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Friday, May 26

The Weekly Shtikle - Bemidbar

In the beginning of this week's parsha, at the beginning of the second month of the second year since yetzias Mitzrayim, B'nei Yisrael are split into their respective camps. These formations were a way of organizing the travel and resting throughout the sojourn in the midbar. Why then, asks R' Yaakov Kamenetsky, in Emes l'Yaakov, did it take an entire year for these formations to be actualized? He answers that the grouping and sectioning of B'nei Yisrael into individual camps is an idea that could potentially prove to be very divisive. Each tribe had their own colours, their own symbols and their own ideals. This could theoretically pose a great threat to the achdus, the cohesive togetherness that is such an integral component to the survival of our nation.

 

The only factor that could ensure that this division does not become a reality is the presence of the mishkan in the center of the camp. With the mishkan in the middle, each group and each individual maintained a common, principal focus. It established a certain degree of centrality in the realm of serving HaShem, as if everyone davened in the same shul, so to speak. No one had "that shul that they don't go to." This being so, the individuality and uniqueness presented by the division into camps was able to take a secondary role to the unity created by the mishkan. Thus, B'nei Yisrael could not be divided into camps until the building of the mishkan which only culminated a month before in the beginning of Nisan.

 

The importance of oneness and common focus is, of course, an significant theme to bear in mind as we approach Shavuos, celebrating when we stood together "k'ish echad b'leiv echad" to receive the Torah.

 

When B'nei Yisrael finally entered the land, after many years without a stable, permanent central location, David HaMelech ultimately established Yerushalayim as the eternal capital of Eretz Yisrael and epicenter of all spirituality. It is certainly fitting that during this week we commemorate 50 years since the reunification of Yerushalayim, through great miracles, the return of the Holy City to Jewish rule and its re-establishment as a venue for all Jews to come and pray. (Although, it should be noted that the actual victory 50 years ago occurred during the week of parshas Naso.) In our times, when unity is certainly one of our greater challenges, we need all the inspiration we can get to face a common direction towards a common goal.  

 
Have a chodesh tov and good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:

Al Pi Cheshbon: No Population Increase
Al Pi Cheshbon: Tens and Ones by Ari Brodsky
Al Pi Cheshbon: Rounded Numbers
Al Pi Cheshbon: Pidyon HaBen Probability
Dikdukian: Be or Ba?
Dikdukian: Discussions on Bemidbar by Eliyahu Levin


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Friday, May 19

The Weekly Shtikle - Behar / Behcukosai

Today marks the yahrtzeit of my great aunt, Lady Amélie Jakobovits, a"h. The shtikle is dedicated le'iluy nishmasah, Mayla bas Eliyahu.

This coming Sunday, 25 Iyar, marks the yahrtziet of my mother, a"h. The shtikle is dedicated as well le'iluy nishmasah, Tzirel Nechama bas Tovia Yehudah.

Parshas Behar deals largely with the laws pertaining to the shemitah and yoveil years. The Torah addresses the understandable worry of the farmer who is forced to leave his field fallow for an entire year. "Lest you shall say what will we eat in the seventh year? We will not sow nor gather in our crops!. I will command my blessing upon you in the sixth year and it shall bring forth produce for the three years." (25:20-21) This is, indeed, quite a valuable guarantee. [Although the haftarah we read is that of Bechukosai, these two parshios are usually together. It is therefore fitting that the haftarah contains the famous pasuk, (Yirmiyah 17:7) "baruch hagever asher yivtach baShem."

My grandfather, Mr. George Jakobovits, a"h, told me of an intriguing insight that he heard from his rebbe, R' Eliyahu Lopian, zt"l, which is pertinent to this passage and especially relevant to the events of our time. He points out that we, as Jews are commanded as part of the thirteen principles of faith, to believe in the coming of mashiach and the resurrection of the dead. Yet the gemara in the last perek of Sanhedrin struggles to identify a passage that directly and irrefutably refers to this time. Why is it, then, that our Bible contains a precious few obscure references to the world to come while containing many more clear, this-worldly promises such as the aforementioned? Conversely, the "testament" of our Christian counterparts is replete with distinct references to the world to come.

He answers that a promise for the world to come is one that can never be refuted. No one will ever be able to come back and say that the Bible lied about reward and punishment after death, God forbid. This renders these promises empty and meaningless on their own. The promises that offer us assurance in this world, such as the guarantees of shemitah and yoveil, and the promise that no enemy will covet our land when we leave it to go up to Yerushalayim for the shalosh regalim (Shemos 34:24), are far more "risky" pledges. If they are not fulfilled, God forbid, their falsehood would be revealed for all to see.

The world to come is discussed in great length in the gemara and we are required to believe it. However, blind faith is not demanded of us. The very first words of Rambam's Yad HaChazakah state that the foundation of foundations and the pillar of all wisdom, is to know that there is a God who preceded all existence. This is a far greater level than faith. It is unequivocal knowledge. The hypothetically refutable, yet incontrovertibly authentic promises made in the Torah are part of foundation that allows to know, not believe, that there is a Divine Hand that governs this world. The architects of Christianity, aware of the fraudulence of their treatise, were unable to make such promises and had to resort to empty promises which, although lofty, could never be disproved in this world. This perhaps offers some insight into the diabolic schemes of those who promote heinous, murderous atrocities by means of such empty promises as we have seen in our day. But this perspective allows us to maintain focus on the truth of our Torah.

Chazak, chazak, venischazeik!

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Dikdukian: Life as we Know It 
Dikdukian: Hearing Los
Dikdukian: How Lo Can You Go?
Dikdukian: Even Lo-er

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Friday, May 12

The Weekly Shtikle - Emor

In this week's parsha, we find another enumeration of the festivals. After an introductory pasuk, the Torah surprisingly begins (23:3) with a discussion pertaining to Shabbos which is not usually included amongst the festivals.

 

Many commentaries deal with the unexpected inclusion of Shabbos here but the GR"A suggests that this pasuk is not talking about Shabbos at all. When the Torah says, "On the six days you shall do work but on the seventh day... you shall do no work," it is referring to the seven days of Yom Tov. On six of those days of Yom Tov - the first and last days of Succos, the first and last days of Pesach, Shavuos and Rosh HaShanah - it is permitted to do work such as cooking for food purposes. The seventh day is Yom Kippur. This day differs in its laws from the other days of Yom Tov in that it is exactly like Shabbos and even food-related work may not be done.

 

Another puzzling aspect of this sequence is the fact that the introduction seems to be repeated. In accordance with the opinions that the pasuk is indeed referring to Shabbos, I think the following understanding of the pesukim, which addresses both difficulties, may be suggested: Shabbos is considered among the other festivals because it is also a significant and unique day. However, the Torah separates Shabbos from the rest of the group. It is by means of the two introductions that this separation is accomplished. The first introduction (23:2) ends with the words "eileh heim moadai," these are My designated days. The pasuk refers to Shabbos as HaShem's own festival. This is because Shabbos is a day that was declared at the beginning of creation and can never be changed. Forever, Shabbos will occur every seven days.

 

The other festivals, however, are not called "moadai." They are prefaced by a significantly different introduction. The festivals are described as "asher tikr'u osam bemo'adam," those which you shall declare in their proper time. The word "osam" is written without a vuv, the same spelling as "atem," meaning you. The exact days of the festivals are contingent upon the declaration of Rosh Chodesh which is solely in the hands of beis din. Essentially, it is us, B'nei Yisrael, who are in control of the festivals. Indeed, the gemara (Rosh HaShanah 25a) and the midrash (Sifra Emor 9) cite this pasuk in asserting that the month is set according to beis din's decree even if it is in error. [Osam is actually written without a vuv in both pesukim. It would appear the inference is driven by the combination of the missing vuv and the word bemo'adam.]

 

This enumeration of the festivals is divided into two distinct parts. The first are HaShem's festivals, over which man has no control. The second set of festivals involve significant human intervention.

 

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Dikdukian: Ner Tamid

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Friday, May 5

The Weekly Shtikle - Acharei Mos / Kedoshim

In this week's first parsha we are told (18:5) "You shall keep My statues and My ordinances which, if a man does, he shall live by them." In the gemara (Sanhedrin 74a) we are taught that from the phrase "vachai bahem," and he shall live by them, we are to infer that one is meant to live by the mitzvos and not die for them. Thus, if one is put in a position where he has to choose between death and the transgression of a mitzvah, he should transgress rather than be killed. Of course, there are three exceptions to this rule. The strangely ironic part about the pasuk from our parsha is that it appears in the introduction to the passage dealing with the prohibitions of illicit relationships which is one of those very three. The Torah is telling us that we need not sacrifice our lives for the mitzvos just before it goes into lengthy detail regarding a mitzvah for which we must.

 

The mishnah (Berachos 33b) teaches that one who beseeches HaShem's mercy "like the mercy He has on the bird's nest" is silenced. One of the reasons given in the gemara is that this person is erroneously painting HaShem's ways with the broad brush of mercy. We do not understand the true motivation behind each and every mitzvah and it is wrong for us to assume that HaShem leans towards a specific trait.

 

Perhaps, this message is being conveyed here. The limitation excusing transgressions in the face of death might lead us to understand the Torah as inherently lenient. Conversely, the requirement to sacrifice one's life rather than transgress one of the three cardinal sins might lead us to understand the Torah as overly strict, putting human life in second place. But neither is true. The Torah puts these ideas together in the very same passage in order to impress on us that very idea. The laws are all decrees from Above and not indicative of any inherent leniency or stringency.


Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Dikdukian: Sukas David

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Friday, April 28

The Weekly Shtikle - Tazria / Metzora

The main topic of this week's parshios, Tazria and Metzora is the sickness known as tzara'as. Tazria deals mainly with the assessment of tzara'as. In Metzora, we begin to discuss the recovery process. We find that a metzora must bring two birds after his tzara'as has gone away (14:4). One of the birds is slaughtered and the other is sent away. Why?

 

Rashi there writes that the reason why birds are brought is because they talk a lot and the reason why one becomes afflicted with tzara'as is because he spoke leshon hara. Be'er Moshe, in the introduction to chelek 3 of his teshuvos, (as well as a number of other commentaries,) explains that the slaughtering of the bird is to symbolize how we must be aware of when to keep our mouths shut and to prevent whatever negative words we were going to say. However, the most complete way to battle leshon hara is not by complete verbal repression. One must be able to speak normally, using his mouth for good, for divrei Torah. He must be able to converse with individuals but in a way that he watches his words and doesn't say anything wrong. Therefore, the second bird is sent out into the world symbolizing how one is supposed to go out and talk naturally, but the bird is first dipped in the blood of the dead bird, to show how he must always keep in mind his responsibilities to refrain from speaking evil.

 

The Chofetz Chaim encountered numerous challenges trying to get haskamos for his sefer on leshon hara. On one occasion, he was given a test where someone engaged him in conversation for 6 hours on all sorts of issues of the day. Yet, any time the conversation would gravitate towards the denigration of individuals, he would put a quick end to it. Indeed, the Chofetz Chaim was the true embodiment of the above.

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Al Pi Cheshbon: Counting the Omer in Different Bases
Dikdukian: White Hair
Dikdukian: Meaining of "kibus" by Eliyahu Levin
Dikdukian: Various Dikduk Observations by Eliyahu Levin

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

Sunday, April 16

The Weekly Shtikle - Shevi'i shel Pesach

The seventh day of Pesach fits perfectly into the scheme of the chag. We begin by celebrating the grand miracles of the actual exodus from Mitzrayim and we end by celebrating the miracles at Yam Suf. However, there is a bigger picture. Our counting of sefiras haOmer beginning on the second day of Pesach ties Pesach to Shavuos such that the 50-day period constitutes one long chag celebrating yetzias Mitzrayim and the purification process which culminated in matan Torah. How does shvi'i shel Pesach fit in to this big picture? It is not yom tov in and of itself like Shemini Atzeres but it is a yom tov nevertheless. What was the necessity of the events that transpired at Yam Suf and what part do they play in the progression towards matan Torah?

 

In parshas Vayeira we have discussed the purpose of the warning to Lot and his family not to look behind them when they fled Sedom and why his wife became a pillar of salt when she did so. It was not enough to leave Sedom. They had to leave and never look back. Looking back upon the destruction illustrated Lot's wife's inability to truly remove herself from her environment.

 

We find that there was a similar issue with certain factions in B'nei Yisrael who still thought they were better off in Mitzrayim. This is made evident by the arguments presented as the Egyptians approached. B'nei Yisrael had physically left Mitzrayim but their past was still fresh in their minds, to the point that they were not convinced that they were currently in a better situation.

 

There is apparently excessive emphasis put on the destruction of the Eqyptians at Yam Suf. Moshe declares (14:13) "as you have seen Mitzrayim today, you will cease to see them ever again." And as the Midrash recalls, the dead Egyptians were washed ashore to make it clear to B'nei Yisrael that they had not survived the ordeal. It was seemingly insufficient for B'nei Yisrael to merely escape the clutches of the Egyptians to safety on the other side of the sea. The Egyptian army needed to be destroyed and B'nei Yisrael needed to bear witness to their destruction. Perhaps this was all necessary as a means of closing the chapter of Mitzrayim in our history. We left a nation which had been ravaged by the ten plagues and brought to its knees. But it was still a viable nation, one worth returning to if the situation were to necessitate it. But the complete decemation of the army at Yam Suf dealt the final deathly blow, as if to say, "the Mitzrayim you once knew is no longer and there is no going back."

 

In order for us to properly and wholeheartedly look to the future, it was necessary for us to completely detach ourselves from the past, to know that we may never look back and only build and grow towards a greater destiny. This allowed us to spend the remaining working towards that as we approach Matan Torah.


Have a chag samei'ach!

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:

Please visit the new portal for all Shtikle-related sites, www.weeklyshtikle.com
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Monday, April 10

The Weekly Shtikle - Leil Seder


This year's installment once again is inspired by a thought expressed in R' Jonathan Sacks' haggadah, although it is not necessarily his own original thought. While discussing the main themes behind the purpose of the haggadah, he points out that while the word derives its etymology from lehagid, to tell, it is also related to the word eged, to bind, to join or to connect. The retelling of the haggadah connects us to previous generations as well as with other Jews around the world in different continents engaging in the same practice.

It occurred to me that this two-letter tandem – gimmel and dalet – is indeed quite a versatile pair and forms the body of many diverse words, each of which – with a little homiletic license – can be applied to a theme of the haggadah.

We first encounter the word Gad when Leah uses that name for her son (Bereishis 30:11.) The word already has its own meaning with Rashi translating it as mazal tov, good fortune. Indeed, the story of the haggadah is the beginning of our first "winning streak" as a nation. When Gad receives his berachah (49:19,) we find the word gedud, an army battalion. As evidenced by the famous passage of the four sons, the haggadah is a very significant component in the eternal battle that is the education of our children and the challenge of ensuring they follow in the correct path. If we can successfully help them gain a true appreciation of the story of the haggadah, the battle has already begun to swing in our favour.

Still in sefer Bereishis (32:33) we have the word gid, which refers to a tendon. I imagine this is closely related to eged, discussed above, as the tendon is what connects the muscles to the bones.

In the mishnah (Parah 2:2) the verb yagud means to remove something that doesn't belong, in this case a parah adumah's black horns and hoofs. We endured the long, arduous exile in Mitzrayim and survived by not blending in and making sure we constantly felt that we were where we did not belong. Sure enough, HaShem ultimately removed us. But in truth, this word (whose source is Daniel 4:11,) might very well also be a derivation of eged. Many words are used as their own opposites and in this case, yagud, seems to imply the severing of a connection. To add to the previous ideas behind the theme of connection, although the haggadah is the retelling of a well-structured story, its text is made up of many seemingly disparate parts which often don't seem to fit together. But of course, they do all connect to each other. For another contemporary rendition dedicating to uncovering these bindings, see my father's The Haggadah Connection.

We even find the gimmel-dalet combination forming words in Aramaic such as guda denahara (Eruvin 24b,) the river bank. The banks of the river keep its waters contained and prevent them from overflowing, keeping the water moving in the right direction. The story of our exodus from Egypt is one of the foundations of our belief system and, as mentioned above, a necessary element in keeping the waters of Torah flowing down the proper path.

Finally, one can't ignore the presence of the very same letter combination in the word gedi, kid goat. This little animal plays quite a prevalent role in our history. It was the gedi that was used as the delicacy for Yitzchak and whose fur was used to fool him, allowing Yaakov to usurp Eisav's blessings (Bereishis 27.) It plays a role in the story of Yehudah and Tamar (38,) an episode which set the stage for the Davidic Dynasty. The same animal (although not referred to as gedi) is used by the brothers to fake Yosef's death in the episode that ultimately leads to our exile in Egypt. The gedi is also the animal of choice to illustrate the prohibition that makes up such a significant portion of our halachah text – the mixing of meat and milk. It is therefore fitting – although I haven't quite figured out how it all does fit – that we end the haggadah with the story of the father who bought the one kid goat, chad gadya.

In the passages that instruct us to embark on this quest to educate our children about this great chapter in our history, the word ve'amarta, or a variation thereof, is used three times (Shemos 12:27, 13:14, Devarim 6:21) whereas vehigadta is only used once (Shemos 13:8.) A whole essay could be devoted to the nuances which differentiate those two terms. But perhaps the above sheds some light and why our text is referred to not as the amirah, but the haggadah.

Have a Chag Kasher ve'Sameiach!

For a collection of previous seder night shtikles, please check out my archive of past Seder shtikles.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Dikdukian: Chad Gadya

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

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