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

“If your offering is a grain offering in a pan, it shall be made of choice flour in oil.”  (Leviticus 2:7)

A Sefer Torah, or Torah scroll, is written without any punctuation or markings for sentences, paragraphs, or chapters.  So it’s a bit surprising to encounter several lines of blank space between the end of Sefer Sh’mot and Sefer Vayikra (Exodus and Leviticus, respectively; similar gaps separate the other books as well).  Why is it there?


Rashi (1040-1105; the pre-eminent Jewish commentator) asks the same question and finds an answer in Parashat Vayikra’s opening verse:  “Vayikra, He called to Moses, and Adonai spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying.” (Lev. 1:1) Rashi explains:  calling indicates a new topic for revelation while speaking represents a continuation.  Rashi wonders if God calls to Moses even between revelations and decides no.  This makes the gap between Sh’mot and Vayikra Moses’ study hall, a space to reflect upon what he has just learned (all the laws of the mishkan, or Sanctuary) before turning to new material (the laws of sacrifice).


Rashi builds on the rabbinic claim the Torah was written with black fire on white fire at Sinai (Jerusalem Talmud Sh’lamim 6:1).  The letters of the Sefer Torah (which are black and which we see, easily) are the black fire.  The parchment of the Sefer Torah (which surrounds the black letters and which we generally don’t attend to) is the white fire, the “letters” we must work to see.  They possess a hidden, higher meaning than the black letters.  Now the extended (white) space between the parashot represents Moses’ higher-level and mystical contemplation.  The black letters represents the transformation of abstract thought into concrete language.  In the rabbinic mind, the Sefer Torah itself teaches.


Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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