The Weekly Shtikle Blog

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Friday, July 27

The Weekly Shtikle - Vaeschanan

    At the beginning of this week's parsha, Moshe mentions that he pleaded with HaShem to allow him to enter Eretz Yisroel but to no avail. The sefer M'galeh Amukos says that Moshe Rabbeinu davened 515 times - the gematria of Vaeschanan.  R' Yehonasan Eybeschutz, in Divrei Yehonasan, is curious to discover how such a tally is reached.
    He offers the following possibility:  The Midrash states that Moshe Rabeinu started davening on 15 Av.  As the gemara (Bava Basra 121a) explains, it was on this day that it was realized that the punishment for the sin of the spies was complete and no more men would die in the midbar. (Click here for a past shtikle dealing with that gemara in greater depth.) He saw that that decree had been fulfilled and had a glimmer of hope that perhaps, since he had been spared from the decree, he was in a position to plead for Divine Mercy. (This would explain why he never engaged in such extensive prayer on Aharon's behalf as Aharon died prior to 15 Av.) 
    There are 6 months from Elul to Shevat. We may assume that it was a normal year, whose months alternate between 29 and 30 days throughout. So those full months would total 177 days (3x30 + 3x29).  Add the 16 days of Av that Moshe davened and the 7 days of Adar until he dies and we have 200 days.  Of those 200 days, 28 are Shabbosos on which it is not permissible to make personal requests.  That leaves 172 days. Considering Shacharis, Mincha and Maariv and we now have 172x3 = 516 tefilos.  Only off by 1.  However, the nation only discovered in the morning of the 15th of Av that the dying has stopped. Therefore, Moshe would have missed the Maariv from the night before and only begun davening at Shacharis.  And there you have exactly 515 tefilos!
    The Tur writes that on Yom Kippur one is permitted to make personal requests, but on Rosh HaShanah, Sukkos, or Shmini Atzeres it is forbidden. We would then have to subtract three more days of prayer. However, we are taught that Moshe Rabbeinu died on Shabbos. If that is the case, then Rosh HaShanah, Sukkos, and Shmini Atzeres of that year all fell on Shabbos as well. So we need not subtract for them and we are safe with our tally of 515!
    Special thanks go out to R' Ari Storch for providing me with the material for this shtikle.
Have a good Shabbos.
Eliezer Bulka

Friday, July 20

The Weekly Shtikle - Devarim

    As part of Moshe Rabbeinu's introduction to his review of the last forty years, he makes mention of the fact that (1:10) "HaShem has allowed you to multiply and you are now numerous like the stars in the sky." Rashi is bothered by the obvious exaggeration. B'nei Yisroel were a nation of merely 600,000 men which is infinitesimal compared to the infinite stars. Rashi offers an alternate understanding of the pasuk. However, I believe it is possible that Moshe was indeed comparing B'nei Yisroel to the stars in the sky at that very time.

    This understanding is based on a commentary of R' Chayim Kunyevsky in Parshas Lech Lecha (Bereishis 15:5). HaShem brings Avraham Avinu outside and tells him to observe the uncountable stars and tells him that his progeny will be likewise uncountable. Rashi there quotes a Midrash that states that HaShem removed Avraham from the atmosphere and placed him above the stars to observe them. R' Chayim questions, why was this necessary? Why was it not sufficient to simply look at the stars from where he was? He answers that we are taught in the adjacent commentary to Rambam's Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah (3:8) that there are a finite number of stars visible from Earth, 1022 to be exact. Beyond the scope of our vision there exists an abundance of stars which are too many to be counted. Avraham had to be removed from Earth in order to appreciate that.

    Therefore, when Moshe Rabbeinu spoke to B'nei Yisroel, they were very much comparable to the stars in the sky. In a very short time, B'nei Yisroel had indeed multiplied from a mere 70 to an impressive 600,000. Like the stars that are visible from Earth, they were great in number, yet still countable.

    The word "larov" here is assumed to mean "for multitudes" which would imply that the multitudes have already been achieved. This is what is bothering Rashi. While this is, in fact, the meaning of the word in most of its many occurrence in Tanach, it may also be used as a verb, to multiply (as in Bereishis 6:1). Perhaps Moshe was not stating that B'nei Yisroel were multitudes like the stars, but rather, they will multiply like the stars. Just as the visible stars may be a countable finite group, yet "potentially" infinite, B'nei Yisroel were a countable many, with the potential to become infinite. After all, has anyone ever calculated how many total Jews have lived in the history of the world?

    Moshe Rabbeinu was speaking to B'nei Yisroel as they were on the verge of crossing over into Eretz Yisroel and realizing the ultimate goal of their deliverance from Egypt. This was a reminder of the star-like potential they were promised to realize following this auspicious moment in their history. It is therefore fitting that Moshe followed this statement with a blessing that HaShem will indeed multiply B'nei Yisroel thousand-fold, to develop them from a modestly small nation like the countable, visible stars, to a prolific nation like the infinite stars of the universe.

Friday, July 13

The Weekly Shtikle - Matos / Mas'ei

    I was intrigued by an interesting anomaly with the war against Midyan. In last week's parsha, at the very beginning, HaShem begins to instruct Moshe concerning the upcoming battle. Then, suddenly, that entire subject is abandoned for the rest of the parsha until we return to that topic in this week's parsha. What exactly was the purpose of that initial command and why is it disjointed from the actual carrying out of the instructions?

    I wasn't able to come up with any satisfactory explanations so I will instead include a different thought concerning the war with Midyan. Targum Yonasan (31:7) explains from Sifrei that B'nei Yisroel were commanded to attack Midyan from three sides and leave the fourth open. Rambam brings this practice as halachah in Hilchos Melachim 6:7 but does not include it in Sefer HaMitzvos. Ramban, however, lists it as part of his enumeration of mitzvos that Rambam "forgot" to include.

    Meshech Chachmah here explains the disagreement between the two. Rambam is of the opinion that this military tactic is only advice on the best way to go about attacking an enemy. If an enemy is invaded from all sides, they will know that there is no way out and will fight with all their might. However, if they have an escape route, they will not be so determined to fight for they know they can rely on an escape. Therefore, it is brought in the halachos as a suggestion but it does not constitute a halachah in and of itself.

    Ramban, however, adds that reasoning behind this tactic is to have pity on the enemy to allow them a way to escape if they do not want to fight a war, akin to the mitzvah of offering peace before waging war against an enemy. Since this is a obligation and not a suggestion, it is counted as a mitzvah in and of itself.


    Please check out a couple of interesting pieces on this week's parshios at the Dikdukian blog.

Friday, July 6

The Weekly Shtikle - Pinechas

It is with great joy that I announce the arrival of the newest addition to our family - Chaya Shaindel - born last Friday morning. For those of you who paid close attention to last week's shtikle it will be obvious that she is named after my wife's grandmother whose Yahrzeit was this past Sunday. MAZAL TOV!
    It is appropriate, following the birth of my daughter, that I discuss the very significant role that women play in this week's parsha. We have discussed before the special attention given to the daughters of Tzelafchad and the praise they are given by Chaza"l. R' Shternbuch explains the reason for the praise was that, although having been taught some of the procedures dealing with the division of the land, B'nei Yisroel still saw Eretz Yisroel as a distant venture. They were still wandering the desert. They focused themselves on the current situation and did not concern themselves with the details of the forthcoming inheritance of the land. The daughters of Tzelafchad, on the other hand, were more infused with belief and trust in HaShem's word, to the point that, to them, the inheritance was a current issue. Their haste in coming before Moshe showed an exceptional level of faith which deemed them worthy of praise.
    Although the daughters of Tzelafchad showed exemplary faith and love of Eretz Yisroel, their meritorious deeds were not completely unique. Following the census that appears at the beginning of the parsha, we are told (26:63) that of these individuals counted in the current census there was not one man who was part of the previous census because they had all died in the desert. Rashi infers from the superfluous mention of the word "ish" that the decree applied only to men and women were exempt because they showed a greater love for Eretz Yisroel.
    Our hope and our prayer is that our little Shaindy follow in the ways of the daughters of Tzelafchad and all the women of the Dor HaMidbar in their love for Eretz Yisroel and their exceptional levels of emunah.
    Please check out an interesting mathematical essay on the statistics involved in the goral that was used to divide the land.
Have a good Shabbos.
Eliezer Bulka