Parashat Vayikra

The Fine Distinction Between Loving and Casual Relationships

The small aleph in the opening word of Vayikra alerts us to the subtle but significant differences between intentional, loving relationships with God, and accidental, casual ones.

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Provided by the Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel, a summer seminar in Israel that aims to create a multi-denominational cadre of young Jewish leaders.

Last week, we completed the Book of Exodus, with a description of the construction of the Tabernacle. This week, we begin the Book of Vayikra (Leviticus). This book begins where Exodus left off--the Tabernacle, having been built, now contains the presence of God. As we discussed a few weeks ago, this situation, according to Nachmanides, is a replication of the situation at Mount Sinai, in which God is palpably ‘there,’ and communicates his commandments to man.

After the Tabernacle

It is therefore appropriate that the first thing that happens after the Tabernacle is up and running is that God speaks to Moses--“And He called to Moses, and God spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying.” What God then says to Moses is the beginning of the next major section of the Torah--the basic laws of sacrifices, the daily ritual which was to take place in the just-built Tabernacle, as well as a large number of other ritual laws pertaining to the Tabernacle, and to life beyond the Tabernacle.

The first verse, quoted above, presents a number of difficulties. The opening phrase, "Vayikra el Moshe"--“And He called to Moses,” seems to be without any specific content. The real message apparently begins with the second half of the verse: “…and God spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying.” Why doesn’t the verse simply begin there, “and God spoke to him…” rather than with some unspecified “call” from God to Moses? What is the nature, content, and purpose of this call?

An additional issue is the fact that, in our traditional Torah scrolls, the last letter of the first word, the aleph at the end of Vayikra, is written much smaller than all the other letters. This is one of a number of letters in the Torah that we traditionally write smaller, or larger, than the others. Why does the tradition demand of us to write it this way? What is the significance of the small aleph?

Rashi attempts to answer our first question--why does the book begin with this apparently content-less calling of Moses by God--with the following explanation: "'Vayikra el Moshe--and He called to Moses:’ All the words and communications and commandments were prefaced by a call, an expression of affection…but to the prophets of the non-Jewish nations God reveals Himself with an expression of happenstance, an expression of impurity, as it is written: ‘and God happened upon Balaam’ (Numbers, 23,4).” In Hebrew, this is "vayikar Elohim el Balaam." The word for "happened upon"--vayikar--is just one letter different from the word for "called to"--vayikra.

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Rabbi Shimon Felix

Rabbi Shimon Felix is the Israel Director of the Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel. He lives with his family in Jerusalem, and has taught in a wide variety of educational frameworks in Israel and abroad.