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Friday, July 12

The Weekly Shtikle - Chukas

Monday, 9 Tammuz, is the 9th yahrtzeit of my sister-in-law, Batsheva Yeres. The shtikle is dedicated le'iluy nishmasah, Batsheva Blima, a"h bas HaRav Moshe Yosef HaLevi, ybl"t.

 

Towards the end of this week's parsha, B'nei Yisrael are confronted by Sichon and his mighty army (21:1-3). B'nei Yisrael made a vow to HaShem. The vow itself is cause for discussion in and of itself. In the end, HaShem delivered them and they defeated the Canaanites and destroyed their cities. They then named the place of their battle Charmah, destruction.

 

Charmah - that should sound familiar. Only two parshios ago, a small group from B'nei Yisrael rose up and charged towards Eretz Yisrael in an attempt to vindicate themselves for the sin of the spies which had doomed them to 40 years in the desert. As we know (14:45) They were quickly wiped out by the Amalekites and Canaanites who dwelt on the mountain and were beaten unto HaCharmah. Rashi comments that the place was named for the events that transpired there, namely the destruction of that group from B'nei Yisrael. Being that the battle site in this week's parsha was named on the spot, it is safe to assume that these were not the same place.

 

I believe the identical names given to these places is surely no coincidence. The Charmah of Shelach was named for a tragic destruction of a group of over-zealous fighters. More importantly, it symbolized that HaShem had put His final stamp on the 40-year decree. It became clear that no act of repentance could possibly overturn the decree. The aron stayed put and did not go out to accompany the fighters, thus devoiding them of Divine protection. This defeat brought home the reality of B'nei Yisrael's failure.

 

It was now many years later. Most of B'nei Yisrael was now made up of those who would merit to enter Eretz Yisrael. This was the first battle that B'nei Yisrael would fight since that fateful defeat at the hands of Amaleik and Canaan. It did not get off to a good start, either. But B'nei Yisrael endured with prayer and devotion and through their prayers HaShem led them to victory over their adversaries. This battle symbolized the turnaround from the previous generation. The dramatic defeat of decades ago made the clear statement to their forebearers that they would not enter Eretz Yisrael. Contrarily, this dramatic victory over Sichon indicated that the conquest of Eretz Yisrael had begun. To accentuate this turnaround, they named the site of this great battle the very same name as the site of the previous battle. The name of the site where B'nei Yisrael were once smitten by the Amalekites and Canaanites was now the very same name of the place where they devastated Sichon and his army on their way to entering Eretz Yisrael.

 

Please see Noam Jacobson's video post for this week where he explains in a similar vein. Unfortunately, he did not publish a video with English subtitles this week.

 

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:

Dikdukian: What land was Sichon king of?

Dikdukian: Watch out for that Chirik
Dikdukian: Yahtzah, what is your real name?

Dikdukian: It wasn't thrown


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Friday, July 5

The Weekly Shtikle - Korach

After the episode of Korach, B'nei Yisrael continue to challenge Moshe and Aharon's authority. After yet another plague strikes B'nei Yisrael, 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 (besoch) 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 Efrayim and Menasheh were not separate this time but were considered as one tribe under the umbrella of Yoseif. This approach leads to another question. Efrayim and Menasheh had their own independent leaders. Which one's stave was used? Malbim posits that the leader of the tribe of Efrayim was the one whose stave was used as per Yaakov Avinu's command (Bereishis 48:20) that Efrayim be placed before Menasheh at all times.

Netziv, in Ha'amek Davar, challenges Ramban's position. He proposes that there is no problem with counting B'nei Yisrael as more than twelve in this case because the end result of the demonstration was to be that one 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. We do not find a command to take a separate stave for Levi. Ramban infers, therefore, that the stave of Levi was among the original twelve. Netziv does not address this inference.

Have a good Shabbos and chodesh tov.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Dikdukian: Just do it!
Dikdukian: Flee Market
Dikdukian: Vayikach Korach

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Friday, June 28

The Weekly Shtikle - Shelach

Clearly, the most significant part of this week's parsha is the episode of the spies who were sent to Eretz Yisrael. As a result of their negative report, B'nei Yisrael were forced to postpone their entry into Eretz Yisrael for almost thirty-nine years. Although the report of the ten spies was, on the whole, a negative one, the pesukim seem to show an apparent progression of the gravity of the spies' arguments. We know what they said and we know how they were gruesomely punished but it is important to understand what it was that they said which warranted such retribution.

When the spies die a horrible death for their sins, the pasuk (14:37) reads, "vayamusu ha'anashim motzi'ei dibas ha'aretz ra'ah..." The men who had slandered the land died. The Torah applies a label to these ten spies – slanderers of the land, and it would certainly seem, in context, that this is given as the very reason why they were punished this awful way.

Now we must comprehend how they acquired this label. When the spies come back and deliver their report, they argue that despite the beauty and plenty of the land, they do not believe that they will be able to capture it. This point is disputed by Caleiv after which the spies go on further with their assessment of the land. It is right then, (13:32) that the Torah uses this catch phrase – or a conjugation thereof – "vayotziu dibas ha'aretz..." The Torah seems to bookmark this pasuk as the very beginning of the slander. The spies go on to wantonly refer to the land as a "land that devours its inhabitants." This very specific structure seems to imply that until this point, the spies were engaged in a legitimate debate. They were welcome to present the facts of their mission and offer their sound objective analysis. Had they not gone any further, they would not have been deserving of their terrible fate. They crossed the line when they began to distort the truth, when they offered their own misguided assessments as fact. It was this specific deceitful tactic that transformed them from spies to slanderers and made them deserving of their horrific death.

Have a good Shabbos.


Eliezer Bulka

WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:

Dikdukian: What's Different About Efrayim? 


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Friday, June 21

The Weekly Shtikle - Beha'alosecha

Tomorrow, 16 Sivan, is the 22nd yahrtzeit of R' Ephraim Eisenberg, zt"l of Ner Yisroel. The shtikle is dedicated l'iluy nishmaso, Ephraim Zalman ben Chayim HaLevi.

In parshas Vayeitzei (Bereishis 29:10), when Yaakov shows unusual strength in removing the rock from the well single-handedly and giving the flock to drink, all three of the mentions of Lavan refer to him as Lavan, the brother of his mother. This is rather unusual and is addressed by some of the commentaries. Ohr HaChayim writes that this is to show that every step he took was for the honour of his mother. R' Chaim Shmuelevitz, in Sichos Mussar, (which I don't have available to be at the moment,) also writes that this indicates the love Yaakov had for his mother and how that influenced his actions. Seemingly unnecessary repetition of a name is an indication of love and reverence.

 

The same idea may be applied to a passage at the beginning of this week's parsha. We are told (8:5-22) of the process of purification of the Levi'im and their consecration as the tribe that would be in charge of the avodah. By my count, the word halevi'im is found at a frequency of once per pasuk throughout that passage of 18 pesukim. In many cases, the word could easily have been "pronouned" and the inclusion of the word seems unnecessary. It would seem that it is included so many times to show the love that HaShem has for the Levi'im.

 

But there is one pasuk within this passage which also stands out. In 8:19, the words B'nei Yisrael appear 5 times!! At the same time as HaShem is showing special love for the tribe of Levi, there is a special love expressed for B'nei Yisrael as a whole as well.

 

Have a good Shabbos!

 

Eliezer Bulka

WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:

Al Pi Cheshbon: Piles of Quail 

Dikdukian: The Impure

Dikdukian: In My Humble Opinion

Dikdukian: To Make Travel 


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The Weekly Shtikle and related content are now featured on BaltimoreJewishLife.com

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Friday, June 14

The Weekly Shtikle - Naso

There are a number of interesting correlations between this week's parsha and this week's haftarah. The obvious connection is that the haftara speaks of Shimshon who was a nazir and the nazir is discussed in this week's parsha. However, there are some other connections that lie beneath the surface. First, the sotah process is discussed in this week's parsha. We are taught, (according to one opinion in the gemara Sotah 26a) that a sotah who was previously childless, will become pregnant if she emerges from the sotah process alive as an innocent woman. R' Dovid Kohn explains why this is. If someone is childless, it is because there has been some decree from Shamayim that this person suffers, for whatever reason, a punishment comparable to death. However, there are other circumstances mentioned by Chazal that are comparable to death. One of them is embarrassment. If someone embarrasses another person, it is as if they are killing them (Pirkei Avos). Therefore, when the woman goes through the sotah process, she endures so much humiliation that she has served the punishment equaling death and now there is no longer a place for the decree of infertility. This concept, too, is seen in the haftara. The midrash recounts that Ivtzan (Boaz) who was the judge at the time, had 30 sons and 30 daughters and made two banquets for each one. However, he did not invite Manoach, Shimshon's father to any of these banquets for he reasoned "He doesn't have any kids, how could he ever return the favour?" R' Dovid Kohn suggests that here too it was enduring the embarrassment of 120 banquets to which he was not invited, an embarrassment directly related to the fact that he was childless, that earned him the merit to eventually have a child.

Also, Chazal tell us that the purpose of the sotah process is to eventually instill peace between man and his wife by resolving the existing conflict. Peace is so important that HaShem has His name erased in the water for it. In the haftara we also see the importance of peace between a man and his wife. The midrash recounts that when Manoach and his wife were not able to have children, they were fighting over whose fault it was that they were not having kids. Therefore, the angel informed Manoach's wife that she was in fact the akarah. R' Chaim Kanievsky writes that from here we learn a very important lesson regarding establishing peace and harmony by resolving conflict. If you know that one party in an argument is correct, it is proper to go over to the one who is wrong and inform them so that they may confess, for in that way you will preserve peace. If you inform the one who was correct, you will not resolve the argument and the conflict will only continue. That is why the angel went directly to Manoach's wife rather than Manoach. The prevalence of the theme of shalom is also found in the culmination of birkas kohanim (which is actually the pasuk on which this midrash appears.)

Have a good Shabbos.

 

Eliezer Bulka

WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Dikdukian: Aleph's and Ayin's

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Tuesday, June 11

The Weekly Shtikle -Shavuos

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 Weinbergzt"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.


I recently heard an intriguing question which might perhaps spur some discussion over the Shavuos table:  Suppose the Jews had responded first inquiring what was written in it. What might the response have been?

 

Have a chag samei'ach!


Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Dikdukian: Letzeis and On top of Old Smokey

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Friday, June 7

The Weekly Shtikle - Bemidbar

A Weekly Shtikle mazal tov to my nephew Eliyahu Boruch Shonek of Far Rockaway on his recent engagement to Tova Fine of Monsey. Mazal tov to the extended Bulka and Shonek mishpachos.

 

One of the points of interest concerning the census is the discrepancy between the population of the tribe of Levi as compared to all other tribes. The tally of the tribe of Levi was 22,300, almost 10,000 short of the lowest tally amongst the other tribes, Menasheh's 32,200. But the Leviim were counted from one month old whereas the rest of the nation was counted from 20 years old so their numbers are even more unusually low.

 

Ramba"n notes this point and offers two explanations: 1) B'nei Yisrael's dramatic increase in population was a result of the subjugation in Mitzrayim. As the pasuk (Shemos 1:12) "But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad." Since, as we know, the tribe of Levi was not subjected to the same hardships as the rest of the nation, they did not multiply at the same rate. 2) When Yaakov Avinu expressed his anger with Shimon and Levi over the incident in Shechem, Levi was cursed with being less in number than his brothers.

 

Ohr HaChayim HaKadosh takes issue with both of these offerings from Ramba"n. First, he argues that B'nei Yisroel's miraculous rate of reproduction was not a result of the subjugation. The pasuk stating, (Shemos 1:7) "And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them," comes before any mention of slavery. As far as Ramba"n's second suggestion, Ohr HaChayim cites a census in Divrei HaYamim in which the tribe of Levi was great in number, implying that there was no such curse on Levi.

 

Ohr HaChayim and Klei Yekar offer an alternative suggestion. The gemara (Sotah 12a) recounts that when Par'oah issued his evil decree on all Israelite males, Amram divorced Yocheved and everyone else followed suit. Although Amram eventually did take Yocheved back, this move had a drastic effect on population growth, and most drastically on his own tribe, Levi. Over 80 years later this was reflected in the census.

 

R' Sander Goldberg (Baltimore) in Nachal Chayim, shows mathematically how Ramba"n's first answer does not seem to work. B'nei Yisroel totalled 603,550 of which 22,273 were first born. That would mean the first born made up less than 4% of the population. But the first born were also counted from one month. It can be assumed that the total population of B'nei Yisroel counting from one month would be far greater than 603,550. As there is only one first born per family, that means the families had an average size of over 30! This is impossible under natural circumstances and is therefore a testimony to the statement of Chaza"l that the Israelite women would give birth to six babies at a time.

 

When we observe the tribe of Levi we find similar numbers. The population of Levi was 22300 of which 300 were first born. That amounts to even smaller percentage of first born and thus, an even larger average family size! Clearly, when the tribe of Levi multiplied, they did so at a similar if not greater rate than the rest of the nation.

 

Have a chodesh tov and good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:

Dikdukian: Clarification of a Sheva Na rule

Al Pi Cheshbon: No Population Increase

Al Pi Cheshbon: Tens and Ones by Ari Brodsky

Al Pi Cheshbon: Rounded Numbers

Al Pi Cheshbon: Discrepency in Levi's Population

Al Pi Cheshbon: Explaining the Uncounted Levi'im

Al Pi Cheshbon: Pidyon HaBen Probability

Dikdukian: Be or Ba?

Dikdukian: Discussions on Bemidbar by Eliyahu Levin


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

 

 

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