The Weekly Shtikle Blog

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Monday, September 29

The Weekly Shtikle - Rosh HaShanah

While Rosh HaShanah is one of the most crucial days of the year in our calendar, its details in the actual pesukim are very scarce. One need only open a Bible to read that we eat matzah on Pesach, eat in the sukkah on Sukkos, and that Yom Kippur is a day of atonement. But nowhere is it mentioned that Rosh HaShanah is a day of judgement. Even the procedures concerning the blowing of the shofar are barely mentioned. Rosh HaShanah is merely referred to as "zichron teruah," (Vayikra 23:24) and "yom teruah," (Bemidbar 29:1).


Why, though, is the word teruah used? Why is it not referred to as "yom tekiah?" We are first introduced to the contrast between tekiah and teruah in the portion dealing with the blowing of the trumpets. We are told that on holidays and joyous days, "uskatem bachatzotzeros," (Bemidbar 10:10) tekiah rather than teruah is mentioned. But when we are faced with war and we must engage in intense prayer, we are told (10:9) "vahareiosem bachatzotzeros," teruah rather than tekiah. Teruah, in its nature, a series of broken sounds, denotes a broken spirit as applicable in such a solemn time as the onset of war. While Rosh HaShanah is a holiday, it would seem that the broken sounds of the teurah more accurately represent the tone and the seriousness of the day.


It is ironic, though, that in machzorim, the shofar blowing is generally referred to as "Tekias Shofar." However, the very first halachah in Rambam's Hilchos Shofar states "Mitzvas aseih shel Torah lishmoa teruas hashofar..."


The word teruah is an intriguing word. It seems to share a common root with "ra," bad. However, we observe in the Rosh HaShanah davening that the word "teruah" can also be used to mean close friendship or affection, as in "ve'ahavta lereiacha kamocha." How do these seemingly opposite ideas come together in the same word? I leave you with that to discuss over apples and honey.

Have a kesivah vachasimah tovah and shanah tovah umesukah!

Eliezer Bulka

Friday, September 26

The Weekly Shtikle - Nitzavim

This week's shtikle is dedicated for a refuah sheleimah for Sorayah Eliezer ben Tzippora Chaya and Immanuel ben Zahava.

Please have them in mind in your tefillos.

The central theme in this week's parsha, not in the least bit coincidentally, is theme of teshuvah, repentance. After the pesukim dealing with the harsh punishments of the man, woman, family or tribe who "goes his own way," we are told of all the good that is bestowed upon us when we return to HaShem.

Perek 30 begins, "And it sall be when these things come upon you, the blessings and the curses which I have put before you...And you shall return to HaShem, your God." It is common, especially at this time, to look back and reflect on recent tragedies - those that affect us personally or as a nation more directly, such as the passing of a loved one or the trials and tribulations endured by our bretheren in Eretz Yisroel, and those that might seem to affect us less directly, such as various world events - and try to understand it as HaShem's call for us to do teshuvah. It is certainly not uncommon for such events to be evoked in a Rosh HaShanah or Shabbas Shuva drasha. However, there is a small yet important nuance in this week's parsha that might easily be overlooked in this process. It is not merely the curses, the tragedies and misfortunes, that are meant to be catalysts to our repentance. The berachah, the blessings and the good fortune are meant to serve the same purpose. It is simply insufficient to look back at the tough times that befell us, either personally or nationally, and declare "God was telling us something." We must also reflect upon the wonderful blessings we have enjoyed, for He was telling us something then too. Appreciating the love and the Divine Providence with which our lives are governed, can and should lead us to teshuvah just the same.


Good Shabbos and a kesivah vachasimah tovah.

Eliezer Bulka

Friday, September 19

The Weekly Shtikle - Ki Savo

This week's parsha begins with the process of the bringing of Bikurim, the first fruits, and the passages that are to be recited at the time that they are brought. We are instructed to (26:3) "And you shall come to the Kohein in those days and you shall say to him: 'I have said today to HaShem your God that I have come to the land that HaShem has sworn to our fathers to give to us.'" Rashi, on the words "ve'omarta eilav," and you shall say to him, comments "[to show] that you are not ungrateful." This implies that the purpose of the recitation is to show that he is not ungrateful. My father points out, however, that the very essence of bikurim is an expression of thanks to HaShem. We go out of our way to show that we appreciate that everything comes from HaShem by bringing our first fruits to Yerushalayim. Why would anyone think us ungrateful that we should have to recite this passage to refute that perception? Furthermore, it is strange that Rashi would make this comment on the words "ve'omarta eilav," rather than on the actual words that are recited.

My father's answer is based on a remarkable interpretation of bikurim from Netziv in Hemek Davar. He is bothered by the words "HaShem Elokecha," as opposed to "HaShem Elokeinu." Why are we referring to HaShem as the God of the Kohein rather than our God. He answers that the purpose of the bikurim process going through the Kohein is so that we may show gratitude to the righteous Kohanim, that in their merit and through the Providence bestowed upon them by HaShem, that we are worthy of entering Eretz Yisroel. That is why we direct the opening passage towards the Kohein.

Rashi, as well, is not suggesting that we are showing that we are not ungrateful to HaShem. Our actions are indicative enough in that regard. Rather, we are going out of our way to show that we are not ungrateful to the Kohein for his spiritual influence on the nation and the merit that he brings to the nation as a whole. And that is why Rashi is explaining the words "ve'omarta eilav." He is explaining why we are talking to the Kohein. The Kohein is more than just a middle man in the bikurim process. He is an essential figure.

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

Friday, September 12

The Weekly Shtikle - Ki Seitzei

This past Thursday marked the first Yahrtzeit of my brother's mother-in-law, Rebbetzin Judy Young.
This week's shtikle is dedicated le'iluy nishmasah, Yehudis bas Moshe.

In this week's parsha we are taught of the prohibition against plowing with an ox and a donkey together (22:10). Rashi writes that this prohibition applies to any combination of two animals. Rambam, however, is of the opinion that this applies only to a combination of a kosher animal and a non-kosher animal. Ba'al HaTurim explains that if the non-kosher animal sees the kosher animal chewing its cud it will think that it was fed and this will cause unnecessary distress to the non-kosher animal. R' Yaakov Kaminetzky in Emes L'Yaakov points out that this reasoning is not sufficient for Rambam's opinion. According to that reasoning, it would be permitted to plow with  an ox and a camel, both of which chew their cud. However, Rambam clearly holds that it is forbidden.

Sifsei Kohein explains this pasuk in a symbolic manner. He writes that the words "lo sacharosh beshor uvachamor yachdav" are indicative of a prohibition against the discussion and deliberation on the matter of the two Messiahs, Moshiach ben Yoseif and Moshiach ben Dovid. The "shor" is a reference to Moshiach ben Yoseif, as we see that on Yoseif it is said (33:17) "bechor shoro..." The "chamor" refers to Moshiach ben Dovid who is described (Zechariah 9:9) as "ani verocheiv al chamor." The word "tacharosh" refers to thinking, plowing of the mind so to speak, as it does in Mishlei 3:29.

 Sha'arei Aharon, however, warns that this position of the Sifsei Kohein is not to be confused with the constant requirement we have to anticipate the coming of Moshiach as stated in Chavakuk 2:3 and stressed more strongly in the gemara (Shabbos 31a). We are commanded to yearn the deliverance of Moshiach constantly and, as stated in the Rambam's 13 Principles of Faith, based on the pasuk in Chavakuk, even if he tarries, still we wait for him every day that he shall come. The unnecessary deliberation over the technicalities involved in the coming of Moshiach, explains the Sha'arei Aharon, ultimately facilitates a lapse in the fulfillment of our duties. If we figure out when and how he will come, he explains, we will no longer yearn his appearance daily as we are required.

Therefore, at this critical point in our history, when the future of our nation is uncertain, we should not squander time and focus on how the current events may lead to the coming of Moshiach. Rather, we must all focus inward and go out of our way to do whatever we can to contribute to the coming of Moshiach speedily in our day.

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

Friday, September 5

The Weekly Shtikle - Shofetim

In parshas Mishpatim we are taught of the prohibition against the accepting of bribes as well as the drastic ramifications thereof. Here we are told that (Shemos 23:8) "bribery blinds the open-eyed and perverts the words of the righteous." In a very similar pasuk in this week's parsha we are told that (16:19) "bribery blinds the eyes of the wise man and perverts the words of the righteous."  The word "pikchim" is replaced with "chachamim."


The GR"A explains that the references to a judge as a "pikei'ach" and a "chacham" pertain to two separate requirements a judge must meet. The word chacham always refers to Torah wisdom. A judge must always be aware of the pertinent laws and know how to judge a case in accordance with the Torah. However, there may be times when the law will dictate a certain judgement in a case, but the judge senses an element of corruption in the testimony. Indeed, the gemara (Shevuos 30b) teaches that in such a case, a judge should go with his senses. For this, a judge must be worldly and understand the people in order to accurately analyze the testimony. This is the meaning of a "pikei'ach."


To explain why each pasuk is found in its specific parsha, it is interesting to note that the names of the two parshios are very similar. Mishpatim refers principally to the laws by which we are governed. Therefore, the commandments tend to address the nation more generally. Shofetim refers to the individuals who are to carry out those laws. Therefore, the prohibition against bribery addresses the chachamim only.


There is another discrepancy between the two pesukim that the GR"A does not deal with.  The pasuk in our parsha refers to the "eyes of the chachamim" whereas with regards to "pikchim" in Mishpatim there is no mention of the eyes, rather the "pikchim" will be blinded. Perhaps this may be understood based on the GR"A's explanation. That which is seen by the eyes represents a certain degree of reality. As the saying goes, "seeing is believing." Likewise, the Torah laws that govern the judgement are absolute, undebatable truths. Nevertheless, a bribe can distort one's perception of reality to the point that he is blinded even to these truths. This is reflected in the pasuk in Shofetim.


The vision of a "pikei'ach" is much more abstract. His perception of the testimony is his own judgement call. There are no absolute rights and wrongs. Thus, the blinding is less severe. For this reason, the "pikei'ach" is not referred to with regards to his eyes like the "chacham" is.


Furthermore, we find that the chachamim are referred to (Vayikra 4:13) as "eini hakahal," the eyes of the community. In a spiritual sense, the chachamim represent the eyes of the nation, leading and guiding us with their vision. For this reason, the eyes are mentioned regarding the chachamim and not the pikchim.

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka