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Friday, January 30

The Weekly Shtikle - Beshalach

This week's shtikle is once again dedicated bizchus a refuah sheleimah to our son, Efrayim Zalman ben Haviva Itta, who is once again in the hospital over shabbos, recovering from some post-operative complications. I am quoting my rebbe after whom he is named for an extra zechus.

The beginning of this week's parsha briefly recaps the exodus of B'nei Yisrael 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 Yoseif so that it may be carried to Eretz Yisrael 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 Yisrael 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:
Happy 8th Birthday, Dikdukian!
Dikdukian: Exceptions Ahoy
Dikdukian: Leave us Alone
Al Pi Cheshbon: Chamushim
AstroTorah: The Gemara's Aliens? by R' Ari Storch

Please visit the new portal for all Shtikle-related sites,
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Friday, January 23

The Weekly Shtikle - Bo

לכבוד שבת "ואת בכורינו הציל"
(Yes, I know, not a precise quote)
This week's shtikle is dedicated bizchus a refuah sheleimah to our son, Efrayim Zalman ben Haviva Itta, who is currently recovering from appendix surgery earlier this week. He will still be in the hospital over shabbos.
The systematic destruction of the Egyptian empire culminates in this week's parsha with the completion of the ten plagues. As the showdown reaches its denoument, Paroah declares in a fit of rage (10:28) that Moshe dare not show his face (literally, dare not see Paroah's face) again at the penalty of death. Moshe seems to calmly respond, "no problem," declaring that indeed he would not see Paroah's face any more. But Moshe's action were all according to HaShem's instructions. How did Moshe know he could provide Paroah with such an answer?
Ohr HaChayim is bothered by this very point. His explanation is in parshas Vayeira. HaShem is giving Moshe a brief synopsis of what is about to happen. After explaining that He will harden Paroah's heart and punish him accordingly, HaShem states (7:4) "And Paroah will not listen to you and I will send My hand upon Mitzrayim." Ohr HaChayim declares that this statement would seem otherwise superfluous, given what had already been stated. Rather, he understands this as a very clear sign being given to Moshe, as to when the redemption will truly kick into full gear. Throughout the plagues, there was much dialog between Paroah and Moshe. But Moshe was instructed that once that channel of communication is closed, that is when the exodus from Mitzrayim is truly at hand. Paroah's decree that Moshe shall not meet with him any more was the sign Moshe was waiting for and he knew that would indeed be the case.
Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Dikdukian: Talented Locusts
AstroTorah: Korban Pesach in the Sky by R' Ari Storch
AstroTorah: The Death Star (Ra'ah) the classic by R' Ari Storch

Please visit the new portal for all Shtikle-related sites,
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Friday, January 16

The Weekly Shtikle - Va'eira

   In the plague of barad, hail, HaShem brought down hail accompanied by kolos, thunder. The hail also seemed to include rain. However, points out Minchas Yitzchak, when Paroah demands that Moshe pray that the plague end (9:28) he asks him to pray that the thunder and the hail should cease, but he does not mention the rain. This is because, as Rashi has mentioned many times, Egypt did not receive rain and relied solely on the Nile for irrigation. Therefore, Paroah would have been more than happy for the rain to stay. They needed it. However, when Moshe davens to HaShem, the pasuk (33) recounts that the thunder, the hail and the rain ceased. Thus, when Paroah observed this, as the next pasuk tells us - that he saw that the rain, the hail and the thunder had ceased (note how the order is switched from the previous pasuk) - he hardened his heart for he saw that his request wasn't fully carried out.
In the past, I have published a fascinating essay from my friend David Farkas, The Egyptian Holocaust, exposing many strong correlations between what our forefathers went through at the hand of the Egyptians and the horrors endured in the Holocaust at the hands of the Nazis, ys"v. With the frightening news of the past couple of weeks coinciding with the beginning of Sefer Shemos, I felt it would be apropos to republish it. As well, it has undergone many updates over the years (with some contributions by me) so even if you have seen it before, it is worth another look: The Egyptian Holocaust.

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Dikdukian: Dikdukei Va'eira by Eliyahu Levin
Dikdukian: Leshon Yachid veRabbim by Eliayhu Levin

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The Weekly Shtikle and related content are now featured on

The Egyptain Holocaust

by David Farkas
Our sages have told us “masseh avos siman labonim” events that occurred to our forefathers are harbingers for their future descendants. In the events involving the enslavement in Egypt a frightening, and almost eerie pattern emerges.
1. Genesis 45:18 - Bnei Yisroel came originally to Egypt at the king’s expressed desire. Most probably, Pharaoh was impressed by Joseph’s financial acumen and expected similar ability in his brothers. In future centuries, Jews would be invited to countries in Eastern Europe to revive and stimulate the economy. Poland, which would later become notorious for its anti-Semitism, welcomed the Jews for this very reason after the Spanish Inquisition at the beginning of the sixteenth century.
2. Genesis 46:28 – the Israelites all moved into one area of settlement. This ghetto-ization has certain benefits (both spiritually and practically), and so Joseph himself was desirous of this arrangement. But it can also have negative consequences, as the pogroms of history tell us.
3. Exodus 1:7 - The Torah goes out of its way to describe to us the miraculous population explosion the Israelites experienced. Where there are no Jews, there is no anti-Semitism. It is only when they become a large visible minority that their presence becomes resented. (See also Deuteronomy 26:5.) As the word “metzuyon” (“remarkable”, something which causes one to remark) implies, they were notable and stood out. The Jews were becoming too prosperous.
4. Exodus 1:8 - - How can any human being persecute someone who has been so beneficial to them? It can only be done by erasing from the national conscious and memory all the good that the victim had contributed. In Germany, Jews had been the cream of society. Through propaganda, all of their accomplishments were soon forgotten and buried under the anti-Semitism.
5. Exodus 1:10- The spectre of dual loyalty was raised. Pharaoh claimed that the Israelite’s allegiance lay elsewhere and not with their own country. In various armies at various times, Jews were forbidden to serve in the army because of suspicion as to their loyalty. Thus they were in the unbearable position of being accused of disloyalty without being able to disprove it.
6. Exodus 1:11 - - According to Rashi, “misim” is from the word for taxes. The Israelites were forced to pay excessive taxes, this time in the form of forced labour. Traditionally, heavy taxes were always levied upon the Jewish communities, further crippling already depressed economies.
7. Exodus 1:12 - Rashi says, according to one explanation, that the Egyptians were disgusted by themselves. Germany between the world wars was suffering from just such a national malaise, having been subjected to a humiliating surrender at Versailles after World War I. War reparations forced Germany to relinquish huge sums of money, plunging the economy deep into debt and deeper into depression. At times like these, political leaders arise to take advantage of the frustration and channel the hatred onto a convenient scapegoat. The Midrash quoted by Rashi is also very revealing. “Kikotzim hoyu bieineihem” - The Jews appeared to them as mere thorns. They were not human beings, certainly not full-fledged humans. Psychologically, it is impossible for such unspeakable crimes to transpire, with the tacit approval of the multitudes, unless the victims are reduced to something less than normal. It is only when Jews are thought of as a sort of sub-human species, that they can be exterminated like rats, or cut down like thorns. This attitude toward Jews has been common throughout many Christian and Muslim societies. The ‘pure’ Aryan blood and ‘contaminated’ Jewish blood pseudo-science of the Nazis was not a new phenomenon, merely an updated version of the past.
8. Exodus 1:12 - According to the Midrash, the Egyptians lured Bnei Yisroel into servitude by appealing to their patriotism. Pharaoh declared a sort of ‘National Service Day’ for the country, and Bnei Yisroel all showed upen masse. When they did, officials were there to note their names and addresses so they could not hide in the future. There was nobody more German than the German Jews. A large majority did not even refer to themselves as Jews, preferring instead more cumbersome constructions like ‘German of Hebrew extraction’, ‘Mosaic persuasion’, etc. Countries aren’t impressed when Jews become more patriotic than the natives. When Stalin took control of the Soviet Union, he rewarded the tens of thousands of Jewish communists who had helped bring about the revolution by purging them. The Holocaust started in assimilated Germany, not Jewish Poland.
9. Exodus 1:11 - The Jews were forced to build large buildings and towers, only to watch them crumble because of the un-firm foundations upon which they were built. They repeated this process again and again, becoming completely demoralized by the frivolous work - for the sake of - work. In one infamous Nazi death camp, a favourite execution involved forcing Jews to carry heavy rocks up some 192 steps, throw them down and retrieve them, repeating this ‘game’ until they dropped. Even before the war, Jews were made to clean streets and sidewalks with toothbrushes and water. Thus, the Jews were broken.
10. Exodus 1:23 - Because of Pharaoh’s obsession to kill out Jewish males, even the Egyptian boys were killed because he was unsure where the redeemer would come from (Rashi). Hitler, too, tied up valuable transport cars, weaponry and railroads in his pursuit of the final solution, directly condemning tens of thousands of German soldiers to their death. These materials could have been used to evacuate soldiers or advance the war effort! Even so, it was worth the sacrifice of Gentiles, in order to kill more Jews.
11. Exodus 2:6 - Informants were everywhere and nobody could be trusted. Hiding became increasingly difficult. Not that there were no exceptions. Just as Basya, the daughter of the king, with little to gain and a lot to lose, risked her life to save a Jew, so did such great men like Raul Wallenberg, the King of Denmark and others stand out for their valour in situations of great sacrifice where they stood to gain very little. But men like these were few and far between.
12. Exodus 4:23 - According to the Midrash, Pharaoh became stricken withtzora’as and bathed in Jewish blood as a cure. At first blush, this would appear a figurative statement, as one might say about the Second World War, “It was a bloodbath”. However, after reports about human skin used for lampshades, Jewish bones for soap, and Jewish hair for pillowcases, one is not so sure.
13. Exodus 5:6 - Israelites were put in charge of their own, with responsibility to Egyptian overlords. The comparison to Jewish Kapos, or the Judenratt in World War II is exact. (That was only the most recent manifestation. In the 19th century, during Czar Nikolai’s decree of Jewish child conscription, it was the leaders of the community who were responsible to come up with the conscripts. If they failed, it was they who were punished, not the individual families.)
14. Exodus 5:7 - Jews were denied the necessary tools to make the bricks and then accused of laziness when they failed to produce. Echoes of this can be discerned throughout the Middle Ages when Jews were denied entry into the various workers guilds and professions, and then accused of being usurers, the only profession open to them. (Sadly, certain Jews, wondering why the defenceless Jews did not mount a stronger defence, have also accused them of ‘passivity’.)
15. Nuremberg Laws - According to these laws, one could be considered Jewish if he had even one Jewish grandparent. The Talmud, (Chullin 79b), concerning the prohibition of slaughtering a sheep and its child on the same day, discusses how much ‘sheep’ is enough to make a sheep. The conclusion is that even a sheep which mates with a doe, producing an offspring which in turn has an offspring - it is forbidden to slaughter these two on the same day, as the prohibition stretches to even a semi-sheep. Even though the animal is a hybrid of uncertain status, there is enough sheep blood there to include this animal in the prohibition. We, too, were judged to be sheep on the basis of one qualifying grandparent. Nechshavnu katzon, latevach yuval.
16. There are many ways that the German Holocaust differed from its Egyptian precursor. However, even within these differences we find strange and striking parallels. The Midrash says that the Jews distinguished themselves from their hosts by not adopting their speech, their clothing or their names. Compare this to Germany:Names - Jews were forced by law to attach the name of Israel (for the males) or Sarah (for the females) on all passports and documents, to mark the Jews as such.Clothing - Jews were forced to wear a Jewish star on their garments, again to distinguish them from the Germans.Language - Germany was from the first areas to introduce sermons and drashos in the vernacular rather than the traditional Yiddish. Thus, while in Egypt, basic cultural differences were preserved, in Germany they were not.
17. (Update 2013) I am currently involved in a close study of Midrash Rabbah, and it has become apparent thatChazal, as seen in Shmos Rabbah, viewed Pharaoh or the institution of the Pharaoh as weak, at least from after the time of Joseph’s death. Consider the following four statements found scattered throughout the Midrash in the (unusually long) discussion on the first chapter of Shmos.
  • Pharaoh originally did not want to disturb the Jews out of gratitude to Joseph, but he was deposed for three months, until he “changed his mind.”
  • In order to get the Jews out to work, the people (or the ruling oligarchy) placed a brick around Pharaoh’s neck, so as to demonstrate that “even the King was working, should the Jews be any different?” Although their point is not for purposes of what is discussed here,Chazal note from the language that it was others who put the brick around the King’s neck, not he himself.
  • Pharaoh asked the people to “lend him” their children, so thatall the male children of Egypt, including Egyptians, would be drowned. But no one listened.
  • When the daughter went down to bathe and saw the baby in the reeds, her attendants told her, “it is the nature of people not to listen to the King, but should the King’s own daughter disobey him?”
Additionally, in discussing this with friends, Eliezer Bulka pointed to the comment of the Ramban that Pharaoh felt the people would have raised a backlash had he put the servitude upon the Jews quickly, and thus felt compelled to do it only gradually. (I do not know how or if this view can be squared with the midrashim above, because the “they” in the Midrashim is not spelled out.) Eliezer likewise observes, astutely, that Pharaoh seemed to accept the midwives’ excuse that the Israelite mothers delivered before they arrived. Now, why didn’t he just tell them that if the mothers delivered early, they should kill the babies when they arrived? Again, it seems Pharaoh was careful to conduct his murder campaign clandestinely, under the cloak of the “delivery room”, always dangerous but especially in the ancient world. Apparently a “partial birth abortion” was not regarded as heinous as the murder of an already-born baby, or perhaps while in birth it could more easily be covered up from the public. Regardless, had he been a bolder king, or had less to fear from the populace, he could simply have ordered the children killed, regardless of whether they were already born or not.
Rabbi Raphael Davidovich observes that all of this is evidence of the fact that the people were willing accomplices of the Pharaoh, or worse, active leaders of the campaign. This is very similar to what happened in Germany, where the people were quite happy to go along with Hitler’s decrees. The book, “Hitler’s Willing Accomplices” demonstrates this in exhaustive detail. (Cf. my notes to Genesis 34:27, where I note that the verse implies the whole town was complicit in the rape of Dinah, not merely Shechem alone.)
18. – (2013) Shmos Rabbah (9:2) observes that Egypt was compared to a snake, because just as a snake kills silently, Egypt too, put people in prison, and then killed them silently. The commentators there explain they were put to death without trial and without witnesses. The equivalent of secret trials, in other words, a common tactic employed in anti-Semitic campaigns throughout history.
Some of the above comments have been based upon the lectures of Rabbi Berel Wein, to whom I am greatly indebted. To create a smooth reading, I did not make any footnotes or quote any sources beyond the primary sources. Most of the material, though, can be found in the classical Midrashim on Chumash. Points concerning German or Gentile history can also be confirmed by any good reference books.
There are many other points that should be considered. Pharaoh’s step-by-step strategies, advancing from hard labor to infanticide through midwives to drowning children in the Nile, seem to reflect the German march from temporary measures to the final solution. Midrash HaGadol (beginning of Chapter 5) describes what Moshe saw when he came to Egypt to liberate the Jews - piles and piles of Jewish corpses, and the Jews burning in the ovens. All of this should serve to gives us pause.


Friday, January 9

The Weekly Shtikle - Shemos

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 situation is a halachic matter. 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 simply 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 what 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, this pasuk speaks of something deeper.


Paroah had sinister plans for B'nei Yisrael 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 is 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 pseudonyms for Yocheved and either Miriam or Elisheva (Aharon's wife). Not only were these women responsible for letting the baby boys live, they were responsible for building the future of Klal Yisrael. 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:
Dikdukian: Random Dikduk from Shemos by Eliyahu Levin

Please visit the new portal for all Shtikle-related sites,
The Weekly Shtikle and related content are now featured on

Tuesday, January 6

Rabbi Ben Zion Rivkin, ע"ה, on שמיטה

Linked below, find a shtikle Torah on the topic of מלאכה on שמיטה written by Rabbi Ben Zion Rivkin, ע"ה who passed away on the י"ג כסלו. תשע"ה, shortly before his 57th birthday. Rabbi Rivkin served as Rav of Bais Medrash Hagadol in St. Louis, MO (before it merged with what is today U. City Shul) and authored many Torah essays that appear in various Torah journals published in ארץ ישראל and the United States. His father, Rabbi Shalom Rivkin זצ"ל served for many years as the Chief Rabbi of the St. Louis Jewish Community.
Less than a month before his פטירה, Reb Ben-Zion wrote a letter to his cousin in Baltimore, Rabbi Dovid Heber with the following request: “I also wanted to ask you. I published a[n]…article in 1994 [Elul 5754] in the Hadarom on Melocho on Sheviis….Being that this year [5775] is a Shemita year I would like to have it republished somewhere…..Thank you in advance.”
מצוה לקיים דברי המת
There is a special מצוה to fulfill the words of the deceased. Therefore, in an effort to re-publish this article as early as possible in this שמיטה year as well as reach a wider audience, I have been asked to publish this shtikle Torah,  להגדיל תורה ולהאדירה – thereby fulfilling the request Rabbi Rivkin, ע"ה made shortly before his פטירה. If you are interested in re-publishing this article in a printed קובץ, or you know of someone interested, please let me know.

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Friday, January 2

The Weekly Shtikle - Vayechi

A special Mazal Tov to my nephew, Dovid Nisson Shonek on his upcoming marriage to Tova Lidsky of Passaic and to my cousin Nechama Tzirel Jakobovits of Lakewood on her upcoming marriage to Yitzi Liebersohn of Toronto.
Tomorrow, 12 Teves, is the yahrtzeit of Rabbi Joseph Schechter of Ner Yisrael. This week's shtikle is dedicated le'iluy nishmaso, Yoseif ben Eliezer Z'ev.
    At the beginning of this week's parsha (47:29), Yaakov asks his son, Yoseif, for a favour, to bring his body back to Eretz Yisrael and bury him with his forefathers. Yoseif has no objections and agrees immediately. However, Yaakov then asks Yoseif to swear to him to that effect. Yoseif was Yaakov's dear and trusted son. Did he really have so little trust in him that he needed him to swear that he would heed his word?
    It seems that Yaakov made Yoseif swear not out of mistrust but out of concern that Yoseif would run into problems getting permission to leave Egypt as, indeed, he did. Yoseif requests permission to bury his father and Paroah's answer is (50:6) "Bury your father as he made you swear that you would." Rashi goes into even greater detail explaining that if not for this vow, Paroah would not have let Yoseif go. Paroah actually insisted that Yoseif renege on his vow. However, Paroah himself had made Yoseif promise not to reveal that he knew only seventy languages while Yoseif knew leshon haKodesh in addition to the seventy languages. Yoseif countered that if he was to renege on his father's vow, he would then renege on the vow that he made to Paroah. Yaakov had the foresight to realize that Paroah would not be happy with his right-hand man leaving the country and so he provided this vow as a means to help Yoseif leave.
    The aforementioned exchange between Yoseif and Paroah is rather puzzling. Is it possible that Yosef retorted with such a threat? Paroah was the most powerful man in all of Egypt and would not be expected to tolerate such insubordination. I heard an explanation of Yoseif's words from my father which I later saw in Birkas Peretz from The Steipler Rav. Yoseif was really telling Paroah that a person naturally feels an obligation to honour a promise. The vows a person makes are sacred to him. The breaking of a promise destroys this sacredness. Yoseif was simply warning Paroah that breaking his word to his father would have a subconscious effect on him. The promises he made will lose their sacredness in his mind and that might ultimately lead to the inadvertent disclosure of Paroah's secret. Paroah, realizing the lesson that Yosef was teaching, accepted his argument and allowed him to fulfill his vow.
   Yoseif is often referred to as Yoseif HaTzadik for his many righteous deeds. However, he clearly made a point of not keeping this righteousness to himself. A careful analysis of his various interactions in Mitzrayim shows that he was always trying to teach valuable lessons in life by simply leading by example. And the Torah seems to testify that it worked, to some degree. Immediately upon his arrival in Mitzrayim, it is stated, (39:3) "and his master saw that HaShem was with him." Rashi writes that Yoseif would often invoke the name of Heaven. And his master certainly took notice. As the first man of galus, Yoseif was the quintessential light unto the nations to which we should all aspire.

Chazak, chazak, venischazeik!
Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Dikdukian: You Make the Call: Aveil Mitzrayim

Please visit the new portal for all Shtikle-related sites,
The Weekly Shtikle and related content are now featured on