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Friday, July 31

The Weekly Shtikle - Va'eschanan

In this week's parsha, the aseres hadibros are repeated. When I was younger, a guest at our Shabbos table offered me a prize (which ended up being a sticker) for every difference I could find between the Yisro version and that of Va'eschanan. I found ten.


In the fourth commandment, the mitzvah of Shabbos, we find a reference to the subjugation in Mitzrayim that was not mentioned in parshas Yisro. We are told (5:14) "And you shall remember that you were a slave in Mitzrayim and HaShem, your God, took you out from there with a Mighty Hand and Outstretched Arm. Therefore, HaShem, your God, has commanded you to make a Shabbos day." Rashi writes that this is simply a reminder that HaShem brought us out of Mitzrayim in order to perform his mitzvos, of which this is one. In other words, there seems to be no direct connection between Shabbos and yetzias Mitzrayim.


It would seem, however, that there is an intrinsic connection between the mitzvah of Shabbos and the exodus from Mitzrayim. There is no reason to assume that the Egyptians gave us a day off on Saturday. Rather, a more conceivable assumption would be that we had a full seven-day work week. With the exodus from the enslavement in Mitzrayim came the freedom and autonomy to set our own weekly schedule. We are thus commanded to set aside Shabbos as a way of reminding us of this great gift. [However, see the midrash (Shemos Rabba 1:28 and 5:18 which imply that there was a reprieve on Shabbos.]


When immigrants first came over to North America, they were forced, so to speak, to work on Shabbos, creating a new flavour of the Egyptian subjugation. But miraculously, the society has changed and now, even in exile, we are free to take Shabbos off from our work. The very concept of a seven-day week in the secular world is itself a miracle. The week is the only calendrical component with no clear astronomical significance. A day represents one full rotation of the earth on its axis. A year is one full revolution of the earth around the sun. But a week is nothing more than a group of seven days. The secular world could easily have chosen a six or eight-day week and that would have spelled eternal trouble for the Jews. (In fact, there have been a number of proposed changes to the calendar designed to maintain the same day of the week for each calendar day by using a "Worldsday" which would not belong to any day of the week.) On the day of Shabbos these miracles must be realized, in combination with the miracle of yetzias Mitzrayim.


Rambam, in Moreh Nevuchim, seems to concur with this approach. He writes that the two mentions of Shabbos in the aseres hadibros teach us two separate aspects of Shabbos. In parshas Yisro, we are taught why HaShem chose to sanctify the day of Shabbos and its significance in the days of creation. Here, in Va'eschanan, we are taught why it is that we must keep the Shabbos, namely, to remember the enslavement in Mitzrayim when we had no days off and appreciate HaShem's great deliverance of us from there.


Perhaps we can summarize simply: The ma'aseh bereishis aspect of Shabbos celebrates HaShem's own greatness. The yetzias Mitzrayim aspect celebrates the greatness that HaShem chose to bestow on us as a nation.


Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:

Dikdukian: You were shown

Dikdukian: Raise the Valleys

Al Pi Cheshbon: Moshe's Pleas

Al Pi Cheshbon: Gemtrias off by 1

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Friday, July 24

The Weekly Shtikle - Devarim

As sefer Devarim begins, and with it a recounting of the events that befell B'nei Yisrael in the midbar, we seem to bounce around quite a bit chronologically. While we begin somewhere towards the beginning, this week's parsha eventually discusses the wars with Sichon and Og which took place towards the end. There is an interesting linguistic discrepancy in the account of those wars. In 2:36 regarding the war with Sichon, the pasuk recounts, "lo haysa kirya asher sagva mimenu," there was no city that overpowered us. Only a few pesukim later (3:4) with regards to the war with Og, we find a very similar, yet slightly different phrase: "lo haysa kirya asher lo lakachnu me'itam." There was no city that we did not take from them.


I suggest that perhaps the explanation behind the different choice of words is that Sichon was stronger than Og - or at least his kingdom was stronger. After all, the Midrashim do go out of their way to mention how powerful and fortified his kingdom was. Therefore, the pasuk establishes only that there was no city that was able to overpower us. In other words, there were no defeats. That still leaves it to be interpreted whether or not B'nei Yisrael wiped them out on every front. Perhaps there were cities which were unable to defeat our army but we were unable to completely defeat them.

Regarding Og, however, the pasuk need not mention that there was no front on which Og won the battle. Rather, there wasn't even one city which B'nei Yisrael didn't take cleanly. It would seem that the Torah describes a more complete and decisive victory against Og than Sichon.


(Above, I mentioned that the order of the recounted episodes in Devarim is not chronological. As well, the introductory pesukim at the very beginning are interpreted by Rashi as referring to the numerous different challenges throughout the 40-year sojourn. There, too, it is hard to make sense of the order. I would love to see an explanation of the sequence.)


Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:

Dikdukian: Don't you worry!

Dikdukian: Past and Future

Dikdukian: Yahtzah, what is your name?

AstroTorah: Like the Stars of the Heavens

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

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Friday, July 17

The Weekly Shtikle - Matos / Mas'ei

This coming Sunday, 27 Tammuz, is the second yahrtzeit of my cousin, Mrs. Michelle Jakobovits. The shtikle is dedicated le'iluy nishmasah, Rochel Mirel bas Shmuel HaLevi.


I was intrigued by an interesting anomaly with the war against Midyan. In last week's parsha, at the very beginning, HaShem begins to instruct Moshe concerning the upcoming battle. Then, suddenly, that entire subject is abandoned for the rest of the parsha until we return to that topic in this week's parsha. What exactly was the purpose of that initial command and why is it disjointed from the actual carrying out of the instructions?


