The Weekly Shtikle Blog

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Friday, July 20

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

In a shiur on the haggadah earlier this year I heard an interesting perspective on vehi she'amdah. Part of the retribution meted out upon those who seek to destroy us is that they endure a legacy of association with evil more so than others who might be guilty of equally nefarious deeds. This is not a concrete rule but consider, as an example, the liberal use of the word Nazi in association with anything evil. Conversely, how much of the general population are even aware of more recent perpetrators of similar heinous crimes such as Pol Pot or Slobodan Milošević.

However, earlier on in our history, before many of our brutal persecutors came to be, there was a single paradigm of evil – Sedom and its neighbouring cities. Moshe Rabbeinu first references Sedom in the rebuke at the beginning of parshas Nitzavim. In this week's haftarah of chazon, the navi Yeshayahu makes a sharp comparison between the wickedness of the generation and that of Sedom. But in a passage we will read tomorrow night in Eichah, Yirmiyahu takes it one step further in exclaiming (4:6) that the crimes perpetrated by our nation were even greater than those of Sedom.

As related by R' Moshe Hauer on Tish'ah B'Av last year, R' Yissachar Shlomo Teichtal, author of Eim HaBanim Semeichah, in his work on Tanach, addresses this shocking charge. Can it really be said that the generation at the end of the first Beis HaMikdash was more evil than Sedom? There were definitely significant sins which warranted the destruction, but it was still a nation of generally decent upstanding people. Sedom, on the other hand was pure evil through and through. Wickedness was the societal norm.

He explains that the continuation of the pasuk must be considered in order to understand what Yirmiyahu is trying to convey. The sin was greater than that of Sedom – which was overturned in an instant. The actual deeds of Sedom and its neighbours were surely far greater than that of the generation of the churban. But Sedom met its fate in the blink of an eye without any warning. There was no navi coming to proclaim (as Yonah did for Nineveh,) that their doom was impending. It is in this regard that the sins of the generation exceeded those of Sedom. For generation after generation, navi after navi, we were warned repeatedly to change our ways. We were given the opportunity to reverse course but to no avail.

In a related passage in Eim HaBanim Semeichah, R' Teichtal explains that it is difficult to forge a way forward and to know what we need to do in our time. However, he relates a parable of a man wandering the desert, searching for a way out until he happens upon another individual in the same predicament. The other man tells him that he doesn't know the way out but they should still stick together, because from what he has tried he knows what is not the way out. If we do not know the clear path to geulah, we must at least be able to learn from previous generations and failures what it is that gets us in trouble over and over again.

May we merit the ultimate geulah speedily in our day!

I highly recommend listening to the original audio – only 5½ minutes – available here.

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Dikdukian: Don't you worry!
Dikdukian: Past and Future
AstroTorah: Like the Stars of the Heavens
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Friday, July 13

The Weekly Shtikle - Matos / Mas'ei

As if the Three Weeks and Nine Days were not sad enough, this week, my cousin, Mrs. Michelle Jakobovits, passed away here in Baltimore. This week's shtikle is dedicated le'iluy nishmasah, Rochel Mirel bas Shmuel HaLevi.

The beginning of parshas Mas'ei includes a quick rundown of every single resting point along the journey out of Mitzrayim towards Eretz Yisrael. It is difficult to read through this account without wondering about the necessity to recount each and every stop. We know where they left from and we know where they end up. We even already know about the more significant events in between and where they took place. But why do we need to know every single other location?

I discovered an inspiration towards this idea from a very unlikely source, although it does not really answer the question. There is a quadrennial international sporting event currently captivating much of the entire world – the World Cup of Soccer (or football, depending where you are from.) One of the more intriguing aspects of the game (in which I, like many others, only have but a quadrennial interest) is the way the ball is passed around. The statistics actually keep tallies of the total passes and they are in the hundreds and can sometimes even be in the thousands during a single match. Additionally, although most other team sports do not have the ball or other object typically passed back further than a certain point – and some sports even forbid it – in soccer, the passes range throughout the entire field and often retreat all the way back to the goalkeeper. These numerous passes are necessary to build a scoring a chance which can often take many minutes to develop. If even one of these passes is off the mark, it can spell immediate doom.

Similarly (lehavdil), our journeys in the midbar often did not move in the forward direction. If they had, the whole sojourn would have culminated in a matter of days. But each change of course in whichever direction was necessary, whether for positive reasons or otherwise. We may not know the true purpose behind each of the individual stopping points, aside from some insights offered by Chaza"l. But we can certainly rest assured that there was a Divine calculation every step of the way.


Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:

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 6

The Weekly Shtikle - Pinechas

In this week's parsha, Moshe asks of HaShem to find a suitable replacement to take over the leadership of B'nei Yisrael after he passes away. Moshe sums up the qualifications in one pasuk (27:17), "who will go out in front of them and come in front of them, who will bring them out and bring them in, so that the people of HaShem shall not be like sheep without a shepherd." It seems rather startling that in this short list of qualifications, Moshe does not seem to be particular about the scholarly attributes of the new leader. Could it possibly be that Moshe was not bothered that the new leader of B'nei Yisrael be a talmid chacham?

 

I think the answer lies in the exact wording that Moshe used, "asher yeitzei lifneihem, va'asher yavo lifneihem." In the gemara (Sotah 13b) Moshe's words at the beginning of parshas Vayeilech (Devarim 31) are analyzed. He says that he is 120 years today, "lo uchal od latzeis velavo," I can no longer go out and come in. The gemara notes that we know from the pesukim at the end of the Torah that Moshe never lost his vigour, "lo nas leicho." Rather, the meaning of the pasuk is "latzeis velavo bedivrei halachah," to come and go in halachah, teaching you that the wells of chachmah were sealed from him before he died and he could no longer learn. We see from the gemara that the terminology "latzeis velavo" can refer to Torah scholarship. Perhaps that is the meaning here as well. Moshe was in fact asking HaShem that the new leader be one who could guide B'nei Yisrael in Torah learning as well.

 

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:

Dikdukian: Keves vs. Kesev

Dikdukian:  Shabbas be'Shabbato

Dikdukian:  I say Yericho, you say Yereicho
Dikdukian:  All of the brothers

Dikdukian: Pinechas: What's in a Name?

Al Pi Cheshbon: Probability of the Goral

Al Pi Cheshbon: Counting the Judges

AstroTorah: What's your Sign? by R' Ari Storch

 

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 29

The Weekly Shtikle - Balak

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

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.

This week's parsha follows in great detail the escapades of Balak and Bil'am. The pesukim (22:2-4) that introduce us to Balak are quite intriguing. We are told about Balak's observation of the war with Sichon and the subsequent fear instilled in the Moavites. Seemingly as an afterthought, we are then informed that Balak was the king of Moav at the time. Why not simply introduce him in the very first pasuk as Balak, the king of Moav?

This oddity is addressed by a number of commentaries. Ramban and Seforno suggest that the pesukim are suggesting that Balak was in fact a great warrior and was therefore significant to the story regardless of his being king. That's why his title was only mentioned secondarily. And this puts even greater focus on the fear that gripped the region as even their great warrior to whom they turned to lead them was petrified of what fate he might meet at the hands of B'nei Yisrael.

Shaarei Aharon explains based on Rashi and his accompanying elucidators that Balak was not really fit to be king. In fact, as the midrash points out, Balak was Tzur, one of the 5 princes of Midyan. Sichon's demise created a void and Balak was chosen, perhaps only temporarily. This explains why he is not introduced as the king of Moav because when all of this began, he wasn't. Sichon's defeat caused Moav and Midyan to join forces and through that, Balak became king. The words "ba'eis hahi," in that time, also indicate that not only was he not king before this episode, he wasn't king after either as he was completely shamed by the interaction with Bil'am.

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, June 22

The Weekly Shtikle - Chukas (Korach, really)

Today, 9 Teves, is the 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.

On this occasion, I am choosing to do something somewhat unconventional – jump back to last week's parsha for a thought that I feel is most apropos for the day.

When Korach and his entourage meet their demise, the pasuk (16:33) recounts that he and his closest cohorts went down alive, were covered by the earth and vanished from the midst of the congregation. The last phrase of this pasuk seems superfluous and is the subject of discussion amongst many commentaries. Certainly, given what the Torah has just described, they vanished from the rest of the nation. What are the words vayovedu mitoch hakahal adding?

Ibn Ezra comments very briefly that since their children met the same fate, (with the obvious exclusion of Korach himself,) they disappeared completely without leaving any progeny to carry on their name.

Ramban, in addition to quoting Ibn Ezra, adds that the pasuk is speaking of the spontaneity of the events and that in such a brief moment, no one was even aware of the whereabouts of these men since they were instantly swallowed up in the earth.

Netziv, in Haamek Davar, goes into just a little more detail to focus on the consequence of this reality being recorded in the Torah. When someone passes away and is buried per the way of the world, although they are no longer with us, there is significance in knowing exactly where they are. It allows the living to maintain some connection to the deceased, such that those individuals are no longer alive, still would not be considered to have vanished from our midst. This was not the case with Korach's men who were swallowed by the earth. Even though the general location of this event is known, these individuals do not have their own marked graves to allow for this physical connection. This fate is certainly worth noting, in addition to simple facts of what transpired.

I would add to Netziv's thought that the burial place might indeed help to maintain a connection to the deceased in somewhat of a physical sense. But there are other ways to maintain that connection in a more spiritual sense through all of the virtues and the good deeds that the deceased had managed to bring to this world while they were still among the living. If we continue to be inspired by their deeds and accomplishments and incorporate them into our own lives, we are further able to feel as though they are still besoch hakahal.

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:

Dikdukian: It wasn't thrown

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Friday, June 15

The Weekly Shtikle - Korach

This week's parsha covers the tragic story of the rebellion lead by Korach, Dasan and Aviram. Their ultimate demise is well known. The leaders and their families were swallowed up into the ground. However, their 250 followers who had each brought a ketores offering were consumed by fire. Surely, there is a reason why different punishments were doled out to the different participants.

Rabbeinu Bachaya suggests the principal sin of the leaders was that of haughtiness. They put themselves on a high level from which they were, in truth, very far. This arrogance was fittingly punished with the perpetrators falling down to the deepest depths. The 250 followers were punished not as much for their participation in the movement but for having gone through with the confrontation with Moshe and bringing the ketores. The undesired offering was punished much in the way that Nadav and Avihu met their demise - being burned by the mighty fire of HaShem.

Perhaps we may suggest an alternate approach. The leaders were greedy, self centred individuals looking out only for their own benefit. Their campaign may have appeared to be aimed at "fairness and balance" but their true motives were purely selfish. They wanted nothing but to advance their own positions. The 250 followers were merely misled by their apparent leaders and deceived into believing in their cause. The self-serving disregard for truth was a behaviour that was incorrigible. There was no room for the leaders to grow out of this rut they had dug themselves into. Therefore, they were smothered by the earth and disappeared, symbolizing that there is no potential good that could come out of their actions.

The followers, however, were simply misguided loyalists. Their behaviour could easily be channeled for good if pointed in the right direction. This is most clearly illustrated by On ben Peles who, according to the gemara (Sanhedring 109b,) was convinced by his wife to leave the group. They were fittingly punished with fire. Fire, although often a destructive force, can also be constructive. It can take an inedible slab of meat and make supper out of it. It can be used to shape raw metal. The followers being consumed by fire symbolized that there was what to learn from them and that their actions could be channeled for positive causes. It is therefore easily understood that the metal of their pans was put on display to remind B'nei Yisrael of this tragic episode.


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

Friday, June 8

The Weekly Shtikle - Shelach

Clearly, the most significant part of this week's parsha is the episode of the spies who were sent to Eretz Yisrael. As a result of their negative report, B'nei Yisrael were forced to postpone their entry into Eretz Yisrael for almost thirty nine years. Although the report of the ten spies was, on the whole, a negative one, the pesukim seem to show an apparent progression of the gravity of the spies' arguments. We know what they said and we know how they were gruesomely punished but it is important to understand what it was that they said which warranted such retribution.

When the spies die a horrible death for their sins, the pasuk (14:37) reads, "vayamusu ha'anashim motzi'ei dibas ha'aretz ra'ah.." The men who had slandered the land died. The Torah applies a label to these ten spies – slanderers of the land, and it would certainly seem, in context, that this is given as the very reason why they were punished this awful way.

Now we must comprehend how they acquired this label. When the spies come back and deliver their report, they argue that despite the beauty and plenty of the land, they do not believe that they will be able to capture it. This point is disputed by Caleiv after which the spies go on further with their assessment of the land. It is right then, (13:32) that the Torah uses this catch phrase, or a conjugation thereof, "vayotziu dibas ha'aretz..." The Torah seems to bookmark this pasuk as the very beginning of the slander. The spies go on to wantonly refer to the land as a "land that devours its inhabitants." This very specific structure seems to imply that until this point, the spies were engaged in a legitimate debate. They were welcome to present the facts of their mission and offer their sound objective analysis. Had they not gone any further, they would not have been deserving of their terrible fate. They crossed the line when they began to distort the truth, when they offered their own misguided assessments as fact. It was this specific deceitful tactic that transformed them from spies to slanderers and made them deserving of their horrific death.
Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Dikdukian: What's Different About Efrayim? 

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