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Friday, August 19

The Weekly Shtikle - Va'eschanan / Tu B'Av

Mazal Tov to my niece Rochel Leah (née Shonek) on her marriage to Shua Grunwald this past Monday. Mazal Tov to the extended Shonek, Bulka and Jakobovits families.

 

Today, the 15th of Av, is the yahrtzeit of my Opa, Mr. George Jakobovits.

This week's shtikle is dedicated le'iluy nishmaso, Tovia Yehudah ben Yoel, z"l.

 

The gemara (Bava Basra 121a) tells us that there have not been celebrative days in Yisrael like Tu B'Av and Yom Kippur. On the 15th of Av, the gemara explains, the punishment for the sin of the meragelim ended. Every Tish'ah B'Av, another phase of the men who were aged 20-60 at the time of the meragelim died out. On the last year, it was known by the 15th of Av that all the dying had stopped. The simple question is, what is the big celebration? If all the males from 20-60 were supposed to die, once they all died it was obvious that the dying was over. What did they find out on the 15th of Av that they did not know before? Who was it that expected to die and was now overjoyed that they remained alive?

 

The commentaries deal at length with this problem. The Brisker Rav, R' Yitzchok Ze'ev haLevi Soloveichik, offers the following answer. In parshas Shelach, when HaShem declares the decree that all males from 20-60 die within the next 40 years, we find an interesting phrase. HaShem declares that none of them will merit to see the land and then adds (Bemidbar 14:23) "and all who angered Me will not see it." What is the meaning of this phrase? The Brisker Rav quotes a passage from Midrash Rabbah stating that although it was only the 20-60-year-olds who were categorically doomed to die in the midbar, regardless of their level of participation in the sin, the 13-20-year-olds who were involved in the sin were also doomed to die. This is the meaning of the pasuk. In addition to all of the 20-60-year-olds who will not see the land, those who angered HaShem from age 13-20 will also not see it.

 

The midrash comments on the pasuk in Tehillim 95:11, referring to those who perished in the desert, "Therefore I swore in my anger that they shall not come into my resting place." HaShem swore in His anger, but when His anger subsides, the decree will be lifted and they will be allowed to enter. The Raava"d asks the obvious question. Everyone who was supposed to die in the desert did, in fact, die. No one entered Eretz Yisrael from that generation! Rather, it is referring to those in the 13-20 category. They are referred to in the pasuk in Shelach as "mena'atzai," those who angered Me. So long as they remain in this category of "angerers, " they will not enter the land. If they do teshuvah, HaShem will no longer be angry at them and they will be allowed to enter.


This, says the Brisker Rav, is the group that rejoiced on Tu B'Av. They were not certain whether they would survive and enter the land or whether they would die that year. Their status was indeed uncertain. Once Tu B'Av came along and they were still alive, they knew that they had fallen out of the category of "mena'atzai" and would be allowed to enter the land.


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
AstroTorah: 15 Av is the Wrong Date? by R' Ari Storch

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Friday, August 12

The Weekly Shtikle - Devarim / Tish'ah B'Av

Apologies for the very late shtikle.

    A number of years ago I observed an interesting nuance in the targum of two words in this week's parsha.  When Moshe is in the midst of recounting the sin of the spies (1:29), he recounts having addressed the nation's concerns with the giants they would face in an attempt to enter Eretz Yisroel. He told them, "lo sa'artzun v'lo sir'un meihem," do not dread them and do not be afraid of them. The targum on "lo sa'artzun" is "lo sitab'run." Only thirteen pesukim later, we read about HaShem's having told Moshe to warn the "ma'pilim" not to try to conquer the land prematurely as HaShem would not support such an initiative. They are told not to go up and not to wage war "velo tinagfu lifnei oyeveichem," lest you be smitten before your enemies. The targum of "velo tinagfu" is "velo sitab'run," the exact same targum as that of "lo sa'artzun." There must be some significance to this.

