The Weekly Shtikle Blog

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Friday, May 18

The Weekly Shtikle - Bemidbar / Shavuos

Although I am only covering Shavous in the shtikle, please explore the many intriguing blog posts on Bemidbar below:

The midrash (Mechilta Yisro 5, Sifrei V'zos HaBerachah 343) recounts the events that preceded matan Torah. HaShem offered the Torah to the other nations before offering it to B'nei Yisrael. When He approached the descendants of Eisav, they asked, "What is written in it?" HaShem responded "Thou shall not murder." The offer was subsequently rejected as they were unable to commit to that provision for Eisav ultimately lives by the sword. When the sons of Ammon and Mo'av were approached and were told that the Torah included a prohibition against illicit relations, they rejected the offer for the very source of Ammon and Mo'av was the incestual relationship between Lot and his daughters. The Yishmaelites were given the same offer. When they asked what such a commitment would entail, they were told that it would be forbidden to steal. Thievery being the essence of the descendants of Yishmael, they were unable to commit to follow the Torah. The Midrash states that there was not one nation that was not offered the Torah but no one would accept it. When B'nei Yisrael were approached they all declared in unison "na'aseh v'nishma," we will do and we will listen.

 

R' Yaakov Weinberg, zt"l, asks a very simple question on this midrash. Why was the sample law given to each nation one that contradicted their very existence and thus, certain to lead to rejection? Why were they not given a taste of the Torah that was more likely to please them? R' Weinberg answers that HaShem's actual response to the nations was of little relevance. The very moment that they asked what is written in the Torah, they disqualified themselves from receiving it. By making their acceptance of the Torah contingent upon their approval of its contents, the nations showed a lack of commitment which is incongruous with a Torah nation. Torah must be at the forefront while society is built around it. When the nations asked their seemingly innocent question, they showed that they were not prepared to give up their ideals for Torah. HaShem, therefore, answered them in such a way that showed them that Torah was not for them.

 

The response of B'nei Yisrael was the exact opposite. They did not flinch. They did not vacillate. They accepted the Torah with true faith and showed no concern for their own agendas. This is why their response is so vital to the process of matan Torah. With this understanding, we, ourselves have the opportunity to reach the level of "na'aseh v'nishma" in our own way. By subordinating ourselves to the values of the Torah, we show, like our ancestors did, that we are ready to commit unequivocally to a life of Torah. If we set our standards in accordance with the Torah, not allowing them to be tainted by the contrary influences of society, we are, indeed, showing our true devotion to the word of HaShem, much like our forefathers did at the foot of Har Sinai when they accepted the Torah.

 

Have a Good Shabbos and Chag Samei'ach!


Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Al Pi Cheshbon: No Population Increase
Al Pi Cheshbon: Tens and Ones by Ari Brodsky
Al Pi Cheshbon: Rounded Numbers
Al Pi Cheshbon: Pidyon HaBen Probability
Dikdukian: Be or Ba?
Dikdukian: Discussions on Bemidbar by Eliyahu Levin
Dikdukian: Letzeis and On top of Old Smokey

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

Friday, May 11

The Weekly Shtikle - Behar / Bechukosai

This past Tuesday was the yahrtzeit of my great aunt, Lady Amélie Jakobovits, a"h. The shtikle is dedicated le'iluy nishmasah, Mayla bas Eliyahu.

 

Yesterday, the 25th of Iyar, was the yahrtzeit of my mother, a"h. The shtikle is dedicated le'iluy nishmasah, Tzirel Nechamah bas Tovia Yehudah.

 

On the occasion of the yahrtzeit, I made a siyum in the morning on maseches Makkos. The following was my introduction to the siyum:

Makkos concludes (daf 24) with the well-known  story of R' Akiva who was on the way with his colleagues Raban Gamliel, R' Elazar ben Azaria and R' Yehoshua. First they lamented and cried at the sound of the reveling of idol worshippers. R' Akiva showed the exact opposite emotion and explained that if idol worshippers are able to enjoy such bliss, surely there is much greater delight in store for those who heed HaShem's word. Then once again the other three expressed sorrow and dismay at the sight of foxes on the prowl at the site of the ruins of the Beis HaMikdash. Yet again, R' Akiva – ever the optimist - expressed joy and happiness. When confronted by the others to justify his seemingly inappropriate reaction, he explained how this depressing sight was in fact an assurance that prophesies of Zecharia regarding the ultimate redemption would indeed be fulfilled as well.

At first glance, it is difficult to see how these anecdotes fit with the preceding gemara. However, I believe the theme of R' Akiva's optimism is meant to connect back to the last mishnah. A lot of time is spent in this masechta discussing the meting out of corporal punishment and the various ways one can come to be so deserving. The daunting nature of these discussions can surely need one to become despondent in the feeling that Jewish life is all about crime and punishment. The tannaim in the mishnah therefore quell these notions by reminding us that if these are the grave consequences that befall someone who transgresses the laws, how much greater is the reward for someone who keeps the laws, even by merely abstaining passively from forbidden acts. After having considered various creative ways one can be liable for numerous transgressions in one simple act, R' Chananya ben Akashya ultimately reminds us of the big picture – that the true purpose of the large number of mitzvos is in order to increase our merits (and purify us.)

