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Friday, July 19

The Weekly Shtikle - Balak

This past Thursday, 15 Tammuz, was the 16th yahrzeit of my wife's grandmother, Mrs. Shirley Yeres, Chaya Sheindel bas Alexander HaLevi.

The previous day was the 32nd yahrzeit of R' Yaakov Yitzchack Ruderman, zt"l, the first Rosh HaYeshivah of Yeshivas Ner Yisroel. 

Shabbos, 17 Tammuz, is the 20th yahrzeit of R' Shmuel Yaakov Weinberg, zt"l, Rosh HaYeshiva of Ner Yisroel.

The shtikle is dedicated le'iluy nishmasam.

 

At the beginning of this week's parsha, we find that Moav is frightened of B'nei Yisrael because of what they did to Sichon. Many are bothered by the fact that B'nei Yisrael are commanded not to wage war with Moav. So they need not have worried. However, it is unclear to me how exactly Moav would have known that. But I was once asked a more intriguing question concerning Balak's entire approach to B'nei Yisrael. Sichon met his demise only because he started up with B'nei Yisrael. B'nei Yisrael clearly had no intentions of war with Sichon and he was the one who came out and attacked. As long as Balak avoids a confrontation, what does he have to be afraid of? If he simply leaves B'nei Yisrael alone, his country is in no danger whatsoever.

 

Perhaps what frightened Moav was that they observed that as soon as B'nei Yisrael requested a passage through Sichon's land, that is when everything started to fall apart for him. Indeed, Sichon started the war, but what was he supposed to do? How is a country supposed to see such a request as a friendly gesture? The way Balak saw it, as soon as B'nei Yisrael asks for permission to go through the land, it means trouble. Now, in the parsha we are not told that any such request was sent to Moav. However, in the haftara of Chukas (Shoftim 11:17) we find that messengers were sent to Moav as well with the same request. Perhaps the episode of Balak happened after these messengers were sent and that is why he became frightened. When Balak saw his nation following the same course of events as that of Sichon, he felt threatened and saw fit to take preemptive action.

 

However, there is a much simpler approach to Balak's actions which teaches a great lesson. Perhaps Balak was simply misinformed and misguided. B'nei Yisrael's trouncing of Sichon's army had them looking like the aggressors at the end of the day. B'nei Yisrael began to be looked upon as a force of terror ripping through the region. Balak was not aware, or did not allow himself to be aware that B'nei Yisrael had no intentions of any involvement with him whatsoever. This whole parsha is therefore a clear example of ma'aseh avos siman labanim, a harbinger of events to follow for many generations. Throughout history, Jews have always been vilified on false pretenses. But in our days it is most glaringly evident. After the Holocaust there was an atmosphere of pity for the Jewish people and the State of Israel was a direct outgrowth thereof. But that only lasted for a fleeting moment. Israel has been blessed by HaShem with the strongest and most successful of armies. With the Divine gift of power and might, they have crushed their enemies to bitter defeat. But suddenly, we are looked upon as aggressors. Each war was a defensive battle but yet, we are looked upon as instigators and subsequently, occupiers. In sweeping, defensive attacks against terrorists, we are seen as terrorists ourselves. The incidence of misguided public opinion is far too great and far too obvious to even bother enumerating examples.  As we see in our parsha, this is old news. As the generations pass it seems evident that the Jews will always be misunderstood and misjudged in the public eye. It is something we will just have to live with.

 

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:

Al Pi Cheshbon: Counting the Judges


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Friday, July 12

The Weekly Shtikle - Chukas

Today, 9 Tammuz, is the 4th 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.

 

Towards the end of this week's parsha, B'nei Yisrael are confronted by Sichon and his mighty army (21:1-3). B'nei Yisrael made a vow to HaShem. The vow itself is cause for discussion in and of itself. In the end, HaShem delivered them and they defeated the Canaanites and destroyed their cities. They then named the place of their battle Charmah, destruction.

 

Charmah - that should sound familiar. Only two parshios ago, a small group from B'nei Yisrael rose up and charged towards Eretz Yisrael in an attempt to vindicate themselves for the sin of the spies which had doomed them to 40 years in the desert. As we know (14:45) They were quickly wiped out by the Amalekites and Canaanites who dwelt on the mountain and were beaten unto HaCharmah. Rashi comments that the place was named for the events that transpired there, namely the destruction of that group from B'nei Yisrael. Being that the battle site in this week's parsha was named on the spot, it is safe to assume that these were not the same place.

