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by Jacob Solomon


He called to Moses… (1:1).

The first word in Leviticus ends in a small letter aleph: ‘vayikra’ – He called. Without that small aleph, the word would read ‘vayikar’ – He met in a casual way. This latter word comes from ‘mikreh’, meaning casually, by chance. It is used to describe the manner in which G-d met Bilaam (Num. 23:16). This implies that while G-d had a reason to speak to Bilaam, He did so out of necessity, not out of love. The Baal Haturim suggests that in his humility, Moses wished to describe G-d’s call to him with the same less complimentary term that He used for Bilaam. G-d, however, instructed him to include the aleph as an expression of His love for him. As Moses was too humble to do so with a full heart, a small aleph was used.

The problem with this explanation is that the only other occasion where G-d ‘called to Moses’ with the word ‘vayikra’ in the text, was at the Revelation at Mount Sinai. Here he was called to ascend the mountain for a forty-day period to be instructed in the Torah, so that he could in turn teach it to the Israelites. On that occasion ‘vayikra’ is written out in full, without the small aleph. Why is the aleph not written in the same way both times?

One possible approach would be to consider the different contexts of the ‘calls’. In the case of our Parasha, which describes the nature and laws of the korbannot (sacrifices) there was every reason to show humility. As R. Samson Raphael Hirsch notes, the word korban comes from the word ‘karov’, meaning ‘near”. The act of returning to the Almighty an item He has created for Mankind’s use in the form of an offering is a means of personally bringing oneself nearer to the Creator. This is in itself an act of submission, humility, and recognition that we are dependent on His generosity for our welfare. So the small aleph fits in.

However Moses was not only a servant of G-d, but he was also the spiritual leader of the Israelites. Like Saul after him, even if Moses was small in his own eyes, he was the head of the tribes of Israel (c.f. Sam. I-15:17) in both the material and spiritual realms. This was no place for personal modesty. Indeed, G-d had made that point clear to him in the events leading up to the Revelation – in saying that He would come to you in the thickness of the cloud so that the people would… also believe in you (Ex. 19:9). For The Giving of the Torah to have its maximum impact it was essential for Moses to be seen to play a central role – in order to establish his credibility as G-d’s emissary. Moses could not to downgrade himself – by doing so he would be compromising his function as the ‘Head of the Tribes of Israel’.

We may learn from here that humility must be disciplined. It is in place in our private relationship with the Almighty. However there are times when a degree of pride and self-respect must be shown – not only in public service, but also in the need for assertive rather than submissive behavior, in for example, bringing up children and situations at work.

Any meal offering that you offer to G-d shall not be prepared leavened. For no leaven or honey may be offered as a meal offering for G-d (2:11).

What is objectionable about leaven and honey? Why are they any worse than the prescribed ingredients of the mincha – meal offerings, such as flour, oil, and frankincense?

One suggestion involves considering the symbolism of the components of the korbannot, and indeed the very nature of the korbannot themselves. As R. Hirsch points out, ancient idolaters believed that sacrifices were needed to appease the anger of judgmental and bloodthirsty gods. This contrasts with the fact that throughout the laws of offerings, G-d is referred to as Hashem (the merciful G-d) and not Elokim (the Attribute of Justice). The Torah teaches us that the offerings are a means to draw closer to G-d – the Merciful G-d.

At the same time there is a commandment to walk in His ways (Deut. 28:9), which is explained by Rashi (to Deut. 11:22) as meaning that one must show mercy to others like He shows mercy, and be generous as He is generous. One should bring korbannot that symbolize His ways and, by extension, the conduct of ways of which He approves.

Thus, as Hirsch points out, the main components of the Korban Mincha – the flour, oil, and frankincense (2:2) represent positive middot. The flour – from wheat – is the staple of the human diet. So the grain offering represents Hakarat Hatov – gratefulness, as well as the person’s acknowledgement that his life is in the hands of G-d. The oil signifies comfort and the frankincense denotes joy and satisfaction. By means of his offering, the owner demonstrates that these too are berachot (blessings) granted by G-d only.

However the Chinuch points out that leaven and honey have negative connotations. Man should not be sluggish, as represented by the slow leavening process of the dough. Nor should he be obsessed with the pursuit of pleasures, as symbolized by the honey.

Many thanks to Rabbi David Wapner of Beth Shemesh for helping me with ideas for the first D’var Torah above, and also for his numerous suggestions and words of encouragement on many occasions.


This is based on a D’var Torah from my Father, Harav Norman Solomon.

One Day is Enough for Amalek

According to many authorities the public reading of Parashat Zakhor from a properly written sefer is a mitzva d’oraita (Tosafot Berakhot 13a). It is the only occasion in the year when reading the Torah in public has this status. Although "remember" in English, or "zakhor" in ordinary Hebrew, just means "don’t forget", in Biblical Hebrew it denotes positively bringing to mind and expressing something (Sifra B’hukotai 26a). By reading Parashat Zakhor from the Torah once a year, we "remember Amalek".

But it is certainly not the only mitzva d’oraita that requires us to remember something. Many of the larger Siddurim include the shesh zekhirot after Shacharit. Of these six things the Torah instructs us to remember, Amalek’s attack is just one. How do these six "rememberings" relate to one another, and what is their place amongst the 613 mitzvot? Let us review them, noting that all except one occur in Devarim. The exception is "remember the Sabbath" in the Ten Commandments, which has the word "zakhor" in the Shemot version but substitutes "shamor" when repeated in the Book of Devarim.

"So that you should remember the day you came out of Egypt all the days of your life" (Devarim 16:3). Most people know the debate between Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah and the Sages (Mishna Berakhot 1:4, cited in the Haggada shel Pesach). This is whether the duty to remember - that is, mention - the Exodus applies both day and night; or nowadays and when the Messiah comes. Ben Zoma tilted the scales in favor of Eleazar ben Azariah’s view, and that is why we read the third paragraph of Shema at night. Surprisingly, the Rambam (1138-1204) does not count this "remember" amongst the 613 mitzvot. Evidently, he does not see it as a mitzva in its own right, but as the objective to be achieved by observing the Pesach laws. The Tosafist Rabbi Isaac of Corbeil, however (the Sefer Mitzvot Katan, - thirteenth century France), does number it amongst the 613.

"So be careful and guard yourselves well, so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen and that they do not depart from your mind as long as you live; but you shall teach them to your children and your children’s children ... the day you stood ... at Horeb" (Devarim 4:9). That is, we should always remember the Revelation at Mount Sinai. The Rambam omits this from the 613 commandments, but the Ramban (1194-1270) includes it. The Sefer Mitzvot Gadol, by Rabbi Moses of Coucy, thirteenth century France takes the words "[be careful that] they [do not] depart from your mind" as a prohibition of neglect of Torah. He also claims that it was revealed to him in a dream that "Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God" (Devarim 8:11) was to be counted amongst the 613 as a prohibition against pride! The Ramban interprets the same phrase as a prohibition against atheism, skepticism, and belief in the eternity of the Universe.

"Remember what Amalek did to you … Do not forget" (Devarim 25:17-19) is our Parashat Zakhor, numbered by everyone amongst the 613. "Remember, do not forget, how you provoked the Lord your God to anger in the desert" (Devarim 9:7) does not figure in the lists considered here (there are, of course, several others).

"Remember what the Lord your God did to Miriam on the journey when you left Egypt" (Devarim 24:9). This is not listed by the Rambam, but the Ramban adds it in his critique of the Rambam’s list. The general Rabbinic interpretation is that it is a prohibition against lashon hara. Since this was Miriam’s failing we remember what happened so that we should avoid falling into the same sin (Sifra B’hukotai 26a)

"Remember the Sabbath day to make it holy" (Shemot 20:9). The Rambam does not define this mitzva to remember, but to sanctify.

Several interesting things emerge from this survey. So far as the Rambam is concerned, it is clear that in general he does not see remembering as a primary task, but as the objective or consequence of performance of the mitzvot. Only in the case of Amalek is "remember" a mitzva in itself.

And there is a significant Halakhic result from the survey. Halakha, in effect, limits the remembrance of Amalek to an annual reading. The other "remembrances" are always appropriate; the Exodus should be thought of at least daily, one should always be mindful of Sinai, of the danger of getting caught up in gossip and slander (lashon ha-ra), and one should constantly be aware of Shabbat as the focal point of the week. But evidently one’s life should not be unduly occupied with thoughts of Amalek - once a year suffices! There is surely a lesson in this for those who make the Shoah the focus of their Judaism. Of course the Shoah must be remembered, and the lessons learned. But to dwell on it constantly is destructive, undermining both Jewish self-respect and the balanced approach to Torah. TORAH ENCOMPASSES THE SHOAH; THE SHOAH DOES NOT ENCOMPASS THE TORAH. To dwell unduly on tragedy and suffering destroys, but to dwell on Torah builds and enriches. Therefore, Torah directs us to limit our mourning but not to limit our spiritual growth.

One day is enough for Amalek!



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