You can find the rest of the parsha text on Chabad.org at Vayikra.
From Rav Kook
Vayikra: Black Fire on White Fire
With the construction of the Tabernacle complete, the holy structure began to fulfill its primary purpose: a conduit for communication between God and Moses. “I will commune with you there, and I will speak to you from above the ark-cover” (Ex. 25:22). Before each actual communication, God would first summon Moses to the tent, with a Voice that only Moses could hear.
“God called to Moses, and God spoke to him from the Communion Tent.” (Lev. 1:1)
What was the nature of this Divine call?
The Miniature Aleph and the Four-Pronged Shin
The word Vayikra (‘God called’) is written in an unusual fashion. The final letter, the aleph, is miniature. Did God command Moses to write it that way? Or was this an expression of Moses’ extraordinary humility — an attempt to ‘hide’ the aleph, so that it would appear that God only happened (“vayikar”) to speak with Moses, in a way similar to the chance prophetic experiences of the evil prophet Balaam?
Another unusual letter may be found in the tefillin (phylacteries) worn on the head. Usually, the letter shin is written with three upward strokes, but the shin embossed on the left side of the tefillin has four. Some commentaries connect this peculiar shin to the Midrashic description of the Torah’s transmission to Israel as black fire engraved on white fire. What does this mean? What are these black and white fires?
Black Ink on White Parchment
When we think about a Torah scroll, we usually only consider the letters themselves, written in black ink. Yet, the Talmud (Menachot 29a) rules that every letter in a Torah scroll must be completely surrounded by parchment. This requirement is called “mukaf gevil.” This means that the white parchment around the letters is an integral part of the Torah. In fact, the white space is a higher form of Torah. It is analogous to the white fire of Sinai — a sublime, hidden Torah that cannot be read in the usual manner.
There is a delicate balance between black and white in the Torah. The shirot, the poetic portions in the Torah, are written in a special fashion, like a wall constructed from layers of black and white bricks. These poetic sections are the loftiest parts of the Torah. Consequently, they have more white space — they contain a greater measure of the esoteric white fire. If a scribe were to write other sections of the Torah in this special layout, the Torah scroll would be rendered invalid. After the Torah was revealed and restricted to our limited world, it must be written with the appropriate ratio of black to white.
What about the four-pronged shin on tefillin? The mitzvah of tefillin is closely connected to the manifestation of Torah after its revelation into the finite world. “All of the peoples of the land shall see that the name of God is called upon you, and they shall be in awe of you” (Deut. 28:10, Menachot 35b). Thus, tefillin correspond to the lower realm of black fire, and are marked with a shin bearing an extra measure of black.
We can deepen our understanding of the white and black fires by considering another example of white space in the Torah. Extra space is left blank to separate sections of the Torah. The Sages explained that these separations allowed Moses to reflect upon and absorb the previous lesson. In other words, the white fire corresponds to the loftier realm of thought and contemplation. The black fire of the letters, on the other hand, is the revelation of intellect into the more concrete level of speech — a contraction and limitation of abstract thought.
The Divine Call Before Revelation
The distinction between white and black fire also sheds light on God’s call to Moses before speaking with him. The Voice summoning Moses to enter the tent was in fact the Divine call from Sinai, “an infinite call that never ceased” (Deut. 5:19). The summons would reach Moses as he stood outside the tent, before being constrained within the four walls of the Tabernacle. This Voice was not a revelation of Torah, but an overture to its revelation. It belonged to the esoteric white fire of Torah, before its constriction and revelation into the physical world.
This is the reason that Moses made the aleph of the Divine call smaller. Since it belonged to the realm of white fire, the summons required an extra measure of white space over black ink. On the surface, Moses’ miniature aleph humbly implies a diminished state of the revealed Torah of black fire; but on a deeper level, it reflects an increase in knowledge of the hidden Torah of white fire.
(adapted from Shemuot HaRe’iyah IV)
Copyright © 2006 by Chanan Morrison
From Melissa Carpenter
Fat Belongs to God
And the priest will make them go up in smoke, a food offering by fire, for a soothing fragrance. All fat belongs to God. A law for all time for your generations: You will not eat any fat, nor any blood, in any of your settlements. (Leviticus 3:16-17–Vayikra)
chalev = fat, especially abdominal fat
dam = blood
The blood and the abdominal fat of livestock are reserved for God in chapter 3 of the book of Leviticus, Vayikra, which provides instructions for making zevach shelamim, the animal sacrifices that are offered by an individual for the sake of “wholeness”. This type of offering is not made for atonement, but rather to express gratitude to God, or to confirm peace with the people invited to share the feast afterward.
In brief, a man brings an unblemished cow, sheep, or goat to the altar, leans his hand against the animal’s head, and then slaughters it. The priests dash the animal’s blood against all sides of the altar. The priests burn the fat covering the entrails, liver, and kidneys. The fragrance of the smoke is the donor’s gift to God. Then the donor and his guests eat the meat in celebration (and according to Leviticus 7:31-35, the priests are given the breast and the right thigh to eat).
Splashing blood is certainly a dramatic ritual, and fat burns well. But fat and blood are not merely reserved for the ritual at the altar. The Torah prohibits the people from eating any abdominal fat, or any blood, anywhere. Even far away from the altar, even in a time when there is no temple, abdominal fat and blood are reserved for God. Why?
A reason for not consuming blood is given in Leviticus 17:14: You may not consume the blood of any flesh, because the nefesh (soul, animating force) of all flesh is its blood. Genesis 9:5-6 also links blood with the nefesh of a human or animal, and forbids humans to eat flesh with the blood still in it. (Ramban wrote that someone who eats an animal’s blood dilutes his own nefesh and becomes less spiritual, more animal.)
So blood is equated with the nefesh, the animating force that makes a creature alive. What does abdominal fat stand for?
Rabbi R.S. Hirsch wrote that the blood of an animal is its essence, while the fat is what it produces for its own needs. The essence of an animal must never become a human being’s essence, and the needs of an animal must never become a human being’s needs. Human nature must not be equated with animal nature.
I would add that abdominal fat is stored up as a reserve calorie supply against a hungrier time. It’s like a pot of silver buried against hard times; in modern terms, it’s like a stock portfolio. Stockpiling resources can be a good strategy. But we must not become so attached to our stock portfolios that we despair when the market plunges. We cannot really control our savings, so in a way they do not really belong to us. The fat belongs to God.
Similarly, it’s good to tend to our health, to enjoy each day of life, to “choose life” for ourselves and others. But my life, my nefesh, ultimately belongs to God.
~ Rabbi Shefa Gold’s Torah Journeys ~
(And He Called)
LEVITICUS 1:1 – 5:26
The book of Leviticus begins with the Laws of sacrifice for the individual, the congregation and the priests.
AS WE STEP INTO THE BOOK OF LEVITICUS, we move to another level of spiritual development and pause to take stock of our journey. Genesis can be read as the descent of the soul and its contraction into physical form. It is the story of incarnation and as the story ends we find ourselves enslaved in the narrow perspectives of physical reality.
Exodus then shows us the path of liberation, the awakening of the soul to its true essence, which interpenetrates the Divine Essence. God must find a way into our hearts and we must find a way into the heart of Reality… which is God-consciousness. The story of Exodus ends with the building of the Mishkan, which is the vehicle for this interpenetration. Through the Mishkan we learn that our Freedom depends on our connection to God and our willingness to make a holy space within us and between us for God to dwell.
How can we sustain this connection, this state of holy freedom?
This is the question addressed by the book of Leviticus. So often the complications of life seem to draw us away from the perspectives of holiness. We become alienated, distracted, complacent, blind to what is essential; deaf to the music at the core of silence; numb to the mystery that dwells at the heart of this life. Our daily struggles sometimes close us off from the flow of the Great Love.
The blessing of Vayikra is the call to come into harmony, balance, connection and intimacy with the God who has freed us for this love… and not only to return, but to establish for ourselves a system of continual returning.
THE MEDICINE that Vayikra gives us for the dis-ease of our alienation from God is described in the language of Korbanot, the “sacrifices.” Literally, Korbanot means “bringing ourselves near” again to God. The Korbanot were a powerful and eff ective means of engaging all of the senses, witnessing the power of Life and Death, and then sharing a sacred meal in the Presence of God. The result was experienced as total purification – removal of obstructions and a re-connection to the flow of God’s love and presence. And for a time this was a spiritual technology that worked well.
THE SPIRITUAL CHALLENGE
OUR TRADITION TELLS US that prayer now takes the place of the sacrifices. The spiritual challenge of Vayikra is to make our prayer-life as powerful, as intense, and as effective as the sacrificial system was for our ancestors.
Can the word of a prayer engage the senses fully? Can we taste it? Smell it? Touch it? Feel its blood? Hear its music and the silence within it? Witness its passage into the void? See in it the shadow of death and the spark of life? Do we leave our prayer feeling purified, our burdens lifted?
Our ancestors celebrated their new state of connection by sharing a sacred meal with the priests and with God. After praying in community, can we also make our celebrations holy? Can we eat these sacred meals – our Kiddush and Oneg Shabbat gatherings1 – knowing that each bite of our feast is also tasted and enjoyed by God?
Wendy’s comment: I encourage you to click on the link to this parsha on Reb Shefa’s website . Under Guidlines for Practice she lists the sacrifices of Olah, Sh’lamin, and Chatat and describes the spiritual illnesses associated with these offerings and the chanted phrase that can be the medicine.
1Kiddush, literally “sanctification,” and Oneg Shabbat, literally “Sabbath joy,” have come to refer to the celebrations following Sabbath services, which can range from simple cake and soda to elaborate sit-down meals.
2 Psalms 23:5
3 Lamentations 4:21
For Guideline for Practice please click on link to website.
From Rabbi Rachel Barenblat
The heart of things (Radical Torah) 2007
The book of Vayikra (Leviticus) is the text at the center of the Torah, the kernel around which the other books form a kind of parenthesis or embrace. Now we’re getting into the heart of things.
And the blood of things, and the entrails of things, the kidneys and the fat of things. In this week’s portion, Vayikra, we dive straight into instructions for making korbanot, usually rendered in English as “sacrifices” though the word really means “drawings-near,” as in “offerings which draw us near to God” (or maybe “draw God near to us.”)
Sacrifice-as-worship is wildly foreign to us today. Burnt offerings and offerings of meal; offerings of well-being, and expiation offerings to atone for sins — this stuff feels pretty far out. In this week’s portion we read that when a person unwittingly incurs guilt with regard to any of the mitzvot, that person shall bring such-and-such an offering to be slaughtered, and the fat and blood shall be burned. Could this be further from our understanding of teshuvah as a personal (and individualized) process of soul-searching and turning-toward-God? This is a valuable reminder that avodah, service of God, was once physical and concrete.
It’s easy to feel a disjunction between what we read here, and the form of worship we take for granted now. And the text doesn’t acknowledge that at all. God doesn’t say, “this is how you shall draw near to Me now, for the time being; later on, when humanity is maybe a little bit more evolved, you’ll find other ways of approaching My presence, offering thanks, and seeking to atone for your misdeeds.” It might make our lives easier now if those words were in there — if God had given us an advance alert that someday our paradigm for relationship with God would change. That we would grow to be capable of finding connection through words, instead of bodily fluids and ashes.
But those words would have been disconcerting and painfully baffling to our ancestors. In the days of sacrifice, who could have imagined the satisfaction, joy, and genuine connection we would find in our strange modern worship — our shelves of siddurim (prayerbooks), our minhagim (customs) and nuscha’ot (melody-systems), our piyyutim (liturgical poems) and improvisational prayers? The arrow of linear time moves us in one direction only — which means that we always look back on what was, while our ancestors couldn’t imagine what would be.
But we inhabit circular time as well as linear. Every year we return to the new moon of Nisan. Every year, just as we bid farewell to the book of Shemot, which in English we call Exodus, we prepare ourselves to relive the exodus from Mitzrayim which that book chronicles. And every year we re-enter the sacrificial space of Vayikra, this dip back into a consciousness which considered the careful sacrifice of animals to have transformational effect.
As it happens, this year I’m reading these verses with new eyes. These last few months I’ve had a complicated new relationship with the physical stuff inside my body: the muscles and fat, the blood and nerves and kidneys. I have a clearer understanding of just how complex the body is, and how ultimately mysterious. For all that medical science has achieved (and believe me, I value modern medicine more than words can express), there’s still so much we don’t understand.
So when I immerse in this week’s Torah portion, that’s what really moves me: the mystery of physical bodies. The clear sense that there’s a direct connection between our flesh and the Holy One of Blessing, even if we can’t articulate what that connection is. The sense that what we really want to offer up to God is the life that courses through our bodies — life which ultimately comes from God, and returns to God; which can be sensed but not touched; which can be burned but not ultimately consumed.
Reb Sholom Brodt
VAYIKRa with a small ‘aleph’
The Baal Ha-Turim explains that Moshe who, as the Torah tells us, was the humblest person ‘upon the face of the earth’ (Bamidbar 12:3), did not want to write VAYIKRA El Moshe” in the Torah, (he did not want to announce) that Hashem ‘called unto him’ before He spoke to him. But Hashem did want him to write this. So at first Moshe wrote “VAYIKR” without the ‘aleph,’ which means that He appeared to him [as if] only by happenstance. But the Holy One Blessed is He told him to write the ‘aleph’ as well, so Moshe wrote a small ‘aleph’. [From far you would only see ‘VAYIKR’.]
EXPRESS YOUR LOVE TO THE ONE YOU ARE LEARNING WITH
Even though Hashem always called unto Moshe before He spoke to him as Rashi explains, nevertheless, the phrase “Vayikra el Moshe” appears only three times in the Torah. (Note my perfect Yinglish (Yiddish and English).) On the other two occasions, at the burning bush when Moshe encounters Hashem for the first time, and when Hashem called to Moshe to ascend Mt. Sinai the phrase is contextually expected. However, here at the beginning of Vayikra, Rashi notes that it is unusual, since it does not appear elsewhere when Hashem ‘spoke to’ or ‘said to’ or ‘commanded’ Moshe. Thus Rashi explains that it was written here to teach us that Hashem always called to Moshe first, before beginning to instruct him.
And what is the meaning of this calling? Rashi says “Vayikra” is “lashon chiba”, an expression of love. Before speaking to Moshe, before teaching and instructing him, Hashem first expressed his love for him.
With the Baal HaTurim’s explanation we understand that Moshe wrote the phrase because Hashem told him to do so, and we understand why he wrote it with a small ‘aleph.’ But we still need to understand what we are supposed to learn from Hashem insisting that Moshe write this phrase [even if only one extra time] and what can we learn from the fact that Moshe Rabbeinu wrote it particularly here, at the opening of sefer Vayikra which deals with the ‘taharah’ – the laws of purity, and the mitzvot of bringing sacrifices to Hashem?
I believe that there is an important teaching for all of us, imbedded here. Just as Hashem expressed His love to Moshe before teaching him Torah, so too before you teach someone Torah, you must first express your love for the one you are going to learn with. There is a dimension of Torah that gets transmitted only with love. Even the intellectual aspects of Torah require love to be fully communicated. Yet, we still need to understand – why is this teaching found here rather than anywhere else in the Torah?
The Sweet Learning Of The ‘Aleph-Bet’
According to our tradition on the first day that a Jewish child begins going to learn in ‘cheder,’ his parents would wrap him in a tallis and carry him all the way to school. At this first encounter with learning the holy Torah, the child’s teacher starts his first ‘aleph-bet’ lesson by showing him and saying the names of the letters that had been written with honey on a hard cookie, and the child would then eat the letters. Then the rebbe- teacher reads and explains the opening verses of Vayikra to him. Why were these verses chosen for the child’s first Torah lesson? The Rabbis explain in the Talmud: The laws of the sacrifices are about ‘taharah’ [ritual purity], let those who are ‘tahor’ [pure] come and learn them. (Pedagogically speaking, it seems that a child can understand ‘korbanot’- sacrifices, better than an older child can.
Realize that it is quite appropriate for the phrase “Vayikra el Moshe” to be at the very beginning of the first Torah portion that is taught to the child. These are the first words that the rebbe will read to the child, and by listening carefully, the rebbe hears Hashem teaching him to teach Torah with love.
The small ‘aleph’ also suggests that the Torah scholar and teacher must keep his own ‘aleph’ small. The teacher must make space for the student; the Torah teacher must have humility. Like Moshe Rabbeinu who did not seek any honor for being the teacher of all of Israel, and who was in fact the most humble person on the face of the earth, so too all of us who are teaching Torah must do our work without seeking personal reward or gratification of the self.
In the sefer Or Gedalyahu I learned an interesting elaboration on the difference between VAYIKRA- He called and VAYIKR- he simply met (pronounced vayikar). Reb Gedaliah explains VAYIKRA as Hashem calling Moshe to come close to Him, to prepare himself to speak with the Holy One baruch Hu. Hashem raised him higher and brought him closer. This is the meaning of “lashon chiba”, the expression of love – to love is to be close and to elevate. Hashem’s revealed elevating love ‘called’ to Moshe to bond with Him. When you love someone you raise them up and you restore their self-confidence. (As we all know, we learn best when we learn with teachers who elevate you and have confidence in you.)
Reb Gedaliah explains further that this love is not simply ‘one way’. Moshe received Hashem’s love, and as he came closer to Hashem, Hashem also received ‘nachas’ from Moshe’s ascension! The Rabbis, ob”m taught (Midrash Eicha Rabbati 1:35) that when the children of Israel do His will, they add strength to His supernal power! And this is the meaning of the calling to Moshe. Something happened, something changed in Moshe each time Hashem called him- he came closer, he rose to a higher level. Whereas when Hashem spoke to an idolatrous prophet, the prophet did not change. Hashem actually spoke to Balaam more than once, he even told him not to go and curse the Jews, yet Balaam remained wicked and sought to find some way to sneak in a curse.
Bringing A Korban
The Hebrew word for sacrifice is ‘Korban,’ derived from the root ‘k-r-b/v’ = karov = close. Any person, who for one reason or another had a desire or felt a need to come closer to G-d would bring a ‘Korban.’ The literal meaning of the word sacrifice is to make [fice] holy [sacre], giving something Up to Hashem, rather than ‘giving up’ on keeping something.
Almost 2000 years have passed since we last offered animal sacrifices in the holy Temple and we recognize that it is difficult for many of us to imagine ourselves bringing an animal sacrifice; and this is not necessarily because we are more refined, advanced, sensitive or sophisticated than our ancestors were.
The Ramban [Nachmanides- Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman] explains that the person who is bringing a sacrifice upon the altar should perceive the animal being sacrificed as a substitute for his own self. The intent of bringing a sacrifice is to offer our ‘selves’ upon the altar. The Kohen who performed the rituals and the Levite, who provided the music, were there to help us in the process of getting closer to Hashem. It was their role to help us have pure intentions to come close to Hashem and that we were not merely coming [mistakenly, to be sure] to bribe G-d. What was amazing is that when a sacrifice was offered properly with sincere ‘kavannah’- intent, the individual would leave the Temple with a true feeling of having rectified his relationship with Hashem. The baggage of past mistakes was no longer able to hold him back from making progress, from believing in himself. It was such a powerful and positive cleansing experience, that sadly, in the end it was abused, i.e., people would sin and do harm to others, then they would come to the Beit Hamikdash with a sacrifice and rid themselves of their guilt and then they would say, “Wow, I sinned and now I don’t feel guilty anymore,” and so they would repeat their sins. In the ‘Haftorah’ portion from Isaiah Chap 1, we see how much this angered Hashem.
Today, we also have ways of rectification, and these too can be abused and misused. In the past we had prophets like Isaiah, with the ability and courage to speak sharp and holy words to all of Israel. Today we have only ourselves. We ourselves need to take responsibility for our actions. We ourselves together with good friends need to ensure that we are not fooling ourselves; we certainly are not fooling Hashem. And we have to ascertain that the Temples that we build in our hearts will not be destroyed.
Most of all we must believe and remember Reb Nachman’s teaching:
“IF YOU BELIEVE THAT YOU CAN DESTROY, YOU MUST ALSO BELIEVE THAT YOU CAN REPAIR AND FIX!” And if you sincerely want to fix then you better be B’SIMCHA- joyous, for without simcha, it just can’t be done!
Though there seem to be very divergent views between the Rambam and the Ramban about why we bring korbanot, Reb Gedaliah zt”l explains that basically all the great Rabbis do agree that ‘korbanot’ were offered in order to come closer to Hashem, but there is a difference in emphasis.
The Rambam (Maimonides), in explaining ‘korbanot’, puts the emphasis on the offering of korbanot as a means to heal the pain we caused our souls with idolatrous ‘bad beliefs’. Significant early mid-eastern cultures engaged in the worship of animals (their possessions); by sacrificing these animals to Hashem, we proclaim our faith that everything belongs to Him and that we can and must serve Him with everything that we possess, by elevating it all to Hashem; we proclaim that there is absolutely nothing else that should be worshiped- we worship only Hakadosh Baruch Hu alone.
The Ramban raises a question on the Rambam- how can you explain that sacrifices that sacrifices were offered primarily to be cleansed of idolatrous beliefs, given that sacrifices were already offered by Adam and by Abel before there was any idolatry in the world?
Reb Gedaliah explains -The Talmud teaches that a major aspect of Avraham Avinu’s service was to uproot all and any feelings and thoughts of “kochi v’otzem yadee” – it is by my strength and prowess that I … , for this too is idolatrous. In our holy tradition, to see one’s self as a ‘yesh’ – as a ‘some-thing’ independent and separate from Hashem is idolatrous. Though Adam harishon was created directly by Hashem, he still was a creation and therefore had feelings of being a ‘yesh’. In his offering a sacrifice to Hashem he wished to come close to Hashem and distance himself from any thoughts of independence from Hashem. So too for Abel and Noach, their intentions were too remove any feelings of separateness from Hashem. And so the Ramban’s question on the Rambam is resolved.
The Ramban (Nachmonides), unlike the Ramabam, emphasizes the positive aspects of bringing a ‘korban’. When one brings a korban purely for the sake of Hashem alone, it is described in the Torah as “a fragrant fire offering, pleasant to Hashem.” The kavanah of offering the korban is to bring oneself close to Hashem, to unify and to raise all worlds to Him.
Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum
THE ARI ON THE MEANING OF THE SACRIFICES
The outstanding kabbalist, Rabbi Isaac Luria (ARI) explains that the sacrificial service consisted of elements from the inanimate world (salt), the vegetable world (flour, oil and wine), the animal world (the sacrificial animal or bird), the human world (the sinner, who had to confess his sin over the offering) and the world of the souls (represented by the officiating Cohen-priest). These five realms — inanimate, vegetable, animal, human and spiritual — correspond in turn to the “worlds” of which the kabbalah speaks: Asiyah (the material world), Yetzirah (“formation”, corresponding to the vegetable realm), Beriyah (“creation”, corresponding to the animal realm), Atzilut (“emanation”, corresponding to Man) and Arich Anpin, the Crown or Root of Atzilut, corresponding to the soul.
“Know that all the different animals and birds have a soul which descends and is sustained by the CHAYOT (‘living animals’) of the Divine “Chariot” (Merkavah). The pure animals and birds are sustained by the Holy Chariot, while the impure animals and birds are sustained by the Unholy Chariot. Sometimes it happens that a soul falls and a person becomes wicked. As a punishment, this soul might be incarnated in an animal. When this animal is brought as a sacrifice (KORBAN), the effect is to bring this soul back close G-d again. Through the proper performance of the sacrificial ritual, the soul is brought back to its root and rectified. Even when the sacrificial animal is not an incarnation, it nevertheless contains holy sparks that fell at the time of creation and that are now rectified.
“When the impure animal aspect of man’s soul gains dominion over him, it causes him to sin. To rectify this, he must bring an animal as a sacrifice. The burning of the animal on the altar draws down an exalted fire that burns away the sins, drawing cleansing to the person’s animal soul from its very root. Since the impurity of the vegetable and inanimate levels is even greater than that of the animal level and also causes people to sin, they too must be represented on the altar in the form of the wine and flour libations and the salt.
“The sin of Adam caused good and evil to become mixed up, bringing a flaw into all the worlds and giving strength to the forces of evil. Accordingly G-d commanded man to bring together representatives of the inanimate, vegetable and animal realms. and through the service of the priests while the Levites sing, the Israelites stand by and the owner of the sacrifice repents, all of the worlds are cleansed and purified.
“When the Temple stands, the sacrifices elevated and purified all the fallen sparks. Today this is accomplished by the prayer services.” (Ta’amey HaMitzvos VAYIKRA).
It is an ancient tradition that little boys who have learned their Aleph-Beis and are just starting to read, commence their study of the CHUMASH (Five Books of Moses) with VAYIKRA. “Let pure souls come to study the laws dealing with purity.” For a cynical, sophisticated age that feels entitled to call anything and everything into question, the Torah code of sacrifices and purification may appear ancient, primitive, complicated and irrelevant. But if we are willing to explore the Torah with the fresh eyes of children, ready to take the word of G-d on trust, with faith and belief, we can discover that the sacrificial system contains the keys to repentance and the healing of the soul and the entire world.
The theme of sacrifices enters Genesis and Exodus in a number of places. Adam, Cain and Abel, Noah and Abraham all offered sacrifices. Moses’ declared purpose in taking the Children of Israel out of Egypt was to bring sacrifices, and the animal sacrifices brought at the time of the Giving of the Torah were described (Ex.24:5), as were the sacrifices that were to be brought at the inauguration of the Sanctuary (Ex. ch. 29). However, it is here in the opening parshahs of LEVITICUS that the sacrificial system of the Torah is laid out in detail. The universal significance of this teaching is brought out in the use by the Torah of the word ADAM in introducing the sacrificial commandments: “.when a MAN (ADAM) would bring a sacrifice.” (Lev. 1:2). The sacrificial system comes to heal man’s alienation from G-d through atoning for his sins and bringing him back into a relationship of peace with Him. This is the ultimate rectification of Adam’s sin of eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. This sin caused the mix-up of good and evil in this world that is the root of all subsequent sin.
VAYIKRA begins with the laws of the OLAH, “elevation” or “ascending” offering, which could either be an ox, a sheep or a goat, a dove or pigeon, or take the form of a MINCHAH offering of wheat in the form of flour or unleavened loaves or wafers. In the case of an animal OLAH offering, the blood of the animal was splashed on the sides of altar, while its fat and other portions were burned on the altar. The OLAH offering comes to atone not so much for “sins of commission” — something a person did — as for “sins of omission”, what he failed to do (such as if he failed to fulfil a positive commandment). The laws of OLAH are followed by the laws of SHELAMIM, the peace-offering, an animal sacrifice whose blood and fat were offered on the altar but whose meat was shared between the priests and the one who brought the offering. The SHELAMIM sacrifice is a celebration that signifies that man has made his peace with G-d.
Next come the laws of CHATAS, the sin-offering brought for unwitting violation of Torah prohibitions whose willful infringement carries the penalty of excision. Different kinds of animals are to be brought and different procedures of atonement apply depending on whether the sinner is a private individual, the “Prince” (Nasi, king or leader), the Supreme Court (Sanhedrin) or the High Priest. [Rashi on Lev. 4:22 comments: Happy is the generation whose leader is able to admit he made a mistake and who tries to make amends.]
The last part of Parshas VAYIKRA contains commandments relating to a variety of CHATAS (“Sin”) and ASHAM (“Guilt”) offerings for specific sins. It is noteworthy that while some of the sins in question are bound up purely with man’s relation with G-d (such as unwittingly entering the Sanctuary or eating sacrifices while ritually impure), there are certain sins in man’s behavior to his fellow men that also make him liable to a sacrifice. These include the sin committed by one who, having received goods or money on trust, subsequently denies it under oath. This is at once a sin against G-d and against the person from whom he received the goods or money. It is normal and natural for a person to choose a private place without witnesses in order to entrust someone with valuable goods or money for safekeeping. Besides the two people involved, the only other “witness” to the transaction is G-d Himself, who knows what really happened. If the trustee invokes the name of G-d to swear falsely in denial of what G-d knows, this is a denial of G-d Himself. Not only must the trustee return the goods or money together with a twenty-five per cent supplement. He must also make amends to G-d by bringing a sacrifice.
Rabbi Avraham Arieh Trugman
The book of Leviticus begins with God calling to Moses from the Tabernacle on Rosh Chodesh Nisan, instructing him in the service which would from then on be the focal point of all Divine service. The Book of Leviticus is called after the first word vayikra, “and He called,” and the fact that it occurred on Rosh Chodesh Nisan is connected to the statement of the Sages: “Who is the wise one? One who sees the ‘birth'” (Tamid 32a). “Birth” in a narrow sense means the birth of the new moon, but in a broader sense means – one who sees all subsequent events born from an initial act.
Rosh Chodesh Nisan, the new moon of Nisan, is called in the Midrash, “the day of the ten crowns,” for it was on this day that Moses raised the Tabernacle in the desert, and the service of the Cohanim, the priests, on behalf of all Israel was begun. It was this service which was continued in the Temple, and later, after its destruction, became the basis of our prayers in the synagogue.
Rosh Chodesh Nisan is also the day when Israel received two year earlier, its first mitzvah as a people in preparation for leaving Egypt. This mitzvah established the month of Nisan as the first of the months of the year, along with the wisdom to arrange the Jewish calendar according to the secrets that God gave to Moses. The ability to become the masters of time was the preparation needed to come out of Egypt where we were slaves. We read the section describing this first mitzvah every year as one of the four special portions read between the new moon of Adar, the month of Purim, and Pesach.
Rosh Chodesh Nisan is one of the four New Years in the Jewish calendar. Kings count the years of their rule from this day. It also begins the cycle of the three major pilgrimage festivals – Pesach, Shavuot and Succot.
It is obvious that Rosh Chodesh Nisan manifests its importance in many different ways and therefore we must attempt to see how all the various aspects of this auspicious day are connected.
There is one more phenomenon connected to this day and that is the appearance in the Torah of a small letter alef in the word vayikra, the first word of Leviticus. We are taught that the 600,000 men between the ages of twenty and sixty who left Egypt represent the archetypal root souls of all of Israel. These souls are further connected to the 600,000 letters of the Torah, wherein every Jew has their particular letter, their special gate or pathway through which to understand the whole Torah. Who is the wise one – one who sees the whole Torah shining through every portion, verse and word, even every individual letter. As we will see the small alef appearing in the word vayikra, “and He called,” can be seen as the connecting point of all the various aspects of Rosh Chodesh Nisan, bringing a deep understanding of the significance of the day for each Jew in every generation. For the small alef represents the service of God to which all Jews ultimately aspire. Even more than this, the small alef hints to the process of creation, its purpose, and the possibility of relating to an Infinite Creator within the temporal parameters of a finite world.
The Zohar (2:161b) teaches that when God created the world He first looked into the Torah and then created the world. The seven days of creation as written in the Torah are more than the recorded history of the creative process as it unfolded, rather these very letters and words are the blueprint itself into which God “looked” and then “spoke” the world into existence. Similar to a scientist who relates to atoms, chemicals, and energy as the “building blocks” of creation, Jewish tradition relates to each Hebrew letter as a prototype of spiritual energy, the building blocks through which the world is built and maintained. God speaking the world into existence teaches us the connection between speech and the creative process. We are taught in Pirkei Avot (5:1) that God created the world through ten utterances – for example: “and God said let there be light and there was light” (Genesis 1:3). Similarly we recite daily in our prayers: “Blessed is the One who spoke and the world came into existence.”
The first letter of the Torah is a large beit, whose numerical value is two. This symbolizes the dualistic nature of the world, i.e. infinite and finite, day and night, man and woman, sun and moon, life and death, spiritual and physical, soul and body etc. The question naturally arises – why does the Torah begin with the second letter beit, and not the first letter an alef.
The Zohar answers in the following parable (Introduction to the Zohar: 23). When God wanted to create the world, all the letters came before Him one by one, beginning with the last letter, asking that they have the merit of being the first letter in the Torah. Each letter had a good reason based on a positive word which began with itself, but God countered them one by one, exclaiming that a word signifying a negative idea also started with that letter and therefore the Torah could not begin with them. All the letters were disqualified till the letter beit came before God and said the word baruch, blessed, begins with it and through this word people will come to praise the Creator. God agreed to this argument and thus the first letter of the Torah became the beit. Then God asked the alef to present a claim. The alef, instead of objecting that it was not given a proper chance answered by saying that since it was already decided there was no need for it to present a claim. God replied that since the alef had so much humbleness, it would be the first letter of Anochi, the initial word of the ten commandments.
The two tablets containing the ten commandments were kept in the ark in the Holy of Holies of the Tabernacle and later in the Temple in Jerusalem. Even before Moses raised up the Tabernacle, God had told him that when He wanted to speak to him it would be from between the two cherubs on the covering of the ark. The Holy of Holies in the Temple represents the center point, the spiritual vortex around which the entire world revolves. It is from this place that God calls (vayikra) to Moses on Rosh Chodesh Nisan. The alef, which seemingly does not appear in its logical place in the creation of the world, significantly appears on this day in the holiest of places. The fact that the alef in the word vayikra appears as a small letter alludes to the great secret of tzimtzum, “contraction,” as taught in the Kabbalah. Through this concept we can begin to understand the reappearance of the alef on the “day of ten crowns.”
When the “thought” arose in God’s mind to create the world, an allegorical problem arose as well. Since there was no reality other than the infiniteness of God, where, as it were, could He create “space” for a finite, “independent” world. The Arizal, the great 16th century Kabbalist, explained that God “contracted” Himself, so to speak, in order to create, a “vacuum” or womb like space in which a finite world could then be created. Into the “vacuum” God shone the first ray of light and the world came into being. It can be understood that the alef, representing oneness and the unity of God, and preceding the beit, signifying duality, contracted itself (only seemingly of course) to make room for the world.
The act of tzimtzum which allowed the world to come into being is the basic secret of the Temple in Jerusalem – the revelation of the Creator contracting His Infinite presence, as it were, in order to be to be perceived in a concentrated manner in a finite place. The small alef hints at our potential to actually experience this paradox of paradoxes.
Our life is spent trying to live within the paradoxical context of God both revealing and hiding Himself in the world. Jacob called the ladder, stretching from the earth to the heavens, in the very place where the Temple was eventually built, the “gate to heaven” (Genesis 28:10-17). A Jew must constantly be a ladder between eternal and temporal time, between infinite and finite space. “Who is the wise one? One who sees the ‘birth’.” The small alef, representing the paradox of creation beckons us to connect ourselves to the mystery of all life.
From Rabbi Diane Elliot
Vayikra—A Call to Return
by Rabbi Diane Elliot March 24 2007/ 5 Nisan 5767
“Vayikra el Moshe, And He called to Moses….” In last week’s double parashah, Vayak-hel-P’kudei, Moshe set up the Mishkan with the Ohel Mo-ed, the Tent of Meeting at its heart, and it was filled with the cloud of Holy Presence, the Shekhinah, the In-Dwelling Divine. So full of God was this place, that Moses hung back and could not enter. He had to be called by Ha-Shem, invited into relationship with the Holy. In order for a human being, even one so awake as Moses, to enter into direct relationship with the Divine, space must be made. The Mystery must draw back a bit into itself—and so “vayikra,” he called, the first word of our parashah, has a tiny aleph at the end, smaller than the rest of the letters, to symbolize, according to some, God’s tzim tzum, the pulling back of Self that makes space for another to enter.
Vayikra, the book of Torah that gives in minute detail the particulars of priestly service in the Mishkan/Temple, can be read as a tractate on holy relationship. When we look through the surface of its instructions about sacrifices and purifications from skin diseases and emissions to the spiritual truths hinted at in its depths, we may begin to understand the brilliance of our tradition in offering us a blueprint for right relationship, the means to practice the art of teshuvah, or return.
What makes possible the maintenance of a brit, a covenant with the Divine or with a person for that matter, given our humanity and the inevitability of our falling away from clarity and devotion, is the ever-present possibility Vayikra lays out of t’shuva—the ability through our focused intention, our actions, our prayers, to clear the clogged channels of connection. We easily distracted, easily obsessed human beings are here gifted with the means to restore awareness, to restore balance, to return to a loving state, in our relationships with each other and, underlying, supporting, and shining through those, each in our unique relationship with the Mystery, the Great Truth.
For the people of Israel wandering in the wilderness, the Presence was always visible as a cloud by day and a fire by night hanging over, resting upon the Mishkan. What is this powerful image of God-made-visible to an entire people? None other than the cloud and the fire of the ever-present, ever-active sacrificial altar, emanating morning and evening a ray-akh ni’khoakh, a pleasing aroma, meant to soothe, placate, re-calibrate the relationship between this visible earthly plane and the invisible, unimaginable realm of the Divine.
So what can be our sacrificial altar, the locus of action and focus of attention that helps us maintain clarity and flow in our earthly and our heavenly relationships, within ourselves, with our friends and family and community, and with the Mystery that Sources and Holds us all?
In her profound Torah Journeys, Rabbi Shefa Gold teaches that “the blessing of Vayikra is the call to come into harmony, balance, connection and intimacy with the God who has freed us for this love,” for this loving service. (Torah Journeys, p. 104) And the challenge is to continually grow into that freedom through practices of return. Reb Shefa asks us to make our prayer practice as powerful, as visceral, and as intense as the sacrifice of animals was for our ancestors. Can our davennen engage every sense—the sense of smell, of vision, of taste, of kinesthesia? Can it awaken our blood and vibrate our souls? And can our actions in the daily world—our words, our deeds, our work, our care for others—be informed by such practice, engaging us in a constant web of interconnectedness that grows God in the world?
As for the power and primacy of teshuvah, of which our prayer practice is an integral part, Rav Kook quotes Yoma 86b: “Great is teshuvah for it brings healing to the world, and an individual who returns is forgiven and the whole world is forgiven with her.” (Bokser, Abraham Isaac Kook, p. 56) “Teshuvah was planned before the creation of the world, and it is for this reason the foundation of the world.” (Ibid., p. 55) “This quality of raising what is lowly in life toward greatness never ceases at any time, at any hour. This is the meaning of full teshuvah….”(Ibid., p. 98), an ongoing day-by-day, moment by moment process, not something we do once a year during the High Holy Days, but, along with the practice of Shabbat, Judaism’s core spiritual practice. Through teshuvah, an ongoing consciousness practice that allows us to restore right relationship in all dimensions, we become “a nation of priests and a holy people,” a gathering of persons striving toward connection with the Holiest of Holies
From Rabbi James Stone Goodman
The alef is silent/And diminished/I am listening with everything I have/For the right word/The true story/Let the pure come and occupy themselves with the pure/So said the wondrous Rav Assi/Student of Shmuel in Nehardea/What they talked about/Everything.
From Rav DovBer Pinson
Week’s Energy for Parshas Vayikra
Rav DovBer Pinson
Beyond the Past/Re-scripting the Future
This week’s Torah reading begins with the words “And Hashem called to Moshe/Moses…saying, speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: When a man from [among] you brings an offering…”(1:1-2) Thus begins the third book of the Torah, the book of Vayikra, known as Leviticus. This book speaks in great length of the various forms of Korbanos / offerings.
Offerings were brought to atone for past negative actions, and so they represent a state of purity, as if one is ‘beginning again’. It is a tradition (Shach, Y’D 245:8), to begin teaching a child Torah with the third book of the Torah, the book of Vayikra. The Midrash says; “Let the pure (child) come and study (the laws of) the pure.” (Vayikra Rabba 7:3)
In Temple times, offerings were used to achieve atonement, and as such, they represent a state of purity. The idea of the offering is a ‘new beginning’.
The verse says, “Adam, Ki Yakriv Mikem” which is commonly translated as “When a man from [among] you brings an offering.” A more literal translation would be, “a person, who offers of himself.”
The person who wished to atone would bring an offering with the intention that they were giving of their very own self. When they gave of their earnings, it represented a relinquishing of their ego, a letting go, as it were.
Atonement is really Re-Alignment.
The principle of cause and effect means that each action creates a reaction. Positive actions have positive effect and negative actions create negative reactions. A positive reaction causes a balanced, equalizing energy, while a negative reaction creates an energy imbalance.
A negative action in the past, based on the laws of cause and effect, will create an inevitable negative consequence. Therefore, what is needed is a shift, a rebalancing in the present, to undo the effects of the past wrongdoing.
When a person would bring an offering of an object, which was a representation of themselves, the balance was restored and a new beginning initiated. The offerings brought purity. The concept of purity being an unsoiled reality – a new beginning and a fresh start.
Time which flows from a perspective of Yesh/existence, which is ego, is as such; what happened in the past is indelibly imprinted on the present, and subsequently gives birth to the future. This is the universe of karmic cause and effect.
Yet, when a person offers from him or herself, which is a selfless giving, they are leaving behind the world of Yesh/existence/ego and entering into the world of Ayin – emptiness, no-thing-ness. From this place of Ayin- unattached to a past, they can chart a new course for their future.
The Torah The Energy of the Week:
Beyond the Past/Re-scripting the Future
In order to reverse the karmic effects of negative deeds in our past – we need to go beyond the reality of cause and effect.
In a world of strict natural order – there is no way to reverse the laws of cause and effect.
However, going beyond our natural state of being, transcending our ego, as it were, we create a new reality for ourselves and rewrite the script of our future.
This week’s Torah reading imbues us with the energy to undo negative reactions from our past, giving us the strength to perform more selfless acts of goodness.
We are able to go beyond our ego and render our ego more transparent. Through ego-less acts of kindness we break the patterns of negativity and enter a brand new state, fresh with undiscovered possibility.
From Rabbi James Stone Goodman
Small Alef Poetry
When You call me
speak louder than you did with Moses
I may not hear the diminished alef*
the sound of affection
You used with him.
I am listening with everything I have
I am listening for the right word
the true story.
Let the pure come and occupy themselves
with the pure —
so said the wondrous Rav Assi [Lev.R.7:3]
3rd – 4th century
student of Rav Shmuel in Nehardea (al-Anbar)
companion of Rav Ammi,
What they talked about —
And G*d called to Moses
And G*d spoke to him
From the tent of meeting
*The Alef is the vav and two yuds
human-being-li-ness and G*d-li-ness
the Alef suspended between
the foundational lower world
and the reach to the upper world
underneath everlasting arm
connected by the sitting
We are connected
above and below
the Alef is diagrammatic — the human being
planted in the lower world
reaching for the upper world.
From Reb Miles Krassen/Moshe Aharon
Va-Yiqra 5771 according to Sefer Az Yashir Moshe (Meta-Torah)
The infinitesimal Alef calls to Moshe and (then) the Source of Compassion speaks to him in the mind space where Divinity and Humanity meet. (Leviticus 1:1).
The Meta-Moshe Rabbenu (Rinpoche) has immediate access to Divine guidance under all circumstances. At that level one doesn’t need a Temple to go to or any particular spiritually enhancing context in order to approach the Shekhinah. You yourself are a Sanctuary and the Shekhinah is in and around you and even speaks through you.
But, how do we “get there?” Our Sages tell us that Divinity is broadcasting an evolutionary current at all times that seeks to bring us into alignment (teshuvah). This infinitesimally subtle vibration is however all too rarely perceived. In fact, although we receive it quite frequently, the level of confusion that characterizes most of us in our misconception of Reality prevents us from “getting the message”— the Divine “love-taps” that are subtly seeking our attention. This subtlety of Divine transmission is required by the evolutionary process itself, commonly thought of in terms of “reward and punishment” (karma). If the broadcast were louder and clear enough for everyone to hear, there would be no possibility of evolution as no effort would ever be required of us. If that were the case, there would be no way to feed the Shekhinah and the Atzmut, the very essence of ALL THAT IS (Eyn Sof), would have no basis for manifesting as EVERYTHING in time and space.
The difference between an un-awakened person and a Tzaddiq-in-training may be measured by the degree of sensitivity that a person has to this subtle sound current. The Noam Elimelekh says a Tzaddiq-in-training is not a person whose behavior is always perfect, but rather a person who is extremely sensitive to the guidance coming from the subtle current that let’s one know when a course correction is required. In the state of “sleep,” even though we may think we are awake, we act mechanically. When our behavior is challenged, we immediately become defensive, dishonest, and in denial. But for the awakened tzaddiq-in-training, even though incapable of measuring up to anyone’s conceptual idea of idealized perfection, the least “misstep” is heartbreaking. That very acute presence of Conscience within is an indication that one is sensitive to the call of the infinitesimally subtle “Alef” that guides Moshe Rinpoche.
Whenever Moshe consciously responds to the “call” of the vibration of the infinitesimally subtle Alef, it transforms the mind-stream of the Tzaddiq into a condition called Ohel Mo’ed (mind space where Divinity and Humanity meet). In that special “meeting place,” the vibration of the infinitesimally subtle Alef expands into the transmission of a compassionate and evolutionary teaching. In this parashah the process begins with the transmission of a teaching concerning fundamental ways of drawing closer to the primordial state of inseparability from the Shekhinah. These fundamental ways of drawing closer to the Shekhinah are called “sacrifices” (“korbanot’) because each requires a certain form of conscious suffering.
Tell those on the evolutionary path that if they want to draw closer to the Shekhinah, they should make conscious sacrifices that refine the ‘beast,’ the source of unregulated desires (“min ha-behemah”), sacrifices should be made through the center of awareness (“min ha-baqar”) and through unification of Source and Manifestation (“min ha-TZoN”). (Leviticus 1:2)
The primary and most general sacrificial path is called “from the beast” because it points to the efforts we need to make in order to bring our total animal nature into a higher level of refinement. This is basically the same image Plato used in regard to the horse and carriage that requires a driver if it is to go in an evolutionary direction. The general path of conscious sacrifice includes all forms of self-discipline that regulate and direct unconscious drives that increase our confusion. What is being sacrificed on this general path is the unchecked and relentless pursuit of satisfying our cravings on all levels.
To achieve the general purpose of conscious suffering in order to become more than a beast, there are two supporting inner paths. The first is called: “BaQaR,” which literally means “from the herd” but alludes to the center of awareness, based on the Hebrew root BQR that implies critical insight (BiQQuR). This is the inner sacrificing of mindless confusion. In order to follow this path, it is necessary to make the effort to cultivate constant mindful awareness— to maintain as much as possible the condition of being present to all that one is experiencing.
Deeper than this is the second inner path called: “TZoN,” literally “from the flock.” However, according to Kabbalah we know there are secrets hidden in the letters TZadi Alef and Nun that have to be deciphered in order to disclose a deeper hidden teaching. The letters TZadi and Alef equal 91 which is the sum of the two Holy Names, YHVH (26) and ADNY (65). Thus the sum of these two letters alludes to the unification of the two Holy Names representing Source (YHVH) and Manifestation (ADNY). When the two are ONE, they express the mystery of Divine Love. This love flows from the highest Source all the way down like the final form of the letter Nun (see the first Torah in Liqqutey MoHaRaN) expressing the power of drawing down Divine Grace (Hesed) to the most manifest level of Malkhut. This capacity to radiate Hesed (real kindness) in actuality within the world itself flows spontaneously and directly from the ultimately inseparable union of Source and Manifestation. Thus the sacrifice of “TZoN” is the path of complete non-dual unification. This path is followed by realizing, remaining in, remembering, and returning to the state of Knowledge that existed before we were born and which can be recalled as we evolve in our embodied condition. (See B.Talmud, Niddah 30). Whoever practices this path in life sacrifices ego-identification at the very deepest level (bittul bi-metziut).
May we blessed to become increasingly sensitive to the call of the infinitesimally subtle Alef vibration. May we respond to this Divine Call with sincere efforts of realignment (teshuvah) and share its message to inspire others. May we commit ourselves to the paths of conscious sacrifice that ultimately can enable us to become truly kind and awake beings in this very world as embodiments of non-dual Reality.
Faithfully transcribed from the subtle Alef vibration by
Moshe Aharon (Ladizhyner) for the Shekhinah, Va-Yiqra 5771
From Melissa Carpenter
Yayikra: A Voice is Calling
At the end of the book of Exodus/Shemot, the children of Israel are satisfied. Their biggest fear, that they would be abandoned in the desert without any way of connecting with their god, has been eliminated. Not only is Moses back among them; they also have something better than a golden calf to serve as a visible and tangible focus for God: the portable sanctuary. In Hebrew this sanctuary is called a mishkan, a “dwelling-place” for God. The book of Exodus ends with God’s cloud of glory reappearing and filling the inner sanctum of the mishkan.
What a relief! Now the people can leave Mount Sinai and journey on with confidence to the promised land of milk and honey … right?
No, not yet. First they have to learn the rituals for using the mishkan and the duties of its attendant priests, as well as some ethical laws for holy behavior. These instructions are given in the book of Leviticus. The Hebrew name of this book, the name of this week’s Torah portion, and the first word of the book are the same word: Vayikra, which means “And He (or he, or It) called”.
And It called to Moses, and God spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying: Speak to the children of Israel and say to them: When a human being brings close from among you a korban for God, you will bring close your korban from the four-footed animals, from the herd or from the flock. (Leviticus/Vayikra 1:1-2)
takrivu = you will bring close, bring forward, offer, present
korban = Common translations: sacrifice, offering. Literal meaning: something brought close (to the altar) in order to bring the person close to God (both psychologically and literally; the altar is no more than 60 cubits or about 100 feet from the space above the ark where God manifests).
Two odd things about the first verse of Vayikra are that the letter aleph at the end of the word vayikra is written smaller than the other letters in every Torah scroll; and that the sentence is constructed so that the first verb, “called”, is separated in a non-standard way from the second verb, “spoke”. Both draw attention to the verb “called”.
There are only three places where the Torah says Gods “calls” to Moses: at the burning bush on Mount Sinai, when God first speaks to Moses; from the top of Mount Sinai, which Moses climbs when the multitude of Hebrew ex-slaves and their fellow-travelers first arrive and set up camp; and here at the beginning of Leviticus/Vayikra. This time, God calls from within the Tent of Meeting, not from the mountain.
Why does God call to Moses before giving him the next set of instructions? Because it is an important moment, according to some commentators. Others point out that when Exodus/Shemot ends, Moses was not able to come into the Tent of Meeting because the cloud rested upon it, and the glory filled the mishkan. (Exodus 40:35) Then God had to call to Moses, to let him know that he could now enter the Tent and hear God speak from the Holy of Holies.
And what about the miniature letter aleph at the end of the word vayikra? Samuel David Luzzatto (a 19th-century rabbi and Hebraist) wrote that the earliest written copies of the Torah did not put spaces between words, and sometimes, when one word ended with the same letter that began the next word, the scribe did not write the letter twice. Later, when spaces were added between words, the missing letter was added in miniature.
But the miniature aleph also lends itself to symbolic interpreta-tions. Two medieval commentaries, the kabbalistic Zohar and the more down-to-earth Rashi, both view the miniature letter as expressing a restriction in God’s call. The idea of restriction is reinforced by the fact that this time the Torah says He/It called to Moses instead of God called to Moses.
In the book of Exodus/Shemot, God calls, and speaks, to Moses out in the open air—not just on Mount Sinai, but also in Egypt and in the wilderness. This changes after the sanctuary is completed. Although occasionally Moses prostrates himself on the ground to get a quick word of divine advice, now God usually speaks from the empty space above the ark, behind the inner curtain, inside the Tent of Meeting.
What does it mean that God now speaks with an indoor voice instead of an outdoor voice? I think the change is related to another change in the Israelites’ relationship with God. In the book of Exodus/Shemot, God only speaks to the people once, on the day of revelation in Exodus/Shemot, when God’s voice sounds like a shofar (ram’s horn) in the thunder (and lightning and fire and smoke and earth-quake). The experience is too devastating for the people, and they beg Moses to be a go-between for them. Moses does so, trotting up and down Mount Sinai, speaking with God at the top and the people at the bottom. The ex-slaves from Egypt remain passive. Even when they are afraid Moses has died, they ask his brother Aaron to make them an idol; they wouldn’t dare make a golden calf themselves.
But when Moses passes on God’s instructions for making a mishkan, everyone with a willing heart donates materials, and everyone with a wise heart helps with the craftsmanship. In the book of Leviticus/Vayikra, Moses tells the people how to contribute to the service for God in the mishkan, specifying when and how to bring their offerings, both animal and vegetable, to the altar. Aaron and his four sons get new jobs as priests conducting sacred rituals, and at every stop on the journey through the wilderness, each tribe has a designated camping spot in relation to the mishkan.
Everyone is involved in serving God. But God’s voice is now muted, manifesting inside the Holy of Holies.
Today we still see a difference between the organized religion of a congregation, and a lone person hearing God’s call on a mountain-top. People still have individual mystical experiences, usually when they are more or less alone and confronted with a sight or sound that inspires awe. Those experiences are precious. But they are not sufficient for leading a good life aspiring to holiness. After all, does anyone today get explicit instructions from God whenever he or she needs them? Is anyone today like Moses?
When we yearn for a moral compass or a way to walk with (or at least toward) God, we need help from other people. We need a community of fellow-seekers, wise persons to advise us, books to study, prayers to chant, rituals to conduct. We need our own equivalent of the mishkan.
And if we build our mishkan, our dwelling-place for God, in the right way for our own community in our own time, then we, too, can draw closer to God. God’s voice will be muted for us. But we will still feel it calling.
From Rabbi Simon Jacobson
Vayikra: Where are our Leaders?
As I was reading the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, a fascinating thought came to me and I realized one of the biggest problems we are facing today.
This week we begin reading the third book of the Chumash, the book of Vayikra, Leviticus. The first verse opens with a seemingly missing word. It says: “Vayikra el Moshe,” which translated literally means: ‘And called to Moses.’ Who called to Moses? The verse does not say. It is G-d that called to Moses, but the verse omits the subject and just states: ‘Called to Moses’ without the word G-d!
Chassidic thought explains that this omission is actually a powerful addition: The essence of G-d defies any name and description. This verse wants to convey to us that G-d’s essence called to Moses, thus even the name “G-d” is not mentioned; the verse merely states “And ___ called to Moses,” telling us that the call came from a place that transcends definitions, a place that has no name or title. Had the verse stated G-d’s name, by even merely using the word “G-d” (‘And G-d called to Moses’) it would have meant that this particular dimension of G-dliness (expressed in the name “G-d”) called to Moses. By not using any name, the verse tells us that this is a call from the Essence.
What this tells us is that G-d’s lack of tangible manifestation is actually His deepest expression, the expression of His deepest essence. A good human example for this is the fact that your deepest emotions, your most intimate feelings are the ones that have the least forms of expression. Words, even sounds are simply inadequate to express our most intimate self.
Ok, so what has this esoteric concept to do with current events?
With all that has been going on in the world – the revolution spreading across the Middle East, inevitably shifting the balance of the entire world – one thing that stands out to me perhaps more than anything else is: Our conspicuous lack of leadership.
Where are our leaders – political, religious, spiritual, any sort of leader?! Besides the prerequisite mumbles, why are we not hearing from anyone – not in the Arab world, not in Israel, not in America, not anywhere on the globe – about strength, determination, cause, hope, commitment – anything that would give us some direction, some focus.
In times of calm we perhaps can get away with the excuse that we don’t need real leaders, only administrators. The argument can be made, that true leaders will emerge when we need them. But now times of crisis have arrived. Where are our leaders? Our elected official, going all the way to the top, appear to be like deer caught in the headlights…
Does this mean that we have are no true leaders?
It’s one thing when G-d is invisible and people are not. It’s quite another matter when G-d is visible and we are not.
A friend asked me the other day, “Why is G-d being so cruel to us, allowing — over the past decades — all these senseless killings, first in Israel and then the terrorism that has spread to the USA and the West, and now the new battles raging in Libya, with undoubtedly more to come?”
My gut reaction was that the exact opposite is true. G-d has never been as good to us as He is today. Freedom from outside oppression is today’s norm, as opposed to say, 500 years ago, when the world was controlled by monarchs and despots (and is still that way in most of the Middle East). For Jews in particular this is the first time in history that they are not subjugated and at the mercy of any foreign power, and can live freely as Jews. G-d is very good to us. He has blessed us with gifts of comfort, prosperity and unprecedented liberties. Problems today are not from the outside, but from within.
True, terrorists are still at large and continue to kill innocents. But I submit that today we have control to do something about it. We are not under the governmental control of any foreign sovereignty (unlike in the past, say, during the terror of the Nazi regime, when the people of Germany and other occupied countries were completely under the tyrannical control of the Nazis). Today we have the power to choose whether we will be victims or not. And our wisdom and courage could have prevented – and can continue to prevent – attacks against us and our way of life.
The sad irony is that when life was much more difficult and it appeared that G-d was not so good to us (at least to the naked eye), we were very good to Him; their was profound spiritual dedication to our heritage and tradition. When G-d is good to us and life goes well, we become apathetic and petty, and often even worse.
What is it about us human beings?! Why do we need pain and loss to crystallize our goals and provoke our will to fight for what we believe in?
And what is G-d to do about us? As Divine Parent and Creator of us all, what are G-d’s options when we choose to ignore or neglect our calling? Should He allow us to just live in denial, or should He allow us to hurt each other to the point where we realize that something is wrong and something must change?
No parent would want to have to make that choice.
By no means will I even attempt to conjecture how G-d deals with this quandary. The only thing I believe we can do is figure our what our responsibility is today.
Perhaps ‘established’ leadership has become, over the years of comfortable prosperity, convenient bureaucracies, complacent and content, unprepared for real war.
Perhaps the lack of leadership today is actually a sign of a major addition (like the omission of G-d’s name reveals for us G-d’s essence): That instead of finding leadership among specific individuals, the essential leader within each of us needs to emerge. Leadership today will come from the grass roots – from you and I and simple laypeople like ourselves, recognizing that enough is enough and we need to act.
We cannot just wait for some leader to rise and save us all. We need to do our part to create a revolution. A revolution of passion to discovering our calling. A spiritual revolution that will shake the very frameworks of our old paradigms and allow us to introduce a new one.
Perhaps the time has come to challenge our status quo – both in our personal and professional lives, and perhaps consider, just consider, that maybe, maybe G-d is a critical component in our lives. Perhaps we cannot be happy and fulfilled—and live in peace with each other despite our diversity – without G-d, without a connection to our souls, without actualizing the purpose of our being here on Earth.
And the fact that G-d often seems invisible means that His very Essence is with us. Perhaps the time has come for us to reveal our essence as well.
From Rabbi Menachem Creditor
Mar 21, 2012
VaYikra 5772/2012: “The Sacrificial Call”
(c) Rabbi Menachem Creditor
Torah Reading for Week of March 18-24, 2012
“The Worth of Our Salt”
By Rabbi Janet Madden ‘11
Parshat Vayikra (“and He called”) provides a how-to guide that lays out the taxonomy of Temple sacrifices, each category of which calls for particular types of animals, birds or grain. In contrast to the compelling narratives of Beresheit and Shemot, this section of the Torah, replete with rules instead of stories, demonstrates a new level of maturity in the relationship between the people and the Holy One, expressed through communal participation in the sacrificial rites, and even more powerfully, by the responsibility of every individual to bring offerings. The specificity of the instructions accompanying each kind of sacrifice makes clear that sacrifice is not a pro forma obligation. That each sacrifice is a holy act is emphasized by the articulation of the concomitant state of intentionality on the part of the person who brings the specified offering and by prescribed actions by the cohanim who perform the sacrificial rites on the behalf of the people. Vayikra demonstrates that sacrifice is the visceral expression of the relationship between G-d and Israel through its emphasis on the nuances and complexities of the sacrificial rites and, most of all, through its reiteration that whether the offering is bird, animal or grain, there is a single component that unifies every offering: salt.
So ubiquitous and inexpensive today that we take it for granted, salt held an elevated status in all cultures of the ancient world both for its function as food preservative and as seasoning. In contrast to pagan sacrificial rites in which blood was drunk and salt was not used, salt’s role in ancient Israel is embodied in its status in Temple sacrifices, which eschewed the consumption of blood and mandated the addition of salt, a substance that defined the Land in the form of Yom Ha-Melah, the Salt Sea. Salt appears throughout the Tanach as a symbol of permanence and, particularly, as a symbol of covenantal relationship. The declaration that “All the sacred gifts that the Israelites set aside for the Lord…shall be an everlasting covenant of salt before the Lord for you and for your offspring as well” in Parshat Korach explicitly establishes the relationship of salt and sacrifice in the context of sacrifice and covenant. Chronicles 13:5 tells us that the Davidic line is established by a covenant of salt. Ezekial 16:4 reports that in ancient Israel, newborns were rubbed with salt, and Ezra 6:9 and 7:22 record that large quantities of salt were delivered to the post-exilic Temple for use in sacrifices, underscoring Vayikra’s instruction about the use of salt in each kind of offering.
It is easy to understand the sacrificial requirement of salt in the context of meat, since salt would have removed blood from the altar, much as today we use salt as a purifying and consecrating agent in kashering. More intriguing and poignant is the inclusion of salt in the grain sacrifices, which presages how we use salt ritually today. Pablo Neruda’s depiction of salt’s “broken voice” and “mournful song” in his “Ode to Salt” captures the emotional undercurrent of how we commemorate the Temple’s destruction in our custom of sprinkling salt over bread after making the blessing over it.
Me’am Loez records the legend that at the Creation, when the lower world was parted from the firmament and the waters of the heavens from the waters of the seas were separated, the seas begged the Creator to be placed closer, not off in the distance. In order to reassure the seas that they had not been abandoned or rejected, they were granted the privilege of providing salt for all Temple sacrifices. Similarly, our mindful ritual use of salt brings us closer to our history, our traditions, and our G-d. Salt, as Neruda understands, is not merely the “dust of the sea”; in the “smallest, miniature wave from the saltcellar…we taste infinitude.”
From Rabbi Simon Jacobson
Vayikra: The Pure Ones
This is a commentary about why children traditionally begin studying Torah with
the book of Vayikra.
From Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan
Vayikra: A Compassionate Offering
Leviticus chapter 5 teaches that someone brings a chataat offering when they overhear a curse, witness a crime, learn about a crime, touch a corpse without knowing it, or blurt out an oath.
Some commentators translate chataat based on its use of the root cheyt – sin – and understand it as a “sin-offering.” They focus discussion on cases where the curses, oaths, witnessing, and contact with death are associated with misdeeds. For them, offering the chataat is part of the process of atoning for a crime.
Others translate chataat based on its function of helping to remove ritual impurity. In the Levitical system, ritual impurity is associated with psycho-spiritual discomfort when boundaries are suddenly violated. These commentators understand the chataat as a “purification offering.” They recognize the fear that can result when we see or hear terrible things, blurt out words that come from a hidden part of us, or suddenly realize that we have come into contact with death. For them, the chataat is part of the process of self-understanding and release.
From this second perspective, the chataat is a gift of compassion from the cohanim (priests) to the people. The chataat offers an opportunity to pause, reflect on the upset, and let it go. Without such a pause, fears may be held secretly inside and compound over time, moving us to attack ourselves as well as others. The cohanim recognized the importance of witnessing the troubles of others, helping them come to self-knowledge and providing rituals that restore stability. From them we can learn some new tools for compassionately support people in our lives.
From Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks
Five Windows to This- Parshat Vayikra
This week begins the first parsha of the book of Leviticus, Vayikra- “He called”. It gives instructions about five different kinds of sacrifices which the Israelites were to offer. These five sacrifices can be seen as a paradigm of life, each one a symbol for a particular way of approaching this moment.
The first is the Olah, or “Elevation” offering. This offering was unique in that it was burned completely on the altar, with nothing left over. This hints at giving ourselves entirely to the task of this moment. We tend to see this moment as a mere stepping-stone to another moment, and we are often doing one thing while our minds are somewhere else. The Olah hints that if we wish to live in an “elevated” way- that is, free from mundane stresses and worries, we paradoxically need to completely bring ourselves to the mundane. We need to “burn ourselves” completely in this moment, without leaving over part of our minds to dwell on something else.
The second is the Minkha, or “gift” offering. This was a grain offering, brought by those who were not wealthy enough to bring animal offerings. This hints at the wisdom of humility and the willingness to offer of ourselves what we can, even if we think it is inadequate, or that the work required is “below” us. It is the willingness to serve the needs of this moment, without imposing our own preconceptions.
The third is the Shlamim, or “Peace” offering. This offering was brought out of gratitude and praise. It brought peace partially because the priests and the offerer both enjoyed it as food, and partially because it was supposed to have a peaceful effect on the world in general. This hints at dedicating our actions toward universal benefit for all. When we act, we do so because we have some particular motivation. If we take a moment to dedicate our actions to universal benefit, this will give our actions and even our decision-making process a special quality of openness and generosity.
The fourth and fifth are the Hatat and the Asham- the “Sin” offering and the “Guilt” offering. Their purpose was to correct and make healing for wrongs committed. It is good to remember that we have not always been perfect. Whenever we do anything, we are not acting from a clean slate, but rather we act against a hidden karmic background. Keeping this in mind will allow us to approach this moment with humility and the intention for healing whatever negativity lingers from the past. It will also help us accept what happens to us moment by moment, cleansing us from the arrogance of resisting things we don’t like- “How could this happen to me?” Instead, let us accept what is, and offer ourselves to this moment as a force of healing.
May these five offerings manifest themselves in our lives toward greater awakening to the spiritual potential of this moment, always.
Why a Sheep? (5773/2013)
Jewish scholar Lawrence Hoffman says simply, “symbols symbolize,” i.e., they mean different things to different people. Psychologist Carl Jung says that symbols are helpful tools, like telescopes, showing us ideas we can’t quite put into words.
You probably know the symbolic meaning of the zroa, the bone or (for vegetarians) beet on the Seder Plate. The zroa symbolizes God’s outstretched arm, as well as the lamb of the Passover offering. But what does the lamb symbolize?
Torah reports that the night before the Exodus, the Israelites were instructed to slaughter a lamb in religious style, eat together with everyone included, brush their doorposts with lamb’s blood so none of their firstborn would die in that night’s plague, and testify of these events to their children.
This week’s parshah, Vayikra, describes the why, when, and how of animal and vegetable offerings. For a few offerings, a sheep — ewe or ram — is always preferred. You should offer a sheep if you were called to testify in court but did not; or suddenly came upon an animal corpse but forgot; or touched someone ritually impure but forgot.
So, in both stories, sheep remind you to testify, help protect you from a brush with death, and help reset you when you have been tainted by something upsetting. But how do sheep work this magic? Do they help us see something we can’t put into words? What characteristics do they have? What role do they play in Torah?By offering them on the altar, were our ancestors celebrating or negating their characteristics? Many of our most beloved ancestors were shepherds – what is their legacy?
What does a sheep tell us about the meaning of Pesach? Symbols symbolize – enjoy this Seder discussion topic!
From Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies
Shabbat Parashat Vayikra
March 16, 2014 / 5 Nisan 5773
By: Rabbi Aaron Alexander,
Associate Dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies
We Need To Talk
Torah Reading: Leviticus 1:1 – 5:26
Haftarah Reading: Isaiah 43:21 – 44:23
“We need to talk.” I apologize if these words create residual trauma and I’ve probably already scared you off. But at least we’re in this together. Each of us has likely been on the other side of this ominous phrase at one point or another, and probably guilty of saying it, too. It just stings.
Let’s harness the pain, briefly, and take a moment to reflect on the elusive art form of difficult-conversation starters. The book of Leviticus, Va-Yikr’a, begins:
And God called to Moses, and God spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying… (Lev. 1:1)
At first glance this feels pretty direct. God has what to say to Moses, so God calls him and begins a lengthy discourse on all means of sacrifice. A closer look, though, reveals a slight difficulty. Namely, why did God have to call to Moses before speaking to him? They are both in the Tent of Meeting and a simple, “And God spoke to Moses,” would have been enough of an introduction to the communication that follows.
The prodigious commentator, Rashi, smoothes this over by explaining that the ‘call’ was not of the dinner-bell variety, a ‘come and get it’ scene many of us experienced in our youths as supper approached. Rather, this was a gentle and thoughtful invitation, a tender communication from God to Moses.
As Rashi puts it: “The language of “calling” is an expression of affection, a similar articulation used by the ministering angels in conversation with one another, as it says, ‘And one called to the other (v’ka-ra zeh-el-zeh ve-amar)…’ ” (Rashi to Lev. 1:1)
The paradigm set forth is of angels seamlessly interacting. How potent. It didn’t matter, therefore, what God called to Moses before giving him endless instructions, and it wasn’t important that Moses and God were already occupying the same space. Rather, it was the caring way in which God called Moses. God asked Moses to join the conversation and allowed Moses to be as fully present as possible. While God and Moses were not necessarily about to get into an awkward or dicey conversation (okay, maybe dicey), this interpretation does offer insight into precarious-conversation starters.
How often do we find ourselves in the same room with another person, poised to enter into a difficult conversation, but also at a loss for words? How does one create an inviting space with room for both participants to express themselves, authentically, while still willing to give something to the other? Our natural tendencies of avoidance, discomfort and/or nervous anticipation often result in communication that is more passive-aggressive, or likely just aggressive: In our homes, synagogues, schools, or offices, all potentially sacred and safe spaces, all potentially hazardous and contentious.
The Torah offers us a slightly different model of engagement: loving invitation. Even in an assumed safe space, an ohel mo’ed interaction demands thoughtful, kind, and honest entry. Jumping right in with a “we need to talk” followed by whatever needs to be said may not allow the listener to prepare for the difficult message to be delivered. The example set forth by God and angels offers an alternative access point for the adrenaline-filled moments that can consume our day-to-day experience. I wish I could offer a one-size-fits-all phrase or invitation. The challenge is that each opportunity demands precisely the kind of warmth that Moses must have heard when God called him in that Tent. And that differs, significantly, in every friendship, partnership, and union.
There is no avoiding confrontation in any relationship. That is a truth. But thoughtfully and intentionally introducing and transforming potentially heated interactions into fertile ground for openness and readiness may go a long way in warding off some of the residual discomfort that often lingers for much too long.
Actually, I think I want to go back and start this commentary differently. Do over?
From the Maqam Project
From Rabbi David Ingber
God Says, “Be Big”
Shabbat Parashat Vayikra / Shabbat Hahodesh
By: Reb Mimi Feigelson,
Masphiah Ruchanit and
Lecturer of Rabbinic Studies
And there was Night and there was Day – One Day
Torah Reading: Leviticus 1:1-5:26; Numbers 28:9-15
Maftir Reading: Exodus 12:1-20
Haftarah Reading: Ezekiel 45:16 – 46:18
Often I share that my life can be divided into two chapters – in the first chapter I experienced God’s love for me by virtue of having a Teacher to Learn from and with. Someone that would share the secrets of Torah that I needed in order to keep my soul alive. The second chapter of my life, the one that I live in now, is defined by walking in the world with Students that I’m blessed to share the Torah I have gathered, and am able to offer them. It is a gift like no other.
I have learned over the years that both Teachers and Students manifest in a form and shape not always expected or anticipated. It keeps my heart open, not knowing when either of them will show up to claim a piece of my heart that their light will ignite.
It is such a manner that Father Henri Nouwen entered my life half a decade ago, when introduced to him by a friend. Those of you who know me know that the fact that Father Henri crossed-over at the age of sixty four, in 1996, is no barrier in declaring him a significant Teacher. On the contrary, I often try to imagine conversations that he and my Teacher Reb Shlomo Carlebach may be conducting in the heavenly realm. Both of them, Men of the Cloth that walked in the world as wounded healers.
It is his words that I hear echoing, as a commentary to Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, 1040-1105) quoting Midrash Rabba on Vayikra (Leviticus) 1:2.
The verse in our Torah portion teaches us: “Speak to the Children of Yisrael and say to them, if any man [ADAM] of you brings an offering to God…”
Rashi questions the use of the word ADAM for a person, versus other titles that the Torah could’ve used for one that brings a gift-offering sacrifice. He brings the Midrash that suggests that the use of the word ADAM is to evoke the consciousness of Adam in the Garden of Eden, who ” never offered sacrifices from stolen goods” thus suggesting, here too, that this gift being brought to the Mishkan (tabernacle) was not from stolen goods.
I can’t help but read this in utter dismay – who would think to bring a gift-offering to God from stolen goods??? How could one even ponder such a thing? What would motivate such behavior and how could one, in good faith, put their hands on the animal to be offered on their behalf if it wasn’t theirs?
It is here that I have summoned Father Henri Nouwen to help me unpack that which is so unfathomable to me.
In his book “The One Necessary Thing” on living a prayerful life he speaks of a listening heart. He offers the following:
“The discipline of the heart… makes us aware that praying is not only listening to but also listening with. The discipline of the heart makes us stand in the presence of God with all we have and are: our fears and anxieties, our guilt and shame, our sexual fantasies, our greed and anger, our joys, successes, aspirations and hopes, or reflections, dreams and mental wandering, and most of all our people, family, friends and enemies, in short, all that makes us who we are. With all this we have to listen to God’s voice and allow God to speak to us in every corner of our being. This is very hard since we are so fearful and insecure that we keep hiding ourselves from God.
We tend to present to God only those parts of ourselves with which we feel relatively comfortable and which we think will evoke a positive response. Thus our prayer becomes very selective and narrow. And not just our prayers but also our self-knowledge, because by behaving as strangers before God we become strangers to ourselves.”
Now I can live with Rashi, with the Midrash and with the possibility of “stolen goods.” It is by means of employing the concept of ” Gneivat Da’at.” Literally this concept translates as “theft of mind / consciousness.” When used in context of Jewish law and morality we can speak of a misrepresentation or even an element of deception when presenting a given situation. While it is more often used in the realm of business and commerce (such as the boundaries and definitions of advertisement) I would like to suggest that Father Henri Nouwen is speaking of standing in God’s presence with only a portion of who we are. He alludes to only bringing our favorable traits when standing in God’s presence, appearing to be that person, and not what we may perceive as our dark side. This would then fall under the category of spiritual gneivat da’at, and perhaps this is the way we could understand Rashi.
I would like to pose the possibility that the “stolen goods” that Rashi is speaking of is our misrepresentation of the totality of our being when in the presence of God. While I personally can identify with the fear that showing up with our totality may bring, I can also touch upon the joy, gratitude and relief in knowing that I am who I am; that God sees me in all that I am; that I can be loved by the Divine regardless of the flaws that I myself don’t allow myself to acknowledge. I believe that it is being seen in such a way by God that will, in time, avail me to own those parts of myself that I shun.
It is with this understanding that the Alexander Rebbe (R’ Yisrael Dantziger, 1853-1910) understands the word in our opening verse, ” Me’kem” / “of you” – the gift-offering we bring is meant to come “from ourselves,” or as the Rebbe expresses, “from our desires” – this is an opportunity to offer, to elevate our desires to and with God; those desires that we are happy to share in daylight, and those that we barely allow to breathe some fresh air at night when no one is around. And if you ask, would this not be a blemished offering being brought to God, I would respond by saying: “If you whole-heartedly put your hands on its head, if you own it as also being a part of you, then you are bringing the most holy offering of all! It is not blemished but rather whole, for you are whole!” I believe this is the first step to our personal redemption and exiting of Egypt.
May we dwell this Shabbat in the trust and faith necessary to bring such offerings to God. May this Shabbat Rosh Chodesh avail us of a new way of standing in the world. May the hiddenness of the moon give us the courage to grow in our truth and shine in all that we are when she comes to completion Seder night!
Shabbat shalom, Chodesh Tov and Chag Sameach.
From Rabi Laura Duhan Kaplan
March 16, 2015
Any afternoon or evening, any time, with or without kids, I could come over and sit on a stool at the kitchen counter. Donna would make us a pot of nana tea – the comfort of mint mixed with the stimulation of caffeine.
We would chat in the plainest of terms about what was on our minds. How we aren’t sure we are handling difficult coworkers well. How we can deal with feeling ashamed of something we accidentally said. How one of us should interpret a weird, disturbing dream. How we are irrationally angry that we can’t get anyone else in our families to help clean the bathroom.
You name it – we dealt with it openly over that nana tea. Donna had an amazing ability to receive everything without judgment. Worries and self-criticism that you would never share with anyone – you could lay it on the table, talk it through, and it would disappear into smoke as a non-issue.
In some ways, sitting down to nana tea in Donna’s kitchen is like visiting the mishkan (sanctuary) in Parshat Vayikra (Leviticus 1-5). The reasons for bringing a sacrifice are a lot like the reasons for talking over a cup of tea. If you have a special joy to share, you bring a zevach shelamim, a well-being offering. If you fixed a problem but still feel bad about it, you bring an asham, a reparation offering. If you feel creeped out by something uncanny, or if you need to deal with something hideous in national current events, you bring a khatat, a purification offering. The priest takes your offering, and disappears your problems in smoke.
The beginning of Parshat Vayikra invites us into this kind of intimacy with God. The first sentence says, Vayikra HaShem el Moshe – God called to Moshe. In our scribal tradition, the last letter of the word vayikra, the Aleph, is written smaller than the other letters of the word, almost as an afterthought.
Perhaps we can read the tiny aleph as suggesting that there are two alternative readings of the word: you could read it vayikar, as if the aleph weren’t there at all; or you could read it vayikra, pronouncing the aleph. In modern Hebrew, yakar means “precious” and kara means “called.” Perhaps we are supposed to read both meanings. “He called…He made someone precious…He called…He made someone precious.”
This two-faceted word describes the magic of Donna’s kitchen. She invites you in, and in that space, you are precious. Perfect and dear just as you are. Your flaws, your imperfections – insubstantial as smoke.
And this is the magic of the mishkan. Through the technology of the sacrifices in God’s kitchen, your self-doubts become as insubstantial as smoke.
In the Haftorah reading, the prophet Isaiah tells us that idols cannot effect this kind of healing transformation. Believe it or not, he specifically tells us that idols don’t have the right kind of kitchens.
Here Isaiah describes the idolator’s use of wood:
Part of it he burns in a fire:
On that part he roasts meat,
He eats the roast and is sated;
He also warms himself and cries, “Ah,
I am warm! I can feel the heat!”
Of the rest he makes a god – his own carving!
He bows down to it, worships it;
He prays to it and cries,
“Save me, for you are my god!”
The piece of wood helps to meet the idolater’s material needs – it keeps him warm, it helps him cook. So the idolater says, “you are my god!”
But the idolator’s meal fulfills physical needs only. The fears, the guilt, the worries that ought to be burned up are neither received and released. Instead they grow into guiding principles, leading the idolator into ever more confused decision-making.
As Isaiah says,
A deluded mind has led him astray
And he cannot save himself;
He never says to himself,
The thing in my hand is a fraud!
We all have times when we are like Isaiah’s idolater. Difficult, uncomfortable thoughts and feelings may overtake us. We might not recognize ourselves. We might be weighed down with anxiety. We might wonder if we should even have these thoughts and feelings, or if we should tell anyone about it. We might need help figuring out if we are defrauding ourselves!
At these times, we need a kitchen! We need someone who will sit with us, listen and receive without judgment, hold up a mirror, so to speak, with love. It might be a friend like Donna who makes nana tea; it might be a representative of an established organization, like the priests in the mishkan.
Vayikra teaches that an individual cannot deal with worries, guilt, creepiness, or disturbing public events alone. Every one of us needs someone who recognizes the weight of thoughts and feelings – even when our material needs are met, even when we have fixed the practical consequences of our mistakes. Every one of us needs someone who can help lighten the load, turn the substantial into vapour.
Every one of us needs a meal in God’s kitchen!
From Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
The Pursuit of Meaning: Vayikra
From Rabbi David Kasher
Remembrance of Things Past:Vayikra
From My Jewish Learning
What Silence Conceals — and Reveals
How a tiny letter dramatically changes the meaning.
BY RABBI RACHEL BARENBLAT
In cheder, the Hebrew elementary school of late 19th- and early 20th-century Eastern Europe, boys began learning Torah at age 5. They began with the book of Vayikra, which we call in English “Leviticus.” This practice is still followed in contemporary schools that follow the cheder model, mostly in the haredi Orthodox (ultra-Orthodox) world. I’m fascinated that they begin their studies not with Torah’s opening words “as God was beginning to create…,” but instead with Vayikra el-Moshe “and God called to Moses.” That is to say, they begin with Leviticus, — with its sprinkled blood and burnt kidneys and laws about nakedness that couldn’t be further from the post-sacrificial Judaism that most contemporary Jews know and cherish.
It’s easy to shy away from Leviticus. The middle book of the Torah, Leviticus is rife with the details of a sacrificial system we haven’t practiced in the better part of 2,000 years. (And most contemporary Jews have no interest in returning to pre-rabbinic Judaism, which makes Leviticus even more alien and alienating). The first portion in the book of Vayikra (Leviticus) is also called Vayikra. The word means “And God Called.”
The first word of this biblical book is characterized by a textual oddity. In Torah scrolls, which are still handwritten with quill and ink on parchment, the final letter of that first word is always written extra-small. (It looks like this.) The silent aleph (א) at the end of the word is written in miniscule.
Without that aleph, the word would mean “and God happened upon.” With the aleph, it means “And God called.” Midrash teaches that Moses wanted to write “vayikar,” without the final aleph — as though God had merely happened upon him. But God insisted otherwise God didn’t just “happen upon” Moses, but called out to Moses on purpose! In the end, they compromised: The letter is there, but it’s tiny.
Set aside for the moment whether or not you believe that Torah was given to Moses in full on Mount Sinai, and whether or not you believe that the details of scribal practice are divinely foreordained. What interests me about this story — this push-and-pull between Moses’ humility and God’s insistence that Moses has a role — is that it’s in our canon in the first place.
One way of reading Torah suggests that every character in Torah can be found within the reader. This suggests that we, too, have moments of being humble like Moses — and we, too, have moments of recognizing that we are not merely an accident of happenstance.
I can relate to Moses’ humility. Who am I, after all, to hear a direct call from the One? But in this telling, at least — God insists otherwise. God calls us into service. God knows that we have gifts the world needs — even if we don’t always see them in ourselves. Our lives are no coincidence. We are placed here for a reason.
The difference between Vayikra with an aleph at the end (“And God called”), and vayikar (“and God happened upon”) without the aleph, is tiny (especially when the aleph itself is tiny). The difference between a life where God’s presence is manifest in everyday miracles, and a life where divinity feels absent, may be equally so. It’s a matter of epistemology, not ontology. If I’m awake to God’s presence in what’s unfolding for me right now, then I may feel (like Moses) “called” — and if I’m not awake to that presence, it may seem to me that life “just happens.” The difference between feeling as though life is a series of happenstances, and feeling as though life has purpose and meaning, lies in our willingness to tune our internal radios in order to hear what’s concealed within the sounds of silence.
Aleph is a silent letter. One Hasidic teaching holds that it contains the entirety of Torah compressed within it. Because it’s the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, it can represent the infinite, the many, within the singularity of the One. In the Torah as we’ve received it, this aleph at the end of the word Vayikra is tiny, like a seed or a spark. It’s a kernel of potential.
If we attune ourselves to divine Presence, then the first word of this Torah portion is Vayikra: “And God Called.” If we shrug off the possibility of divinity or the experience of wonder, then the first word becomes simply vayikar — “And God happened upon.”
Perhaps when the work of healing creation is complete, the tiny aleph in the word Vayikra will be as large as its fellows: Because we will have done the work of figuring out how to aptly balance ego and humility, awareness of our insignificance with awareness of our power. Just as silence can contain the promise of every possible sound, the silent aleph can contain the promise of every possible letter and word. What will we hear if we quiet our minds and listen for what reverberates in the silent aleph at the end of this Torah portion’s first word?
“Korbonot and Closeness: Revisited”
By Rabbi Cheryl Weiner
In 2013, in considering this parshah, I asked some questions that I want to reconsider from a different frame of reference. How do we fulfill our yearning for closeness with divine energy? How do we establish our relationship with God? How do we ask for forgiveness for our behaviors? How do we thank and praise God? I pose these questions today in relation to climate change and regulations.
The word for sacrifice in Hebrew is korbon, which shares the root of the word for becoming close, so, inherent in the act of sacrifice is the kavannah/the intention of becoming closer to God. In the Chabad Hasidic tradition, when we bring the animal sacrifice to God, we are bringing the animalistic part of ourselves to the sacrifice. When we burn the sacrifice in part or in whole, we are burning that aspect of ourselves that represents the sin that we have committed, our hubris, and our failings in the moral domain. When we bring an offering that is not an atonement, we are bringing our gratitude and our yearning and intention to come closer to God.
Perhaps a better translation for sacrifice today is offering. What are the ways that we can offer something of ourselves to become closer to God? How can we sanctify our relationship to God through some action that either represents atonement for our various sins or that offers praise and recognition for the gifts that we have received?
Today, I ponder these questions with a sense of urgency related to our body politic. How are we as a nation prepared to offer some aspect of comfort in our lives to benefit the planet? What is it that we can do to expatiate the sins of our age? And what is the nature of those sins. Chet— the sin we commit inadvertently, the mistake that we make. Avon— the sin that we commit with full knowledge and intention towards another human being. Pesha-— the sin that we commit as a transgression, a crossing the line to disobey God’s will. If we inadvertently polluted in the past, perhaps this was a mistake, an error in judgment or knowledge. If we then pollute intentionally through ignoring regulations, isn’t this a violation of the pubic trust? However, if we intentionally do away with the regulations themselves, aren’t we in some way in rebellion against God’s will? Aren’t we commanded to care for the earth?
Some would say that we sacrifice jobs or monetary gain or our freedom by imposing regulations. Rather, I would say that regulations are the constraints that provide us with the freedom to live in safety and security. Regulations are researched and put into place as protections for our well-being, not as a hindrance to progress, not as a handicap to economic growth or the creation of jobs. Just as the “siyyug to Torah”, the gates of our laws that contain the Torah, regulations function as a safety net.
Sometimes we need to sacrifice in order to become whole. As a society, we need to learn to sacrifice, to find new solutions to challenges, to break through to a new form to bring us closer to God. When we speak of korbonot/sacrifices in the modern world, our atonement for sins of misusing or abusing our planet. We need to learn to offer praise and gratitude for our resources. Our sages say, as it is below, so it is on high. We can transform the world by the offerings that we make of ourselves, to sacrifice in the short term perhaps, to find long term solutions to protect the planet. We can find joy in the appreciation of the resources that we have and celebrate them by finding power solutions that harness the earth’s creative potential through wind, or solar, or wave energy. Through a process of atonement as well as gratitude, we can bring ourselves closer to the manifestation of God’s goodness in the creation of God’s world and our own.
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