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Wednesday, September 20

The Weekly Shtikle - Rosh HaShanah

One of the practices that seems to get considerable attention on Rosh HaShanah is the eating of the simanim on Rosh HaShanah. There are, of course, varying customs. Some only eat an apple dipped in honey. Conversely, many Sefardim have the custom to eat far more simanim than the average Ashkenazi is accustomed to.

 

The practice is already discussed in the gemara. The gemara (Kerisus 5b) initially lists a number of different practices which seem very much like superstitions although they appear to be permitted. They include trying to grow a chicken in one's house before embarking on a business venture as the fattening of the chicken is a harbinger of success. The final suggestion of the gemara pertains to someone who is about to embark on a journey and would like to know whether they will return successfully. They are instructed to enter a deserted house and see if they observe converging shadows. However, the gemara concludes that one should not do this because the test might not prove successful and even though it is necessarily a bad omen, he will be distraught and his emotional state might affect his mazal.

 

After all that, Abaye states, "Now that we have said that omens are significant, one should make a habit of eating gourds, dates, etc. on Rosh HaShanah." The conventional understanding seems to be that Abaye is basing his statement on the various suggestions given in the gemara relating to good "signs."  However, there is a difficulty with this approach. The procedures discussed in the gemara involve observing the outcome of a certain event and that outcome would then be an indication of what lies ahead. On Rosh HaShanah, we are merely creating the omens on our own. (It is possible, though, that Abaye is referring to the gemara's initial statement that kings should always be anointed by a spring so that his kingdom will spread.)

 

Rather, I believe Abaye may well have been basing his statement on the very last point made in the gemara, that one should not rely on the sign of the shadows since it is possible that his own troubled state could contribute to his bad mazal. From here we see that one's state of mind can directly affect his own welfare and the events that befall him. Therefore, Abaye suggests eating these specific foods - not because the eating of the foods will in and of itself be a good omen, but rather, that the eating of these foods with positive signs will put one in a more positive state of mind at the onset of the new year and that will in turn positively influence his mazal.

 

The Meiri (Horayos 12a) explains the concept of simanim on Rosh HaShanah in a similar vein. I have made a scan of the Meiri available here.

 

So, as we will probably all say tonight, may we all have a happy, healthy sweet new year.


Have a Shanah Tovah and good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
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Friday, September 15

The Weekly Shtikle - Nitzavim / Vayeilech

As the Torah wraps up the last of the 613 mitzvos, we are taught of the mitzvah of hakheil, which was performed on the Sukkos following a shemitah year. One of the unique qualities of this mitzvah is that it contains a Biblical requirement of child involvement on the part of the parents. Whereas any mitzvah contains within it an assumed requirement of chinuch, education of children, here it is clearly spelled out. We are commanded (31:12) to gather around to hear the various readings from Sefer Devarim "so that we will hear and so that we will learn and will fear HaShem our God and will observe to do all the words of the Torah." In the very next pasuk, the purpose of the children's attendance is discussed. It is so that "those who don't know will listen and will learn to fear HaShem your God..."

 

Meshech Chachmah points out that there is a phrase missing from the description of the children's purpose. The words veshamru la'asos seem to be relevant only to the adults. He explains that this phrase refers to the performance of active commandments, mitzvos aseih. Children under the age of Bar Mitzvah are not commanded in specific mitzvos aseih. There is only a general requirement of chinuch, to educate the children in the mitzvos so that when they do become of age, they know how to perform them properly. Prohibitive commandments, mitzvos lo sa'aseih, however, do specifically involve children. The gemara (Yevamos 114) teaches us that Beis Din is required to separate a child from eating neveilah, meat that comes from an animal that was not properly slaughtered. Therefore, part of the children's purpose is velamdu leyir'ah, a phrase associated with mitzvos lo sa'aseih because this aspect of mitzvah observance is directly relevant to them. The reference to mitzvos aseih, however, is omitted because it is not immediately applicable.


