The Weekly Shtikle Blog

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Thursday, October 30

The Weekly Shtikle - Lech Lecha

A Weekly Shtikle Mazal Tov to my cousin Menachem Seliger of London on his marriage to Malkah Levinson of Manchester today. Mazal Tov to the ganse mishapachah.

Last week, when I quoted R' Ephraim Eisenberg, z"l, unbeknownst to me, a neighbour of mine had just that morning named a son after him. So, now that I know, I will quote him once again.

This week's parsha begins with Avraham, (then known as Avram), being commanded to leave his homeland to a "land to be named later." This is one of the ten tests which Avraham faced throughout his life. R' Ephraim Eisenberg, z"l, in the name of his father-in-law R' Mordechai Gifter, z"l, asks a rather simple question. Leaving one's homeland to an unknown destination is indeed a difficult venture and worthy of note. But surely it pales in comparison to the challenge that Avram faced in Ur Kasdim where he entered a burning furnace rather than give up his belief in HaShem. Why does the move from Charan get explicit attention while the experience at Ur Kasdim is barely hinted to?

Ramban (46:15) deals specifically with the omission of the Ur Kasdim episode, despite the  great miracle that occurred there. He writes that only miracles which are predicted by prophets are recorded in the Torah. R' Gifter addresses the difference between Ur Kasdim and lech lecha. He says that if one truly and absolutely embraces a certain set of beliefs, it is easily possible to make this belief such an integral part of one's being that he will sacrifice his life in defense of it. As noble as martyrdom is, to the martyr, it is almost logical. Today, we are unfortunately all too familiar with a perverted version of this reality. To Avraham, belief in HaShem was so essential to his existence that giving his life for it came almost naturally. Leaving his home, however, is something that Avraham did not quite comprehend. After all, he did not even know where he was going. This was not something that came naturally to him. It was therefore a more clear demonstration of Avraham's absolute dedication to HaShem's every command, much like the test of akeidas Yitzchak.

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:

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Friday, October 24

The Weekly Shtikle - Noach

This past Wednesday, 28th of Tishrei, was the yahrtzeit of my dear friend, Daniel Scarowsky, a"h. This week's shtikle is dedicated leiluy nishmaso, Daniel Moshe Eliyahu ben Yitzchak.
    The world was created with Adam HaRishon as its first inhabitant. Thus, the generic Hebrew term for a person is ben Adam, son of Adam. However, the world was destroyed and civilization began anew with Noach taking on the roll as the father of all humankind. Nevertheless, in the Talmud and other halachic sources, the term ben Noach is used specifically to refer to gentiles. We do not include Noach as one of the forefathers. Rather, Avraham is considered the father of Judaism. Considering that Noach is lauded as a righteous man in his generation, why is it that he is dismissed as a forefather and is not a vital player in our ancestry?
    R' Ephraim Eisenberg, z"l, of Ner Yisroel, offers a possible approach. Rashi writes (7:7) that although Noach fulfilled HaShem's every command, he did not enter the ark until the rain actually began to fall. Although there are many interpretations offered to shed a more positive light on this comment, Rashi undeniably describes Noach as miketanei amanah, from the lesser believers. It is this trait that disqualifies Noach as a forefather. There are two types of believers. There are those who obey HaShem's word for no reason other than to fulfill their Divine command. Others, although faithful, are swayed by other forces and influences. Noach was not faithless. However, with this display, he placed himself firmly in the second category. He did not enter the ark because he was told to but because it began to rain.
    In next week's parsha, Avraham Avinu exhibits the exact opposite trait. He is asked by HaShem to leave his place of birth and journey to a foreign land. Rashi comments that Avraham was told that the move would be to his benefit. Nevertheless, the pasuk recounts, (12:4) "And Avram went as HaShem told him." Avraham did not pick up and leave because of the personal gain that was promised to him, but merely because he was told to do so by HaShem. This is the virtue to which we aspire in the service of HaShem and that is why Avraham is a forefather and not Noach.
Have a good Shabbos and Chodesh Tov.
Eliezer Bulka

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Al Pi Cheshbon: The Weight of the Teiva and The Constant Rate of Recession 
AstroTorah: Sailing the Friendly Skies by R' Ari Storch

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Wednesday, October 15

The Weekly Shtikle - Bereishis

    A number of times throughout the gemara and in later seforim as well, with regards to a chumrah, we find the term tavo alav berachah, a blessing shall be bestowed on him. The gemara will often say that a certain action is not necessary but if one takes on a special stringency and does it anyway, he should be blessed.
    My father suggests an interesting source and explanation for this particular wording. After all, we do sometimes see other terms used such as harei zeh meshubach, this is praiseworthy, with regards to other noble deeds. Why is the adoption of a chumrah given this specific blessing? Very early on in history, in this week's parsha, we are exposed to the first ever chumrah. Chavah, in her discussion with the snake, mentions that they were forbidden to eat from or touch the Eitz HaDa'as. Of course, they were only commanded not to eat from it and nothing was said about touching it. This error in judgement is used by the gemara as a source for the gravity of the prohibition of bal tosif, not adding to the mitzvos. Indeed, this chumrah led to a serious series of curses on all of humanity - certainly not a great start.
    Chavah's assertion lacked the proper context. She did not tell the snake, "You know HaShem told us not to eat from this tree but we are trying to be extra careful and we are not even touching the tree." Rather, she quite falsely declared that HaShem had commanded them not to touch the tree. When someone is aware of the true halachah and aware that certain things might be permissible but nevertheless takes it upon himself to be extra careful, to be more stringent, they are correcting the error made by Chavah. For this reason, we declare that in contrast to the curse that was bestowed upon Chavah, one who takes upon himself an altruistic chumrah should be bestowed a great blessing.

Have a Chag Samei'ach and good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Dikdukian: And the Days Was
AstroTorah: The Two Luminaries

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Wednesday, October 8

The Weekly Shtikle - Sukkos

A couple of exciting Mazal Tov dedications to start the year: Mazal Tov to my nephew Dovid Nisson Shonek of Far Rockaway on his engagement to Tova Lidsky of Passaic. Another Weekly Shtikle Mazal Tov to my cousin Nechama Tzirel Jakobovits of Lakewood on her engagement. 

This coming Sunday is the Yahrtzeit of HaRav Naftali Neuberger, zt"l, of Ner Yisroel.
This shtikle is dedicated le'iluy nishmaso, Naftali ben Meir Halevi.

"And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of the hadar tree, branches of palm trees and the boughs of thick-leaved trees and willows of the brook" (Vayikra 23:40) The Midrash Rabba in Vayikra Rabba 30 delves into the symbolism behind the esrog, lulav, hadasim and aravos that we take every year on Sukkos. In 30:12, the Midrash speaks of the arba minim symbolizing different traits among B'nei Yisrael. The esrog, which has smell and taste, is likened to those who have smell and taste, i.e. those who have Torah and ma'asim tovim, good deeds. The lulav comes from a date tree. The date tree has taste but no smell. This is like the man who has Torah but no ma'asim tovim. The hadas has a smell but no taste, corresponding to the man who has ma'asim tovim but not Torah. The aravos, which have neither taste nor smell, represent the empty man of neither Torah nor ma'asim tovim.

The Midrash's choice to refer to Torah with taste and to good deeds with smell is surely not coincidental. There must be a significant meaning behind it. I heard a wonderful explanation from R' Ariel Shoshan, an alumnus of Ner Yisroel and currently a rav in Scottsdale, AZ. Taste is surely a more fulfilling sense than smell. It satiates and satisfies whereas smell often leads only to the desire to taste. Likewise, Torah is a more fulfilling trait. It is demanded of us to show proper respect for the man of Torah for his stature is paramount. But like taste, it is a trait that must be experienced at close range, with direct contact, just as taste requires you to actually have the food and place it in your mouth.

Good deeds are different. Just as an object with a pungent smell may be sensed from across the room, a good deed may be sensed from a far distance. If someone, for example, holds the door open for someone, everyone around sees it. Good deeds are sensed by all in the vicinity, just as smell has this power to affect a great many at one time. In a nutshell, Torah must be "tasted" up close, but good deeds can be "smelled" from afar. (In the age of the Internet, I suppose this analogy doesn't hold quite as true as it once did. After all, you are likely nowhere near me as you read this.)

I would like to add two more points, other possible meanings behind this symbolism. First, it is known that the sense of taste requires the sense of smell to aid it. I'm sure we've all experienced the tastelessness of food when suffering from a cold. But you don't need a tongue to smell. Likewise, if a person has ma'asim tovim but no Torah, at least his ma'asim tovim can exist as a virtue unto themselves. But one who has Torah but not ma'asim tovimm, even his Torah is affected and surely hindered by his lack of midos. This is the exact message of the mishna in Pirkei Avos (3:12) "One whose good deeds exceed his wisdom, his wisdom will endure. One whose wisdom exceeds his good deeds, his wisdom will not endure."

Second, it is interesting to note that the object of good smell is the hadas itself. It is the very object we include in the arba minim that provides the pleasant aroma. The object referred to as having good taste is the lulav. But please, do not try to take a bite of your lulav, even after Sukkos. It is not the lulav itself which tastes good but rather the fruit from the tree from which it came. Perhaps this symbolizes that the one who has good deeds, even if he lacks Torah knowledge, his deeds endure and are sensed directly. His lack of Torah does not prevent his good deeds from having a positive impact on others. But one who has Torah but not good deeds, his Torah becomes hidden and not sensed due to his lack of midos.

May we all merit to be like the esrog!

Have a Chag Samei'ach and good Shabbos!

Eliezer Bulka

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Al Pi Cheshbon: The Search for Worthy ... Humans (Koheles)

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