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Friday, October 23

The Weekly Shtikle - Noach

Just by matter of simple observation, it occurred to me that Noach's family's adventures in the teiva constitute the paradigmatic case of quarantine. They were certainly confined for far longer than any of us have (so far) but then again, it's not like they had any reason to want to leave. It was clear to them - for almost all of the time - that they were much better off inside than out.

However, Rav Moshe Feinstein, in Kol Ram, makes an intriguing and most appropriate observation on Noach's final days in confinement. At the beginning of the flood, Rashi comments (7:7) that Noach demonstrated a slight lack of faith in only entering the ark after the flood waters forced him to. However we are to understand this criticism of Noach, it appears he did not follow HaShem's command until the "facts on the ground" compelled him to.  Rav Moshe points out that Noach atones for this on the other end. After investing quite a bit of effort in bird-based testing and waiting at least 14 days (sound familiar?), Noach appears to have sufficient evidence that the waters have sufficiently receded and it was safe to exit. Nevertheless, Noach did not. He waited until HaShem explicitly commanded to leave.

We have certainly faced many challenges over this last while with all sort of decrees - whether they come from rabbinic leadership, medical personnel or government officials - which we find difficult to follow and perhaps even at some times not logical in our minds. Noach's care and patience should serve as an inspiration to us all to get through these difficult times.



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 humourous book called Extracts From Noah's Diary. Check it out!

Have a good Shabbos.

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?

AstroTorah: Interesting Calendrical Facts About the Mabul

Dikdukian: Noach's Three Sons

Dikdukian: Different Ways to Wake Up

Please visit the new portal for all Shtikle-related sites,

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Friday, October 16

The Weekly Shtikle - Bereishis

Today, 28 Tishrei, is the 19th yahrtzeit of my dear friend, Daniel Scarowsky, z"l.

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

Just after the Torah recounts the sin of the eitz hada'as, we are told about the birth of Kayin and Hevel and almost immediately of the tragic murder of Hevel. There does not seem to be any significant time lapse in between. The only hint given in the Torah is the term "vayehi mikeitz yamim," and it was at the end of (some) days. But there is no elaboration on this ambiguous time span. It seems altogether possible that this episode happened quite soon after the sin of the eitz hada'as.

It is well known that before the sin of the eitz hada'as, the physical realities of pregnancy were quite different, if not non-existent. The gemara (Sanhedrin 38b) recounts that on the day of creation two (Adam and Chavah) ascended to the bed and four (Kayin and his twin, see Tosafos) descended. When the eternal punishments are ultimately doled out to Adam and Chavah, Chavah is told, (3:16) "I will intensify your pain and travail, with great pain you will bear children." As Rashi notes, the travail is the pain of pregnancy and the child-bearing pain is the pain of the birth itself. By inference, these pains did not exist beforehand. If not for the sin of the eitz hada'as, babies would be born smoothly and easily and immediately upon conception. However, the first Rashi on this pasuk seems to get overlooked. The first pain referred to in the pasuk is "tza'ar gidul banim," the pain of raising children. This too was a direct consequence of the sin.


So what does that tell us about Kayin and Hevel? Tza'ar gidul banim can be understood on two levels – physical and spiritual. Raising children brings with it the obvious challenge of bringing a poor, helpless little being into this world, teaching him and guiding him through everything that we, as adults, take for granted. We start from zero and slowly work our way up. This is indeed no small feat. But equally challenging is the battle to steer one's child on the right path to follow in their ways and in the ways of the Torah.


It is conceivable that both these components of the child-raising challenge were also consequences of the sin. In a pre-sin world children were born fully formed and did not need to be taught the basics of physical life, just as Adam and Chavah clearly did not. This would explain the apparent chronological proximity between the birth of Kayin and Hevel and Hevel's demise. (Although it does make you wonder how there could possibly have been no pain involved.) They were also born without the need for their parents to guide them and toil in their upbringing. This is logical as the inclination toward sin was not yet present.


After Adam and Chavah sinned, the physical realities of Kayin and Hevel's birth understandably could not be reversed. But the yeitzer hara that was created with that first bite meant that one could no longer assume their children would follow in their ways. Kayin's murder of Hevel made this point painfully clear.


It is interesting to note that HaShem mentions the pains of child rearing before those of pregnancy and childbirth. (In truth, for Chavah, this decree was given after her first two kids were already born so tza'ar gidul banim did indeed come first.) Perhaps this is meant to teach us that the long, arduous battle that is gidul banim does not begin when a child is born. It begins before they are even conceived. From the moment a couple is wed, as they build their home, they are building the very foundation for their children's upbringing. If a couple recognizes the challenge of chinuch as beginning well in advance of childbirth, they are already ahead of the game.


Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:

Dikdukian: And the Days Was

AstroTorah: The Two Luminaries

Please visit the new portal for all Shtikle-related sites,

The Weekly Shtikle and related content are now featured on


Friday, October 9

The Weekly Shtikle - Shemini Atzeres / Koheles

This week's shtikle is dedicated for a refuah sheleimah for Chaya Sara bas Tzirel and Yoel Aharon ben Chaya Sara besoch she'ar cholei Yisrael.


In the book of Koheles, which we read tomorrow, Shelomoh HaMelech declares, (10:8) "He who breaches the fence shall be bitten by the snake." The term poreitz geder, the breacher of the fence, is often used to refer to someone who defies a decree or ordinance of Chaza"l, as indicated by Rashi on this pasuk. The penalty for this defiance is the venomous bite of the snake.


But perhaps Shelomoh HaMelech is coming to teach us much more than a matter of crime and punishment. There is a greater lesson to be learned. In the earlier generations, a man walking freely in a proverbial field might have been subjected to certain spiritual dangers. The chachamim therefore put up various boundaries and fences to keep these dangers out. A good example of this would be the laws of muktzah. The chachamim also instituted certain proactive laws, such as the laws of tefillah, to better define the life of a Jew in a manner necessary for the time. As generations pass, the defiant one might approach these fences. He might look over and see no danger in the distance. Questioning the need for these barriers, he breaks down the fences that were built in generations past. But his presumptuous actions prove costly, for he does not see the clear picture his predecessors did before erecting these fences. He might see on his eye level or slightly below and determine that there is no danger. But it is the low-lying creatures, the snakes that he cannot see from behind the fence, that are waiting there to attack.


Shelomoh HaMelech is teaching us that someone who fails to heed the decrees of Chaza"l, and other sages who have preceded him, assumes that he is fully aware of their deep calculation in establishing these decrees. He doesn't realize that there might be more to them than meets the eye. This is not a punishment. It is simply a matter of fact. We must approach these aspects of our laws with utmost faith and trust that they saw further and deeper than we, lest we stumble and fall prey to the very dangers they set out to protect us from.


Pesach provides much opportunity for us to explore the prohibitive components of this idea in the many strict prohibitions set forth by the sages to protect us from consuming chameitz. One might not understand why we can't eat corn if the Torah told us not to eat chameitz. But there were some very serious concerns at the time and the gravity of the chameitz prohibition was deemed far too risky to take chances. Sukkos, however, gives us a window into the proactive realm of rabbinic ordinances. The seven days of lulav shaking is not a Torah decree but rather a zeicher lamikdash, instituted by Raban Yochanan ben Zakai (Rosh HaShanah 30a). The hoshanos ceremony, Hoshana Rabba itself and certainly Simchas Torah are great examples of how our yearly practices have been shaped by the prophets and sages before us.

But this year, we are able to see the prohibitive aspects during this time as well. Although we are clearly instructed in the Torah to blow the shofar on Rosh HaShanah and take the lulav on Sukkos, the sages decreed that this should not be done when Yom Tov fallsout on Shabbos. Although the reasoning behind these decrees might be difficult to understand, we follow them to the letter, trusting that the sages knew what lay behind the fence.


This year's events provide a new perspective to this idea. Our lives have been turned upside down by a virus which was completely unknown and medical experts still have not figured out. Guidance and regulations were evolving at an unmanageable pace. Presumably all of us have altered our daily routines in many ways to accommodate what ultimately amounts to precautions upon precautions in order to prevent the spread. But as we adhere to these safeguards in our mundane lives, as well is in our routine religious practices and accept their apparent necessities, we must take pause to examine our approach to the edicts of our sages before us and ensure that we treat them with at least equal reverence and respect.


A rav here in Baltimore suggested quite intriguingly that there is extra hashgachah in that which the events of this pandemic occurred in a year such as this. The rabbanim of this and all other cities have toiled for hours upon hours on numerous occasions to deliberate on the proper way to balance the need to maintain our sacred traditions while ensuring the safety of the public and the adherence to local regulations. Each and every decision – from the larger ones such as closing shuls to the seemingly smaller ones like how to conduct kol hane'arim – is given such tremendous weight. Perhaps this was meant to give us greater appreciation for the process that must have gone into the decision to forego shofar and lulav when Yom Tov falls out on Shabbos. Appreciating these heavy decisions will help ensure that we do not take them lightly.


Have a good Shabbos and good Yom Tov.

Eliezer Bulka

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Dikdukian: Do you sea what I sea

Dikdukian: And the Days Was
Dikdukian: Come on, people!

Please visit the new portal for all Shtikle-related sites,

The Weekly Shtikle and related content are now featured on


Friday, October 2

The Weekly Shtikle - Sukkos

As we lead into the holy month of Tishrei with the month of Elul, we recite the chapter from Tehillim (27), "L'Dovid," twice daily. We continue this practice throughout Sukkos. There are various explanations given for this practice. One of the correlations between this chapter of Tehillim and the days of Elul and Tishrei is the reference to a sukkah in verse 5: "For in the day of trouble He will hide me in his sukkah: In the covert of his tent will He hide me; He will lift me up upon a rock." Surely, there is something deeper than the mere mention of a sukkah.


This pasuk seems to refer to two distinct types of protection. ("Yitzpeneini b'sukoh" and "yastireini b'seiser ahalo" would seem, on the surface, to refer to the same form of protection.) If, in the face of danger, one is lifted up upon a rock, he is removed from the scene of the danger. He may appear exposed, but he is out of reach and out of harm's way. Being protected by an enclosure, however, is not the same. One is still technically in the line of fire. But he is protected from attack and is sheltered by the walls of the fortress.


The holidays of Tishrei reflect these two forms of protection. From Rosh HaShanah to Yom Kippur, we are raised to a higher level. Through the intense tefillah and teshuvah of the aseres yemei teshuvah, we are elevated to new heights. We are no longer in the realm of mere mortals. We are promoted to the level of angels. HaShem, so to speak, protects us from the rest of the world by bringing us to another world.


Unfortunately, this experience cannot last forever. We must grow from it and take with us what we can. As we come back to our this-worldly existence, we are given seven days of the second level of protection. Sukkos symbolizes our slow return to real life. We are once again in the midst of the world around us. We do bring 70 sacrifices over Sukkos symbolizing the 70 nations. But only we are given the sukkah in which to dwell and be sheltered from outside forces. Eventually, we have to leave the shelter of the sukkah and return to our homes. Indeed, this pasuk speaks significantly of our special experiences and spiritual journey as we navigate the month of Tishrei.


Of course, the overlying general theme of these ideas is our absolute reliance on Divine guidance in all aspects of life. We do our part but it is ultimately HaShem who elevates and protects us. This is very much a dominant theme in the events of this past half year as well. As a friend of mine noted in conversation before Rosh Hashanah, it is not fathomable that any rational individual could enter this coming year without a heightened recognition and appreciation of how HaShem runs the world. A microscopic virus has devastated every single corner of the earth. Even the leader of the free world is unable to escape its grasp. Certainly, as we are faced with a resurgence of the virus, it should serve to strengthen our awareness HaShem's control as we hope and pray for an end to this terrible plague and we beseech HaShem, "ufros aleinu sukas shelomecha."


Have a good Shabbos and good Yom Tov and stay healthy and safe!

Eliezer Bulka


Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:

Dikdukian: Sukas Dovid Hanofeles

Al Pi Cheshbon: Number of bakashos in Ya'aleh veYavo

Please visit the new portal for all Shtikle-related sites,

The Weekly Shtikle and related content are now featured on


Friday, September 25

The Weekly Shtikle - Ha'azinu / Shuva

In the beginning of this week's parsha in the song of Ha'azinu, HaShem is praised (32:4) as "Keil emunah v'ein avel," a God of trust with whom there is no wrongdoing. R' Eilyahu Lopian asks, in Lev Eliyahu, what should be an obvious question. What kind of praise is this? If we were to praise a dignified individual, would it be fitting to say that he was "not bad?" What is the meaning of this praise?

He answers that when a court of humans pronounces a judgement upon an individual, it may be what the defendant himself deserves. However, it is possible that this judgement could be a wrongdoing for others. It is possible that this judgement could affect someone else in an adverse way which he does not deserve. This man's friends and family may be righteous individuals who don't deserve to have to suffer through the hardship of this verdict. Nevertheless, the judgement must be made. However, when HaShem passes judgement on an individual, He takes into account how it will affect everyone around him. Someone who is deserving of a certain punishment may actually be saved from it due to the effect it will have on an undeserving friend or relative. It is for this reason that it is said that one who wants to merit a good judgement should make himself needed to the public. The saying goes, "ish haklal, nidon kiklal," a man of the community is judged as a whole community. Thus, with HaShem's judgement there is no wrongdoing - not for the judged one, and not for anyone else to whom he is close.

With this concept he explains the gemara (Rosh HaShanah 18a) in reference to the mishnah which states that all of us pass in front of HaShem on Rosh HaShanah like a herd of sheep, in a single file line. Rabba bar bar Chanah states "vechulam niskarim biskirah achas," all are marked with one marking. The marking of the sheep symbolizes the passing of judgement, but it is one long marking that marks all of us. With every one person's judgement, the effect on the rest of the community is considered.

Have a good Shabbos and chasimah tovah!


Eliezer Bulka


Weekly Shtikle Blog Roundup:

Dikdukian: HAL

Dikdukian: A Happy Ending

Dikdukian: Remember Us for the Good


Please visit the new portal for all Shtikle-related sites,

The Weekly Shtikle and related content are now featured on



Friday, September 18

The Weekly Shtikle - Rosh HaShanah

One of the more prevalent themes of Rosh HaShanah is the focus on the episode of akeidas Yitzchak and its eternal national implications. Rabbeinu Bachya (Bereishis 22:7) discusses an interesting quandary in analyzing the event. It was certainly a significant challenge and test for both Avraham and Yitzchak. But which challenge was greater? After deliberating on both sides, he decides that Avraham had the greater of the tests. It is certainly worth noting, however, the intriguing language used by the gemara )Rosh HaShanah 16a) when it explains why we use a shofar from a ram – so that HaShem will remember the episode of akeidas Yitchak ben Avraham and consider it as if you had bound yourselves before Him. The focus seems to be put solely on Yitzchak's personal sacrifice.


There is another discussion regarding this episode which we explored approximately three years ago which may shed some light on another question that can be asked: Of all the challenges Avraham was given, what is it about akeidas Yitzchak which makes it so relevant to Rosh HaShanah? (This is by no means a difficult question to answer. I'm sure there are many approaches. As well, according to some midrashim the episode took place on Rosh HaShanah.


Rashi, based on a gemara (Sanhedrin 89b) cites a deeper meaning of the beseeching nature of HaShem's request which seems, at first glance, to border on hyperbole. HaShem uses the word "please" as if to say, "Please stand up to this test so that people do not say of the first tests that there was nothing to them." Suppose Avraham had difficulty with this command. Suppose he had questions about this daunting, impossible task. Would that really have detracted from the utter devotion he showed in the previous tests?