 

I believe the identical names given to these places is surely no coincidence. The Charmah of Shelach was named for a tragic destruction of a group of over-zealous fighters. More importantly, it symbolized that HaShem had put His final stamp on the 40-year decree. It became clear that no act of repentance could possibly overturn the decree. The aron stayed put and did not go out to accompany the fighters, thus devoiding them of Divine protection. This defeat brought home the reality of B'nei Yisrael's failure.

 

It was now many years later. Most of B'nei Yisrael was now made up of those who would merit to enter Eretz Yisrael. This was the first battle that B'nei Yisrael would fight since that fateful defeat at the hands of Amaleik and Canaan. It did not get off to a good start, either. But B'nei Yisrael endured with prayer and devotion and through their prayers HaShem led them to victory over their adversaries. This battle symbolized the turnaround from the previous generation. The dramatic defeat of decades ago made the clear statement to their forebearers that they would not enter Eretz Yisrael. Contrarily, this dramatic victory over Sichon indicated that the conquest of Eretz Yisrael had begun. To accentuate this turnaround, they named the site of this great battle the very same name as the site of the previous battle. The name of the site where B'nei Yisrael were once smitten by the Amalekites and Canaanites was now the very same name of the place where they devastated Sichon and his army on their way to entering Eretz Yisrael.

 

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:

Dikdukian: It wasn't thrown


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Friday, July 5

The Weekly Shtikle - Korach

One of the more intriguing challenges in understanding the uprising led by Korach is putting a finger on exactly what Korach's main complaint was. What was he objecting to and what did he seek to gain? The words of Korach himself don't provide very much detail but one of Moshe's response is more telling. (16:10) "HaShem has brought you and your bretheren, the sons of Levi, closer and now you also want kehunah." It appears Korach desired to be a kohein as well.

 

However, Rashi (16:1) provides his own assessment of Korach's raison d'être. He was jealous of the appointment of Elitzaphan ben Uziel as the nasi of the children of Kehas. Korach staked a claim based on his father, Yitzhar, being older than Uziel. This, of course, begs the question: which one was it?

 

Gur Aryeh offers a reconciliation of Rashi's words and what Moshe later says to Korach. It was really the appointment of Elitzaphan that was fueling Korach's revolt. However, his confrontation with Moshe could not survive without a significant following. He needed to bring a large group behind him in order to be able to make a convincing argument. If his platform was nothing but objecting to the appointment of Elitzaphan, it would have been seen as a completely selfish endeavor. He could not possibly gather a following. So, he made the movement about "the people," the Levite people, at least. His campaign to oppose Moshe therefore became about the kehunah so that he could build a following of men who – at least as far as they were aware – shared his goals.

 

Perhaps another understanding can be offered. When Korach's confrontation with Moshe came to be, it was, in fact, about the kehunah. Rashi is not coming to explain what the final showdown was about but rather, how it came to be. What was it that fueled Korach to begin with? It wasn't as big the kehunah. Korach was upset about the appointment of Elitzaphan which, itself, might not have created such a significant kerfuffle. But, as jealousy tends to do, Korach's feelings got the most of him and led him to object to Moshe's leadership on a much grander scale.

 

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 28

The Weekly Shtikle - Shelach

In the end of the parsha we have the episode of the mekosheish eitzim, the one who gathered wood on Shabbos who was given the death penalty for transgression of Shabbos. Targum Yonasan writes that the mekosheish acted with good intentions. Until that time it was only known that a transgressor of Shabbos is given death but it was not known which of the four forms of capital punishment were to be administered. The mekosheish transgressed the Shabbos in order to expose to the true halachah.

Maharsha (Bava Basra 119a) asks how he could take such drastic measures as to transgress Shabbos just to teach this halachah. He answers that in truth, since he performed the act with the sole intention of fining out the halachah, it is considered a melachah she'eina tzricha le'gufa, a work that is not needed for its principal purpose for which one is not liable. For example, if one digs a ditch because he needs the dirt, he is not liable for digging a ditch because he did not need the ditch. So too here, the mokosheish's purpose had nothing to do with the actual melachah. However, since he did not inform the witnesses, he was liable for the death penalty. However, min haShamayim, he did not transgress Shabbos.

