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Parashat Vayikra (Leviticus 1:1-5:26)

“The priest shall provide him atonement before Adonai, and it shall be
forgiven him for any of the things he might do to incur guilt.” (Leviticus 5:26)

Parashat Vayikra opens the third book of the Torah (also called Vayikra). It gives detailed instructions on how to offer the various sacrifices in the mishkan, or Tabernacle. Because the parasha, or portion, is both arcane and gory, Vayikra is a tough read. So it’s easy to overlook the powerful message contained in the very first word.

The Torah usually uses vayomer (and God said) or vay’daber (and God spoke) to describe God’s instructions to Moses. But Vayikra begins, “Vayikra el moshe, And God called to Moses, and God spoke to him from the Tent of meeting, saying.” (Lev. 1.1) Nachmanides (1194 – 1270; 13th century Spanish commentator) explains Moses is reluctant to enter the newly completed mishkan because it is filled with God’s glory. God calls to Moses with affection to reassure him he is welcome, using the word vayikra, which is how angels speak to one another.

The Torah’s orthography testifies to Moses’ humility. According to Rabbi Jacob ben Asher (1270-1340; author of the legal code Arbaah Turim), when God commands Moses to write the word vayikra normally, Moses worries the Israelites will accuse him of haughtiness for applying the language of angels to himself. But Moses knows he cannot disobey God’s order and not use it. So Moses crafts a compromise and writes vayikra with a small aleph. The Torah is written that way to this day.

The central message of the book of Vayikra is “…be kadosh, holy, because I, Adonai your God, am kadosh.” (Lev. 19:2) The message of the word vayikra is a loving relationship infused with both awe and humility is the foundation of holiness.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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