The Weekly Shtikle Blog

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Friday, January 29

The Weekly Shtikle - Beshalach

The Weekly Shtikle is dedicated le'iluy nishmas my Opa, Tovia Yehudah ben Yoel, a'h.

The beginning of this week's parsha briefly recaps the exodus of B'nei Yisroel from Egypt before going on to tell the events that followed. One previously unmentioned incident is recounted. Before leaving Egypt, Moshe Rabbeinu seeks out the body of Yosef so that it may be carried to Eretz Yisroel for his eventual burial in Shechem. The Midrash (Shemos Rabbah 20:19) says of this deed: "On him (Moshe) the pasuk (Mishlei 10:8) says, "The wise hearted grabs mitzvos," for when all of B'nei Yisroel were busy collecting silver and gold, Moshe was involved in the collection of Yoseif's bones."

There is a commonly raised difficulty with this Midrash. It's not as if the rest of the nation was not also immersed in the fulfilment of a mitzvah. They were commanded by HaShem, through Moshe, to collect the silver and gold from the Egyptians. Why is Moshe singled out here as a "grabber of mitzvos" when the entire nation was involved in a mitzvah as well?

Rabbi Ephraim Eisenberg, zt"l, in a eulogy for his mother, offered a beautiful approach to this dilemma. Moshe's action deemed him worthy of the title "chacham leiv," wise-hearted, not simply because he was involved in a mitzvah. The wise-hearted is one who has the perception and the insight to sense which mitzvos need to be focussed on under the circumstances. A chacham leiv gains his title not simply with his performance of mitzvos but rather his choice of mitzvos. The entire nation was involved in the "cleaning out" of Egypt and the collection of Yoseif's body was a job that needed to be done. Moshe realized that this was his job to do. He is therefore praised by Chazal for picking the right mitzvah.

This concept is easily applied to the Jewish outreach setting. There are 613 mitzvos but it takes a chacham leiv to sense where to begin, in which area to initiate growth in order to achieve maximum results. In the building of small communities, in which R' Eisenberg's parents were greatly involved, one must devote extra attention to the areas that are the foundations of such communities such as the construction of a Mikvah and establishment of Jewish schools. This is the way of the wise-hearted.

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Dikdukian: Exceptions Ahoy!
Dikdukian: Midash, HaShem...
AstroTorah: The Gemara's Aliens? by R' Ari Storch

Friday, January 22

The Weekly Shtikle - Bo

The Weekly Shtikle is dedicated le'iluy nishmas my Opa, Tovia Yehudah ben Yoel, a'h.

I heard the following from my Zadie, R' Chayim Yaakov Bulka, z"l:

In this week's parsha, (12:2) B'nei Yisroel are given their first mitzvah as a nation, the mitzvah of Kiddush HaChodesh. This mitzvah deals, in general, with the setting of our calendar. It vests in the Sanhedrin and those empowered by the Sanhedrin, the authority to intercalate months or years (i.e. determine the length of the month or the occurrence of a leap year). The complex calculations and procedures pertaining to intercalation are called "Sod haIbur." As the word "sod," secret, implies, this is part of the deeper realms of Torah.

The gemara (Shabbos 147b) relates a story about the dangerously mystical powers of the wines of Prugaisa and waters of Diumses. The great Rabbi Elazar ben Arach visited these wonders and was overcome and forgot his learning. When he returned, he got up to read the aforementioned pasuk. Instead of reading "HaChodesh hazeh lachem," this month shall be for you, he switched the dalet for a reish, the zayin for a yud, the chuf for a beis and misread, "hacheireish hayah libam," and their hearts were deafened. The Rabbis prayed for him and he returned to his normal self. Nevertheless, it is quite shocking for such a notable sage to be overcome to such an extent. Is it possible that R' Elazar was so deeply influenced that he forgot how to read an elementary pasuk?

This mysterious performance of R' Elazar may, perhaps, be explained by referring to a beautiful explanation by the Gaon of Vilna. The pasuk (Yeshayah 6:10) says "Make the heart of the people fat, make their ears heavy and smear over their eyes; lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and return..." The pasuk, referring to the sealing off of the path of repentance, starts off with the heart, then the ears and then the eyes but continues backwards from the eyes, then the ears then the heart.

The GR"A explains that eyes, ears and heart correspond respectively to Torah ShebiChsav, the Written Tradition, Torah SheBa'al Peh, the Oral Tradition, and Sodos HaTorah, the deep secrets of the Torah . The study of Torah ShebiChsav and Torah SheBa'al Peh, will ultimately lead to understanding of Sodos HaTorah. The neglect of Torah study will first deprive an understanding of Sodos HaTorah, to be followed by forgetfulness of Torah SheBa'al Peh and finally, even Torah ShebiChsav will no longer be comprehensible. However, if diligent and continuous study is resumed again, first the eyes will begin the study of the Written Tradition, followed by careful and concentrated attention with the ears to the Oral Tradition and, eventually, by persistent study, the heart will regain the ability to penetrate and comprehend the deep secrets of Torah.

We can assume that R' Elazar ben Arach, the "mayan hamisgabeir," (Avos 2:8) did not forget the Written and Oral traditions. However, by reading "Their hearts were deafened," he made a personal statement, a cry for help. This pasuk, "HaChodesh hazeh lachem," which commands us to put into practice the Sodos HaTorah, was now beyond his reach. By allowing himself to be drawn to the wines of Prugaisa and waters of Diumses, his heart became deafened and no longer had the capacity to comprehend Sodos HaTorah, including Sod HaIbur. The rabbis answered his outcry and prayed for him and his mastery of Sodos HaTorah was returned to him.

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Dikdukian: Talented Locusts
AstroTorah: The Torah's Twilight Zone by R' Ari Storch
AstroTorah: The Death Star (Ra'ah) the classic by R' Ari Storch

Friday, January 15

The Weekly Shtikle - Va'eira

The Weekly Shtikle is dedicated le'iluy nishmas my Opa, Tovia Yehudah ben Yoel, a'h.
    In order to give Paroah a warning for the plague of blood, (7:15) Moshe is told to meet Paroah at the nile and "hamateh asher nehpach lenachash tikach beyadecha," the staff that was turned into a snake you shall take in your hand. The problem that needs to be solved is, who's staff is it anyway? A staff was turned into a snake twice, once in front of B'nei Yisroel and once in front of Paroah. It would seem that in front of B'nei Yisroel it was done with Moshe's staff as HaShem had demonstrated in front of the burning bush. From pasuk 9, it appears that the staff used in front of Paroah was Aharon's. Which one, then, is being referred to in this pasuk?
    The Klei Yekar on pasuk 9 points out that Moshe's staff turned into a "nachash" while Aharon's turned into a "tanin." He then goes on to explain the difference between the two. Since our pasuk reads "hamateh asher nehepach lenachash" and not "hamateh asher nehepach lesanin," it would seem that the staff being referred to is Moshe's. The Ibn Ezra holds that even the staff that was used in front of Paroah was Moshe's. According to this, it would seem to leave no doubt that the staff was Moshe's. [It is noteworthy, however, that when the signs are in fact performed in front of B'nei Yisroel, (4:30), it seems to be Aharon who performed them. Why this would be is a question unto itself. But if Aharon was the one who performed them, perhaps it is not so simple that Moshe's staff was used.]
    Nevertheless, Targum Yonasan here states outright that it was Aharon's staff to be brought to the nile. In Tosafos HaShaleim, an interesting reasoning for this is brought. Moshe's staff had HaShem's name etched on it. Rashi here tells us that Paroah was at the nile bank to relieve himself. Therefore, taking Moshe's staff with HaShem's name on it would have been like taking a sefer into the bathroom. So, it had to be Aharon's staff that was brought to the nile.
Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Dikdukian: Yachid and Rabbim
Dikdukian: Frogs
Dikdukian: Dikdukei Va'eira by Eliyahu Levin
AstroTorah: Yeshaya's New World Order? by R' Ari Storch

Friday, January 8

The Weekly Shtikle - Shemos

The Weekly Shtikle is dedicated le'iluy nishmas my Opa, Tovia Yehudah ben Yoel, a'h.

At this beginning of this week's parsha, Shifrah and Puah are faced with the daunting challenge of defying Paroah's orders to kill all firstborn males. It is stated in the pasuk (1:17) "And the midwives feared the Lord and they did not do as they had been commanded by Paroah and they let the children live." It is interesting that their actions are classified as fearing HaShem. It could have simply been an act of defiance. Perhaps it was an act of emotion ‑ they couldn't bring themselves to kill the babies. However, we do find that this matter is a halachic matter, not simply a moral dilemma. The gemara (Sanhedrin 72b) asserts that it is forbidden to terminate the life of one in order to save the life of another. Shifrah and Puah's lives were certainly at stake. In a bad moment, Paroah could easily have terminated them for disobeying his orders. Nevertheless, they knew that it was forbidden for them to take one life to save their own ‑ certainly to take many. The Torah goes out of its way to make it clear that this was not an emotional decision that Shifrah and Puah made. It was a decision to do the right thing according to the letter of the law no matter fate would befall them.

There is another interesting nuance in this pasuk. The midwives were commanded to let the females live but to murder the males. However, the pasuk concludes, "vatechayena es hayeladim." The word yeladim is the generic gender‑non‑specific word for children. The phrase "vatechayena es habanim" would have been more appropriate. Surely, there is more going on in this pasuk.

Paroah had sinister plans for B'nei Yisroel that certainly went beyond killing the baby boys. Although he allowed the girls to live, he surely did not want for them to have any sort of Jewish upbringing. As with every other adversary we have faced, Paroah had a disdain for the Jewish identity and wished to strip it from us. That the midwives defied his decry is already clear by the words "velo asu ka'asher diber aleihen melech Mitzrayim." The end of the pasuk actually completely superfluous. Rather, it does not at all pertain to Paroah's actual decree. Shifrah and Puah did not only let the babies live. They gave them life. We are taught in the gemara (Sotah 11b) that Shifrah and Puah were really nicknames for Yocheved and either Miriam or Elisheva (Aharon's wife). Not only were these woman responsible for letting the baby boys live, they were responsible for building the future of Klal Yisroel. They defied Paroah in ways he never even knew. Surely, their heroism and sacrifice gave life to all the children ‑ the girls as well as the boys. Thus, the pasuk does conclude "vatechayena es hayeladim."

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Dikduian: Bas Paroah (Guess what I have to say about that!)
Dikduian: From the Children of the Hebrews
Dikduian: The Strange Thing about Straw
Dikduian: Affliction
Dikduian: Raamseis
Dikdukian: Random Dikduk from Shemos by Eliyahu Levin
AstroTorah: Moshe Rabbeinu's Birth and Demise Seen in the Stars? by R' Ari Storch

Friday, January 1

The Weekly Shtikle - Vayechi

This past Tuesday marked the second yahrtzeit of Rabbi Joseph Schechter of Ner Yisroel. This week's shtikle is dedicated le'iluy nishmaso, Yoseif ben Eliezer Z'ev.
The Weekly Shtikle is dedicated le'iluy nishmas my Opa, Tovia Yehudah ben Yoel, a'h.

Before Yaakov blesses all his children together, Yoseif brings his sons to Yaakov to be blessed. "And he blessed them on that saying, by you Israel shall bless saying, may HaShem make you like Efrayim and Menasheh." Rashi validates Yaakov's prophecy by explaining that the blessing was that for generations to come Jews would bless their children to be like Efrayim and Menasheh. Indeed, it is the practice of most Jews to bestow this blessing upon their children every Shabbos night. Yaakov was blessing his grandchildren that they should merit to be the paradigmatic children like whom all parents hope and pray their children will become.

Although the pasuk begins "vayevarecheim," and he blessed them, the actual blessing begins "becha," by you, in the singular. The word "bachem" would have been expected in that situation.

When we bless our children to be like Efrayim and Menasheh, it is certainly a tribute to them and their righteousness, having been brought up in a foreign land, surrounded by negative influence and nevertheless emerging as the great men they were. However, the word "becha" may very well be referring to Yoseif. It is a tribute to Yoseif and the diligence and dedication with which he brought up his precious children in the most loathsome of societies that we pray that our sons be like his. Therefore, this blessing of Yaakov was very much relevant to Yoseif as well.

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
AstroTorah: Was Yissachar Really the one to Regulate the Calendar? By R' Ari Storch