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Friday, May 25

The Weekly Shtikle - Naso

    This week's parsha contains the pesukim that the Kohanim recite when they perform Birkas Kohanim. The Shulchan Aruch (OC 128:33), based on the gemara (Megillah 24b) states that someone who cannot properly pronounce the letters, such as one who mispronounces an aleph as an ayin or an ayin as an aleph, should not go up to perform Birkas Kohanim. The difficulty with this is that the pesukim do contain an aleph but do not contain an ayin. Why then would someone who mispronounces an ayin as an aleph be forbidden from performing Birkas Kohanim?

    Rashi in the gemara seems to be sensitive to this issue. He gives a specific example of a grievous mispronunciation that would result with the exchange of an ayin for an aleph. However, when explaining the opposite substitution, he writes simply that as a result of this substitution he will disqualify his prayers. This statement of Rashi is quite vague and requires further interpretation but it shows, nevertheless, that Rashi addressed the lack of an ayin in Birkas Kohanim.

    The issue is dealt with further in the commentaries on the Shulchan Aruch. Ba'eir Heiteiv raises the question and does not provide an answer. Machatzis HaShekel seems to suggest that this is not an issue as the gemara is simply referring to one who confuses the two letters. Thus, as long as one of the substitutions is significant, it is a sufficient problem.

    I suggest a possible explanation for the gemara which may be the meaning of Rashi as well. After the Kohanim complete the main part of Birkas Kohanim, they recite an additional prayer. In this prayer, the Kohanim declare that they have done their part in bestowing the blessings upon the congregation. They beseech HaShem to fulfill His promise to carry out the blessings. In the prayer, there are a number of occurrence of the letter ayin. The most significant is the word "nishbata." If pronounced properly with an ayin, it means "You have sworn." However, if the ayin is not properly verbalized, the word means "You have taken captive." Although this is not part of the actual blessings of the Kohanim, perhaps it is a serious enough mispronunciation to forbid a Kohein from performing Birkas Kohanim.

Have a Chodesh Tov and Good Shabbos.

Friday, May 18

The Weekly Shtikle - Bemdibar

Kiddush Levana Advisory: Do not be fooled by the listed molad time for this month: Thursday, 1:29:46 AM. As we have discussed in the past, this is the time of the molad in Jerusalem Standard Time, which is six hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Time. Therefore, the molad occurred 7:29:46 PM on Wednesday evening and there is no reason why any Jew in North America (except for Sefardim and Chassidim who tend to traditionally wait 7 days) could not recite Kiddush Levana this Motzaei Shabbos, weather permitting.
    This week's parsha makes it perfectly clear why its book's English name is Numbers. Just about the entire parsha from beginning to end deals with numbers. One of the points of interest concerning the census is the discrepancy between the population of the tribe of Levi as compared to all other tribes. The tally of the tribe of Levi was 22300, almost 10000 short of the lowest tally amongst the other tribes, Menasheh's 32200. But the Leviim were counted from one month old whereas the rest of the nation was counted from 20 years old so their numbers are even more unusually low.
    Ramba"n notes this point and offers two explanations: 1) B'nei Yisroel's dramatic increase in population was a result of the subjugation in Mitzrayim. As the pasuk (Shemos 1:12) "But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad." Since, as we know, the tribe of Levi was not subjected to the same hardships as the rest of the nation, they did not multiply at the same rate. 2) When Yaakov Avinu expressed his anger with Shimon and Levi over the incident in Shechem, Levi was cursed with being less in number than his brothers.
    Ohr HaChayim HaKadosh takes issue with both of these offerings from Ramba"n. First, he argues that B'nei Yisroel's miraculous rate of reproduction was not a result of the subjugation. The pasuk stating, (Shemos 1:7) "And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them,"  comes before any mention of slavery. As far as Ramba"n's second suggestion, Ohr HaChayim cites a census in Divrei HaYamim in which the tribe of Levi was great in number, implying that there was no such curse on Levi. 
    Ohr HaChayim and Klei Yekar offer an alternative suggestion. The gemara (Sotah 12a) recounts that when Par'oah issued his evil decree on all Israelite males, Amram divorced Yocheved and everyone else followed suit. Although Amram eventually did take Yocheved back, this move had a drastic effect on population growth, and most drastically on his own tribe, Levi. Over 80 years later this was reflected in the census.
    R' Sander Goldberg (Baltimore) in Nachal Chayim, shows mathematically how Ramba"n's first answer does not seem to work. B'nei Yisroel totalled 603,550 of which 22,273 were first born. That would mean the first born made up less than 4% of the population. But the first born were also counted from one month. It can be assumed that the total population of B'nei Yisroel counting from one month would be far greater than 603,550. As there is only one first born per family, that means the families had an average size of over 30. This is impossible under natural circumstances and is therefore a testimony to the statement of Chaza"l that the Israelite women would give birth to six babies at a time.
    When we observe the tribe of Levi we find similar numbers. The population of Levi was 22300 of which 300 were first born. That amounts to even smaller percentage of first born and thus, an even large average family size! Clearly, when the tribe of Levi multiplied, they did so at a similar if not greater rate than the rest of the nation.
Have a Chodesh Tov and Good Shabbos.

Friday, May 11

The Weekly Shtikle - Behar / Bechukosai

This week's shtikle is dedicated le'iluy nishmas my mother, Tzirel Nechama bas Tuvia Yehudah, o"h, whose Yahrtzeit is Sunday, the 25th of Iyar.

    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.

    My grandfather, Mr. George Jakobovits, 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 Moshiach and the resurrection of the dead. 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 above, 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 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

Have a good Shabbos.
Eliezer Bulka

Friday, May 4

The Weekly Shtikle - Emor

   Parshas Emor always comes out in the middle of Sefiras HaOmer and it is also the parsha which contains the commandment for Sefiras HaOmer (23:15). Thus, this is an appropriate week to discuss a matter pertaining to this topic that I have wanted to discuss for some time. The topic is the discussion as to whether or not writing may qualify as a valid means of fulfilling the mitzvah of Sefiras HaOmer. That is, if one was to write, "Hayom Yom X La'Omer," would that be sufficient to fulfill one's obligation and would this action disallow one from repeating the count with a brachah?

    The discussion of this halachic quandary follows an interesting family tree. This issue is first dealt with in Shaalos uTeshuvos of R' Akiva Eiger, siman 29. The teshuvah is actually written by R' Akiva Eiger's uncle, R' Wolf Eiger. Unable to attend his nephew's wedding, he made a simultaneous banquet of his own to celebrate the occasion. He wrote to his nephew about this halachic issue which was discussed at the banquet. He cites a number of related issues which he builds together to try to reach a conclusion. The gemara (Yevamos 31b, Gittin 71a) teaches that witnesses may only testify by means of their mouths and not by writing. The gemara (Shabbos 153b) states that mutes should not separate Terumah because they cannot say the brachah. It is assumed that writing the brachah would not have been sufficient. Also, there is a discussion amongst the commentaries with regards to the validity of a vow that is written and not recited. R' Wolf Eiger concludes that writing is not a sufficient means of fulfilling the mitzvah of Sefiras HaOmer. However, this sparks a debate between him and his nephew which stretches out to siman 32.

    This issue is eventually discussed in Shaalos uTeshuvos Kesav Sofer (Yoreh Dei'ah siman 106) by R' Avraham Shmuel Binyomin Sofer, R' Akiva Eiger's grandson who was, in fact, named after R' Wolf Eiger. He covers a host of related topics and eventually discusses the exchange recorded in his grandfather's sefer. The debate, although it encompasses various pertinent issues, never produces any concrete proof directly concerning the act of counting. However, Ksav Sofer quotes his father, Chasam Sofer, in his footnotes to Shaalos uTeshuvos R' Akiva Eiger (his father- in-law) where he provides a more concrete proof. The gemara (Yoma 22b) teaches that one who counts the number of B'nei Yisroel transgresses a prohibition as it is written (Hoshea 2:1) "And the number of B'nei Yisroel shall be like the sand of the sea that shall not be measured nor counted." The gemara cites two examples (Shmuel I 11:8, 15:4) where Shaul HaMelech went out of his way to avoid this prohibition by using pieces of clay or rams in order to perform a census. Chasam Sofer suggests that Shaul could simply have counted the men by writing down the numbers and not saying them. Since Shaul went to far greater lengths, we are compelled to say that writing the number of men would still have qualified as counting them and he would hot have sufficiently dodged the prohibition. Thus, concludes Chasam Sofer, if one has explicit intention to fulfill the mitzvah, writing is a valid means of performing the mitzvah of Sefiras HaOmer. However, Kesav Sofer suggests that perhaps the brachah should not be recited in this case.

Have a good Shabbos.
Eliezer Bulka