The Weekly Shtikle Blog

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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:
Dikdukian: Don't Feed the Animals
Dikdukian: Jewish Milk

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

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:
Dikdukian: To Afflict the Corrector

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

Friday, August 4

The Weekly Shtikle - Va'eschanan / Nachamu

This Monday, the 15th of Av, marks the yahrtzeit of my Opa, Mr. George Jakobovits. This week's shtikle is dedicated le'iluy nishmaso, Tovia Yehudah ben Yoel, a'h.

Although the yearly Torah reading cycle has not always followed its current pattern, it has a tendency to have the parshah of the week correspond quite neatly with the calendar. For example, we read Moshe Rabbeinu's exclamation of "Eichah!" in Parshas Devarim (1:12) which always falls on the Shabbos before Tish'ah B'Av. We always read Parshas Nitzavim, which speaks of teshuvah, as we approach Rosh HaShanah and the aseres yemei teshuvah. This week is known as Shabbas Nachamu, after the beginning of this week's haftarah which begins with the words "Nachamu, nachamu ami..." be comforted, be comforted My nation. The haftarah is specifically directed at the theme of comfort and consolation, but surely, this theme should present itself in the parshah as well. If anything, Va'eschanan deals with more ominous circumstances as it is the source for the reading on Tish'ah B'Av, discussing the various repercussions of straying from the path. There seems to be no mention of the week's theme whatsoever.

 

Perhaps, the theme is hinted to in the very passage that is read on Tish'ah B'Av. After reading of all the terrible consequences of our evil deeds, we are assured (4:29-31)

"And from there, you will beseech HaShem, your God, and you shall find, if you seek Him with all your heart and all your soul. Amidst your tribulations when these things have been visited upon you, in the end of days, when you shall return to HaShem, your God, and listen to His voice. For Hashem, your God, is a merciful God, He will not forsake you and He will not destroy you, nor will He forget the covenant of your fathers which He has sworn to them."

These words remind us, after we have mourned the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash which came about as a result of our awful sins, that no matter how deep we sink, no matter how much it seems that HaShem has distanced Himself from us, we may always return at a moment's notice and HaShem will answer us. This passage encourages us never to lose hope amidst our exile, as HaShem will never forsake us, a veritable paradigm of the theme of "Nachamu." As well, its presence in the reading for Tish'ah B'Av fits nicely with the theme we discussed last week – that Tish'ah B'Av is not just about mourning the destructions of the past but about looking forward and focusing on rebounding from our tragedies towards a path to redemption.

 

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Dikdukian: You were shown
Al Pi Cheshbon: Moshe's Pleas
Al Pi Cheshbon: Gemtrias off by 1

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Friday, July 28

The Weekly Shtikle - Devarim / Chazon

Late breaking news: Mazal Tov to my brother and sister-in-law, Binyomin and Shira Bulka and family on the birth of a baby boy this morning in Eretz Yisrael. Mazal Tov to the extended Bulka and Young mishpachos and as well, to the great grandmother, Oma Jakobovits.

When a parsha is positioned next to a special day there certainly must be a connection. Indeed, few parshios are as inextricably tied to their calendar events as Devarim is to Tish'ah B'Av. The connection is surely not a difficult one to make as the story of the spies is featured prominently in the parsha and has very direct correlations to Tish'ah B'Av. However, another perspective occurred to me recently.

Focusing on Devarim as more than just a parsha but rather the beginning of a sefer, it is the first installment of a lengthy homily delivered by Moshe to the nation as he approached the end of his life. Recounting the various episodes and highlights of the past 40 years, Moshe addresses the implicit question, "how did we get where we are today?" By detailing some of the less glorious events and the underpinnings that led to them, he also offers insight into the necessary follow-up question, "what can we do to improve?"

This is very much a crucial component of the Tish'ah B'Av experience. In addition to simply mourning the loss of the Bais HaMikdash, it is incumbent upon us to ask some very similar questions. We must first understand what it is we had and lost. This is why there are kinos devoted to detailing the splendour and beauty of the Bais HaMiksash. We go on to relive the horrific history of how we did lose it and why, and the countless tragedies that continue to befall us. The Yerushalmi (Yoma 1) teaches us that any generation that doesn't have the Bais HaMikdash rebuilt is considered as if they had destroyed it. It is therefore imperative that with the same reflection and introspection with which Moshe Rabbeinu begins this sefer, we reflect on the centuries of hardships with a concentration on what we can do to change things and bring the rebuilding of the Bais HaMikdash in our generation.

Have a good Shabbos and a meaningful fast. Or, if we're fortunate enough, no fast at all.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Dikdukian: Don't you worry!
Dikdukian: Past and Future
AstroTorah: Like the Stars of the Heavens

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Friday, July 21

The Weekly Shtikle - Matos / Mas'ei

The end of parshas Matos details the conquering and settling of the east side of the Jordan River by the tribes of Reuvein, Gad and half of Menasheh. The very last pasuk recounts Novach's capture of a series of cities and subsequently naming them after himself, Novach. Rashi dwells on the words "vayikra lah Novach" which should have featured a mapik heh in the word lah. He explains that the word is without a mapik heh, therefore rendering it "softer," because the name of that city did not endure.

