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Tuesday, February 28

The Weekly Shtikle - Mishenichnas Adar

Today, 2 Adar, is the yahrtzeit of my Zadie, R' Yaakov Bulka.
This special edition of the Weekly Shtikle is dedicated le'iluy nishmaso, Chaim Yaakov ben Yitzchak.

While a yahrtzeit is often a more solemn day, the timing of my Zadie's yahrtzeit always has me reflecting on his joy and happiness throughout his life and the joy and happiness we experienced whenever in his presence. And I am always reminded of this thought he once shared with me:

In the first mishnah of the fourth perek of maseches Taanis, we are told that with the onset of the month of Av, "mema'atin b'simcha," we decrease our indulgence in happiness. This is as actually the only "mishenichnas" found in the mishnah. Only later, in the gemara (bottom of 29a), are we told by Rav Yehudah, the son of Rav Shmuel bar Sheilas in the name of Rav, that just as when Av arrives, we decrease our simchah, when Adar comes, we increase it.

My Zadie, a"h, points out that the gemara is clearly equating these two customs on some level. And if we examine the laws pertaining to the days leading up to Tish'ah B'Av, they resemble not a decrease in outward expressions of happiness, but more of a total absence of happiness altogether. We even refrain from drinking wine so as to prevent us from inadvertently becoming happy. Indeed, the Magein Avraham (551:1) cites Tosafos in Megillah (5b) as interpreting mema'atin as no joy whatsoever.

But if so, this must be paralleled in Adar! If the mema'atin b'simchah of Av is to be understood as a complete and complete reduction of simchah, the marbin b'simchah of Adar must be completely to the contrary - an utter invasion of simchah. It is not enough to simply bump the level of happiness up a notch during this time. We must allow happiness to completely envelop us. We must strive for 100% simchah

There are two observations that come to mind in relation to the above for which I don't have any concrete answers. First, it is noteworthy that the halachah of Av is recorded in the Shulchan Aruch as mentioned above but that of Adar, unless I missed it, is not. Perhaps it is simply because the former is sourced in the mishnah but maybe there is more to it.

Another aspect that puzzled me is the need for this preparatory time. We are required to mourn the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash and to rejoice at our salvation on Purim and Pesach. But what is the necessity for the buildup? In truth, both events were preceded by much anticipation. The churban was imminent for quite some time – at least from siege seven months prior. And Haman met his demise on Pesach, almost a full eleven months before the events of Adar. However, the trigger dates of Rosh Chodesh Av and Adar do not hold any particular historical significance. So why is this anticipation phase a necessary component of the mourning or the joy? Hopefully I will have some answers by Purim.

Chodesh Tov! Mishenichnas Adar Marbim b'Simchah!

Eliezer Bulka

Friday, February 24

The Weekly Shtikle - Mishpatim

Today, 28 Shevat, marks the yahrtzeit of my wife's grandfather, R' Yitzchak Yeres, after whom our baby boy is named. The shtikle is dedicated le'iluy nishmaso, Yitzchak Chaim ben Moshe Yosef HaLevi.

At the beginning of this week's parsha, we are taught a number of different offences for which the punishment is death. Among them are the striking of one's parents, as well as cursing them. One would certainly have expected to find the two pesukim next to each other. However, surprisingly, after the pasuk dealing with the hitting of a parent (21:15) we are taught that one who kidnaps an individual and sells him is also subject to the death penalty. Only after that are we taught the punishment for cursing a parent.

Ramban explains in the name of R' Sadiah Gaon that the placement of the pasuk dealing with kidnapping gives us an insight into the gravity of the crime and why it is punishable by death. Kidnapping victims are often younger children. When a young child is kidnapped he is taken from his family and forced to grow up away from the warmth of a loving family. He grows up not knowing his parents and thus is more likely to hit or curse them when he is older. This would have been a truly unfathomable act coming from a child who was the beneficiary of a full life of parental love and nurture. Since the kidnapper is responsible for robbing him of that upbringing, his act is punishable by death as well.

Another approach offered by the Rishonim is that the pesukim are actually following a logical progression of increasing novelty, commonly referred to as "lo zu af zu." First, we are taught (21:14) that someone who plans and premeditates the murder of his fellow Jew is to be put to death. This is understandable. The next pasuk, dealing with hitting a parent, teaches us that it is not only murder that warrants the death penalty. One may even be liable for capital punishment for merely hitting. The death penalty for kidnapping then teaches us that one can be guilty of a capital offence without causing any physical harm whatsoever. Finally, we are taught that one can even be put to death for the improper use of his words in the form of a curse.

