The Weekly Shtikle Blog

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Friday, October 31

The Weekly Shtikle - Noach

After HaShem instructs Noach on how to bring the animals into the ark, we are told (6:22) that "Noach did all that HaShem commanded him to do, so he did." Later, (7:5), we are told again that Noach did all that HaShem commanded him. Rashi, obviously bothered by the apparent redundancy, says that this pasuk refers to Noach's coming into the ark (whereas the previous one referred to his gathering of the animals).

R' Shimon Schwab in Ma'ayan Beis HaShoeiva points out that the first pasuk ends with the phrase "kein asah" whereas the second does not. He explains that Rashi tells us in 7:7 that Noach did not enter the ark right away but waited until it actually began to rain because he was of "little faith." Therefore, his coming into the ark was not done with complete devotion to the word of HaShem. The phrase "kein asah" usually refers to a higher level of observance, a more complete carrying out the command. That is why with regards to the bringing in of the animals, which Noach performed completely, we find the words "kein asah." But with regards to the coming in to the ark, in which Noach lacked a little faith, we do not.

It is also of interest to note that the first pasuk uses the word Elokim to refer to HaShem whereas the second pasuk uses the word HaShem but I do not have an answer for that one just yet.


Don't forget: The Weight of the Teiva.

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

Friday, October 24

The Weekly Shtikle - Bereishis

This Monday marks the seventh Yahrtzeit of my dear friend, Daniel Scarowsky, z"l.
This week's shtikle is dedicated leiluy nishmaso, Daniel Moshe Eliyahu ben Yitzchak.

Pasuk 16 refers to the sun and the moon as "shnei hame'oros hagedolim", the two large luminaries but concludes by referring to the sun as the "maor hagadol" and the moon as the "maor hakatan". On this pasuk there is the well-known Rashi, quoting the Midrash, that the moon and the sun were created equal but the moon complained that "two kings cannot share one crown". Therefore, it was reduced to a smaller luminary. However, this is certainly an allegorical understanding of the pasuk. What, then, is the simple understanding?


In "In the Beginning: Biblical Creation and Science", a fascinating book reconciling the Biblical account of creation with modern science, Professor Nathan Aviezer offers an eye-opening interpretation. An astronomical body is measured both by its true size and by its apparent size. The apparent size specifies how large it appears to an observer on Earth. This figure is the ratio of the true size of the object to its distance from the Earth. This figure is expressed as the angle that the object subtends from the position of an observer on Earth. That means, if you were pointing to the bottom of the object, the apparent size is the number of degrees you must rotate your arm to be pointing at the top of the object. The sun is 400 times bigger than the moon. It is also exactly 400 times further away from Earth. As a result, the apparent size for the sun and moon are identical at 0.53 degrees! Now we can understand the pasuk as follows: The first part of the pasuk is referring to the point of view of an Earth observer. From our point of view, the sun and moon are the biggest heavenly bodies and in fact, appear identical in size. The second part of the pasuk refers to the true size of the sun and moon.

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

Monday, October 20

The Weekly Shtikle - Shemini Atzeres

On Shemini Atzeres we begin to recite "Mashiv haruach umorid hagashem" in the middle of the second berachah of Shemonah Esreih. This phrase is so integral to the Shemonah Esreih that if it is omitted, Shemonah Esreih must be repeated. A question arises when one is in doubt as to whether or not they have recited it. Tur (OC 114) writes that this uncertainty, like many uncertainties in halachah, is decided by means of chazakah, an inclination that indicates which way to resolve the uncertainty. After thirty days of reciting the phrase properly, it is considered habitual and if one is uncertain as to whether or not they have recited it, they may assume that they have. Within the thirty days one must assume that they have not become accustomed enough and have likely omitted it and must repeat Shemonah Esreih.

Tur cites a tactic from Maharam MiRutenberg (and adds that his father, the Rosh agreed to this) to remedy this problem even within the first thirty days. On Shemini Atzeres, he would recite the beginning of the second blessing until "Mashiv haruach, etc." 90 times corresponding to the 90 times he would say it during the 30 days. This allowed him to be considered accustomed immediately and if he ever was unsure whether or not he said "Mashic haruach" he would not have to repeat Shemonah Esreih.

Tur also cites the source for this trick. The mishnah (Bava Kamma 23b) relates a dispute between R' Yehudah and R' Meir regarding the establishment of an ox as a goring ox. The Torah (Shemos 21:29) teaches that if an ox has gored already yesterday and the day before, i.e. three times, it is considered "muad," prone to gore and the consequences change. R' Yehudah takes the words of the pasuk literally and requires that three gores take place on three separate days. R' Meir, however, considers an ox prone for goring even if it gored three times in one day. His reasoning, employed by Maharam MiRutenberg, is that if spaced out gores establish the ox as prone, certainly more frequent gores will establish the same. So too, if the recitation of "Mashiv haruach" 90 times in 30 days establishes one as accustomed, certainly doing so in one day should accomplish the same.

The Magen Avraham and Taz attack this reasoning as the halachic conclusion of the gemara is in accordance with R' Yehudah. How then can Maharam MiRutenberg employ the reasoning of R' Meir?

The Drishah and Noda Bihudah give the identical answer to this difficulty. The reason why R' Yehudah disagrees with R' Meir is due to his literal interpretation of the pasuk. In theory, however, he totally agrees with R' Meir's logic. Therefore, although we rule halachically like R' Yehudah with respect to the laws of the ox, the reasoning of R' Meir is still valid and may be employed in our situation.

Have a Chag Samei'ach!

Eliezer Bulka

Friday, October 17

The Weekly Shtikle - Shabbas Chol HaMoeid Sukkos

After the haftarah is read this Shabbos, the last berachah will begin "Al haTorah, ve'al ha'avodah, ve'al hanvi'im, ve'al yom haShabbos hazeh, veyom chag haSukkos hazeh..." (as per Mishnah Berurah 664:9) However, six months from now, when we read the haftarah for Shabbas Chol HaMoeid Pesach, there will be no mention of Pesach in that berachah. The Mishnah Berurah explains there (490:16) that what distinguishes Sukkos from Pesach is that since the tally of korbanos was different for each day of Sukkos, each day is considered a moeid in and of itself whereas on Pesach, the exact same korbanos were brought every single day.

Another marked difference between Sukkos and Pesach is that on Sukkos we say a full Hallel every day whereas on Pesach we say a full Hallel only on the first days of Yom Tov. The most well-known reason for this is probably the one given by Mishnah Berurah, that we refrain from saying a full Hallel due to the Egyptian loss of life at Yam Suf. However, the gemara (Erchin 10b) offers a different reason. In fact, it is the very same reason as the one given above for the difference in the berachah on the haftarah. The variance in the korbanos offered each day is also the reason why we recite a full Hallel every day of Sukkos.

The gemara later discusses why no Hallel is recited on Purim. One answer offered is that we do not say Hallel on a miracle that occurred outside of Eretz Yisroel. The gemara asks, "but we say Hallel on Pesach which was a miracle outside of Eretz Yisroel!" The gemara does not seem to be bothered by Sukkos. Isn't Sukkos also commemorating a miracle outside of Eretz Yisroel? 

Sukkos, or at least the sitting in the sukkah, is to remind us of the Divine Providence, the Clouds of Glory with which HaShem protected us in the desert. But perhaps this commemoration is not meant to be simply a historical one. Pesach, conversely, is clearly a historical celebration. Even the commandment to relive the exodus as if we had experienced it ourselves is worded as follows: (Mishnah Pesachim 10:5) "Chayav adam lir'os es atzmo ke'ilu yatza miMitzrayim," yatza not yotzei. We are not commanded to feel as though the exodus is happening now, just to feel that we had lived it in the past and give proper gratitude. But perhaps Sukkos is different. We do, indeed, reflect on the miracles and wonders HaShem performed for us in the desert but the true task of Sukkos is to use that experience to feel HaShem's Divine Presence today. It is not enough to remember that HaShem provided for us then. That is simply the vehicle by which to realize that HaShem is likewise providing for us now. Thus, the holiday of Sukkos, and the Hallel which we recite, are not only a commemoration of a miracle performed outside of Eretz Yisroel. It is an expression of gratitude and joy for the wonders HaShem performs even to this day, wherever we may be.

Have a good Shabbos and Moadim le'Simchah!