Rav Hirsch writes that if Novach's naming of this city did not last, surely there must be a reason, some deficiency in his actions. He explains that while it is the way of the nations to have cities named after oneself, this is not typical practice among B'nei Yisrael. It puts undue importance on one's possessions as his true accomplishments when in truth, it is one's deeds that are his true legacy. (Indeed, the only city name in Eretz Yisrael that comes to mind as possibly being named after a person is Shechem – not a Jew.) It was Novach's naming the city after himself that was the reason why the name did not last.

Rav Shimon Schwab, in Ma'ayan Beis HaShoeiva, points out that the previous pasuk recounts Yair's naming his captured land Chavos Yair, the villages of Yair. How come Novach's city did not retain its name but we find no such fate for that of Yair's? He explains that there is an important nuance which differentiates the two names. Novach gave the city his exact name. This was an indication that from Novach's perspective, this city was the very embodiment of himself. Yair, conversely, named the city "The Villages of Yair." The simple addition of that extra word made clear that there was a separation between the man and his possessions. These were his villages but it wasn't him.

 Chazak, Chazak, veNischazeik!

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:

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, July 14

The Weekly Shtikle - Pinechas

This week's parsha begins by recounting the details of Pinechas's heroic act at the end of last week's which brought an abrupt end to the devastating plague. The gemara in Sanhedrin (82b), the masechta on which the Daf Yomi cycle is about to embark, tells of an exchange between the Heavenly angels and HaShem in which HaShem defends Pinechas as a "kanai ben kanai," a zealot, the son of a zealot. Rashi explains that Pinechas's actions are being linked to those of his ancestor, Levi, in attacking wiping out the city of Shechem to defend the honour of his sister and his father's family. Ironically, the original act was carried out by a tandem of Shimon and Levi whereas here, Levi was pitted against Shimon.

The similarities between the two episodes run much deeper than just the initial act. Shimon and Levi attacked Shechem without the consent of their father, Yaakov. For this they drew much parental criticism. The focal point of that rebuke (Bereishis 34:30) appears to be the grave public relations ramifications of their act. Yaakov was concerned that news of this shocking incident would invite an invasion from the surrounding nations. Miraculously, however, we are told (34:35) that the fear of the Lord prevented anyone from chasing after Yaakov and his family.

Pinechas also took spontaneous action with the awareness that he would not be met with universal approval. Indeed, the very same gemara recounts the ensuing ridicule that Pinechas endured. Here, too, public relations were a significant consideration. A princess of Midyan was killed and such a high-profile incident could easily have brought on a war in an instant. Nevertheless, Midyan does not take action. (However, as we have discussed previously, according to some commentaries, they were plotting revenge.) Even though B'nei Yisrael are commanded to bring the war to them, that did not happen immediately.

Both acts of zealotry involved not only possible physical danger but subjection to public shaming, making them all the more heroic. And in both instances, Divine intervention saw to it that there was no negative blowback from the affected or surrounding nations.

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Dikdukian: Keves vs. Kesev
Dikdukian:  Shabbas be'Shabbato
Al Pi Cheshbon: Probability of the Goral

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, July 7

The Weekly Shtikle - Balak

This Shabbos is the yahrzeit of R' Yaakov Yitzchack Ruderman, zt"l, the first Rosh HaYeshivah of Yeshivas Ner Yisroel. 

This Sunday is the yahrzeit of my wife's grandmother, Mrs. Shirley Yeres, Chaya Sheindel bas Alexander.

Tuesday, Shiv'ah Asar B'Tamuz, is the yahrzeit of R' Shmuel Yaakov Weinberg, zt"l, Rosh HaYeshiva of Ner Yisroel. The shtikle is dedicated le'iluy nishmasam.

 

When the elders of Moav and Midyan came to try to hire Bil'am, the pasuk (22:7) recounts that they brought kesamim with them. Rashi writes that the Midyanites went in with a plan as to how to determine Bil'am's legitimacy. They said, "If he comes with us this time, he is legitimate. If he tells us to delay, there is no purpose." Once he said "sleep here tonight," they saw that he had no hope and they left him. The GR"A points out the inconsistency in the terminology used by Rashi. It is observed in the Hebrew as Rashi changes terms from "Yeish bo mamash" to "Ein bo to'eles" to "Ein bo tikvah."

 

The GR"A explains that Bil'am professed to be on a higher level of prophecy than Moshe. Although Moshe was above all other prophets in that he may speak to HaShem whenever he wished, Bil'am claimed to be even greater, in that he was "yodei'a da'as Elyon," that he didn't even have to speak to HaShem but that he already knew what He was "thinking," as it were. Therefore, the Midyanites reasoned, if he comes with us right away, it is indeed true that he is better than Moshe - yeish bo mamash - there is legitimacy to his claim. If he tells us to wait then that means he has to confer with HaShem. Although he might still be a great prophet, he is no better than Moshe so why should they side with Bil'am any more than Moshe. Therefore, there is no "purpose" (to'eles). When they saw that he required them to stay the night, they realized that he could only communicate with HaShem at night, which put him well below Moshe on the prophecy scale. Then they saw that he had no hope (tikvah) and they were wasting their time so they left him.
 
Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Al Pi Cheshbon: Counting the Judges

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