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Friday, January 31

The Weekly Shtikle - Bo

Moshe tells B'nei Yisrael (12:26‑27), "And it shall be that when your children say to you...and the people bowed." Rashi, quoting the Mechilta, states that they bowed in appreciation of three things: the forthcoming exodus, the eventual entrance into Eretz Yisrael and the kids they were going to have. What is bothersome about this Rashi is that in the Hagaddah, we refer to this passage when discussing the four sons. But it is the wicked son who makes this statement! Why then were B'nei Yisrael bowing in appreciation of being told of the wicked sons they were going to have?


The sefer Rashi HaShalem writes in the name of Tosafos HaShalem that the designation of this passage as the one referring to the wicked son comes only in comparison to the other three passages. But this passage, standing alone, does not insinuate wicked children. So, being that the other three passages had not yet been related, they had what to appreciate from this passage. This explanation teaches us a very special lesson in chinuch. Indeed, as we see in the Hagaddah, it is important to be aware of the outside influences to guard and protect our children from the negative influences and guide them along the proper path. However, when it comes to the appreciation we have of and for our children, it is not a time to be comparing to other children. Our children must be appreciated for who they are and we must show appreciation to HaShem for the gift of children regardless.


What I think might be the simple, pshat answer, though, is that there is indeed a machlokes in the Mechilta on the previous pasuk. One opinion is that is referring to the wicked son but one is that it is referring to sons in general. This passage quoted by Rashi seems to be only according to that second opinion.


Or perhaps there is even a deeper message here – similar, but slightly different than what was expressed above. We are given many gifts from HaShem. Very often, things do not necessarily go as we would like. But that should always be seen as a challenge, more than a setback and in no way is that a reason not express gratitude to HaShem for those gifts. For example, we thank HaShem for the gift of Eretz Yisroel. With the many wars and constant threats of terrorism from all directions, there have certainly been many trials and tribulations associated with this gift. But that should not get in the way of our expressions of gratitude towards HaShem. Likewise, raising children is an endeavour that is constantly full of challenges even with the most angelic and righteous children, how much more so with ones that are less so. But they are a gift either way and B'nei Yisrael show us here that we must express gratitude for this gift, no matter what challenges it may bring.


Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Dikdukian: Talented Locusts

AstroTorah: Korban Pesach in the Sky by R' Ari Storch


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Thursday, January 16

The Weekly Shtikle - Shemos

A special Weekly Shtikle mazal tov to my nephew, Chayim Yaakov Bulka of Yerushalayim on his Bar Mitzvah for which I have made the intercontinental trek. I do believe this marks the very first time that the shtikle is sent out from Eretz Yisrael. Mazal Tov to the extended Bulka and Young families including the proud great grandmother, Oma Jakobovits.


After a lengthy discourse at the burning bush, HaShem instructs Moshe Rabbeinu to appear before the elders of B'nei Yisrael and proclaim in HaShem's name, pakod pakadti eschem, I have surely visited/remembered you. With this simple introduction, the elders would listen to Moshe and he would proceed to come before Paroah and begin the redemption process. However, Moshe contends that B'nei Yisrael will not believe him and will claim that HaShem never appeared to him. HaShem then proceeds to give Moshe three signs to use in front of B'nei Yisrael. The first is to turn his staff into a snake. The second was to place his hand in his bosom. Upon removing it, it became afflicted with tzara'as and turned white as snow. After placing his hand inside once more, his hand returned to normal. If they would not believe in the first sign, they would believe in the second. If they would not believe even the second sign, then Moshe was to take from the waters of the Nile and pour them onto the ground at which point they would turn to blood. (3:17-4:9)


Moshe was originally told that all he would need to say is pakod pakadti eschem, etc., in order to achieve the trust of B'nei Yisrael. According to the well-known midrash, based on a pasuk at the end of last week's parsha, there was a tradition passed on from Yoseif that this specific phraseology was a code that would only be uttered by the ultimate redeemer of B'nei Yisrael. This was all Moshe really needed. However, since he showed a lack of faith in his nation's trust, he was required to prove his validity through these signs. Why three, though? What was it about the second sign that made him more believable than the first? What advantage did the third have over the previous two?


The first sign is a rather simple one. On the surface, there seems to be little significance to this "trick." Perhaps, this was meant as a simple proof that Moshe Rabbeinu possessed special powers.  At a certain level of desperation, this might have been enough to gain the trust of the people. But Moshe had to do more. The second sign had more symbolic significance. When one is trying to prove his powers to the masses, it is unconventional to inflict harm upon oneself. However, what Moshe was proving to B'nei Yisrael with this sign was that he was prepared to put himself in personal danger for the sake of the people. In this, Moshe was proving not only his extraordinary powers but his quality as a leader. A true leader is one who not only takes credit for the success of his followers, but is prepared to sacrifice his dignity, and perhaps even his life, in taking responsibility for their failures. Indeed, the end of this week's parsha is only the first of many instances in which Moshe Rabbeinu exhibited this aspect of leadership.


