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Sunday, October 13

The Weekly Shtikle - Upsherin / Siyum / Sukkos

Today, Erev Yom Tov, we celebrated the upherin of our dear son, Yitzchak. In conjunction, my son Efrayim and I made a siyum on mishnayos seder Nezikin. Here are the thoughts I shared at the event:

 

At any of these "lifecycle" events, I like to try and share a perspective on chinuch and the challenges that are faced and what lies ahead, hopefully with some relevant connections to other events of the day. The last Mishnah in Horayos lays out the hierarchy of kedushah within klal Yisrael. A kohein takes precedence over a levi, a levi over a Yisrael, a Yisrael over a mamzeir, and so on. However, the very last statement of our seder declares that this is only when all else is equal. A mamzeir who is a talmid chacham takes precedence over even a kohein gadol who is bereft of Torah knowledge.

 

The lesson this mishnah is teaching is a very poignant one, not only in the framework of yiddishkeit, but with regards to society in general. In life, there will always be those are imbued with some degree of advantage over another – those who are blessed with yichus, or an exceptional memory or financial or other stature, and those who are not. But the opportunity is always there for anyone to strive and overcome and fulfill their full potential, or even greater. Certainly, in the land(s) of opportunity in which we live, if we take a long hard look, we see that this is true. But as this mishnah is teaching, in yiddishkeit it is always true.

 

In truth, this idea can be found within the themes of Sukkos, as well. The four species we shake daily are quite an eclectic mix. We have the esrog, a fruit whose inherent beauty is so apparent, the Torah chose to name it simply by that trait – hadar. The lulav might be slightly less glorious but still quite majestic when it hangs from a palm tree. The hadassim are smaller yet still bright green and pleasant. And finally, we have the aravos which don't boast any impressive features. Nevertheless, these four species come together and each one is dependent on the other. Even the sukkah itself is an embodiment of this idea. The Torah could have commanded us to create the temporary roof out of beautiful greenery. However, the gemara )Sukkah 12a) teaches us from the pasuk that we are instructed to use the pesoles, the waste we would otherwise throw away. This waste "rises above," so to speak and becomes the very essence of the mitzvah we perform for a full week.

 

This is certainly an important lesson we wish to pass on to our son, Yitzchak, as he takes that next step in becoming a man, beginning to learn about and do more and more mitzvos, as well as a valuable lesson to take into the chag of Sukkos.

 

Have a good Yom Tov

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

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Sunday, September 29

The Weekly Shtikle - Rosh HaShanah

On the first day of Rosh HaShanah, the Torah reading comes from parshas Vayeira. It begins with the conception and birth of Yitzchak to Avraham and Sarah after many years of barrenness. This is a fitting section to be read on this day as the gemara (Rosh HaShanah 10b) teaches us that it was on Rosh HaShanah that Sarah, Rachel and Chanah were "remembered" and their prayers answered. The ensuing episodes of Yitzchak's weaning and the expulsion of Hagar and Yishmael are all directly pertinent to Yitzchak's upbringing and are justly included in the reading. The last two aliyos deal with the pact made between Avimelech, king of the Pelishtim, and Avraham that they and their descendants shall do no harm to each other. On the surface, there does not seem to be any relevance to Rosh HaShanah. The first three aliyos contain 21 pesukim, conceivably enough to comprise a complete Torah reading, even on Shabbos when we require seven aliyos. Why, then, is this section included in the reading?

 

I suggest that this section of the reading does in fact have a significant connection to the Rosh HaShanah experience. The central theme of the Mussaf service on Rosh HaShanah is the trio of malchios, zichronos and shofaros - kingship, remembrances and shofars. The middle of the three, remembrances, refers specifically to recalling the various covenants made with our forefathers. This section which is read at the end of the day's Torah reading impresses upon us the significance of a covenant. The pact made between Avimelech and Avraham, later reaffirmed by Yitzchak, was binding over many generations. Despite being gravely mistreated and persecuted by the Pelishtim, Avimelech's descendants, after entering Eretz Yisrael, on two occasions (Yeshoshua 15:63, Shmuel II 5) B'nei Yisrael refrained from any offensive against the Pelishtim. In the Midrash (Sifrei Re'eih 12:17, referenced by Rashi) R' Yehoshua ben Karchah teaches that it was within their powers to do battle with them, but they were not allowed because of the covenant between Avraham and Avimelech. 

