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Friday, June 26

The Weekly Shtikle - Korach

First, a belated Weekly Shtikle mazal tov to my nephew, Yeshaya Shonek, on his marriage last week to Tzippora Munk.

This coming Wednesday, 9 Tammuz, is the 5th yahrtzeit of my sister-in-law, Batsheva Yeres. The shtikle is dedicated le'iluy nishmasah, Batsheva Blima, a"h bas HaRav Moshe Yosef HaLevi, ybl"t.


A simple observation and a simple question:

Both last week's and this week's parshios contain storylines apropos to a theme of the current situation. In Shelach, after the nation was informed that they would not be entering Eretz Yisrael as planned, a group of individuals, seemingly realizing the folly of their ways a day too late, attempt to change course and make a charge for the Promised Land. They are warned in no uncertain terms that it is too late and this maneuver is not the will of HaShem and will meet grave consequences. Unfortunately, they did not listen.


This week's parsha, of course, features the famous story of Korach and his rebellion. According to many understandings, at least part of Korach's campaign was driven by a genuine desire to come closer to HaShem through the priestly service. However, this role was not the destiny of Korach and his fellow Levites.


Both tragic stories feature a misplaced desire to establish a greater closeness to HaShem when this relationship is simply – and clearly - not the desire of the Almighty. This is a theme we can all relate to considering our having been banished from our shuls and batei midrash for so many months. There was a genuine yearning and urge to return but based on the direction of medical experts and rabbinic authorities, it was made clear that this is not the correct course of action and we were forced to wait patiently. Fortunately, the restrictions are easing in most communities and we are slowly returning to our shuls and minyanim, shiurim, and yeshivos are reconvening. May it only continue to trend in the right direction.




The Korach debacle is a very difficult episode to understand. The exact motivations and the precise nature of the conflict are somewhat mysterious. Much insight is gleaned not necessarily from the narrative but from various nuances in the dialog between the two sides. There is one statement, though, that I found particularly mysterious. Moshe pleads with HaShem not to accept their offering, (16:15) "for I have not taken a donkey from any of them, nor have I wronged a single one." This seems like a complete non-sequitor. Although Korach's group does challenge some of the decisions Moshe has made, it does not seem that they ever make any such egregious charges of criminal wrongdoing. What compels Moshe to make this statement?


Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:

Dikdukian: Just do it!
Dikdukian: Flee Market
Dikdukian: Vayikach Korach

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

The Weekly Shtikle and related content are now featured on

Friday, June 12

The Weekly Shtikle - Beha'alosecha

The Torah recounts that as B'nei Yisrael brought what would be their only Korban Pesach during their sojourn in the desert, there were individuals who were temei meis and thus unable to participate. There is a discussion in the gemara (Sukkah 25a) as to who in fact these individuals were. R' Yosei HaGelili suggests they were the ones in charge of transporting the body of Yoseif. Rabbi Akiva is of the opinion that it was Misha'eil and Eltzaphan who were instructed to remove Nadav and Avihu's bodies from the mishkan. Finally, Rabbi Yitzchak discounts the first two opinions and posits that these were individuals who had become tamei as a result of a meis mitzvah.


It is somewhat intriguing that the approach taken in the gemara is that there was something special and unique about this group. (See Ibn Ezra who states simply - to the contrary - that people were tamei because certainly people died regularly in the midbar.) Although, it is not unusual for a midrashic source to fill in the blanks in a pasuk, even if there is no compelling evidence that there is something missing. However, there is a question to be asked on the first two opinions. Why is it that R' Yosei and R' Akiva assume that these individuals were part of a single group, that they were all temei meis for the same reason? Could there not have been more than one cause for this group to be tamei?


The Torah's introduction to this story is as follows (9:6): "Vayehi anashim asher hayu temei'im lenefesh adam." One would have expected the pasuk to read "vayihyu anashim" in the plural. But instead, the singular vayehi is used in reference to a group of people. It should be noted that the singular reference to a group is not particularly anomalous in the Torah. Neverheless, perhaps R' Yosei and R' Akiva understand that the pasuk is specifically worded this way to convey that although there were a number of individuals were tamei, they were all tamei for the same reason.


This particular passage provides additional inspiration during these challenging times. These individuals, eager to perform every mitzvah, do not stand by idly as their unique circumstances prevented them from partaking of this nationwide ritual. They showed their yearning by pleading for some arrangement to allow them to do the mitzvah. Although every community has been affected slightly differently by this pandemic, all communities around the world are in the same boat together as a singular unit and we have all had our ability to take part in normal Jewish life to some extent. As the anashim in our parsha, we all yearn for end to these conditions and restrictions so that we may once again attend shuls and batei midrash together as a community.


Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:

Al Pi Cheshbon: Piles of Quail 

Dikdukian: The Impure

Dikdukian: In My Humble Opinion


Friday, June 5

The Weekly Shtikle - Naso

This coming Monday, 16 Sivan, is the 18th yahrtzeit of R' Ephraim Eisenberg, zt"l of Ner Yisroel. The shtikle is dedicated l'iluy nishmaso, Ephraim Zalman ben Chayim HaLevi.


This week's parsha includes extensive discussions of the laws pertaining to the sotah and the nazir, one after the other. Their respective tractates of gemara, aptly named Nazir and Sotah, also appear side by side, although in the opposite order. The juxtaposition of these two topics is discussed in the gemara at the beginning of maseches Sotah. Rebbi would say that anyone who is present and witnesses the public humiliation of the sotah should make sure he is not adversely affected by his experience and restrict himself from drinking wine, one of the principal requirements of the nazir. Refraining from wine will make sure that any impure thoughts do not translate into indecent behaviour.


Perhaps another understanding may be offered. Sotah represents the epitome of reckless conduct, a blatant disregard for the sanctity of the marriage bond. Although there are many other instances of sinful behaviour in the Torah, this is elaborated upon in much greater depth. Perhaps more importantly, it impresses upon us how seemingly innocent conversation between a man and woman has the potential to lead to destructive consequences. Sotah symbolizes brazen disregard of Torah values.


Nazir, however, is at the other end of the spectrum. The nazir abstains from (some of) the pleasures of this world and leads a life of extreme holiness. Although curbing one's level of indulgence is often looked upon as commendable, the practice of nazir is surprisingly not. The gemara, on a number of occasions (Taanis 11a, Nedarim 10a, Nazir 19a, 22a, Bava Kamma 91b) dwells on the pasuk (6:11) in this week's parsha, concerning the nazir's sacrifices, "and it shall atone for him from that which he sinned on the soul." What sin did the nazir commit? R' Elazar HaKefar teaches that his sin was that he caused himself undue anguish in refraining from wine. And if one is called a sinner for merely refraining from wine, all the more so one who restricts himself excessively from all other pleasures.


With this perspective, sotah and nazir represent the two extremes of behaviour discouraged by the Torah. The sotah is one who is overindulgent and runs after pleasure. The nazir is one who withdraws himself from pleasure and inflicts upon himself excessive suffering. By putting the two side by side, the Torah is impressing upon us the importance of following the middle path. While we are required to do our utmost to avoid the temptations of indulgence, we must not do so by completely withdrawing from the pleasures of this world. The Torah does not favour extremism in either direction. As it is said, (Devarim 5:29) "And you shall be watchful to do as HaShem your God has commanded you, do not stray to the right or to the left." Do not act liberally with respect to Torah and mitzvos, but be not overly conservative in your observance.


This idea is also supported linguistically as the words chosen for these two diametrically opposite individuals are in fact quite similar. As Rashi (5:12) explains, the basic understanding of the word sotah is one who turns away, deviates from the path of modesty and from her responsibilities as a married individual. Nazir, as well, means one who is separated. Not only has he detached himself from this-worldly pleasures, he has removed himself from the conventional ways of the world. Indeed, the Torah has classified both of these individuals as deviants of sorts.


Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:

Dikdukian: Aleph's and Ayin's

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

The Weekly Shtikle and related content are now featured on