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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

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
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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

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
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Friday, August 16

The Weekly Shtikle - Va'eschanan

Today, the 15th of Av, marks the 10th yahrtzeit of my Opa, Mr. George Jakobovits. This week's shtikle is dedicated le'iluy nishmaso, Tovia Yehudah ben Yoel, a'h.

 

At the beginning of this week's parsha, after Moshe makes his plea to enter Eretz Yisrael, he is told (3:27) to go to the top of the mountain, to lift his eyes west, north, south and east and see with his eyes for he will not cross the Jordan River. Why is he told to see with his eyes? What other part of the body would he otherwise have seen with?

 

 When Moshe delivers his plea, he begins by emphasizing that HaShem had begun to show him His Greatness and Powerful Hand. Surely, Moshe was not referring to having been shown these visually. We know that he was denied that privilege. Here, the term re'iah does not refer to physical seeing as it often does, but rather to an experience. Moshe had witnessed and experienced HaShem's greatness. He then asks to be allowed to cross over and "see" the good land, the good mountain and the Levanon. Surely, Moshe wanted more than to see the land. Here again, Moshe Rabbeinu is asking not to see the land but to live it and experience its greatness, to behold the Land of Israel. HaShem denies Moshe and grants him only to climb the mountain and see the land. That is why he is told to see with his eyes, indicating that he will not be granted the re'iah for which he yearned but rather, only a physical re'iah with his eyes.

 

There is another aspect of this passage that has always intrigued me. Moshe was standing to the east of Eretz Yisrael at this time. If he was being told to observe the land with his eyes, why would he need to look east? He should only have had to look north, south and west. I have yet to find a simple, practical (peshat) explanation for this.

 

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:

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Friday, August 9

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

Sefer Devarim is, for the most part, a summary of the events of the previous 40 years. Most of the major events are recapped throughout the sefer. This week's parsha focusses largely on the episode of the spies. After hearing the spies' grim report of Eretz Yisrael, B'nei Yisrael cried on that night (Bemidbar 14:1.) The midrash (Bemidbar 16:20) and the gemara (Sotah 35a) teach us that that night was the night of Tish'ah B'Av. HaShem said "You have wept gratuitously, I therefore shall designate this day for crying throughout the generations."

Although on a larger scale, this dooming of Tish'ah B'Av as a day for weeping may refer to all the terrible misfortunes that have befallen the Jewish people on this day, it is certainly a more specific reference to the destruction of the two Temples which happened on this day.

The connection here between the wrongdoing and the consequent punishment is greater than it may appear on the surface. It is more than just "You cried for no reason, I'll make you cry for a reason." It's not merely about the fact that they cried but the reason why they cried. The nationwide cry was a sign of acceptance of the spies' report and thus, a rejection of Eretz Yisrael an immediate and imminent reality. The destruction of the Beis HaMikdash and the ensuing exile was Eretz Yisrael's rejection of us. With the episode of the spies, B'nei Yisrael showed a total lack of appreciation for the gift that HaShem wished to bestow upon us. Tish'ah B'Av was therefore designated as a day that would constantly serve as a reminder to us of what terrible consequences befall us when Eretz Yisrael is not given the respect it deserves. In these days, it should not be difficult to appreciate the importance of Eretz Yisrael and how hard we must fight to keep it. Certainly, recent world events have once again left the fate of the nation and the land hanging in the balance. May the joint efforts of all of Klal Yisroel help bring mashiach speedily and transform this month from eivel to yom tov and may we all return to artzeinu haKedoshah for the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash.

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

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