I wasn't able to come up with any satisfactory explanations so I will instead include a different thought concerning the war with Midyan. Targum Yonasan (31:7) explains, based on Sifrei, that B'nei Yisrael were commanded to attack Midyan from three sides and leave the fourth open. Rambam brings this practice as halachah in Hilchos Melachim 6:7 but does not include it in Sefer HaMitzvos. Ramban, however, lists it as part of his enumeration of mitzvos that Rambam "forgot" to include.


Meshech Chachmah here explains the disagreement between the two. Rambam is of the opinion that this military tactic is only advice on the best way to go about attacking an enemy. If an enemy is invaded from all sides, they will know that there is no way out and will fight with all their might. However, if they have an escape route, they will not be so determined to fight for they know they can rely on an escape. Therefore, it is brought in the halachos as a suggestion but it does not constitute a halachah in and of itself in the context of a mitzvah.


Ramban, however, adds that reasoning behind this tactic is to have pity on the enemy to allow them a way to escape if they do not want to fight a war, akin to the mitzvah of offering peace before waging war against an enemy. Since this is an obligation and not a suggestion, it is counted as a mitzvah in and of itself.


Chazak, chazak, venischazeik!

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:

Dikdukian: The Cold has Passed

Dikdukian: Watch out for those Mapiks!

Dikdukian: To Afflict or to Answer

Dikdukian: The Interrogative

Dikdukian: The first aliyah in Mas'ei

Dikdukian: They are Correct, Sir!

Dikdukian: Whose Tribe is it Anyway?

Al Pi Cheshbon: Splitting up the Animals

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

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Friday, July 10

The Weekly Shtikle - Pinechas

This past Tuesday, 15 Tammuz, was the 17th yahrzeit of my wife's grandmother, Mrs. Shirley Yeres, Chaya Sheindel bas Alexander HaLevi. The shtikle is dedicated le'iluy nishmasah.


A special Weekly Shtikle mazal tov to my brother-in-law and sister-in-law, Avi and Sara Lifshitz of Migdal HaEmek on the birth of their son, Yedidya Yitzchak, whose bris was yesterday. Mazal Tov to the extended Yeres and Lifshitz mishpachos.


In honour of yesterday's simcha,  I figured it would be apropos to focus on the pesukim at the beginning of the parsha which - according to some customs - are recited at the beginning of the bris


HaShem, speaking to Moshe, begins by declaring (25:11) that Pinechas's act removed HaShem's wrath and prevented the destruction of the nation. "Therefore," He continues, "say that I grant him my covenant of peace." There is much discussion in the commentaries as to the exact nature and meaning of this covenant. Was it protection from the tribes of Zimri and Kuzbi? Was it an allusion to his eternal life in the form of Eliyahu Navi?


However, not as much attention is given to the exact forum in which this declaration was to be delivered to Pinechas. Moshe is instructed to "say," but apparently not to say to him. This would seem to imply that this declaration was to be made in the public eye for all to see and hear. This appears to be the approach of Alshich who writes that this covenant was a reward for Pinechas having sanctified HaShem's name in public. Tur and HaKesav vehaKabbalah are even more overt in their position that this was a public display in front of the nation.


Nevertheless, Targum Yonasan renders "eimar leih," say to him, filling in the missing word. Netziv, in Haamek Davar, seems to take this approach as well. He explains with a parable why Moshe was required to personally approach Pinechas to convey his reward.


I wish to end off with a little humour as we could all probably use a good laugh these days. I saw the following being passed around:



Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:

Dikdukian: Keves vs. Kesev

Dikdukian:  Shabbas be'Shabbato

Dikdukian:  I say Yericho, you say Yereicho
Dikdukian:  All of the brothers

Dikdukian: One Big Happy Family?

Dikdukian: Pinechas: What's in a Name?

Al Pi Cheshbon: Probability of the Goral

Al Pi Cheshbon: Counting the Judges

AstroTorah: What's your Sign? by R' Ari Storch


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Friday, July 3

The Weekly Shtikle - Chukas / Balak

People often point to the beginning of Chukas – the parah adumah – as the true test of emunah. Laws and principles that are logical are surely easier to follow. Decrees which we cannot possibly hope to fully understand test our belief in the Torah on a much higher level.


However, I have always felt that it is actually parshas Balak which is the ultimate parsha of emunah. We surely believe in the Divine authorship of the Torah from beginning to end. However, an overwhelming majority of the Torah is in the form of anecdotes which could certainly have been passed down through the generations all the way to Moshe. In other words, most of the Torah could have been authored by man, in theory. Parshas Balak veers sharply from that paradigm. Almost the entire parsha is a story that takes place completely out of view of Moshe and the rest of the nation. The only way any author could possibly have been aware of all the intricate details of this episode is through Divine inspiration or prophecy. Believing the authenticity of parshas Balak is therefore a declaration of belief in the Divine authorship of the Torah.


This parsha is also directly associated with emunah in that it highlights the depth of what is constantly transpiring behind the scenes and all that HaShem does to protect us. The story of vaheiv besufah (21:14) in Chukas is perhaps an even better example. This helps us appreciate how much of this world we are unaware of and therefore, how much we simply don't understand. Once again, this is a pertinent theme for this time when so much is going on around us which we can't even hope to understand.

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:

Dikdukian: It wasn't thrown

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

The Weekly Shtikle and related content are now featured on