R' Akiva was applying this "big picture" approach to understand the ups and downs of our national history. Indeed, he was living in a very difficult time full of sorrow and dismay when all seemed lost. But he did not allow himself to lose sight of the totality of our national destiny – past, present and future – which he confidently knew will end with our ultimate redemption, may it come speedily in our day.

This idea may also be applied regarding parshas Beha'alosecha and the tochach which tends to take center stage. The gloom and doom foreshadowed in this passage can also generate a very negative view of the challenges of following HaShem's word. But this is only if we fail to realize that this but one side of the coin. The calamities that would befall us for not following the correct path are only delivered after – although more briefly – the abundant blessings for keeping HaShem's laws are made clear. R' Chananya and R' Akiva help us keep the proper perspective in realizing that reward is HaShem's ultimate goal.


Chazak, chazak, venischazeik!

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Dikdukian: Life as we Know It 
Dikdukian: Hearing Los
Dikdukian: How Lo Can You Go?
Dikdukian: Even Lo-er

Please visit the new portal for all Shtikle-related sites, www.weeklyshtikle.com
The Weekly Shtikle and related content are now featured on BaltimoreJewishLife.com

Friday, May 4

The Weekly Shtikle - Emor

This week's parsha ends off with the tragic episode of the megadeif, the blasphemer who cursed HaShem out of anger. When Moshe is taught how to proceed, he is instructed (24:14) that the man is to be brought outside of the camp where those who heard (i.e. the witnesses and judges)  place their hands on his head. He is subsequently put to death by stoning. This follows standard procedure for stoning except for one step. In no other instance do we find the placing of hands before an execution. It is unique to the case of a blasphemer.

The Da'as Zekeinim miBa'alei haTosafos cite a midrash explaining what makes the case of the blasphemer different in this regard. The judicial process as mandated by Torah Law makes it extremely difficult to impose capital punishment. The witnesses must be able to report every minute detail. In the case of the blasphemer we are faced with a difficult dilemma. The witnesses must tell the judges what they heard. Therefore, as the mishnah (Sanhedrin 56a) explains, the judges and witnesses would leave the courtroom for a private session and the witnesses would indeed verbalize the exact words that came out of the mouth of the blasphemer, at which point the judges would tear their clothes to signify the mournful distress at having to hear such words uttered. The placing of hands on the head of the blasphemer, a process more common to sacrifices, is a symbolic transfer the burden of responsibility for one's sins. Normally, we place the hands on the animal, allowing it to be an atonement for our sins. Here, the witnesses make a clear statement absolving them of responsibility for having to repeat the curses and the judges for having heard them. Since it was all brought about by the actions of the blasphemer it is he who bears the responsibility even for the repetition.

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Dikdukian: Ner Tamid

Please visit the new portal for all Shtikle-related sites, www.weeklyshtikle.com
The Weekly Shtikle and related content are now featured on BaltimoreJewishLife.com

Friday, April 20

The Weekly Shtikle - Tazria / Metzora

Since the hour is late, just a quick thought: We often strive to find connections between different episodes within the same parsha. It is perhaps less common to find connections from one parsha to the next. The topic that takes up most of parshas Tazria is the illness of tzara'as. Traditionally, (as per Arachin 15btzara'as afflicted someone who spoke lashon hara as it did Miriam at the end of parshas Beha'alosecha.

 

R' Moshe Shternbuch in Ta'am Voda'as, in the name of R' Yisrael Salanter, writes that the end of the previous parsha we are taught of the animals that are not to be eaten and the tum'ah that results when we do. While it seems that very many people are careful about what they put into their mouths, they are seemingly far less careful of what comes out. The juxtaposition of these two topics is meant to show that just as putting the wrong things in our mouths results in serious tum'ah, the same grievous consequences result when we allow the wrong things to come out.

 

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:

Dikdukian: White Hair

Dikdukian: Meaining of "kibus" by Eliyahu Levin

Dikdukian: Various Dikduk Observations by Eliyahu Levin

 

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

Friday, April 13

The Weekly Shtikle - Shemini

At the end of the parsha, summarizing the commandments relating to forbidden foods, the pasuk (11:45) says "Ki ani HaShem hamaale eschem..." Rashi comments that in all other instances it says hotzeisi but here it says hama'ale and quotes from Tana d'Bei Eliyahu that the term ma'ale implies that this mitzvah itself is a ma'ala, a virtue of its own right, for which B'nei Yisrael merited exodus from Egypt. The obvious inference is from the change of terminology from yetzia to aliyah.

 

However, perhaps there is another inference to be made. In most other instances, the word hotzeisi is used. It is in past tense. Here, had the pasuk said asher he'eliesi then there would not have been such a strong implication that this mitzvah is a ma'ala but only that HaShem took us out and therefore we should keep it. Now that it is written in the present tense, it implies that with this mitzvah HaShem brings us up to a higher level and it is a virtue for us. The midrash is clearly not making this inference but it may still be used to arrive at the same conclusion. [Nevertheless, it should be noted that in the gemara (Eiruvin 19a) Rav Kahana asserts that although hama'ale is structured in the present tense, it is clearly to be understood in the past tense.]

