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Monday, March 25

The Weekly Shtikle - Leil Seder

Over the past couple of days, I have been thoroughly enjoying the newly published Haggada of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks by Koren Publishers. Unfortunately, this recommendation doesn't leave much time before Pesach is upon us but if you do still have an opportunity to get your hands on this haggadah, I highly recommend it. The haggadah includes commentary directly on the actual text as well as a collection of insightful essays in the back. There is a common theme that presents itself throughout - that the story of Yetzias Mitzrayim cannot be viewed simply as a singular historical event but rather a monumentally significant episode that shaped and continues to shape us as individuals and more importantly, as a people.

In the essay "The Missing Fifth," R' Sacks begins by going over the well-known "fours" - the four questions, four sons, four cups and four expressions of redemption. Four fours, in fact. He goes on to explain how each group actually has a missing fifth - a fifth question, a fifth son, a fifth cup and a fifth expression of redemption. Furthermore, there is yet a fifth group of four - the four pesukim from Ki Savo which we expound upon in the main part of Maggid. There, too, there is a fifth pasuk, 'Vayevi'einu el hamakom hazeh..." which we do not discuss. The common theme of these missing fifths is tied to the ultimate completion of the redemption from Mitzrayim, namely settling Eretz Yisrael and our ultimate redemption which has eluded us for so many generations but feels ever so much closer.

I couldn't even attempt to express these ideas nearly as eloquently as R' Sacks but this essay, as well as the themes expressed in other essays, inspired a perspective on the entire seder experience which was new to me and changed the way I understand the "duties of the day." The mitzvah of Sipur Yetzias Mitzrayim is a two way street. It is well known and much discussed that we must do our best to "take ourselves back" to the great redemption from the hands of Egyptian servitude - "chayav adam lir'os/lehar'os es atzmo..." We need to put ourselves there. However, at the same time, we need to "bring the geula to us." We need to understand that Yetzias Mitzrayim is nothing short of a blueprint for HaShem's constant Divine intervention on our behalf. This is perhaps made most evident by the "Vehi She'amdah" passage where we declare that it was not just in that generation but in every generation that our very existence hangs in the balance and HaShem ensures what we survive and endure. Just as the Dayeinu song expresses the ultimate purpose and completion of our exodus as the acceptance of the Torah and settling of Eretz Yisrael, statements such as "lashanah haba'ah b'nei chorin" and the themes found in the songs of Nirtzah express our trust and our yearning for our ultimate redemption, may it come speedily in our day.


A QUESTION: While this quandary might be classified simply in the realm of pilpul, perhaps it may spur some more insightful thought on the subject: There is a well-known dispute in the gemara (Pesachim 116a) as to the exact definition of "maschil bignus umsayeim bishvach," the requirement to express the "bad" and progress towards the "good" (to translate ever so loosely) in the retelling of Yetzias Mitzrayim. Rav is of the opinion that the "bad" is "mitechila ovedei avodah zarah hayu avoseinu." We begin with our lowly roots as idolaters and progress through the history from there. Shmuel is of the opinion that the genus is "avadim hayinu." We begin with our misfortune as slaves and proceed to tell the story of our redemption. 

There are various approaches to understanding this dispute. One would generally assume that the "less inclusive" opinion would have no objection to the "more inclusive" opinion. In this case, Shmuel holds that the required material need only begin with the Egyptian subjugation. Therefore, he should not object to Rav's approach which stretches much further back historically. However, there is an interesting nuance to this dispute. The passage of "Mitechila, etc." appears after that of "Avadim hayinu." So perhaps it remains to be seen what Shmuel's opinion to Rav's approach would be and vice versa. Or perhaps their dispute runs even deeper and would affect how the entire collection of texts is arranged.

Have a Chag Kasher veSamei'ach!

Eliezer Bulka

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Dikdukian: Chad Gadya

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Friday, March 22

The Weekly Shtikle - Tzav

In this week's parsha, the korban todah is discussed. The todah is brought as a thanks to HaShem for one of four reasons discussed by Chaza"l. The todah consists of a sacrifice and 40 loaves of bread. Netzi"v, in Ha'amek Davar points out that even though the todah is a shelamim sacrifice whose prescribed time for eating is a day and a half, the todah may only be eaten that night. This, in addition to the excessive bread requirement will make it impossible for the one bringing the korban to consume everything on his own and thus he will be compelled to make a gathering for all his friends wherein he will praise HaShem in public, in order that he not leave over any of the korban after the night. This, suggests Netzi"v, is the reason why the Torah commanded the bringing of the todah in this fashion.