Have a good Shabbos and a kesivah vachasimah tovah.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
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Friday, September 8

The Weekly Shtikle - Ki Savo

The main focus of this week's parsha is the tochacha, the rebuke. Many commentaries deal at length with the similarities between the warnings, the threats and the curses of the tochacha in Ki Savo and those found in Bechukosai. Ramban devotes much attention to the illustration of his theory that the first tochacha in Bechukosai corresponds to the first destruction of the Beis HaMikdash and the tochacha in Ki Savo corresponds to the second. 

 

Ramban makes a startling comment based on a pasuk in this week's tochacha (28:36): "And HaShem will bring you and your king whom you have raised above you to a nation that neither you nor your fathers have known." The sages offer a number of examples of characters and events that were, in their own way, catalysts that lead to the destruction of the second Beis HaMikdash and our exile from Eretz Yisroel. Ramban suggests here that it was the travelling of King Agrippas to Rome to sign treaties that was the (or at least a) cause of our exile their. He adds that the pasuk hints to Agrippas by referring to the king "whom you have raised above you" and not the the king "who ruled over you," a reference to the illegitimate appointment of Agrippas as king as discussed in the gemara (Sotah 41a). Agrippas' cordial approach to our enemies encouraged our destruction and condemned us to exile at the hands of the Romans.

 

We have certainly seen in our time numerous futile attempts to establish treaties with those sworn to destroy us with quite drastic results. Ramban's lesson from this week's parsha has been clearly overlooked. Certainly, not all treaties are ill-advised. They have been relied upon sparingly with close guidance on occasions throughout our history. We must learn that these events are not mere political milestones that may be easily glanced over but rather, they are pivotal moments in our history with the potential to shape our future. 


Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

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Friday, September 1

The Weekly Shtikle - Ki Seitzei

One of the many topics covered in this week's parsha is that of marriage and divorce. The term used for the divorce document is geit. The first Tosafos in maseches Gittin teaches us that being that the gematria of geit is 12, it is the custom to make all gittin 12 lines long. The question asked in the name of the GR"A (although it is not so clear that it was his question) is why did Chaza"l decide to use specifically this word which has no meaning elsewhere? Why did they not choose any other combination of letters which adds up to 12? He gives a fascinating answer. The letters gimmel and tes are never found next to each other in any one word in all of Tana"ch! This combination therefore symbolizes how, with a geit, a couple has become separated.

What is even more fascinating is the question that R' Chaim Kanievsky asks on this. Why use gimmel and tes to convey this idea? Gimmel-kuf, zayin-tes, zayin-tzadi and samech-tzadi are also never found next to each other in all of Tana"ch!! He gives two answers, although they are not nearly as entertaining as the question. First, none of those combinations adds up to 12. Second, gimmel-tes is the first combination encountered when starting from the beginning of the Aleph-Bais.

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:

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Friday, August 25

The Weekly Shtikle - Shofetim

So, what is the connection between this past Monday's solar eclipse and this week's parsha?

As we were reading from the beginning of parshas Shofetim this Monday, I couldn't help but notice the glaring irony. People all across the country were readying themselves and preparing their special eyewear to ensure they don't become blinded by the dangerous rays of the sun. Meanwhile, we read in the second pasuk of the parsha of the great dangers of bribery which are so great that they surely (16:19) "blind the eyes of wise men."

Indeed, many of our body parts have, in addition to their literal, physical manifestation, a figurative existence as well. Just last week, we were taught (15:8) of the importance of opening one's hand to help his brother in need. This does not necessitate any physical opening of one's hand but rather, acting in a charitable manner. This idea isn't even necessarily unique to the Torah. For example, even in the secular world, one talks of a broken heart which rarely involves any actual physical damages to any organs. So while we were all wrapped up in taking the proper precautions to protect our literal, physical eyes, the Torah was reminding us how equally important it is to protect ourselves from figurative blindness caused by bribery.

The events of this week coincided, of course, with the new moon and subsequent Rosh Chodesh of Elul, a month in which we do our utmost towards shleimus leading up to the yamim nora'im. It can be said that it signifies our beginning on the path to totality.


Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:

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Friday, August 18

The Weekly Shtikle - Re'eih

A Weekly Shtikle mazal tov to my niece and nephew, Fraidy and Shmuel Clinton of Lakewood on the birth of their daughter, Malka Bracha.

An additional Weekly Shtikle mazal tov to my niece Kayla Levy on her engagement to Yosef Marx of Passaic, NJ. Mazal Tov to the extended Shonek, Levy, Bulka & Jakobovits mishpachos.

 

As we draw nearer to the much-hyped full solar eclipse across the United States, please see my essay on eclipses: Eclipses in Halachah and Machshavah

 

This week's parsha contains a number of sections related to various types of avodah zarah. Nowadays, it is very difficult for us to comprehend the strong inclination towards idol worship that existed in those times. This is because, as the gemara (Sanhedrin 64a) explains, the yeitzer hara for avodah zarah was destroyed during the early years of the second Beis HaMikdash through some supernatural process. However, certain nuances in the pesukim offer us an insight into avodah zarah which perhaps may help us combat the pseudo-avodos zaros of our day.

 

First, the Torah warns us (12:30) "lest you inquire after their gods, saying: 'How do these nations serve their gods? I shall do likewise.'" The Torah is clearly warning against the dangers of what might be disguised as "intellectual curiosity." One is only permitted to study the ways of the nations if it is clearly done in order to know how to answer their challenges or the challenges of another who is arguing their point of view. To simply explore their gods and their worship out of curiosity is unfortunately where it all begins.

 

The Torah then proceeds to discuss three different examples of how idolatry might come to infiltrate the community. First, there is the false prophet. Then there is the meisis, the friend or family member who privately attempts to lure another towards idolatry. Last, we have the city which turns as a whole towards other gods. In each case we find a common term used by the seducer:  "Let us go after other gods, which you have not known, and let us serve them." Again, we find that the idolater is always looking to appeal to the curious side of his victim. He is not attempting to lure you into worshiping a deity with whom you are somewhat familiar. He uses the mystery of the unknown to pique your interest. Throughout these sections, the Torah is repeatedly reminding us to keep our intellectual curiosity in check.


Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
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Friday, August 11

The Weekly Shtikle - Eikev

In this week's parsha, we find the second paragraph of keriyas shema. Once again, (11:18) the mitzvos of tefillin and mezuzah are mentioned. Rashi, on the words "vesamtem es devarai eileh," makes a rather startling comment. "Even after you are exiled, still be excellent in mitzvos. Put on tefillin and make mezuzos so that they are not new to you when you return to Eretz Yisroel." The implication is that tefillin and mezuzah are mitzvos that are not biblical obligations outside of Eretz Yisrael but are only performed so as not to be forgotten. However, the gemara (Kiddushin 36b) clearly states that all mitzvos that are not based on the land are practiced both in Eretz Yisrael and outside.

 

The GR"A raises this question and gives an answer in the name of Masa'as Moshe. He posits that the words in Rashi "hanichu tefillin va'asu mezuzos" are a mistake. The original text of Rashi had an abbreviation "heh-tuv, v'ayin-mem" which really stood for "hafrishu terumah v'isru ma'aser." Terumah and ma'aser are mitzvos which are land-based and apply only in Eretz Yisrael but were practiced while B'nei Yisrael were in exile as well, in order that they not be forgotten. Somewhere along the line, a printer made the error of thinking that Rashi's abbreviation stood for "hanichu tefillin vasu mezuzos." (I'm not sure what the relevance would be to this pasuk, based on this approach.)

 

Ramba"n, however, suggests that this midrash is actually hinting to a deep secret which he has previously referred to (Vayikra 18:25.) Gur Aryeh here explains based on Ramba"n's commentary in parshas Toledos on why the forefathers kept the mitzvos only in Eretz Yisrael, that the actual reason why the Torah commanded us to keep the mitzvos outside of Eretz Yisroel as the gemara teaches us, is because of the reason Rashi gives here. In other words, it is true that we have a full-fledged requirement to keep all of the mitzvos even outside of Eretz Yisrael. However, the ultimate reasoning behind it is to ensure that when we return to the Land where these mitzvos were meant to be performed, they are not forgotten. (I suggest, for a clearer understanding of the issue, going through the actual texts of the Gur Aryeh and the aforementioned Ramba"ns.)

 

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
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The Weekly Shtikle and related content are now featured on BaltimoreJewishLife.com