 

Have a good Shabbos and Chodesh Tov.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Dikdukian: Lehavdil

Please visit the new portal for all Shtikle-related sites, www.weeklyshtikle.com
The Weekly Shtikle and related content are now featured on BaltimoreJewishLife.com

Thursday, April 5

The Weekly Shtikle - Pesach

A hearty Weekly Shtikle mazal tov to my brother-in-law and sister-in-law, Yisroel & Hindy Yeres on the birth of a baby boy just before Pesach began, with the bris scheduled for the first of the last days of yom tov, IY"H. Mazal tov to the extended Yeres, Frankel and Meisels families.

 

While refraining from all leavened products for a week or so always proves to be quite the undertaking, in the Beis HaMikdash, it was the norm, with only a few exceptions. As we read a number of weeks ago, we are told (Vaikra 2:11) that all mincha offerings must be free of any leaven or sweetener. Allegorically, we find in the gemara (Berachos 17a) that se'or, leaven, is commonly associated with the yeitzer hara. However, Netziv in Haamek Davar offers another understanding of se'or and why it is forbidden on the mizbei'ach and relates it to Pesach as well.

 

The process of making bread will always require a significant degree of human contribution to process wheat into flour and then dough and then to bake it. However, the addition of a leavening agent represents an added degree of meddling with the natural process to alter the final product. The complete absence of all leaven represents the refraining from trying to inject our own intervention to manipulate the nature that HaShem has put in place, rather than letting things be to take their own Divine path.

 

Certainly, in the Beis HaMikdash, where our primary goal is to become closer to HaShem, it is appropriate to minimize our own machinations and submit ourselves to the will of HaShem. That is why leaven is not appropriate. As Netziv continues to explain, this is similarly the theme of the yom tov of Pesach – the rooting of emunah in HaShem in the collective hearts of our nation. With very little action on our part, we were witnesses to unimaginable miracles leading to our exodus from Mitzrayim.

 

Rabbi Moshe Hauer (audio link, start at 24:38 mark) discusses this idea in a shiur on Netziv and extrapolates it to extend throughout Pesach to the last days of yom tov when we commemorate the splitting of Yam Suf. There too, amidst all of the panic in the wake of the steadily advancing Egyptian army at the apparent dead end, Moshe commands the nation (Shemos 14:13) not to fear but rather, to simply stand and witness HaShem's great deliverance. What better time to drive home this message for the ages than the end of a full week without any bread.


Have a Chag Samei'ach and Good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Al Pi Cheshbon: Omer Counting in Different Bases
Dikdukian: Exceptions Ahoy!

Please visit the new portal for all Shtikle-related sites, www.weeklyshtikle.com
The Weekly Shtikle and related content are now featured on BaltimoreJewishLife.com

Friday, March 30

The Weekly Shtikle - Leil Seder

As we get started with the maggid portion of the Haggadah, we discuss four different types of children, the questions they might ask and the responses we should provide for them. This is an appropriate exercise since the Haggadah – although relevant and mandatory for all regardless of age – is very much an exercise in chinuch.
Immediately following, we have a short paragraph discussing the appropriate time for the mitzvah of teaching one's children about the Pesach story. I might have thought it would begin on Rosh Chodesh, or perhaps the day before Pesach. However, the appropriate time is only when matzah and maror are placed in front of us. On the surface, this is simply a study of the halachic nuance of the mitzvah. But perhaps, at the same time, the Haggadah is teaching us some important lessons in chinuch.
In parting with the actual flow of the pesukim that discuss the questions and answers in the Torah, the Haggadah uses the same pasuk for the answer to the rasha and the eino yodeia lish'ol. This just so happens to be the pasuk that is expounded upon to establish the proper timing of the mitzvah. The rasha and eino yodeia lish'ol would seem to be the two more challenging characters in this set of children. We might want to devote extra attention to them – the rasha in order to steer him towards the proper path and the eino yodeia lish'ol because he is just getting started and needs help in order to ask the right questions. We might even be inclined to start early. But this paragraph in the Haggadah teaches us that presenting our children with the theory without the practice is not sufficiently effective. In order to properly imbue them with an appreciation of our heritage and the mitzvos that reflect it, they need to see it in action. Therefore, the appropriate time to educate them about yetzias Mitzrayim can only be while we have the matzah and maror in front of us, ready to eat. The chinuch challenge on seder night is not merely about saying. It is about saying and doing.

Have a good Shabbos and Chag Kasher ve'Sameiach!

For a collection of previous seder night shtikles, please check out my archive of past Seder shtikles.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Dikdukian: Chad Gadya

Please visit the new portal for all Shtikle-related sites, www.weeklyshtikle.com
The Weekly Shtikle and related content are now featured on BaltimoreJewishLife.com

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