger with Ezekiel for quoting a

parable to the people throughout the land. The following is the parable in question:

The parents eat sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge.

This parable deals with the question of responsibility for sin. Does the
responsibility rest solely with the individual who sinned, or does it get passed
down through the generations? What is Ezekiel’s perspective on this issue? See
verses 4, 14-17, and 20.

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2. The question of responsibility is also raised regarding a

parent’s accountability for his/her child’s sins. Ezekiel holds that even a righteous man
will die due to his child’s sins, which are enumerated in verses 10-13. Ezekiel specifically
states that such parental accountability is limited to the case in which the son is a murderer
who later commits these certain other sins.

a. What message is Ezekiel sending about parental responsibility by portraying this son as
such an extreme character, as one who does not live within society’s norms, but outside of
it?

b. To what extent do you think that a parent should be held responsible for his/her child’s
actions against others?

Chapter 19: Judah is Overcome by Outside Powers

In this dirge, a mother lion takes her cubs, one by one, and places them in a situation in
which they have to become young lions… leaders. The mother symbolizes either the
people of Judah, the royal house or Jerusalem. The lion cubs are the successive rulers and
sons of Josiah: Jehoahaz and Jehoyakim. Politically speaking, Egypt dethroned Jehoahaz
and replaced him with Jehoyakim.

1.Were these two leaders too naive, too young, to be able to lead successfully?

2.Do we today expect too much from our youth, placing them in situations that are beyond
them, either emotionally, physically or spiritually?

Chapter 20: G-d’s Vulnerability; The Power of the Onlooker

This chapter, set five years before the Temple’s destruction, provides one more
opportunity for G-d to review the faults of the people within their relationship to G-d: G-d

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couches the wonders that G-d did for the Israelites in the context of the people’s rejection
of G-d’s ways in the long run.

1. There is a certain tone of G-d being hurt, emotionally, by

Israel, in the following verse:

On the day I chose Israel, I took an oath to the seed of Jacob’s house and revealed
Myself to them in the land of Egypt, (verse 5).

G-d became vulnerable to the people by revealing G-d’s Self to them. G-d expressed
love for them while making plans for their future. Instead of holding onto G-d, the
people rejected G-d’s words, and grasped onto their idols.

Despite G-d’s feelings of violation, G-d hangs onto this people. The question which
begs itself is "Why?"

The answer stressed in this chapter is that G-d

acted for the sake of My Name, not to profane it in sight of the nations who watched
me take them out, (of Egypt, verse 14).

a. What is G-d truly concerned about here?

b. What does this come to teach us about the power of the onlooker?

c. In what ways do you let others, who stand outside looking in,

have power over your actions taken within your intimate relationships?

Chapter 21: A Fire in the Forest

1.A. What does the image of a continuous flame within every dry tree recall for
you? (verses 1-4)

b. Why does Ezekiel use this image here?

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2. Ezekiel complains to G-d that the people refer to him as "only a

parable spreader!" (verse 5). He is chided for telling representational stories, which remain
only stories. The people do not experience the reality of them. Because the people do not
experience his truth for themselves, they do not believe in his message.

a. How might you reword Ezekiel’s complaint to G-d, explaining why he might feel
betrayed by G-d and angry with G-d.

b. When was the last time you did not believe someone because you could not relate to his
or her situation?

c. How do our radically different experiences shape the relationships among ethnic groups?

Chapter 22: The Meaning of Bloodshed in Jerusalem

1. Jerusalem’s guilt is that of blood… "you are guilty because of

the blood you shed," (verse 4). When couched in the feminine form, Jerusalem
becomes a woman who is shedding blood during menstruation and guilty for it. This
interpretation may seem like a stretch in a different context. Here, however, given
all of the previous expressions of Ezekiel’s negative attitudes toward women, this
interpretation emerges readily from the text.

a. Could the guilt incurred by Jerusalem for shedding blood – needless murder – be
parallel symbolically to a woman’s shedding blood, in that she is shedding the
possibilities of a new life?

b. What is your response to this description of Jerusalem and her bloodguilt?

2. Verse 6-12 explain how the princes of Israel have each shed

blood. Yet none of the images is one of murder. What are enumerated are the different
laws from G-d that the people have violated. How might these laws symbolize blood?

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3. Ezekiel describes Israel’s leaders as wicked. The priests violated G-d’s Torah and did
not distinguish between holy and profane.

a. What do these two terms, "holy" and "profane", mean within a biblical context?

b. If you look at your day through the lenses of "holy" and "profane", what do you see?

Chapter 23: The Prostituting Sisters

In this chapter, Israel and Judah are described as two sisters who prostituted themselves
while they were young and in Egypt.

1.What does prostitution symbolize in this chapter?

2. Rashi holds that just by seeking foreign alliances, and taking part in power politics,
Israel took on idolatry. How would you explain his view?

3. In verse 4, G-d takes these two prostituting sisters to be G-d’s own, despite knowing
this about them.

What do we learn about G-d (or Ezekiel, the man) from this situation?

Chapter 24: Meat in the Pot; G-d Takes Ezekiel’s Wife

This chapter is rich with issues of Jewish law. In the parable of meat in the pot, choice
pieces of meat are taken out of the pot (Jerusalem) because of the blood that is in it.
Reference is made here to the Israelites not letting the blood (here, from slaughtering
animals) pour to the ground and thereby not covering it with dust. This is part of the
method used to kasher meat, a method not used by the Israelites.

From the passage on Ezekiel’s inability to mourn for his wife, we also find the foundation
for laws on mourning. Since Ezekiel was forbidden to mourn, the rabbis inferred that
whatever he was explicitly permitted to do is normally forbidden to mourners. Thus, since

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Ezekiel is told to put on "your glory," or your tefillin, as the rabbis understand these
words, the rabbis derived that it is forbidden to put on tefillin between the time of death
and the burial of an immediate relative.

1. What does the text tell us about Ezekiel’s relationship with his wife? (verse 16)

2. Why do you think that G-d forbid Ezekiel to mourn for his wife?

3. How does the process of mourning help the mourner through his/her loss?

4. Why would G-d take one of G-d’s most loyal followers and put him through such a
painful loss, (verse 24)? What does this tell us about the relationship between G-d and this
prophet?

1. What is more important, the life and death of an individual, or the lesson G-d tries to
teach us in the experience of that death?

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Perek Yomi: Ezekiel 25-48

Perek Yomi: Ezekiel


Chapters 25-48
Study Questions
Summaries and questions prepared by Steven Chervin

A Project of MACCJ

the Metro Atlanta Council for Conservative Judaism

http://uscj.org/soeast/atlanta

MACCJ (Metro Atlanta Council for

Conservative Judaism)
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MACCJ is the umbrella organization for Conservative synagogues and


organizations in Atlanta, including The Epstein School - Solomon Schechter
School of Atlanta, Ramah Darom, Ahavath Achim Synagogue, Congregation
Etz Chaim, Congregation Beth Shalom, North Fulton Jewish Center, the
United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, The Jewish Theological
Seminary, Women’s League for Conservative Judaism, and the Federation
of Jewish Men’s Clubs. A central element in the mission of MACCJ is to
promote Jewish education in the greater Atlanta community. MACCJ is co-
chaired by Sue Rothstein of Congregation Etz Chaim, and Cheryl R. Finkel,
Head of The Epstein School.

Perek Yomi Coordinating Council

The Perek Yomi Coordinating Council is co-chaired by Steven Chervin


(Epstein School and AA) and Janet Schatten (Epstein School and AA). Its
members include Rabbi Shalom Plotkin, Steve Birch, Sue Rothstein, Randy
Gorod and Nancy Seifert-Gorod (Etz Chaim); Eileen Cohn and Jennifer Stark-
Blumenthal (Beth Shalom); Jill Jarecki Mainzer and Rabbi Adam Frank
(Ramah Darom); and Steve Horn (North Fulton Jewish Center).

THE BOOK OF EZEKIEL: Chapters 25-48

Background

A major theme of the book of Ezekiel is the cycle which includes sin, exile from
the land as punishment, the demand for repentance, and then a promised return
to the land. The primary sin of the people is that of idolatry, as they abandon the
laws of the Torah and embrace the gods and practices of their pagan neighbors.
The mighty kingdom of Babylonia becomes a central instrument of God’s
punishment, both toward the Israelites as well as toward other neighboring
nations (Tyre, Sidon, Egypt, Edom, Mt. Seir, Ammon, Moab, Philistia, Assyria,
etc.) which also prey upon the Israelite kingdoms (i.e. Judah and Israel).

Ezekiel thunders at his compatriots in Babylonia, that they have gotten what they
deserve, that God is punishing them severely for their faithlessness. Their land
has been conquered and destroyed by foreign powers, and the Israelites

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themselves have been exiled to other lands. These are the inevitable outcomes of
their actions. As both priest and prophet, Ezekiel warns the people of their
punishments for violating God’s commandments, both ritual and moral. The
language he uses is very similar to that found in the Torah itself (particularly in
Exodus and Leviticus), and is based on the brit or contract that we find there.

But even as the Israelites have abandoned God, God has not abandoned them.
The center of Jewish life shifts from Judah/Israel to Babylon, and the Shekhinah
(God’s Presence) shifts with them. "God accompanied the Jews into exile, thus
demonstrating His unending love for them" (The Living NaCH, p. 310). Indeed, as
terrible as the Israelites’ sufferings are, the exiled people can "return" spiritually to
God. However even if they don’t repent, God will "return" them physically to their
land, in order to shame them into repentance. A central purpose of the text then is
to prove emphatically to Israel - as well as the nations - that Israel’s misfortunes
are a result of God’s wrath, not His weakness. The rabbis understood that the
final redemption, or return of the people to the land and rebuilding of the Temple,
would take place during the Messianic period.

According to biblical scholars, the events recounted in the Book of Ezekiel (except
for those referring to the time of the Messiah) cover the years roughly between
597-573 BCE, as corroborated by other books in the Tanakh as well as
Babylonian chronicles. They take place primarily in Babylonia, although there are
several times in which God transports Ezekiel by vision to Jerusalem. For
example chapters 40-43 take Ezekiel to the site of the future Temple (i.e. during
Messianic times), in order for him to see and then teach the Israelites the exact
dimensions of the structure.

Many sections in the text are confusing however, and their meaning has eluded
both traditional commentators as well as contemporary scholars. Moreover, there
are theological elements and halachic directives which contradict verses found in
the Torah itself. Thus while Exodus 20:5 says that God will visit " the guilt of the
fathers upon the children, upon the third and fourth generations of those who
reject me," Ezekiel 18:4 maintains that "only the person who sins will die." With
respect to halacha, Leviticus 21:7 forbids the high priest to take a widow or
divorcee as a wife, whereas Ezekiel 44:22 extends this prohibition to all priests.
As a result of problems such as these, the Talmud records an attempt to remove
the Book of Ezekiel from the Tanakh, and conceal it. Rabbi Hananiah ben

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Hezekiah is credited with reconciling all of the discrepancies and apparent


contradictions, ensuring that the book would remain in the canon. However none
of his attempts at reconciliation have survived!

The Talmud cites four halachot that are derived from the Book of Ezekiel.
"Although all of these laws were given to Moses at Mt. Sinai, it was Ezekiel who
recorded them for posterity. The Talmud credits no other prophet in this way" (The
Living NaCh, p. 310)

These laws include the following:

1. All priests must trim their hair once every 30 days (44:20)
2. An uncircumcised priest who serves in the temple profanes the Temple
service (44:9)
3. A marker/monument must be set up near an unburied corpse, so priests will
not unwittingly defile themselves through contact with the dead (39:15)
4. The "bad" mentioned in connection with priestly garments in Exodus 39:27-
28 refers to linen (44:18)

A number of key questions and problems underlie the entire book, and are worth
considering as we read through each chapter. Some of these are questions to
which we will probably never know the correct answer. However each of us may
want to offer his/her own conjecture; consider those that are meaningful to you.
They include the following:

● Why did the Israelites turn to idolatry? Was this a result of their feeling
abandoned by God? How exactly did they absorb the practices of the
surrounding pagan nations? How did the Israelites respond to their own
prophets? Why does the book place such heavy emphasis on punishment
and destruction?

● At the end of virtually every prophecy of doom against the other nations,
God concludes that "The nations will know that I am the Lord God." What do
we make of this refrain? What is the message that God wants the nations to
know? Can the nations win God’s favor? If so, how? Must they adopt the
rituals and practices which God has already commanded the Israelites?

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● How much of what is described in the text actually happened? Which of the
prophecies actually "came true"? If they have already happened, did they
occur before or after Ezekiel wrote about them? Should the book be
understood as a "post hoc" explanation and rationalization for events which
had already taken place, i.e. the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple,
and the exile of the Israelites to Babylonia? Obviously Ezekiel sees these
events as divine punishments which the people "deserved". Is the text then
an elaborate way of reassuring the Israelites that they will be redeemed, that
they should not lose faith in God, that they can control their fortunes by
righteous behavior, and that God is indeed with them?

● Scholars disagree as to whether the text had a single author – i.e. Ezekiel
himself - or whether a circle of his disciples played a significant role in
shaping the text we have today. Indeed we do not even know whether or not
the man Ezekiel ever existed. Does this debate make a difference to our
understanding of the text?

● Babylonia is generally seen as the instrument of God’s will, punishing both


the Israelites for their sins, as well as the other nations for theirs. Which
elements of Babylonian civilization receive divine favor, and which call forth
God’s judgment against the Babylonians themselves?

● How did the Jews of the Second Temple period perceive Ezekiel’s
prophecies? Did they see themselves as fulfilling those prophecies? Did
they consider themselves "redeemed"? If not, how did they rationalize their
actions in light of the fact that the Messiah had not yet appeared? But if it
was acceptable for the exiles to return to Israel and build the Second
Temple, all without the Messiah’s presence, then why do some ultra-
Orthodox sects today deny the legitimacy of the modern State of Israel? And
why do some extremist sects seek to build a Third Temple, without the
presence of the Messiah?!

● Are diaspora Jews today still "in exile"? Given that the Messiah has not yet
appeared to fulfill Ezekiel’s prophecies, can we legitimately recognize the
State of Israel as the Jewish state? Or was the birth of modern Israel indeed
"the first flowering of the redemption" as foretold by the prophet? Will there
ever be a Third Temple?

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Summary: The second half of the Book of Ezekiel begins with prophecies of
doom against foreign nations, which will be followed by the ingathering of the
Israelite exiles and then the restoration of Israel itself. Chapter 37 contains the
classic image of the "dry bones" of Israel being revived, along with the
reunification of the two (northern and southern) Israelite kingdoms. This is one of
the sources upon which traditional Jewish belief in bodily resurrection is based.
The remainder of the text gives specific details and dimensions as to what the
Temple will look like during messianic times. Ezekiel is transported in a vision
from Babylonia to the site of the future Temple, where he is also instructed
regarding the laws of sacrifice and the roles of the priests and Levites. This
section is followed by the vision of a life-giving stream which flows out of the
Temple. The book concludes with the allocation of land to the 12 tribes, along with
the site for the Temple and the prince’s living quarters.

Sources: Ezekiel, Encyclopedia Judaica; The Living NaCh, Later Prophets

Chapter 25: Prophecies against Ammon, Moab, Seir, Edom and the
Philistines

Now that the news has come that Jerusalem has been destroyed (chapter 24),
God’s and Ezekiel’s attention turns away from the Israelites and their sins and
punishment. The focus shifts to the surrounding nations who celebrated
Jerusalem’s downfall. Ezekiel prophesies the destruction that God will wreak on
these nations. Each prophecy concludes with the declaration, "They will know that
I am God."

1. Why does the text consider it important to tell us about the punishments in
store for these peoples?
2. Do we need God to punish Israel’s enemies – the Arab nations – today?
3. Why do you think every prophecy of doom concludes with the words "They
will know that I am God"? Why is this message so important?

Chapter 26: A prophecy against Tyre

Ancient Tyre, built on an island off the coast of Phoenicia (today’s Lebanon), was
one of the great trade centers of the ancient world. Since it lived by trade, it was
jealous of rivals such as Jerusalem (vs. 2). Ezekiel describes in graphic detail how

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Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar will utterly destroy the city. Tyre was one of
seven nations who had been told by God (Jeremiah 27) to submit to
Nebuchadnezzar (in the book of Jeremiah he is called Nebuchadrezzar; both
names refer to the same king). These nations included Ammon, Sidon, Moab,
Seir, Edom and Philistia. They are singled out for punishment for not obeying
God’s command.

1. Compare the ancient city of Tyre to the modern Lebanese city. Note how
history has repeated itself: a once proud and mighty city has been defiled by
foreign elements (i.e. Syrians, Hezbollah, Palestinian terrorists).

Chapter 27: A Dirge over Tyre

In comparing the city/nation of Tyre to a ship, this chapter gives us a detailed


description of ancient vessels. The medieval commentator Abarbanel suggests
that each part of the ship represents a part of the city: e.g. the planks represent
Tyre’s walls; the mast its towers; the rowers its mass of workers; the wise men,
artisans; and the shipwrights the city’s councillors.

1. Why does the text take such pains to describe the glory of Tyre in so much
detail?

Chapter 28: Additional prophecy against Tyre

After the dirge in chapter 27, chapter 28 returns to the prophecies of doom. It was
the Babylonians who would besiege Tyre for 13 years without actually conquering
it.

Chapter 29: A prophecy against Pharoah and Egypt

This chapter continues the theme that those who take credit for their
accomplishments without acknowledging God, will be doomed by God. Here, it is
Pharoah who claims to have made the Nile and channeled it to supply all of
Egypt’s needs: "It is my river; I made it!" (vs. 9).

1. How does Egypt’s punishment recall the Israelites’ wandering in the desert
before entering Canaan?

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Chapters 30-31: The fall of Egypt; Learning from Assyria

"Assyria was a cedar in Lebanon with handsome branches. . . a tall, sheltering


forest" (vs. 3). The text uses a tree to symbolize Assyria’s strength, beauty and
then arrogance. God mourned the death of Assyria’s king, but Pharoah is not
considered as great as him; therefore Pharoah will be particularly shamed in
death.

Chapter 32: A dirge over Egypt

This chapter tells us how God will cause the Egyptians to suffer: "I will water the
fertile land with your blood from the mountains" (vs. 6). And "the sword of the king
of Babylonia will come upon you" (vs. 11). Egypt’s dead will be shamed by being
buried "with the uncircumcised."

Chapter 33: Responsibility for sins: Announcement of the fall of Jerusalem

The ideas and language here regarding responsibility for sins, are very similar to
those found in chapter 18: 21-32. We hear the despairing cry of the people: how
can we live, immersed as we are in sin? (vs. 10). As the watchman for his people,
Ezekiel responds unequivocally: "Repent, repent of your evil ways. Why should
you die, O house of Israel?" (vs. 11)

Vs. 21 reports the catastrophe: "The city has been conquered!" Vs. 25-26
document the specific sins which Judah has committed.

1. Conquest of Jerusalem by the Babylonians might be considered the critical


turning point of the book. Why then do you think this report merits only a
single, short verse in the text?

Chapter 34: Israel’s shepherds have failed to lead the people; only God, the
true shepherd, can bring the people back

God promises a wondrous bounty for the people when they return to their land: "I
will grant them and their surroundings a blessing on My hill. I will bring down the
rain in its time . . .the trees of the field will yield their fruit and the earth its
produce. . . they will know that I am God when I break the bars of their yoke and

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save them from those who enslave them. They will no longer be booty for the
nations . . ." (vs. 26-28)

Chapter 35: A prophecy against Edom and Mt. Seir

Vs. 14: "The Lord God says, "I will make you desolate while the rest of the earth
rejoices. As you rejoiced when the heritage of the house of Israel was made
desolate, that is how I will treat you. Mt. Seir and all of Edom will be ruined. They
will know that I am God!" Edom refers to the area just south of the Dead Sea
(straddling modern Israel and Jordan), while Mt. Seir covers the territory further
south in today’s Jordan, down to the Red Sea (Gulf of Eilat).

Chapter 36: God will return the exiles and replenish the land

In a striking use of imagery, God addresses a prophecy to the mountains and land
of Israel: "I will settle you as you were before . . ." (vs. 11). God consoles the
mountains and land for having been plundered and maligned by the surrounding
nations (e.g. Edom), and promises to restore and rebuild the land with the
returning Israelites, its true residents.

This chapter emphasizes that God is the author of all that has happened, and the
guarantor of what will happen. Indeed the return of the Israelites to the land is not
for their sake but for God’s! "I am not doing this for your sake, O house of Israel,
but for the sake of My holy Name which you profaned among the nations. . .
(vs.22) "I will not act [redeem you] for your sake, says the Lord God. Know this!
Be ashamed and humiliated because of your behavior, house of Israel!" (vs. 32)
And finally, "the peoples left around you will know that I, God, have rebuilt ruins
and replanted desolate places. I, God, have spoken and acted!" (vs. 36)

1. What does it take for a people to "deserve" a land? A divine promise?


treating the land with care?
2. What are the implications of this theme for modern Israelis?
3. How do you react to God’s reason for promising to return the exiles to their
land (i.e. that it’s to protect His "reputation," rather than being for the sake of
the Israelites)?

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Chapter 37: The dry bones live

The image of the dry bones coming to life, is one of the key "proof texts" for
Jewish belief in the resurrection of the dead. This prophecy also teaches that God
will bring all of the Israelites – exiles from both the southern kingdom (Judah) and
the northern kingdom (Joseph) - back into a single, unified kingdom.

1. In light of what we know about Jewish history for the last two and a half
millennia, what meanings might this prophecy have for us?

Chapter 38: Judgment on Gog

Scholars are uncertain as to whether Gog and his kingdom known as Magog refer
to actual peoples, or whether Gog may simply be a generic name for the leader of
the Messiah’s opponents. In either case, the certainty and meaning of God’s
victory is clear: "I will make Myself known to many nations, so they will know that I
am God." (23)

1. Do we have an obligation today to make our God known to the rest of the
world? If so, how can we do this?

Chapter 39: The destruction of Gog’s armies; the burial of Gog

In verse 15 we learn that if an Israelite finds bones of the invaders from Magog,
he must put a marker at the site until the bones can be buried. From this the
rabbis inferred the halacha that all graves must be marked.

1. If the markers were to identify sites where unburied remains were found,
why would the rabbis of the Talmud rule that graves (i.e. buried remains) be
marked?

Chapters 40-44: Plan for the restoration of the Temple

Ezekiel is brought by God to Jerusalem in a vision, to show him the precise


dimensions of the sacred structure. These chapters dramatize Ezekiel’s great

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concern for priestly matters, as they give fine details and exact measurements for
each of the Temple’s components. The dimensions differ greatly however from
those of the First Temple which had just been destroyed. In addition the builders
of the Second Temple several centuries after Ezekiel, ignored his architectural
plans completely in their design. The rabbis explained these discrepancies by
declaring Ezekiel’s blueprint as a vision for the Messianic age.

Chapter 45: Allocating the sacred area

The land of Israel is to be divided into 13 horizontal east-west strips (about 50


miles each from north to south), with seven tribes in the north, five in the south,
and a strip between them dedicated to the prince, the Temple, the priests and the
Levites.

1. Who is the "prince"? Is he the Messiah, high priest, or king?

Chapters 46-47: Worshipping on the Sabbath and New Moon; Healing


waters from the Temple

An angel shows Ezekiel a stream coming out from the entrance to the Temple.
The angel then leads Ezekiel to different depths of the water, i.e. ankle-, knee-,
and hip-deep, and then over his head. Malbim suggests that the stream
represents the increasing Torah wisdom that the various nations will absorb in the
days of the Messiah, depending on their historical commitment to God vs. idolatry.
He also sees the 10 "fishermen" as a symbol of the great number of prophets who
will live in the days of the Messiah; the fish represent the peoples of all nations.
The cities of Ein Gedi ("eye of the goat") and Ein Eglayim ("eye of the calf")
represent former centers of animal worship. The "places for spreading nets" refer
to places to teach Torah and "catch" others for service to God. As the land
described here is considerably larger than Israel’s borders at the time, Malbim
also views Ezekiel’s description as referring to the Messianic era.

Chapter 48: Division of the land: Tribal boundaries

The book closes with the name of the holy city – "God is there (Hashem shama)" -
what we know today as Jerusalem.

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Hazak, hazak, v’nithazek!

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Perek Yomi: Hosea, Joel, Amos

Perek Yomi: The Twelve Minor


Prophets
Part I: Hosea, Joel, Amos
Study Questions
Summaries and questions prepared by Rabbi Bradley Tecktiel, Rabbi-in-
Residence at The Epstein School (Hosea), Rabbi Adam Frank, Associate
Director for Retreat Center Programming, Ramah Darom (Joel), Rabbi Mark
Zimmerman, Congregation Beth Shalom (Amos)

Introduced and edited by Steven Chervin

A Project of MACCJ

the Metro Atlanta Council for Conservative Judaism

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http://uscj.org/soeast/atlanta

MACCJ (Metro Atlanta Council for

Conservative Judaism)

MACCJ is the umbrella organization for Conservative synagogues and


organizations in Atlanta, including The Epstein School - Solomon Schechter
School of Atlanta, Ramah Darom – the Center for Southern Jewry, Ahavath
Achim Synagogue, Congregation Etz Chaim, Congregation Beth Shalom,
North Fulton Jewish Center, the United Synagogue of Conservative
Judaism, The Jewish Theological Seminary, Women’s League for
Conservative Judaism, and the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs. A central
element in the mission of MACCJ is to promote Jewish education in the
greater Atlanta community. MACCJ is co-chaired by Sue Rothstein of
Congregation Etz Chaim, and Cheryl R. Finkel, Head of The Epstein School.

Perek Yomi Coordinating Council

The Perek Yomi Coordinating Council is co-chaired by Steven Chervin


(Epstein School and AA) and Janet Schatten (Epstein School and AA). Its
members include Steve Birch, Sue Rothstein, and Nancy Seifert-Gorod (Etz
Chaim); Eileen Cohn and Jennifer Stark-Blumenthal (Beth Shalom); Jill
Jarecki Mainzer and Rabbi Adam Frank (Ramah Darom); and Steve Horn
(North Fulton Jewish Center).

The Twelve Minor Prophets: Introduction

Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk,


Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi

These twelve prophets are often called "minor" - not because their works are
unimportant – but because their books are shorter in length than those of their
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contemporaries Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, the so-called "literary prophets".


Indeed the prophecies of the twelve include many of the most stirring verses in
the entire Tanakh.

In addition to the well-known story of Jonah for example (read on Yom Kippur), we
also find here the prophecies of Amos, who proclaims the Jews as God’s Chosen
People: "You alone have I singled out of all the families of the earth – that is why I
will call you to account for all your iniquities" (3:2). Amos is also credited with
declaring: "Let justice well up like water, righteousness like a mighty
stream" (5:24). The prophet Hosea’s first communication from God is the startling
command to "go marry a prostitute and conceive children of questionable
legitimacy" (1:2). The prophet Zechariah is the author of a verse that has long
inspired our people, and is today a popular song: "Not by might, nor by power, but
by My spirit – said the Lord" (4:6)

The Book of Micah frames the essence of what God demands of us in three
memorable lines (6:8):

He has told you, O man, what is good,

And what the Lord requires of you:

Only to do justice,

And to love goodness

And to walk modestly with your God

The Talmud credits Habakkuk for summarizing all of the Torah’s commandments
in a single sentence:

The righteous shall live by his faith. (2:4)

The lives and work of the twelve prophets span a period of approximately 350
years, beginning with Obadiah during the reign of King Ahab in Israel (871 BCE),
and culminating with Malachi during the building of the Second Temple in Judah
(520 BCE). "The Men of the Great Assembly, who compiled the Book of Twelve

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Prophets, did not arrange the prophecies in chronological order." (The Living
NaCH) In fact we do not know for certain where or when each prophet lived.

The "twelve" are sometimes referred to as a single book, and other times as 12
different books. In Aramaic they are known as trei asar, which simply means
"twelve." A total of fifteen haftarot are drawn from these sets of prophecies.

Sources: The Living NaCh (part of the Living Torah Series); Biblical Literacy,
Joseph Telushkin.

The Book of Hosea

Questions by Rabbi Bradley Tecktiel; Introduction by Steven Chervin

Introduction

"The first chapter of Hosea contains some of the most puzzling verses
in Scripture. God, Who is said to loathe promiscuity, commands
Hosea, a righteous individual and a prophet, to marry an adulteress
and to bear illegitimate children by her." (The Living NaCh)

Joseph Telushkin explains:

"To ensure that there is at least one Israelite who fully understands the
pain and betrayal God feels because of the Israelites’ repeated
reversions to idolatry, the Lord makes an unprecedented demand of
the prophet Hosea: ‘Go and get yourself a wife of whoredom and
children of whoredeom’"(1:2) (Biblical Literacy)

This is a truly shocking command, the very first communication that God makes to
Hosea. And yet with the unfolding of the text, the full meaning of this command
becomes clear. The prophet obeys God’s will by marrying the prostitute Gomer,
but he is constantly betrayed by her. The husband/wife relationship thus becomes
a metaphor for God’s relationship with Israel:

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"Hosea experiences repeated shame because of his enduring love for


Gomer; time after time, he takes her back. . . Painful as Hosea’s
sufferings are, they sensitize rather than embitter him, and broaden his
perspective. Because he never stops loving Gomer, he comes to
identify with God’s pain in having been repeatedly rejected and
betrayed by Israel, a people whom He still loves. The prophet sees
parallels between God’s sufferings and his: As Israel often took the
gold and silver with which the Lord had blessed them to worship Baal,
so Gomer used the jewelry and clothes Hosea had given her, to
seduce other men. And, just as God reclaims Israel after her betrayals,
so does Hosea keep taking Gomer back." (Biblical Literacy)

Hosea’s devotion to Gomer in spite of her betrayals, casts him as an enduring


symbol of unconditional love. In this way he becomes a unique figure in the
Tanakh and in Jewish tradition; halacha forbids a man from taking back an
adulterous wife (Jeremiah 3:1). But just as Hosea’s love knew no bounds, legal or
otherwise, the Book of Hosea insists that God’s love for Israel also remains
everlasting.

The Book of Hosea contains four haftarot:

B’midbar: 2:1-22; Vayishlach: 11:7-12:12; Vayetze: 12:13-14:10; Shabbat Shuvah


(beginning): 14:2-10.

Chapter One: Israel’s fate

Hosea’s offspring are given names that show that they are living examples of
God’s anger toward the Jewish people. What kind of life will these children have?

Chapter Two: A promise of redemption

1. Who is the "mother" that Hosea refers to in verse 4?

2. If her lovers will not "supply her with bread and water, wool and

linen, and oil and drink," who will provide it?

3. What will happen to her if she continues to seek other "lovers"?

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4. According to verses 16-19, who will take the responsibility of bringing her
back to faith in God?

Chapter Three: Hosea’s second commandment

Is the woman mentioned in thid chapter the same Gomer bat Diblaim?

Chapter Four: Israel’s fallen state

1. What does Hosea accuse the Israelites of doing, or not doing?


2. Who specifically does he accuse in this chapter?

Chapter Five: The entire House of Israel will fall

1. Who is Hosea speaking to in this chapter?


2. Does Hosea blame the masses for God’s wrath? Does he hold them
responsible in any way?
3. Who is Hosea referring to when he calls them Ephraim?

Chapter Six: Israel’s belated repentance

What does Hosea tell the people God truly wants from them?

Chapter Seven: Israel’s sins prevent their redemption

What are Ephraim’s crimes against God?

Chapter Eight: Israel’s misplaced faith in allies

What is the connection between the blowing of the ram’s horn (shofar) and the
fact that the Israelites have transgressed God’s laws?

Chapter Nine: How can Israel rejoice?

1. Hosea makes constant references to both Assyria and Egypt. Assyria is to the
north and Egypt to the south. Why does he make constant references to the
alliances made between Israel and these nations?

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1. What will be the result of these alliances?

Chapter Eleven: God’s love for His people

What changes God’s attitude toward the Israelites?

Chapter Thirteen: The birth pangs of delayed redemption

Does God continue with His merciful tone in this chapter?

Chapter Fourteen: Faith and blessing

How does the book end? What does God require of the Israelites?

Hazak, hazak, v’nithazek!

The Book of Joel (Yoel)

Rabbi Adam Frank

Introduction

The Book of Yoel is the second book of the Minor (shorter in length) prophets.
The only biographical detail we have about Yoel is the name of his father, Pethuel
(1:1). The detailed references within the book to agriculture suggest that he might
have been a farmer (1:7, 10-12).

Since Yoel makes no mention of the Judean or Israelite kings who lived during his
time, it is difficult to date the period during which he prophesied. He describes a
terrible plague of locusts that has recently swept over the land and destroyed so
much foliage and crops that Judah’s people and animals face starvation (chapter
1).

However, Yoel’s real intent in describing the plague is to warn of the much greater
devastation that will be wrought on Gd’s Day of Judgment, the sufferings of which

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can only be averted if the people "turn back to Me (Gd) with all your hearts." Yoel
promises that if this desired repentance occurs, then "Judah shall abide forever,
and Jerusalem from generation to generation" (4:20).

Among the book’s most famous verses are Yoel’s appeal to the people to "rend
your hearts rather than your garments" (2:13, the essence of repentance is
internal transformation, not the performance of external rituals). He also
admonishes the people to go to war when necessary: "Beat your plowshares into
swords, and your pruning hooks into spears" (4:10). [introduction taken from the
book, Biblical Literacy by R. Joseph Telushkin].

Chapter 1: The Land laid waste

1. The opening lines of the Book of Yoel are instructions regarding our
masoret, our chain of Tradition. How does this message continue to play
itself out in Jewish life in the 21st century? Why does the prophet Yoel begin
with these words of introduction?
2. The theme of this chapter, this entire book, is the destruction done by the 4
types of locusts mentioned in verse 4. In II Kings 8:1, we read of a famine
caused by 4 species of locust. Some scholars believe that this reference in II
Kings is proof that Yoel lived during that same time period. Others believe
that Yoel prophesized at a later time, and that his references to 4 species of
locusts represent 4 different oppressive nations of Israel. Which 4 nations
may be included in Yoel’s prophecy?
3. Verse 6: Teeth of a lion vs. Fangs of a lioness – What is the difference?
4. What is the significance of the types of foods mentioned in verses 10-12?
Which food stands out in the crowd? Why is it included?
5. In verse 14, Yoel instructs the Israelites to declare a fast. Why? (prevention
or cure?).

Chapter 2: The locusts attack

1. The beginning of the Book of Yoel is the warning/description of the locust


swarm. Verses 2 & 3 describe supernatural events (i.e., the work of Gd),
and verses 4-8 depict images of human battle. How do these images affect

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your perception of prophecy? Are the locusts literal or metaphorical?


2. In the 5 Books of Moses, the sun and moon serve as witnesses to Gd’s
covenants with Israel. With this background knowledge, what is the
message of verse 10?
3. Verse 12: Teshuvah is still possible for Israel! Verse 14 teaches "Let anyone
who knows, repent and feel regret." To us, escaping Gd’s wrath is seemingly
simple. However, we ourselves are imperfect. Teshuvah begins with the
recognition of the problem – not simple. Do you have faults heretofore not
recognized and/or addressed?
4. Beginning with verse 15, Yoel tells the people the type of argument to make
before Gd in order to receive Gd’s consolation. What is the argument?
Where else in the Torah do we see similar arguments?

Chapter 3: Prophecy and salvation

1. Chapter 3 contains just 5 verses. Why were these verses set off as their
own chapter?
2. Many scholars believe this chapter is prophecy of Messianic times. If so,
according to Yoel, what will be unique about that period?
3. Verse 5: "everyone who calls out in the name of Gd will escape
(punishment)" – Christian doctrine claims that to call out and to receive
Jesus into one’s heart will ‘save a person’s soul.’ Judaism teaches
something different. Jewishly, what does it mean to "call out in the name of
Gd?"

Chapter 4: The judgment of the nations

1. The beginning of the chapter has Gd chastising the nations of the world for
their mistreatment of Israel. But Gd seems to have used these other nations
as tools/pawns for Gd’s own punishment of Israel. Is Gd’s treatment of these
nations fair? Why/why not?
2. Gd’s language speaks as if a violation against Israel is a violation against
Gd (verses 4-6). Is Gd, therefore, guilty of self-affliction?

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3. Compare verse 10 with Micah 4:3. What is the difference between the
verses? Who do you believe influenced whom?
4. Verse 15: How does this verse compare in meaning to Yoel 2:10?
5. From verse 9 forward is found a description for an end-of-days,
Armageddon-like battle and Day of Judgment. Gd will take vengeance on
the nations who oppressed the People Israel. Gd will show some form of
mercy on Israel’s oppressors except for one crime. What is that crime?

Hazak, hazak, v’nithazek!

The Book of Amos

Rabbi Mark Zimmerman

Background

Amos, one of the earliest of the classical (latter) prophets, was a herdsman and
dresser of sycamore trees. Born in Tekkoa in the south, his profession led him to
travel and come into contact with the northern kingdom of Israel during the 8th
century BCE. His prophecies began two years before an earthquake which shook
the area during the reigns of King Uzziah of Judah and King Jeroboam of Israel.

Amos’ prophecies are directed primarily at the northern kingdom of Israel. This
was a period of great prosperity in the north where corruption was rampant and
people failed to take the laws of the Torah seriously. Amos saw the religious
practices of the elite as mirroring their perpetuation of social injustice. Therefore,
Amos repeatedly calls for a renewed allegiance to the Jewish principles of justice,
and reminds Israel that God’s covenant was conditional in nature and required
their obedience to the mitzvot, ethical as well as ritual. He warns of the coming
downfall of Israel that would result from the people failing to live according to
God’s will.

For Amos, morality is the supreme value, while the sacrificial cult is merely

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symbolic. Amos railed against those who paid attention only to the ritual
requirements of the sacrifices while ignoring the more crucial religious
requirements of justice and righteousness. He also reminds Israel that their
chosen-ness is not absolute and that they are no more special to God than the
other peoples of the earth. God is the universal God of all humanity, yet because
of the special relationship and covenant between God and Israel, God expects
more from them and will sorely punish them if they fail to follow in His ways.

Amos teaches a great and relevant message for our day. He portrays God as
intensely interested in the ethical conduct of Israel and passionately concerned
about all humanity and its moral standing. Amos is the first prophet to discuss the
"smaller sins" of honesty in the marketplace, etc., and views these as being equal
to, if not even more important, than the remainder of the commandments.

Chapter 1 – Superscription and Series of Oracles Against the Nations

1. What is different about Amos’s message (from other prophets we have


studied) in the way that he castigates the nations and foretells their
punishment?
2. Why does Amos use the image of God roaring like a lion?
3. What message is Amos trying to convey by the use of the repeating phrase
"For three transgressions of xxxx, yet for four I will not forgive (or revoke My
punishment)…"?
4. Does God appear to be primarily concerned about Israel here, or is He seen
here more as the universal God of all the nations?
5. What are the specific sins that lead God to punish these various nations?
Which sins seem to be particularly upsetting to God? Why?

Chapter 2 – More Oracles; Rebuke of Judah and Israel

1. Why is God so disturbed about the "burning of the king of Edom’s bones into
lime" that He threatens to respond with "fire upon Moab"? Is this an early
example of the concept of respect for the dead?
2. Of what transgressions is Judah guilty?
3. Does God appear to be more upset with Judah or with Israel? Why?

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4. What is the meaning (verse 6) of the phrase "Because they sell the
righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes"? How is this message
relevant to us in our own day?
5. What do verses 9 – 11 tell us about the relationship between God and
Israel?
6. What "day" is verse 16 talking about?

Chapter 3 – The Coming destruction

1. What is the meaning of (verse 2) "Only you have I known of all the families
on earth"?
2. How does Amos view God’s role in shaping history? What is the purpose of
the prophet being alerted by God in advance of His actions?

3. What is meant by "storing up violence and robbery" (verse 10)?

4. Once again we see the lion motif in the text (verse 12). But how is it used
differently this time?
5. What is the significance of punishing the altars; and the horns of the altar
being cut off and falling to the ground?

Chapter 4 – Rebuke Against the Sacrificial Cult

1. Amos criticizes those who enjoy feasting and the "good life" while
oppressing and exploiting the poor. Does prosperity inevitably lead to some
form of oppression? How can we attain affluence while remaining socially
responsible?
2. In verse 4, Amos mocks those who transgress while coming to offer the
prescribed ritual sacrifices. Can one be religiously observant while living
unethically? Can an ethical person who disdains ritual be considered
"religious"?
3. How has God punished the people for their abuses? Does God bring similar
punishments upon us today? Is the current drought we are experiencing the

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result of our own actions, a fluke of nature, or a divine message?


4. What does Amos mean by "prepare to meet your God" in verse 12?

Chapter 5 – The Coming "Day of the Lord"

1. Has Amos given up all hope in the people or does he believe that there is
still a chance that they can be saved and reconciled with God?
2. How many Hebrew "word plays" can you identify in verse 5?
3. In verse 8, what does the phrase "He brings on the shadow of death
(tzalmavet) in the morning" mean?
4. What does God want the people to do in order to find favor with God?
5. What is "The Day of the Lord"? What did the people believe would occur on
that day, and how was their version different from what Amos predicted
would occur?
6. What is Amos trying to convey in verse 25 by bringing up the lack of
sacrifices during the years of wandering in the wilderness?

Chapter 6 – Impending Destruction

1. The people seem to be oblivious to Amos’ warnings of destruction. Why do


they feel so self-assured?
2. What picture does Amos paint of the way life was in Israel during his day?
3. Does Amos condemn luxury and affluence itself or is something else
bothering him?
4. What are the metaphors in verse 12 trying to convey regarding the reason
for the coming destruction?

Chapter 7 – Amos’ First Three Visions

1. What role do visions play in this latter portion of the book of Amos?
2. Is God presented as an unmovable force, or does Amos believe that God
can be reasoned with and persuaded to change His mind?
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Perek Yomi: Hosea, Joel, Amos

3. What does the metaphor of a "plumb-line" come to teach in this chapter?


Have we seen this metaphor used elsewhere in Tanakh?
4. Why does Amaziah tell Amos to leave Israel and prophesy in Judah instead?
5. Why does Amos argue (in verse 14) that he is not one of the prophets?

Chapter 8 – Fourth Vision: The Downfall of the Northern Kingdom

1. How does a "basket of summer fruit" signify the destruction of Israel (Hint
Hebrew root for the word ‘summer’ – kayitz.)
2. What does Amos identify as the reasons for the coming destruction?
3. What kind of famine are verses 11-13 speaking about? Are we perhaps
experiencing such a famine today?

Chapter 9 – Last Vision of Destruction; Concluding Message of Hope

1. Is there any escape from God’s wrath in executing judgement over Israel?
What about in exile? In the chapter’s opening verses, is there any hope of a
fresh start?
2. What is the meaning (in verse 7) of God asking "Are you not as the children
of the Ethiopians to Me?" What does this say about the nature of the
relationship between God and Israel?
3. At what point in this chapter does Amos appear to shift the tone of his
prophecy to sounding a more hopeful message? Why the sudden change?
4. What purpose does "The Day of the Lord" serve according to Amos? How
does Amos’ description compare to what some of the other prophets have
written about that day?
5. When the restoration finally occurs, will that be the end of any future
punishment for Israel? Are we in the period of such a restoration today?

Hazak, hazak, v’nithazek!

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Perek Yomi: Obadiah, Jonah, Micah

Perek Yomi: The Twelve Minor


Prophets
Part II: Obadiah, Jonah and Micah

Study Questions
Summaries and questions prepared by Janet Schatten, Ahavath Achim
Synagogue (Obadiah), Rabbi Shalom Plotkin, Agudath Israel
Synagogue, Montgomery, AL (Jonah), and Steven Chervin, Ahavath
Achim Synagogue (Micah)

Edited by Steven Chervin

A Project of MACCJ,

the Metro Atlanta Council for Conservative Judaism,

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Perek Yomi: Obadiah, Jonah, Micah

http://uscj.org/soeast/atlanta

MACCJ (Metro Atlanta Council for

Conservative Judaism)

MACCJ is the umbrella organization for Conservative synagogues and


organizations in Atlanta, including The Epstein School - Solomon Schechter
School of Atlanta, Ramah Darom – the Center for Southern Jewry, Ahavath Achim
Synagogue, Congregation Etz Chaim, Congregation Beth Shalom, North Fulton
Jewish Center, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, The Jewish
Theological Seminary, Women’s League for Conservative Judaism, and the
Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs. A central element in the mission of MACCJ is
to promote Jewish education in the greater Atlanta community. MACCJ is co-
chaired by Sue Rothstein of Congregation Etz Chaim, and Cheryl R. Finkel, Head
of The Epstein School.

Perek Yomi Coordinating Council

The Perek Yomi Coordinating Council is co-chaired by Steven Chervin (Epstein


School and AA) and Janet Schatten (Epstein School and AA). Its members
include Steve Birch, Sue Rothstein, and Nancy Seifert-Gorod (Etz Chaim); Eileen
Cohn and Jennifer Stark-Blumenthal (Beth Shalom); Jill Jarecki Mainzer and
Rabbi Adam Frank (Ramah Darom); and Steve Horn (North Fulton Jewish Center).

THE BOOK OF OBADIAH

The book of Obadiah consists of only one chapter, which is entirely devoted to
describing the punishment that will befall the nation of Edom. Throughout their
common history, beginning with Jacob and Esau, the Edomites and Israel were
enemies. Edom is a nation residing southeast of the land of Israel (Gen. 32:4).
Although the nation of Edom assimilated and thus no longer exists, the Roman

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Perek Yomi: Obadiah, Jonah, Micah

Empire adopted its religion and articles of faith. According to the sages, all
references to Edom’s future are to be understood as alluding to Rome (Sifre 343).

Who is Obadiah? Obadiah means "one who serves God." Rashi cites the
Rabbinic identification with the Obadiah who was a contemporary of Ahab and
Elijah and was an Edomite proselyte (Kings xviii.3). On the other hand, Ibn Ezra
places Obadiah in the period following Isaiah, Amos and Jeremiah. His general
thesis is that Edom’s downfall will come during the Messianic era.

A Prophecy of Edom’s Downfall and Destruction of Edom (1-9)

The prophecy refers to eagles in their nests, thieves, wise men and warriors.
What powers do each of these have and how will God take away these powers?
The eagles in their nests, for example, are powerful because they are perched up
high in a position that is advantageous in combat. God will take away these
powers: even if you raise your nest as high as the eagle’s, even if you establish it
among the stars, I will bring you down from there! – declares God (1:2).

The Reasons for Edom’s Punishment (10-14)

Some say that Edom is being punished as a result of the adversity between Esau
and Jacob, while others suggest it is a consequence of the behavior of the
Edomites during the destruction of the First Temple (e.g. they turned the escaping
Israelites in to the Babylonians). Yet others say it refers to the future, to the
Roman Empire’s active role in the destruction of the Second Temple. Do you think
Edom deserved to be punished? What is the message that God is giving to
Edom? To Israel?

The Day of Judgment and Restoration of Israel (15-21)

Explore the processes of revenge, punishment and reward in these passages:

● As thou have done, it shall be done unto thee. . .

● The house of Jacob shall be a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame, and
the house of Esau for stubble, and they shall kindle in them and devour
them. . .

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Perek Yomi: Obadiah, Jonah, Micah

● The saviors will ascend Mount Zion to rule Mount Esau and the kingdom will
be God’s.

The Aleinu ends with the parallel prophecy of Zechariah (xiv.9): And the Lord shall
be King over all the earth; in that day shall the Lord be One and His name One.
How might the Aleinu be a response to these verses 15-21?

THE BOOK OF JONAH

Introduction:

God commands Jonah to go to Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, but


Jonah refuses. Rather, he attempts to escape God by boarding a ship
bound for Tarshish. A storm arises and the ship is about to break up.
Jonah, identified as the cause of the storm, suggests that the sailors
save themselves by throwing him overboard. But the idea of causing
someone’s death does not sit well with them. After making a valiant but
unsuccessful effort to reach the shore, the sailors ask God for
forgiveness and then cast Jonah into the sea. He is swallowed by a
great fish. After praying intensely from inside the fish’s belly, Jonah is
spewed onto dry land. He reaches Nineveh and warns its in habitants
that the city will soon be overturned because of their transgressions.
The Ninevites repent, and the heavenly decree is revoked. Yet,
Heaven’s forgiveness troubles Jonah greatly. God then explains to
Jonah His reason for sparing the city.

From The Living NaCh, Later Prophets

The gates of heaven are open, God is close, our supplications and prayers have
been sung, it’s Yom Kippur afternoon, and we sit down to read this powerful story
about repentance.

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Perek Yomi: Obadiah, Jonah, Micah

Historical Note: Jonah prophesied during the reign of Jeroboam II

(3113; 640 B.C.E.). This was approximately 54 years before

Assyria became the most powerful nation in the entire region.

Chapter One: Jonah Flees

(1) Verses 3-5

What does Jonah hope to accomplish by buying passage on a

ship heading to the edge of the known world? Why does he

descend into the lowest part of the ship where he falls away

from consciousness into a deep sleep. (Two possible answers are


found in 1:10 and 4:12)

(2) Verses 5-6

Why doesn’t Jonah pray to God when all the sailors are praying to their
idols because of the ferocious storm? Even the non-

Jewish captain believed that if Jonah prayed then God might

change his mind, reconsider their fate, and take pity on them.

(3) Verse 16

The sailors feared God, so they offered up sacrifices and made

vows. Do we have reason to fear God today? How does your

behavior on Yom Kippur fit into your belief system or religious

ideology?

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Perek Yomi: Obadiah, Jonah, Micah

Chapter 2: Inside the fish

(1) Verse 1

Jonah is swallowed by a big fish, but Pinocchio is swallowed

by a whale. How does popular culture affect the way you

read the Bible? Can you picture Moses without Hollywood’s

help?

(2) Verses 3-9

Why is Jonah’s famous prayer in the past tense?

(3) Verse 6

Jonah had to "hit bottom," so to speak, and he made all the

people around him miserable before he repented. Why

couldn’t he have prayed with a minyan from the comforts

of his home town synagogue?

Chapter 3: The message to Nineveh

(1) Verse 4

If some disheveled foreigner approached you on a sidewalk

and said, "the world will be destroyed in forty days," where

would you send him? Why did the powerful and wealthy

Assyrians listen to Jonah?

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Perek Yomi: Obadiah, Jonah, Micah

(2) Verse 8

Can an animal cry out to God or repent?

(3) Verse 10

God cared about the non-Jewish Assyrians, even though they

were idolaters and would soon exile the 10 northern

Israelite tribes and send them into exile forever. Why didn’t

God send an Assyrian prophet to them instead of Jonah

the Jew?

Chapter 4: The lesson of the booth and the gourd

(1) Verses 2 + 9

These verses prove that Jonah still has the death wish that he
exhibited when he asked to be thrown overboard. If you were his
friend, how would you help him?

(2) Verse 2

The commentator Malbim writes that Jonah was particularly

depressed because he had foreseen the future damage that the

Assyrians would do to the Jewish people. Is it O.K. to be

angry with God?

(3) Verse 11

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Perek Yomi: Obadiah, Jonah, Micah

Which people today would fall into the category of people who

"can’t tell their right hands from their left"?

THE BOOK OF MICAH

Introduction

The text tells us that Micah prophesied during the reigns of Kings Jotham, Ahaz,
and Hezekiah of Judah – corresponding roughly to the period 750-700 BCE. The
book follows a clearly identifiable cycle: (1) the people sin (idolatry, immorality),
(2) which leads to divine punishment, (3) followed by the people’s repentance
(teshuvah), and finally (4) divine redemption. The overriding message then is that
God keeps faith with His people Israel, that despite our sinful ways, He always
takes us back. The brit/covenant is irrevocable and eternal.

The book contains several familiar passages:

● The prayer that we say when we take the Torah out of the ark on Shabbat –
ki mitzion tetze Torah. . . – "For Torah will emanate from Zion, and the Word
of God from Jerusalem," is found in 4:2.

● A vision of world peace - using the same language as found in the Book of
Isaiah - is found in 4:3:

"They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning
hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation. They will never again
know war."

● Micah condenses all of the teachings and laws of the Torah into three
memorable phrases (6:8):

"He has told you O man what is good and what the Lord

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requires of you:

Only to do justice,

And to love kindness,

And to walk humbly with your God."

● The tashlich ceremony on the first day of Rosh Hashanah quotes 7:18-20,
which includes the verse, "He will vanquish our iniquities and cast all our
sins into the depths of the sea." For this reason we symbolically cast off our
sins by throwing bread crumbs into running water.

Two haftarot are taken from the Book of Micah: Balak (5:6-6:8), and the
conclusion of the haftorah for Shabbat Shuvah and Yom Kippur afternoon (7:18-
20).

Chapter 1: A call to listen to the prophecies

This opening chapter uses striking imagery to show God coming down from His
throne to judge the people. Rashi says that "when He deems it fit to punish those
who transgress His Will, He rises from the Throne of Mercy – "His place" – and
sits on the Throne of Judgment." Micah says "Listen, all you nations" (vs. 2), a
reference either to the tribes of Israel, or the nations of the world.

1. The kings who lived in Samaria and Jerusalem influenced their subjects to
worship idols, and are therefore held responsible for their nations’ sins (vs.
5). Can we hold political leaders responsible for their nations’ sins? Can we
hold nations responsible for the sins of their leaders? What if those leaders
oppress their own people? Consider Pharoah in the time of Moses. What
about leaders like Iraq’s Sadaam Hussein today?

Chapter 2: Corruption and restoration

God accuses the people of stealing land and property from each other and
declares, "Prophets! Stop preaching! Don’t preach to them, lest you become the
target of their insults." (vs. 6)

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Perek Yomi: Obadiah, Jonah, Micah

1. Is this directive to the prophets merely rhetorical, meant to dramatize the


hopelessness of the people amid their immoral behavior?
2. Halacha (Jewish law) says that we are commanded to admonish only
someone who is likely to listen to our warnings. But when we see injustice,
aren’t we obligated to act in some way? If an oppressor will not "stop" his
aggression at our warning, don’t we have a responsibility to use force if
necessary to stop the injustice?
3. The sins of the people included chasing "away the women of My people
from the homes they delighted in. You deprived their young ones of My
splendor forever." (vs. 9) The Israelites murdered each other, and turned
their own women into mourning widows.
4. The people are so easily misled to do evil that "were a mindless and utterly
dishonest man to prophesy in favor of wine and strong drink, he would be
made this people’s prophet." (vs. 11) What does our choice of leaders say
about us?

Chapter 3: Wicked leaders and false prophets

In verse 4 Micah says that God "will conceal His face from them, in return for the
evil things they did." Radak explains this by saying that in return for the leaders’
ignoring the needs of the poor among their nation, God will ignore the leaders’
prayers for protection from their enemies.

1. Do you agree with the notion of God "hiding His face" as a form of
punishment?
2. God warns the people against false prophets who "proclaim peace yet
summon war" (5). Do we believe contemporary leaders whose words say
one thing but whose actions say another?
3. These false prophets "mislead My people - who when they chew with their
teeth proclaim peace" (vs. 5) – meaning (most commentators) that they
prophesy peace for those who provide them with food and drink. How can
we prevent contemporary leaders from being unduly influenced by campaign
contributions?

Chapter 4: God’s reign in Zion

This chapter tells us that the nations of the world "will come and say, ‘Come, let

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Perek Yomi: Obadiah, Jonah, Micah

us go up to the Mount of God and to the Temple of the God of Jacob. He will then
teach us His ways, and we will walk in His paths.’ For Torah will go forth from
Zion, and the Word of God from Jerusalem." (vs. 2)

1. In what sense can we say that "Torah goes forth from Jerusalem"? What is
Israel’s responsibility to teach Torah to Diaspora Jews? To the non-Jewish
world?
2. The vision in this chapter is to be realized at the End of Days (i.e. in the time
of the Messiah). Should we work toward a goal of the whole world learning
Torah?
3. What is our responsibility for fulfilling the vision for world peace: "They [the
nations] will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning
hooks. . ."? (3) How can we solve our more immediate problems of making
peace, between Jew and Jew, and between Israeli and Arab?

Chapter 5: The Messiah

According to most commentators, the "one destined to be ruler of Israel" (vs. 1)


refers to the Messiah. Before his arrival however, "the rest of [Judah’s] brothers
will return to the children of Israel," i.e. the ten exiled tribes of the northern
kingdom will return to the land of Israel and rejoin their brothers, the Judeans.

1. How does this Messianic vision of the reunion of all 12 original tribes, compare
to a reconciliation of all segments of the Jewish people today? Secular and
religious in Israel? Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox in this country?

Chapter 6: How to atone

Micah asks rhetorically if the people can atone for their sins by simply bringing
burnt-offerings before God. He answers with his signature formulation of what
God really expects: "Only to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your
God" (8).

1. Is there any connection then between animal sacrifice and the demands to
"do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God"? If this is what God
really wanted, why did He command sacrifice in the first place?
2. Why are we commanded to "do" justice, but to "love" kindness?

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Perek Yomi: Obadiah, Jonah, Micah

3. What can it mean "to walk humbly with your God"?

Chapter 7: Forgiveness

The book concludes climactically with God’s forgiveness: "Who, O God, is like
You, forgiving iniquity and overlooking transgression for the remnant of His
heritage? He does not remain angry forever, because He is a lover of kindness.
He will once again have mercy on us. He will vanquish our iniquities and cast all
our sins into the depths of the sea." (18-19)

1. The tashlich ceremony on the first day of Rosh Hashana thus recalls the
sins of ancient Israel. Isn’t it enough for us just to recall our own personal
sins during the past year? Must we also take responsibility for what our
people did 25 centuries ago (and by extension throughout Jewish history)?

Hazak, hazak, v’nithazek!

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Perek Yomi: Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi

Perek Yomi: The Twelve Minor


Prophets
Part III: Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah,
Malachi

Study Questions
Summaries and questions prepared by Cheryl R. Finkel,
(Nahum), Janet Schatten (Habakkuk), Rabbi E. Noach Shapiro
(Zephaniah), Rabbi Adam Frank (Haggai), Rabbi Loren Sykes
(Zechariah), Rabbi Shalom Lewis (Malachi)

Edited by Steven Chervin

A Project of MACCJ,

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Perek Yomi: Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi

the Metro Atlanta Council for Conservative Judaism,

http://uscj.org/soeast/atlanta

MACCJ (Metro Atlanta Council for

Conservative Judaism)

MACCJ is the umbrella organization for Conservative synagogues and


organizations in Atlanta, including The Epstein School - Solomon Schechter
School of Atlanta, Ramah Darom – the Center for Southern Jewry, Ahavath
Achim Synagogue, Congregation Etz Chaim, Congregation Beth Shalom,
North Fulton Jewish Center, the United Synagogue of Conservative
Judaism, The Jewish Theological Seminary, Women’s League for
Conservative Judaism, and the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs. A central
element in the mission of MACCJ is to promote Jewish education in the
greater Atlanta community. MACCJ is co-chaired by Sue Rothstein of
Congregation Etz Chaim, and Cheryl R. Finkel, Head of The Epstein School.

Perek Yomi Coordinating Council

The Perek Yomi Coordinating Council is co-chaired by Steven Chervin


(Epstein School and AA) and Janet Schatten (Epstein School and AA). Its
members include Steve Birch, Sue Rothstein, and Nancy Seifert-Gorod (Etz
Chaim); Eileen Cohn and Jennifer Stark-Blumenthal (Beth Shalom); Jill
Jarecki Mainzer and Rabbi Adam Frank (Ramah Darom); and Steve Horn
(North Fulton Jewish Center).

The Book of Nahum

Cheryl R. Finkel, Head of The Epstein School,

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Perek Yomi: Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi

Solomon Schechter School of Atlanta

Introduction

We know very little about the Prophet Nahum, nothing beyond what is told
in the first verse of his book, where we learn that he comes from Elkosh, a
city not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible. His book is seventh in order
of the Twelve Prophets. It consists of three chapters, divided into 47 verses,
which predict the fall of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria and seat of its
mighty empire that dominated the entire Near East from Mesopotamia to the
Mediterranean for more than a century.

Nahum extols the overthrow of Assyria, which he felt to be inevitable, and


which, indeed, did take place after the death of Asshurbanipal in 630 BCE.
He asserts boldly that the Lord is the avenger of cruelty and immorality,
who will rid His people of their ruthless oppressor. Unlike all his
predecessors and contemporaries who taught that God would punish Israel
for its backslidings, Nahum does not mention the sins of Judah even once.
His only theme is the downfall of Nineveh and the destruction of all who
oppress Israel and oppose the God of justice.

Nahum delivers his simple message with emotional and dramatic power, in
matchless poetry full of vivid imagery. Only a reading in the Hebrew can
capture his use of alliteration, assonance, striking metaphors, similes, and
sophisticated word play.

Chapter 1: The Coming of God the Avenger

This introduction describes God’s protection for those who trust in Him and
His anger against those who provoke Him.

1. The language of verse 3 refers to the Lord as "slow to anger, great in


power, Who will by no means clear the guilty." Compare this
description to the thirteen attributes of God in Exodus 34:6 and
Numbers 14:18.
2. If you can read Hebrew, even without getting its meaning, recite verse
10 aloud for its beautiful alliteration which is lost in translation: ki ad

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Perek Yomi: Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi

sirim sevuchim uchesovam sevuim,.


3. Verse 14 delivers a true finality to the destruction of the oppressor.
How does the image of "Your name will not be sown any more…"
underline this finality?

Chapter 2: The Destruction of Nineveh and the Fate of Assyria

Here is a graphic, perhaps visionary, account of the capture of Nineveh from


the approach of the invaders, through the flight of the inhabitants, the
shattering of the ramparts, and the taking of spoils.

1. The chapter opens joyously, with a messenger of good tidings and


peace, telling Judah that the oppression has ended and the people are
free to celebrate their holidays once more. (Look at Isaiah 52:7 for
similar imagery relating to the downfall of Babylon.) What is the effect
on you of Nahum’s visualizing this happiness before the military
campaign has begun?
2. Now the scene changes to the power and flash of the Persian armies
as they assault and sack the Assyrian capital. What impression does
Nahum create with "the warriors clothed in scarlet" and "chariots of
fiery steel"? (Verse 4)
3. Verses 6-8 portray the Assyrian monarch’s desperate and useless
efforts to defend the city. How do you interpret the phrase "the palace
melts"? (Verse 7)
4. After Nineveh’s terrified residents flee, verses 12-14 ask, "Where is the
den of the lions?" Why is this metaphor an apt description for Assyria?

Chapter Three: Denunciation and Doom of Nineveh

Here Nahum explains that Nineveh’s fall is punishment for the merciless
treatment of its former victims. The glory that was once Assyria will fall, like
newly ripened figs, into the hands of the conqueror.

1. Assyria’s treachery included luring weaker nations into submission by


making reasonable proposals, then breaking all faith through abusive
cruelty. Now Nineveh lies in "piles of carcasses, there is no end of
corpses, they stumble over the corpses." (Verse 3) Why this triple

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Perek Yomi: Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi

repetition?
2. Note verses 4, 5, and 6 where Assyria is compared to a "whore full of
whorishness" and a "mistress of witchcraft," to a shamed adulteress,
and to something "vile." Why all the imagery of female degradation?
3. In verse 14, Nahum exhorts the city to start collecting water for a siege
and to strengthen its fortifications with bricks. Why this advice when
the preceding verses have already portrayed unremitting destruction?
4. The chapter ends with Assyria’s former victims clapping hands –
rejoicing – at the report of her downfall. Why is there no mercy for her
suffering women, her innocent young children?

The Book of Habakkuk

Janet Schatten, Jewish Family Educator, The Epstein School; Ahavath


Achim Synagogue

Introduction

Three years after Babylonia’s victory over Assyria, King Josiah of Judea
intercepted the Egyptian army on their way to the north in the Megiddo
Valley Pass. Josiah was killed in battle. Later the Babylonians, led by the
king’s son, Nebuchadnezzar defeated the Egyptians and ruled over the
nations west of the Euphrates- including Judea- which had once been under
Assyrian domination. This was the fulfillment of Habakkuk’s prophecy
concerning the Babylonian’s rise to power. Nebuchadnezzar destroyed
Jerusalem and the Temple, and exiled to Babylon the rest of the inhabitants
of Judea. This was the fulfillment of Habakkuk’s vision of Israel being
destroyed by the Babylonians. Then, thirty years after the destruction of the
First Temple, Babylonia was destroyed, in fulfillment of the third part of
Habakkuk’s prophecy.

The haftarah for the second day of Shavuot is found in 3:1-19.

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Perek Yomi: Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi

(Source: The Living NaCh: Moznaim Publishing Corporation)

Chapter 1: Habakkuk Questions God: Why do bad things happen to good


people?

Habakkuk begins his book with the question of theodicy- a justification of


the justice and goodness of God in the light of the existence of evil.

1. What are the evil things that haunt Habakkuk? Why does he hold God
responsible for the evil? What do you think he would say about free
will?

Chapter 2: God’s Answer: "Justice will come"

God answers the question of theodicy by explaining that the ultimate justice
will come. Babylon will not be satisfied with their numerous victories but
will continue to wage war against other nations (Rashi).

It is the righteous, unlike Habakkuk, who do not question Divine judgment


(Alshech).

1. This chapter gives warning to the Babylonians. Three of these


warnings begin with "Woe to you who. . ." Compare the issues of
deceit involved in these three warnings.

2. Explain the reasons for the prohibition against idol worship (18).

Chapter 3: Habakkuk’s Prayer: "God, I understand your answer"

The final chapter recognizes the greatness of God. Many of the references
to God’s greatness are related specifically to the Jewish people’s past and
future experiences. Look at verses 2, 4, 9,10, 11 and 15 to find lines that
might represent the following:

● The Jewish people are the work of God’s hands.


● To the Israelites, the appearance of God’s glory on the mountaintop
was like a devouring flame (Ex. 24:17 Radak)
● God provided water in the desert by miraculously splitting the rock

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(Kimchi).
● The mountain shook during the Revelation at Sinai.
● During the Israelites’ war in Gibeon, the sun and the moon stood still
for Joshua
● The Egyptians were destroyed in the Red Sea (Kimchi).

1. Chapter 3 ends with a metaphor of a fig tree which does not

blossom because of the destruction of the nations that battle


against Israel in the war of Gog and Magog (Radak). Habakkuk
asks for God’s assistance. Compare the end of the last chapter to
the beginning of the first chapter. How has his belief in God
changed?

2. Chapter 2 begins with a request that this prophecy be written

clearly on tablets so that it can be read easily. The book ends with
a request that the prophecy should be sung frequently along with
musical accompaniment. Why is this book’s message so powerful
for future generations?

The Book of Zephaniah

Rabbi E. Noach Shapiro, Ahavath Achim Synagogue

Introduction

We have little information abut Zephaniah. However, what we lack in hard


detail is amply compensated for by rabbinic midrash about his identity and
the meaning of his message. For example the Pesikta de Rav Kahane
suggests that Zephaniah, Jeremiah, and the

prophetess Huldah prophesied as a team - Jeremiah preached in the streets


of Jerusalem, Huldah instructed the women, and Zephaniah spoke in the
synagogue and Beit Midrash (House of Study).

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Rabbinic commentary agreed that Zephaniah came from a noble line, if not a
royal one. His emphasis in preaching was not necessarily to advocate for
the poor like Isaiah, but he does burn with a fire of moral righteousness.
Besides emphasizing the vindication of the innocent and the destruction of
the wicked nations, Zephaniah also discusses what he considers
fundamental religious responsibilities: sincerity, integrity, humility, and
unflinching loyalty to God.

The dating of this Book is generally accepted to be during the early part of
Josiah's rule (639-608, BCE).

Chapter 1: The day of God

1. The second verse immediately raises a question about God's


justice - is this Noach's Flood all over again? Didn't God promise
to never kill everyone again? Is God allowed to keep threatening
to wipe everyone out? Does this mean that just the sinners will be
wiped out, or will the "good guys" be punished as well?

1. In verse 5 the term "housetops" is generally understood to mean that


the roofs of houses in the Middle East were flat, making it easier for
their residents to worship the sun, moon and stars.
2. Zephaniah's harshest prophecies and darkest threats are reserved for
those who engage in idol worship. Why do you think idolatry is the sin
that provokes such fierce and relentless condemnation? Isn't God
strong enough to protect His/Her own reputation as the only God?
3. Of all the different possible sins that people can commit, aren't there
others worse than idolatry, and more deserving of condemnation by
the prophet?
4. In verse 8 what does the prophet mean by "all those who wear foreign
apparel"? What is his complaint here? Who is he talking about and do
we have any modern parallels?
5. In verse 9, the phrase "those that leaped over the threshold" - is
anything but crystal clear. Many explanations have been given -most
of them relating to conquerors "leaping over the threshold" in order to

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plunder and steal. Does this make sense to you? How do you
understand this phrase?
6. In verse 13, in what way does the prophet use the images of building
houses and not living in them, and planting vineyards without drinking
their wine? What are the messages here? How are these images
effective in communicating that message?

Chapter 2: Israel restored

1. In verse 13, it's interesting that the city of Nineveh is used as


an

example of one of the places that God will destroy, and yet we
know from the book of Jonah that Nineveh actually does tshuvah
(repents) and is saved. How do we reconcile this apparent
contradiction?

Chapter 3: Jerusalem’s immorality

1. In Verse 4, the Prophet says that the kohanim have profaned


"what is holy". How did they do that? What do you make of the
next sentence? Why is the Law such a featured and prominent
part of our tradition?

2. What role does halacha play in your connection to Judaism?


What motivates you to do the things that you do - obligation or
choice?

3. When the prophet mentions (5), that the "unrighteous have no


shame", what is he really trying to say? This questions brings us
back to the previous question - why do we do what we do? shame
and obligation? or free choice?

The Book of Haggai

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Perek Yomi: Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi

Rabbi Adam Frank, Associate Director, Ramah Darom

Introduction:

In the fifty-second year after Jerusalem’s destruction, King Cyrus of Persia


granted the Israelites in exile permission to return to their homeland and to
rebuild their Holy Temple. However, Cyrus’s decree incensed certain
factions in Persia who were opposed to letting the Israelites return to their
land. They began an intensive lobbying effort to persuade the king to
change his pro-Israelite position. They partially succeeded; a short while
late Cyrus repealed his decision to permit the Israelites to reconstruct the
Temple.

Now, 18 years after their initial return, the prophet Haggai admonishes the
Israelites who returned to their homeland from the Babylonian exile for
postponing the construction of the Temple. Conversely, the prophet gives
encouragement to those who took his words of rebuke to heart and began
working on the Temple Mount. He promises them that the Divine Presence
will reside among them, that the glory of the Second Temple will surpass
that of the First, and that the land of Israel will be blessed with great
prosperity. [Introduction taken from The Living NaCh: Later Prophets]

Chapter 1: The cures

1. The Jews returned to the Land of Israel 18 years earlier. Why would
they continue to say, "The time has not come for rebuilding the House
of Gd"? (verse 2)
2. Verse 6 speaks of the hardships of the people. According to Haggai,
why do they suffer these hardships?
3. At this point in Jewish history, the First Temple has been non-existent
for seventy years. However, Joshua son of Hehozadak is explicitly
identified as the Kohen Hagadol, the High Priest. Without a Temple,
why is there an identifiable High Priest and what is his role?

Chapter 2: The glory of the Second Temple

1. How long did it take to build the Second Temple? How does this

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Perek Yomi: Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi

compare to the building of the First Temple? Is there a significant


difference in the leadership under whom the two constructions
occurred?
2. Verse 6 – What is the, "another one, a small one" to which Gd refers?
3. Verse 9 – In what ways would you expect the "glory" of the Second
Temple to surpass that of the First Temple? Historically, in what ways
was it more glorious?
4. What is the purpose of the questions posed to the priests in verses 11-
13? What is the source/type of impurity that Haggai refers to in verse
14?
5. What is the meaning of Haggai’s final prophecy (verses 20-23)?
6. Verse 23 – Who and for what has Gd chosen?

The Book of Zechariah

Rabbi Loren Sykes, Executive Director, Ramah Darom

Introduction

The prophet known as Zechariah lived in the period of the return of the
exiles and the beginning of the construction of the Second Temple, around
the years 536 - 520 BCE. Biblical scholarship indicates that Zechariah was a
contemporary of Haggai and preached a similar message. The book is rich
in images, notably a series of visions that the prophet describes and which
are explained by an angel of God. The visions of the four horsemen, the four
horns, the flying scroll and others are classic in their style.

The book is generally divided into two sections. Chapters 1 - 8 contain the
majority of the vision narratives. Biblical scholars, such as Bright and
Gottwald, seem to agree that chapters 9 - 14 constitute a separate unit. They
are different in both tone and style. The themes of repentance, the centrality
of and the return to Jerusalem, and the advent of yemot hamashiach, the
days of the Messiah form the core of the messages of Zechariah. At other

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Perek Yomi: Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi

times, Zechariah preaches the themes most common to the prophets, those
of righteousness and justice, of care for the widow and the orphan, of truth
and repentance.

Two particularly famous verses appear in Zechariah that should be noted


here. In Chapter 4, verse 6, we read:

Then he answered me and spoke to me, saying: "this is the word


of the Lord to Zerubbavel, saying: Not by might not by power, but
by My spirit, says the Lord of hosts.

In chapter 14, verse 9, we read:

And the Lord shall be King over all the earth; on that day the Lord
shall be One and His name One.

This is the same verse that appears at the end of the second paragraph of
the Aleinu prayer: V'ne'emar, v'haya...

The message is that what will move people to repent, to rebuild, and to
change is not force or power, but the Divine spirit, the inspiration we receive
on a daily basis. On the day when that becomes the operating principle in
society, on that day, God will be King over all the earth. Welcoming the
Divine Spirit, the Shekhina, into our lives and into our world will bring about
the days of Universal peace, the days of the Messiah.

Two haftarot are taken from the Book of Zechariah: Behaalotekha and
Shabbat Hanukah (2:14-4:7) and the first day of Sukkot (14:1-21)

Chapter 1: The man and the horses among the myrtles

1. Why is it important for Zechariah to begin with the theme of


repentance?
2. What might be the significance of the fact that the horses in the vision
are of different colors?
3. Where else in the Torah or Tanakh do we learn about an important red
animal? Is there any connection between these two animals?

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4. What is the meaning of the phrase "...we have walked throughout the
earth and the earth is still and at rest..." (11)?
5. In verse 16, the prophet quotes God saying: "...a line shall be stretched
out over Jerusalem..." What type of line is this? Why is it important?

Chapter 2: Blessings of redemption

1. What is the symbolic meaning of the horn in Jewish tradition? Where


else does the Tanakh speak about four horns?
2. In what other places in the Tanakh is the image of God presented as
fire? What might this fire image represent?
3. How do you understand God as the essence of honor?
4. What other things in our tradition come in groups of four? Do you see
any connection between this group of four and other groups of four in
the Tanakh?
5. What times during the year do we read Zechariah 2:14 as the Haftarah?
What do you see as the connection between these verses and the
Torah portions to which they are connected?
6. Where else in the Torah does the phrase "v'shachanti b'tocham - and I
will dwell among them" appear? What is the context? Is there a
connection?

Chapter 3: Satan accuses Joshua

1. Where else in the Tanakh do we read of a trial where "Satan - the


Other" stands as the prosecutor?

2) Why is it significant to mention that Joshua the High Priest is


wearing "dirty" clothes?

3) Is the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest, Joshua actually on trial?


For whom might Joshua be a metaphor?

4) What might the "seven facets on the stone" in verse 9


symbolize?

Chapter 4: The golden menorah

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1. Think about the state the prophet describes in verse 1. How do you
feel when you are awakened from a deep slumber? How do you first
react?
2. How do you understand the warning given to Zerrubavel in verse 6?
3. How might we implement the spirit of chapter four, verse 6 in this
world? How can we in our own way impart it to both our leaders,
ourselves, and our descendants?
4. As in chapter 2, we have a powerful numeric image. In these chapters,
the focus is on the number 7. What other groups of seven can you
think of in our tradition? Why are they important?

Chapter 5: The flying scroll

1. This chapter focuses on a vision of a flying scroll or megillah. In our


modern prayer service, when do we have a flying or elevated scroll?
Compare and contrast these images. Do you see any connection
between the image of the flying scroll in our chapter and the times that
we elevate scrolls in our prayer service?

2) Where is Shinar, and why might it be a significant place?

Chapter 6: The four chariots and the two crowns

1. To what mountains might the prophet be speaking of?

2) Is there contemporary significance to these two mountains?

3) What is the significance of the coronation scene?

4) What feeling do you get from the abrupt end to this chapter?

Chapter 7: Should Tisha b’Av be abolished?

1. In verse 3, the prophet raises a question: now that the Temple in


Jerusalem, the Beit HaMikdash, is under reconstruction, should the

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fast of the Ninth of Av - commemorating the destruction of the Temple


- be maintained or should it be abrogated? How does the prophet
answer the question?

2) In our day, when Jerusalem is once again in the hands of Am


Yisrael - the People of Israel - and the capital of Medinat Yisrael -
the State of Israel - do you think the fast should be maintained?
Why, or why not?

Chapter 8: Israel will be a blessing among the nations

1. What does it mean when we speak of God using terms such as


"jealous"? Why is this an important literary technique in the prophetic
writings? How do you interpret this imagery?

2) How does the image of the return of the exiles speak to you?

3) In what way are we still in exile today?

4) In verse 10, the prophet says in the name of God that "...to the
one who came in or who went out, there was no peace because of
the enemy." Who or what is your enemy who keeps you from
feeling peace and completeness?

5) From where will your zemach shalom, seed of peace, your


comfort and completion come from (12)?

6) How can you make the words of Zechariah in verse 16 - 17 part


of your daily life?

Chapter 9: The coming of the Messiah

1. What is the meaning of the phrase "...For men’s eyes will turn to God,
and to all the tribes of Israel" (1)?

2) How does the image of the Messiah in verse 9 compare with


the message conveyed to Zerrubavel in chapter 4, verse 6?

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3) Why might the prophet deliver such an impassioned vision of


the return of the exiles?

4) What social circumstances or morale issues prompt such a


powerful message?

Chapter 10: The gathering of the exiles

1. In considering verse 1, what other verses in the Tanakh or specifically


the Torah come to mind? What do these have to do with the Divine
Blessing?

2) Who are the false prophets of our time? How do we recognize


them? What should we do about them?

3) What does it mean to walk in God's name (12)?

Chapter 11: A flock destined for slaughter

1) Why does the prophet vacillate between the impending


blessings (chapter 10), and the potential failure of the people to
accept the blessing here in chapter 11?

Chapter 12: Jerusalem’s victory

1) Chapter 12 raises powerful images concerning the recapture


and re-establishment of Jerusalem and its protection. What are
the multiple messages that we should take from this chapter?

Chapter 13: A day of universal purification

1. How do we purify our souls today?

2) What are today's idols? How do we "cut them out of the


land" (2)?

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3) Who is the shepherd referred to in verse 7?

Chapter 14: Cataclysm and pilgrimage

This chapter contains the familiar verse (9) found at the conclusion of the
Aleinu prayer: V’ne’emar, v’haya Adonai . . .

And God will King of all the earth. On that day, God will be One
and His Name One.

The commentator Malbim says that this is a prophecy that all the many
names by which God is called will fall away. God will then have only one
Name, the holy Tetragrammaton (the four letter name), and, as opposed to
the present, it will be pronounced as it is written (rather than as Adonai).

1. To what spoil does the prophet refer in verse 1?

2) In this chapter, the prophet is speaking about the capture of


Jerusalem. To what else might the prophet be referring?

3) What is the significance of the living waters in verse 8?

4) What is our role in fulfilling the vision of verse 9?

5) Why is Sukkot the holiday that will be observed by all in the


End of Days?

THE BOOK OF MALACHI

Rabbi Shalom Lewis, Congregation Etz Chaim

Introduction

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Malachi is the last of the Twelve Minor Prophets. Indeed he is considered to


be the final prophet in the long line of Jewish prophets that began with
Moses. The name "Malachi" means "my messenger" and is not necessarily
the name of the book’s author - though this pseudonym has been used as
such. Rabbinic sources ascribe the book to Ezra because both he and
Malachi admonish the Israelites for marrying non-Jewish women. Scholars
today generally concede the anonymity of the author.

Based on internal references and evidence, it appears that the text was
written after the Jews returned from Babylonian exile and had completed
building the Second Temple. While the Talmud tells us that Haggai,
Zechariah, and Malachi all prophesied in the same period (Megillah 15a),
Radak places Malachi last since, unlike his two contemporaries, he makes
no mention of the Temple’s construction, which presumably had already
been completed.

The prophet’s primary goal in the book is to re-establish the purity of the
Temple priesthood and sacrificial cult. Malachi speaks to a nation that is
riddled with corrupt priests, and practices adultery, intermarriage, and
cruelty. A secondary purpose thus is to separate the sinners from the
righteous, reminding the Jews that God will forgive the truly penitent.
Malachi praises the heathens who are sincere in their worship of God, in
contrast to the corruption and hypocrisy of the Jews. He addresses the
issue of intermarriage extensively, and concludes with a warning that God’s
day of judgement is near.

The book is divided into three chapters, including six oracles delivered in
question and answer or Socratic style. It contains two haftarot: Toldot (1:1-
2:7) and Shabbat HaGadol (3:4-24).

Points to Ponder

● Why did the Jews’ excitement wane after their return from exile?
● Why did the masses see God as supportive of tyranny? What was the
result?
● Are there any parallels between the sloppy conduct of the priesthood
then, and today’s synagogue practices? What can we learn?

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● The priests’ failure to lead, led to the social decline. What can rabbis
today learn from this shirked responsibility?
● What responsibility did the Israelites have for creating an ideal
society? What responsibility do congregants have today for creating
an ideal synagogue?

● The promise of punishment for evildoers and reward for the righteous
was a major part of Malachi’s teachings. We know that all too often
"the righteous suffer and the corrupt prosper." How do we explain
that? Does the concept of a hereafter help?
● Though Malachi was considered the last prophet, do you believe that
prophecy still exists? Why? Why not?
● What are the unique aspects of the Jewish prophetic tradition?

Chapter 1: Accusation against the priests

1. What is God’s purpose in attacking Esau?


2. How does verse 5 fit into Judaism’s universalistic view of God?
3. How is verse 7’s reference to bread and a table an echo of paganism?
Where in the Temple do we find a similar "echo"?
4. Give examples of the moral corruption attacked by the prophet. (See
verses 8 and 13.)

Chapter 2: Warnings against intermarriage

The prophet admonishes the young Israelite men for marrying non-Jewish
women by declaring, "have we not all one Father? Has not one God created
us"? (10) The commentators understand this verse as, "we Jews all believe
in One God, as opposed to the non-Jews who believe in several different
deities".

1. Why does Malachi criticize the priests?


2. How will God "turn [the priests’] blessings into curses" (2)? (one
interpretation understands "blessings" as goods, i.e. the gifts given to
the priests).
3. What does Malachi say about the priesthood in verses 5 to 7?
4. How is the principle midah k’neged midah – "measure for

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measure" - used here?

5. Does Malachi’s condemnation of intermarriage serve as a source of


comfort or alarm to you? What relevance does Malachi’s message
have for us today?
6. In verse 11 what might the last clause refer to literally and/or
figuratively?
7. Rashi sees the Israelites’ offense as two-fold: first they chose gentile
women as wives, but the second offense was much worse – men who
were already married to Israelite wives took gentile women as second
wives and gave them control over the household, which distressed the
Jewish women terribly.
8. What accusation do the faithful make of God?

Chapter 3: Between the God-fearing and the wicked

1. Who is speaking in the opening verse?


2. What imagery is used to show how the good will be separated from the
corrupt?
3. Malachi tells the Jews to be patient – why?
4. What theological issues are the Jews challenging?
5. In verse 16 what makes us think of the Book of Esther?
6. Who is the "treasured" referred to in verse 17?
7. What "day" is referred to in verse 19?
8. What do we learn here about the development of the Messianic idea?
9. Why is the next to the last verse repeated at the end? Where else do
we find this motif?

Hazak, hazak, v’nithazek!

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Perek Yomi: Psalms

Perek Yomi: Tehilim


The Book of Psalms

A Project of MACCJ

the Metro Atlanta Council for Conservative Judaism

http://uscj.org/soeast/atlanta

Introduction by David R. Blumenthal

Edited by Steven Chervin

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Perek Yomi: Psalms

MACCJ (Metro Atlanta Council for

Conservative Judaism)

MACCJ is the umbrella organization for Conservative synagogues and


organizations in Atlanta, including The Epstein School - Solomon Schechter
School of Atlanta, Ramah Darom – The Center for Southern Jewry, Ahavath
Achim Synagogue, Congregation Etz Chaim, Congregation Beth Shalom,
North Fulton Jewish Center, the United Synagogue of Conservative
Judaism, The Jewish Theological Seminary, Women’s League for
Conservative Judaism, and the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs. A central
element in the mission of MACCJ is to promote Jewish education in the
greater Atlanta community. MACCJ is co-chaired by Sue Rothstein of
Congregation Etz Chaim, and Cheryl R. Finkel, Head of The Epstein School.

Perek Yomi Coordinating Council

The Perek Yomi Coordinating Council is co-chaired by Steven Chervin


(Epstein School and AA) and Janet Schatten (Epstein School and AA). Its
members include Steve Birch, Sue Rothstein, and Nancy Seifert-Gorod (Etz
Chaim); Eileen Cohn and Jennifer Stark-Blumenthal (Beth Shalom); Jill
Jarecki Mainzer and Rabbi Adam Frank (Ramah Darom); and Rabbi Albert
Slomovitz and Steve Horn (North Fulton Jewish Center).

TEHILLIM: STUDYING AND PRAYING PSALMS

David R. Blumenthal, Jay and Leslie Cohen Professor of Jewish Studies,


Emory University

The Book of Psalms is, probably, the original book of prayer. Prayer is addressing
God: speaking to, and for, God, the people, and oneself. The psalmist prays to

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Perek Yomi: Psalms

God and allows us to listen.

Studying the psalms is the first step toward praying them. The psalms are deep
and profound. They cannot be read like a newspaper article; they must be
studied. Study, however, poses many questions: First, what does the text mean?
This is not so simple because the text is poetry and, hence, it is allusive. The text
has also been transmitted, orally and in written form, over many centuries by
many people; hence, it contains irregularities. Literary styles, too, change; hence,
for example, what may seem repetitious to us may have been an art form to the
psalmist. All these issues complicate the problem of determining what the
meaning of the text is.

Second, what is the situation of the psalmist? What moment in life prompted the
psalm? And, together with this, what is the religious feeling, the spiritual attitude,
behind this psalm? What makes it "religious" or "spiritual"? Third, there is a long
history of commentation to the psalms. What do the voices of the tradition say
about the psalm? Only after having studied psalms can we pray them.

To pray a psalm, one should first choose a psalm which says that which one
wants to say. If you are joyous, choose a joyful psalm. If you are angry, choose an
angry psalm. There are psalms for all moments in life.

Then, study the psalm. Divide it carefully into its internal voices, for the psalmist
changes perspective every few lines, speaking sometimes to God, sometimes to
the reader, and sometimes to himself.

● Pick the most important line, or the most important phrase or word in a line.
● Read the psalm over and over until you understand it.
● Read it yet again, and again, until it speaks for you.
● When you have made the psalm yours, you are ready to pray. Bring yourself
into the Presence and speak the psalm slowly, to God.

I have been very fortunate in my own study and prayerful use of the psalms, and
in having students who have responded to the call of the psalms. We have,
together, read the text and determined its basic meaning. We have analyzed the
situation of the psalmist and the religious experience that the text conveys. And
we have, then, made the psalms our own by writing interpretive commentaries,

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Perek Yomi: Psalms

sometimes participating in the psalmist’s prayer and sometimes reading against


the text. In doing this, we have cultivated the art of multi-level commentary; that is,
of writing more than one commentary, each of which fulfills a different purpose.
Some of our work has been published; more of it is yet to come.

[Please see Dr. Blumenthal’s website at www.emory.edu/UDR/BLUMENTHAL and go to


Student Work – ed]

Psalms – 1-10

Jill Jarecki Mainzer

Associate Director – Director of Education

Ramah Darom

Psalm 1

As we read the psalms, we can try to imagine and enter the mind-set of the
author. In addition, we can try to internalize the message that the author is
conveying through his poetry. Many of the psalms address the differences
between the righteous and the wicked.

In this psalm, the first verse focuses on the righteous person – the person who
enjoys spiritual joy. This person does not "walk in the counsel of the wicked."

1. Why do you think the author encourages us not to "walk, stand, or sit" with the
wicked, sinners, or those who are scornful? What is the power in using these
images?

2. Who are the people in our lives who may be "scornful"? How can we limit the
influence that they have? How can we "walk, stand, and sit" with people who are
righteous?

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3. Who is your role model? Who is someone in your life who "delights in the law of
the Lord?" (Verse 2) How can you emulate that behavior? Who are the role
models for your children? Are you? How can you surround your family with
positive role models, so that they are not "walking, standing, or sitting" with those
who may have a negative influence?

4. What do you think the author’s message is?

Psalm 2

This psalm is a warning to both nations and individuals to serve the Lord.

1. Why do you think the author employs the image of God sitting in heaven and
laughing? (verse 4)

2. Those who are not serving the Lord are held in "derision, wrath, and
displeasure." (verse 5) What event or events would cause the author to create this
psalm?

3. Why would the author choose to focus on the punishment of the wicked rather
than on the reward of the righteous?

4. Why do you think this psalm ends with a reference to those who "take refuge
in" the Lord?

Psalm 3

1. Verse 1 tells us about the circumstances surrounding the creation of this psalm.
How does that information help us to understand the mind-set of King David and
the imagery he uses?

2. How do you think King David was able to compose such a psalm of faith and
hope as he fled from his own son?

3. At the end of verse 3 we see the word "selah." Some commentators believe
that "selah" indicated a change in tune at that point. Why might this be a place for
a change in tune? What do you think the tune was until the end of verse 3? What
kind of tune do you think it would change to as verse 4 begins?
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4. Under what circumstances might someone find comfort in this psalm today?

Psalm 4

This psalm is viewed as a sequel to psalm 3, composed when some of the danger
had subsided. King David speaks both to God and to others in this psalm.

1. In the structure of this psalm, King David thanks God in verses 1 and 2, advises
people to follow God in verses 3-7, and then thanks God again in the final two
verses, 8 and 9. What do you think is the message of that structure?

2. In verse 5, King David urges each individual to "commune with your own heart."
What would be the purpose of this self-reflection?

3. In verse 8, King David speaks to God and says that "You have put gladness in
my heart." Who controls what is "in someone’s heart?" Does verse 5 contradict
verse 8? How can one commune with his/her own heart and have God put
gladness into one’s heart? How does prayer help us to achieve both?

Psalm 5

1. David asks God in verse 1 to hear his words and to consider his meditation.
When might someone want God to listen to unspoken words?

2. Verse 4 emphasizes prayer in the morning. What do you think is the


significance of this?

3. Verse 13 praises God for "blessing the righteous." David must have had
experiences where he saw righteous people who did not appear to be blessed.
What allowed him to write this, in spite of those experiences?

4. What kinds of blessings do righteous people have? Is it possible for each


person to attain those blessings through acts of righteousness?

Psalm 6

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This psalm was written by David during a time of illness.

1. What does David see as the reason for his illness?

2. What does David hope to accomplish by telling God that "in death there is no
remembrance of You?"

3. In verses 9 and 10, David feels that "the Lord has heard my supplication." What
do you think caused David to feel that his prayers had been answered here when
just two verses earlier, in verse 7, he is "weary with groaning?"

4. Do you think this psalm would provide comfort for someone who is ill today?

Psalm 7

This psalm appeals to God for protection from foes. Verses 13 – 17 detail the
activities of evil people.

1. At the end of verse 17, David concludes that that those who commit evil deeds
will eventually succumb themselves to that evil. Do you agree?

2. Verse 15 speaks of mischief and falsehood. Does this prevent one from being
righteous? Are mischief and falsehood evil?

3. What is an example of mischief that could be considered evil? How can we


prevent that kind of mischief in our community today? How can we prevent or
correct falsehoods that cause harm to others?

4. What, in your opinion, is our obligation to do so?

Psalm 8

This psalm expresses glory at God’s creations and the role of people in the
universe. Verses 5 and 6 are often read in conjunction with the Yizkor service.

1. What do you think aroused these sentiments in David? Have you ever had an
experience which caused you to wonder at creation?

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2. What is David feeling as he looks to the heavens and contemplates the


significance of people in the universe?

3. What does David mean when he says that people are "but little lower than
angels?" (verse 6) What can people accomplish that raises them to the level of
angels? What can you accomplish that links you to the angels? Why do you think
these verses are often associated with the Yizkor prayers?

4. What is meaningful about taking a step back and considering one’s place in
relation to all of creation? How does this help to comfort a person in times of fear
or illness? Why might this psalm follow psalms expressing fear and asking for
protection?

Psalm 9

1. In this psalm, the first three verses are praises and songs of thanksgiving. The
rest of the psalm continues to praise God and also details the downfall of God’s
enemies. Who might be considered God’s enemies today?

2. Verse 19 refers to the needy and poor being forgotten. Who is forgetting them?
Who is responsible for caring for the poor and the needy?

3. How does verse 19 fit into the rest of the psalm?

4. The psalm concludes with verse 21 asking God to "let the nations know that
they are but men." How does the tone of this verse compare to the tone of psalm
8 where men are "little lower than angels?" How do people balance "just being
people" with being "little lower than angels?" Which actions of ours are only
human? Which bring us closer to God?

Psalm 10

This psalm asks God to humble those who oppress others.

1. Verse 6 describes a wicked person as feeling in his heart that he shall not be
moved. How does one prevent himself or herself from being "moved"? Why do we
sometimes close our eyes to something that may "move" us?

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2. Verse 7 points to the wickedness that comes from one’s tongue. How do we
prevent ourselves from falling into this trap? Why is cursing and deceit so harmful?

3. Verse 11 describes the wicked as believing that God does not see the
wickedness. Do we use this excuse today when we are tempted to follow the
"yetzer ha-rah," the evil inclination?

4. In addition to praying for the oppressed, how can we right the wrongs in our
community? What prevents us from doing so? What motivates us to take action to
help those in need? How can we motivate others?

Psalms 11-20

Bradley Tecktiel, Rabbi-in-Residence, The Epstein School

Psalm 11

In this Psalm, the author is writing from a perspective of being in danger, with life
being threatened. His friends urge him to seek safety in flight but he refuses,
preferring to rely on God’s protection.

1. How does the Psalmist find the courage to "take refuge" with God in the face of
danger? How do we respond in similar situations?

2. In verse 3, David asks "What have the righteous wrought?" He is questioning


the righteous in the kingdom, those that stood by and did nothing against the
lawlessness of the rulers. What does it mean to take a stand against powerful
rulers who are abusing power? Why are some of the most righteous among us
often the ones who sit idly by in the face of lawlessness?

3. In verse 4, David refers to the "Holy Temple," but it has not yet been built. To

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what could he be referring?

4. Also in verse 4, David uses the image of God’s eyelids testing men. What is
this image that he is trying to portray?

Psalm 12

This is another of the "persecution Psalms": The innocent are beset by enemies
trying to destroy them.

1. In verse 1, we are told that this Psalm was accompanied by a sh’meneet. The
sh’meneet was a type of instrument with a deep tone. What does musical
accompaniment add to a prayer?

2. In this particular Psalm, David prays to God to punish those who use their
mouths to do evil. What are some of the ways in which we use our mouths to do
evil?

3. In verse 5, the Psalmist puts the onus on us to control our tongues. What can
we do to curb our idle gossip, and the harm we do with our lips?

4. In verse 7, the Psalmist refers to God’s words as "silver tried in a crucible on


the earth, refined seven times." What does he mean? What is the difference
between the words of man and words of God?

Psalm 13

In this Psalm, we find David crying out to God about the length of the suffering he
must endure.

1. How many times have we called out to God saying, "how long?" Is it right to
question God’s plan?

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2. In verse 4, David asks God to "answer him." What answer is David looking for?
What kind of answers are we looking for when we call out to God?

Psalm 14

This Psalm is a lament about how hard it is for an Israelite to live in a God-less
world.

1. Verse 1 seems to charge atheism as being the reason for corruption and
decadence in the world. Does one have to believe in God to be good? Can there
be ethics, values and morality in a world with no God?

2. "Naval," is a term used to describe someone who is lacking a sense of honor


and decency, deliberately preferring evil to good. Are there "navals" today? What
can we do to defeat the "navals" of today?

Psalm 15

This is one of the most famous Psalms.

1. In verse 1, the Psalmist asks, "Who will dwell in your tabernacle?" What is this
tabernacle to which the Psalmist refers?

2. What are the criteria for gaining entrance into this tabernacle? Do you agree
with the criteria? Are there more you would add? Are there some you would leave
out?

3. The Talmud states that this Psalm is a summary of the 613 commandments.
How so?

4. This Psalm is often recited at a funeral. What other occasions would it be


appropriate to recite this psalm?

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Psalm 16

This Psalm is a hymn of joy. It uses the term michtam, the meaning of which is not
clear. There are six Psalms that are called michtamim. Most commentators
understand the term to be a musical title.

1. The Psalmist finds joy in the mere acceptance of God. In verse 5, he gives at
least one reason for this when he says, "you have maintained my lot." Is the
psalmist suggesting an ascetic lifestyle? Does enjoyment of material goods
decrease our commitment to God?

2. Verse 8 is a popular phrase, "I have set the Lord always before me." What
would it mean for us to always put God and the mitzvot before everything else?

3. In verse 9, the Psalmist refers to his heart, glory and flesh as being protected
by God. Each of these is a metaphor for something larger. To what is the Psalmist
alluding?

Psalm 17

There are three Psalms that are referred to as, "A prayer of David." This particular
Psalm gives the sense of the author being pursued by those bent on his
destruction.

1. Compare the mood in this Psalm with that of the last. Does the Psalmist have
the same sense of joy and "protection"?

2. According to the Psalmist, what has he done to maintain God’s favor? What
lesson can we learn from the Psalmist here?

3. One way of interpreting verse 11 is that the Psalmist suddenly includes God
with him as the pursued, "at our every step they now encompass us." In what
ways are those that pursue the Psalmist also trying to destroy God?

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Psalm 18

In this Psalm David thanks God for saving him from his pursuers. There is an
almost exact parallel in II Samuel Chapter 22.

1. In verse 9-15, the Psalmist gives a graphic description of God as a warrior.


What do you think was the Psalmist’s intention? Is this a picture of God we would
like to have in our minds?

2. Verses 22-28 beg the question of why bad things happen to good people.
According the Psalmist, reward and punishment are in direct proportion to
obedience to God’s word. Is this the only answer to the question of theodicy? Can
we still find meaning in our day with this image of an omniscient God?

3. What lesson can we learn from the Psalmist’s earnest desire to give God credit
for his victory over his enemies? De we accomplish all of our goals on our own?
Do we take full credit for our successes or are there others in our lives who help
us achieve our desires?

Psalm 19

This Psalm gives us two distinct ways to witness God, in nature and in Torah.

1. Why is there a need to see God in nature and Torah?

2. What is meant by Torah? Mitzvot? Ethic and Values? Narratives? History?

3. How did the Psalmist see God in nature? How do we?

4. Are there other ways to witness God in our lives?

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Psalm 20

One commentator suggests that this Psalm – a prayer on the eve of battle – was
not written by David, but rather was written for him. It is read at the end of
weekday morning prayers, right before the Aleinu.

1. Verse 4 mentions meal offerings and burnt offerings. Do you think that this
Psalm accompanied these offerings? What might we do today in place of these
offerings?

2. Why does the Psalmist choose to refer to God as the "God of Jacob," as
opposed to the "God of Abraham," or even just the "God of Israel"? What
happened to Jacob that was reminiscent of the impending battle?

Psalms 21-30

Rabbi Albert Slomovitz, North Fulton Jewish Center

Psalm 21

Many commentators suggest that this Psalm is the logical conclusion to the
preceding one. While Psalm 20 requested God’s assistance in battle, Psalm
21 indicates that there was a victory to be celebrated. The connection
between the leader of the people - in the person of the king - to God is
apparent from verse 8: "For the king trusts in the Lord; Through the
faithfulness of the Most High he will not be shaken."

This power that comes with belief is absolute and somewhat daunting, as
indicated in verse 10; "You set them ablaze like a furnace when you show
Your presence. The Lord in anger destroys them: Fire consumes them."
Both of these verses might cause us to examine our faith from two vastly
different perspectives. Comment: First, it is fair for all of us, especially with
the conclusion of the High Holidays, to examine the depth of our belief in
God. Is our faith in God unshakable? Clearly, life - with all its ups and
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downs, good and bad times - might cause us to question the validity of our
beliefs and practices. Yet, our faith should be a constant reality in our lives.
It should be strong enough to help us deal with most of life’s contingencies.
What is the status of our belief structure: strong, weak, or just so-so?

In light of the current problems facing Israel, it is somewhat disconcerting


to read in verse 10 about a vengeful God who symbolically sets ablaze the
enemies of Israel. In some cases this vision is appropriate, e.g. when
American military personnel were fighting the forces of Nazism this was
certainly an apt metaphor. Nevertheless, it is valid to discuss the limits of
God’s ability to punish those with whom we have disagreements. It is
certainly a topic for discussion, since we have had many enemies in the
past whose demise we would have applauded, but alas this did not come to
pass.

Psalm 22

This Psalm is extremely powerful. We need to use our imagination and


picture the bleak situation of the writer when he writes in verses 2,3: "My
God, my God, why have you abandoned me? why so far from delivering me
and from my anguished roaring? My God - I cry by day - You answer not; by
night, and have no respite." These verses eloquently remind us of a central
premise in Jewish belief: it is perfectly acceptable to be angry and
frustrated with God. Our religion knows that we will all go through
circumstances at home, work, in business, or related to our health,
situations in which we find ourselves seemingly at our wits’ end. In these
circumstances it is acceptable and probably quite healthy to yell, scream,
and curse out our pain and frustrations. This primal scream is the beginning
of healing. Comment: By the end of the Psalm we once again acknowledge
God as the Ultimate Judge and Power in the world. The Psalm reminds us of
His redeeming strength. Nevertheless, the lesson from this Psalm is the
appropriateness of letting loose and handling our pain.

Have you found yourself in similar circumstances as the Psalmist? Was our
faith there for you? If so, in what way? If not, why not? Was a rabbi or other

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teacher available to you?

Psalm 23

This is perhaps one of the most recognizable readings from the entire
Tanakh. A joke told about this Psalm is that two Jewish people attend a
funeral of a non-Jewish friend. As part of the service this Psalm is read. The
first Jew turns to the other and says, "I wish we had beautiful readings like
this in our faith!" Indeed, this is all ours that the world freely shares!

This Psalm is in direct response to the previous one. This is the relationship
that most people would aim for with God: "God is our shepherd we shall not
want." Verse 4 gives the message most succinctly: "Though I walk through
a valley of deepest darkness, I fear no harm, for you are with me; Your rod
and your staff - they comfort me." What a magnificent thought! In fact this
type of relationship is called for in our Shema when we are told to love the
Lord our God with all our hearts, souls, and might. This contact with God is
based on daily prayers and thoughts about our own spirituality. This Psalm
is so powerful that we as individuals might want to recite it daily. Comment:
I would recommend that we start choosing parts of our tradition that speak
to us on a spiritual level. This Psalm may resonate with you to help increase
your own religiosity. Enjoy it!

Psalm 24

The historical backdrop to this Psalm as indicated by the Soncino


translation, is that the city of Jerusalem had passed into the hands of King
David. He took this opportunity to create a resting place for the ark of the
Covenant. This Psalm was composed for that occasion. A number of these
verses are quite well known such as 3 and 4: "Who may ascend the
mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean
hands and a pure heart, who has not taken a false oath by My life or sworn
deceitfully." Comment: These verses raise an interesting notion: under what

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circumstances should we approach the Almighty? While God will obviously


always be there for us, should we not be held to some sort of ethical
standard before we approach the Ultimate Power of the universe? It might
be a great personal accounting if we all did a self appraisal, as on Yom
Kippur, to determine if we are ready to encounter God on a daily basis.

Psalm 25

This psalm continues the theme that was raised in conjunction with the
previous one. Verse 5 asks of God very specific guidance in a very
fascinating area: "Guide me in Your true way and teach me, for you are God,
my deliverer; it is You I look to at all times." In effect, this prayer has us
asking God to help us with our morals and daily ethical behavior. What a
powerful message! Comment: What is it that motivates us? How are we able
to maintain fidelity to our loved ones? How are we able to stay in loving
relationships with our children? Most significantly, in our daily business
and dealings what is our moral anchor? The reward for being guided by
God’s values of morality is expressed in verses 12 and 13: "Whoever fears
the Lord, he shall be shown what path to choose. He shall live a happy life,
and his children shall inherit the land." Perhaps this Psalm can serve as a
daily reminder that God’s belief in our need for honesty, ethics, and morality
is ever-present.

Psalm 26

This Psalm takes the ideas of the prior one and explicitly gives us examples
of inappropriate behavior. Look at verses 5 and 9: "I detest the company of
evil men, and do not consort with the wicked. Do not sweep me away with
the sinners, or snuff out my life with murderers." This message is clear: Be
careful with whom we associate. This is a fair admonition. We, as well as are
children, are clearly influenced by those around us. Comment: How many of
our children are powerfully impacted by today’s negative music, violent
videos, and other forms of teenage entertainment? If we are not vigilant with

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our children as this Psalm indicates, then they will be negatively affected by
evil people.

Psalm 27

This is a well known Psalm, as it is read for the month prior to the High
Holidays. It would be interesting to discuss why this Psalm rather than any
of the other 149 was chosen to be read in preparation for our most holy
days. Perhaps it is verse 7 which holds the connections to our days of
repentance: "Hear O Lord, when I cry aloud; have mercy on me, answer
me." The words, especially in the Hebrew, speaking of God’s mercy and
answering us, are very similar to the many prayers offered during those
days. Yet, perhaps it is verse 10 which makes what is perhaps an even more
basic point, "Though my mother and father abandon me, the Lord will take
me in." Comment: This verse is at the core of our belief system. Even
though we go through periods of time when it feels like we have been
abandoned by everyone that we know including our parents - we are never
alone. If, at the core of our beliefs we know that God is present, then
perhaps we will never feel that we have been abandoned.

Psalm 28

Once again the Psalmist is in crisis as in verse 3: "Do not count me with the
wicked and evildoers who profess goodwill toward their fellows while
malice is in their heart." In this Psalm, however, it appears that the prayers
of the author were answered as he indicates in verse 7: ‘I was helped and
my heart exulted, so will I glorify Him with my song." Comment: This verse
raises a point about contemporary life. When things are going bad for
people, they don’t hesitate to call upon God. This is natural. However, when
our prayers are seemingly answered are we as forthcoming with our thanks
to God? Do we do good deeds and acts of charity to acknowledge our good
fortune? It might be helpful for us all to make a list of all our blessings and
then make a second list which notes how we acknowledge our bounties.

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Psalm 29

A well known reading that should be familiar to most of us as the song we


sing on Shabbat, when the Torah is being replaced in the Ark after it has
been read. The beauty of this very poetic hymn is perhaps best expressed in
the last verse, "The Lord will give strength to his people; the Lord will bless
His people with peace." Comment: In the end, it is this peace that we as
individuals, as families, and as a people aspire toward. We pray because we
believe that God will hear our prayer and have a positive effect on our lives.
Given the reality of the situation in Israel this prayer has special meaning.
With all our hearts and souls we hope and pray that understanding,
tolerance, dialogue will ensue that will bring about the beginnings of true
peace and awareness in the holiest of lands, in the holiest of cities.

Psalm 30

This Psalm is an appropriate source of strength for us. It is traditionally


recited as part of the prayers offered during Hanukkah. The essence of this
Psalm, and perhaps of all the Psalms and indeed most of our theology, is
found in verse 3, "O Lord my God, I cried unto you, and You healed me." As
mentioned in the previous Psalm, the core of our beliefs is predicated not
only on a belief in a Higher Power, but the belief that the Higher Power hears
our prayers and impacts on our lives. Comment: This is a basic premise
which should be encouraged with discussions and Torah studies. Alas, life
is not so simple. The Holocaust caused many people to question God’s
control over the events in our lives. This discussion raises the issues of
Free Will and others which should be studied with one’s Rabbi. Our faith is
an ongoing search for questions as well as answers. As the Psalmist has
repeatedly told us, sometimes things will be going great and we will be on
top of the world. At other times, however, we will feel helpless without the
support of even our parents. Yet, in both cases, God is there. May it be so
for all of us.

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Psalms 31-40

Rabbi Arnold Goodman

Ahavath Achim Synagogue

Psalm 31 – A Psalm of Faith and Gratitude

In this psalm, the Psalmist is threatened by enemies seeking to ensnare him.


Nonetheless he has faith in God. He concludes with an expression of gratitude to
God Who has saved him.

This Psalm can be divided into four sections:


a. verses 2 - 10 – expression of faith in God and prayer to Him.
b. vs. 11 - 14 –description of the Psalmist’s difficult situation.
c. vs.15 - 21 – again an expression of faith in God
d. vs. 22 - 25 – either the Psalmist’s gratitude for being saved or his faith that he
will be saved. He urges all who find themselves in similar situations to "keep the
faith".

The first half of verse 6, "Into your hands I entrust my spirit" (b’yadcha
afkid ruchee) is the basis of the verse in Adon Olam: b’yado afkid ruchi.
Pikadon means placed in the hands of someone to hold or to guard for you. The
Psalmist thus hopes that his soul, deposited with God at night, will be guarded by
Him and ultimately returned to him in the morning. The mystics perceived the soul
ascending to heaven each night as we sleep, while God not only watches over it,
but also refreshes it. He then returns it in the morning in a pure state. The Psalm
ends with the words, "Be strong and of good courage all you who wait for the
Lord." This is a variation of the term
chazak v’ematz which the angels who visited Joshua said to him. This Hebrew
expression is used to this day.

Psalm 32 – A Psalm of Repentance

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The theme is recognition of sin, confession before God, and God’s


forgiveness. The Psalm can be divided into three parts:
a. vs. 1 - 2: Happy is the man who God indeed forgives.
b. vs. 3 - 5: The spiritual state of the Psalmist before his confession and then
afterward.
c. vs. 6 - 11: Advice for sinners to return to God and to have faith
in Him.

The Psalm begins with the words: L’David Maskil. No one is quite certain of the
meaning of the word Maskil. It is the opening of 13 different Psalms, with this
being the first of the series. Some commentators argue that Maskil is from the
word sekhel or knowledge, which indicates that the purpose of this Psalm is to
inform and to teach an important lesson.

This Psalm is specifically recited on Yom Kippur immediately following the Psalm
for the Day. It concludes with the very beautiful verse 11: "Rejoice in the Lord and
exalt all you righteous and shout with joy all who are
upright." The reference to sing harninu is a natural segue into Psalm 33 which
begins with the words, " Rananu Tzaddikim Adonai" ("seek forth all you righteous
to the Lord and all who are the upright acclaim Him.")

Psalm 33 – A Celebration of God As The Creator Of The World

Both this Psalm and the next are included in the Pesukei D’zimrah or introductory
prayers on Shabbat and festivals.

The Psalm tells us that God controls the world. He specifically oversees those
who fear Him - both the individual and the covenanted community. Verses 1- 3
begin with a call to sing unto God and to give thanks to Him. Then follows a
description of God revealing Himself both through nature and in history. Hence
verse 10: "God frustrates the nations and brings to naught the designs of peoples."

What God plans endures forever; what He designs endures for ages.
Verse 12 continues an affirmation of faith: "happy is the nation whose
God is the Lord, the people He has chosen to be His own."

This Psalm concludes (verses 20 –22) with the affirmation that "we set
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our hope in God . . . and in Him do our hearts rejoice."

Psalm 34
Psalm 34 begins with the words, " Psalm of David, when he feigned
madness in the presence of Abimelech who turned him out and he left."

This incident is described in I Samuel 21. While fleeing Saul, David seeks
refuge in the land of the Philistines. He comes to the city of Gat and in
order to prevent being killed by the Philistines, he acts like a madman
and is sent away. The name of the King who sent him away was Achish,
but Abimelech is a generic name for Philistine Kings, even as Pharaoh is
a generic name for Egyptian Kings.

The Psalm can be divided into two parts:


a. vs. 2 - 11 – The Psalmist desires to praise God and calls upon others to join
him to recognize all the good that God has done for him
b. vs. 12 - 23 – Faith in God will ultimately bring salvation to all who seek shelter
and refuge in Him.

Verses 13 and 14 make specific reference to the sin of lashon hara.


(Miha-ish ha Chafetz Chaim). Chafetz Chaim is the pen name of a Rabbi
of the late 19th and early 20th century who gave this title to his classical work on
lashon hara. Verse 14: "Guard your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking
falsehood" is the basis of the text which begins the concluding prayer of the
Amidah. Verse 20: "Though the misfortunes of the righteous may be many, the
Lord will save him from all," an expression of faith at all times. Verses 22 and 23
reflect a contrast: verse 22 predicts the demise of the wicked - a death blow - and
verse 23 affirms that the righteous will be redeemed, and "all who take refuge in
God shall not be ruined."

Psalm 35

The Psalmist complains about enemies who slander him and rejoice in his
discomfort. He prays to God to save him and to punish his enemies accordingly.
What makes them especially evil is their denial of the good done to them. The
Psalmist insists that in his own life he has shown them love, but his goodness has

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been repaid with enmity.

The Psalm is divided into three sections, each beginning with a prayer
and ending with words of gratitude.

a. vs. 1 –10: a prayer that God shall battle with the Psalmist’s enemies and punish
them.
b. 11 - 18: a description of the sin of his enemies who repay good with evil.
c. 19 –28: another prayer to God to judge the Psalmist in righteousness, to save
him and to shame his enemies.

Verse 10: "All my bones shall say Lord, Who is like You?" This is the
basis of what is called the "body language" of Jewish prayer. By swaying
and shuckling we pray to God not only through words, but literally
with our entire body.

Verses 12-13 offer an example of what the Psalmist regards as a particularly


obnoxious trait of his enemies: "They repay me evil for good, seeking my
bereavement; yet when they were ill, my dress was sack cloth, I kept a fast - may
what I prayed for, happened to me." (Literally: "may my prayer return upon my
own bosom") It is very frustrating when kindness is
repaid with unkindness. The Psalmist thus focuses on the cause of a very real
human angst.

Psalm 36 - Dedicated to David, the Lord’s servant.


Moses was the epitome of the eved HaShem, the servant of God.
Joshua and David are also referred to as God’s servants. The Psalmist
contrasts the thoughts and words of the evil person with the emotional and
spiritual state of the person who has faith in God. He concludes with the prayer
that God will continue to show him loving kindness and, save him from the wicked
whose destiny is ultimately to be trampled.

The Psalm can be divided into three parts:


a. 2 - 5: description of the evil doer.
b. 6 - 10: the righteous person, the Tzaddik.
c. 11 - 13: prayer to God.

Verse 7: "Your righteousness is as the mountains, O God, and Your

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justice is like the great deep, and You deliver man" is one of the verses
that is recited as part of the Mincha Service on Shabbat. Verse 8: " How precious
is Your faith for faithful care, O God, mankind shelters in the shadow of Your
wings" is one of the verses recited when putting on the tallit. It describes God’s
concern for His creatures, that only by the grace of God we all exist.

Verse 10 is powerful: "For in You is the source of life, by Your light do


we see light." (The last part of this verse appears in Latin as the motto of
Columbia University: In lumine tuo videbimus lumen – ed.) In essence we bask in
the light that comes from God. The Shechinah is ultimately the light that somehow
or other shines upon us, and in this reflected light we are enlightened. To the
Psalmist God is immanent (intimate) and this makes possible the very special
relationship we feel with Him.

Psalm 37

The Psalmist is comforted by God’s righteousness. He advises us not to be


envious of the evil that seems to flourish. The success and happiness of the
evildoer is temporary and his lot will ultimately be bitter. Only the righteous can
hope for a positive end. This relatively long Psalm is a double alphabetical
acrostic, although some of the letters only appear once.

The Psalm can be divided into four sections:


a. vs. 1 - 11 – the insistence not to be envious of the seeming prosperity of the
evil because it will vanish.
b. vs. 12 - 22 – evildoers seek to entrap the righteous, but God is the true hope of
the latter.
c. vs. 23 - 31 – the reward of the righteous.
d. vs. 32 -40 – contrasting the fates of the righteous and the evil.

Verse 25- One of the most famous verses in all of Psalms is recited in the
next to the last verse of the Birkat Hamazon, Grace After Meals: " I
have been young and I am now old, but I have never seen a righteous
man abandoned, and his children seeking bread." Human experience,
obviously, does not substantiate this claim, and hence there are several
interpretations of this verse:

a. Rabbi Jose taught that we have a tradition that a scholar will not become

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impoverished. When his student said that in fact many are impoverished."
Rabbi Jose replied, "Even if the righteous fall into poverty, they are assured that
they will never sink into such a situation as to force them to go begging from door
to door." (Talmud)

b. Another Rabbinic source interprets the verse homiletically: "Even if it happened


that the children of a tzaddik had to go begging, never did I see the righteous
father forsaken in his infallible faith in the Holy One" (I have never seen a
righteous man forsaken even if his children must beg for bread. For whatever his
lot in life, the tzaddik trusts that everything that comes upon him is for an
instructive and higher purpose.) This is the concept of yissurin shel ahava,
punishment out of love. This is one way God tests us.

The verse does not say that a righteous man would never be reduced to poverty,
for that would equate poverty with wickedness which is a patent falsehood. The
verse implies that a tzaddik, a righteous person will not be completely forsaken
even if he must beg alms for his sustenance. Since
we are all obligated to help one another, therefore someone will always extend a
helping hand. Despite all of these interpretations, the meaning of the text defies
human experience and, for this reason, there are many who do not recite this
verse in the Birkat Hamazon, or say it very softly.

Verse 27: "Shur ma’ra v’asei tov – shun evil and do good, and you shall abide
forever" has been set to song. The Psalmist proclaims that since the success of
the tzaddik has been clearly demonstrated, we should try to follow his ways. One
can begin by turning away from the path of the wicked, and one will dwell forever
in the perpetual security of those who fear the Lord.

Verse 37: "Mark the one who is blameless and note the upright, for there
is a future for the man of integrity", one of the verses included in the burial litany.
The "future" is, of course, one’s portion in the world to come.

Psalm 38 – LAMAZKR – To Remember


This Psalm urges one to recall his/her sins in order to confess and ask for
forgiveness. The Psalmist laments his physical affliction and pain, and expresses
his hope of healing.

The Psalm is divided into three sections:

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a. vs. 2 - 9: a description of the Psalmist’s illness and confession of his sins.


b. vs. 10 - 15: The relationship between his well wishers and enemies and his
reaction to their response.
c. vs. 16 - 23: His concern that his enemies will overcome him during this period
and his prayer for salvation from God.

The Psalmist asks whether his terrible illness is punishment for his sins. This is a
basic theme not only in Psalms, but also in the books of Job and Ecclesiastes.
Especially painful is his cry in verse 12, "My friends and companions stand back
from my affliction. My kinsmen stand far off."

The pain of illness is intensified by a sense of isolation which can easily be


understood if his illness was a form of skin affliction, tzara’at. He
might very well have been shunned and sent out of the city into
the equivalent of a leper’s colony. This Psalm reminds us that bikkur
cholim, visiting the sick, is an important mitzvah because it helps the ill
person overcome the sense of being alone. The patient is heartened by
the presence and visits of others.

Verse 22: "Do not abandon me, O Lord, my God, be not far from me" is
one of the verses in the Shema Kolanu prayer recited on Yom Kippur.
In his illness, the Psalmist seeks to clasp God to his bosom.

Psalm 39

This Psalm continues the theme of suffering and hope. The Psalmist comes
before God not to complain, but to ask how long his pain will continue. He reflects
upon the frailty of human life, and prays that God will make our few days on earth
as pleasant as possible. This theme of the ultimate meaningless of human life
again finds greater expression and development in the books of Job and
Ecclesiastes.

The Psalm is dedicated to Li-Yedutin, the meaning of which is


unclear. Yedutin is referred to in the Book of Chronicles as a Levite who gives
praise to God. Another view is that Yedutin is a musical instrument used by the
Levites in the Temple.

The concluding verses (13,14) are particularly powerful. "Like all my

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forbears, I am an alien resident with You. Only that I may recover


before I pass away and am gone." This reference to being a resident
and an alien reflects our brief time here on earth which passes very
quickly. The concluding prayer: "that my stay here on earth shall be as
pleasant as possible" is a powerful request for healing.

Psalm 40

The Psalmist is still mired in his pain and illness. He recalls how God has healed
him in the past and he is, therefore, prepared to proclaim God’s goodness to all.
The underlying hope is that God will once again exercise His power to bring about
his return to good health.

Verse 17: "But let all who seek You be glad and rejoice in You, let those
eager for Your deliverance, say Yigdal Adonai, may God be magnified."
Yigdal, the first word in the hymn by that name, is an affirmation that
God’s name shall be magnified and made great. The use of Adonai, the
Divine name associated with the attribute of mercy, reflects the view
that God’s mercy takes precedence over His attribute of justice.

The Psalmist concludes in verse 18: "But I am poor and needy. May the
Lord devise (deliverance) for me. You are my help and my rescuer, my
God do not delay." Salvation, the Psalmist reminds us, comes from God.
Since , it is You (Oh God) Who will eventually redeem me today or
tomorrow, why tarry? Do it now."

Psalms 41-50

Rabbi Adam Frank

Associate Director for Retreat Center Programming

Ramah Darom

Psalm 41

Theme: King David expresses thanks to Gd for healing him.

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Note: This Psalm is one that is read especially on behalf of those who are ill.

1. With few exceptions, we typically view the onset of illness as out of our
hands. How does this view compare with David’s words in verse 5?
How can you explain the message of the verse?
2. David, who seems to have written this Psalm during a time of his own
illness, assesses his relationships with others. Which of his
relationships survive the pessimism of his illness?
3. Why does David speak of vengeance while even on his sickbed?
Vengeance toward whom?

Psalm 42

Theme: Israel’s thirst for closeness with Gd.

1. Verse 3 asks a question. According to the rest of the Psalms, what


does the author equate to "coming" and "appearing" before Gd?
2. Verses 6 and 12 are the source for some of the language of the 6th
stanza of Kabbalat Shabbat’s Lecha Dodi. Are these words in the
Psalm and in Lecha Dodi directed to the same audience?
3. Why does David distinguish between Gd’s roles in day and night?

Psalm 43

Theme: David pleads with Gd to end the (future?) exile of Israel.

1. Compare verse 2 of this Psalm to verse 10 of Psalm 42.


2. David is the King of Israel and the most successful general in our
history. From what enemy is Gd to save him/Israel?
3. Verse 3 asks Gd to send Gd’s truth and light (i.e., Gd’s Instruction,
Gd’s Torah) to Israel. The Israelites are in the Promised Land, and
living Jewishly – so of whom does David speak? (perhaps it’s
prophecy for the future?…)

Psalm 44

Theme: Expands on theme of previous Psalm

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1. An oft-voiced charge against David is that his transgression with Batshevah


should preclude him from being considered worthy of the honor that our
Tradition bestows upon him. Does this Psalm show you a side to David that
may justify his reputation as a righteous person?
2. There are Jews whose theological explanation for the Holocaust is that it
was a punishment from Gd. How do you respond to verse 23?
3. Verse 15 – The Hebrew word, "mashal" means "example" or "parable". How
does this verse and Psalm give new meaning to the expression, "a light unto
the nations?"
4. Verses 19-27. Are David’s words chutzpadik or brilliant?

Psalm 45

Theme: Praise of Israel’s Torah scholars, describing their splendid virtues. Others
say this Psalm refers to the Messiah describing his great splendor and glory.

1. The first one-third of the Psalm includes imagery of battle. If the Psalm
is a praise of Torah scholars, to what battle does the Psalm refer?
2. Tradition teaches that the "daughters" (v.10) that visit are those that
approach for the purpose of conversion and marriage. How is the
scholars’ response to these women consistent with Judaism’s
response to potential converts?
3. One verse in this Psalm is the textual source for the traditional
definition of a woman’s humility and modesty. Can you find the verse?

Psalm 46

Theme: This Psalm is distinguished as the prayer for Peace.

1. Why the image of a destructing earth as the image of war?


2. Do the omnipotent, destructive abilities of Gd fit your image of a prayer
for peace? (challenge: try to understand the religious message of the
text, do not simply discount it as ‘ancient’).

Psalm 47

Theme: Traditionally, the shofar described here refers to the horn of deliverance

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that the Messiah will blow on the day of our ultimate deliverance. At that time, all
nations of the world will recognize and accept Gd as the sole Ruler of the world (a
theme very similar to our prayer, the Aleinu).

The Hallel service is dedicated to exclusive praise of Gd. Why do you think the
sages who determined our liturgy excluded this Psalm from the Hallel service?

Psalm 48

Theme: The beauty and glory of Jerusalem, the city of Gd. The psalm describes
the city’s joy at the ultimate redemption of Israel and their return to her.

Note: This is the Psalm of the day for Monday, the second day of the week. On
the second day of Creation, Gd makes the separation between the heavenly and
earthly components. This Psalm speaks of Jerusalem, the earthly place of heaven
presence.

Why does the Psalm praise the man-made structures of Jerusalem?

Psalm 49

Theme: This Psalm is significant for all humankind. If humans fail to recognize our
purpose in life and we regard the acquisition of material wealth as the primary aim
of life, we forfeit all hope of immortality. Our existence will not continue beyond the
grave.

Note: This Psalm is said especially in a house of mourning.

1. What is the difference between "children of humanity" and "children of


men?" (v.3)
2. Verse 7 seems to be critical of wealth, but what is the Psalm’s
message about how to deal with and use wealth?
3. Why do you think this Psalm is read in a house of mourning?

Psalm 50

1. What is the theme/message of this Psalm? (hint: action vs. intention)


2. With which prophet does this message seem to most resonate?

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3. The Psalm’s final verse: is this a Christian message?

Psalms 51-60

Rabbi Pamela Gottfried, Judaic Studies Specialist

The Epstein School

Psalm 51

This psalm is attributed to King David, who wrote it after being confronted by
Nathan the Prophet for committing adultery with Batsheva and arranging the
death of her husband. Those who have been studying Perek Yomi from the
beginning will remember this incident from the second book of Samuel, chapters
11 and 12.

1. In II Samuel 12, David immediately confesses his sin before Nathan the
Prophet, saying, "I stand guilty before the Lord!" In this psalm, verse 6,
David again confesses before God, saying, "Against You alone I have
sinned, and done evil in your sight."

Why does David define his transgressions as sins against God alone when
they clearly involved other people? Has David already made amends with
the people he wronged?

2. David asks that God erase all his sins and create a pure heart for him.
This request sounds remarkably like the process of teshuvah, a kind of
rebirth that we undergo every year at Yom Kippur. If you read the Hebrew of
verse 13 you may recognize it from the Yom Kippur liturgy. (See the
repetition of the Musaf Amidah, "Sh’ma koleynu.")

3. Another liturgical reference can be found in verse 17. Some people recite
this verse just prior to the Amidah. It is striking that David asks God to open
his mouth in order to draw forth praise. Why does David, and why do we,
ask God to help elicit praise?

4. David’s final appeal to God includes the rebuilding of Jerusalem, so that

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sacrifices can be offered in righteousness. In the meantime, David claims


that "true sacrifice" is contrition. Many substitutes for sacrifices have been
suggested, including prayer and acts of loving-kindness. What form of
religious expression feels most true in your heart?

Psalm 52

The attribution of this psalm refers to an incident in the first book of Samuel,
chapters 21 and 22. After reviewing that passage, we find that Saul had Doeg the
Edomite kill 85 priests who failed to inform Saul of David’s whereabouts. At the
end of chapter 22, David holds himself responsible for their deaths, claiming that
he should have known that Doeg would ultimately betray him.

1. To whom is the author speaking? Against whom is the indictment of lying


and treachery? If it is specifically to Doeg, why does the author speak in
such general terms?
2. In verses 1-9 the speaker is addressing this sinner, and in verse 11 he is
clearly addressing God. To whom is verse 10 addressed?
3. If David did hold himself even partly responsible for the bloodshed, how
does this psalm differ from the previous one in dealing with his feelings of
guilt?

Psalm 53

This psalm reflects a pessimistic view of the world, filled with people who neither
believe in nor fear God.

1. Note the image of God in verse 3, looking down from heaven to see if there
is anyone who seeks God. What does God find, according to verse 4? What
experiences might have led the author to portray God in this way?
2. How does the author portray the evildoers? What will be their punishment
when God decides to punish them?
3. Under what circumstances would you choose to pray this psalm?

Psalm 54

This psalm’s attribution returns us to the first book of Samuel, chapter 23, and so

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according to the narrative it should follow immediately after Psalm 52. In that
chapter, King Saul continues his pursuit of David until he learns that the
Philistines have invaded and he must return to defend his land.

1. Looking back to Psalm 52, how does the author’s approach differ? Why
does the author seem less angry toward his pursuers in this psalm?
2. The word selah has been understood to be a musical notation, which may
have indicated a change in melody, similar to a new movement in a
symphony. Why might the music have changed at the end of verse 5?
3. Is the author’s promise of sacrifice and praise conditional?
4. "Bargaining" with God is a time-honored tradition among our biblical heroes.
What biblical heroes spoke to God in this manner? Under what
circumstances would you find this psalm useful as a form of prayer?

Psalm 55

This psalm is complex because the author changes his perspective several times.
It is best understood by first breaking it into sections.

1. The author begins by addressing God. In verses 2-3, he asks God to hear
his prayer. He then proceeds to describe his feelings through verse 6. To
whom are verses 7-9 addressed? (It seems that the author is repeating to
God something he already said.)
2. What is the second thing the author asks of God, in verses 10-12? Do you
detect a progression of feelings from the first plea before God to this one?
What feelings prompted the author to address God in the beginning of the
psalm, and what is he feeling now?
3. In verses 13-16, the author explains his distress. Note how the perspective
changes in verse 14, to the second person. The author is addressing
someone - a friend perhaps - whom he holds responsible for his pain. In
verses 15-16, the perspective changes back to the third person, and he
seeks revenge against a group of people. Do you detect another shift in the
author’s feelings?
4. Verses 17-20 have a triumphant ring to them. Why does the author boast (in
verse 19) that God "redeems me unharmed from the battle against me"?
When could this section of the psalm be useful as a prayer?
5. In verses 21-22, the author again describes his friend who betrayed him.

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What weapon did his friend-turned-enemy use against him?


6. In verses 23-24 the author again shifts perspective, first recommending to
his audience that they trust in God to support them and then reminding God
to destroy his enemies. How do you understand the author’s references to
Sheol (verse 16) and Be’er Shahat or "grave-pit" (verse 24)?

Psalm 56

This psalm is a lyrical expression of the author’s faith in God despite the
difficulties he must face.

1. The sentiment that the author trusts in God is repeated throughout the
psalm. (See verses 5 and 12.) The author asserts his ultimate trust in God,
and his belief that mortals cannot harm him. This sentiment will be repeated
in many psalms, including one recited in the liturgy of Hallel. Do you find this
idea comforting? If so, why?
2. Verse 14, "You have saved my soul from death, my foot from stumbling, so
that I may walk before God in the light of life," is a stirring declaration of the
author’s belief in a personal God. Many people have difficulty feeling this
personal connection to God, let alone articulating it. Have you ever thought
that God saved you in a situation? If so, how did you thank God?

Psalm 57

This psalm is divided into three sections, two of which end with the word "selah."
According to the attribution, it is an expression of David’s feelings when he fled
from King Saul into a cave. Imagine what the author must have been experiencing
and evaluate whether this psalm would be useful to you as a prayer in times of
need.

1. In the first section, verses 2-4, where does God dwell? What are God’s
defining characteristics?
2. Verse 6, "Exalt Yourself over the heavens, O God, let Your glory be over all
the earth!" is repeated in the third section, verse 12. How does this coda
implore God to help?

Psalm 58

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This is one of the angrier psalms in the book, vividly describing the unredeemable
evil of the wicked and calling for their downfall.

1. In verse 4, the author asserts that "The wicked are defiant from birth; the
liars go astray from the womb." How can this be reconciled with the rabbinic
belief that all people possess the inclination to do good as well as evil and
that all people can be redeemed through the process of teshuvah? Do you
believe that some people are born evil?
2. In verse 11, the author further asserts that "The righteous man will rejoice
when he sees revenge; he will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked."
While one may subscribe to the belief that "revenge is sweet," is this the
view of a righteous person? Are we not taught to believe that forgiveness
and humility are characteristics of righteousness?
3. In the final verse, to whom does the author refer when he states, "Men will
say"? In this psalm, who do you think possesses the need for "divine
justice"?

Psalm 59

The attribution of this psalm returns us to the first book of Samuel, chapter 19,
and echoes the sentiments of Psalms 54 and 56.

1. How does the author characterize himself in the first section (verses 2-6) of
this psalm? Why does he ask God to save him?
2. As in psalm 55, what is the weapon the enemy uses against the author?
3. What is your opinion of the author’s desire to "gloat over" his enemies?
(verse 11)
4. The author refers to God as his "haven" (in Hebrew, misgav) three times in
this psalm. How do you understand this reference? Have you ever felt that
God is your haven?

Psalm 60

This psalm is a battle cry, which according to its attribution refers to the second
book of Samuel, chapter 8 and the first book of Chronicles, chapter 18. In the first
section, verses 3-7, the author suggests that God has rejected the people. He
asks God to "mend" the cracks in the land and to deliver the people. In the second

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section, verses 9-11, he reminds God of the divine promise to defeat the
Moabites, Edomites and Philistines. In the final section, verses 12-14, the
suggestion that God has rejected the people is repeated and the author asks for
God’s help against the enemy.

1. The statement in verse 12, "God, You do not march with our armies" can be
interpreted more broadly to mean that we do not feel God’s presence. Often
my students ask me why God doesn’t talk to people directly anymore. What
can we do to elicit God’s help and to feel God’s presence more strongly?
2. In verse 13, the author states that "the help of man is worthless." While he
makes this assertion in order to enlist God’s help in battle, we can evaluate
this statement on its own merits. Is the help of another person truly
worthless? When can the help of a fellow human being feel like divine help?

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Perek Yomi: Tehilim


The Book of Psalms - Part II
A Project of MACCJ
the Metro Atlanta Council for Conservative Judaism
http://uscj.org/soeast/atlanta

MACCJ (Metro Atlanta Council for


Conservative Judaism)

MACCJ is the umbrella organization for Conservative synagogues and


organizations in Atlanta, including The Epstein School - Solomon
Schechter School of Atlanta, Ramah Darom – The Center for Southern
Jewry, Ahavath Achim Synagogue, Congregation Etz Chaim,
Congregation Beth Shalom, North Fulton Jewish Center, the United
Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, The Jewish Theological
Seminary, Women’s League for Conservative Judaism, and the
Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs. A central element in the mission of
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MACCJ is to promote Jewish education in the greater Atlanta


community. MACCJ is co-chaired by Sue Rothstein of Congregation
Etz Chaim, and Cheryl R. Finkel, Head of The Epstein School.

Perek Yomi Coordinating Council


The Perek Yomi Coordinating Council is co-chaired by Steven Chervin
(Epstein School and AA) and Janet Schatten (Epstein School and
AA). Its members include Steve Birch, Sue Rothstein, and Nancy
Seifert-Gorod (Etz Chaim); Eileen Cohn and Jennifer Stark-Blumenthal
(Beth Shalom); Jill Jarecki Mainzer and Rabbi Adam Frank (Ramah
Darom); and Rabbi Albert Slomovitz and Steve Horn (North Fulton
Jewish Center).

Psalms 111-120
Rabbi Loren Sykes
Executive Director, Ramah Darom

Psalm 111

This psalm is communal in nature and not dedicated to any specific


purpose. That it was offered communally is indicated in the first verse, “I
praise the Lord with all my heart in the assembled congregation of the
upright.” The psalm is written as an acrostic, with each verse divided into
two stanzas, each stanza beginning with the successive letter of the
alphabet. One commentator suggests that there are many allusions to
clauses that appear in the birkat hamazon and that this may represent a
precursor to the text that we say at the end of our meals.

1) What literary allusions do you see that might connect this psalm to
birkat hamazon?
2) The New Jewish Publication Society (JPS) translates the second
verse of our psalm as follows: The works of the Lord are great, within
reach of all who desire them.” The editors of the JPS translation then

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note that the meaning of the Hebrew is uncertain for the second clause of
the psalm. What do you think that the Psalmist means by the phrase, “…
within reach of all who desire them”?
3) What does it mean to you to have fear of God?
4) How is fear or awe of God the beginning of all wisdom?

Psalm 112

This psalm speaks of the rewards that come to those who have fear of God,
and the confusion that the wicked will experience. This Psalm is also
written as an acrostic.

1) What similarities do you see between this psalm and the previous
one?
2) What are the rewards that come to those who are Yirei HaShem,
those who fear God?
3) How do you reconcile the blessings listed in the psalm with that which
we see in our own daily lives?
4) How does awe of God give the person the Psalm speaks of strength
even in the face of evil tidings?

Psalms 113 – 118

This group of psalms makes up the body of what we refer to today as the
Hallel. We generally associate the recitation of Hallel with Yom Tov, Rosh
Chodesh, and other joyous occasions. It should be noted that according to
the 10th chapter of Pesachim (Babylonian Talmud), Hallel was recited at
times of tension when Israel was facing great challenge or fear, and was
then recited in praise of God for having redeemed the people from
whatever challenge or potential disaster they had survived.

Psalm 113

Psalm 113 represents the opening psalm of the Hallel prayers. The

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Psalmist speaks great praise to God, proclaiming God’s greatness


throughout the world in very general terms. These general praises are
followed by praise for specific aspects of God’s character.

1) How do you think that this psalm was recited? What was the
context? What was the pattern?
2) How can we see to it that God’s name is blessed throughout the
world?
3) The psalm begins with general praise and then speaks about God’s
role in raising up the downtrodden. Why do you think the Psalmist shifts
to this new direction?
4) How can we imitate the Divine characteristics listed at the end of the
psalm?

Psalm 114

As noted earlier, the Talmud in Bavli Pesachim 117a asks questions


concerning the origin of the Psalms of Hallel. While one source indicates
that the Prophets of Israel declared that they should be recited at all great
and terrible moments, and then recited again following redemption from
those pending calamities, there is another position which suggests that the
origins of these Psalms lies in the period of the crossing of the Sea.
Another position presented later on in the same section suggests that the
origin of these psalms lies in the story of Purim. While none of these
statements can be used to determine the historical context of these psalms,
it is clear that the Talmud finds something different about this section of
psalms.

1. Put yourself in the position of the sea and the mountains. Imagine
what it would have been like to witness the great redemption of Israel.
What do you see? How would you in the position of nature react to this
wonder?
2. To what rock does the Psalmist refer in verse 8?
3. Why do you think God is described as “The God of Jacob” in verse 6?

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To what other name is it parallel in this psalm?

Psalm 115

Psalm 115 follows quickly on the heels of Psalm 114. Some commentators
suggest that this Psalm is the extension of the one that precedes it, arguing
that they in fact constitute a single unit, as opposed to two distinct works.
The absence of the word Halleluyah at the end of Psalm 114 as well as its
absence at the beginning of Psalm 115, in addition to common themes,
supports the position that these two works form a single unit.

1. Why does verse 18 sound familiar? Where else have we read these
words?
2. How might you connect Psalms 114 and 115 to the Exodus from
Egypt?
3. The Psalmist writes about the false gods worshipped by his enemies.
What are the false gods we face in our world today? How are they
different from the ancient world? How are they the similar?
4. What prescription does the Psalmist provide for triumphing over the
false gods?
5. What blessings did you recognize in your life today?
6. Think about Rosh Chodesh or Yom Tov. When you reach verse 12
and start to sing, how does the moment feel?

Psalm 116

The tone of the Psalmist in this tehilah is of a person crying out to God from
a place of great danger or sadness. The tone quickly changes to one of
praise and thanks to God for answering the Psalmist’s call. The Psalmist
closes with a commitment to fill vows he committed to God either before he
found himself in danger, or those commitments he made in the “foxhole.”

1. The opening verse of the Psalm seems to imply a conditional loving


relationship. That is, the Psalmist sounds as though he is saying that he

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“loves” God as a result of God’s having saved him. Is love of God a


conditional love, or is it an unconditional love? How does the answer to
this question affect your theology?
2. What is the meaning of verse 15? Does it mean that the death of
God’s chasidim is more grievous for God than the death of the regular
person? Does this phrase reflect on God or on the author?
3. Vows and the fulfillment of commitments made in the form of vows
were very serious matters in the ancient Jewish world. Think about
yourself. How serious do you take the commitments and promises you
make? How might the intensity of this Psalm change your own feelings
about commitments and vows?

Psalm 117

Psalm 117 is the shortest of all of the psalms, consisting of only two
verses. Some commentators believe that this is actually not a psalm unto
itself, but is in fact the conclusion of the psalm that precedes it. Others,
however, view this as an independent text that may serve as an
introduction to the recitation of other psalms or prayers.

1. The Psalmist calls on the nations of the world to praise God precisely
because of God’s love and support of Israel. Why?
2. The JPS translation of the Tanakh translates the phrase “Emet
Adonai” as the faithfulness of God. Others translate it as God’s Truth.
What is the difference? What impact might that have on our own
theologies?

Psalm 118

Psalm 118 includes the final portions of what we know as Hallel, exclusive
of the blessing we recite at the end of Hallel. The Psalmist opens with a
call to praise God. Given that the Psalmist then goes on to describe a
battle where God saves the speaker, combined with the ending call to God
for salvation, it may be that what we have here is more than a simple call to

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praise; in fact it may be what amounts to a battle cry. The psalm concludes
in the same way that it opened.

1. What can you infer from the order of groupings the Psalmist gives at
the beginning of our Psalm (Israel, the House of Aaron, and those who
fear God)?
2. Does this text invoke any images for you that might relate to the
circumstances of the Jewish people today? If so, what are those
images? What lessons might we learn from this text?
3. To what punishment do you think the Psalmist is referring in verse 18?
4. On what significant Jewish occasion do we recite verse 26? Who are
we welcoming?
5. What are the ways that we as human beings give praise to God?
What method do you find most comfortable? Most challenging?

Psalm 119

This wonderful Psalm comes in praise of Torah and mitzvot and those who
love them, study them, and live in their ways. According to the commentary
Da’at HaMikra, published by Mossad haRav Kook, the Psalm is organized
as an alphabetical acrostic, but in an unusual fashion. Each letter of the
alphabet starts eight sequential verses – verses one through 8 all begin
with a word that starts with the letter alef. The bet verses begin in verse 9,
and are repeated for a total of 8 verses. In total, there are 176 verses in the
Psalm. Da’at Hamikra notes most importantly that each verse contains a
different name for Torah or the mitzvot.

1. Try and identify each of the different names for Torah or the mitzvot
used in this psalm.
2. This psalm speaks passionately of the joys associated with learning
Torah. We have committed to daily learning through the Perek Yomi
project. But the psalm calls us to strive to do more. So, what do you see
as the next step for your own learning?
3. What hold on your daily life do the teachings of Torah and the

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commandments have? What more are you prepared to do?


4. How do you understand verse 165 in light of the reality of your own
life? Is it true? How might you interpret the words - without changing
them - to reflect their truth in your own life? A hint: “Shalom Rav” may
mean great peace, but it can also mean great completeness, the
absence of fragmentation.

Psalm 120

This psalm might describe any number of circumstances in which we might


find ourselves on a daily basis: at work, at home, domestic, or
international. As I read it, I cannot help but hear the echo of that which is
currently transpiring in the Middle East.

1. Is the Psalmist describing a situation that has already taken place and
from which God has saved him? Or does it describe the current
circumstance in which the Psalmist finds himself?
2. What is lashon r’maya?
3. What is the correlation between the state of war the Psalmist finds
himself in - as described in verses five and six - and the opening verses
concerning speech?

Psalms 121-130
Jennifer Stark- Blumenthal,
Congregation Beth Shalom

Psalm 121
1. The psalmist describes G-d as a guard, One who will not sleep. This
concept of G-d is so important, that it is emphasized three times in just
two verses (3 & 4).
A. So G-d is awake. So what?! Why does the author insist on this

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state of being?
B. If one agenda for Jews is to act G-d-like, and G-d is portrayed as
our guardian, then it would follow that we too should act as guardians.
1. What are you guarding? Are you asleep or awake while
undertaking this responsibility?
2. What are we as a community guarding? Are we asleep or awake?

2. In verse 7, G-d is described as guarding “you” from all evil.


A. What are the unstated disclaimers for who constitutes “you,” for who
is eligible to be guarded from all evil?
B. How could someone write this statement given the harshness of
reality?

Psalm 122
1. What an appropriate psalm this is for us today:

A. What, in fact, is “peace in Jerusalem?” Is it different from any


other type of peace?
B. Will be accomplish peace in Jerusalem? How will we get there?

2. In vs. 8, who are “my brothers”? Are they those who are blood relations,
partners in religious belief, or relations through a definition of humanity?

Psalm 123
The psalmist makes an analogy between G-d’s relationship to people, and
the relationships between master and servant, and mistress and maid.

1. What is the purpose of naming both sexes here, rather than grouping
every person into one category?

2. Is the male relationship to authority different from the female


relationship to authority?

3. Does G-d expect different things from males and females? Do males
and females need different things from G-d?

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Psalm 124
1. The psalmist uses the word nafshaynu, (the Hebrew root is n-f-sh), three
times in succession. What does this word mean to the biblical writer?
According to the Encyclopedia Judaica, the nefesh was not often
distinguished from the physical person as a whole. Based on this
understanding, one is able to read nafshaynu as “our body”:

. . . the stream would have gone over our body;


then the proud waters would have gone over our body.
Blessed be the Lord, who has not given us as a prey to their teeth.
Our body escaped like a bird out of the snare of fowlers. (vs. 4-7)

2. While nafshaynu can refer to “our body,” as it probably did in Biblical


writing, this word was often seen as distinguished from the body by the
Rabbinic period. Indeed the predominant view in the Midrash (see
Encyclopedia Judaica)is that nefesh means soul and is separate from the
body, capable of life while disengaged from the body.

Compare the previous reading with one using “our soul” as the translation
of nafshaynu. What specific nuances in meaning does each translation
bring to the text? What are the theological implications here?

Psalm 125
1. According to verse 1, those who trust in G-d will not die.
A. What does “to trust in something” actually mean?
B. In what and/or whom do you fully trust?
C. For what end is the psalmist trusting in G-d?

2. In verse 2, the psalmist makes G-d analogous with the mountains


surrounding Jerusalem.
A. What are the characteristics of these mountains?
B. What are some of the characteristics of G-d to which the psalmist
refers?

Psalm 126
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Here the psalmist declares G-d’s greatness for having brought the
Babylonian exiles back to Jerusalem. Surprisingly, however, in verse 3 the
psalmist calls for Israel’s renewed captivity! What is to be gained from this
horrific situation, and why is it needed?

Psalm 127
1. This psalm, unlike any other so far, is addressed to Solomon. Why?

2. What does it mean for G’d to build a house?


A. Why would G-d need to be par of the building process?
B. Is the psalmist referring only to the construction of the physical
house, bayit, or also to the spirit within the bayit. . . to the shalom bayit?
C. If we accept shalom bayit to be included here, we must have an
understanding of this term. How do you define shalom bayit?
D. Whose responsibility is it to get G-d involved in the building
endeavor, either of a bayit or shalom bayit?

3. What message is verse 2 trying to impart to us? Can this statement


be understood as a Biblical from of “Don’t worry, be happy,” as long as
you are G-d’s beloved?

4. Half of this psalm is dedicated to the beauty of children (vs. 3-5)


A. Read each verse separately and figure out which different
characteristic of children each one describes.
B. What is the overall sense you glean from these descriptions of the
author’s view of children vis-à-vis adults?

Psalm 128
According to the psalmist, if you demonstrate your fear/awe of G-d by
walking in G-d’s ways, what are the various ways you will experience
happiness? In other words, what is happiness in the eyes of this psalmist?
(You need to read the rest of the psalm to answer)

Psalm 129

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1. Does the repetition of the first phrase in vs. 1-2 make sense to you? If
not, how might you explain it?

2. With a focus on verse 2, what do you think is the spirit which this
psalm expresses?

Psalm 130
1. Reading this psalm, one can imagine the writer beseeching G-d on
hands and knees, bowing before the Creator . . . begging. The question at
hand is - for what? What does the psalmist want from
G-d? In answering, pay attention to the nuances in the language employed
ever so purposefully by the author in verses 1-2.

3. Verses 3 and 4 describe a particular relationship with G-d: People fear


G-d, are in awe of G-d, because G-d is able to forgive people their sins.
A. Why is forgiveness such a fundamental element in this relationship?
B. How does forgiveness manifest in your relationships with G-d, with
other people, and with yourself?

Psalms 131-140
Jill Jarecki Mainzer
Associate Director- Director of Education, Ramah Darom

Psalm 131
This psalm gives us some insight into the soul of David.

1. What is the tone of this Psalm?

2. Knowing what you do about David, what is your reaction to verse 1, ”My
heart is not haughty nor my eyes lofty…?”

3. How do you think David managed to “still and quiet” himself? How do
you calm yourself in times of stress? Do you think the Psalms could be a

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source of that kind of comfort? How and when?

4. What is the connection between David’s quiet self and the last verse,
”Let Yisrael hope in the Lord forever?”

Psalm 132
In the first few verses of this psalm, the author speaks of his desire to “find
out a place for the Lord, a habitation for the Mighty One of
Ya’akov.” (Verses 3-5)

1. Why does G-d need a habitation? How is it possible for G-d to be in one
particular place?

2. Is there a particular place in which you have experienced G-d’s


presence? What kind of place was it? What made it a “place of G-d?”

3. As this psalm continues to discuss “G-d’s place,” it also alludes to actions


which create a place for G-d. Having the children keep the covenant and
satisfying the poor with bread (verses 12 and 15) seem to be two of the
elements present in G-d’s chosen place.

How do we incorporate these elements into our lives today in order to


“make a place for God?”

Psalm 133
This short psalm contains perhaps one of the most well-known verses in
Jewish tradition. Verse 1 states, hinei ma tov u’ma-naim shevet achim gam
yachad. “How good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in
unity.”

1. This kind of pleasantness is compared to dew running down the


mountains of northern Israel. What kinds of feelings and images does this
comparison evoke for you?

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2. This unity is also compared to precious ointment running down the beard
of Aaron. What qualities of Aaron make this a particularly striking and
appropriate comparison?

3. What are some actions we can take to create this kind of pleasantness
and unity within our own communities?

Psalm 134
The theme of this Psalm is “blessing.” The author exhorts us to bless the
Lord and asks that the Lord bless us.

1. The notion of blessing is so fundamental to Jewish belief and practice.


Aside from the blessings we say, how else can we “bless” G-d?

2. Abraham is told to “be a blessing.” How can each of us “be” a blessing?


How can we be a blessing to G-d? To our families? To our community?

3. What does it mean for G-d to bless us? What kinds of blessings do we
seek? How do we respond to G-d’s blessings?

Psalm 135
This Psalm uses many images from nature to attest to the power of G-d.
Verses 5-8 praise G-d for everything that has been created in “heaven,
earth, the seas, and all the deep places.”

1. Verse 7 states, “ G-d causes vapors to ascend from the ends of the
earth.” How do you picture this verse? Is this a scene which makes you
feel the presence of G-d? Does this image cause you to want to praise G-
d?

2. In verse 8, G-d “makes lightening and brings wind….” What


characteristics of G-d do these images portray? A compassionate G-d? An
angry G-d? Why do you think the author chooses these images?

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3. Here, we are shown the contrast between the idols that others worship
and the power of the G-d of Israel. The inability of the idols contrasted with
the miraculous wonders performed by the G-d of Israel are meant to inspire
the people of Israel to praise G-d. Does this psalm accomplish that goal
for you?

Psalm 136
Psalm 136 is said every morning during the Shacharit service. It is also
included in the Passover Haggadah. The structure of this psalm includes a
phrase and then the repeated refrain, “G-d’s love endures forever.” The
beginning phrases of the psalm praise G-d for being good and for creating
the wonders of the world. The psalm ends with praising G-d for taking the
Israelites out of Egypt.

1. Why do you think the psalm is structured this way? What is


accomplished by including a refrain in a psalm?

2. What do you think of the thematic structure? What is the connection


between the form and the content of this psalm?

3. It seems clear that this is an appropriate psalm to say at the Passover


seder, but why do you think this psalm is said every morning? What is the
value in connecting to G-d in this manner every day?

Psalm 137
It appears as if this psalm was written some 400 years after the reign of
King David, during the Babylonian exile. The Temple in Jerusalem was
destroyed and many of the inhabitants of Judah were exiled to Babylon.
The Babylonians were taunting the Jews and asking them to sing the songs
they once sang in Jerusalem. Verses 1 and 5-7 are among the most well-
known verses from the entire Tanach:

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat and wept when remembered


Zion.”

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If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its cunning…”

1. What is the role of song in Jewish tradition? Do you feel that we, as
modern Jews, are maintaining this tradition of song?

2. The psalmist speaks of setting Jerusalem “above my highest joy.” Is it


possible to achieve that as Jews in the diaspora? How do we accomplish
this level of joy?

3. What are the implications of this psalm for Israeli-Palestinian


negotiations over Jerusalem generally, and the Temple Mount/Western
Wall specifically?

Psalm 138
In this psalm, David expresses his trust in G-d’s protection.

1. Verse 3 reads, “In the day I called, You answered me; You uplifted me –
You strengthened my soul.” What do you think was the nature of this
answer from G-d? Do we receive these kinds of answers when we call
upon G-d? What kinds of experience allow a person to feel uplifted by G-d?

2. Similarly, we read in verse 7, “If I walk in the midst of distress, You keep
me alive…” What do you imagine were the circumstances behind this
statement? Do you ever feel that G-d helps you in times of distress? How
does a person get this kind of strength from G-d?

3. Why do you think David mentions in this psalm that G-d “regards the
lowly… but admonishes the haughty?” What is the connection between
this phrase and the rest of the psalm? When might someone feel inspired
to recite this psalm?

Psalm 139
This psalm describes the omnipresence and omniscience of G-d.

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1. How does David respond to the all-knowing and ever-present nature of G-


d?
Is this concept a comfort to him? Do these aspects of G-d inspire awe?
Fear? Humility? How do you respond?

2. If one is mindful of these aspects of G-d, does it influence behavior?


Would you consider more carefully what you say and do if you continually
remembered G-d’s presence? What are some things we can do to be more
mindful?

3. Verse 14 says, “ I was …wonderfully made…. What inspires such a


statement? Have you ever felt that? Have you ever expressed that to G-
d? How do personal expressions fit into a psalm about G-d’s omnipresence
and omniscience?

Psalm 140
This psalm is a supplication in which David asks to be saved from those
who slander.

1. Verse 4 states, “They have sharpened their tongue like a serpent, viper’s
venom is under their lips.” This is the description David uses of those who
slander. Do you think this characterization is justified?

2. David asks for protection from those who “conspired to divert my steps.”
How do slanderers divert a person’ s step? What happens to a person who
has been slandered? What does that person become diverted from? Why
does David need G-d’s protection from this type of diversion?

3. In verse 13, David understands that G-d will perform “justice for the
needy.” Who are the needy in this psalm? What will G-d provide for
them? How do we imitate G-d and provide justice for the needy?

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Sefer Mishlei - The Book of Proverbs

Perek Yomi: Mishlei

The Book of Proverbs

A Project of MACCJ
the Metro Atlanta Council for Conservative Judaism
http://uscj.org/soeast/atlanta

Study questionswritten by Rabbi Dr. Analia Bortz, Ahavath Achim


Synagogue, and Jill JareckiMainzer, Ramah Darom

Edited by StevenChervin

MACCJ (Metro Atlanta Council for


Conservative Judaism)

MACCJ is the umbrellaorganization for Conservative synagogues and

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organizations in Atlanta,including The Epstein School - Solomon


Schechter School of Atlanta, Ramah Darom– The Center for Southern
Jewry, Ahavath Achim Synagogue, Congregation EtzChaim,
Congregation Beth Shalom, North Fulton Jewish Center, the
UnitedSynagogue of Conservative Judaism, The Jewish Theological
Seminary, Women’sLeague for Conservative Judaism, and the
Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs. A central element in the mission of
MACCJ isto promote Jewish education in the greater Atlanta
community. MACCJ is chaired by Sue Rothstein ofCongregation Etz
Chaim.

Perek Yomi Coordinating Council


The Perek Yomi CoordinatingCouncil is co-chaired by Steven Chervin
(Epstein School and AA) and JanetSchatten (Epstein School and AA).
Itsmembers include Steve Birch, Sue Rothstein, and Nancy Seifert-
Gorod (Etz Chaim);Eileen Cohn and Jennifer Stark-Blumenthal (Beth
Shalom); Jill Jarecki Mainzerand Rabbi Adam Frank (Ramah Darom);
and Rabbi Albert Slomovitz and Steve Horn(North Fulton Jewish
Center).

Sefer Mishlei
The Book of Proverbs
by Rabbi Dr. Analia Bortz,Assistant Rabbi of Education, Ahavath
Achim Synagogue

Introduction

The Book of the Proverbs of Solomon belongsto the three poetic books of
theTanakh(along with Psalms and Job). Thesebooks were distinguished
from the rest of the writings by a special system ofpunctuation. Some
Hebrew manuscripts aswell as important codices of the Septuagint
preserve the book as lines ofpoetry. The Book of Proverbs is alsoone of the

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three wisdom books (along with Job and Ecclesiastes /Kohelet). The
inclusion of the book in the canon wasnot entirely a matter of course, and
was debated by the rabbis at Yavneh.

The Hebrew title of the book is the firstword,Mishlei, frommashal, a word


often used in the Biblewith various meanings, such as proverb, parable,
riddle, satirical poem, andthe like (I Sam. 10:12; Ezek. 18:2-3; Isa. 14: 4).
According to P. Haupt, the common element in all these meaningsis
evidently that of comparison, a conclusion which is born out by
thesignification of the Assyrianmashalu.Mashalmay also be related to
theAssyrianmishlu, that means"half,"relating to the fact that the proverb is in
two balancedpropositions.

Thisintroduces the subject of the form of the book. The fact that Proverbs is
amongthe poetical books shows that the ancients regarded it as poetical in
form.Some Hebrew manuscripts as well as important codices of the
Septuagint preserveit as lines as poetry.

Thebook opens with a long introduction beginning with the


words:"TheProverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel,"and
continuing witha statement of the purpose of the collection:"To know
wisdom andinstruction,"(1: 1-6). The basisof this tradition of Solomonic
authorship is easily discovered in I Kings 4:32.

Onthe other hand, it is perfectly clear that the statement of the


introductioncan not apply to the whole book, since in the later parts other
authors arenamed. Still it must be maintained that the writer of the
introduction meant toattribute the principal part of the present book to
Solomon.

Thesection from 1:7 through 9:18, is a connected composition of longer or


shortercollections of verses, in which the reader is addressed as"my
son,"and the speaker is characterized as teacher or instructor, who
admonishes inthe name of wisdom (1:20). The form ofparallelism is often

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preserved, some times in a long series of verses (chaps.2-3), and


sometimes Wisdom herself is represented as the speaker (1:20, 8.).The
contents reach their climax in the exhortation to receive and
cherishwisdom, though exactly what this means is not expressly stated.

What is clear, however, is that the wise is to look for salvation or success,
thefool for the contrary, that wisdom is of God and that the fear of God
leads towisdom. Indeed, not only is wisdom fromGod, but wisdom existed
before the worlds and was present with God in creation(8), and is God’s
throne companion. The reader is warned against grave sins andgiven rules
for guidance in practical affairs; by following these is theblessing of God
attained, and an ethical content is injected.

The section from 22:17 through 24: 22,takes the form of a letter or
exhortation to a young man whose parents stilllive (23: 22); the letter is
designated as"words of the wise." The substance is set forth in a series
oflines of poetry which warn against indulgence in wine, unchastity,
andunbecoming behavior in business and society. The king is mentioned,
but in the general sense of"ruler."(24: 21).

EishetHayil:The Noble Wife (Woman of Valor):“Who can find a


virtuous and capable wife?She is worth more than precious rubies”
The grandfinale to Proverbs (31.10-31) is a salute to women who manage
their householdswisely and capably and trust in God. This lengthy praise of
the virtuous womanshows that women played important social and
economic roles in Biblical times.They also filled roles that were the same as
men. The noble wife supervised astaff of workers (27), served as a buyer
for her enterprises (13), sold whather staff produced (18-24), and invested
her profits (16). She had freedom togive to the needy (20) and was
respected for her wisdom and responsibility(14-15, 26-31).

“Give her the reward she has earned; she shouldbe praised in
publicfor what she has done”
Thus the idealwoman is not retiring, servile, or entirely domestic! Instead,

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she has strongcharacter, great wisdom, many skills, and great compassion.
Besides being anexcellent wife and mother, she is a manufacturer,
importer, manager, realtor,farmer, seamstress, upholsterer, and merchant.
Her strength and dignity do notcome from her amazing achievements
however. They are a result of her reverencefor God. Her physical
appearance is never mentioned; her attractiveness comesentirely from her
character:
“Strength anddignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come”

Proverb 1
1)What is the source of wisdom?
2) Why is “thefear of God the beginning of knowledge” (7)?

Proverb 2
1) Who is the“son” that the author refers to?
2)What is thedifference between wisdom and understanding?
3) Which waymarks wisdom and understanding?
4) Who is the“strange woman”?

Proverb 3
1) Why do youthink king Solomon is talking about merchandise?
2) How doesthis Proverb teach us about the relationship between human
beings?

Proverb 4
1) What is thedescription of the Torah in this Proverb?
2) How do weuse this description in our prayer?
3) Why do youthink the author is speaking in this Proverb to his
“sons” (plural)?
4) What is themeaning of the “crown” in this Proverb?
5) In verse 20the author is talking again to his “son” (singular). Why does
he make this change in address?

Proverb 5
1) What is themeaning ofShe’ol?

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2) What is theauthor’s intention when he says, “Drink water out of thy own
cistern”? What canwe learn from this verse?

Proverb 6
1) Which arethe things that God hates and which ones are abominations?
Compare verse20 and Proverb 1, verse 8.

Proverb 7
1) Why doesthe author repeatedly admonish one not to follow the “alien
woman”?
2) Who is the“husband” in this Proverb?
3) What is the“long journey” in verse 19?

Proverb 8
1) What is thedifference between wisdom and knowledge?
2) Why iswisdom considered the pillar of our lives?

Proverb 9
1) “The fearof the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (verse 10). How?
Compare this to 1:3.
2) Doesknowledge increase your years?

Proverb 10
1) In verse 1, why is the wise son relatedto the father, and the foolish son to
the mother?
2) What is themeaning of verse 19?

Proverb 11
1) “Tzedakahdelivers from death” (4). In what way?
2) Are wegoing to live more years (literally) if we give tzedakah?
3) In verse 18the source in Hebrew teaches us to “plant” tzedakah. Why
does the text use thisbeautiful expression?

Proverb 12

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1) Is there aconnection betweenShlom Bayit,peaceat home, and peace in


society?
2) Which kindof death is the text referring to in verse 28?

Proverb 13
1) How can theTorah be both a gift from God,andaguide to our behavior?
2) Which kindof inheritance is mentioned in verse 22?

Proverb 14
1) Verse 15tells us: “The simple man believes everything.” Do you agree?
Is this good?
2) What is themeaning of verse 28?

Proverb 15
1) Why does the author mention the mouth, tongue and lips? What is the
essence of thissymbol?
2) The other symbol mentioned in thisProverb is the heart. What is the
relationshipbetween the tongue and the heart?

Proverbs– 16 – 31
Jill Jarecki Mainzer
Associate Director –Director of Education
Ramah Darom

Proverb16
Verse 8 states“better is a little with righteousness than great revenues
withinjustice.” This speaks directly tothe situation in which many Jewish
organizations find themselves.

1. Do we accept “great revenues” achievedthrough “injustice?” What


would theauthor of this proverb do when faced with that decision?
2. If these “great revenues” will be usedfor righteousness, is it
permissible to accept them?

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3. How far should one go in determining ifthese revenues have been


acquired through injustice? What would you do?

Proverb17
Verse 1 teaches “better is a dry morsel and quietness within the housethan
a house full of feasting and strife.”

1. Given this opening verse to Proverb 17, whatkind of family life might the
author have experienced?

2. How doesone achieve a house filled with tranquility? What is a parent’s


role in creating that kind of tranquility?

3. How canJewish traditions and rituals help to achieve that kind of


tranquility? How could a celebration of Shabbat, acelebration of holidays, or
a bed-time ritual including the Shema enhance thesense of tranquility found
in the home?

Proverb18
Verse 21reminds us that “death and life are in the power of the tongue.”

1. What kinds of experiences point to the wisdom of this verse? Is it a


memory of an incident in whichfeelings were hurt through another’s
words? Is it a memory of support and comfort that was carried through
words?

2. How can we use our words to “bringlife” to one who is in need?

3. As we think about children who turn toviolence because they are


tormented through words, how can we teach ourchildren that “life and
death are in the power of the tongue?”

Proverb19
Verse 11 teaches “it is the discretion of a person to be slow to angerand it

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is his / her glory to pass over a transgression.”

1. Why is it laudable to be slow toanger? How are others affected by


onewho angers quickly?

2. When is it appropriate to forgive atransgression and when is it


appropriate to correct a wrong?

3. How do these traits affect afamily? How do they affect acommunity?


If one is not slow to angerby nature, is it possible to achieve that state?

Proverb20
Verse 24 addresses the struggle between free will and DivineProvidence.
“A man’s goings are of the L-rd; how then can man look to his way?”

1. Does G-d control each person’s path?

2. What is the extent of a person’scontrol over his or her own life?

3. If a person’s goings are “of the L-rd,”why does Proverbs suggest a


path for us?

4. How do you think the author of Proverbs has resolved this issue?

Proverb21
Verse 17instructs that “he that loves pleasure will be a poor man, he that
loves wineand oil will not be rich.”

1. Why is it problematic to the author tolove pleasure?

2. What kind of pleasure do you think theauthor had in mind? Do you


agree withthis verse?

3. What do you think is the author’sdefinition of “rich?” Is that

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yourdefinition?

Proverb22
This proverb contains one of the most quoted verses in Jewishtradition.
“Educate a child in the wayhe should go, and even when he is old, he will
not depart from it.” (Verse 6)

1. What kind of education is impliedhere? One commentary on this


versesuggests that it is “the way of uprightness and good living.” Do you
agree?

2. Another commentary suggests that “eachchild must be educated


according to his or her individual needs.” It is only when children are
taughtaccording to their own individual needs that they retain and
internalize theirtraining. Do you agree?

3. Do you feel that this verse is appliedin your family? Do you feel that
Jewisheducation today mirrors this verse?

Proverb23
Many of theverses in the Book of Proverbs are difficult for us to agree with
or accepttoday. Verse 13 is an example of averse that is difficult to
reconcile with our modern understanding of raisingchildren.

“Withhold notcorrection from the child, for though you beat him with the rod,
he will notdie.”

1. Today, we can not accept this verse asis, especially as we read all too
often of children who do die from beatingsadministered by their parents.
Aspeople who understand these texts to be holy, what do we do with this
verse?

2. How do we respond to a text that istroubling to us? Do we disregard


the entire text? Is there an element of this verse that we can accept?

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3. While we cannot accept the literal meaning,what can we glean from this
verse? Perhaps we can use it to highlight theimportance of providing
some measure of structure and discipline for ourchildren.

Proverb24
Verse 3 teaches us about wisdom. “Through wisdom is a house built, andby
understanding it is established.”

1. How does wisdom build a house? What kind of “building” is the


authordescribing?

2. How does one fill his or her house withthat kind of wisdom?

3. How does understanding “establish” ahouse? What is the difference


between“building” and “establishing?” What isthe connection between
wisdom and understanding? How does one attain them?

Proverb25
Verse 17 warns,”Let your foot seldom be in your neighbor’s house; elsehe
will be sated with you and hate you.”

1. How do we understand this verse in thecontext of our tradition


ofhachnassatorchim, hospitality?

2. How does one know if he or she hasspent too much time at a


neighbor’s house? What clues might indicate a problem with the
relationship?

3. What do youthink is the real concern here? Whatis the author warning
against?

Proverb26
Verses 1 and 2 provide some vivid imagery: “As snow in summer and

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asrain in harvest, so honor is not seemly for a fool. As the wandering


sparrow, as the flying swallow, so the cursethat is causeless will come
home.”

1. Why is there concern over honor comingto a fool? According to this


author,what qualities are present in a fool?

2. Why does the author use the snow andrain to make his point? What
effectdoes this imagery have on the reader?

3. Read verse 2 without the phrases thatrefer to the sparrow and


swallow. Doesit have the same impact? What is anexample of a
“causeless curse?” In whatway does this “come home?”

Proverb27
Verses 1 and 2 advise against boasting.

1. Why is boasting considered anegative? Why is it problematic topraise


oneself?

2. Why would acknowledging that the futureis unknown prevent a person


from boasting?

3. What is G-d’s role in a person’s lifeand circumstances? How would a


warningagainst boasting suggest a recognition of the connection to
G-d?

Proverb28
Verse 5 counsels that “evil men don’t understand justice, but they thatseek
the L-rd understand everything.”

1. Do you agree with this verse? Which phrase or phrases do you agree
ordisagree with?

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2. How is it possible for any person tounderstand everything? Do you


knowpeople who “seek the L-rd” and don’t understand everything? What
don’t they understand?

3. What is the author really saying? What kind of understanding does


one achievewhen “seeking the L-rd?”

Proverb29
Verse 11 gives us some insight into the value of controlling one’semotions.
“A fool spendsall of his spirit, but a wise person stills it within him.”