 

    B'nei Yisrael were living in a time of unprecedented and unmatched Divine Providence. Their success or failure in all on national and personal levels were dependent directly upon their level of emunah. Although I do not have a concordance at my fingertips, I am not aware of any other instances of the root of "lo sa'artzun." The words "lo sitab'run," literally translated back from Aramaic, means "you shall not be broken." When the dor dei'ah were given a promise that they would defeat their enemy, it was demanded of them to have absolute faith and belief in that promise. Even the slightest doubt, the slightest fear of the enemy, was indicative of a breakdown of that belief. This breaking of the spirit, the lack of "lo sa'artzun," bore automatic consequences of  "tinagfu," military breakdown. Fear and defeat were a cause and effect so tightly bound that the targum deemed them synonymous.

 

    As parshas Devarim is always read on the Shabbos before Tish'ah B'Av, and indeed this year on the Ninth of Av itself, I was searching for a possible connection between this idea and the themes of Tish'ah B'Av. I was reading "Tear Drenched Nights," a book by R' Moshe Eisemann of Ner Yisroel which explores the profound and tragic effect that the sin of the spies had on our history, particularly the destruction of the two temples. In Chapter 7 he discusses one of the roots of the sin, that the spies lacked a belief in themselves. The moment they began to doubt the absolute promise that they would enter the land and conquer it no matter what the circumstances, everything came undone. This, the root of the tragic sin of the spies and thus, the root of generations upon generations of suffering in exile, is directly connected to the above idea.

 

    As we all strive to correct the sin of the spies in full faith in the "geulah ha'asidah," may we merit to see this month turned "miyagon lesimchah umei'eivel leyom tov!"

 

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Dikdukian: Don't you worry!
Dikdukian: Past and Future

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Friday, August 5

Fwd: The Weekly Shtikle - Matos / Mas'ei

Some time after the victorious military campaign against Midyan, (31:25-47), all of the booty - humans and animals - is counted and divided in two. One half is designated for the soldiers who fought the war and the other half is for the rest of B'nei Yisrael. Of the half that went to the soldiers, one out of 500 was to be given to Elazar. Of the half that went to the rest of the nation, one out of 50 was given to the Levi'im.

 

There are a number of puzzling nuances in this chapter. First the totals of the sheep, cattle, donkeys and humans are tallied. Then the halves to the soldiers are counted as well as Elazar's portion. The halves to the rest of the nation, although exactly the same as the halves to the soldiers are also counted. It is recounted that Moshe distributed the portion for the Levi'im but no count is given. Lastly, Elazar's portion is said to be "from the humans, from the cattle, from the donkeys and from the sheep." The same phrase is repeated with regards to the portion of the Levi'im but the words "mikol habeheimah," from all of the animals, is added.


Netzi"v in Ha'amek Davar suggests that "mikol habeheimah" includes other species of animals that were brought back that were fewer in number. Since they were fewer than 1000, there would not have been enough to give Elazar even one. Therefore, this phrase is left out of the command of Elazar's portion and these animals' numbers are not significant enough for the Torah to recount.

 

A fascinating approach is offered in the name of R' Shlomoh HaKohein of Vilna. Elazar's portion is referred to in the pasuk (29) as a "terumah laShem." One of the laws of terumah is that one may not separate from one species as terumah for another. Therefore, Elazar's portion was required to be one out of every 500 of each animal. However, this was not a requirement with the portion of the Levi'im and it was sufficient to give them 1/50 of all the animals combined. That is the meaning of "mikol habeheima." The Levi'im were given 1/50 of all the animals. And that is why the Torah does not go into any detail concerning the division for it was not exact.


