The Weekly Shtikle Blog

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Friday, August 29

The Weekly Shtikle - Re'eih

Although this Shabbos is the day before Rosh Chodesh when we would normally read the haftarah of "Machar Chodesh," we instead read the regular haftarah of Re'eih as part of the seven haftaros of comfort just as the haftarah of Rosh Chodesh was skipped on Rosh Chodesh Av in favour of the regular reading as part of the three haftaros of misfortune.

The pasuk in this week's haftara, (Yeshaya 55:1) says "Hoy kol tzame l'chu lamayim", all who are thirsty, go to (drink) water. The gemara in Taanis 7a tells us that water here refers to Torah, that all who are thirsty shall go and learn Torah. Why is Torah compared to water? R' Chaim Kunyevsky, in Ta'ama D'kra explains: We are taught (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 204:7) that there is a distinct difference between water and all other food and drink. All other food and drink require a berachah regardless, because under all circumstances, one derives a certain amount of pleasure from the food or drink. Water is different. One only makes a berachah on water if they are drinking it because they are thirsty. If they are drinking it because they are choking on a piece of food, for example, a berachah is not required because no pleasure is derived from it. Similarly, the only way to really fulfill oneself with Torah, is if you are thirsty for it. One who learns Torah without a genuine thirst for it, will simply not get out of it what he should.

R' Eli Wolf uses this idea to explain the gemara which comments that one of the sins which led to the destruction of the first Bais HaMikdash was that "They did not make a berachah on the Torah first." Many commentaries are bothered how it is possible that they did not recite Birchas HaTorah. There are many explanations given. Perhaps, we could understand it now. Maybe what the gemara means is that they did not learn Torah out of thirst and thus, did not learn it in a manner that would require a berachah in the way that a berachah is required for water.

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

Friday, August 22

The Weekly Shtikle - Eikev

    In this week's parsha, Eretz Yisroel is praised as (8:8) "A land of wheat and barley and grapes and figs and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey." These species are given a special status when it comes to making berachos. Shulchan Aruch (OC 211:4), based on the gemara in Berachos 41, rules that if you have in front of you two foods that are both of the aforementioned seven species, the berachah should be made on the one that comes earliest in the pasuk. For example, if you have a grape and a fig, you should make a berachah on the grape. However, the determining factor is the proximity of the food to the word "eretz" in the pasuk. The word eretz is repeated before olive oil and honey. Thus, if you have before you a date (the source of the honey) and a grape, the berachah should be made on the date because it is the second food from the second "eretz" whereas the grape is the third from the first "eretz." Why, though, did the Torah specifically repeat the word "eretz" ?

    The GR"A writes that the pasuk is split into two categories. The first five species are all mentioned for their very essence. It is the fruit or grain itself for which Eretz Yisroel is praised. However, the last two species refer to the olive and the date but are only mentioned for the substances that are extracted from them. This is why the pasuk is divided by two instances of the word "eretz."

    Meshech Chachmah offers an alternate interpretation. He suggests that the first five species were available in Mitzrayim as well. His support for this is the dialogue preceeding the incident of Moshe and the rock, when the nation complained (Bemidbar 20:5) "And why have you taken us out from Mitzrayim to bring us to this terrible place, not a place of grain or figs or grapes or pomegranates and there is no water to drink." It is evident from here that the first five species were also abundant in Mitzrayim. The pasuk is therefore singling out olive oil and honey as the two species that are uniquely abundant in Eretz Yisroel by repeating the word "eretz."

    There is a slight difficulty with this interpretation. When Dasan and Aviram refused to appear before Moshe, they exclaim (Bemidbar 17:13) "Is it not enough that you have brought us out of a land flowing with milk and honey to kill us in the dessert!" It seems from here that there was an abundance of honey in Mitzrayim as well. Why then should the Torah single it out along with olive oil as unique to Eretz Yisroel?

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

Friday, August 15

The Weekly Shtikle - Va'eschanan

    In next week's parsha we are warned not to mistakenly attribute our successes and accomplishments to our own power and might without giving proper recognition to HaShem who has granted us that power.(8:17-18) When we say in our heart "kochi ve'otzem yadi" - my power and the might of my hand have made me this wealth - we must remember that it is HaShem who gives us the power to make that wealth. The need for this warning is understandable as it is easy to get carried away with ones own accomplishments and forget the true source that made everything possible.

    However, in this week's parsha we find a warning against a much more brazen form of "forgetfulness." (6-12) HaShem will bring us to the land of Israel where we will find great cities which we did not build, houses full of plenty which we did not fill ourselves, hewn cisterns which we did not hew, vineyards and olive trees which we did not plant. Yet we are immediately warned to beware lest we forget HaShem who brought us out of Mitzrayim. It would appear that it is part of the human condition that even while enjoying a plentiful bounty which we are fully aware was given to us a gift, one can get so carried away that the giver is forgotten. 

    Perhaps for this reason, this warning is immediately preceded by the first parsha of Shema. If it could be summarized, the message seems to be to surround ourselves with reminders of HaShem's Divine Providence and His Torah. We are to surround ourselves physically and temporally - in all places and at all times. From the moment we awake until we go to sleep, at home or on the road we must constantly remind ourselves. We adorn ourselves with reminders on our head and arms and on each doorpost in our home. The precise juxtaposition of the parshios is teaching us that the only way to make sure never to forget is to constantly remind ourselves.

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

Friday, August 8

The Weekly Shtikle - Devarim

    Before the war with Sichon, HaShem tells Moshe (2:25) "Today I will begin to instill fear and awe of you upon the nations under the heavens." There was a little point that bothered me slightly about this pasuk. It seems that this war with Sichon, specifically the convincing victory on the part of B'nei Yisroel, sparked a world-wide fear of B'nei Yisroel. This also implies, however, that this fear did not exist beforehand.
    This seems slightly incongruous with a pasuk in Yehoshua. When the two spies end up at Rachav's house, she tells them (Yehoshua 2:10-11) "For we have heard how HaShem dried up the waters of Yam Suf before you when you came out of Mitzrayim, and what you did to the two kings of the Emori, that were on the far side of the Yardein, Sichon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. And as soon as we heard these things, our hearts melted..." It seems that the world- wide fear began from the splitting of Yam Suf. (Even if one were to suggest that all three things contributed to the heart-melting but the splitting of the sea itself did not do it, the pesukim still do not match up for the pasuk in our parsha implies that the victory over Sichon accomplished it while the pasuk in Yehoshua implies that the victory over Og was essential as well.) How are we to reconcile these two pesukim?
Have a good Shabbos and an easy and meaningful fast and may we merit to see the geulah bimheira bekarov!

Eliezer Bulka

Friday, August 1

The Weekly Shtikle - Ma'ei

Ok, I will admit up front that this week's shtikle is a rerun from three years ago. But I thought it would be especially poignant since it will not be applicable in its entirety for another 44 years!
    When Matos and Mas'ei are read together, the aliyah which joins the two parshios does not end at sheini of Mas'ei but rather, it continues until shelishi. There seems to be good reason for this. Magen Avraham (428:8) cites Tzeror HaMor, stating that one must not make a break in the middle of the masa'os, the pesukim dealing with the list of B'nei Yisroel's resting points in the midbar. The reason for this is that there are 42 venues, corresponding to one of the Divine names.
    For 20 years, this was not an issue, until three years ago when Matos and Mas'ei were once again split. So where do we end the first aliyah? Most chumashim have sheini planted smack in the middle of the masa'os, in apparent contradiction with the Magen Avraham. With regards to minchah on Shabbos and Monday and Thursday, apparently even the Magen Avraham will agree that if we are not ultimately reading all 42 of the masa'os, there is no need to ensure they are contiguous. (Although, it seems minhag Sefarad and minhag AR"I adjust the reading to read the masa'os together.) However, the proper procedure on Shabbos is still up for discussion. It is not clear whether the conventionial stopping point found in most chumashim should be ignored on account of the Tzeror HaMor.
    If one is to adhere to the Tzeror HaMor, there seem to be two options. The first is to have the Kohein read only the first three pesukim, just as we do during the week. Then have the Levi read all of the masa'os like minhagei Sefarad and Ar"i suggest even during the week. However, another option is to have the Kohein read all the way through until (what is marked as) shelishi and then have the Levi read only a few pesukim further.
    R' Dovid Heber, rav of Khal Ahavas Yisroel Tzemach Tzedek here in Baltimore, points out an incredibly unique scenario that is achieved if the second approach is followed. In the middle of the masa'os we recount the passing of Aharon HaKohein. This is the first time we are told the actual date of his passing, the first day of the fifth month - Rosh Chodesh Av! Indeed, this Shabbos is Rosh Chodesh Av. This, asserts R' Heber, is the only time it is ever possible to read about an event in the weekly Torah portion on the exact day that it happened.
    This is not unique to this year only. Any year in which Pesach falls out on a Sunday (which isn't all too common), Mas'ei (and usually Matos as well) is read on Rosh Chodesh Av. However, this year's unique circumstances present a most interesting opportunity. If the Kohein indeed reads all the way to shelishi, then it is the Kohein whose aliyah contains the death of Aharon. Not only are we reading about Aharon's passing on the exact day it occurred, it is Aharon's direct descendant who is getting the aliyah on the day of his Zeidi Aharon's yahrtzeit. With this aliyah, the Kohen is following the tradition of the generations, as if to say, unlike the other nations mentioned in the aliyah (Moav, etc.) who have come and gone, the Kohanim (together with all of Klal Yisroel) continue to follow in the footsteps of their illustrious grandfather Aharon HaKohein.
    (It will be 13 years before Rosh Chodesh Av falls out on Shabbos again and only 3 years until Mas'ei is on it own again. But by my calculations those two events will not coincide until 5812. But you can probably expect the first half of the above to reappear in three years.)

Chazak, chazak, venischazeik!

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka