Torah Weekly

For the week ending 19 March 2016 / 9 Adar II 5776

Parshat Vayikra

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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The Book of Vayikra (Leviticus), also known as Torat Kohanim — the Laws of the Priests — deals largely with the korbanot (offerings) brought in the Mishkan (Tent of Meeting). The first group of offerings is called korban olah, a burnt offering. The animal is brought to the Mishkan's entrance. For cattle, the one bringing the offering sets his hands on the animal. Afterwards it is slaughtered and the kohen sprinkles its blood on the altar. The animal is skinned and cut into pieces. The pieces are arranged, washed and burned on the altar. A similar process is described involving burnt offerings of other animals and birds. The various meal offerings are described. Part of the meal offering is burned on the altar, and the remaining part eaten by the kohanim. Mixing leaven or honey into the offerings is prohibited. The peace offering, part of which is burnt on the altar and part is eaten, can be either from cattle, sheep or goats. The Torah prohibits eating blood or chelev (certain fats in animals). The offerings that atone for inadvertent sins committed by the Kohen Gadol, by the entire community, by the prince and by the average citizen are detailed. Laws of the guilt-offering, which atones for certain verbal transgressions and for transgressing laws of ritual purity, are listed. The meal offering for those who cannot afford the normal guilt offering, the offering to atone for misusing sanctified property, laws of the "questionable guilt" offering, and offerings for dishonesty are detailed.



“And He called…” (1:1)

If you look in a Sefer Torah you’ll notice that the first word of the Book of Vayikra is written with a small letter aleph.

The word Vayikra means “And He called…” The Ba’al HaTurim (Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher 1270 – 1340) explains that Moshe, the humblest of men, was reluctant to write that G-d had called to him. Rather, he wanted to write Vayikar — without the aleph at the end of the word — which means “And He happened…”, as if G-d had just “happened upon him,” for Moshe felt it sounded unbecoming that G-d should go “out of His Way” to speak to him. In the event, when G-d told Moshe to write the aleph at the end of the word, Moshe said he would write it smaller than the other letters — hence the small aleph in our sifrei Torah until today.

What’s unusual about Moshe’s reaction is the thought that anything could be considered happenstance in relation to G-d, Who is the Cause of Causes. What could it possibly mean that G-d just “happened” upon Moshe?

The story of Purim reveals much about happenstance. The Name of G-d appears nowhere in the Megillah; the story itself seems to be one happenstance after another. It seems just happenstance that Esther should find herself Queen of Persia and thus in a position to save her people from annihilation; just happenstance that Mordechai should overhear a plot against the life of Achashverosh, and just happenstance that his loyalty to the king should go unrewarded until the fateful night that Achashverosh cannot sleep and calls for the scroll of the records of the kinG-dom to be read before him, precipitating the series of events that leads to the saving of the Jewish People.

Haman was from the nation of Amalek. Amalek is the agency of atheism in the world — that existence is just happenstance. The gematria of Amalek is the same as safek, which means “doubt”. The Talmud asks where you can find an allusion to Haman in the Torah; it replies that when G-d asked Adam if he had eaten from the forbidden tree, G-d said, “Ha-min ha-etz…” “Did (you) from the tree…?” The word “Ha-min” can be read as “Haman”. The word “Ha-min” is an interrogative pronoun; Haman’s very name suggests question, existential doubt.

Atheism doubts the existence of G-d — but is sure about the existence of self. True humility doubts the possibility of my existence as something distinct from He Who is Existence. Moshe’s response to G-d calling him was that — the feeling that he had no more independent validity than a chance meeting, a happenstance.

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