Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig
e-mail yosilr@juno.com

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Parsha Vayikra

The Rabbi's instituted four special readings in the period prior to Passover, to remind our nation in exile of the centrality of Jerusalem and the glory of its former Temple and also to remind us of the upcoming Passover season. The first special reading is called Parshat Shekalim (Shemot [Exodus] 30:11-16 - the portion of the Shekels) which reminds us that a national census was taken at the beginning of the month of Nisan, when each male over the age of 20 would contribute one half shekel of silver to the Temple coffers for daily offerings on behalf of the nation. The second reading is called Parshat Zachor (Devarim [Deuteronomy] 25:17-19 - the portion of the remembering) when we remember the attack by Amalek against the weary and feeble of our nation after we left Egypt. The third reading is called Parshat Para (Vayikra 19:1-22 - the portion of the Red Heifer) which reminds us that in order to enter the Temple area to slaughter the Pascal sacrifice, one who was contaminated by contact with the dead, could undergo a ritual of purification using the ashes of the red heifer. And finally, the last portion called Parshat HaChodesh (Shemot 12:1-20 - the portion of the Moon) reminds us of our unique Jewish calendar that was commanded to us prior to our exodus from Egypt.

This year, Parshat HaChodesh coincides with Rosh Chodesh (the new month of) Nisan and we have a very special Torah reading in the synagogue. Instead of two Torahs being read for our weekly Parsha and for Rosh Chodesh, the additional reading for Parshat HaChodesh means that three Torahs will be used this Shabbat. Six Aliyot (six people are honored with the readings) are read from the first Sefer Torah (Torah Scroll), a second Torah is then placed on the Bima and the seventh Aliyah is read from the portion commanding the bringing of a special offering in the Temple (honoring the holiness of the New Moon - Vayikra 28:9-15). The third Torah is then brought up for Maftir (the concluding reading), for Shabbat HaChodesh (Shemot 12:1-20). The use of three Torahs on Shabbat is highly unusual, if you don't often attend Shabbat Services, check it out.

One of the main purposes of Torah observance is to make a "Mensch" (a proper person) out of the individual. This concept finds no better source than the opening word of our Parsha. Before we look at this revelation, one must first understand that each letter in the Torah must be precisely transcribed. A Sefer Torah (a Torah scroll) that has any error; a chipped letter, a letter that touches another letter, or a letter that is written out of proportion, renders the Sefer Torah Pasul (invalid). Each letter has its own exact form and any deviation is unacceptable. Yet, we find that the opening word of our Parsha and the Book of Vayikra has an undersized Aleph:

"VAYIKRa - And He [Hashem] called [to Moshe]..."

When a letter is written according to tradition and its size is of a different length than usual, we know that a message is being sent to us, from the author of the message (see the "Vortify for last year - 980328).

In the last letter of the Hebrew word "VAYIKRa" the final letter Aleph is condensed (this phenomenon does not appear in the translated versions of the Torah, rather, it is unique to the Hebrew text alone).

Our commentators give various meanings to the condensed Aleph.

Rashi (acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, France [1040 - 1105]) comments that the small Aleph signifies Moshe's humility. Rashi contends that the word Vayikra is actually a term of endearment. Whenever Hashem would call out to Moshe He would say, "Moshe, Moshe." To which Moshe responded, "Hineini (here I am)." "Hashem's call to Moshe was as a friend calling another friend. As it says in Isaiah 6:3, 'And they [the angels} called out to one another and said; 'Holy, Holy, Holy, is the L-rd of Hosts.' " Rashi continues and says: "But [when Hashem called out to] the gentile prophets He revealed Himself to them in a less formal manner as it says in Bamidbar (Numbers) 23:4 [when Hashem called out to the Prophet Bilam] 'Vayakar (without the Aleph) And the L-rd chanced upon Bilam.' "

Both Vayakar and Vayikra are terms used to summon prophets by Hashem, but Vayikra has a special degree of friendship attached to it. So why the small Aleph in VAYIKRa?

The Midrash teaches us that Moshe was so humble and unassuming that he did not want there to be a differentiation between him and other prophets. Moshe wanted to leave out the letter Aleph from VAYIKRa which would infer that Hashem just chanced upon him as he did other prophets. But Hashem, who dictated the Torah to Moshe, refused to allow this change in editing to His text. However, He did allow the letter Aleph to appear small, to teach us this lesson in humility and other lessons as well.

Another understanding of the small Aleph comes from the Meam Loez (a monumental Ladino commentary on the entire Torah begun by Rabbi Ya'akov Culi of Constantinople - 1689-1732) that reminds us that the Tabernacle had just been built and entry into it by non-priests was forbidden. He writes:

"The verse also comes to teach us the submissiveness of Moshe our teacher. For even though he had permission to enter the Tabernacle at any hour [any time] that he desired, Moshe didn't want to enter this first time after the Tabernacle was built until Hashem called upon him and invited him to enter. Because "Dereck Eretz Kadma La Torah (proper conduct [respect for others] precedes even Torah. For the verse (B'rayshit [Genesis] 3:24) says: '...to guard the way to the Tree of Life,' which is to say, that Hashem commanded Adam first to show proper conduct (respect) and then to watch over the Tree of Life (which is symbolic of the Torah itself)... For it is not enough that a person is just knowledgeable, he must also be cultured and refined... Therefore the Torah informs us that even though Moshe our teacher had permission to enter, he did not enter until he was called."

The Meam Loez stresses that the small Aleph not only teaches us about Moshe's humility but also that proper conduct is expected from even the greatest of our sages. This might be the source of the Mishna in the Ethics of Our Fathers that reads: "Where there is no Torah, there is no proper conduct; and where there is no proper conduct there is no Torah." (Avot 3:21)

Commenting on this Mishna, the Ga'on from Vilna (Rabbi Eliyahu ben Shlomo Zalman, 1720-1797) writes:

"The individual's entire service of Hashem is contingent upon the perfection of his character traits, which are like a garment enveloping the Mitzvot and the principals of the Torah."

The virtues of humility and a refined personality as well as so much more is learned from an undersized Aleph in only one word, can you imagine the wisdom that can be derived from a whole word?

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