Finally, if these two signs still were not enough, the third sign would divert the nation's attention to a different aspect of the issue at hand. The Nile was the lifeline of Egyptian agriculture and an object of worship in and of itself. Turning it to blood symbolized the first step towards the destruction of this evil regime. The combination of these three signs would prove unequivocally that Moshe Rabbeinu was imbued with special powers and sent by HaShem to lead B'nei Yisrael to their long-awaited redemption.

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Dikduian: Dikduk Observations on Shemos by Eliyahu Levin
Daily Leaf: 

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Friday, January 10

The Weekly Shtikle - Vayechi

Yesterday, 12 Teves, was the 12th yahrtzeit of Rabbi Joseph Schechter of Ner Yisrael. This week's shtikle is dedicated le'iluy nishmaso, Yoseif ben Eliezer Z'ev.


When Yaakov blesses Yoseif and his children before he blesses all his sons together, he tells Yoseif (48:22), "I have given you an additional shechem, more than that of your brothers." Rashi offers two interpretations of the word "shechem." He explains, not without adequate support from other pesukim in Tanach, that the word "shechem" means portion. In halachah, the first-born son receives a double portion of the inheritance. Instead of Reuvein being the beneficiary of that privilege, it was granted to Yoseif as both his sons received a portion in Eretz Yisrael. The other explanation offered by Rashi is that this is a reference to the city of Shechem. In reward for his toil in assuring his father a proper burial, Yaakov granted the city of Shechem to Yoseif for burial and as an extra portion of land for the inheritance of his descendants.


In sefer Yehoshua (21), we are given an exhaustive list of the different cities that were designated for Kohanim and Levi'im. Among the cities designated for Levi'im was Shechem. Additionally, we are told in the previous perek that Shechem was a city of refuge for accidental killers. That being so, of what significance is this gift to Yoseif if his descendants would not ultimately settle in that city?


The gemara (Makkos 10a) presents a similar difficulty with a different city. Chevron was another city that was designated for Kohanim as well as a city of refuge. However, we are told (Shofetim 1:20) that Chevron was given to Caleiv ben Yefuneh as decreed by Moshe Rabbeinu. Abbayei's answer is a single word, parvadaha, the origin of which is the subject of some discussion. The essence of his response seems to be that the fields and courtyards around the city were given to Calev. Perhaps this answers the above question as well. Although Yoseif's descendants may never have settled in Shechem itself, the fields and courtyards were available to them and this was indeed a significant gift for Yoseif.  (Unfortunately, today, the inhabitants of that city are not descendants of Yoseif by any means.)


Chazak, chazak, venischazeik!

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Thursday, January 2

The Weekly Shtikle - Vayigash

Today, 5 Teves, was the 42nd yahrtzeit of my wife's grandfather, Rabbi Dr. Israel Frankel, a"h. This week's shtikle is dedicated le'iluy nishmaso, Yisroel Aryeh ben Asher Yeshayahu.

Before sending his brothers off to inform their father that he was still alive, Yoseif hands out gifts to each of his brothers (45:22). Each one received clothing but to Binyamin, he gave 5 times the amount of clothes and three hundred silver coins. The gemara (Megillah 16a-b) is puzzled by this gesture: "Can it be that Yoseif would stumble over the very same misjudgment that caused his father so much grief? After all, it was the extra garment that Yaakov gave Yoseif which caused the jealousy amongst the brothers and lead to the current predicament." The gemara goes on to explain that Yoseif was alluding to the story of Purim.

I have always found this gemara difficult to understand. There is a very distinct difference between Yaakov's treatment of Yoseif and Yoseif's treatment of Binyamin. All of the brothers were equally Yaakov's sons. There was no reason for him to favour one over the other. That is why Yoseif's preferential treatment caused jealousy. But the other brothers were only half-brothers to Yoseif. Binyamin was the only brother with whom Yoseif shared both a mother and a father. Surely any favouritism shown towards him is easily understood and should not cause any further strife.

Sure enough, Maharsha on this gemara is bothered by the very same issue. He explains that Yoseif's doling out of gifts was meant to reassure the brothers that he harboured no resentment against them for selling him. Although the intentions behind the extra gifts to Binyamin were certainly legitimate, they could have easily been misconstrued. Binyamin also happened to be the only brother with absolutely no involvement in the sale of Yoseif. Had the brothers seen this as the reason behind Yoseif's actions, it would have completely defeated the purpose.

The lesson here is clear. It is not sufficient to consider whether one's actions are right or wrong. One must carefully consider how those actions may be perceived by others. Perhaps it is fitting then that Yoseif's direct descendants are directly involved when the Torah teaches this listen more explicitly, (Bemidbar 32:22) "vihyisem neki'im meiHaShem umi'Yisrael," spoken, amongst others, half of the tribe of Menasheh,

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Al Pi Cheshbon / Dikdukian: Can you count to 70?
Dikdukian: Pain in the Neck
Dikdukian: Just Do It!
Dikdukian: Ram'seis
Dikdukian: Dikdukei Vayigash by R' Eliyahu Levin

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