The Weekly Shtikle Blog

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Wednesday, September 25

The Weekly Shtikle - Shemini Atzeres / Simchas Torah

    On every other Yom Tov, the parsha next in line is not read. Rather, a section of the Torah which is connected to the Yom Tov is read. On Pesach we read about yetzias Mitzrayim. On Shavuos we read about matan Torah. Simchas Torah, however, seems at first glance not to follow suit. We read V'zos HaBracha, the next and last parsha in line. Why is Simchas Torah different?

    The answer is, of course, that Simchas Torah is not different. V'zos HaBracha has its connections to Simchas Torah as well. In fact, we find in the gemara Megilla 31a that even when the Torah was read in a three year cycle, V'zos HaBracha was still read on the last day of Yom Tov. Abudarham writes that the reason why V'zos HaBracha is read on Simchas Torah is because that was the time that Shlomo HaMelech would bless the nation as seen in Melachim I 8:14. Therefore, we read V'zos HaBracha which includes Moshe's blessing of the tribes before his passing. 

    Meshech Chachma offers a different answer. The time of Shmini Atzeres is a special time for B'nei Yisrael. Over Sukkos we bring 70 korbanos corresponding to the 70 nations. Sukkos holds some significance for the other nations. But Shemini Atzeres symbolizes HaShem's special love for B'nei Yisrael, asking them to stay behind for just one more day as it were (see Rashi Vayikra 23:36). So it is on this day that we read of HaShem's giving the Torah to Bnei Yisrael. The pesukim at the beginning of the parsha (33:2) vezorach mi'Seir lamo, hofia meihar Paran, according to Rashi, refer to HaShem's offering of the Torah to the other nations and their subsequent refusal. Just as Shemini Atzeres symbolizes our separation from all other nations, so too, the beginning of V'zos HaBracha illustrates how we differ from all other nations.

    A reader once pointed out that this idea may also explain the haftarah that is chosen on this day. We read of the start of the independent career of Yehoshua and, significantly for this story, the berachos that HaShem and then the tribes of Reuvein, Menasheh and Gad give to Yehoshua with which the haftarah concludes.  Typically this haftarah should not be read.  The haftarah has to follow the theme of the maftir. The haftarah should have dealt with the theme of Shmini Atzeres/Simchas Torah. But just as the maftir, which details the day's special korban signifies the special bond we have with HaShem, so too the haftarah marks the special relationship of berachah that HaShem hold for His people.

Have a good Shabbos and good Yom Tov.

Eliezer Bulka

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The Weekly Shtikle - Bereishis

    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.
Have a good Yom Tov and a good Shabbos.
Eliezer Bulka

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
AstroTorah: The Two Luminaries

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Tuesday, September 17

The Weekly Shtikle - Sukkos

A special Weekly Shtikle Mazal Tov to my brother-in-law and sister-in-law, Aharon & Rachelle Yeres and family on the birth and brith of their son, Yitzchak Chaim, named after my father-in-law's father who passed away earlier this year. As he would often say, הרבה נחת!

This coming Sunday is the Yahrtzeit of HaRav NaftaliNeuberger, zt"l of Ner Yisroel.
This shtikle is dedicated le'iluy nishmaso, Naftali ben Meir.

The following Shtikle was first written in 2005 following tragic events of Hurricane Katrina and the Tsunami in Japan. After a year which began with Hurricane Sandy and the current events in Colorado, I felt it was quite apropos.

    The mishnah (Rosh HaShanah 1:2) states that the world is judged on four matters at four different times of the year. On Pesach, we are judged on the grain crops. On Shavuos, we are judged on the fruit. On Rosh HaShanah, the whole world is judged as individuals. On Sukkos, we are judged on water.

    P'nei Yehoshua raises an interesting question, based on a pasuk in parshas Eikev. Towards the end of the parsha, we are told (Devarim 11:10-12) that Eretz Yisroel is not like Mitzrayim where rain rarely falls and you need to bring the water from the river yourself. Rather, it is a land of mountains and valleys and is fed by rain water. The next pasuk asserts that it "The eyes of HaShem, your God, or on it from the beginning of the year until the end of the year." The pasuk uses the word shanah to refer to year and offers no further explanation as to the definition thereof. Whenever we refer to a year without defining it, states P'nei Yehoshua, it refers to the calendar year which begins on Rosh HaShanah. This pasuk therefore implies that the beginning of the "rain year" is in fact Rosh HaShanah. How then can it be that the year for rain begins on Sukkos as is stated in the mishnah?

    A careful reading of the mishnah yields an interesting linguistic nuance. The introduction states that at four times the world is judged. On Pesach for crops, Shavuos for fruit, Rosh HaShanah we all pass in front of Him like sheep in a flock and on the chag we are judged on water. The word nidonim, judged, is repeated with respect to Sukkos. I have long wondered why this was and had resigned myself to accepting that there is nothing much to be made of it. However, it is well-known that although the judgement is sealed on Yom Kippur, the judgement still extends in some way until Hoshana Rabba. Perhaps we may understand that the mishnah's insertion of the word nidonim is meant to connect the judgement of Sukkos back to that of Rosh HaShanah. The world passes in front of HaShem in judgement and is subsequently judged on matters of water. Sukkos not merely one of the four listed in the mishnah but is in fact connected directly to Rosh HaShanah.

    This would answer P'nei Yehoshua's difficulty as well. Indeed, the judgement on rain begins, in some way, on Rosh HaShanah but extends all the way until Sukkos. There is no discrepency between the mishnah and the pasuk.

    Ra"n is bothered by a different aspect of the mishnah. One would assume that the judgement on Rosh HaShanah is complete, in that we are judged and inscribed in "the book" regarding all aspects, including water, fruit and grain. What then is the meaning of the other judgments at other times of the year? He answers that the world is judged at large on the other times of the year. The worldwide allotment of rain, fruit and grain are decreed at their respective times. One's own individual portion of that allotment is what is decreed on Rosh HaShanah.

    It is common, in order to evoke a true feeling for the gravity of the judgement on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, to reflect on the tragedies of the year gone by. But how often is this done on Sukkos? It sould be noted that the term chag in the mishnah clearly refers to all of Sukkos and not Shemini Atzeres when we pray for rain. It should also be noted that the mishnah does not state that we are judged on geshem, rain, but rather it is water which is the subject of the judgement on Sukkos. Keeping that and the Ra"n's understanding in mind, it is quite likely that water-related tragedies, are in fact decreed on Sukkos. Whether or not we were directly affected by these tragedies, this is certainly something to keep in mind as we focus and direct our tefillos on this Yom Tov.

Have a Chag Samie'ach and Good Shabbos!

Eliezer Bulka

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Al Pi Cheshbon: The Search for Worthy ... Humans (Koheles)

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Wednesday, September 4

The Weekly Shtikle - Rosh HaShanah

    It is customary to include a number of foods as good omens on the Rosh HaShanah night meal. While there is an extensive list of all sorts of unique foods and their significance as omens, some only include a choice few. The most popular is probably the apple in the honey. The fish head may very well be a close second. The eating of the fish head is preceded by a prayer, shenihyeh lerosh velo lezanav, that we should be a head and not a tail. I have long understood this to be a simple metaphor. We want to be a head, which symbolizes being on top, rather than a tail, which symbolizes being on the bottom of things. However, perhaps there is deeper meaning to this prayer.
    The wording for this prayer surely has its source in parshas Ki Savo, which we recently read. There, in the blessings (28:13), we are assured that when we do HaShem's will, He will place us lerosh velo lezanav, and we will be lemalah, on top, and not lematah, below. The apparent repetition, unless simply poetic, implies that rosh and zanav must mean something other than top and bottom. But Onkelos makes it even more clear. His translation of rosh and zanav is not a head and a tail. He translates that HaShem will makes us strong and not weak.
    The head contains the skull which protects the most important and fragile part of the body - the brain. The head is an anatomical fortress and is thus the metaphor for strength. The tail, conversely, is possibly the weakest part of an animals body. Although it does contain bones in most cases, it is certainly the most vulnerable body part. It is therefore the metaphor for weakness.
    The problem with this understanding is that the fish, which we use to represent this imagery, doesn't actually have a real skull. Instead, it has many small bones. This allows the fish to be more buoyant in water. Perhaps this symbolism speaks of a time when B'nei Yisrael will be so secure that heavy fortification will be unnecessary, a time when the whole world is filled with the recognition of HaShem, the time of Mashiach, may it come speedily in our day.
    May HaShem continue to give us strength, making us like a head and not a tail, and may you all have a shanah tovah umsukah and a kesivah vachasima tovah.

    Have a good Yom Tov and good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Dikdukian: Remember us for the Good

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