The Weekly Shtikle Blog

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Friday, June 15

The Weekly Shtikle - Korach

This week's parsha covers the tragic story of the rebellion lead by Korach, Dasan and Aviram. Their ultimate demise is well known. The leaders and their families were swallowed up into the ground. However, their 250 followers who had each brought a ketores offering were consumed by fire. Surely, there is a reason why different punishments were doled out to the different participants.

Rabbeinu Bachaya suggests the principal sin of the leaders was that of haughtiness. They put themselves on a high level from which they were, in truth, very far. This arrogance was fittingly punished with the perpetrators falling down to the deepest depths. The 250 followers were punished not as much for their participation in the movement but for having gone through with the confrontation with Moshe and bringing the ketores. The undesired offering was punished much in the way that Nadav and Avihu met their demise - being burned by the mighty fire of HaShem.

Perhaps we may suggest an alternate approach. The leaders were greedy, self centred individuals looking out only for their own benefit. Their campaign may have appeared to be aimed at "fairness and balance" but their true motives were purely selfish. They wanted nothing but to advance their own positions. The 250 followers were merely misled by their apparent leaders and deceived into believing in their cause. The self-serving disregard for truth was a behaviour that was incorrigible. There was no room for the leaders to grow out of this rut they had dug themselves into. Therefore, they were smothered by the earth and disappeared, symbolizing that there is no potential good that could come out of their actions.

The followers, however, were simply misguided loyalists. Their behaviour could easily be channeled for good if pointed in the right direction. This is most clearly illustrated by On ben Peles who, according to the gemara (Sanhedring 109b,) was convinced by his wife to leave the group. They were fittingly punished with fire. Fire, although often a destructive force, can also be constructive. It can take an inedible slab of meat and make supper out of it. It can be used to shape raw metal. The followers being consumed by fire symbolized that there was what to learn from them and that their actions could be channeled for positive causes. It is therefore easily understood that the metal of their pans was put on display to remind B'nei Yisrael of this tragic episode.


Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Dikdukian: Just do it!
Dikdukian: Flee Market
Dikdukian: Vayikach Korach

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Friday, June 8

The Weekly Shtikle - Shelach

Clearly, the most significant part of this week's parsha is the episode of the spies who were sent to Eretz Yisrael. As a result of their negative report, B'nei Yisrael were forced to postpone their entry into Eretz Yisrael for almost thirty nine years. Although the report of the ten spies was, on the whole, a negative one, the pesukim seem to show an apparent progression of the gravity of the spies' arguments. We know what they said and we know how they were gruesomely punished but it is important to understand what it was that they said which warranted such retribution.

When the spies die a horrible death for their sins, the pasuk (14:37) reads, "vayamusu ha'anashim motzi'ei dibas ha'aretz ra'ah.." The men who had slandered the land died. The Torah applies a label to these ten spies – slanderers of the land, and it would certainly seem, in context, that this is given as the very reason why they were punished this awful way.

Now we must comprehend how they acquired this label. When the spies come back and deliver their report, they argue that despite the beauty and plenty of the land, they do not believe that they will be able to capture it. This point is disputed by Caleiv after which the spies go on further with their assessment of the land. It is right then, (13:32) that the Torah uses this catch phrase, or a conjugation thereof, "vayotziu dibas ha'aretz..." The Torah seems to bookmark this pasuk as the very beginning of the slander. The spies go on to wantonly refer to the land as a "land that devours its inhabitants." This very specific structure seems to imply that until this point, the spies were engaged in a legitimate debate. They were welcome to present the facts of their mission and offer their sound objective analysis. Had they not gone any further, they would not have been deserving of their terrible fate. They crossed the line when they began to distort the truth, when they offered their own misguided assessments as fact. It was this specific deceitful tactic that transformed them from spies to slanderers and made them deserving of their horrific death.
Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Dikdukian: What's Different About Efrayim? 

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Friday, June 1

This past Wednesday, 16 Sivan, was the yahrtzeit of R' Ephraim Eisenberg, zt"l of Ner Yisroel. The shtikle is dedicated l'iluy nishmaso, Ephraim Zalman ben Chayim HaLevi.

In this week's parsha we have the famous two pesukim (10:35-36) regarding the traveling and resting of the aron. The two pesukim are encapsulated by the irregular upside down nuns, thus dividing sefer Bemidbar into two parts. The exact placement of this separation is quite significant. The divided parts of Bemidbar are rather divergent periods in B'nei Yisrael's sojourn in the midbar. Until this point, everything is proceeding beautifully. B'nei Yisrael are camped as a united nation at Har Sinai. They complete the building of the mishkan and its consecration. Everything seems to be going fine. And then everything seems to go wrong. The rest of Bemidbar seems to be a drastic sequence of struggles that B'nei Yisrael face. Moshe seems constantly challenged with complaints. B'nei Yisrael are faced with the challenging episodes of the spies, Korach and Midyan. These two pesukim are the border between these two eras.

 

The first challenge is that of the mis'onenim, the complainers. The Torah does not tell us what they were complaining about but the ensuing consequences are quite clear. The site of this disaster is named Tav'eirah, after the great consuming fire. R' Chaim Kanievsky notes that in parshas Mas'ei, when all the checkpoints that B'nei Yisrael passed through are enumerated, there is no mention of Tav'eirah.

 

Ramban (11:3) posits that B'nei Yisrael did not move from there before the next challenge after which that very same place was renamed Kivros HaTa'avah which is mentioned as the first stop after Har Sinai (33:16). However, R' Chaim dismisses this suggestion based on the pasuk in parshas Eikev (Devarim 9:22) which seems to clearly refer to Tav'eirah and Kivros HaTa'avah as separate places. R' Chaim quotes from his son that the list of checkpoints in parshas Mas'ei is only a list of locations where B'nei Yisrael camped and rested. While the Torah does not tell us directly what the mis'onenim complained about, Rashi does offer some insight into the matter. He writes (11:1) that B'nei Yisrael were complaining about the discomfort of having traveled three consecutive days without resting. It therefore seems that this place was not a place where they rested at all. They were certainly traveling until the tragedy occurred and seemingly picked up and continued immediately afterward as well. Therefore, it is not listed in parshas Mas'ei.


Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com


Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:

Al Pi Cheshbon: Piles of Quail 
Dikdukian: The Impure

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 25

The Weekly Shtikle - Naso

There are a number of interesting correlations between this week's parsha and this week's haftarah. The obvious connection is that the haftara speaks of Shimshon who was a nazir and the nazir is discussed in this week's parsha. However, there are some other connections that lie beneath the surface. First, the sotah process is discussed in this week's parsha. We are taught, (according to one opinion in the gemara Sotah 26a) that a sotah who was previously childless, will become pregnant if she emerges from the sotah process alive as an innocent woman. R' Dovid Kohn explains why this is. If someone is childless, it is because there has been some decree from Shamayim that this person suffer, for whatever reason, a punishment comparable to death. However, there are other circumstances mentioned by Chazal that are comparable to death. One of them is embarrassment. If someone embarrasses another person, it is as if they are killing them (Pirkei Avos). Therefore, when the woman goes through the sotah process, she endures so much humiliation that she has served the punishment equaling death and now there is no longer a place for the decree of infertility. This concept, too, is seen in the haftara. The midrash recounts that Ivtzan (Boaz) who was the judge  at the time, had 30 sons and 30 daughters and made two banquets for each one. However, he did not invite Manoach to any of these banquets for he reasoned "He doesn't have any kids, how could he ever return the favour?" R' Dovid Kohn suggests that here too it was enduring the embarrassment of 120 banquets to which he was not invited, an embarrassment directly related to the fact that he was childless, that earned him the merit to eventually have a child.

Also, Chazal tell us that the purpose of the sotah process is to eventually instill peace between man and his wife by resolving the existing conflict. Peace is so important that HaShem has His name erased in the water for it. In the haftara we also see the importance of peace between a man and his wife. The midrash recounts that when Manoach and his wife were not able to have children, they were fighting over whose fault it was that they were not having kids. Therefore, the angel informed Manoach's wife that she was in fact the akara. R' Chaim Kanievsky writes that from here we learn a very important lesson regarding establishing peace and harmony. If you know that one party in argument is correct, it is proper to go over to the one who is wrong and inform them so that they may confess for in that way you will preserve peace. If you inform the one who was correct, you will not resolve the argument and the conflict will only continue. That is why the angel went directly to Manoach's wife rather than Manoach. The prevalence of the theme of shalom is also found in the culmination of birkas kohanim (which is actually the pasuk on which this midrash appears.)

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Dikdukian: Aleph's and Ayin's

Please visit the new portal for all Shtikle-related sites, www.weeklyshtikle.com

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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

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 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