Eliezer Bulka

Monday, October 13

The Weekly Shtikle - Sukkos

"And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of the Hadar tree, branches of palm trees and the boughs of thick-leaved trees and willows of the brook" (Vayikra 23:40) The Midrash Rabba in Vayikra Rabba 30 delves into the symbolism behind the esrog, lulav, hadasim and aravos that we take every year on Sukkos. In 30:12, the Midrash speaks of the Arba Minim symbolizing different traits among B'nei Yisroel. The esrog, which has smell and taste, is likened to those who have smell and taste, i.e. those who have Torah and Ma'asim Tovim, good deeds. The lulav comes from a date tree. The date tree has taste but no smell. This is like the man who has Torah but no Ma'asim Tovim. The hadas has a smell but no taste, corresponding to the man who has Ma'asim Tovim but not Torah. The aravos, which have neither taste nor smell, represent the man of neither Torah nor Ma'asim Tovim.

The Midrash's choice to refer to Torah with taste and to good deeds with smell is surely not coincidental. There must be a significant meaning behind it. I heard a wonderful explanation from R' Ariel Shoshan, an alumnus of Ner Yisroel and currently a rav in Scottsdale, AZ. Taste is surely a more fulfilling sense than smell. It satiates and satisfies whereas smell often leads only to the desire to taste. Likewise, Torah is a more fulfilling trait. It is demanded of us to show proper respect for the man of Torah for his stature is paramount. But like taste, it is a trait that must be experienced at close range, with direct contact, just as taste requires you to actually have the food and place it in your mouth.

Good deeds are different. Just as an object with a pungent smell may be sensed from across the room, a good deed may be sensed from a far distance. If someone, for example, holds the door open for someone, everyone around sees it. Good deeds are sensed by all in the vicinity, just as smell has this power to affect a great many at one time. In a nutshell, Torah must be "tasted" up close, but good deeds can be "smelled" from afar.

I would like to add two more points, other possible meanings behind these comparisons. First, it is known that the sense of taste requires the sense of smell to aid it. If one plugs his nose, it becomes much harder to taste. But you don't need a tongue to smell. Likewise, if a person has Ma'asim Tovim but no Torah, at least his Ma'asim Tovim can exist by themselves. But one who has Torah but not Ma'asim Tovim, even his Torah is affected and surely hindered by his lack of midos. This is the exact message of the Mishna in Pirkei Avos (3:12) "One whose good deeds exceed his wisdom, his wisdom will endure. One whose wisdom exceeds his good deeds, his wisdom will not endure."

Secondly, it is interesting to note that the object of good smell is the hadas. It is the hadas itself that smells good. The object referred to as having good taste is the lulav. It is not the lulav itself which tastes good but rather the fruit from the tree from which it came. Perhaps this symbolizes that the one who has good deeds, his deeds are sensed up front. His lack of Torah does not present a lack in his good deeds. But one who has Torah but not good deeds, his Torah becomes hidden and not sensed due to his lack of midos.

Chag Samei'ach and we all merit to be like the esrog!

Eliezer Bulka

Friday, October 10

The Weekly Shtikle - Haazinu

    The poetry that makes up most of this week's parsha begins with a call to the heavens and the earth to bear witness to the words of Moshe to follow. Immediately thereafter, Moshe proclaims "Ya'arof kamatar likchi, tizal katal imrasi, kis'irim alei deshe, vechirvivim alei eisev." In short, this pasuk compares his words to the rain, the dew, and the wind. I wish to focus only on the last half of the pasuk. Rashi explains se'irim to be winds and revivim to be rain drops. He further explains that deshe refers to a general covering of grass while the word eisev refers to individual blades.

    It would seem to follow from Rashi that the pairing in the pasuk of se'irim with deshe and revivim with eisev is quite logical. The wind, which is a phenomenon consisting of a single unit and cannot be broken down into smaller parts as there are no "pieces" or "drops" of wind, is applied to deshe which refers to the general covering of grass. The revivim, which are individual raindrops, are applied to the eisev, the individual blades of grass.

    I believe there is a symbolism behind these two metaphors. Rashi explains that just as the winds strengthen the grass, so too, the words of the Torah strengthen those who learn them and help them grow. This pasuk is conveying to us the nurturing powers of Torah. Therefore, we may explain that the pasuk is teaching us the far-reaching benefits of Torah for K'lal Yisroel on a collective level, as symbolized by se'irim and deshe, as well as the sustenance it provides for each and every one of us on an individual level, as symbolized by the revivim and eisev.

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

Tuesday, October 7

The Weekly Shtikle - Yom Kippur

One of the more popular study materials for the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah is Rambam's Hilchos Teshuvah, an entire section devoted to the various laws pertaining to teshuvah. In it, he defines complete teshuvah as follows: If one is presented with the identical scenario in which he previously sinned, with the ability to sin once again but removes himself and prevents himself from sinning for the sake of teshuvah and not out of fear or weakness. What is puzzling, though, is that this definition is not given until the second chapter.


The first chapter begins with a focus on viduy, the confession of sin. Rambam proves from pesukim that the confession of one's sins is a full-fledged mitzvah in the Torah. Why is it that the viduy is such an integral part of teshuvah that it constitutes the mitzvah aspect and is expounded upon by Rambam before the full definition of teshuvah is taught?


I actually had an inspiration on this matter from, believe it or not, the world of politics. We of course find ourselves in the middle of yet another hard-fought political campaign. As with most campaigns, much time is spent discussing certain things that candidates might have done or said in the past that they might regret. I've always found it astounding how seldom you find a genuine apology in such cases. I would have thought that when a politician is backed against a wall having fallen into disfavour for something he's said or done, the most honourable thing he could do is come out and admit he was wrong and apologize. But instead, you tend to see all sorts of political tapdancing - mincing words to somehow deceive the public into thinking there's been some sort of misunderstanding. And of course, there's the ever-insincere "I'm sorry if I offended anyone," which ultimately means "I'm not sorry I did it, I'm just sorry I got in trouble for it."


But I'm no political guru. So it can't be that I've discovered something that everyone else has failed to see. If I'm right, though, why is that so many are so incapable of a full apology? We are certainly not dealing in the realm of the righteous in this regard but nonetheless, it has led me to realize that by human nature, it is so incredibly difficult to admit that one has done something wrong. So much so, that even when the benefits of an admission or apology are so blatantly clear, one can find himself unable to do so. As such, confession presents the single greatest challenge in the teshuvah process. When Rambam defines teshuvah in Chapter 2, that is merely defining the point at which one is able to declare "Mission Accomplished!" It is the point at which the teshuvah is a complete success. But the mitzvah involved in teshuvah and the most difficult and most crucial component is in fact the viduy, confession, and that is why it takes centre-stage in Rambam's Hilchos Teshuvah.


Gmar Chasimah Tovah and Good Yom Tov

Eliezer Bulka

Friday, October 3

The Weekly Shtikle - Vayeilech

With the onset of the new year, another shemittah year has concluded. I had wanted to dedicate at least one shtikle during the year to the topic of shemittah but unfortunately failed in that regard. Now that the year is over, the mitzvos regarding shemittah, for the most part, cease as well, except for the prohibitions regarding produce that grew in the shemittah year and maintain shemittah status, such as the esrogim we will be "acquiring" for Sukkos. However, there is one mitzvah connected to shemittah that still remains, although it is not in practice today - the mitzvah of hakheil.


Hakheil, as it is discussed in this week's parsha and in the gemara Sotah, was indeed a sight to be seen - the entire nation gathered in the Holy Temple as the king read from the Torah. Why, though, was this practice reserved for once every seven years? And why at the end of shemittah?


Malbi"m offers an approach which, although somewhat predictable, is certainly worth mentioning. Shemittah is a year of complete devotion to spiritual growth, a year when the farmers and all those whose who work the land turn away from their tiring and distracting service of the land and devote themselves completely to the service of HaShem. It is a time when all are putting their faith in HaShem as He miraculously carries them through the year. This is the time to capitalize on this spiritual peak and bring everyone together for the reading of the Torah in the Beis HaMikdash before they all return to their fields to go to work once again.


What we do see from this idea is the importance of capitalizing on our spiritual growth to bring ourselves yet another step higher. This is really the lesson of Tishrei of every year. It might be suggested that expecting all Jews to exit their homes and live in a temporary dwelling for a week might not be possible, for example, in the middle of the summer. It is only after the spiritual high of Yom Kippur that we are able to devote ourselves to such an extent. And immediately after Yom Kippur, without leaving a moment to lapse back into our regular routine, we thrust ourselves into the mitzvos of Sukkos.

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

The Weekly Shtikle - Vayeilech

With the onset of the new year, another shemittah year has concluded. I had wanted to dedicate at least one shtikle during the year to the topic of shemittah but unfortunately failed in that regard. Now that the year is over, the mitzvos regarding shemittah, for the most part, cease as well, except for the prohibitions regarding produce that grew in the shemittah year and maintain shemittah status, such as the esrogim we will be "acquiring" for Sukkos. However, there is one mitzvah connected to shemittah that still remains, although it is not in practice today - the mitzvah of hakheil.
Hakheil, as it is discussed

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka