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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
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

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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
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

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Sunday, September 9

The Weekly Shtikle - Rosh HaShanah

The main component of the Rosh HaShanah davening is comprised of the sections in mussaf known as malchios, zichronos and shofaros. Each section contains 10 pesukim from Torah, Nevi'im and Kesuvim relating to their respective topics. The gemara (Rosh HaShanah 16a) explains that the purpose of malchios is to proclaim HaShem's ultimate kingship. Of the pesukim referring to kingship, 2 of them, (Ovadiah 1:21, Zechariah 14:9) refer to HaShem's recognized kingship over all humanity in the days to come. At first glance, this seems puzzling. If we are supposed to be proclaiming HaShem's dominion over us today, how do we accomplish this by speaking of HaShem's future kingship?

 

I believe the answer lies in the following simple thought: The fear instilled by a human king, no matter how intense, is never of an everlasting nature. One may be scared of him today, but he may be dead tomorrow. Even the most tyrannical dictatorships can be overthrown in the blink of an eye. There is always that little bit of fear missing, that notion that the king will not rule forever. Therefore, on Rosh HaShanah, when we must declare HaShem's ultimate kingship, we must also stress the eternal and everlasting nature of His Dominion. We must stress that HaShem's kingship is not only a current one but one that will last forever and will be accepted by all in the days to come. May we all merit to see these days speedily.


Have a good Yom Tov and Shanah Tovah.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

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Friday, September 7

The Weekly Shtikle - Nitzavim

This short parsha contains a most important discussion of the significance of teshuvah and the study of Torah. The pesukim proclaim

 

 "For this mitzvah (the whole Torah, according to Rashi) that I command you today is not removed from you, nor is it far. It is not in the heavens that you may say who will go up to the heavens and take it for us and teach it to us and we shall do it. Nor is it across the sea that you may say who will cross the sea and take it for us and teach us and we shall do it." (30:11-13)

 

At first glance, this passage seems to be expressing a leniency, comforting us that Torah and  teshuvah are not out of our grasp. These are not difficult things for us to achieve. However, R' Kulefsky, zt"l, points out that Rashi reveals that in fact, the passage may be indicating the exact opposite. Rashi quotes from the gemara (Eiruvin 55a) that while the Torah is reassuring us that it is not across the sea or in the heavens and therefore, one need not journey there to attain it, it is implying that if it were, we would be expected to go such lengths. The Torah is, in fact, relating a stringency in HaShem's expectations of us. No matter how far from our reach the Torah is, no matter what extremes are necessary to grasp it, those extremes are nevertheless expected of us.

 

R' Kulefsky would illustrate this idea with a story that was told of R' Zalman of Volozhin, the brother of R' Chayim. When studying late at night, if he were to need a sefer which was not immediately available to him, he would not simply move on. He would travel even to another city to obtain that sefer. His actions were based on the above. If the Torah were across the sea or in the heavens, one would be expected to sojourn there to attain it. If the Torah he seeks is in another city, surely he is expected to make the journey.

 

Have a good Shabbos and a kesivah vachasimah tovah.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

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Friday, August 31

The Weekly Shtikle - Ki Savo

This week's parsha begins with the process of the bringing of bikurim, the first fruits, and the passages that are to be recited at the time that they are brought. We are instructed (26:3) "And you shall come to the kohein in those days and you shall say to him: 'I have said today to HaShem your God that I have come to the land that HaShem has sworn to our fathers to give to us.'" Rashi, on the words ve'amarta eilav, and you shall say to him, comments "[to show] that you are not ungrateful." This implies that the very purpose of the recitation is to show that he is not ungrateful. My father points out, however, that the very essence of bikurim is an expression of thanks to HaShem. We go out of our way to show that we appreciate that everything comes from HaShem by bringing our first fruits to Yerushalayim. Why would anyone think us ungrateful that we should have to recite this passage to refute that perception? Furthermore, it is strange that Rashi would make this comment on the words ve'amarta eilav, rather than on the actual words that are recited, where the gratitude is actually expressed.

 

My father's answer is based on a remarkable interpretation of bikurim from Netziv in Ha'amek Davar. He is bothered by the words "HaShem Elokecha," as opposed to "HaShem Elokeinu." Why are we referring to HaShem as the God of the kohein rather than our God. He answers that the purpose of the bikurim process going through the kohein is so that we may show gratitude to the righteous kohanim, that in their merit and through the Providence bestowed upon them by HaShem, that we are worthy of entering Eretz Yisrael. That is why we direct the opening passage towards the kohein.

 

Rashi, as well, is not suggesting that we are showing that we are not ungrateful to HaShem. Our actions are indicative enough in that regard. Rather, we are going out of our way to show that we are not ungrateful to the kohein for his spiritual influence on the nation and the merit that he brings to the nation as a whole. And that is why Rashi is explaining the words ve'amarta eilav. He is explaining why we are talking to the kohein. The kohein is more than just a middle man in the bikurim process. He is an essential figure. Rashi points out on the words (26:3) asher yihyeh bayamim haheim, that you have only the kohein of your day and your generation. It is not our task to delve into the level of righteousness of one particular kohein or another. By virtue of the service he performs for our nation, he is deserved of this gift.

 

This week, the Mishnah Yomis program began the seventh perek of maseches Sotah, which discusses which passages may be recited in any language and which must be recited in leshon hakodesh. Three of the different procedures are found in this week's parsha, including that for bikurim and viduy ma'aser. While viduy ma'aser may be recited in any language, mikra bikurim must be recited in leshon hakodesh. One has to wonder why they are different. I haven't worked out the specifics but perhaps the difference lies in the nature of mikra bikurim as we have discussed above. Viduy ma'aser is really a conversation strictly between the subject and HaShem so the language does not matter. Perhaps the involvement and significance of the kohein in mikra bikurim is what necessitates leshon hakodesh.

 

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

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Friday, August 24

The Weekly Shtikle - Ki Setzei

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 (with a Jewish betrothed girl) 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.


Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

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Friday, August 17

The Weekly Shtikle - Shofetim

This week's parsha discusses a wide range of topics. Among them are the unique laws of eidim zomemim, the false, plotting witnesses who are given the exact punishment they planned to cause to the defendant. The manner in which they are refuted must be very specific as well as the timing of their disproof. The mishnah (Makkos 1:6) teaches that the refutation must come after the defendant had been sentenced but before the sentence was carried out in order for these laws to take effect. This is the famous conundrum of eidim zomemim, that the false witnesses are punished accordingly only if they ultimately fail but not if they succeed. The mishnah learns this law in cases of capital punishment from the pasuk (19:19) "And you shall do to him as he plotted to do to his brother." The fact that the Torah refers to the defendant as his brother indicates that he is still alive. If he has already been given the death penalty, the punishment referred to in this pasuk does not apply.

Similarly, the gemara (Sanhedrin 10a) learns from the pasuk (25:3) "And your brother shall be flogged before your eyes" that the punishment of lashes must not result in death for after the lashes, he must remain your brother.

Many commentaries question this understanding of the word ach, brother. After all, the pasuk (Vayikra 21:2) teaches us that a regular kohein may become tamei for the purpose of the burial of an immediate family member. There, the word ach is clearly referring to someone who is no longer alive. How can the aforementioned sources assume ach to be a living person?

Rasha"sh on the gemara in Sanhedrin offers an interpretation. The Torah uses the word ach in two different contexts. Sometimes it used to refer to an actual brother with a familial relationship. In this case, the relationship is not broken by death and thus, he remains a brother even after passing on. However, when the Torah uses the word ach to refer to a fellow Jew, the rationale is that he is your brother in mitzvos. He shares the same obligations as you. When he dies, he is absolved of his obligation to perform mitzvos and this brotherly relationship is severed. Therefore, the gemara justifiably extrapolates from the usage of ach that we are referring to someone who is still alive.

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

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