Leviticus - Vayikramain postsVayikra

Vayikra 5783 Parashah Shorts

מאת גמלאי עיריית טבריה

Proper Manners—a Prerequisite for Torah

It is customary for young children to begin studying the Torah in school with the portion of Vayikra (this week’s Torah portion). Let us join them in the learning. The first verse reads, “He [God] called to Moses; God spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying.”[1] Why the repetition? First God called to Moses, then He spoke to him? Couldn’t the verse just say, “God addressed Moses from the Tent of Meeting?”

The sages use this repetition to make a very strong statement:

Any Torah scholar who is not conscious [of his own conduct], even a carcass is better than him.”[2] We learn this from Moses, the father of wisdom, the father of all prophets…. who did not enter the Tabernacle until God called upon him to enter and then spoke to him.”

The meaning of consciousness here is having proper manners, i.e., entering only with permission, as in the adage of the sages, “Proper manners are a prerequisite for Torah”[3] (דֶּרֶךְ אֶרֶץ קָדְמָה לַתּוֹרָה).

In the hand-written Torah scroll, the Hebrew word for “He [God] called” (וַיִּקְרָא) is written with a minor alef. This symbolizes that Moses made himself small with humility, not entering the Tabernacle until he was called. This is the first lesson to teach the young children making their first steps in Torah (and to remind the child within us as adults, when we begin our daily study of Torah): You are coming to learn Torah, approach the Torah with humility and proper manners.


Is This Even Possible?

The verse reads, “When a person sins…”[4] (נֶפֶשׁ כִּי תֶחֱטָא). The Zohar explains that these words should be read with surprise, as a question: When a person sins? Is this even possible? The question is not whether our animal soul—with which we identify ourselves, which we feel is the “I” within us—can sin. Of course it can; it is even prone to do so. That is its nature. The Zohar’s question is rather directed at our Divine soul—the part of God above that is within every Jew (and which resides as a spark within every person). Is it possible that the Divine soul could participate in a sin? How could it be present in us while we rebel against the Almighty?

This question remains without an answer. By asking ourselves this question, we are meant to awaken infinite mercy for our Divine soul, which we have in our defiance pushed down into such a low place and coerced to participate in our sins.

(based on Perek Be’avodat HaShem from Lev LaDa’at)

There are two main categories of sacrifices: the burnt offering (עוֹלָה) and the sin offering (חַטָּאת). The burnt offering is consumed in its entirety on the altar and represents man’s yearning to be completely absorbed into the Divine. The sin offering, as its name implies, comes as an atonement for transgressions, for having identified with our animal soul.

When translated into our psychology, the burnt offering corresponds to our power of self-nullification (בִּטּוּל), whereby our separate self is consumed and we remain agents of the Divine will. The sin offering corresponds to our power of lowliness (שִׁפְלוּת), whereby we recognize ourselves for all our shortcomings and seek to ascend back to connect with God.

In the context of time, the sin offering and lowliness are associated with the month of Tishrei, when we are busy repenting and returning to God after all our transgressions. The burnt offering is associated with the month of Nissan, when everything is renewing and we feel the words of King Solomon, “Who here is ascending”[5] (מִי זֹאת עֹלָה), describing the ascent of the entire world towards the Divine.


Special Letters, Unique Souls

In a hand-written Torah scroll, the alef in parashat Vayikra’s first word “He [God] called” (וַיִּקְרָא) is a minor alef. The Masoretic text of the Torah includes many peculiar letters, the most well-known of which are the major (large) letters and the minor (small) letters, but there are many other types.[6]

(some of the many forms of special letters lamed in the Torah; from source cited in note 6)

The contemporary custom is to minimize the use of these letters and they are not usually included in a hand-written Torah scroll, except for a few well-known cases. The usual approach is to minimize those items that seem peculiar or out of place, since they do not fit in with the majority.

The letters of the Torah all refer to the souls of the Jewish people. Contemporary society tries to cast all Jews in the same form, referred to as “normal,” and to minimize exceptions to these rules. But as the coming of Mashiach nears, we must return to cherish and appreciate these special letters as well as the special souls that do not fit the mold. It is specifically in these Jews that the spark of Mashiach shines particularly brightly. The Mashiach himself is described as “extra-ordinary”[7] (יוֹצֵא דֹּפֶן). He and these special souls are the exceptions that prove the rule.

[1]. Leviticus 1:1.

[2]. Vayikra Rabbah 1:15.

[3]. See Ibid. 9:3.

[4]. Leviticus 4:1.

[5]. Song of Songs 3:6.

[6]. For a good discussion of these special letters see Torah Shleimah, vol. 29, pp. 75ff.

[7]. See Lubavitcher Rebbe, Sichah for Acharon shel Pesach, 5748. See Tosafot s.v. Kol on Avodah Zarah 10b and Seder HaDorot year 3662.

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