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Friday, October 19

The Weekly Shtikle - Lech Lecha

After leaving Mitzrayim and returning to Eretz C'na'an, the shepherds of Lot and Avraham engage in a dispute as the land they were occupying was not vast enough to accommodate all of them. The pasuk recounts (13:7) that there was a riv between the shepherds. When Avraham attempts to settle the dispute with Lot, he beseeches him, "Al na sehi merivah beini uveinecha." Avraham uses the word merivah, rather than riv, to refer to the dispute. Malbim explains that riv refers to the actual act of dispute, while merivah refers to the factors that caused the dispute. Avraham was indicating to Lot the cause for the friction between the shepherds. The country was surely large enough for both of them to settle peacefully. However, this was only possible if they would separate. It was due to their brotherly relationship, being anashim achim, that they had chosen to travel together. But their togetherness was the root of their difficulties. Therefore, Avraham had to explain to Lot that it was time for them to split up.

SHEL"AH offers an interesting approach to the change in wording. He interprets merivah simply as the feminine form of riv. The female, as opposed to the male, is the species that produces offspring. A riv therefore symbolizes a minor disagreement, while merivah implies a festering dispute, with the potential to spawn a more serious altercation. Avraham was warning Lot, while the dispute was still in its minor stage of riv, that something must be done before it develops into something more grave.

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
AstroTorah: The Uncountable Stars

Dikdukian: King #5

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Friday, October 12

The Weekly Shtikle - Noach

The first pasuk of this week's parsha declares Noach an ish tzaddik tamim, a man of complete righteousness. Later on, however, when HaShem is speaking with Noach, (7:1) He says to him "for I have seen you as righteous before me..." The word tamim is left out. Rashi teaches us from this discrepancy that one should only give partial praise of an individual in his presence. His complete praise may only be expressed when he is not present.


R' Chaim Kanievsky makes a simple, yet important clarification of this concept. One should not mistakenly understand this to mean that half the praise should be given in the presence of the praisee. If this were the case, the praisee need only multiply the praise by two to know what people really think of him. This would be the antithesis of what this practice is meant to accomplish. Rather, the term miktzas, partial, refers to any fraction. Therefore, when one hears his own praise he is not completely sure what to make of it. It could indeed be half of his praise in which case the full praise would be double. However, the praiser might very well be giving 99% of the man's praise. And so, he is unsure.


On that note, it occurred to me that Noach, although it is said that he learned Torah, never saw the finished product. Whatever is written in the Torah about him was without his knowledge. Moshe Rabbeinu, however, wrote the entire Torah. Anything that is written about him (perhaps with the exception of the last eight pesukim) was with his full awareness. Therefore, we must conclude that even the great praise of Moshe Rabbeinu that we find in the Torah is only a portion of the praise he is due.


However, this approach might be refuted by Rashi at the end of Beha'alosecha (Bemidbar 12:5.) He states that Aharon and Miriam were separated from Moshe to receive HaShem's rebuke in order that Moshe not be present to hear all of his praises. Yet, that rebuke is recorded in the Torah. The only way my theory survives is if we suggest that even what is recorded in the Torah is not the full extent of what HaShem said to Aharon and Miriam. 




On the lighter side (since, as illustrated below, the teiva was quite heavy): A good friend of mine and noted author, Mordechai Bodek, wrote a homourous book called Extracts From Noah's Diary. Every year since, I have forgotten to insert a plug for the book. This year (with his help,) I finally remembered.

Have a good Shabbos and Chodesh Tov.

Eliezer Bulka

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Al Pi Cheshbon: The Weight of the Teiva and The Constant Rate of Recession 
AstroTorah: Sailing the Friendly Skies by R' Ari Storch
AstroTorah: The World's First Boat?
Dikdukian: Noach's Three Sons

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Friday, October 5

The Weekly Shtikle - Bereishis

This coming Sunday, 28 Tishrei, is the yahrtzeit of my dear friend, Daniel Scarowsky, z"l.

This week's shtikle is dedicated leiluy nishmaso, Daniel Moshe Eliyahu ben Yitzchak.


On the second day of creation, HaShem declares that there should be a firmament amidst the waters that shall divide between the waters. The next pasuk (7) describes that HaShem did so and ends with "vayhi chein," and it was so. Four other pesukim dealing with the creation end with the very same words. However, this one is decidedly different. The other four are pesukim dealing with a declaration of HaShem. The pasuk tells nothing of HaShem actually performing the said tasks. The words "vayhi chein" are therefore needed to inform that it was done. However, here the pasuk details the actual task as it was performed. Why then is it necessary to reiterate that it was so?

Or HaChayim answers simply that these words refer back to the previous pasuk. After detailing the performing of the steps of creation declared in the previous pasuk, it is evident that it was so.

However, Ramban and the GR"A suggest that this phrase is teaching us something extra. With regards to the firmament and the splitting of the waters, the seemingly superfluous "vayhi chein" is not teaching us that it was then but rather that so it was and so it will always be. This step of creation had a certain eternal permanence to it as indicated by these words.

Perhaps we can build upon the answer of the Or HaChayim which, at first, seemed overly simplistic. While this instance of "vayhi chein" is different, it is also the first of the five. Perhaps here it is acting as a paradigm. It is quite clear that everything HaShem declared to be done in pasuk 6 was in fact performed in pasuk 7 - no more, no less. This then becomes the definition of "vayhi chein." From here we understand that with every other step of creation, any time we see the words "vayhi chein," it carries with it the same precision and exactness as it did on day two. (Pasuk 11 and Rashi's commentary seem to contradict this approach. However, I did see an explanation from R' Ovadia miBartenura which would reconcile the two.)

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Dikdukian: And the Days Was
AstroTorah: The Two Luminaries

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Sunday, September 30

The Weekly Shtikle - Shemini Atzeres

The hoshanos ritual which is performed daily on Sukkos ends with a passage from Shelomoh HaMelech's prayer upon the completion of the beis hamikdash: (Melachim I 8:59-60) "May these words of mine, which I have suplicated before HaShem, be near to HaShem, our God, by day and by night; that He bring about justice for His servant and justice for His people, Israel, each day's need on its day..." On Shemini Atzeres, when we no longer perform the hoshanos ritual, this passage appears once again in the haftarah.

There are some obvious and practical reasons for the inclusion of this passage but I would like to suggest another. The mishnah (Rosh HaShanah 16a) states the virtually obvious, that we are all judged on Rosh HaShanah. However, the opinion of R' Yose in the gemara is that we are in fact judged every day. The pasuk which the gemara eventually determines is R' Yose's source, is the above quoted pasuk from Melachim.

The final seal of the judgement of Yom Kippur is said to stretch until Hoshana Rabba. As the intensity of the yemei hadin wanes, one might tend to feel that the judgement is "over." One might feel that we will not be judged again until the next Tishrei. This is certainly not the mindset with which we want to be leaving the great month of Tishrei. The repetition of this pasuk throughout Sukkos, and then one last time on Shemini Atzeres, drives home the message that Divine judgement is not something reserved only for Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur but something we must be constantly aware of on a daily basis.

Have a good Yom Tov.

Eliezer Bulka

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Dikdukian: Do you sea what I sea
Dikdukian: Come on, people!

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Sunday, September 23

The Weekly Shtikle - Sukkos

Unfortunately, the forecast is indicating a very wet beginning to Sukkos in this part of the world, making the following shtikle most apropos:

As we make the move out of our house and into the sukkah to spend all of our meals and for many, our nights as well, one of our principal fears is the threat of rain. Excessive precipitation negates the mitzvah of sukkah and forces us back into our homes. It is for this reason that we delay the commencing of the "mashiv haruach umorid hagashem" prayer until after Sukkos (whereas the "morid hatal" prayer is initiated at the beginning of Pesach). The mishnah (Sukkah 28b) relates the following parable: "To what is this comparable (rainfall on Sukkos)? To a servant who came to dilute his master's wine and the master spilled out the pitcher in front of him."

The GR"A offers a fascinating insight into this parable. The month of Tishrei begins with Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur which are days of judgement. The chag of Sukkos is given to us immediately following as a gesture of mercy by means of the numerous mitzvos we are given to increase our merits and get the year off to a good start. The concept of strict judgement is symbolized by the sharp wine which, in earlier days, needed to be diluted before drinking. We, the servants, wish to dilute the strict judgement of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur with mercy by means of the numerous mitzvos we perform. By bringing down rain, HaShem, the Master, shows that (Heaven forbid) He does not desire this modification of judgement and rejects the dilution. He therefore spills the pitcher of water (not of wine) in front of the servant to show that He does not wish for the wine to be diluted.

Let us hope that we can all avoid the rain and the negative implications thereof as much as possible over Sukkos.

Have a good Yom Tov

Eliezer Bulka

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:

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Tuesday, September 18

The Weekly Shtikle - Yonah and Yom Kippur

Yonah and Yom Kippur

Every Yom Kippur for the haftarah at minchah, we read sefer Yonah. As is the case with any haftarah, there are specific reasons why this haftarah is chosen. The following is a list of significant connections between Yonah and Yom Kippur which I heard many years ago in a chaburah from R' Elie Wolf, who has since written an entire set of seforim on haftaros:

1. Teshuvah

Ba'eir Heiteiv in the name of Levush writes the most obvious connection. The story of Nineveh's doing teshuvah is meant to inspire us to do teshuvah on Yom Kippur. Radak and Me'iri add that sefer Yonah shows us that even gentiles can do teshuvah. This should serve to convince us that surely teshuvah is within our reach. Pirkei d'Rabi Eliezer also writes that when the men on the ship saw that the waters calmed after throwing Yonah in, they realized that it was a miracle and they did teshuvah and converted.

2. And how

Sefer Yonah also teaches us how to do teshuvah. The mishnah (Taanis 2:1) teaches us that on a fast day, the elder of the congregation would inspire the masses by declaring that when the people of Nineveh did teshuvah, the pasuk does not say that HaShem saw their sackcloth and their fasting but rather (3:10) "and Elokim saw their deeds for they had returned from their evil ways." As we read in the haftarah this past shabbos, (Yoel 2:13) "and tear your hearts, not your clothes." The key to teshuvah is changing one's inner self, not ones exterior appearance.

3. You can run, but you can't hide

When Yonah is first instructed to go to Nineveh to tell them to do teshuvah he tries to run away. He thought that by doing this, HaShem would no longer be able to communicate with him. Nevertheless, HaShem delivered the message by other means. Abudarham writes that this teaches us that there is no escape. It is futile to attempt to evade the grasp of Divine judgement. Sha'ar HaTziun (622:6) expounds on this lesson, a truly significant one for Yom Kippur.

4. Every little bit helps

Chizkuni writes on parshas Noach (Bereishis 10:11) that Ashur broke off from the rest of the pack to build Nineveh because he did not approve of what was going on with the building of Migdal Bavel. It was this move that merited his descendants, thousands of years later, the opportunity to do teshuvah. This shows us how even the smallest deeds can have such far reaching outgrowths. The sefer Shai LaTorah cites a gemara in Avodah Zarah 17a. R` Elazar ben Durdaya was a man deeply entrenched in sin who wanted to do teshuvah. He placed his head between his knees and cried until his soul left him. A bas kol declared that he has his place in olam haba. Rebi (R' Yehuda HaNasi) cried out "one can earn his place in the world to come over many years, yet one can do so in just one moment!" Asks Shai LaTorah, what was Rebi crying about? Surely his place in Olam Haba, having been acquired over many years, was greater than one which is acquired in a single moment. Rather, from this concept of acquiring one's place in only one moment, Rebi realized how each moment in one's life has this potential. This shows how precious each and every moment is and how we must make the most of every minute of our lives.

5. Wake up!

When the crisis on the ship reached a critical point, Yonah mysteriously goes down to the bottom of the ship to take a nap. The head sailor finds him there and demands of him (Yonah 1:6) "Why do you sleep? Get up and pray to your God!" The concept of sleep is directly related to teshuvah as well. Rambam writes (Hilchos Teshuvah 3:4) the blowing of the shofar on Rosh HaShanah, although a Biblical decree, also has an inherent symbolism: "Wake up sleepers from your slumber..." One who neglects to do teshuvah is spiritually sleeping. The Chida, as well, learns that this pasuk is a charge to us to do teshuvah. Additionally, the Zohar, in relation to doing teshuvah says "Now is not the time to sleep!"

6. It's my fault

In the wake of troublesome times in Eretz Yisrael a few talmidim approached the Brisker Rav and expressed to him how terrible it was that all the chilul Shabbos in the country was causing these difficult times. The Brisker Rav retorted, "What gives you the right do blame the situation on someone else? Perhaps it is your iniquities that are the cause of these trying times." When Yonah was pressured by the other passengers on the ship to come up with a remedy for the situation, he did not look to others for blame even amongst a ship full of idol worshipers.. He was quick to accept (1:12) "For I know that it is because of me that this great storm has come upon you." Yom Kippur is a time when we all must be honest with ourselves and accept responsibility for all our actions.

7. Daven while you can

As everyone knows, Yonah was swallowed by a large fish. This fish is referred to at the beginning of Perek 2 as a dag, a male. However, the next pasuk tells us that Yonah prayed from the dagah, a female fish. Rashi on the first pasuk writes that Yonah had a lot of room in the male fish and was not motivated to pray. HaShem therefore had him "traded" to a pregnant female fish with much denser innards and Yonah became very uncomfortable. Only then did he decide to daven to HaShem. Although many are driven to prayer and repentance in times of tragedy and need, the lesson from Yonah is to work on these connections to HaShem even when times are good, so that we never see those trying times.

8. Thou shalt not steal

As part of the spiritual revolution of the people of Nineveh we are told (3:8) "...and each man repented from his ways and from the theft that was in their hands." A large component of the teshuvah in Nineveh was related to stealing. The Maharam Shif at the end of Bava Kamma writes of the gravity of the sin of stealing and how it steals the judgement. He suggests that the essence of ne'ilah at the end of Yom Kippur is an atonement for the sin of stealing as echoed in the refrain "lema'an nechdal mei'oshek yadeinu," so that we may withdraw our hands from thievery. The sefer Shai LaTorah quotes R` Yosef Dov Soloveichik on the words from selichos, "Haneshamah lach..." Since our neshamos belong to HaShem we must use them only in the way that He determines. If we misuse our neshamah, we take on the status of a sho'eil shelo mida'as, a borrower without the knowledge of the owner who is considered, in halachah, a thief. Sefas Emes writes in Parshas Naso that the reason why the topic of confession is specifically written in relation to stealing (Bemidbar 5:7) is because every sin really contains an element of stealing from HaShem. Sefer Yonah teaches us the severity of stealing while at the same time making clear that teshuvah must also involve an improvement in our relationship with our fellow man, not only our relationship with HaShem.

Have a Gemar Chasimah Tov(ah).

Eliezer Bulka

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Friday, September 14

The Weekly Shtikle - Vayeilech / Shuvah

At the beginning of parshas Vayeilech, Moshe proclaims to the people (31:2) "I am 120 years old on this day. I can no longer go out and come in, and HaShem has told me 'You shall not cross the Yardein.'"


Rashi comments that when Moshe says he can no longer "go out and come in," we know he could not possibly be referring to any physical deficiencies. His first interpretation is that Moshe is not referring to his ability to lead B'nei Yisrael - not that he is not able, but that he is not allowed. Rashi suggests that the rest of the pasuk is in fact an explanation of this statement. Moshe is saying "I can no longer lead you because HaShem has told me that I may not cross the Yardein."


The difficulty with this explanation is the use of the vuv hamosif – "vaShem amar eilai…" - the additive vuv which is usually meant to add something separate, rather than to imply causation.


Perhaps Moshe is indeed referring to his leadership as Rashi suggests initially, but is still making two separate statements. First, he conveys to B'nei Yisrael that his ultimate desire is to lead the people into the Promised Land. Alas, he has been told that he will not lead the people and Yehoshua will take over. But lest one think that it is Moshe's ambitions of grandeur and craving for honour that are fueling that desire, Moshe assures the people that he would have been more than happy to forgo his position of leadership and enter the Land as a layman while Yehoshua leads. All he wanted was just to enter Eretz Yisrael. But even this was not to be, for HaShem had told him that under no circumstances would he be crossing the Yardein. So in this pasuk, he is indeed making two separate statements relating to his desire to either bring or accompany the nation into Eretz Yisrael.

Have a good Shabbos and a gemar chasimah tov.

Eliezer Bulka

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:

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