Dedicated Leilui Nishmat Chanah bat Leah, Arlene Tebele Braha A’h by Her Son Ames Tebele and Family
Parashat Vayikra The Small Alef This week’s parasha is Vayikra, the first parasha in the third book of the Chumash. It begins with the passuk, “He called (vayikra) to Moshe, and G-d spoke to him.” The word vayikra is written in the Torah with a small alef. The Baal Ha Turim explained that because of his profound humility, Moshe would have rather left out the alef, so that the Torah would say vayikar, which means “He (Hashem) happened upon him.” This is a more deprecating term, like the one used when Hashem spoke to Bilaam. The commentaries note that at Har Sinai Hashem called Moshe several times. There, the word Vayikra appears without the small alef. Why are they different? Rabbi Twersky quotes Rav Yitzhak of Vorki, who says that sometimes a person may belittle himself and act humbly when he is in public. This is actually vanity, not humility, because he is trying to give others the impression that he’s humble. When Hashem called out to Moshe at Sinai, it was in the presence of all Klal Yisrael. If Moshe would have shown off his humility in front of everyone, he would have been flaunting his humility, which is an act of vanity. However, in this week’s parasha when Moshe was called to the ohel mo’ed, only Moshe heard the call from Hashem. Here, the small alef shows that Moshe’s the expression of humility was genuine and sincere. Another reason for the small alef is that the word alef means “learning.” The message of the small alef is that we can only learn when we are humble, for vanity is the opposite of learning. There are some very bright people who don’t learn much because they think that they already know everything. We must know that the Torah was given on the lowest mountain to the humblest of all men, Moshe Rabbenu. This was to teach us that to learn Torah (Hashem’s word), we have to be truly humble in the eyes of Hashem, and only in that way will we gain the true knowledge of Hashem’s holy Torah. The Essence of Vayikra Rabbi Mansour brings down another reason for the small alef and he explains how the alef is the essence of the entire Parashat Vayikra. Any time a Jew commits a sin, he drives the Divine Presence from his soul. Teshuvah—repentance means making oneself worthy of being a repository for the Shechina once again. After the sin of the golden calf, G-d’s presence left B’nei Yisrael, and they needed to build the Mishkan in order to bring Him back. But much like a person leaving a dark room needs time to adjust to light, B’nei Yisrael could not receive the divine presence all at once. After falling so low after the sin of the golden calf, the process of the Shechina’s return had to proceed slowly for B’nei Yisrael to withstand the drastic transition. The Tasher Rebbe of Montreal explained that this is the symbolism underlying the small alef at the beginning of Sefer Vayikra. Moshe Rabbenu was at the highest level of kedusha attainable by a human being. G-d instructed Moshe that to bring B’nei Yisrael back to where they needed to be, he would have to lower himself, so the spiritual light he radiated would be smaller after the darkness of the golden calf. G-d then appeared to Moshe on a lower level of prophecy, symbolized by the small alef. Rashi writes that the word vayikra is a lashon hiba – a term that implies affection. The entire concept of Parashat Vayikra, G-d’s willingness to restore His Shechina among B’nei Yisrael in the Mishkan, is a great act of love. The Jewish Nation betrayed Hashem in the worst way, worshipping a foreign deity just weeks after receiving the Torah, and yet He was still prepared to return to them. He always gives us the opportunity to return and repair our relationship with Him. And He even ensures that the process will unfold at the right pace, step by step, so that it will be effective. Our Sacrifices Vayikra begins the third book of the Chumash, the five books of Moshe Rabbenu. The first two books concern the beginning of the world and the building of the Jewish Nation. The book of Vayikra now turns to the sacrifices that Hashem instructed the Israelites to bring to the Bet Hamikdash. We don’t have a Bet Hamikdash today, and until Mashiah rebuilds it, we must remain without one. Therefore, we won’t be able bring sacrifices until that time. However, we have been making other types of sacrifices in a different way since losing our Holy Temple. The Jewish people have been making sacrifices for centuries: They’ve sacrificed their homes, their livelihoods, and even their lives for the sake of Hashem and for the Torah. In Midrash Rabba our Sages tell us that Hashem says, “Listen to Me, because nobody ever loses by listening to Me.” A person is constantly faced with decisions. He can either choose to do what Hashem wants, or he can disobey Hashem and choose what appears to provide a bigger, short-term gain. Following Hashem is always a win-win. It may not always seem that way, but at some point, later, the gain will become not only be apparent, but extremely obvious. Today we don't have korbanot—burnt offerings to give on an alter as we did in the days of the Kohen Gadol and the Bet Hamikdash but we do have other kinds of sacrifices. We all make sacrifices today for our family and friends. We work and sacrifice to give our children a good education and healthy upbringing. For our elderly parents, we sacrifice our time when they need us to help care for them. For our spouse, we sacrifice in many ways to build a home together. Then there are personal sacrifices. For instance, a big, personal sacrifice could be when someone decides to stop eating out in unkosher restaurants. It may be a sacrifice of a social life with friends of many years. Or another big sacrifice could be a woman who starts to wear skirts or cover her hair. Once a person makes a commitment like that, it’s difficult to stick to. Making any of these sacrifices comes with a lot of hesitation and fear. It’s important that when we make a sacrifice, personal or otherwise, that we commit and stick to it to continue to grow. Rabbi Diamond once said, “Commitments are like a pot of water on the fire. Just as it’s about to boil, it gets taken off the fire. When it goes back on the fire, it has to heat up again to reach a boil.” We must make sure to keep the fire burning inside of us if we want to continue to grow from one level to the next. We should never be afraid of growing, because although it may seem like a sacrifice, in hindsight we will see how much it makes sense. It’s important to understand that the sacrifices Hashem asks, are not just OF us, but FOR us. Hashem doesn’t need our connection, yet He wants us to grow closer to Him for our benefit. Everything He asks us to do is only for us! Hashem is perfect and Omnipotent and needs nothing from us, but we need everything from Hashem! Hametz and the Yetzer Hara We are approaching Pesach, and the parasha hints to this holiday. Rabbi Frand writes that Vayikra contains the halachot of various sacrifices, including the Korban Minha. The Minha offering is made from flour and oil and although it is baked, it is not allowed to become leavened. Neither seor—leavening agents nor devash—sweetener may be added (2:11). Rabbenu Bechaye brings two reasons for this prohibition. Rambam says in Moreh Nevuchim, the custom of idolaters, when bringing food to their gods, was to specifically add leavening agents and sweeteners. Therefore, the Torah prohibits preparing a flour offering in the same fashion used by the pagans. Rabbenu Bechaye writes his own explanation for this as well. A sacrifice is meant to achieve atonement. Were it not for a person’s evil inclination, the person would never sin and there would be no need for sacrifices. Leaven and sweeteners represent man’s evil inclination. In other words, hametz is symbolic of the yetzer hara; therefore, the offering brought to atone for sin must be free of hametz. When yeast is added to the other ingredients in a challah recipe, the small amount of dough in the mixing bowl suddenly rises, filling the entire bowl and perhaps even overflowing. How does this happen? It’s not magic, it’s the effect of carbon dioxide. The CO2 gas created by the mixture of flour, water, and the leavening agent makes the dough rise. If a person sticks his finger in the middle of the dough after it rises, the dough plops down, falling flat. This is why the seor is like the yetzer hara. The yetzer hara appears to us as an enormous power of huge dimensions. But in reality, it’s all air. If we lightly puncture it, it will collapse. We all have our yetzer haras – sometimes for money, sometimes for honor, sometimes for women. But it is an illusion. We think the yetzer hara is unconquerable, but most of it is fluff. For this reason, the evil inclination is compared to the leavening agent. There was an amazing story told by powerofspeech.org about an eleven-year-old boy from Bet Shemesh who controlled his yetzer hara. One winter, his family went on a trip to Mount Hermon to see the snow, and he brought his pride and joy, his expensive digital camera. The boy, Baruch, had such a passion for photography; he took 567 pictures on the mountain, and he was eager to upload them onto his computer. His little brothers were so excited to see the pictures, and they tried to look at the camera, but Baruch was emphatic that no one could touch it, and they had to wait for him to upload the pictures. On the drive back home, Baruch fell asleep, and his precocious brother turned on the camera, and accidentally deleted all the pictures! Baruch woke up to his siblings panicking in the car, frantically trying to figure out how to get them back. Baruch said, “It’s okay, I’ll be able to access the pictures from the memory card.” Unbeknownst to him, another one of his mischievous, but well-meaning, brothers had somehow gotten ahold of the camera back at Mount Hermon, opened it up, and left the mysterious little memory chip on the snowy parking lot at the bottom of the mountain. To say that Baruch was angry when he found the memory card missing would be an incredible understatement. His anger towered over Mount Hermon, making it seem like an anthill. Before he had a chance to react, his older sister Rivkah asked her father to pull over so she could talk to Baruch. Rivkah was kind, smart, and a role model to all her siblings. She was 27 years old and still waiting for her naseeb. Baruch’s father pulled over, and Rivkah took Baruch for a little walk on the side of the highway. “Baruch,” she said, “I know you must be so frustrated and angry right now. But I once heard that if a person controls his anger, his yetzer hara, even if he’s 100% right, at that moment, he can ask Hashem for anything, and Hashem will look on him favorably.” Baruch took a deep breath and thought of something he wanted. Instantly, he calmed down, and silently wished that in the zechut of controlling his anger, his sister should find her match. He got back in the car the picture of calm, while everyone looked at Rivkah and Baruch in amazement and appreciation. Two weeks later, Baruch’s father received a call from an acquaintance, “Did you lose a memory card on Mount Hermon? An American yeshivah student, Eliezer, found it and started showing the pictures to a few people to see if he could track down the owner to return it, and I spotted your family.” A few days later, Baruch and his father got into their car to drive to Jerusalem to get the memory card from this young man. Eliezer turned out to be just the perfect kind of boy for the wonderful Rivkah, and apparently Hashem agreed. Shortly after, Eliezer and Rivkah got married. The very memory chip that led Eliezer to Rivkah was a message for all of B’nei Yisrael. When we control our anger and our yetzer hara, even when we’re right, miracles will happen, May we all realize that while the sacrifices we make for Hashem and our Torah can sometimes be very difficult, Hashem hand-picked these tests and difficulties for us to triumph over and grow stronger in our devotion to Him. We must know that these tests are ultimately for our benefit! Shabbat Shalom! Rabbi Amram Sananes as written by Jack Rahmey Discussion Points:
What sacrifices have we made for Hashem? What results have we been able to see from our tests and sacrifices as we look back on our lives?
In the first passuk, the word vayikra has a small alef to symbolize Moshe’s genuine humility.
After the sin of the golden calf, G-d’s presence left B’nei Yisrael, and they needed to build the Mishkan in order to bring Him back. But much like a person leaving a dark room needs time to adjust to light, B’nei Yisrael could not receive the divine presence all at once. G-d then appeared to Moshe on a lower level of prophecy, symbolized by the small alef.
The book of Vayikra now turns to the sacrifices that Hashem instructed the Israelites to bring to the Bet Hamikdash. We don’t have a Bet Hamikdash today, but the Jewish people have been making sacrifices for centuries: They’ve sacrificed their homes, their livelihoods, and even their lives for the sake of Hashem.
There are also personal sacrifices we make, like not eating unkosher out, or a woman putting on a skirt or wig.
The Minha offering is made from flour and oil and although it is baked, it is not allowed to become leavened. The custom of idolaters, when bringing food to their gods, was to specifically add leavening agents and sweeteners. Therefore, the Torah prohibits preparing a flour offering in the same fashion used by the pagans.
A sacrifice is meant to achieve atonement. Were it not for a person’s evil inclination, the person would never sin and there would be no need for sacrifices. Leaven and sweeteners represent man’s evil inclination. In other words, hametz is symbolic of the yetzer hara; therefore, the offering brought to atone for sin must be free of hametz.
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