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Wednesday, February 28

The Weekly Shtikle - Purim

Please see my Purim archives for some more insightful (not inciteful) thoughts on Purim.

The megillah, delving into the psyche of the characters of the story, reveals a fair bit of anger on the part of the antagonists. There are a number of different words used in Tanach to denote anger such as (charon) af, cheimah, ka'as. Surely, each must have its own precise connotation and the choice of words is not random. The particular flavour of anger that is featured in the megillah is cheimah. When Haman observes Mordechai refusing to bow before him (3:5 and 5:9) he is filled with cheimah. Achashveirosh provides his own healthy dose of cheima as it burns inside of him following Vashti's rejection (1:12) and again after Esther reveals Haman's treachery (7:7) until it finally subsides (7:10) after Haman's hanging. This begs the question: what is the nature of this cheimah and why is it the emotion-du-jour in the megillah?

The initial instinct is to associate cheimah with the word chom, heat. Indeed, we are observing anger in the heat of the moment and anger and heat certainly have a close relationship. Perhaps more can be gleaned by observing its use in other circumstances, particularly in the Torah. I believe the very first occurrence of the word, ironically, is with regards to Eisav, Haman's forebearer. (This is assuming we are not counting the water vessel Avraham gave Hagar. Sorry, Purim Torah.) Rivkah sends Yaakov away to her brother until Eisav's cheimah subsides (Bereishis 27:44.) Fast forwarding to the end of the Torah, we find cheimah once again mentioned, but this time attributed to the animal kingdom - the creepers in the dust (Devarim 32:24) and the viper (32:33). Both seem to be a reference not to the emotion of anger but rather to the venom of snakes. So perhaps cheimah is a more animalistic variation of anger?

The problem with this approach is that there are a number of other references to cheimah in the Torah and they are attributed to Hashem: Devarim 9:19 and 29:27. Interestingly both appear alongside af as does the original reference to Eisav.

HaKesav VehaKabbalah delves deeply into the meaning of the word and connects it not only to heat but to other similar words such as chem'ah for butter and chami/chamosi for one's husband's parents. But I wish to focus on the seemingly opposite approaches of Malbim and Gra. Malbim, in a number of places, explains that cheimah is the anger that is pent up inside and perhaps not even shown while af refers to the outward expression of that anger. This does seem to fit the verbs associated with cheima in the megilla. Haman is filled with it, on the inside, it would seem. We do not find that Haman actually engaged in an overt confrontation with Mordechai despite his defiance. Achashveirosh's cheimah burned inside of him but perhaps he was able to mask the true depths of his anger in public.

The Gra (Mishlei 15:1) suggests that af refers to the emotion of anger in the mind while cheimah is the carrying out of that anger into action. This approach, as well, can be made to fit nicely with our references in the megillah. After we are told of Haman filling with rage, the very next pasuk details his plans to act on that rage and destroy not only Mordechai himself but all of his people. Achashveirosh translated his cheimah towards Vashti into swift action and the same can be said about his similar feelings towards Haman. In each case, cheimah refers not to a benign emotion of inner anger but to an extreme level of rage which is acted upon immediately.

Have a wonderful and joyous Purim, hopefully devoid of any cheimah, other than what we read about in the megillah.

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Al Pi Cheshbon: 10,00 Kikars

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Friday, February 23

The Weekly Shtikle - Tetzaveh

In the listing of the stones on the choshen (28:17-20) there is a difference between the last row and the other three. The last row is Tarshish ve'shoham ve'yashfeh. There is a vuv before the second stone as well as the third. In the other three rows, the vuv appears only before the last stone. Meshech Chachma points out that the reason for this is, as we find in kriyas shema, that certain groups of words where the first word ends with the same letter as the second word begins, such as "al levavchem" and therefore must be very carefully differentiated. So, too, here tarshish and shoham have the same problem. Therefore, in order to differentiate between the two, HaShem told Moshe "Tarshish ve'Shoham" so he would not get mixed up. The difficulty is, however, that in parshas Pekudei (39:13) the list does not contain a vuv before shoham. Although Meshech Chachma does make mention of this fact he does not clearly indicate why that is. R' Baruch Epstein, in Baruch She'amar, provides an answer. In Tetzaveh, HaShem is talking to Moshe. Therefore, it was important to differentiate between the two so that there is no confusion. In Pekudei, however, the Torah is merely giving its own recount of events so it was not imperative to place a vuv in the middle.


However, I heard the following challenge to Baruch She'amar's understanding. At the beginning of Shemos we seem to find a similar phenomenon. When listing the sons of Yaakov a vuv is only used for the last name in each pasuk. Except for pasuk 1:4, where there is a vuv before Naftali. It would seem that this is to differentiate between the nun at the end of Dan and the nun at the beginning of Naftali. However, here it seems only to be giving a recount and there is no dialog between two parties. By the above reasoning, there should be no reason to separate the names with a vuv. See the comments on this Dikdukian post for further discussion.


Have a good Shabbos. 

Mishenichnas Adar Marbim beSimchah!

Eliezer Bulka

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Dikdukian: Ner Tamid
Dikdukian: Sham and Shamah

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Friday, February 16

The Weekly Shtikle - Terumah

Tomorrow, 2 Adar, is the yahrtzeit of my Zadie, Rabbi Yaakov Bulka. The shtikle is dedicated le'iluy nishmaso, Chaim Yaakov ben Yitzchak, z"l.


In this week's parsha, as part of the description of the construction of the mishkan, the beams are described (36:29) as being paired at the bottom as well as the top. The terminlogoy used  (26:24) is, "and they shall be soamim on the bottom and together they shall be samim on top." The words toamim and tamim mean essentially the same thing. They are to be paired. As Rashi describes, the beams had to be flush with each other from the bottom to the top and were joined together with a ring on top. Why is a different word used for the bottom and the top?

When Rivkah gives birth to Yaakov and Eisav, the pasuk (
Bereishis 25:24) states "behold there were somim in her womb." Rashi notes that here the word tomim, which is missing an aleph, is used whereas when Tamar gives birth to Peretz and Zerach (Bereishis 38:27) the word te'omim (with an aleph) is used. The reason given is that Tamar's two children would both grow up to be righteous men whereas one of Rivkah's children would grow up to be an evil man. The word te'omim written in full denotes a greater similarity between the twins. When it is written missing an aleph, it denotes twins which are not so identical.

If one were to survey the beams of the mishkan on the bottom and the pegs that held them in place they would see a relatively uniform pattern as they went around. However, they might notice a slight change when they observe the tops of the beams. The rings that held the beams together on top rested in an indentation made in each beam. Joining the corner beams was a little more difficult. Rashi (26:24) describes the process which ultimately required the indentation to be in a different spot in that beam. The picture books on the mishan make this more clear. 
Here is an example. Perhaps this is why the word tamim is used to describe the pairing of the beams on top. The pairing did not appear uniform throughout. But for the pegs that held the beams in place on the bottom, the word toamim is used to denote their uniform appearance.

Have a good Shabbos. Mishenichnas Adar Marbim beSimchah!

Eliezer Bulka

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:

Al Pi Cheshbon: Amudei HeChatzeir
Dikdukian: Venahapoch hu
Dikdukian: Kikar Zahav

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Friday, February 9

The Weekly Shtikle - Mishpatim

This coming Tuesday, 28 Shevat, marks the yahrtzeit of my wife's grandfather, R' Yitzchak Yeres, for whom our baby boy is named. The shtikle is dedicated le'iluy nishmaso, Yitzchak Chaim ben Moshe Yosef.

Among the plethora of commandments in this week's parsha (53 to be exact), we are told (23:13) "You shall not mention the names of other gods, they shall not be heard on your mouth." This prohibition is expounded upon in the gemara (Sanhedrin 63b). It is forbidden to say to someone "wait for me beside such-and-such idol." The only exception to this prohibition, as explained in the gemara, is an avodah zarah that is mentioned in Tanach. Therefore, there is no prohibition against saying the name "Ba'al Pe'or," for example.

