The Weekly Shtikle Blog

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Friday, June 26

The Weekly Shtikle - Korach

This week's shtikle is dedicated to our new nephew Pinchas Elimelech Yeres who received his bris and his new name this past Tuesday.

After the episode of Korach, B'nei Yisroel continue to challenge Moshe and Aharon's authority. After yet another plague strikes B'nei Yisroel, Moshe is instructed to perform a demonstration that would show, through Divine intervention, the authenticity of Aharon's leadership as Kohein Gadol. He was told (17:17-18) to gather twelve staves from the twelve leaders of the tribes and to write their names on their respective staves. Aharon's name was to be written on the stave belonging to the tribe of Levi. Later, when the demonstration is performed, the Torah recounts (17:21) that the leaders gave the staves to Moshe - twelve staves with the stave of Aharon among them. Throughout the episode it is unclear whether Aharon's stave was one of the twelve or if it was in addition to the twelve for a total of thirteen.


Ramban, citing an apparent tradition that the Tribes of Israel shall never be counted as more (or less) than twelve, asserts that the stave of the tribe of Levi was one of the twelve. He suggests that to compensate, the tribes of Ephraim and Menasheh were not separate this time but were considered as one tribe. Malbi"m posits that the leader of the tribe of Ephraim was the one whose stave was used as per Yaakov Avinu's command (Bereishis 48:20) that Ephraim be placed before Menasheh at all times.


Netziv, in Hemek Davar, challenges Ramban's position. He proposes that there is no problem with counting B'nei Yisroel as more than twelve in this case because the end result of the demonstration was to be that on of the staves would blossom, thus removing the tribe to whom it belonged from the group of twelve. Rather, Aharon's stave was indeed the thirteenth.


Although Netziv does address Ramban's issue of a maximum of twelve, Ramban's opinion is based on a textual inference as well. Moshe was commanded to collect the twelve staves and write Aharon's name on the stave of Levi. There is no command to take a separate stave for Levi. Ramban infers, therefore, that the stave of Levi was among the twelve. Netziv does not address this inference.

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

Friday, June 19

The Weekly Shtikle - Shelach

A very special Weekly Shtikle Mazal Tov to my brother-in-law and sister-in-law, Yisroel and Hindy Yeres, on the birth of their little baby boy this past Monday night. Mazal Tov to the respective mishpachos. I will hopefully dedicate next week's shtikle to him when he has a name.

In the end of the parsha we have the episode of the "mekosheish eitzim" the one who gathered wood on Shabbos who was given the death penalty for transgression of Shabbos. Targum Yonasan writes that the mekosheish acted with good intentions. Until that time it was only known that  a transgressor of Shabbos is given death but it was not known which of the four forms of capital punishment were to be administered. The mekosheish transgressed the Shabbos in order that we are exposed to the true halacha.

Maharsha (Bava Basra 119a) asks how could he take such drastic measures as to transgress Shabbos just to learn this Halacha. He answers that really, since he did so only to find out the halacha, it is considered a "melacha she'eina tzricha le'gufa", a work that is not needed for its principal purpose for which one is not liable. For example, if one digs a ditch because he needs the dirt, he is not liable for digging a ditch because he did not need the ditch.  So too here, the mokosheish's purpose had nothing to do with the actual melachah. However, since he did not tell this to the witnesses, he was liable for the death penalty. But "min haShomayim" he did not transgress Shabbos.


The sentence given to the mekosheish was sekilah, stoning. The mishnah (Sanhedrin 45a) discusses the sekilah procedure. One of the witnesses pushes the offender of a cliff and if he does not die from that, they throw a large rock on him and if he still doesn't die, then everyone stones him until he dies. The gemara (45b) quotes a braysa which states that it never occurred that they actually reached the third step of the entire nation throwing stones. The gemara answers that the mishnah was indeed not telling us that it happened but rather that if it were to come to that, that would be the procedure. However, it seems to state clearly in the parsha (15:36) that the entire nation stoned him. How are we to interpret the braysa or the pasuk?

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

Friday, June 12

The Weekly Shtikle - Beha'alosecha

One of the numerous topics discussed in this week's parsha is the commandment to make two silver trumpets to be used under specific circumstances. The Torah decrees that the trumpets are to be blown at times of war so that we may be remembered before HaShem and we may be saved from our enemies. The pasuk begins with a puzzling wording, (10:9) "Vechi savo'u milchamah be'artzechem..." The word milchamah is singular but the "tavo'u" is a plural verb, thus making the exact translation of this pasuk unclear.


