The Weekly Shtikle Blog

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Friday, October 26

The Weekly Shtikle - Vayeira

    There are many distinct differences between Avraham's experience with Avimelech in Gerar and his experience with Paroah in Mitzrayim in last week's parsha. One can certainly assess the episode in Gerar as having a slightly more pleasant outcome. Rather than being kindly asked to leave as he was in Mitzrayim, Avraham ended up settling in Gerar. Rashi explains simply (12:19) that Paroah was looking out for Avraham's well-being and knew that his people were steeped in immorality. However, it would seem that the distinct actions of Avimelech and Paroah may also be explained by the character of the monarchs themselves. Both Paroah and Avimelech had their entire houses afflicted with a plague. However, when Paroah summons Avraham he exclaims, (12:18) "What is this that you have done to ME?!" Avimelech, on the other hand, approaches Avraham and ask him (20:9) "What have you done to US?!" Paroah was clearly a more selfish individual than Avimelech. Paroah cared only about himself whereas Avimelech showed concern for others.
    Furthermore, we find that Avraham presented an alibi to Avimelech and said nothing to defend himself to Paroah. The reason for this seems to be that Paroah did not even give him a chance to answer. When Avimelech asks Avraham why he acted in the way that he did, he clearly wanted an answer and was ready to listen to one. Paroah was not interested in what Avraham might have had to say and did not let him speak. These factors, although not compelling, seem to indicate that Paroah's dismissal of Avraham was not out of Paroah's genuine concern for Avraham's well-being but more likely a sign of his short-temperedness.
    Lastly, when Avraham makes a feast to celebrate the weaning of Yitzchak, Rashi writes (21:8) that he invited the "gedolei hador," Sheim, Eiver and Avimelech. Avimelech must have been a respectable individual to be included in the same breath as Sheim and Eiver. Therefore, his good-natured approach to the confrontation with Avraham seems to be a reflection of his character.

Friday, October 19

The Weekly Shtikle - Lech Lecha

    In the beginning of the parsha we are taught of Avram and Sarai's sojourn to Egypt due to the famine in Cana'an. It is evident that Lot accompanied the two to Egypt. However, there is no mention of Lot whatsoever in the entire episode until after they leave. What seems puzzling is that even if the Egyptians believed that Avram and Sarai were brother and sister, why did they not suspect Lot of being Sarai's husband? Furthermore, Rashi infers from the singular form of the verb "kevo" (12:14) that Sarai was hidden in a box and only Avram was visible. Should the pasuk not have used plural tense anyway because of Lot? Why does his presence seem to be ignored.
    The first question may be answered by Sifsei Chachamim in pasuk 13. There, they ask how it was possible that Avram entrapped the Egyptians and lead them to commit the grievous crime of Eishes Ish. They answer from Chizkuni that they told the Egyptians that Sarai was in fact married but that her husband was overseas. This way they made it known that she was married. And with this we can also understand why they did not suspect Lot of being Sarai's wife either.
    To answer the second question, we again turn to Sifsei Chachamim. They ask why Rashi inferred from the word "kevo" rather than the word "vayeireid" in pasuk 10 which is also in singular. They answer that in that pasuk, before Sarai's beauty is addressed, Avram is the only significant figure and the pasuk need only refer to him. However, in pasuk 14, Sarai has already become an integral part of this journey and we would have expected her to pluralize the word "kevo." In that case, since Lot was never an integral part of the journey but rather more of a tag-along, we would not expect him to turn the verb into a plural.
    On a related note, the Torah mentions Lot's accompanying Avram twice. First, we are told (12:4) "Avram went as he was instructed by HaShem and Lot went with him." The very next pasuk states "Avram took his wife, Sarai and his nephew, Lot." I have seen a number of commentaries attempt to reconcile the apparent repetition. However, I have not been able to come up with and explanation for the clear discrepency between the two. First, it says that Lot went with Avram. This seems to indicate Lot coming along of his own accord. However, the second pasuk uses the vayikach. This verb is many times interpreted as a "taking with words," involving a certain degree of convincing (which is supported by Onkelos' rendering "vedabar.") Why does it seem at first that Lot came on his own but then it is implied that he needed to be convinced?
Have a good Shabbos.

Friday, October 12

The Weekly Shtikle - Noach

This past Tuesday was the Yahrtzeit of my dear friend, Daniel Scarowsky, o"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 word 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 humans. 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, 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 influenced 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.

Wednesday, October 3

The Weekly Shtikle - Bereishis

This week's shtikle is dedicated le'iluy nishmas R' Naftali Neuberger, zt"l, Naftali ben Meir, whose Yahrtzeit was this past Sunday.
    On the sixth day of creation, HaShem created Man. The gemara (Sanhedrin 38b) teaches that Chavah was created in the seventh hour. In the ninth hour they were commanded not to eat from the Eitz HaDa'as and already in the tenth hour, they sinned and ate from it. In the pasuk dealing with the sin we find a confusing incongruity. Chavah is seduced by the snake and she comes to accept (3:6) "that the tree is good to eat, etc." Rashi writes that she accepted the words of the snake, i.e. that her eating from the tree would not result in death, and believed it. She committed the sin with the confident belief that she would not die. However, in the very same pasuk, she gives of the fruit to her husband. Rashi comments there that the reason why she did so is because she was afraid that she would die and he would marry someone else. Wasn't she convinced by the snake that she wouldn't die?

    R' Chaim Kanievsky comments in Ta'ama D'kra that we are taught here a very telling lesson in the nature of the Yeitzer HaRa, the evil inclination. When one's desires are raging the Yeitzer HaRa has the power to convince its host that there will be no retribution for wrongdoing in order to seduce him/her to transgress. As soon as it is over and the Yeitzer HaRa has accomplished its mission, this power subsides and he/she returns to reality. Chavah wasn't really convinced by the snake that she wouldn't die. She was temporarily blinded by her own desire to eat from the tree and that allowed her to believe the snake temporarily. But as soon as she actually ate from it, she looked at herself and said "my goodness, what have I done!" She came back to reality and realized that indeed she was going to die. She then tried to bring her husband with her.

The Weekly Shtikle - Hoshana Rabba

Coming to you direct from the Sukkah:
    By the time we reach Hoshana Rabba it is easy to become somewhat numbed by the repetitive nature of the Torah reading for each day of Chol HaMoed. I must admit I never paid much attention to it until I recently learned the relevant halachos as they pertained to Maseches Megillah.
    The dilemma is that on Chol HaMoed we must call four people to the Torah as on Rosh Chodesh. Unlike Pesach, when there are many relevant readings from which to choose, there really isn't much that pertains to Sukkos. And so the reading for each day comes from the korban of the day at the end of Parshas Pinechas. Since each day had a different arrangement of the korbanos, the reading actually differs each day. However, the section for each day is only long enough for one aliyah. The minhag in Eretz Yisroel is therefore to read the exact same pesukim four times over.
    In the Diaspora, things are slightly more complicated because of "sfeika deyoma." Although on the first day of Chol HaMoed, for example, it is clearly the third day of Sukkos, because we traditionally entertain the notion that we are a day behind, the korbanos for the second day of Sukkos are also relevant. Thus, we have some debate (OC 663) as to how to proceed. The Shulchan Aruch states that on the first day of Chol HaMoed, the first oleh reads the korbanos pertaining to the second day. The next two both read from the third day. Finally, the fourth oleh reads both. As the Mishnah Berurah explains, this opinion is of the belief that only those two days constitute relevant reading and we are not supposed to read a portion of the Torah which has no relevance to the day.
    Ram"a has a different approach. The first oleh reads from the second day, the second reads the third, the third reads the fourth and the fourth reads from the second and third. He is clearly of the opinion that although it is certainly not the fourth day of Sukkos by any calculation, the korbanos of a day in the future constitute relevant reading. This is understandably the practice of Ashkenazic Jews outside of Israel as your machzorim will indicate.
    This is all fine until we get to Hoshana Rabba (which is why I started down this path in the first place.) We cannot read a day ahead because the seventh day is the last day of Sukkos. So, writes Ram"a, the first three aliyos are the same as the day before - days five, six and seven. The fourth oleh, however, reads days six and seven (whereas the day before he read five and six.) This is quite puzzling. The reasoning that a day in the future is relevant is difficult enough as it is. But what could possibly be the justification for reading the korbanos of a day that has already passed? Would it not make more sense to revert to the Shulchan Aruch's configuration on Hoshana Rabba and read six, seven, seven, six-seven instead? Unfortunately, I have searched and not found anyone who deals with this. Perhaps, yet again, something to discuss over kreplach.
Moadim leSimchah!