 

Perhaps, the inclusion of this episode in the Torah reading is in parallel with the zichronos aspect of our prayers. Indeed, we are guilty many times over of violating our covenant with HaShem to keep the Torah in its entirety. Nevertheless, we beseech of HaShem to remember, so to speak, the covenant made with Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov never to forsake us despite our transgressions, in the same manner in which we faithfully upheld our accord with the Pelishtim.


Have a good Yom Tov and Shanah Tovah.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

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Friday, September 20

The Weekly Shtikle - Ki Savo

This week's parsha begins with the laws pertaining to the bringing of bikurim. The bringing of the bikurim is accompanied by a recitation of a number of verses known as viduy bikurim. The first pasuk that he must recite reads (26:3) "higadti hayom laShem elokecha ki vasi el ha'aretz asher nishba HaShem la'avoseinu..." Rashi on pasuk 10 writes that due to the possessive reference to the forefathers in this pasukavoseinu, a ger (convert) who brings bikurim does not recite the viduy for the land was never promised to his forefathers. This ruling is based on the Sifrei and the mishnah (Bikurim 1:4). However, the Yerushalmi (Bikurim 1:4) reaches the opposite conclusion. The halachic ruling is further a matter of dispute in Tosafos (Baba Basra 81a). Rambam (Hilchos Bikurim 4:3) writes that a ger does in fact read the viduy for the reason given in the Yerushalmi, that the word avoseinu can be interpreted as referring to Avraham Avinu who is called av hamon goyim. Thus, even geirim can claim Avraham as a father.

    What is puzzling about this ruling of the Rambam is that with regards to viduy ma'aser, the next issue dealt with in the parsha, he rules (Hilchos Ma'aser Sheini 11:17) that the ger does not read the viduy. The viduy for ma'aser contains the identical term, la'avoseinu. However, Rambam's ruling is due to the reference made to Eretz Yisrael (26:15) as ha'adamah asher nasata lanu, the land that You gave us and geirim do not have a portion in the land. But a similar phrase is found in viduy bikurim, (26:3ha'aretz asher nishba HaShem la'avoseinu lases lanu. What is the difference between the wording in viduy bikurim and the wording of viduy ma'aser that led Rambam to rule differently?

The sefer Kapos Temarim suggests that the difference lies in the tense of the reference to Eretz Yisrael. In viduy ma'aser we refer to the land that "was given" in the past tense. This would exclude geirim because they were not given a portion in the land when they came initially. However, in viduy bikurim we refer to the land that was sworn "to be given" in the future. There is a pasuk in Yechezkel that suggests that geirim will ultimately get a portion in Eretz Yisrael. So this pasuk does not exclude geirim. Although in viduy bikurim there is also a reference (26:10) to the land that "was given," this refers to the land that he actually owns and not to the land that was promised to the forefathers from which the geirim were excluded. Therefore, geirim may read viduy bikurim.

The sefer Aruch LaNer suggests another difference between ma'aser and bikurim. The ger's reading of the viduy is predicated upon the word la'avoseinu referring to Avraham Avinu. However, the word la'avoseinu in viduy ma'aser appears in connection to the promise of eretz zavas chalav udvash, the land flowing with milk and honey. The forefathers were never promised a land of milk and honey. The reference to milk and honey was not mentioned until B'nei Yisrael were in Egypt. Since la'avoseinu could not refer to Avraham Avinu in this instance, it must exclude the ger from reading this viduy.

I thought that perhaps another difference might be that in viduy bikurim the land is referred to as ha'aretz whereas in viduy ma'aser it is referred to as ha'adamah. Perhaps ha'aretz refers to the country as a whole. The privilege to benefit from Eretz Yisrael surely does not exclude geirim. The country was given to them just as it was to anyone else. Therefore, there is no reason to exclude them. But the word adamah refers more to the ground itself which connotes actual property. Real property was something that geirim were not granted and therefore, they are excluded.

Eliezer Bulka

WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

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Friday, September 13

The Weekly Shtikle - Ki Seitzei

A perfect follow-up to last week's discussion:

This week's parsha deals with the proceedings with regards to a case of illicit relations with a betrothed girl or married woman. The betrothed girl must be at least 12 years old, without having shown complete signs of adulthood in order to be subject to these specific laws. Additionally, these laws only apply after the kiddushin (betrothal) stage and not after marriage.

 

There is an interesting discrepancy found in the pesukim dealing with these transgressions. With regards to the penalty of death delivered in the case of the betrothed girl (stoning), the Torah comments (22:21,24) "And you shall wipe out the evil from your midst." However, with regards to the death penalty in the case of ordinary adultery (strangulation), it is written (22:22) "And you shall wipe out the evil from Yisrael."

 

The Brisker Rav, R' Yitzchok Zev Soloveitchik, zt"l, offers an explanation. The gemara (Sanhedrin 57b) teaches that a ben-Noach (gentile) who is found guilty of illicit relations with a Jew, which are applicable to gentiles is put to death in the same manner as any gentile who transgresses one of the seven gentile commandments, namely death by the sword. However, if he is found guilty of illicit relations with a Jew which are not applicable to gentiles, he is put to death in the same manner as a Jew who commits the same offense. The only such case, the gemara points out, is the case of the betrothed girl. From a halachic perspective, betrothal does not exist with regards to gentiles. Therefore, a gentile guilty of this offense is put to death by stoning, just like a Jew. When the Torah details these proceedings, it is written, "And you shall wipe out the evil from your midst," because this process applies to everyone. Since the concept of a married woman exists with gentiles, a gentile who is found guilty of adultery, even with a married Jewish woman, is given his own special death penalty. It is therefore written, "And you shall wipe out the evil from Yisrael," since the regular death penalty in this case is not applicable to gentiles.

 

(It should be noted that this approach is somewhat contradictory to the idea we suggested last week, that Yisrael is more inclusive than mikirbecha.)

 

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

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Friday, September 6

The Weekly Shtikle - Shofetim

At the beginning of this week's parsha, the process of prosecuting the idolater is discussed. Regarding his or her demise by stoning it is stated, (17:7) "and you shall wipe out the evil from your midst."

Immediately thereafter, we are taught of the procedure regarding the zakein mamreh, the elder who engages in a dispute with the Sanhedrin and advises others in contradiction to their decree. He is put to death for this insurrection, about which it is said, (17:12) "and you will wipe out the evil from Yisrael."

 

R' Moshe Shternbuch, in Ta'am VaDa'as, explains the slight discrepancy between the two phrases. He notes that the nature of the zakein mamreh is such that in his disagreement with the Sanhedrin, he will develop a following and become more of a public figure. That is why the Torah states that in carrying out the proper punishment, you will be removing evil from all of Yisrael.

 

The difficulty with this explanation is that in last weeks' parsha, regarding the false prophet, it is said (13:6) "and you shall wipe out the evil from your midst." Surely, the false prophet will also have developed a following. Shouldn't "Yisrael" be more appropriate in that case.

 

Along similar lines, it may be suggested that the actual process of the zakein mamreh is what creates the public spectacle. Even though he is only liable when he returns to his city and continues to advise as he was before, the showdown with the grand beis din happens in Yerushalayim on the Har haBayis. It is certain to grab the attention of the masses and that is why the term Yisrael is more appropriate.

In the case of the idolater, as well as the case of the false prophet, the case could very well be dealt with on a local level and not be as widely known. Therefore, mikirbecha, which would seem to refer to a smaller subset of the nation, is used.

 

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

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Friday, August 30

The Weekly Shtikle - Re'eih

In this week's parsha a word not used any where else in the Torah (although it is found 20 times in NA"CH) appears twice. The inhabitants of the ir hanidachas, the city that has been led astray, are referred to (13:14) as b'nei beliya'al. Later, when discussing the requirement to reach out to the needy and lend them money, we are warned (15:9) lest there be an inclination of beliya'al in our hearts not to lend to the needy since the shemitah year is approaching. This unique word is used to describe idolaters as well as those who refuse to lend money as shemitah approaches. Surely, there is a connection.

 

I have purposely left beliya'al untranslated. It is difficult to attach an exact meaning to the word and we must therefore turn to the commentaries for the etymology of the word. Rashi writes that it is a contraction of b'li ol, without a yoke. It refers to someone who has thrown off the yoke of the service of HaShem. Clearly, one may only throw off a yoke if it was once upon him. Perhaps we may explain in the second case that it is referring to one who has thrown off the yoke of communal responsibility. The Torah is talking of someone who might very well appear to appreciate the importance of charity. But when push comes to shove and his loan is in danger of having to be forgiven, he is unwilling to his duty to society. He bears the yoke when it suits him, but is quick to unload it when it does not.

 

Another insightful rendering of the word is given by Rav Hirsch. He explains that it is a contraction of bli al, without one above, someone who acts as if there is no one above him. This may also be applied to the apprehensive lender. The shemitah year (which will be upon us shortly) is one of the primary tests of faith. A farmer is required to put all his faith and belief in HaShem that despite the land being unworked for a full year, he will still pull through. The lender has to have a little faith as well. Someone who fears that the Shemitah will interfere with his financial dealings fails to see HaShem's Hand and considers himself a master of his own destiny. It is this behaviour specifically that is labelled as beliya'al and is, by association, likened to avodah zarah.

 

Have a good Shabbos and Chodesh Tov.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

 

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Friday, August 23

The Weekly Shtikle - Eikev

In this week's parsha, Eretz Yisrael is praised as (8:8) "A land of wheat and barley and grapes and figs and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey." These species are given a special status when it comes to making berachos. Shulchan Aruch (OC 211:4), based on the gemara (Berachos 41,) rules that if you have in front of you two foods that are both of the aforementioned seven species, the berachah should be made on the one that comes earliest in the pasuk. For example, if you have a grape and a fig, you should make the berachah on the grape. However, the determining factor is the proximity of the food to the word eretz in the pasuk. The word eretz is repeated before olive oil and honey. Thus, if you have a date (the source of the honey) and a grape, the berachah should be made on the date because it is the second food from the second eretz whereas the grape is the third from the first eretz. Why, though, did the Torah specifically repeat the word eretz?

The GR"A writes that the pasuk is split into two categories. The first five species are all mentioned for their very essence. It is the fruit or grain itself for which Eretz Yisroel is praised. However, the last two species refer to the olive and the date but are only mentioned for the substances that are extracted from them. This is why the pasuk is divided by two instances of the word eretz.

Meshech Chachmah offers an alternate interpretation. He suggests that the first five species were available in Mitzrayim as well. His support for this is the dialogue preceeding the incident of Moshe and the rock, when the nation complained (Bemidbar 20:5) "And why have you taken us out from Mitzrayim to bring us to this terrible place, not a place of grain or figs or grapes or pomegranates and there is no water to drink." It is evident from here that the first five species were also abundant in Mitzrayim. The pasuk is therefore singling out olive oil and honey as the two species that are uniquely abundant in Eretz Yisrael by repeating the word eretz.

There is a slight difficulty with this interpretation. When Dasan and Aviram refused to appear before Moshe, they exclaim (Bemidbar 17:13) "Is it not enough that you have brought us out of a land flowing with milk and honey to kill us in the dessert!" It seems from here - assuming Dasan and Aviram were not simply "throwing stones" and there was some truth to their statement - that there was an abundance of honey in Mitzrayim as well. Why then should the Torah single it out along with olive oil as unique to Eretz Yisroel?

A friend of mine showed me a quote from a sefer Shomer Emes endeavouring to answer this question. He references Rashi in a number of different locations (Vayikra 2:11, Sukkah 6a) who writes that any sweet substance derived from fruit is called devash. Indeed, in the gemara (Kesubos 111b) we find a reference to devash te'einim, fig honey. He suggests, therefore, that what Dasan and Aviram were referring to was other forms of fruit honey that might have been available in Mitzrayim. But the abundance of date honey was still unique to Eretz Yisrael. As for why bee honey is not suggested, perhaps the reason is that even though it originates as nectar from plants and is minimally processed by the bee (otherwise it would not be kosher), since it isn't produced from the ground in a form that may be harvested by humans, it would not qualify as something by which to praise the land. 

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

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