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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

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

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