Have a good Shabbos and Chodesh Tov.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Dikdukian: To Correct, or not to Correct

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

Friday, July 29

The Weekly Shtikle - Pinechas

Throughout chumash, we find examples of gratitude and compassion some of which are rather surprising. The most significant that come to mind are Moshe's not smiting the ground or the water which facilitated his survival and our instruction not to show undue hostility towards the Egyptian because we were "guests" in their land. At the beginning of this week's parsha, Moshe is commanded regarding the eventual destruction of the nation of Midyan for their role in seducing the nation towards the worship of Ba'al Pe'or and the illicit encounter involving Kuzbi. But Midyan was the nation that provided a place of refuge for Moshe when he fled Egypt. He spent a number of formidable years in Midyan and it is not inconceivable to suggest he enjoyed some form of protection and immunity from the crime he had committed back home. Why, then, are the Midyanites not afforded some degree of consideration when facing their Divinely commanded retribution.

I found that the Tur, quoted in Shaarei Aharon, does touch on this point. First, Rashi explains that the commandment of "tzaror" denotes not a directive for a singular campaign but a constant and present enmity towards Midyan for what they had done. Tur understands that there are two distinct commandments. Tazror is in the singular and directed at Moshe specifically for he very well have been the target of the Midyanite plot as the midrash recounts that Kuzbi was instructed to attempt to seduce the greatest among them. The subsequent commandment of "vehikisem osam," referring to the ultimate destruction of the Midyanites was specifically stated in the plural, not directly to Moshe, because he grew up in Midyan.

Malbim writes the justification of the commandment given here actually refers to three separate aspects justifying the defeat of Midyan. "Ki tzorerim heim lachem" refers to the present. "Asher nikelu lachem" in the past tense refers to the plot they devised. "Ve'al devar Kuzbi" is indicative of a current plan to exact revenge on B'nei Yisrael for the killing of Kuzbi. With this analysis, the military campaign against Midyan was not simply a war of revenge and retaliation. The nation of Midyan was still plotting further attacks and constituted a clear and present danger. Perhaps for that reason there was no room for a compassionate allowance.

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


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Friday, July 22

The Weekly Shtikle - Balak

This past Thursday, 15 Tammuz, was the yahrzeit of my wife's grandmother, Mrs. Shirley Yeres, Chaya Sheindel bas Alexander.

The previous day was the yahrzeit of R' Yaakov Yitzchack Ruderman, zt"l, the first Rosh HaYeshivah of Yeshivas Ner Yisroel. 

Shabbos, 17 Tammuz, is the yahrzeit of R' Shmuel Yaakov Weinberg, zt"l, Rosh HaYeshiva of Ner Yisroel.

The shtikle is dedicated le'iluy nishmasam.

 

When inquired as to the identity of his visitors, Bilam responds (22:10) "Balak ben Tzipor, the king of Moav sent them to me." Rashi delves into the motivation behind Bilam's statement. His intent was, "even though I am not dignified in Your eyes, I am dignified in the eyes of kings." R' Ruderman, zt"l, points out that is a perplexingly ridiculous statement for Bilam to make. Why should it matter one bit to HaShem what the kings think of Bilam? What could he possibly have intended to accomplish with this?

 

The Rosh HaYeshivah answers that Bilam's intention was to incriminate Bnei Yisrael. His claim was as follows: "HaShem, You know that I am really not significant whatsoever. Nevertheless, I am significant in the eyes of kings. However, even though Moshe is held so highly in Your eyes, he is so gravely mistreated by Bnei Yisrael!" Therefore, when HaShem finally lets Bilam go along to Moav, he instructs Bilam (22:20) "go with them, but only do that which I tell you to do". This is meant as a rebuttal of his charge against B'nei Yisrael. "The reason why you are revered by kings is because you tell them what they want to hear. Moshe tells Bnei Yisrael what I tell him to say. That is why his popularity is not always so high. Now you go to the kings and tell them what I tell you, and see how they treat you now." Sure enough, this proved to be quite a lesson for Bilam.

 

This theme sees particularly apropos as we are now in the thick of this year's elections season (here in the US) where so much of any candidate's popularity seems to be based so much less on actual truths and more on what he or she says that the people want to hear.


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

Friday, July 15

The Weekly Shtikle - Chukas

Today, 9 Teves, is the first yahrtzeit of my sister-in-law, Batsheva Yeres. The shtikle is dedicated le'iluy nishmasah, Batsheva Blima, a"h bas HaRav Moshe Yosef HaLevi, ybl"t.

I was trying to find a theme from the parsha appropriate to the day. Indeed, the parsha is filled with much sorrow with the death of both Miriam and Aharon and the profound impact those two losses had on B'nei Yisrael. However, there is another very positive theme that is found as the parsha progresses and continues for the rest of the sefer. After the episode of the spies, the dream of entering Eretz Yisrael fades away from the nation, for the most part. It seems to get even worse at the beginning of this week's parsah with Moshe and Aharon also being informed that they too will not enter the land. But finally, we read about the sweeping defeat of Sichon and Og. The nation moves ever closer towards the land that will soon be theirs and the conquest of Eretz Yisrael has begun. We will soon read about the boundaries and specific pieces of land that each tribe will inherit as well as other items specifically pertaining to the nation's inhabitance of the land. The topic of this week's haftarah as well is Yiftach standing up for the defense of the land and defending every inch of its borders.

This was definitely one of the many things that stood out about Batsheva. Her love of Eretz Yisrael brought her to make aliyah despite the many challenges and hurdles involved. She was also known to capitalize on even the slightest opportunity to convince people to do the same. Even though in Eretz Yisrael they are actually up to Balak, the timing is nevertheless fitting.  

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Dikdukian: It wasn't thrown

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 8

The Weekly Shtikle - Korach / Bar Mitzvah Edition

Here is Efrayim's pshetl in text form, followed by the pre-recorded video that was shown at the Bar Mitzvah:
 



Here are a few of my own thoughts, expressed during the speeches at the Bar Mitzvah:

I was debating how much attention to draw to the fact that the Bar Mitzvah was on July 4th. Indeed, the way the calendar works, it is not often that Independence Day falls out in the week of parshas Korach. The last time it happened was actually the year Efrayim was born. The midsrash recounts that Korach approached Moshe with two quandaries – does a garment made completely of techeiles  require tzitzis and does a house full of seforim require a mezuzah. Moshe answered in the affirmative on both counts, to the objection of Korach. R' Nosson Adler explains that these were not random cases Korach brought to Moshe to start up. They were very much in line with the theme of the argument he expressed in the pesukim – "ki chol ha'eidah kulam kedoshim." If we are a nation of holy people, is there any need for one man to lord over us? I have always felt that this exchange can be understood, on some level, to be a debate on the place of democracy in the society of the dor hamidbar and perhaps in Judaism in general.
I once heard Benjamin Netanyahu quote a profound thought from Winston Churchill regarding democracy. "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others." Indeed, as the Rav of our shul often points out, we enjoy today a level of religious freedom and flourishing of limud haTorah and shemiras haMitzvos which perhaps we haven't seen since the first beis haMikdash. The advancement of the principles of democracy have certainly played a significant role in allowing this growth. However, at the same time, the ideas behind democracy have also given rise to a unique set of challenges we as Jews have not encountered in previous generations. We have seen society corrupted to a degree that not only can people say and do whatever they feel, they claim a right to be acknowledged and celebrated for it. There are times – especially considering recent events here in Baltimore – where one really starts to wonder if certain citizens believe they have a constitutional right to break the law. Independence Day coinciding with Korach provides a unique opportunity to reflect on both the positives and negatives that American democracy has brought upon us.
In truth, the ideas of independence – in contrast to those of freedom – are also very much apropos to a Bar Mitzvah. Independence doesn't simply mean that one is free to do what they want but also that they now must take full responsibility for those decisions. American independence meant that the nation was now free to govern themselves as a sovereign nation but with that was the reality that they could no longer blame the British for slavery or civil war and the like. A Bar Mitzvah as well now gain the freedom to make some of his own decisions. It is our hope and our tefillah that our Bar Mitzvah, Efrayim, learn to make these choices wisely as he becomes a man a true ben Torah.

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