The Weekly Shtikle Blog

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Friday, January 30

The Weekly Shtikle - Bo

This week's parsha begins with the warning of the forthcoming plague of "arbeh," locusts. Moshe Rabbeinu warns Paroah (10:4) that if he refuses to set B'nei Yisroel free, HaShem will bring locusts in his midst tomorrow. He then proceeds to explain that the locusts will cover the view of the land, will not be able to see the land and will devour the remaining crops that survived the hail.  The pasuk does not explain who it is that will not be able to see the land. Rashi comments, as he often does, that the Torah sometimes leaves out the subject of the sentence and instead, uses a shorter form. Essentially, it is as if the Torah would have written "and the looker will not be able to see the land." This interpretation is supported by Rashba"m and Ibn Ezra.


However, Klei Yakar objects to this interpretation. The fact that the Egyptians will not be able to see the land is insignificant with regards to the damage caused by the plague and need not be mentioned. It is certainly not as significant as the fact that they will wipe out all the remaining crops and should certainly have been mentioned afterward. Yet, it seems there is some degree of cause and effect alluded to in this pasuk, as well as the pasuk describing the plague itself (10:15).


Therefore, Klei Yakar offers an alternate explanation of the pasuk. There is a natural phenomenon that blind people tend to get much less satisfaction out of their food. The gratification that one derives from eating is apparently contingent upon their ability to see the food. The pasuk is not telling us that the Egyptians wouldn't see the land but rather, the locusts would not be able to see the land. As a result of the locusts' inability to see where they are going or what they are eating, they will never become satisfied and they will eat and eat until everything is gone. This is why Moshe goes on to warn that the locusts, after destroying the fields, will make their way into each and every home to find more food. This was apparently such a compelling prediction that Paroah rushed to call Moshe after the locusts had consumed everything outdoors that survived the hail. This is the only plague in which Paroah is said to have rushed to call Moshe. This is because he understood and believed that once the locusts were finished devouring the outdoors, they would not be satisfied and would then invade the houses.

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

Friday, January 23

The Weekly Shtikle - Va'eira

At the beginning of the plague of frogs, as Aharon raised is hand over the waters of Egypt, the pasuk states (8:2) "vata'al hatzefardeia," the frog rose up. Although throughout the episode, the frogs are always referred to in plural, here it is in the singular form. There is a discussion in the gemara (Sanhendrin 67b) as to what to make of this anomaly. R' Elazar says there was one frog and it gave birth to all the other frogs which proceeded to cover the land. Likewise, R' Akiva said there was one frog which filled the whole land (seemingly by giving birth to the other frogs). R' Elazer ben Azaria took offense, exclaiming, "Akiva, why do you bother to delve in Aggada? Cease and return to the study of 'negaim' and 'ohalos.' There was one frog and it whistled to all its friends to join and they came."


Chasam Sofer is bothered by the tone of R' Elazar ben Azaria's remarks. There is certainly nothing in the pasuk itself that is in opposition to R' Akiva's interpretation. Why is he so turned off by his suggestion?


The gemara (Pesachim 53b) discusses the great miracle of Chananiah Mishael and Azaria who were forced by Nevuchadnezzar to walk through a fiery furnace and came out alive. Todos Ish Romi taught, "What led Cananiah Mishael and Azaria to walk through the fiery furnace (rather than bow down to an idol)? They reasoned that the frogs who are not obligated to sanctify God's name nevertheless jumped into the ovens of the Egyptians as part of the plague of frogs (7:28). Certainly, we who are obligated to sanctify God's name must surely make that sacrifice.


Chasam Sofer explains that if one frog gave birth to many, as R' Akiva suggested, than all those frogs were created solely for the purpose of this plague. If so, Chananiah Mishael and Azaria would have no basis for their reasoning. They, who have a purpose, could not derive from the frogs who had no other purpose but to jump into the ovens. Therefore, R' Elazar ben Azaria is vehemently opposed to R' Akiva's interpretation and explains that surely, these frogs who participated in the plague were in existence before the plague.