Hagahos Maimonios (to Rambam Hilchos Avodah Zarah 5:3) writes that this prohibition is also limited to a name used to honour the avodah zarah. But a common name of something or someone which was made into an avodah zarah is not subject to this prohibition. Thus, if a group of people started worshipping some guy named Joe, there would be no prohibition to refer to Joe. This nuance may be relevant to the possible prohibition against reciting the name of the one that most of the Modern World considers, mistakenly, to be the messiah. Hagahos Maimonios actually derives his ruling from the fact that the gemara freely refers to Yeshu. The common English name beginning with a J is possibly an Anglicized version thereof. However, some believe it to be an anglicized version of the word yeshuah, salvation, for obvious misguided reasons. Nevertheless, if this is a name used to refer to the person, it is possible that it would not fall under this category. The two-word name that is used to refer to him, JC, however, is certainly prohibited for the second word means messiah and this is certainly a name used in his honour.

What bothered me, however, is that it seems that many people, based on the aforementioned gemara, specifically abstain from using a church as landmark when giving directions. At first glance, this might seem to be the case discussed in the gemara. However, a more careful analysis of the gemara, and the pesukim involved, show that the prohibition is to say the actual name of an avodah zarah. The word "church," on its own, is not the name of an avodah zarah and the prohibition should not apply to this word. I heard, however, that Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg, zt"l, concurred with this very point but added that it seems that Jews have customarily accepted upon themselves to be extra stringent in this matter and that is why they are careful to avoid using a church as a landmark.

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup

Dikdukian: Tricky Vowels

Dikdukian: Answer vs. Torture
Dikdukian: Give it to me
Dikdukian: Ha'isha viladeha

Dikdukian: Jewish Milk

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Friday, February 2

The Weekly Shtikle - Yisro

In this week's parsha, Yisro advises Moshe that he could not possibly handle the entire nation's legal issues on his own. Rather, he should "discern from among the entire people, anshei chayil, God-fearing people, men of truth, people who despise money..."(18:21) However, when Moshe actually goes about choosing the men to take care of the lower-level cases, he chooses anshei chayil from among all Israel (18:25) The obvious question is, what happened to all those other traits that Yisro advised him to seek out?


When translating the pasuk above, I specifically left anshei chayil untranslated. There are varying opinions on the actual meaning of this term and they govern the various approaches to this question. First is the somewhat disheartening opinions of Rashi, Chizkuni and Siforno. Rashi in Devarim (1:15) writes that Yisro instructed Moshe to seek out seven traits and he was only able to find three. Chizkuni interprets anshei chayil as wealthy men. Of the traits recommended by Yisro, only the trait of wealth was one that could be recognized by one's peers. The other three were "traits of the heart" which one could not discern on the surface and therefore, Moshe was only able to be choosy about the anshei chayil. Siforno writes that Moshe could not find men who possessed all the characteristics recommended by Yisro. Therefore, he decided that the most important one was anshei chayil, well versed, deep, sharp men who are determined to get to the bottom of things and willing to fight for the truth. He reasoned that a God-fearing individual who does not possess this attribute is of inferior quality to a less God-fearing individual who does.


Ramban and Malbim offer more optimistic views. On pasuk 21, Ramban writes, and Malbim likewise, that anshei chayil simply means men who are fit to lead a large nation, for the word chayil is used to refer to large assembly. The term anshei chayil was used as a general term. The next three attributes were only a description of the three components of anshei chayil. Since anshei chayil was the general and the others the specific, pasuk 25 only refers to the general and we understand from that that all the necessary characteristics were included.


Netziv in Ha'amek Davar makes a very astute observation. Yisro's original suggestion was to find these traits among people from kol ha'am, the entire nation. The term, explains Netziv, refers to the masses and includes all. He was worried that because of the sheer number of judges that were necessary, Moshe wouldn't be able to choose only from the upper echelon of Torah scholars. So if he were considering everyone, he would have to be more discerning in who was chosen. However, the pasuk recounts that Moshe indeed chose all the men from B'nei Yisrael, a term that refers to the Torah scholars. Therefore, he could take for granted that these great men would be God-fearing men of truth who despise money for this is the way of the Torah. However, the trait of anshei chayil, which Netziv interprets as leaders who can guide the nation (like Ramban) is not necessarily found in all. Therefore, among the scholars, it was only this trait that he had to seek out but the rest were assumed.

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Dikdukian: Many Who Fear God
Dikdukian: Letzais
Dikdukian: Ram veNisa by Eliyahu Levin

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