According to Targum Onkelos, the pasuk is read as if it were written "Vechi savo'u lemilchamah," when you come to [wage] war. The Sifrei (Beha'alosecha 76) states very simply, based on this pasuk, that the trumpets are to be blown whether you are waging war on your enemy or your enemy is attacking you. Eimek HaNetziv suggests that it is the grammatical incongruity of the pasuk that is the reasoning behind the midrash. Because it is unclear whether the pasuk is talking about B'nei Yisroel waging war or war being waged, we may understand that it is referring to both.

Sha'arei Aharon points out, however, that according to Rambam (Hilchos Ta'aniyos 1,2) it is clear that this does not include a "milchemes reshus," voluntary war. Therefore, when the Sifrei includes B'nei Yisroel waging war on its enemies, it refers only to "milchemes mitzvah," a Divinely sanctioned war. Rambam defines this elsewhere (Hilchos Melachim 5:1) as the wars against the seven nations, Amaleik and any act of defence. [According to this, it would seem that any military or political move which clearly undermines the efforts of National security and defence may in fact be a transgression of failure to engage in "milchemes mitzvah."]


Rav Hirsch makes an insightful observation in support of the above interpretation. The Torah, in reference to war, will sometimes use the verb "tavo," but at times it uses the word "teitzei." The word "teitzei," to go out, implies a voluntary act of going out to war and thus, it is used in reference to an uncommanded war. The word "tavo," indicating the coming to or coming of war, implies a more passive acceptance of the realities and necessities of war. Therefore, it is used, as it is here, in reference to a "milchemes mitzvah," which is carried out only by Divine decree.

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

Friday, June 5

The Weekly Shtikle - Naso

This week's parsha includes extensive discussions of the laws pertaining to the sotah and the nazir, one after the other. Their respective tractates of gemara, aptly named Nazir and Sotah, also appear side by side, although in the opposite order. The juxtaposition of these two topics is discussed in the gemara at the beginning of maseches Sotah. Rebbi would say that anyone who is present and witnesses the public humiliation of the sotah should make sure he is not adversely affected by his experience and restrict himself from drinking wine, one of the principal requirements of the nazir. Refraining from wine will make sure that any impure thoughts don't translate into indecent behaviour.

Perhaps another understanding may be offered. Sotah represents the epitome of reckless conduct, a blatant disregard for the sanctity of the marriage bond. Although there are many other instances of sinful behaviour in the Torah, this is elaborated upon in much greater depth. Perhaps more importantly, it impresses upon us how seemingly innocent conversation between a man and woman has the potential to lead to destructive consequences. Sotah symbolizes brazen disregard of Torah values.


Nazir, however, is at the other end of the spectrum. The nazir separates himself from the pleasures of this world and leads a life of extreme holiness. Although curbing one's level of indulgence is often looked upon as a commendable, the practice of nazir is surprisingly not. The gemara, on a number of occasions (Taanis 11a, Nedarim 10a, Nazir 19a, 22a, Bava Kamma 91b) dwells on the pasuk in this week's parsha, concerning the nazir's sacrifices, "and it shall atone for him from that which he sinned on the soul." What sin did the nazir commit? R' Elazar HaKefar teaches that his sin was that he caused himself undue anguish in refraining from wine. And if one is called a sinner for merely refraining from wine, all the more so one who restricts himself excessively from all other pleasures.


From this perspective, sotah and nazir represent the two extremes of behaviour discouraged by the Torah. The sotah is one who is overindulgent and runs after pleasure. The nazir is one who withdraws himself from all pleasure and inflicts upon himself excessive suffering. By putting the two side by side, the Torah is impressing upon us the importance of following the middle path. While we are required to do our utmost to avoid the temptations of indulgence, we must not do so by completely withdrawing from the pleasures of this world. The Torah does not favour extremism in either direction. As it is said, (Devarim 5:29) "And you shall be watchful to do as HaShem your God has commanded you, do not stray to the right or to the left." Do not act liberally with respect to Torah and mitzvos, but be not overly conservative in your observance.

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka