The Weekly Shtikle Blog

An online forum for sharing thoughts and ideas relating to the Parshas HaShavua

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Friday, May 30

The Weekly Shtikle - Bemidbar

Today marks the seventh yahrtzeit of my mother, o"h. This week's shtikle is dedicated le'iluy nishmasah, Tzirel Nechama bas Tuvia Yehudah.
    In honour of the Yahrtzeit, I made a siyum last night on mishnayos seder Nezikin. The last masechta is Horayos, dealing with the procedures pertaining to a serious misjudgment on the part of any of the various leaders such as the Kohein Gadol or Beis Din. It is a theme which is quite apropos as we begin sefer Bemidbar. Throughout this sefer we find leadership as a primary focus: At the very beginning, we are introduced to the leaders of each tribe. As the tribes are enumerated again later regarding the formation of the camps and again later regarding the travel formations, the leaders are once again listed. A majority of parshas Naso is dedicated to the sacrifices brought by the leaders of the tribes. Beha'alosecha details the appointing of the 70 zekeinim. The 12 spies were each the leaders of their respective tribes. Moshe's leadership is challenged by Korach and finally, in parshas Pinechas, Moshe prepares to pass the baton to Yehoshua.
    I recall when Pope John Paul died three years ago and the subject of religious and spiritual leadership was prevalent in the world at large, a common topic in the Jewish world was what actually differentiates "us" from "them." In what way is our leadership different from theirs? When R' Moshe Hauer addressed this subject, he brought up the concept of papal infallibility, the somewhat foolish declaration that no matter what the pope ever says on matters of faith and morality, he can never be wrong. This fails to realize a fundamental truth - our leaders are human and humans can make mistakes. Indeed, maseches Horayos is the most glaring example of how Judaism comes to terms with that truth. There is a complete set of laws that address the gravest of errors made by the most prestigious leaders of our nation. It is almost unthinkable that a Beis Din could mistakenly permit a form of Avodah Zarah and yet, we have a whole tractate dedicated to the procedures that follow if it were to happen, God forbid.
    On a related note, the pope is meant to live a life vastly different from his constituents. While their religion believes in the family and the importance of procreation, their leaders lead lives of celibacy. How, then, are the common laymen able to look up to their leaders and emulate them? After all, who can attempt to emulate someone who is perfect? The Jewish model, conversely, is more heavily focused on emulating our leaders. The very last mishnah brings home part of that idea. First, we are taught the "intrinsic hierarchy," which kinds of Jews are given a higher level of respect than others. Kohanim come before Levi'im, Levi'im before Yisraelim, etc. This is a hierarchy that most are essentially born into. However, the final statement of the mishnah is that these levels pertain only to individuals on an equal scholarly footing. But even a mamzer who is a talmid chacham is given precedence over a Kohein Gadol who is an am ha'aretz. No matter what situation a Jew is born into, it is in his powers to ascend to the highest levels by dedicating himself to becoming a talmid chacham. There are countless gedolim coming from modest roots who are great examples of this.
    While our nation as a whole is heavily focused on its leaders, the Jewish home is very much a microcosm of that broader picture. In the home, we have our leaders whom we look up to and emulate. It is perhaps even more demanding. In the national arena, we can remain laymen for life. We can observe leadership and emulate them to a certain degree without ever having to worry about actually being thrown into that demanding role. In the home, however, we must learn from our leaders how to eventually become leaders ourselves. There is certainly no more appropriate day to focus on these thoughts than today.

Friday, May 23

The Weekly Shtikle - Bechukosai

    In the beginning of this week's parsha we are told of the blessings that will be bestowed upon us if we follow the mitzvos. We are told (26:8) that five us will chase away 100 and 100 will chase a myriad (10,000). Rashi comments on the obvious discrepancy in the proportions. If five will chase 100, then 100 should only be able to chase 2,000. Rather, a small group that follow the Torah are incomparable to a large group that follow the Torah. It seems from here that a greater deliverance is given to a larger group of worthy men.
    For a long while I have had difficulty reconciling this with a certain passage in Navi. In Shmuel I perek 14, Yonasan decides to attack the Pelishtim with his "nosei keilim," his armourman. He says to him (pasuk 6) "Ulay ya'ase HaShem lanu, ki ein laShem ma'tzor lehoshia berav o bim'at," Yonasan assures him that if HaShem is to bring about a victory it matters not whether it be done by many or few. Does this not directly contradict the above? Maybe only a large group of B'nei Yisroel would have the combined merit to defeat the Pelishtim.
    The only approach I could think of is that perhaps the pesukim in our parsha are dealing with a scenario where victory is inevitable. It has already been determined that we will overcome our enemies. The difference between many and few is only the speed at which we achieve that victory. However, the overall end result, whether or not we ultimately triumph over our adversaries, is not affected by quantity - only quality.

Friday, May 16

The Weekly Shtikle - Behar

    At the very beginning of the parsha we have the very famous Rashi: "Ma inyan shemittah eitzel Har Sinai?" Why is Har Sinai mentioned in connection to the mitzvah of shemittah more so than any other mitzvah? This phrase is so well-known that it has become a Hebrew colloquialism equivalent to, "What does that have to do with the price of tea in China?" Rashi's answer is that just as the entire mitzvah of shemittah and all its minutia were all spelled out at Har Sinai, so to all the mitzvos were taught in their entirety at Har Sinai.
    But it seems the question still remains. Why is shemittah chosen as the mitzvah with which to teach us this? I believe a possible answer relates to the immediacy of the application of the mitzvos. Of the 613 mitzvos, there were many that were applicable immediately. Some mitzvos became applicable later. Some that were connected to Eretz Yisroel only became applicable after they crossed over into the land, some later still. The mitzvah of shemittah was not observed until much later. The midrash states that the mitzvah didn't even apply until after the land was conquered and divided and thus, it wasn't until the 21st year that it was observed. There was certainly no rush to deliver the complex details of this special mitzvah. And yet, we are told that it was taught at Har Sinai. Surely, all other mitzvos were as well.
    (What about Yoveil? Yoveil contains an explicit mitzvah for Beis Din to count the years leading up to it and therefore, it became applicable immediately, or at least at year 15.)
    The laws of shemittah come bundled with one of the very special supernatural promises found in the Torah, that shemittah observance will be rewarded with a special blessing in the crops so that the farmers are able to survive without planting new crops. There have been a number of clear examples this year of this holy miracle in our holy land. Click to read:

Friday, May 9

The Weekly Shtikle - Emor

In this week's parsha, the Torah, yet again, enumerates the various festivals. After an introductory pasuk, the Torah shockingly begins (23:3) with a discussion pertaining to Shabbos which is not usually included amongst the festivals.


Many commentaries deal with the unexpected inclusion of Shabbos here but the GR"A suggests that this pasuk is not talking about Shabbos at all. When the Torah says, "On the six days you shall do work but on the seventh day... you shall do no work" it is referring to the seven days of Yom Tov. On six of those days of Yom Tov - the first and last days of Succos, the first and last days of Pesach, Shavuos and Rosh HaShanah - it is permitted to do work such as cooking for food purposes. The seventh day is Yom Kippur. This day differs in its laws from the other days of Yom Tov in that it is exactly like Shabbos and even food-related work may not be done.


Another puzzling aspect of this sequence is the fact that the introduction seems to be repeated. In accordance with the opinions that the pasuk is indeed referring to Shabbos, I think the following understanding of the pesukim, which addresses both difficulties, may be suggested: Shabbos is considered among the other festivals because it is also a significant and unique day. However, the Torah removes Shabbos from the rest of the group. It is by means of the two introductions that this separation is accomplished. The first introduction (23:2) is unique to Shabbos. It ends with the words "Eileh heim moadai," these are My designated days. The pasuk refers to Shabbos as HaShem's own festival. This is because Shabbos is a day that was declared at the beginning of creation and can never be changed. Forever, Shabbos will occur every seven days.


The other festivals, however, are not called "moadai." They are prefaced by a significantly different introduction. The festivals are described as "asher tikr'u osam bemo'adam," those which you shall declare in their proper time. The word "osam" is written without a vuv, the same spelling as "atem," meaning you. The exact days of the festivals are contingent upon the declaration of Rosh Chodesh which is solely in the hands of Beis Din. Essentially, it is us, B'nei Yisroel, who are in control of the festivals. Indeed, the gemara (Rosh HaShanah 25a) and the midrash (Sifra Emor 9) cite this pasuk in asserting that the month is set according to Beis Din's decree even if it is in error.


This enumeration of the festivals is divided into two distinct parts. The first are HaShem's festivals, over which man has no control. The second set of festivals involve significant human intervention.

Friday, May 2

The Weekly Shtikle - Kedoshim

    This week's parsha, shot as it is, is full of well-known mitzvos. The most well-known, however, would probably have to be (19:18) "ve'ahavta lerei'acha kamocha," which children are taught at a very young age and even gentiles unfamiliar with the Bible are aware of. It is interesting to note, however, the context in which this famous phrase appears. The mitzvos which precede this one are not to hate one's friend and to rebuke them when they have done something wrong and not to take revenge or bear a grudge against one's friend.
    It would seem that the Torah is teaching a very simple lesson here. The true test of friendship is when things are not so peachy. When one sees his friend acting in a manner not in accordance with the Torah and must rebuke him or if one friend happens to wrong the other, if they are able to pull through those situations in the proper way as prescribed by the Torah then they will be able to achieve the level of ahava between friends which is expected of us.