BechorShor offers a fascinating approach. When the kidnapper stands before the court and is accused of his crime, he is likely to curse his parents and blame them in order to vindicate himself. That is why the pasuk dealing with kidnapping is inserted here to be juxtaposed to the pasuk dealing with cursing. (As to why a kidnapper would be more to prone such action than any other criminal, perhaps it takes someone who does not appreciate the value of a nurturing home and loving parents to have the audacity to take that away from another.)

This idea teaches a very poignant lesson which is most applicable in our time. We live in a society where crimes are very often justified by outside causes. When a heinous crime is committed, too often we get wrapped up in the perpetrator's background, his upbringing, what kind of music he listened to, what he watched on TV or even what flag is flown in his state capital. What made him do this? The Torah teaches us - HE made him do this. Regardless of what influences might have played a part, one is always responsible for his own actions and must face the consequences thereof.

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Dikdukian: Tricky Vowels
Answer vs. Torture
Dikdukian: Give it to me
Dikdukian: Ha'isha viladeha
Dikdukian: Jewish Milk

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Friday, February 10

The Weekly Shtikle - Beshalach / Tu BiShvat

Tu BiShvat always falls out within a week of Beshalach / Shabbas Shirah – on one side or the other. This year, of course, it falls out on the very day. Although this happened four years ago, it will not happen again for another ten years. What makes this occurrence extra special is that the two-a-day Mishnah Yomis cycle comes within 10 days of the completion of seder Zeraim. Although curiously Tu BiShvat is not mentioned at all in the entire seder mishnayos, it certainly figures in significantly as the new year with regards to most annual obligations relating to fruit. Surely, there must be a common thread which connects these events.

Immediately following the dramatic events at Yam Suf and the subsequent joyous song, we are told of the episode in which B'nei Yisrael complain to Moshe about the drinkability of the water. Moshe sweetens the water with a piece of wood shown to him by HaShem and they are soon on their way. Their very next stop is Eilim where, lo and behold, there are 12 springs of water and 70 [species of (see Ibn Ezra)] date trees. Dates, being from the seven primary fruit for which Eretz Yisrael is lauded, are subject to all of the laws including bikkurim, which is the topic of the last masechta in the seder. The commentaries discuss why the Torah goes to such lengths to describe the amenities at this venue. Perhaps the lesson to be learned is that while we may find ourselves in difficult predicaments, wondering why and how and what can be done, HaShem's salvation is often right around the corner. Not only was there an abundance of fresh water but indulgent, sweet fruit as well.

As mentioned above, Tu BiShvat figures halachically as the start of the new year for trees. This is significant in regards to the law governing the separation of terumos and maasros, stating that one may not separate from this year's crop to fulfill the obligation on the previous year's and vice versa. As a possible explanation for this restriction, the very essence of all of these mitzvos is to appreciate the plentiful gifts that HaShem has bestowed upon us. At the very least, it is incumbent upon us to renew this appreciation yearly with each new crop. If one was to group his crops together from multiple years and attempt to fulfill both years' obligations at once, there would be a significant lacking in the individual appreciation for each year's crops.

While the highlights of the parsha may be the overt and spectacular miracles of the splitting of the sea and the manna, there are subtle hints to the more routine blessings from HaShem which are underscored on the new year that is Tu BiShvat.

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Happy 10th Birthday, Dikdukian!
Dikdukian: Exceptions Ahoy
Dikdukian: Midash, HaShem...
Dikdukian: Leave us Alone
Al Pi Cheshbon: Chamushim
AstroTorah: The Gemara's Aliens? by R' Ari Storch

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Friday, February 3

The Weekly Shtikle - Bo

In this week's parsha, Moshe and Aharon are given the commandment (12:2) of "hachodesh hazeh lachem rosh chadashim," establishing the month we know as Nisan as the first of the twelve months. Ramban famously declares this aspect of the calendar to be a mitzvah, explaining that just like we count the days of the week towards Shabbos as a means to be constantly mindful of Shabbos, we count the months from Nisan to recall the exodus from Mitzrayim. He goes on to describe, based on the Yerushalmi, that the names we use today for the months originated in Bavel and remained in use after we returned to Eretz Yisrael to build the second Beis HaMikdash as a means of recalling HaShem's having brought us up from there. And as we know, those names persist to this day.

R' Yaakov Kamenetsky, in Emes L'Yaakov, is puzzled by this last point. Why would we celebrate our exodus from Bavel by hanging on to a practice which originated from those dark days of exile? Aside from abandoning the practice of referring to the months numerically, we are adopting the Aramaic language and even worse, some names which are references to avodah zarah, such as Tammuz.

R' Yaakov references a mishnah (Shekalim 6:2) which retells a story in which the location of the aron was almost revealed during the second Beis HaMikdash. However, the end of the mishnah makes it quite clear that there was an understanding as to where it was hidden. If that is so, why did it remain concealed for the duration of the second Beis HaMikdash? He explains that there was a clear awareness that this iteration of the Beis HaMikdash would not be the final eternal one. Rather, the conditions of the exile in Bavel made it necessary for this brief return as a preparation for the long and arduous exile that would follow. As such, we maintained the usage of the Babylonian months as a reminder that this redemption is not complete. He also suggests that it is for this reason that even the Talmud Yerushalmi, which was arranged in Eretz Yisrael, is written in Aramaic.

It is interesting to note that while names were adopted for the months in lieu of ordinal numbers, the same was not done for the days of the week. It could be that this was circumstantial and there were no names for the days of the week in the Babylonian culture. Perhaps, as Ramban explains, only the names of the months were adopted to fulfill the directive stated in Yirmiyah (16:14-15) to ultimately replace the recollection of the exodus from Mitzrayim with that of Bavel and other lands. The recollection of Shabbos, however, can never be replaced.

That said, in English and other languages, there are names for the days of the week that are widely used while leshon hakodesh has maintained its original form. I am not familiar with the historical process of the framing of the Yiddish language but it has always puzzled me that names were adopted for the days of the week from the common secular sources which also have ties to avodah zarah, rather than reverting to ordinal numbers which have such deep religious significance.

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Dikdukian: Talented Locusts
AstroTorah: Korban Pesach in the Sky by R' Ari Storch
AstroTorah: The Death Star (Ra'ah) the classic by R' Ari Storch

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Friday, January 20

The Weekly Shtikle - Shemos

The irony is hard to ignore. The United States is now hours away from inaugurating a new leader on the eve of Shabbas Parshas Shemos. While the path that lies ahead under this new leadership is unknown, the parsha certainly provide numerous glimpses into Moshe's exceptional virtues qualifying him to lead our nation. One incident that stands out is the altercation in which Moshe kills the Egyptian officer. The Abarbanel asks some fundamental questions on the episode. The pasuk recounts (2:11) that Moshe saw an Egyptian hitting an ish ivri mei'echav, a Hebrew man from his brethren. The word mei'echav seems superfluous. Surely, if he is a Hebrew, he is from his brethren. Then, when Moshe kills the Egyptian it says that he looked both ways and saw that there was no man. If that is the case, how did Dasan know that he had done it as is evident from the events that followed?


Abarbanel offers a novel interpretation of the events. Contrary to the more popular understandings, there were in fact many present at the time. The word mei'echav is telling us that the Egyptian removed this one man from the group of his (Moshe's) brothers and began to beat him only. Moshe saw this and looked both ways and saw that there was no man. This is not to say there were no other individuals present. Rather, he observed that no one was willing to be a man and to stand up in defence of his fellow Jew. Moshe understood that he needed to be the one to rise to the occasion and do something about it so he killed the Egyptian. But, it was indeed in front of many.


There is an alternative answer to Abarbanel's second question. According to the midrash (Shemos Rabba) the man being flogged by the Egyptian was none other than Dasan himself. It is therefore no surprise that he was aware of Moshe's having killed the Egyptian. But it paints an even uglier picture of what went ensued. Dasan challenges Moshe the next day, saying, (2:14) "are you going to kill me like you killed the Egyptian?" Not only is he unnecessarily pointing a finger at Moshe for a noble deed, he is showing complete ingratitude for having saved his own life.


The above interpretations fit well with Rashi's second interpretation of Moshe's reaction when he states, (ibid) "Alas, it is known." The obvious meaning is that his killing of the Egyptian became known. But Rashi offers another interpretation. Moshe was stating, "I was always bothered, why the Israelites were deserving of such oppression. Now I know they are deserving." This episode brought out the worst in B'nei Yisrael. First, a crowd watches idly as their brother is beaten. And then Dasan fails to acknowledge Moshe's valour and even turns it against him.


We are certainly all hopeful that this new era in history will bring about more peace and prosperity for us as a nation but we must be mindful not to depend on others for our defence. It is incumbent upon us to stand up and do whatever is in our powers.

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Dikduian: Dikduk Observations on Shemos by Eliyahu Levin

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Friday, January 13

The Weekly Shtikle - Vayechi

This past Tuesday, 12 Teves, was the yahrtzeit of Rabbi Joseph Schechter of Ner Yisrael. This week's shtikle is dedicated le'iluy nishmaso, Yoseif ben Eliezer Z'ev.

As well, the shtikle is also dedicated bizchus a refuah sheleimah for the following:

Tamar Adina bas Kayna Shulamis

Chana Faiga bas Shaindel Rachel

Yochanan ben Gella Rachel

Moshe ben Mirel


    In pasuk 48:22 Yaakov refers to what seems to be a certain piece of land that he captured "becharbi uvkashti." The simple translation of these words is "with my sword and my bow." However, Targum Onkelos translates "bitzlosi uv'vausi", with my prayer and my supplication. Meshech Chochma (Rabbi Meir Simcha of Dvinsk) explains the use of these two words as the translation of the words in the pasuk and the difference between the two types of prayer to which Onkelos refers.

    The word tzelosi refers to the regular prayers that have been specifically prescribed by the Anshei Keneses HaGedolah. The halachah regarding these prayers is that one does not require specific kavanah for these prayers to work. Therefore, it is the translation of charbi, sword. A sword is likewise used in close battle and requires little control in order to strike the target. For the most part, it "kills" in any circumstance.

    Ba'usi, which literally means "needs," refers to one's own personal prayers to HaShem outside of those daily prayers mentioned above. With these prayers one requires specific kavanah in order for them to be at all effective. Simply reciting the words is not enough. These prayers are likened to the keshes, the bow and arrow. Without a skilled shooter, it is ineffective and will more often than not miss its target. It requires specific aim in order for the arrow to reach its desired destination.

    Interestingly, the word uvkashti without its vowels may be read ubakashasi, and my requests. The word could just as easily have been vekashti, omitting repetition of the bais as a prefix. Perhaps the specific choice of words is a hint to Onkelos' interpretation.

Have a good Shabbos. Chazak Chazak veNischazeik!

Eliezer Bulka

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:

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Friday, January 6

The Weekly Shtikle - Vayigash

    After Yoseif finally reveals his identity to his brothers the atmosphere appears to be rather tense. The tension is apparently broken when Yoseif engages in a tearful embrace with Binyamin, followed by a similar gesture with each of the other brothers (45:14-15). As the pasuk clearly states, only then did the brothers begin to talk with Yoseif. Rashi explains that they were so ashamed that they were left literally speechless. It was only after they saw Yoseif crying and they knew his intentions were peaceful that they were able to speak with him.


    What is puzzling about this comment of Rashi was that Yoseif's revelation was clearly preceded by a very genuine, whole-hearted cry which was heard throughout the land of Egypt. Yoseif was not one to hide his emotions and there did not seem to be a hint of anger in the dialog that followed. Nevertheless, the brothers were still nervous. What seems to have put the brothers at ease was not necessarily Yoseif's crying alone. It was the equal treatment of all his brothers. Surely, they expected Yoseif to deal kindly with Reuvein, who sincerely attempted to save him, or the other brothers who were less involved. But what about Yehudah, the mastermind behind the sale of Yoseif, or Shimon, who is "credited" with throwing him into the pit? However, the pasuk clearly equates all brothers when recounting Yoseif's tearful embraces. Not only was he crying and full of loving, brotherly emotion, it was clear to the brothers that his feelings were equal for all the brothers, regardless of their involvement in his sale. Only then did they feel comfortable conversing with Yoseif. (Perhaps this interpretation can be read into Rashi's comment as well.)


    Another approach is offered by David Farkas in HaDoresh ViHamivakesh (recently published second edition):

The words "after this" seem extra. To me this seems to be the precise culmination of the events that occurred so long ago. Before, in 35:5, the brothers were described as "not being able to speak with [Joseph] in peace". Now, after they had seen the Hand of God in all its awesome clarity, only "after this" were they finally able to speak with their brother! 

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Al Pi Cheshbon / Dikdukian: Can you count to 70?
Dikdukian: Pain in the Neck
Dikdukian: Just Do It!
Dikdukian: Ram'seis
Dikdukian: Dikdukei Vayigash by R' Eliyahu Levin

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