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

Friday, January 16

The Weekly Shtikle - Shemos

After a lengthy discourse at the burning bush, HaShem instructs Moshe Rabbeinu to appear before the elders of B'nei Yisroel and proclaim in HaShem's name, "Pakod pakadti eschem," I have surely visited you. With this simple introduction, the elders would listen to Moshe and he would proceed to come before Paroah and begin the redemption process. However, Moshe contends that B'nei Yisroel will not believe him and will claim that HaShem never appeared to him. HaShem then proceeds to give Moshe three signs to use in front of B'nei Yisroel. The first is to turn his staff into a snake. The second was to place his hand in his bosom. Upon removing it, it became afflicted with tzora'as and turned white as snow. After placing his hand inside once more, his hand returned to normal. If they would not believe in the first sign, they would believe in the second. If they would not believe even the second sign, then Moshe was to take from the waters of the Nile and pour them onto the ground at which point they would turn to blood. (3:17-4:9)


The necessity of the signs seems easily explainable. Moshe was originally told that all he would need to say is "Pakod pakadti eschem, etc" in order to achieve the trust of B'nei Yisroel. According to the well-known Midrash, based on a pasuk at the end of last week's parsha, there was a tradition passed on from Yoseif that this specific phraseology was a code that would only be uttered by the ultimate redeemer of B'nei Yisroel. This was all Moshe really needed. However, since he showed a lack of faith in his nation's trust, he was required to prove his validity through these signs. Why three, though? What was it about the second sign that made him more believable than the first? What advantage did the third have over the previous two?


The first sign is a rather simple one. On the surface, there seems to be little significance to this trick. Perhaps, this was meant as a simple proof that Moshe Rabbeinu possessed special powers.  At a certain level of desperation, this might have been enough to gain the trust of the people. But Moshe had to do more. The second sign had more symbolic significance. When one is trying to prove his powers to the masses, it is unconventional to inflict harm upon himself. However, what Moshe was proving to B'nei Yisroel with this sign was that he was prepared to put himself in personal danger for the sake of the people. In this, Moshe was proving not only his extraordinary powers but his quality as a leader. A true leader is one who not only takes credit for the success of his followers, but is prepared to sacrifice his dignity, and perhaps even his life, in taking responsibility for their failures. Indeed, the end of this week's parsha is only the first of many instances in which Moshe Rabbeinu exhibited this aspect of leadership.


Finally, if these two signs still were not enough, the third sign would divert the nation's attention to a different aspect of the issue at hand. The Nile was the lifeline of Egyptian agriculture and an object of worship in and of itself. Turning it to blood symbolized the first step towards the destruction of this evil regime. The combination of these three signs would prove unequivocally that Moshe Rabbeinu was imbued with special powers and sent by HaShem to lead B'nei Yisroel to their long-awaited redemption.

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

Friday, January 9

The Weekly Shtikle - Vayechi

Yesterday marked the first yahrtzeit of Rabbi Joseph Schechter of Ner Yisroel. This week's shtikle is dedicated le'iluy nishmaso, Yoseif ben Eliezer Z'ev.

Two geography notes:

When Yaakov blesses Yoseif and his children before he blesses all his sons together, he tells Yoseif (48:22), "I have given you an additional 'shechem,' more than that of your brothers." Rashi offers two interpretations of the word "shechem." He explains, not without adequate support from other pesukim in Tanach, that the word "shechem" means portion. In halachah, the first-born son receives a double portion of the inheritance. Instead of Reuvein being the beneficiary of that privilege, it was granted to Yoseif as both his sons received a portion in Eretz Yisroel. The other explanation offered by Rashi is that this is a reference to the city of Shechem. In reward for his toil in assuring his father a proper burial, Yaakov granted the city of Shechem to Yoseif for burial and as an extra portion of land for the inheritance of his descendants.


In Sefer Yehoshua (21), we are given an exhaustive list of the different cities that were designated for Kohanim and Levi'im. Among the cities designated for Levi'im was Shechem. Additionally, we are told in the previous perek that Shechem was a city of refuge for accidental killers. That being so, of what significance is this gift to Yoseif if his descendants would not ultimately settle in that city?


The gemara (Makkos 10a) presents a similar difficulty with a different city. Chevron was another city that was designated for Kohanim as well as a city of refuge. However, we are told (Shofetim 1:20) that Chevron was given to Caleiv ben Yefuneh as decreed by Moshe Rabbeinu. Abbayei's answer is a single word, parvadaha, the origin of which is the subject of some discussion. The essence of his response seems to be that the fields and courtyards around the city were given to Calev. Perhaps this answers the above question as well. Although Yoseif's descendants may never have settled in Shechem itself, the fields and courtyards were available to them and this was indeed a significant gift for Yoseif.




When Yaakov's sons bring him back to Eretz Canaan to be buried (50:10), they reach "Goren HaAtad asher be'eiver haYardein." The term "eiver haYardein" in most cases refers to the eastern side of the Yardein. Also, since the word eiver implies a crossing over, and they started off to the West of the Yardein, "eiver haYardein" would seem to imply the Eastern side. This is hard to understand for there is a rather direct route from Mitzrayim straight up to Chevron without encountering the Yardein. Why would the brothers end up on the other side of the Yardein?


The easiest answer to this question is that of the Chizkuni, that here "eiver haYardein" refers to the western side, as it does in Devarim 11:30. However, the most interesting answer is that of Rabbeinu Meyuchas, that in bringing Yaakov to be buried, the sons went around Eretz Yisroel in the same manner that B'nei Yisroel did when they left Mitzrayim. The sefer Torah Sheleimah quotes from an obscure source that this is the meaning of the pasuk (Tehilim 114:3) "hayam ra'ah vayanos," for the ark of Yosef, "haYardein yisov le'achor," for the ark of Yaakov, that the sons of Yaakov had the Yardein split for them at the same point that it split for B'nei Yisroel. So, suggests Rabbeinu Meyuchas, they were indeed on the eastern side of the Yardein as part of their journey and that place, "Avel Mitzrayim," was indeed "Avel haShitim" where B'nei Yisroel cried for Moshe Rabeinu.

Chazak, Chazak, veNischazeik!

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

Friday, January 2

The Weekly Shtikle - Vayigash

Before sending his brothers off to inform their father that he was still alive, Yoseif hands out gifts to each of his brothers (45:22). Each one received clothing but to Binyomin, he gave 5 times the amount of clothes and three hundred silver coins. The gemara (Megillah 16a-b) is puzzled by this gesture: "Can it be that Yoseif would stumble over the very same misjudgement that caused his father so much grief? After all, it was the extra garment that Yaakov gave Yoseif which caused the jealousy amongst the brothers and lead to the current predicament." The gemara goes on to explain that Yoseif was alluding to the story of Purim.

I have always found this gemara difficult to understand. There is a very distinct difference between Yaakov's treatment of Yoseif's and Yoseif's treatment of Binyomin. All of the brothers were equally Yaakov's sons. There was no reason for him to favour one over the other. That is why Yoseif's preferential treatment caused jealousy. But the other brothers were only half brothers to Yoseif. Binyomin was the only brother with whom Yoseif shared both a mother and a father. Surely his favouritism towards him is understood.

Sure enough, Maharsha on this gemara is bothered by the very same issue. He explains that Yoseif's doling out of gifts was meant to reassure the brothers that he harboured no resentment against them for selling him. Although the intentions behind the extra gifts to Binyomin were certainly legitimate, they could have easily been misconstrued. Binyomin also happened to be the only brother with absolutely no involvement in the sale of Yoseif. Had the brothers seen this as the reason behind Yoseif's actions, it would have completely defeated the purpose.

The lesson here is clear. It is not sufficient to consider whether one's actions are right or wrong. One must carefully consider how those actions may be perceived by others.

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka