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Friday, May 18

The Weekly Shtikle - Bemidbar / Shavuos

Although I am only covering Shavous in the shtikle, please explore the many intriguing blog posts on Bemidbar below:

The midrash (Mechilta Yisro 5, Sifrei V'zos HaBerachah 343) recounts the events that preceded matan Torah. HaShem offered the Torah to the other nations before offering it to B'nei Yisrael. When He approached the descendants of Eisav, they asked, "What is written in it?" HaShem responded "Thou shall not murder." The offer was subsequently rejected as they were unable to commit to that provision for Eisav ultimately lives by the sword. When the sons of Ammon and Mo'av were approached and were told that the Torah included a prohibition against illicit relations, they rejected the offer for the very source of Ammon and Mo'av was the incestual relationship between Lot and his daughters. The Yishmaelites were given the same offer. When they asked what such a commitment would entail, they were told that it would be forbidden to steal. Thievery being the essence of the descendants of Yishmael, they were unable to commit to follow the Torah. The Midrash states that there was not one nation that was not offered the Torah but no one would accept it. When B'nei Yisrael were approached they all declared in unison "na'aseh v'nishma," we will do and we will listen.

 

R' Yaakov Weinberg, zt"l, asks a very simple question on this midrash. Why was the sample law given to each nation one that contradicted their very existence and thus, certain to lead to rejection? Why were they not given a taste of the Torah that was more likely to please them? R' Weinberg answers that HaShem's actual response to the nations was of little relevance. The very moment that they asked what is written in the Torah, they disqualified themselves from receiving it. By making their acceptance of the Torah contingent upon their approval of its contents, the nations showed a lack of commitment which is incongruous with a Torah nation. Torah must be at the forefront while society is built around it. When the nations asked their seemingly innocent question, they showed that they were not prepared to give up their ideals for Torah. HaShem, therefore, answered them in such a way that showed them that Torah was not for them.

 

The response of B'nei Yisrael was the exact opposite. They did not flinch. They did not vacillate. They accepted the Torah with true faith and showed no concern for their own agendas. This is why their response is so vital to the process of matan Torah. With this understanding, we, ourselves have the opportunity to reach the level of "na'aseh v'nishma" in our own way. By subordinating ourselves to the values of the Torah, we show, like our ancestors did, that we are ready to commit unequivocally to a life of Torah. If we set our standards in accordance with the Torah, not allowing them to be tainted by the contrary influences of society, we are, indeed, showing our true devotion to the word of HaShem, much like our forefathers did at the foot of Har Sinai when they accepted the Torah.

 

Have a Good Shabbos and Chag Samei'ach!


Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Al Pi Cheshbon: No Population Increase
Al Pi Cheshbon: Tens and Ones by Ari Brodsky
Al Pi Cheshbon: Rounded Numbers
Al Pi Cheshbon: Pidyon HaBen Probability
Dikdukian: Be or Ba?
Dikdukian: Discussions on Bemidbar by Eliyahu Levin
Dikdukian: Letzeis and On top of Old Smokey

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

Friday, May 11

The Weekly Shtikle - Behar / Bechukosai

This past Tuesday was the yahrtzeit of my great aunt, Lady Amélie Jakobovits, a"h. The shtikle is dedicated le'iluy nishmasah, Mayla bas Eliyahu.

 

Yesterday, the 25th of Iyar, was the yahrtzeit of my mother, a"h. The shtikle is dedicated le'iluy nishmasah, Tzirel Nechamah bas Tovia Yehudah.

 

On the occasion of the yahrtzeit, I made a siyum in the morning on maseches Makkos. The following was my introduction to the siyum:

Makkos concludes (daf 24) with the well-known  story of R' Akiva who was on the way with his colleagues Raban Gamliel, R' Elazar ben Azaria and R' Yehoshua. First they lamented and cried at the sound of the reveling of idol worshippers. R' Akiva showed the exact opposite emotion and explained that if idol worshippers are able to enjoy such bliss, surely there is much greater delight in store for those who heed HaShem's word. Then once again the other three expressed sorrow and dismay at the sight of foxes on the prowl at the site of the ruins of the Beis HaMikdash. Yet again, R' Akiva – ever the optimist - expressed joy and happiness. When confronted by the others to justify his seemingly inappropriate reaction, he explained how this depressing sight was in fact an assurance that prophesies of Zecharia regarding the ultimate redemption would indeed be fulfilled as well.

At first glance, it is difficult to see how these anecdotes fit with the preceding gemara. However, I believe the theme of R' Akiva's optimism is meant to connect back to the last mishnah. A lot of time is spent in this masechta discussing the meting out of corporal punishment and the various ways one can come to be so deserving. The daunting nature of these discussions can surely need one to become despondent in the feeling that Jewish life is all about crime and punishment. The tannaim in the mishnah therefore quell these notions by reminding us that if these are the grave consequences that befall someone who transgresses the laws, how much greater is the reward for someone who keeps the laws, even by merely abstaining passively from forbidden acts. After having considered various creative ways one can be liable for numerous transgressions in one simple act, R' Chananya ben Akashya ultimately reminds us of the big picture – that the true purpose of the large number of mitzvos is in order to increase our merits (and purify us.)

R' Akiva was applying this "big picture" approach to understand the ups and downs of our national history. Indeed, he was living in a very difficult time full of sorrow and dismay when all seemed lost. But he did not allow himself to lose sight of the totality of our national destiny – past, present and future – which he confidently knew will end with our ultimate redemption, may it come speedily in our day.

This idea may also be applied regarding parshas Beha'alosecha and the tochach which tends to take center stage. The gloom and doom foreshadowed in this passage can also generate a very negative view of the challenges of following HaShem's word. But this is only if we fail to realize that this but one side of the coin. The calamities that would befall us for not following the correct path are only delivered after – although more briefly – the abundant blessings for keeping HaShem's laws are made clear. R' Chananya and R' Akiva help us keep the proper perspective in realizing that reward is HaShem's ultimate goal.


Chazak, chazak, venischazeik!

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Dikdukian: Life as we Know It 
Dikdukian: Hearing Los
Dikdukian: How Lo Can You Go?
Dikdukian: Even Lo-er

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

Friday, May 4

The Weekly Shtikle - Emor

This week's parsha ends off with the tragic episode of the megadeif, the blasphemer who cursed HaShem out of anger. When Moshe is taught how to proceed, he is instructed (24:14) that the man is to be brought outside of the camp where those who heard (i.e. the witnesses and judges)  place their hands on his head. He is subsequently put to death by stoning. This follows standard procedure for stoning except for one step. In no other instance do we find the placing of hands before an execution. It is unique to the case of a blasphemer.

The Da'as Zekeinim miBa'alei haTosafos cite a midrash explaining what makes the case of the blasphemer different in this regard. The judicial process as mandated by Torah Law makes it extremely difficult to impose capital punishment. The witnesses must be able to report every minute detail. In the case of the blasphemer we are faced with a difficult dilemma. The witnesses must tell the judges what they heard. Therefore, as the mishnah (Sanhedrin 56a) explains, the judges and witnesses would leave the courtroom for a private session and the witnesses would indeed verbalize the exact words that came out of the mouth of the blasphemer, at which point the judges would tear their clothes to signify the mournful distress at having to hear such words uttered. The placing of hands on the head of the blasphemer, a process more common to sacrifices, is a symbolic transfer the burden of responsibility for one's sins. Normally, we place the hands on the animal, allowing it to be an atonement for our sins. Here, the witnesses make a clear statement absolving them of responsibility for having to repeat the curses and the judges for having heard them. Since it was all brought about by the actions of the blasphemer it is he who bears the responsibility even for the repetition.

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Dikdukian: Ner Tamid

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