1. What does it mean to “spend one’sspirit?” (It is understood by


thecommentary that “spirit” can be a synonym for “anger.”)

2. How does a wise person still his or heranger? What is the


consequence of uncontrolledanger?

3. How does this ability render onewise? Do you agree that the ability
tocontrol one’s anger is a necessary characteristic of a wise person?

Proverb30
Verse 1 explains that this proverb is an addition, attributed to alater time.
Verses 18 and 19 point tothe author’s recognition of some of life’s
mysteries. He refers to “the eagle in the air, the serpent, a ship in thesea,
and the way of a man with a young woman.”

1. When one considers the wonders of theworld, why do you think this
author stops to marvel at the eagle? Do you think there is a connection to
thedescription in the Torah of the people being led out of Egypt “on the
wings ofeagles?”

2. The serpent is usually viewednegatively. It is connected with


thetemptation to do evil as portrayed in the Garden of Eden. Why then is
it listed among “wonderfulthings?”

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3. The reference to the ship and to thecouple seem to point to vast


mysteries beyond human comprehension. As you contemplate the
wonders of thisworld, would these be on your list? What would you
include? Why?

Proverb31
This proverb is perhaps the most famous in this book. Beginning with verse
10, we have “EishetHayil – A Woman of Valor.”

One of thenotable elements is that in a book of short, seemingly


unconnected bits ofwisdom, this proverb includes 21 consecutive verses
praising the woman ofvalor. While some of the specificexamples may not
apply to our modern lifestyle, some of the themes areuniversal and timeless.

1. Verses 11 and 12 speak about trust andthe ability of a woman’s


husband to trust in her and to know that she willalways “do him good.”
How important istrust in our modern relationships? Itis notable that it is
the first trait mentioned here.

2. Verse 20 extols her commitment totzedakah. How does that affect


theentire family? How does a man or womantoday act so that others view
him or her as someone who “stretches out her handto the poor?”

3. Verse 25 acknowledges her “strength,dignity,” and ability to “laugh at


the time to come.” While it seems clear why strength and dignity are
valued, why isthe ability to laugh a virtue? Whatdoes this say about a
person’s outlook and approach to the future?

Hazak,hazak, v’nithazek!

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PEREK YOMI - The Book of Job

Perek Yomi: Iyov

The Book of Job


A Project of MACCJ
the Metro Atlanta Council for Conservative Judaism
http://uscj.org/soeast/atlanta

Study questions written by Janice Alper,


Executive Director of Jewish Educational Services

Edited by Steven Chervin

MACCJ (Metro Atlanta Council for


Conservative Judaism)

MACCJ is the umbrella organization for Conservative synagogues and organizations in


Atlanta, including The Epstein School - Solomon Schechter School of Atlanta, Ramah
Darom, Ahavath Achim Synagogue, Congregation Etz Chaim, Congregation Beth Shalom,
North Fulton Jewish Center, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, The Jewish
Theological Seminary, Women’s League for Conservative Judaism, and the Federation of
Jewish Men’s Clubs. A central element in the mission of MACCJ is to promote Jewish
education in the greater Atlanta community. MACCJ is chaired by Sue Rothstein of
Congregation Etz Chaim.

Perek Yomi Coordinating Council


The Perek Yomi Coordinating Council is co-chaired by Steven Chervin (Epstein School and
AA) and Janet Schatten (Epstein School and AA). Its members include Steve Birch, Sue
Rothstein, and Nancy Seifert-Gorod (Etz Chaim); Eileen Cohn and Jennifer Stark-Blumenthal

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(Beth Shalom); Jill Jarecki Mainzer and Rabbi Adam Frank (Ramah Darom); and Rabbi
Albert Slomovitz and Steve Horn (North Fulton Jewish Center).

PEREK YOMI
THE BOOK OF JOB
Notes prepared by Janice P. Alper

Foreword

A personal indulgence.

More than 40 years ago when I was a student at Brooklyn College in New York I took a course in Hebrew
Literature. One of the books we studied was Job. To be honest, I have no memory of the content of the course, or
what we discussed in class, and never took another serious look at Job until recently.

Last spring, Dr. Simcha Pearl, Director of the New Atlanta Jewish Community High School, invited me to teach a
text course this year. I had some discussion with a few of the students who said they were interested in studying
Job. After further discussion with Sim we agreed that I would tackle the Book of Job in the spring semester.

So here I am. I spent part of the Fall reading Job and had discussions with local rabbis and educators to assist me
in identifying sources to help make the study coherent. Special thanks go to Barbara Rosenblit, Rabbis Noach
Shapiro and Mark Zimmerman, and Dr. Carol Newsome from Emory University.

I want to especially thank my students in the 12th grade class at NAJCHS-Emily Baldauf-Wagner, Danielle Borrin,
Laura Clark, Lora Dagi, Gene Germanovich, Jonathan Ginburg, Joshua Halpern, Jennifer (Gig) Jacobs, Bradlee
Kersh, Navit Robkin. Every week we plow through Job together, examining the book through various lenses. The
students are thoughtful and insightful and bring fresh ideas to the text. They ask stimulating questions and make
erudite comments. This is truly an instance where the teacher learns more from the students, than the students
learn from the teacher.

Before You Start Reading Job

Before reading Job for Perek Yomi you may find it helpful to read some background material. The most concise,
comprehensive article may be found in The Anchor Tanakh, edited by Martin Pope. It is available, as are other
sources, from the Library at Jewish Educational Services, 770-677-9487, libdir@jesatlanta.org

If you do not read this article, take a few moments to read the introduction to a translation you may own. There is
also a very good article in the Encyclopedia Judaica.

I have been using The Book of Job, by Norman Habel ( 1985, The Westminster Press) as the primary reference for
my comments. Habel gives each chapter a title and I have included them in my notes below.

Organizing Principles of the Book of Job for Perek Yomi

It is very difficult to read Job one chapter at a time. Therefore, I have digressed from the regular format of one
chapter a day and divided the book into different segments, each of which should be read as a unit. Here are the
divisions I suggest:

Prologue: Chapters 1 and 2

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The First Cycle


Chapters 3-6
Chapters 7-10
Chapters 11-14

The Second Cycle


Chapters 15-17
Chapters 18-21

The Third Cycle


Chapters 22-27
Chapters 28-31

Elihu: Chapters 32-37

God and Job: Chapters 38-42

The language in Hebrew is esoteric and sometimes very difficult. I have been referring to three translations at one
time. When discussing the book at Perek Yomi sessions, you may wish to compare translations to see how the
various editors interpret them.

Finally, the text is so rich that you may want to explore it with various lenses. In our class at NAJCHS we try to see
the text in three different ways—religious, literary and philosophical. You may want to use only one lens to look at
the book or certainly see an alternative one to those suggested.

THE BOOK OF JOB


An Overview

Who is Job and why is there a whole book about him?


1. Scholars generally agree that Job represents everyman. General agreement that he may or may not have
been a living human being.

2. General agreement that he was not Jewish

3. Parallels to Abraham—had faith, rich, left his homeland, believed in God despite hardships.

4. Reference to Ezekiel, 14:14, 20—knew of the existence of such a “person.”

5. Supposition that many books of the Tanakh are based on life experiences—the authors are trying to tell us
that they saw people facing these travails and used their knowledge of lore to put it together for the ancient
Israelites.

The Place of Job in the Tanakh and Parallel Literature

1. Current position, right after Mishlei (Proverbs) and before Shir haShirim (Song of Songs). Evidence
shows that it may have been positioned in the Tanakh differently in the past.

2. Baba Bathra (BB) 15b indicates that Job lived in the time of Abraham and married one of Jacob’s
daughters.

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3. Other places, BB 14b, ascribe the authorship to Moses; also talked about in Sanhedrin 106a and
Sotah 11a among other places, with regard to Job’s life and “crimes.”

4. In BB 15a, Rabbi Resh Lakish expressed a view that Job never existed and that the story is simply
a poetic comparison or parable.

5. Historic evidence shows that similar stories existed in the ancient world —some even earlier than
our book.

A. The Keret Epic—from Ugarit—about a millennium earlier than the exile:


• Story of a king whose entire family was wiped out in a series of catastrophes
• Fell victim to disease and was confronted with the prospect of death, but was restored to
health and resumed his rule.
• With the aid of the god El, he acquired a new wife and a second series of children
B. Mesopotamian parallels which are still being uncovered.
C. Sumerian prototypes, probably somewhere around the Third Dynasty of Ur, ca. 2000 BCE,
which deal with pain and suffering.

6. Who is the author?


A. No certainty that the author was an Israelite.
B. Author probably lived in the cosmopolitan atmosphere of the sixth or fifth centuries BCE and
was conversant with a wide range of lost pagan literature associated with Western Semitic literature.
C. Hebrew was still a literary language for him, even though it may not have been a spoken
language.
D. Appears to be acquainted with Egypt and had probably traveled widely.
E. Evidence that he is familiar with the prophetic literature; world literature as depicted by many
allusions to mythological motifs known from ancient literature of Mesopotamia and Syria.
F. As a seeker of wisdom, the author tended to ignore geographical boundaries and political
barriers.

Job in the Septuagint

1. Septuagint was trying to be philosophically respectable to a Greek reader.


2. B’nai Elohim (Children of God) to a non-Jewish Greek reader would not be monotheism, but demi-
gods. An unlearned Jew might have problems with this, so the Septuagint uses the term “angels” without
explanation, thus awarding a semi-divine status and the phrase B’nei Elohim.
3. Satan is the Greek equivalent of “Diabolos”—the devil. He is a combination of a slanderer and
making accusations against someone else, in this case Job.
4. Eliphaz’s speech presents the view that Job is unjustified in his complaints:

A. God is absolutely just, therefore Job has sinned.

B. (4:19) Those who dwell in clay houses, whose faith is dust, are crushed like a moth—
perishable—this is what it is to be human—mortality means suffering, it is a human condition

Testament of Job

1. Post biblical work written 300 years before the Mishna

2. Parallel story in Greek, probably between 100 BCE and 100 CE. Another story about an old guy

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about to die who calls his children together and gives them his testament/will.

Job in Rabbinic Literature

1. See Baba Batra 14—rabbis ask about the authorship of various parts of the Prophetic literature.
Some say Job married Jacob’s daughter Dina.

2. Issue of who is/can be a Navi (Prophet)—Bilaam is problematic because he is not Jewish. Ethnic
status of Job is problematic too. Rabbis tend to see him as a Jew who prophesied to the heathens.

3. How righteous was Job—similar to a discussion about Noach. Rabbis deflated Noach’s status, vis
a vis Abraham. Comparison of Job to Abraham—Job tends to get deflated.

Saadia Gaon (882-942; philosopher)

1. Two fundamental pillars of Job—the parameters of the entire discussion of Job’s two beliefs:

A. God is absolutely just. Job never denies this, he just wants to understand it.
B. Job is a tsadik (his friends deny this). The book’s problem is how to square these 2 points with
the facts of Job’s life.

2. At the end of the book, Saadia posits that until God spoke, Job’s knowledge of God was hearsay.
In the last chapter he has reached a new superior understanding of God

Rambam (1135-1204; also known as Maimonides;


the greatest of Jewish philosophers)

1. Rambam deals with this in the Guide to the Perplexed—Moreh N’vuchim. It is generally regarded as a
book which explains terms used in the Tanakh.

2. Rambam says the reader has to be well qualified to enter into the questions posed by Job. Only people
who have studied logic, physics, mathematics and metaphysics are capable—a very small audience!

3. Many Tanach passages may not be taken literally—one needs to look beyond the words to determine
what they are trying to say.

4. Rambam says evil is a privation of form—all evil does not come from God (consistent with his
notion of free will [JPA]).

5. Three categories of evil:

A. Natural evils deriving from the material world, such as earthquakes, eclipses, etc. Rambam
posits that these are relatively seldom and are not generally bad in the long run. If they happened
more frequently, they would destroy the world.

B. Moral Evil—between people, such as violence and dominance. These are more numerous
but come about because we cause them; from our own free will.

B. Moral-Intellectual Evils—things we do to ourselves, primarily due to ignorance. Most


frequent blame goes to individual selves.

7. Rambam rejects the anthropocentrism of humanity—thus, Job is not so important in the cosmic

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picture; but Satan is more important. (Idea is that if heavenly bodies are superior to man, then they must
not exist for human beings. We are high on the ladder, but there are higher rungs than us.)

8. Rambam wants to deflate man and to blunt Job’s complaint—(essentially takes God’s position.)

9. Rambam reads Job as a mashal (example)—Evidence: historians cannot agree on Job’s facts,
therefore it is easier to understand what everything means if we look at it as a parable which needs
explaining. He identifies characters as B’nei Elohim, Satan and others:

A. B’nai Elohim are the angels, who live in the upper world. Satan lives in the land and wanders.
There is no relation between them.

B. All Job’s sufferings are caused by Satan directly. However, this fact is unknown at first to Job
and his friends—they all think God is the cause—“no evil can come from high—lo ra ml’ma’alah.”

Job in Modern Thought:


3 Professors from the Jewish Theological Seminary

Ora Prouser (a la Rabbi Mark Zimmerman)


1. Play on the name
2. Legend as opposed to historical narrative
3. May be pre-exilic; Edom is portrayed positively
4. Satan, who is also mentioned in Zachariah, is a prosecuting attorney/accuser.

Neil Gilman
Theory of old and new myth. Job is the first book to challenge philosophy that if God has “smiled” upon you, you
are expected to take what God metes out. Thus, if you are broke, you must have done something wrong. The
friends represent the old myth. The new myth challenges whether the plan is correct. Should you accept
everything as part of a larger plan?

Robert Gordis
Openly condemns a lack of justice. God’s answer to Job is “I (God) run the natural universe, not everything has to
fit. The plan is bigger than you are, so don’t necessarily look for divine justice.”

The Structure of the Book

1. Organizing principles
There is general agreement that the book is organized into 5 or 6 separate elements: prologue and epilogue;
three cycles of poems, which are dialogues between Job and his three friends—the major part of the book;
Elihu; Job and God, which is further sub-divided into the very last part where Job is redeemed. Some
speculations that the major work of the poetic elements were there long before the prologue and epilogue.
The rest may have been inserted to give validation as to why this was placed in the canonical literature of the
Jews.

2. Themes and Content


a. Mention the book of Job and you immediately associate injustice, suffering, evil.

b. Gilman finds the book ironic and almost humorous in its presentation.

c. Ora Prouser posits that fear is the theme of the book. Job, in his effort to conquer fear, chooses to
scorn it. We take comfort in knowing that we have a higher sense of justice than God.

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d. Do we have a right to challenge God?

3. Characters
a. Job—protagonist—what kind of protagonist is he? What questions does he ask—what is his
question over and over again?
b. Satan; Friends—Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar; Elihu; God

4. Language
a. Martin Pope, in the introduction to Job in the Anchor Tanakh, notes that the Hebrew is characterized
by brevity and terseness which is often not reflected in the translation.

b. The terms for God -YHVH and Elohim - are used frequently in the prologue and later chapters of the
book. Other names for God, or other forms of Elohim, appear frequently in the poetic dialogues.

c. Hapex LeGamana—A word found only once in the Tanakh. The Book of Job has more words of this
nature than any other book of the Tanakh.

Chapters 1 and 2: The Affliction of Job

1. Some scholars call this the Prologue or Overture.


A. Who are the characters?
B. How are they introduced to us?
C. What questions do you have?

2. Sequence of events—Both chapters have the same sequence; both are God versus Satan.
Setting; Catalyst; Conflict—challenge, challenge accepted, execution; Apparent resolution; Closure

3. Analyze the dialogue between God and Satan—what is really going on there? Why does God
accept Satan’s challenge?

4. What do you think of Job’s behavior? How do you look at it in light of the Jewish view of faith? How
does Job’s behavior change from chapter 1:20-21 and chapter 2:14?

5. In chapter 2 we are introduced to Job’s wife—what do you think about her? Is it a normal way for a
wife to behave? What is the text trying to tell us?

6. Now that you have looked at these first two chapters, what does this tell you about things to come?

Chapter 3: Job’s Cries Against His Origin

1. The entire chapter is a tirade against the day of his birth.

2. According to some scholars, by cursing his birth, he sets in motion forces of destruction.

3. The curses are almost an extension of his wife’s complaints—thus the analogy to a woman giving
birth—see v. 11.

4. Some of his lamenting takes on the form of tribal incantations. See v. 3—contrast this with Gen.

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1:3: “let there be light” —Job says “Let there be darkness.” Darkness which God called night is
characterized as Job’s day of origin.

5. V.9b—Job uses the word amal to characterize his misery—this may also have the connotation of
evil minds or an evil deed that God cannot tolerate.

6. In vss. 11-19, we see questions of “why.” As we proceed into the next few verses we begin to see
that Sheol, usually depicted as gloom and doom, darkness and forgetfulness, is now a place; though of
darkness, it is also appealing, especially to kings and princes.

7. In the last few verses we see that Job begins to come to terms with his plight. This is particularly
evident in verse 23 where Job’s complaint becomes existential—it is not the suffering or bitterness of life as
such that consumes him, but the misery of meaninglessness.

8. In vs. 26 we see a summary of his plight.

Before proceeding to the next chapter, try to put yourself in Job’s mind. (Remember that he is Everyman). How
would you characterize his behavior? What kinds of help would you try to get for him in today’s world?

Chapters 4-5: The Counsel of Eliphaz the Friend

• Falls into several parts—4: 1-11, Exploration of Job’s situation; 12-21, A teaching revealed to Eliphaz;
5:1-7 a teaching verified by Eliphaz; 8-16: Eliphaz’s affirmation of hope;17-27: assurance of restitution.

• Eliphaz’s speech reflects counsel given to a friend who is suffering.

• When Eliphaz breaks the silence he does so hesitantly. He is now playing a role that Job had played
in former times as the wise counselor and guide to friends. See vss 4-5, Job is experiencing a downfall he
used to see in others. Eliphaz is ignorant of the wager between God and Satan.

• Vs. 16—a faint voice, an apparition—what is the significance of this?

• Chapter 5, we begin to see Eliphaz change from sympathetic to adversarial, especially in the first 7
verses.

• In vss. 5:8-16 there is a message of assurance from Eliphaz—he tries to place himself in Job’s shoes
by designating a course of action he would follow had this happened to him. We see a distinctive character
of El, as the maker of marvels.

• Closing verses of the chapter, 17-27 reveal that El, the Maker of all, creates creatures of clay, making
them subject to forces of destruction similar to the ones that came upon Job.

• Basically Eliphaz’s picture of a restored world reflects an ancient Near Eastern mythic motif of primal
harmony between humans and their environment in Paradise.

• Verse 23 bothers scholars. Rashi proposed reading this as Lords of the field; Pope, in the Anchor
Bible changes it to “sons of the field.”

1. What do you think is the cause of Eliphaz’s change of attitude/behavior from chapter 4 to chapter 5? Is he really
a friend to Job?

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Chapter 6: Job’s Expose of False Friends

• Major focus of Job’s response is on Elphaz’s failure to fulfill his function as a friend—see 6:14.

• The whole diatribe falls into 3 parts, vss. 2-13, 14-27 and 28-30.

• Job moves from being sufferer to explaining that God has become his enemy, a possibility Eliphaz did not
even imagine.

• In the closing section, 28-30, Job appeals to his friends to abandon their duplicity and engage in honest
communication—he is the truly honest one because he is the sufferer and he knows the nature of agony and
he can interpret misfortune.

1. Do you agree with Job’s behavior at this juncture?

2. In one place the Hebrew word havot is translated as misfortune. Elsewhere it is translated as evil or sinful. How
do each of these translations impact the text and what is going on with Job? Is a misfortune an evil or a sin?

Chapter 7—Job’s complaint against God the Watcher

• Human Existence is Servitude—7:1-8


• Human Life is Futlity—7:9-16
• Human beings are humiliated—7:17-21

1. Richard Rohr has written a book entitled Job and the Mystery of Suffering, Spiritual Reflections. In
commenting on this chapter he says the only thing that could now give Job satisfaction would be the knowledge that
he is not estranged from God. Do you agree?

2. Do you think Job really believes God loves him?

3. What are your feelings about God—write them down, put them in a sealed envelope and open it up after you
have completed reading this book.

Chapter 8: Bildad’s Ancient Parable of the Two Plants

• Bildad’s speech is almost like the form of Greek tragedy, where the words of speakers have connotations
intended for the audience, but hidden to the characters in the plot. Can you determine what might be “hidden
words” directed to the reader rather than Job?

• Verses 1-4
A. He begins his discourse in a traditional manner—he uses a form that we see in chapter 1:5…although
this is unknown to him, it illustrates that Bildad is a traditionalist who is concerned with history.
B. He has a diatribe against Job’s children—the reason Job is suffering is because his children sinned…

• Verses 5-6—conditional assurance of restoration

• Verses 7-20 we see the appeal to ancient tradition


A. Parable of the two plants—see Jeremiah 17:5-8 and Psalm 1—How is this set up in verses 11-19?
B. There is a polarity between security and fragility—vss 16-19—the permanent and transitory: the first
house is constructed out of false self-confidence by the wicked; the second is the hard world which the
righteous person, like the surviving plan, penetrates and so strikes root.
C. In verse 20 Bildad recapitulates his teaching about God’s attitude (El) to both the blameless and

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evildoer. He says the blameless will not be abandoned in their time of disaster and the evildoer will be
sustained in their sin.

• Verses 20-22 Bildad affirms restitution as he did earlier in the chapter.

1. What new insights have you gained about the text?


2. How does this chapter substantiate a faith in God? Any assurances…?

Chapters 9-10: Job on the Futility of Litigation

• Scholars regard these two chapters as a vehicle for litigation against God.
A. Why would Job want to bring a suit against God?
B. What happens when you take action—do you feel that your action was wasted if things don’t turn out
the way you hoped?
C. How does Job move from the futility of litigation to actualizing it?

Chapter 11; Zophar on God’s Inscrutable Wisdom

Enter Zophar—thus far:


• Eliphaz had claimed an unusual vision to substantiate his traditional doctrines about human nature
and divine retribution (4:12-21)
• Bildad based his understanding of El’s just governance on primordial traditon (chapter 8)
• Zophar appears to imply that he is initiated into the esoteric mysteries of wisdom which are normally
beyond a mortal human being’s reach. He presumes to know the hidden mind of God about Job’s sins.
Job would understand this if God would choose to unveil this side to him.

Zophar’s speech is divided into two major sections:


• Verses 2-12 he challenges Job on knowing the ways of God.
• Verses 13-20 are words of counsel and reassurance.

There is a tension in this chapter between wisdom and understanding. Both can be discerned by mortals, but the
depth can only be discerned by God. Zophar sets himself up as one who can discern wisdom because he is
initiated into the esoteric ways of interpreting it.

1. In your mind, what is wisdom?

2. How have you acquired wisdom in your life?

3. How do you think wisdom is regarded in our society today as compared with the time of Job?

This closes the First Cycle of speeches in the Book of Job. We now move to the Second Cycle.

Chapters 12:2-13:5: Job on Knowledge and Wisdom

• Job’s challenge to the various claims to knowledge and authority cited by his friends.

• Eliphaz reported an anonymous messenger (4:12ff); Bildad espoused the primordial tradition (8:8ff) and
Zophar challenges Job to know the deep things of God (11:7-12)

• Job questions wisdom—first he asks if wisdom can be found with the aged (12:12) and then he answers

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his own question by saying that wisdom is with God (12:13)

• The last part of chapter 12, vss. 13-25 takes on the form of a hymn praising God’s wisdom and power.

1. Refer back to your thoughts about wisdom from the previous chapter. Here we see a distinction between
knowledge and wisdom—what do you think marks that distinction?

2. In terms of developmental psychology as we know it, how do we acquire knowledge? Is it the same way we
acquire wisdom?

Chapter 13: 6-28: Job’s Pretrial Declaration

• Reverts back to the idea of litigation similar to a declaration or consideration of legal preliminaries.
• Covers three areas:
A. Interrogation of witnesses (6-12)
B. Public challenge to the adversary at law (17-23)
C. A cry of complaint and frustration (24-28)
• The key word in this part of the speech is “face”—panim, vs. 8, 10, 15,16. What do you think is the
significance of the repetition of this word so many times in this chapter?

1. Do you think Job has a chance of putting God on trial? How would you go about doing this?

2. Have you ever felt that you put God on trial? Has God ever put you on trial?

Note: At the end of our semester at NAJCHS we are going to have a reader’s theater with two books, The Trial of
God (as it was held on February 25,1649 in Shamgorod) A Play in Three Acts, by Elie Wiesel and The Book of
Job as translated by Stephen Mitchell.

Chapter 14: Job’s Unorthodox Hope

• Uses nature analogies juxtaposed with traditional axioms about mortals and provides a bold new theme of
hope.

1. How do the images of nature provide Job with hope?


2. We often find comfort in natural settings. Can you describe a time when you were in a natural setting and it
helped change your mood?
3. What is going on with Job at this juncture?

On the following pages, covering chapters 15-21, I have laid out the speeches of the three friends in
juxtaposition to each other and the speeches of Job in the same way. If you are printing this out, you may
want to start a new page here as I am doing.
Habel titles these chaptes as follows:

Chapter 15: Eliphaz on Knowledge and Retribution


Chapter 16-17: Job’s Complaint Against Friend and Foe
Chapter 18: Bildad on the World of the Wicked
Chapter 19: Job’s Hope of a Redeemer
Chapter 20: Zophar on the Face of the Wicked
Chapter 21: Job’s Disputation of the Wicked

These chapters end the Second Cycle of speeches.

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1. How would you compare the speeches from the first cycle with those of the second cycle?

2. Has the image of God changed from one cycle to the other?

3. How would you characterize Job’s mental state now? What kind of counsel would you give him?

ELIPHAZ, Chap. 15 BILDAD, Chap. 18 ZOPHAR, Chap. 20


1. Eliphaz continues 1. Bildad chastises Job for 1. Zophar is stung by
blasting Job as an arrogant playing word games and accusing Job’s responses. He
deceiver as he did in his friends as being dull, like feels humiliated and
chapters 4-5. animals (vss. 2-3) wants to rebuke Job.
2. In verses 2-16 he 2. In verse 4, which is pivotal in 2. He is not a faithful
provides a personal rebuke this chapter, Bildad accuses Job worshipper, comparing
using interrogatives and of having a fixation to play God his own lot with that of
rhetorical questions as found and reorganize the cosmos to suit the wicked and
in verses 7-14. his purposes. This is a rebuttal to expressing trust in God’s
3. The second section Job’s accusation in 9:5-6 that El righteousness, but salts
verses, 17-35, is an has disrupted the cosmos for his his speech with insults.
extended portrayal of the own fickle ends. His speech, therefore, is
wicked. 3. In verse 21 we see that a portrait of the wicked
Bildad is fixing a “place” in order which mirrors Job’s plight
to learn what happens to the and thus, indicts him,
wicked (in this case, Job.) indirectly, as one with the
4. Bildad has definitely classed wicked.
Job among the wicked and is 3. Some say this is a
relentlessly announcing his fate! satirical speech. Others
There is no longer any appeal to say that Zophar is
be blameless or any hope of speaking with inner
restoration, as expressed in his wisdom and discernment.
earlier speech.

THE BOOK OF JOB, THE SECOND CYCLE OF SPEECHES, CHAPTERS 15-21

JOB’S RESPONSES TO HIS “FRIENDS”

Chapters 16-17 Chapter 19 Chapter 21


1. Job reacts to his friends, after 1. This is a very famous speech 1. Job’s intense
his opening remarks in vss. 1-5 in and is divided into three major sarcasm continues. His
the following way: parts. Basically, it is a sarcastic basic problem is the legal
A. Complaint agains God as barb directed at his friends. He “complaint” he has
repeatedly maintains his innocence. lodged against God
the enemy (16:6-17) 2. The first part Job is under siege (chap. 10)
B. Cry of hope and despair by God, 19:6-11, surrounded by the 2. God is supposed to
(16:18-17:1) troops of God. Job depicts God as be the guarantor of
C. Complaint against his blocking all routes to breaking out. justice, thus, he, Job,
friends (17:2-10) He says that this is waged against claims he has the right to
D. Cry of despair about hope one pitiful mortal isolated in his be impatient with God
(17:11-16) fragile tent. and to expect more

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2. The heart of the speech is God 3. In verses 13-20 we see the sympathy from fellow
as the brutal foe (16:18-22) There second major unit—a catalog of mortals.
are bold metaphors and imagery those social intimates who have 3. He calls on his
which highlight the poem. rejected, deserted, or disowned friends to be astounded
3. the progression of images from him. The sufferer, in this case Job, at the harsh truth evident
animal ferocity to military might finds no one willing to identify and in his tragic plight.
comes from diverse traditions about empathize with him. 4. When he reflects on
God: 4. In the last part he moves from the ugly reality he has
A. Wild beast, Num. 23:22 admonition, to indictment to hope experience (v. 6), he is
B. Scavengers waiting for and conviction. overcome with spasms of
scraps of meat, Hos. 5:14 horror.
C. A commander directing his 5. He sets aside his
archers, Deut. 32:23-24. legal complaint against
4. Looking at the speech as a God for the time being.
whole we see that if Job were in the
place of his friends, he might just
act the same way they do.

The Third Cycle

Scholars believe this to be an incomplete cycle. You have Eliphaz continue his diatribe against Job; Job replies;
then Bildad chimes in very briefly and Job replies again. There is no evidence of Zophar in this cycle.

Chapter 22: Eliphaz’s Indictment of Job

• Divided into 3 sections:


• Verses 2-11 are a charge of gross sin—Job is arrogant and in verses 10-11 Eliphaz offers proof of Job’s
guilt.
• Verses 12-20 is a charge of siding with the wicked
• Verses 21-30 we see conditional summons to repentance, a portrait of those restored to favor and a
summation on the power of pure hands.
• Eliphaz focuses on the doctrine of divine self-sufficiency. If God is the mighty and eternal one, no one can
intimidate or endanger his status. Job has sinned by challenging God.
• What is going on here—Eliphaz continues his diatribe and brings a case against Job due to his frustration

1. Do you think Eliphaz is justified in his indictment of Job?

2. Have you ever had occasion to challenge God? What was it like?

3. Is there a difference between sin and injustice? One of my NAJCHS students noted that if one sins, one
eventually commits an injustice— do you agree?

Chapter 23—Job’s Quest to Face God

• Job is so desperate that he seeks to find God himself and face God—vs. 3
• Job envisions proceedings before the heavenly court—vss. 4-7
• He goes on to imagine, from his own anxiety, about the intimidating terror of God which will hinder a fair
trial.

1. Why do you think Job continues to go along with his litigation? What do you think he hopes to accomplish?

2. How do his actions here help him to cope with his situation?

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Chapter 24—On Delayed Retribution

• Some scholars feel that this speech has no connection to the one that came before. Others argue that it
is a recapitulation of what Job said in chapter 23.
• Verse 1 presents the question in dispute—if times of judgment are set to punish the injustices of the world,
why are they not evident to the faithful?
A. Eliphaz (15:23) says a “day of darkness is set for the wicked.
B. Zophar describes the appointed time as the day of God’s wrath (20:28)

• Verses 2-12 there is a description of the exploitation of the downtrodden


• Verses 13-17 depicts evildoers who flagrantly break the law—their crimes include burglary, murder and
adultery.
• Verses 24:18-20 The destiny of the wicked is described. Job raises a problem noting that no time seems
to be fixed for their judgment—they continue on unchecked in their evil ways; yet their destiny is expected to
be a reversal of their life on earth as oppressive rulers.
• Verses 22-24 is an attempt at a resolution of the apparent contradiction between the strong presence of
the wicked (13-17) and the tradition that they are destined to be forgotten after a brief accursed life (18-20)—in
verse 24a the key line is “They may be exalted for a moment—then they are not…”
• Finally, in verse 25 there is a challenge for the next person to refute the preceding argument.

1. How would you describe injustices in the world today? What can we do about them, if anything?

Chapter 25—Bildad on God’s Cosmic Design

• Scholars agree that this chapter is incomplete


• Verses 1-6 talks about mortals and the Moon before El, God.
• 5-9 we see the awesome mysteries of God
• 10-14 the establishment of the cosmic order

1. If you were to complete the cosmic design, what would you add?

2. Why is it important to discuss the cosmic design of the universe in this book of the Tanakh?

Chapters 26-27—Job’s Oath of Integrity

• Chapter 26 Job continues to search for justice and God


• 26:2-4 he responds to Bildad and all of his friends, that it is ludicrous for them to play the savior and impart
counsel when he himself is so devoid of strength and wisdom.
• Chapter 27, Job once again swears his allegiance to God
• The substance of the chapter is that Job will speak only the truth and no deceit.
• 27:7-12—imprecation of Job’s adversary—wickedness and righteousness are juxtaposed.
• The question arises as to who is Job’s enemy—someone who opposes him in court? God? His friends?
• Initially God is the primary enemy in that he is Job’s adversary at law. In verse 5 Job heightens the polarity
between himself as the innocent party and God as the guilty one.
• Verses 11-12 Job addresses his friends—he announces that he has completed the task of teaching them
about God’s ways and there is no point in them continuing with empty arguments. All subsequent speeches
are to the court or to God.
• Verses 13-23 depict the destiny of the wicked. Some scholars attribute this to Zophar.

1. Now that the Third Cycle of speeches is completed, how would you characterize Job’s friends? What do you

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think they were trying to accomplish with him?

Chapters 28-31

These four chapters are sometimes considered a unit. They appear to have no relation to what preceded them;
they represent a transition in the text. Chapter 28 stands on its own as a quest for wisdom, ending up with wisdom
as a solution to the dilemma facing Job. Chapters 29-31 are considered a formal testimony addressed to a public
assembly. In 27:2-6, Job pronounced a public oath against perjury and summarized his claim to integrity. In these
chapters he presents the substance of that claim. Since one of his goals is to pursue litigation with God in court
(23:3-7), the final testimony is also a formal challenge to God, the adversary at law.

The authenticity of chapters 29-31 has been questioned by scholars over the years, arguing that they are the work
of a new author who developed the lament to prepare Job for his meeting with God. One commentator suggests
that argumentation with God has stopped and melancholy has set in. Habel posits that a close examination of Job’s
final testimony reveals that he is far from humble and that Job is bold and assertive, using every technique he
knows to make God show his face.

Chapter 28: Poem on the Quest for Wisdom

Several views
1. Gordis considers the chapter an early lyrical creation of the poet, but pays little attention to its
location in the design of the book.
2. Another scholar posits that the answer articulated by the poem renders the later speeches of God
unnecessary, something clearly not intended by the author.
3. A different scholar comments that this chapter is like a Greek tragedy in which the speaker “looks
back to the inadequacy of wisdom as portrayed in the first part of the book and forward to God’s speeches
in the second part of the book.
4. A fourth scholar considers this chapter an interlude of the storyteller who sums up the case as it
stands to that point and lays the foundation for the later speeches by God.

Some unique aspects of this chapter:


• There is no specific audience nor is it addressed to any of the participants who appeared in the earlier
dialogues.
• No indictments, complaints or references to earlier assertions of other speakers.
• The whole chapter is a coherent structural unity and a measured reflection on access to wisdom.
• Allusions to previous chapters:
A. The grand exploits of mortals recall mighty deeds of God; they overturn mountains (v. 9,
ch.9:5)
B. Uncover hidden things (v. 11; ch. 11:6 and 12:22)
C. Establish limits (v.3; ch. 11:7 and 14:5)
• The final verse, 28, is intended as a final solution to the dilemmas of Job.

Do you think Job has reached a final solution for himself?

Chapter 29: Job’s Speech of Remembrance

Job’s words of remembrance are tantamount to a speech of self-praise. He begins by acknowledging that his
greatness began when God was watching him, verses 2-6, but afterward he continues to affirm his own
achievements.
• Job sees himself as the paragon of righteousness, giving help to the oppressed.
• The expression, “the light of my face,” normally used only for God (as in Ps. 31:17, Num. 6:25 and other
places), becomes a boast that Job himself was the source of public blessing.

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• Job contends that he ruled as a king (v. 25).


• He projects the image of a proud hero rather than a humble supplicant.

Chapter 30: Job’s Final Complaint

This chapter is divided into two distinct segments. It differs considerably from the Speech of Remembrance in
chapter 29. In 29 Job proudly parades his capacity to administer justice, however in chapter 30 he bemoans the
misery of his debasement and denial of justice.

Part 1, verses 1-19


• Cry of assault and debasement—now looked upon as an outcast
• Attacked by the terrors of death (vss. 12-15)
• Attacked by God (vss. 16-19)
• With the whole array of opponents it is implied that God is the enemy behind all the others (v. 11)
• In terms of literary structure, each section of the complaint is marked with the words “but now” (v’ata, vss.
1, 9, 16) emphasizing a contrast with the preceding speech in 29 recalling his past glory.

Part 2, verses 20-31


This part is characterized by a cry against justice denied. It is a perpetual concern for justice and litigation. It
creates a forensic framework for Job’s final appeal and looks backward instead of forward. The imagery changes
from an outcast being ridiculed to someone under attack. Job stands alone with no deliverer. In his eyes, God has
finally turned against him.

• Torment instead of justice as demonstrated in verses 20-23.


• Evil instead of reward, verses 24-27.
• Lament instead of litigation, verses 28-31

Chapter 31: Job’s Oath of Purity

This chapter, Job’s oath of innocence, is the third segment of his closing testimony. Some commentators view the
design of this speech as a random listing of diverse crimes, which Job denies he ever committed. Habel argues
that there is a double frame.

• The outer frame, verses 1-3, 38-40, recalls traditional covenant motifs which underscore Job’s oath of
purity.
• The inner frame, verses 4-6, 35-37, make up a double challenge that is inclusive of what is around it and
within it.
• In between there is the core of Job’s oath, verses 7-34, which is a catalog of crimes Job denies ever
committing.
• In the end, verses 35-40, Job presents his closing challenge and makes a formal plea for his trial to
proceed.

Rohr notes that in verse 15 the morality is far ahead of its time; and is reflected in most of the chapter. It is a
profound theological statement and among other things we see the equality of slaves and free persons. Job poses
a number of defenses:

• Against misuse of power, 21-23


• Against greed, 24-25
• Against false worship, 26-28
• He has not been vindictive, 29-33

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1. Looking at chapters 28-31 as a unit, what do you think is going on here?

2. Do you agree that these chapters may have been written by a different author than those previously
presented?

3. Are they meant as an interlude in the text to give us pause to reflect on what is happening with Job?

4. Is Job justified in his defenses?

Chapters 32-37: The Elihu Speeches

It is unclear who Elihu is and what his role is supposed to be. He appears to take two sides of the issues, arbiter
and counselor. As his speeches unfold we get a picture of a person who might be making a mark for himself. You
be the judge of that as you read through the chapters.

Chapter 32: The Person and Apology of Elihu

• Elihu comes on the scene after Job has made his speeches and a formal request for litigation against God.
• In the opening verses Elihu is depicted as passionate and hotheaded. His anger is matched by his ego.
• Elihu says the elders of the community and Job’s friends are devoid of wisdom. He is the one who will give
all of this a new approach.
• Elihu says there is no one to handle Job’s case (12b-c), so he will step into the breach and wait patiently
until he is needed.
• Elihu’s “apology” consists of an attempt to establish the need for an arbitrator and defendant of God. He
clarifies his past involvement (as looking from the sidelines?) and demonstrates his credentials as a wise,
capable and impartial individual.

Chapter 33: Elihu’s Case Against Job

• In verses 1-7 Elihu summons Job to testify in court


• He restates Job’s case in verses 8-11 saying “you testified in my hearing” (8).
• Elihu is aware that Job vascillates between being a defendant who must prove his innocence, and a
plaintiff who accuses God of duplicity and oppression (9-11).
• In the following section, verses 12-14 Elihu says bluntly that Job is wrong. There seems to be some
disparity here. If Eloah (God) is greater than humans, and if, as Job claims, God refuses to answer Job’s
charges, then it is folly to pursue a lawsuit against God—this is a futile endeavor. Finally, in verse 14, we are
introduced to divine testimony—he takes an opposite postion to Job, noting that God testifies to humans even
if they do not see what he is saying (see also Num 23:9; 24:17).
• Elihu presents evidence from: dreams, 15-18; from suffering, 19-22, and from healing, 23-28
• In the closing verses of the chapter, 29-33, Elihu again becomes the arbiter. He summons Job to hear the
arguments and refute them if possible. In the end he assumes both role of arbiter and wise counselor.

Chapter 34: Elihu’s Defense of God’s Justice

This is Elihu’s third speech; it is concerned with trials and non-trials, a litigious lecture in the form of an apology
before a court to vindicate God’s process of justice.

• A summons to judge Job’s case, vss. 1-6; an argument about God’s justice, vss. 10-30; an appeal for Job’s
confession, vss. 31-33; and finally a preliminary verdict, vss. 34-36.
• The overall presentation seems to be most concerned with the process of divine justice rather than proving
Job in the wrong.
• Elihu does arrange litigation for Job in an earthly court before human beings (vs. 23).

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• This is really a test case about divine justice.

Chapter 35: Elihu’s Defense of God’s Detachment

Elihu continues as the self-appointed arbiter judging Job’s legal claims. He is concerned with Job’s guilt and the
legitimacy of Job’s demand for a public trial before God. It appears that he wants to prove to the public court that
Job has no case.
• In 34:9 Elihu cited Job’s claim that courting God’s favor was pointless. According to Habel, “A life of
righteousness…appears to have no effect on God; God is free to follow His personal whim.” (p. 491) At this
juncture Elihu pits two of Job’s claims against one another:
A. Job has a just claim for litigation (vs. 2) and that he has been deliberately ignored by God.
B. Conversely, Job has argued that whether or not he sins does not seem to affect God in any way.
• As the chapter proceeds we see the detachment of God from the process (vss 5-13)
A. God’s exalted detachment protects his transcendence, making him above anything that happens
on earth.
B. Elihu contends that God is not affected by individual cases such as Job’s, and Job’s attempts at
forcing God to descend in person to vindicate him are ludicrous.
C. Elihu further posits that the cries of the oppressed never really find their target—by being heard
by God; but rather are expressions of self-interest, not devotion to God. (Doctrine of free will!)
• In the last section of the chapter, verses 14-16, Elihu classifies Job as just another opportunist who
attempts to exploit God with his empty cries and take advantage of God’s reticence to interfere in human
affairs.

Chapters 36-37: Elihu’s Second Defense of God’s Justice

Elihu sets out to forge ahead with his defense of God’s governance. His goal is to prove God innocent of the
charges of injustice implied by Job.
• Elihu is seen as having a keen mind (36:4), his skills are free from lies and falsity and his reasoning skills
are perfect.
• Here God is presented as having been courageously involved as opposed to the way he was shown in
chapter 35.
• Elihu goes on to interpret affliction from God noting that those who turn or refuse to repent from their sins,
face life and death respectively (v. 10)
• In verses 36:16-17 the text notes that God’s purpose is to rescue Job from the brink of disaster caused by
his affliction. Job, however, is obsessed with the idea of having a public court case thus being incapable of
hearing God’s attempt to communicate with Job (as through his affliction)
• At the end of the chapter, verses 36:26-33 and the beginning of the next one, chapter 37: 1-13, we see the
spectacular works/hand of God and Elihu attempts to interpret them for Job. The storms are evidence of
God’s control over the earth.
• Finally there is a closing challenge to Job, 37:14-22. Up to this point, Elihu, as the human arbiter, has
accepted the task of judging Job’s case and the defense of God. Now he challenges Job to prepare his case.
• Summation, verses 23-24:
A. Job had explicitly called on God to answer his complaint (31:35) and appear before a civil court.
B. Elihu explains in details, 33:12ff., that God only answers directly through dreams and affliction.
He does not respond to formal complains of people like Job, 35:13-14.
C. Elihu, in his role as human arbiter, reminds Job that if the wise cannot see God. Thus, Job
cannot expect God to appear before an earthly court.
D. Case closed!

1. Who is Elihu and why does he appear here?

2. In serving as the human arbiter between Job and God, does he represent both sides fairly? What does it take to

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get a fair trial in our time? Would Elihu’s tactics work in this day and age?

Chapters 38:1-40:5: God’s Defense of His Cosmic Design

• From a literary point of view, these verses are majestic poems, rich in lyricism, literary ambiguity and
theological profundity.
• God appears to Job in a “tempest/whirlwind” (depending on your translation—the Hebrew word is sa’arah),
as close as He will get to appearing before Job for a trial. (38:1)
• God re-establishes Himself as the supreme ruler of the universe by a series of challenges to Job:
37:4, Where were you when I founded the earth?
37:12, In all your days did you command the morning? did you tell the dawn its place?
38:32a, Can you take out the constellations each in its time…
39:1, Do you know the time for the mountain goats to give birth? Do you wait for the hinds to calve?
39:13-18, in talking about the ranaim (a bird, probably a peacock), and describing her behavior, verse 17: “For
god caused her to forget wisdom, and He did not giver her a share of understanding.”
• The domains in the cosmic design in chapters 38:4-39:30:
• Finally Job speaks, 40:3-5. He does not confess that he has sinned, but rather says, “I am small.”
There is an implication that the phrase indicates that Job is humbled by the speeches of God just as he
was humbled by his afflictions. This is somewhat anti-climactic in that for Job the case might be closed,
except that God renews his challenge in the next few verses in chapter 40 ff.

Chapters 40:6-41:26: God’s control of Behemoth and Leviathan

• The function of the symbols of behemoth and leviathan are somewhat controversial. Scholars have
differing opinions about this.
A. Behemoth is identified with the red hippopotamus; a symbol of the wicked to be hunted and
conquered.
B. Behemoth is a symbol of the mighty historical enemies of Israel. It may be taken as a mighty
force controlled by God.
C. Behemoth and Leviathan are mythic symbols of the forces of chaos overcome by Baal in the
Canaanite tradition, by Marduk in Babylonian lore and by Horus in Egyptian mythology
D. Behemoth and Leviathan are mortal creatures like Job.
• The message for Job is unclear—perhaps a person cannot control such creatures, only God. The God
who subjugates Behemoth can control Job’s fury and arrogance.
• Leviathan is master of chaos (the sea) and Job is challenged to subdue him as God did with Behemoth
(40:25-26). However, in the end, Leviathan remains invincible and no mortal creature (dust) can subdue him.
• God wins!

Chapter 42: The Restoration of Job

• The first part of the chapter is Job’s final response, verses 1-6. It represents four discrete positions:
A. A complete surrender of Job’s will to the will of God. In its final form, it is the capitulation of the
hero to his God.
B. Reconciliation rather than capitulation—Job comes to a new understanding of God with God’s
appearance in the whirlwind. He recognizes that God controls the cosmos, not people.
C. Job’s confession is “tongue in cheek” and the acceptance of his confession by God exposes the
duplicity of God.
D. The closing speech is a final act of defiance
• God’s verdict, verses 7-10 is pronounced after Job has withdrawn his suit

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• Finally, Job receives consolation, his life is restored and he lives a long life, verses 10-17.

Some Final Questions


• Take a few minutes to analyze these last few chapters of the book, 38-42. The poetry is magnificent—what
stands out to you?

• Think about all the symbolism—what does it represent?

• The premise of this book is why is there suffering in the world? What answers do you think are presented by
the text? What answers emerge from your own experiences?

• How does Job as Everyman embody suffering—do you think his feelings are justified—puzzlement, anger,
depression, resentment?

• Is suffering akin to evil?

• How does Judaism help us to cope with suffering, misfortune, injustice and evil in this world? How do you
deal with it personally?

• Has reading this book changed how you think about God?

I welcome your comments:


770-677-9480 or e-mail: execdir@jesatlanta.org

Hazak, hazak, v’nithazek!

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Perek Yomi: Shir HaShirim

The Song of Songs


A Project of MACCJ
the Metro Atlanta Council for Conservative Judaism
http://uscj.org/soeast/atlanta

Study questions written by Janice Alper, Executive Director, Jewish


Educational Services (JES)

Edited by Steven Chervin

MACCJ (Metro Atlanta Council for


Conservative Judaism)

MACCJ is the umbrella organization for Conservative synagogues and


organizations in Atlanta, including The Epstein School - Solomon

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Schechter School of Atlanta, Ramah Darom – The Center for Southern


Jewry, Ahavath Achim Synagogue, Congregation Etz Chaim,
Congregation Beth Shalom, North Fulton Jewish Center, the United
Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, The Jewish Theological
Seminary, Women’s League for Conservative Judaism, and the
Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs. A central element in the mission of
MACCJ is to promote Jewish education in the greater Atlanta
community. MACCJ is chaired by Sue Rothstein of Congregation Etz
Chaim.

Perek Yomi Coordinating Council


The Perek Yomi Coordinating Council is co-chaired by Steven Chervin
(Epstein School and AA) and Janet Schatten (Epstein School and
AA). Its members include Steve Birch, Sue Rothstein, and Nancy
Seifert-Gorod (Etz Chaim); Eileen Cohn and Jennifer Stark-Blumenthal
(Beth Shalom); and Rabbi Albert Slomovitz and Steve Horn (North
Fulton Jewish Center).

SHIR HASHIRIM-SONG OF SONGS


Notes prepared by Janice Alper
Executive Director, Jewish Educational Services (JES)

Introduction

Shir HaShirim, The Song of Songs - also known as the Song of Solomon,
and Canticles - is the first of the Five Megillot (scrolls) which appear in the
Tanakh. Each of these scrolls is traditionally read in the synagogue on a
particular holiday as follows: Shir HaShirim (Passover), Ruth (Shavuot),
Eicha/Lamentations (Tisha B’av), Kohelet/Ecclesiastes (Sukkot), and
Esther (Purim). The title Shir HaShirim is derived from the superscription,
shir ha-shirim asher lishelomo, “the song of songs which is Solomon’s.”

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In 1954 the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) published The Song of


Songs, A Study, Modern Translation and Commentary by Robert
Gordis. The following notes are derived from his introductory essays in this
volume. You may also obtain further information about the book from the
Encyclopedia Judaica, which closely mirrors what Gordis has to say.
(There may be some more recent commentary, however, I have not found
anything to challenge the theories of Gordis and E.J. If you find other
comments, I would appreciate receiving them.)

There is general agreement that Shir HaShirim is part of the wisdom


literature, and has been widely accepted as an allegory of the relations
between God and Israel. While commonly attributed to King Solomon,
scholars have shown that it is really a collection of poems and love songs
adapted from different cultures spanning a period of 400 years or more.
The most famous phrase, “My beloved is mine and I am his…” (Ani l’dodi
v’dodi li) appears in chapter 2:16a.

Several theories have been advanced regarding why the book is included in
the liturgical readings. One suggestion is that it is a dramatic reading with
assigned parts. Originally it may have been a collection of various songs
and fragments combined into the single work that we have today, meant to
be read as poetry reflecting its time and place.

If we take a purely literary stance, the book deals with human love. There
are frequent references to human relationships and how two people in love
may regard each other. It is also reminiscent of Syrian wedding rites, which
gives us some clues as to the dating of some of the fragments and poems.

Shir HaShirim is often regarded as an allegory representing the love


between God and the people Israel. God is the husband who still loves his
exiled wife Israel. The wife endears herself to her husband and seeks to
further please him by recalling youthful love and admitting guilt. In today’s
world this is only one interpretation of Israel’s history.

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In the first part of the 20th century there was an attempt to attribute the book
to various pagan cults. One scholar suggested that the book represents a
version of an Egyptian Osiris ritual, while another proposed it as liturgy of
the Ishtar cult. Gordis insists that these claims are not valid since the book
focuses on human love and concrete situations with no references to cults
or gods playing a role in the experiences.

Dating of Shir HaShirim

• There is general agreement that the work spans a time period of as


long as five centuries. It was probably begun when Solomon was on
the throne about 960 B.C.E. as a paean to his bride, a foreign
princess. The evidence for this comes from I Kings 11:1ff.

• The word pardes (4:13) may be translated as orchard. It cannot


pre-date the 6th century since it is a Persian word and we did not have
an infiltration of their culture into ancient Israelite society prior to that
time.

• There are variations in language and geographical locales. Most


place references are to areas in the Northern Kingdom which was
destroyed in 722 B.C.E. The style of the poetry all seem to point to the
pre-Exilic period.

• The book was probably edited in the Persian period, most likely no
later than the 5th century B.C.E.

Song as a Branch of Wisdom

Hochmah-wisdom included all the technical acts and practical skills of


civilization. There are several biblical references to skilled workmen as
hochamim-wise ones—weavers, sailors, goldsmiths. In the Talmud the
feminine form hochmah is applied to a midwife.

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On occasion the words for wisdom and song are used interchangeably.
This is evident in I Kings 5:10-12where we read “And Solomon’s wisdom…
and his songs were a thousand and five.” In the case of Balaam in the
Book of Numbers, wisdom and parable are equated.

Initially the idea of song, in relation to ritual, contained within it both music
and poetry. The subjects were ordinary/secular concerns of life, such as
combat and victory, opening of a well, vintage and harvest, feasting and
carousing, the glory of nature and the tragedy of death.

Some poems of national significance, such as Shirat haYam-Song of the


Sea (Ex.15) and Song of Deborah (Judges 5) are given religious overtones
since they reflect the will of God in relation to the people.

Place in the Tanakh

Rabbi Akiba equated Shir HaShirim with the Holy of Holies. He said the
book is of such great importance that it could not be eliminated from a
position of importance in our liturgy.

There are seven references to Solomon in this book:


• 1:1—the book is attributed to him.
• 1:5 talks about the Pavilions of Solomon. If you read this passage
with more contemporary eyes, you might want to compare it to the
descriptions of the palace and furniture of Louis XIV.
• 8:11-12 refers to someone who is in possession of great wealth,
like Bill Gates or Warren Buffet.
• 3:7, 9, 11 are glosses reinforcing Solomon as the great lover.
There is a supposition that originally there was a reference to a melech-
king,but it hampered the rhythm of the reading.

There is general agreement that this is an historical piece depicting actual


events. Spiritual and religious references are not actually found in the

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book, and the religious overtones as a beckoning of the time of Messiah is


a later interpretation.

Motifs and Patterns

Gordis posits that there are 28 songs and fragments which fall into several
patterns throughout the book, sometimes overlapping. He divides these
elements into 9 basic units and titles each one as follows: (pages 35-36)

A. Songs of Yearning
• The Call to Love (1:2-4)
• The Rustic Maiden (1:5-6)
• Tell Me Where My Love (1:7-8)
• Love’s Proud Proclamation (2:4-7)
• Would thou Wert My Brother (8:1-4)
• Let Me Hear Thy Voice (8:13-14)

B. Songs of fulfillment
• Love’s Barriers—a Duet (4:12-5:1)
• How Delightful is Love (7:7-10)
• The Beloved’s Promise (7:11-14)
• Love Under the Apple Tree—a Duet (8:5)
• Surrender (2:16-17)

C. Songs in Praise of the Beloved


• Bedecked in Charm—a Duet (1:9-14)
• My Beloved is Perfect (4:1-7)
• Love’s Enchantment (4:9-11)
• The Power of Beauty (6:4-7)
• The One and Only (6:8-9)

D. Duets of Mutual Praise


• Our Walls are Cedars (1:15-17)

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• Who is Like my Love (2:1-3)


• The Lover’s Welcome (214:15)

E. Love in the World of Nature


• The Time of Singing is Come (2:8-13)
• Call from the Mountains (4:8)
• Love’s Dawning (6:10-12)

F. Dream Songs
• The Dream of the Lost Lover (3:1-5)
• Love’s Trial and Triumph (5:2-6:3)

G. The Greatness of Love


• The Seal of Love (8:6-7)
• The Finest Vineyard (8:11-12)

H. Songs of Courtship and Marriage


• A Wedding Song for Solomon (3:6-11)
• The Maiden’s Dance (7:1-6)
• The Ramparts of Love (8:8-10)

I. Love’s Arrows and Joys


• Love’s Trial and Triumph (5:2-6:3)

Reading Shir HaShirim

The entire book of Shir HaShirim consists of eight brief chapters. Since this
is Perek Yomi-a Chapter a Day, you should proceed in this fashion. Each
chapter stands alone and provides lovely imagery and poetry that will lend
itself to personal interpretations and questions.

There are several other approaches you may want to take with this
volume. You may decide to read the book in its entirety and when you are

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finished simply write down your own reactions or questions or poetry. You
may even want to write a “love letter” to someone important in your life!

Another approach is to read the book in eleven parts as suggested by


Gordis. Try to see why he divided it the way he did and if you agree. What
are the events and images presented in his divisions? Do they make sense
to you?

Finally, try reading Shir HaShirim for its allegorical and metaphorical
meaning. How does the book reflect the love of God for His people Israel?
What metaphors are used? Try to think of your own metaphors to describe
a modern relationship between God and Israel.

Above all, this is a book of our tradition that should be savored and
enjoyed. Read it, take from it what you will, and share your thoughts and
ideas in our discussions.

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