**********

The sentence given to the mekosheish was sekilah, stoning. The mishnah (Sanhedrin 45a) discusses the sekilah procedure. One of the witnesses pushes the offender of a cliff and if he does not die from that, they throw a large rock on him. If he still doesn't die, then everyone stones him until he dies. The gemara (45b) presents a conflict, quoting a beraysa which states that it never occurred that they actually reached the third step of the entire nation throwing stones. The gemara answers that the mishnah was indeed not telling us that it happened but rather that if it were to come to that, that would be the procedure. However, it seems to state clearly in the parsha (15:36) that the entire nation stoned him. How are we to interpret the beraysa or the pasuk?

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 21

The Weekly Shtikle - Beha'alosecha

This past Wednesday, 16 Sivan, was the 17th yahrtzeit of R' Ephraim Eisenberg, zt"l of Ner Yisroel. The shtikle is dedicated l'iluy nishmaso, Ephraim Zalman ben Chayim HaLevi.

 

One of the numerous topics discussed in this week's parsha is the commandment to make two silver trumpets to be used under specific circumstances. The Torah decrees that the trumpets are to be blown at times of war so that we may be remembered before HaShem and we may be saved from our enemies. The pasuk begins with a puzzling wording, (10:9) "Vechi savo'u milchamah be'artzechem..." The word milchamah is singular but tavo'u is a plural verb, thus making the exact translation of this pasuk unclear.

 

According to Targum Onkelos, the pasuk is read as if it were written "Vechi savo'u lemilchamah," when you come to [wage] war. The Sifrei (Beha'alosecha 76) states very simply, based on this pasuk, that the trumpets are to be blown whether you are waging war on your enemy or your enemy is attacking you. Eimek HaNetziv suggests that it is the grammatical incongruity of the pasuk that is the reasoning behind the midrash. Because it is unclear whether the pasuk is talking about B'nei Yisrael waging war or war being waged, we may understand that it is referring to both.

 

Sha'arei Aharon points out, however, that according to Rambam (Hilchos Ta'aniyos 2) it is clear that this does not include a milchemes reshus, voluntary war. Therefore, when the Sifrei includes B'nei Yisrael waging war on its enemies, it refers only to milchemes mitzvah, a Divinely sanctioned war. Rambam defines this elsewhere (Hilchos Melachim 5:1) as the wars against the seven nations, Amaleik and any act of defence. [This definition has some pretty serious implications. According to this, it would seem that any military or political move which clearly undermines the efforts of national security and defence may in fact be a transgression of failure to engage in "milchemes mitzvah."]

 

Rav Hirsch makes an insightful observation in support of the above interpretation. The Torah, in reference to war, will sometimes use the verb tavo, but at times it uses the word teitzei. The word teitzei, to go out, implies a voluntary act of going out to war and thus, it is used in reference to an uncommanded war. The word tavo, indicating the coming to or coming of war, implies a more passive acceptance of the realities and necessities of war. Therefore, it is used, as it is here, in reference to a milchemes mitzvah, which is carried out only by Divine decree.

 

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, June 7

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 holiday of Shavuos has a unique name. All of the other holidays that adorn our calendar are aptly named for something to do with the chag itself. We sit in sukkos on Sukkos, for example. Rosh HaShanah is the beginning of the year. Our upcoming chag, however, is not called Chag HaTorah, not even Chag HaCheesecake. Rather, it is called Shavuos, referring to the weeks that proceed it. Why is this chag so differently named.

 

It would seem that the naming of Shavuos is meant to send us a message. We are not meant to view the time between Pesach and Shavuos as a mere lead-up to Shavuos. Rather, these days are an integral part of the chag itself. B'nei Yisrael could not have merited being given the Torah if they had not gone through the seven-week period of spiritual cleansing. Likewise, we must use this period as a preparation for Shavuos just as they did. The preparation is the essence of the chag. Indeed, Nachalas Yaakov writes that the reason why there is no chol hamoeid for Shavuos is because Shavuos is connected to Pesach as one unit and the period of sefiras ha'omer is the chol hamoeid between the two.

 

On that note, I heard a wonderful thought from my cousin, Dr. Yoel Jakobovits. Indeed, the name "sefiras ha'omer " is rather strange. We are not counting the omer. We are counting from the bringing of the omer. But so what? Why is that the defining characteristic? Would it not have been more appropriate to call it something simpler yet more succinct like "sefiras hayamim?"

 

HaKesav veHaKabbalah offers a fascinating insight into this name. In the episode of the yefas to'ar (Devarim 21:14), if the woman is no longer desired, she is sent away. The pasuk says, "lo sis'ameir bah," you shall not enslave her. Rashi comments that imra'ah is a Persian word denoting servitude and utilization. This is the same root as omer. Sefiras ha'omer, therefore, is not meant just to remind us of the korban omer. Rather, it is the period which leads up to Shavuos, when we established our ultimate servitude to HaShem and His Torah. Each year, we devote seven weeks towards the reaffirming of that servitude. This understanding gives much more meaning to sefiras ha'omer and what it is meant to accomplish.

 

Another interesting perspective is offered by Ohr HaChayim HaKadosh – not on the word omer but on the word usfartem. He references the midrash that identifies the stone that the luchos were crafted from as sanperinun, possibly sapphire. The period of sefira is a cleansing process to wipe of the filth that had gathered through our time in Mitzrayim, or in our time, a time to work on our middos and prepare for matan torah by which time we will hopefully regain our luster like the sapphire stone.

 

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

 

Friday, May 31

The Weekly Shtikle - Bechukosai

A very special Weekly Shtikle mazal tov to our dear daughter, Shaindy, who will be celebrating her Bas Mitzvah this Sunday.

 

This past Tuesday was the 9th 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 18th yahrtzeit of my mother, a"h. The shtikle is dedicated le'iluy nishmasah, Tzirel Nechamah bas Tovia Yehudah.

 

In the beginning of the parsha, we are promised that if we follow HaShem's laws, we will receive great reward. Among those promised is the great blessing of peace. "Venasati shalom ba'aretz." (26:6) This peace requires definition. It would seem that the Torah then proceeds to explain the nature of this peace. "Ush'chavtem v'ein macharid..." you shall rest and none shall be fearful. The next pasuk reads "ur'daftem es oyveichem, venaflu lifneichem becharev," You will chase your enemies and they will fall in front of you by the sword. This seems, at first glance, to be the exact antithesis of peace. Is the Torah not promising peace then describing victory through war? I believe the message that the Torah is teaching here is that true peace is not living with your enemies but rather, living without your enemies. Surely, this is not meant to advocate the wholesale murder of our enemies for the sake of peace. But I do believe it offers deep insight into the Torah definition of peace and when we should feel that we have achieved it.

 

The world at large, particularly those who lean to the left (and I'm not talking about the seder night,) seems unable to accept this idea and insists on forcing us to allow our enemies to live among us. Perhaps this definition of peace is something specific to the Jewish people. Bil'am proclaimed (Bamidbar 23:8) "They are a nation that dwells in solitude and does not consider itself among the nations." Our ultimate goal is to be a nation of solitude. To allow other nations to dwell in our midst is antithetical to our purpose and thus, cannot be an ingredient in the Jewish definition of peace.

 

A couple of excerpts from Tanach illustrate this point. In the episode involving Dinah and Shechem (Bereishis 34) the sons of Yaakov offer a plan in which they would live among the people of Shechem. When Shechem and his father return to their city, they proclaim (pasuk 21) "Ha'anashim haeileh 'sheleimim' heim itanu." This proposal is misconstrued as a bid for peace. But the words of the sons of Yaakov, when examined closely, contain no mention of any word connected with peace. What the Shechemites perceived as peace, the sons of Yaakov considered no peace at all.

 

The essence of the peace treaty between Yitzchak and Avimelech (Bereishis 26:28-31) was a separation of one from the other such that one does not infringe on the other's property.

 

The King of Ammon tries to broker an agreement with Yiftach HaGil'adi to return the land that was conquered by B'nei Yisrael before crossing over to Eretz Yisrael. He appeals to Yiftach to return it "in peace." This is precursor to the modern-day concept of "land for peace." Fortunately, Yiftach was not as naïve as some of the leaders of our day and knew that this would be no peace at all and refused the request.

 

We are commanded (Devarim 20:10-12) to open with an offer of peace before waging war on a city. However, the ensuing pesukim reveal that this peace entails the subordination of the city to our rule, effectively eliminating it as an enemy. The only alternative is war.

 

Indeed, the term "shalom" is often associated with only one party. Shalom does not need to be between two entities. On its highest levels, it is experienced within one cohesive unit, exclusive of any external interconnection. Even when we refer to shalom bein ish le'ishto, peace between a man and his wife, or the more commonly used term, shelom bayis, we are speaking ideally not of a peace between two separate entities but the peace of the home functioning as one singular entity. This is the shalom that we are promised here, a peace to be experienced in solitude. May it come speedily in our day.

 

!חזק, חזק, ונתחזק

 

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:

Dikdukian: Qualification of the AHOY rule
Al Pi Cheshbon: An Ironic Observation

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