With this concept, Netzi"v (in Herchev Davar on the bottom of Ha'amek Davar) explains the pesukim from Tehillim that we recite in Hallel: "L'cha ezbach zevach toda, uv'shem HaShem ekra", L'cha ezbach refers to the korban (animal) which is referred to as a zevach todah. Uv'shem HaShem ekra refers to the public thanks to HaShem that is given at the gathering of friends. Nedarai laShem ashalem refers to the korban. In "negda na l'chol amo", the word negda literally comes from the words neged, opposite. However, Netzi"v suggests it can also be construed as coming  from the word haggadah, to tell, referring to the telling over of HaShem's praise that will take place at the gathering. Finally, bechatzros beis HaShem, besochechi Yerushalayim would at first glance seem to be contradictory for bechatzros etc. clearly refers to the boundaries of the Beis HaMikdash whereas besochechi Yerushalayim refers to the entire city. However, according to the Netziv's interpretation it is clear that bechatzros beis HaShem is referring to the korban which is brought within the courtyard of the Beis HaMikdash. The meal in which the bread is eaten, however, will broadcast HaShem's praise throughout all of Yerushalayim.

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Dikdukian: Nusach of Birkas Ha'ilanos

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Friday, March 15

The Weekly Shtikle - Vayikra

This past Wednesday, 2 Nissan, marked the yahrtzeit of my Bubbie. This week's shtikle is dedicated le'iluy nishmasah, Yehudis bas Reuven Pinchas.

In pasuk 3:1 we are introduced to the concept of the korban shlamim. Rashi explains the meaning of the word shlamim as coming from the word shalom, peace, that it puts peace between Man and his Master. However, the wording chosen by Targum Onkelos for shlamim is rather intriguing. In all instances it is referred to as nichsas kudshaya, meaning holy slaughtering, which clearly does not follow the simple translation. Why?

One sefer on Targum Yonasan ben Uziel suggested that it was to show that shlamim is excluded from the laws of kodshei kadashim and is therefore only referred to as kodesh

However, a friend of mine offered what I believe is a more insightful answer. In 17:1-5 we are taught that in the desert, slaughtering an animal for one's own pleasure as we do today, was forbidden. Rather, anyone who wanted to eat an animal was required to bring it as a korban shlamim. The purpose of this is clearly stated in 17:5 "So that B'nei Yisrael may bring their sacrifices, which they offer in the open field, that they may bring them to HaShem..." The very essence of the shlamim was an animal that would have been slaughtered and eaten by its owner without any sanctification, but instead was brought to the mizbei'ach and made holy by being offered as a korban. This is in contrast with other sacrifices brought out of necessity. Since the shlamim represents the sanctification of what would otherwise have been mudane it is given the name nichsas kudshaya, holy slaughtering.

Have a good Shabbos. Mishenichnas Adar Marbim beSimchah (see Rashi, bottom of Taanis 29a)

Eliezer Bulka

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Dikukian: Nusach for Birkas Ha'ilanos
AstroTorah: Pesach in the Winter by R' Ari Storch

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Friday, March 8

The Weekly Shtikle - HaChodesh

This shtikle which I've previously sent for Parshas Bo is even more apropos as the gemara in question was learned just a little while ago as part of the Daf Yomi cycle.

I heard the following from my Zadie, R' Chayim Yaakov Bulka, z"l:

In Parshas Bo, (12:2) B'nei Yisrael are given their first mitzvah as a nation, the mitzvah of Kiddush HaChodesh. This mitzvah deals, in general, with the setting of our calendar. It vests in the Sanhedrin and those empowered by the Sanhedrin, the authority to intercalate months or years (i.e. determine the length of the month or the occurrence of a leap year). The complex calculations and procedures pertaining to intercalation are called "Sod haIbur." As the word "sod," secret, implies, this is part of the deeper realms of Torah.

The gemara (Shabbos 147b) relates a story about the dangerously mystical powers of the wines of Prugaisa and waters of Diumsis. The great Rabbi Elazar ben Arach visited these wonders and was overcome and forgot his learning. When he returned, he got up to read the aforementioned pasuk. Instead of reading "HaChodesh hazeh lachem," this month shall be for you, he switched the dalet for a reish, the zayin for a yud, the chuf for a beis and misread, "hacheireish hayah libam," and their hearts were deafened. The Rabbis prayed for him and he returned to his normal self. Nevertheless, it is quite shocking for such a notable sage to be overcome to such an extent. Is it possible that R' Elazar was so deeply influenced that he forgot how to read an elementary pasuk?

This mysterious performance of R' Elazar may, perhaps, be explained by referring to a beautiful explanation by the Gaon of Vilna. The pasuk (Yeshayah 6:10) says "Make the heart of the people fat, make their ears heavy and smear over their eyes; lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and return..." The pasuk, referring to the sealing off of the path of repentance, starts off with the heart, then the ears and then the eyes but continues backwards from the eyes, then the ears then the heart.

The GR"A explains that eyes, ears and heart correspond respectively to Torah ShebiChsav, the Written Tradition, Torah SheBa'al Peh, the Oral Tradition, and Sodos HaTorah, the deep secrets of the Torah . The study of Torah ShebiChsav and Torah SheBa'al Peh, will ultimately lead to understanding of Sodos HaTorah. The neglect of Torah study will first deprive an understanding of Sodos HaTorah, to be followed by forgetfulness of Torah SheBa'al Peh and finally, even Torah ShebiChsav will no longer be comprehensible. However, if diligent and continuous study is resumed again, first the eyes will begin the study of the Written Tradition, followed by careful and concentrated attention with the ears to the Oral Tradition and, eventually, by persistent study, the heart will regain the ability to penetrate and comprehend the deep secrets of Torah.

We can assume that R' Elazar ben Arach, the "ma'ayan hamisgabeir," (Avos 2:8) did not forget the Written and Oral traditions. However, by reading "Their hearts were deafened," he made a personal statement, a cry for help. This pasuk, "HaChodesh hazeh lachem," which commands us to put into practice the Sodos HaTorah, was now beyond his reach. By allowing himself to be drawn to the wines of Prugaisa and waters of Diumsis, his heart became deafened and no longer had the capacity to comprehend Sodos HaTorah, including Sod HaIbur. The rabbis answered his outcry and prayed for him and his mastery of Sodos HaTorah was returned to him.


Have a good Shabbos. Mishenichnas Adar Marbim beSimchah!

Eliezer Bulka

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Dikdukian: Ve'asa Vetzalel
Dikdukian: Kikar Zahav

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Friday, March 1

The Weekly Shtikle - Ki Sisa / Parah

This past Tuesday was the yahrtzeit of Moshe Fuller, z"l, of Ner Yisroel. This week's shtikle is dedicated le'iluy nishmaso, Moshe ben Chaim Tzvi.

Generally, the special parshios we read around this time fall out when they may. There usually is not any significant connection between the regular parsha we read and the special reading that follows (with the exception, perhaps, of Shekalim on Vayakheil in a leap year.) The connection between Parah and Ki Sisa (the parsha on which it falls in most non-leap years) is abundantly clear. Rashi in Chukas, based on R' Moshe HaDarshan, explains the entire Parah Adumah process as an atonement for the sin of the Golden Calf which, of course, we read about in Ki Sisa. He cites the well-known parable: When the son of a maidservant soils the palace of the king it is expected of his mother to come and clean up the mess. So too, the the Parah Adumah cleans up the "mess" we made with the Golden Calf.

While pondering this parable, a seemingly obvious question occurred to me. Why, in fact, was the calf the animal of choice? One would expect that if they were to worship a golden figure, it would be one of authority. Why not a full-grown cow or a more menacing presence such as the Charging Bull near Wall Street? Why the image of a young calf? There is plenty of discussion among the primary commentaries as to why this specific species was chosen - a cow, as opposed to a sheep or goat. However, I was unable to find any explanation as to why specifically a young calf. I do not think it is plausible to suggest that Aharon specifically made that way for that reason - to be less authoritative. We find hundreds of years later that Yerav'am ben Nevat also specifically made golden claves. I welcome any suggestions.


Leftover Purim Torah: Can it be a coincidence that the story that has dominated the news this week was the Sequ-ester!

Have a good Shabbos. Mishenichnas Adar Marbim beSimchah!

Eliezer Bulka

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Dikdukian: Kol Annnos
Dikdukian: Yeiaseh vs.Taaseh by Ephraim Stulberg
Dikdukian: Velo Shasu
Dikdukian: Oops (Parah)
AstroTorah: Holy Cosmic Cows! by R' Ari Storch

Please visit the new portal for all Shtikle-related sites,
The Weekly Shtikle and related content are now featured on