Parshat Vayikra

Torah Reading for Week of March 11-17, 2018

By Rabbi/Cantor Eva Robbins, ’04 & ’15

The views expressed in this drash are those of the author. We welcome Torah insights and teachings from all viewpoints, and encourage dialogue to strengthen the diversity of our academy.

As we now come to the next book, literally the centerpiece of TorahVayikra (Leviticus), which many Jews find most challenging to relate to, it opens with the name itself, the word “Vayikra,” “And He (God) called.” Directed to Moshe, the ‘call,’ once again, is a deja vu moment, reminiscent of his very first communication with HaShem at the burning bush, “And God called out to him from amid the bush.” (Exodus 2:4)

In both of these instances, though the spelling is the same, there is a seemingly slight difference. At the bush the word ends with a normal size aleph but now, at the Tent of Meeting, we have an unusual ending, a half-size aleph. Our ‘larger’ aleph is part of the call that is louder and meant to get Moses’ attention. It is heard coming out of the flames, the unrestrained, blazing fire that burns brightly yet doesn’t consume its vessel, the small, scrawny bush. It calls at a time when pain and suffering are itself ‘calling out;’ the Israelite slaves’ moans and cries are finally reaching the ears of HaShem.

At the Tent of Meeting, a very different container than the bush, our ‘smaller’ aleph calls; this time a quieter, more subtle request, that even the rabbis point out “did not penetrate beyond the wall of the Temple’s courtyard.” The “still small voice,” meant only for Moshe, comes from a structured place with defined furnishings and deep purpose; the meeting place for God and the people in order to draw close to the Holy One through the sacrificial offerings. The sages also teach quoting, “The humble in spirit will retain honor” (Proverbs 29:23), that the small aleph was a sign of Moses’ humility, perhaps knowing that his brother, Aaron, was truly the central figure in this work, of all that needed to now be accomplished, overseeing the sacrificial cult.

Where the first “vayikra” at the bush is to get Moses’ ‘attention,’ this second “vayikra” is about Moses’ giving ‘direction;’ the first vayikra was a call ‘to go,’ assist God to accomplish a task, while the second vayikra is a call ‘to speak’ and direct others in accomplishing their own task. After receiving Torah, with its laws and commandments, this book, Vayikra, concretizes how to accomplish what it is God expects. At the bush Moshe meets the God named “Eheyeh Asher Eheyeh,” a name meaning, “I will be that which I will be,” which begins with the letter aleph. At the Tent of Meeting, Moshe speaks for the God named “YudHayVavHay,’ the name hidden within the letter aleph. How so?

If we take a deeper look at this letter something else is being communicated. Aleph, the first letter of the aleph-bet, represents the number one and is silent. And yet when we take it apart we see that it is composed of other letters, two yuds and a vav. Like most Hebrew letters it is made of other Hebrew letters. As a result, it has another numerical value; two yuds, each representing the number ten and one vav, which represents the number six now equals the number twenty-six. This is also the value of the Holy name of God, “Yud-Hay-Vav-Hay.” We not only see the hidden meaning of the letter, but we also see the hidden meaning of the book itself; the offerings and the laws become a doorway to drawing close and connecting to the Holy One.

The secret buried in this letter opens a pathway through the power of its silence to an awareness of the Divine. It is the ‘call’ inward, to the vacated space full of presence, just like the space above the ark between the two cherubim in the Holy of Holies. In the symbolism of this letter we are reminded of the purpose of the Mishkan, and, the message to each of the Israelites; come closer to HaShem.

The opening word, “Vayikra,” with this small letter of hidden meaning, is God’s tiny whisper to Moshe of his ‘calling,’ to direct and support Aaron, his brother the Priest, and the people, towards ritual and morality, the essence of what this book is about. Yes, the ancient rituals are hard for moderns to understand, but it helps to teach that they continue, long after the Mishkan and the Holy Temple are gone, through our prayers and the study of Torah, the ‘call’ to each one of us when we hear the word “Vayikra.”