R' Schwab, in Ma'ayan Beish HaSho'eiva, explains that while the first 9 challenges were all great in their own right, there was one very important element missing – the involvement of his progeny. Passing these tests were of great significance on a personal level for Avraham. But that, on its own, would not be enough to pass on to the great nation of which Avraham was to be the father. We often speak of Avraham as having instilled the will and the strength of self-sacrifice in all future generations. But this is not accomplished simply through genetics. Akeidas Yitzchak was a trial of sacrifice that Avraham and Yitzchak would experience together as father and son. Only through enduring this test and persevering together could this virtue be passed on. Indeed, if Avraham were to have failed this test in any way, his previous accomplishments would be of much lesser value to the generations that followed. This explains the urgency of HaShem's request.


Indeed, this was the test that would instill in us the perseverance to pass the most daunting challenges throughout the generations. The events of this past year were perhaps among the most challenging of our generation. However, while these challenges involved a great degree of separation from our loved ones, we were able to still experience these trials and tribulations with a special togetherness, be it by means of technology that joined people together in new ways or simply a family unit staying locked down together. As such, these unprecedented experiences will live on with our progeny as they had the opportunity to watch how their families rose to the occasion to overcome these daunting circumstances – how we yearned to return to davening  with a minyan and return to shul, how we found new ways to attend shiurim and learn, how we made extra efforts to reach out to loved ones or attend a simcha when doing so in person was not an option. We were given the opportunity to pass on these lessons, much in the way that Avraham passed them on to Yitzchak and to the entire Jewish people.


It is also interesting that we blow the horn of the ram as opposed to using some other part of the animal to trigger this remembrance. The horn was (22:13) caught in the thicket and prevented the ram from getting wherever it felt it needed to be. This led to the ram becoming an integral part of Jewish lore for all generations to come. Often times, we are "caught in the thicket" and it is difficult to perceive what is in store. The shofar challenges us to find in ourselves the strength and the emunah to accept that we are in HaShem's hands and part of a master plan.


Have a good Shabbos, good Yom Tov and Shanah Tovah. May we all merit a year of blessings and health and a full recovery from this devastating pandemic.


Eliezer Bulka

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:

Dikdukian: Remember us for the Good

Please visit the new portal for all Shtikle-related sites,

The Weekly Shtikle and related content are now featured on


Friday, September 11

The Weekly Shtikle - Nitzavim / Vayeilech

This week's parsha speaks much about teshuvah and the study of Torah. The pasuk proclaims

"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)

The Torah illustrates the ease with which it may be conquered by means of these two analogies. Perhaps there is a homiletic reasoning behind the use of this imagery. Each corresponds to a situation in B'nei Yisrael's short history where they came together with a collective complaint. First, when they reached Yam Suf, they all complained that they were trapped by the sea and could not move forward. With a miracle of miracles, HaShem delivered us. The Torah tells us here that to learn the Torah, we do not have to rely on such great miracles. We do not have to cross the sea; it is right in front of us.

When the spies come back with the negative report, B'nei Yisrael begin to believe that they will be unable to conquer the land. Caleiv silences the nation and declares (Bemidbar 13:30) that they will indeed go up and conquer the land. The gemara (Sotah 35a) comments on Caleiv's declaration that he proclaimed "Is this not all that (Moshe) ben Amram has done for us? Has he not brought us out of Mitzrayim, split the sea and fed us man? Even if he were to instruct us to make ladders and climb to the heavens, we shall surely go up!" In accordance with this, we are told lo bashamayim hi, it is not in the heavens. It is right in front of us for the taking.

Have a good Shabbos and a kesivah vachasimah tovah.

Eliezer Bulka

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Dikdukian: Nitzavim Takes it on the Nee

Dikdukian: Don't you Worry

Please visit the new portal for all Shtikle-related sites,

The Weekly Shtikle and related content are now featured on