1) What root word is found repeatedly at the beginning of Bereishis? Other than tov (good), which is of course common throughout the Creation story, we find the root of Vayavdel (and G-d separated), used exactly five times in the first four days of creation. He separates light from darkness, upper waters from lower waters, lower waters from other lower waters, day from night, light from darkness. This suggests that at the very beginning the earth was tohu and vohu (void, chaotic, and formless), and G-d’s essential “tool” in creation was to distinguish, to separate, and set apart — as in the weekly Havdalah after Shabbos. This suggests that the ability to be separate and to distinguish right from wrong, and good from evil, is a Divine trait and the essential ingredient of being a Jew.
2) Why is Hevel’s offering accepted, and not Kayin’s? Hevel offers up something of great value: from his sheep (4:4). Kayin offers up something of much lesser value: “from the fruit of the ground” (4:3). See Rashi. Lesson: Do not serve G-d with your leftover time or resources.
3) The basic conflict between Yosef and brothers? Because Yosef spoke badly about them to their father, the brothers were convinced that he was another Eisav who was trying to take their father’s blessings for himself. Plus: Yehudah and the brothers viewed the service of G-d differently from Yosef. See Sotah 10b: “Yosef sanctified G-d’s name in a hidden way, and Yehudah in a public way.” Ultimately, the two ways are fused, as stated in Yechezkel 37:16–19, where “the tree of Yehudah and the tree of Yosef become one tree.”
4) Did Yosef forgive his brothers? While Yosef assures his brothers that this was all G-d’s will, and while they all weep and embrace one another, we do not find that Yosef explicitly forgives his brothers. Nor do we find that the brothers ever clearly ask for forgiveness from Yosef, though they remonstrate against themselves for not listening to his pleas when they cast him into the pit (Bereishis 42:21). It is striking that Rabbeinu Bachya specifically states, at 50:17: “…we do not find any verse mentioning forgiveness by Yosef….”
5) Why mother’s name for the sick? The custom of using the mother’s name is based on the verse in Tehillim 116:16, in which King David says, “Ani avdecha ben amasecha…” (I am Your servant, the son of your handmaid, Thou hast released my bonds); and in Tehillim 86:16, “v’hoshiah l’ben amasecha (redeem the son of your handmaid….). See Zohar I:44. Radak writes that the child is emotionally attached to the mother because she bore him and nurtured him. Perhaps because of this, when redemption and healing are needed, the child reaches out to its mother — just as King David refers to his own mother when he is in distress.
6) Why Kaddish in Aramaic and not Hebrew? Kaddish is in Aramaic because the Rabbinic Kaddish — praying for the welfare of our rabbis and teachers — was recited immediately after the learning sessions during Talmudic times. These sessions were intended for the masses of Jews whose daily language was Aramaic, and so the Kaddish was recited in their familiar language. The Aramaic was then extended to all types of Kaddish. (See Tosafos, Brachos 3a s.v. venom; for the fascinating connection between Aramaic and the angels, see Shabbos 12b.)
7) Why 15 steps between women’s gallery and men’s gallery in Temple? They correspond to the 15 Shir Hamaalos songs in Tehillim 120–134 that were sung by the Levites on those 15 steps. See Rashi and Radak at Tehillim 120:1.
8) Why no brachah when giving tzedakah or visiting the sick or attending funerals? Perhaps because it is inappropriate to recite a blessing to G-d when we perform a mitzvah that comes our way only as a result of someone’s misfortune or great need.
9) Did King David (end of bircas hamazon) never see a tzaddik in need? The verse can be read this way: I have never seen a righteous man feel forsaken, even though his children are begging for bread. I.e., no matter what, a righteous man never feels abandoned by G-d. See Vayikra Rabba 35:2
10) In Tehillim 146, what phrase seems out of place? Ohev tzaddikim (G-d loves the righteous) seems out of place. In the other cases, the needy are supplied with what they lack: justice, bread, eyesight, etc. do the righteous lack G-d’s love? Radak’s approach: “Tzaddikim” here does not refer to an individual, but to the peopleIsrael. This righteous people is the object of scorn from the nations, and G-d compensates by giving Israel His Divine love. _______________________________________________________________
Many thanks to the many readers who suggested excellent answers off-line.