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Parashat Vayikra / Pekudei

Dedicated Leilui Nishmat Nissim ben Mazal and

 Rachel bat Zakiya

Parashat Vayikra / Purim

The Small Alef

This week’s parasha is Vayikra, the first parasha in the third book of the Chumash. It begins with the passuk, “Vayikra—He called to Moshe, and G-d spoke to him.” The word vayikra is written in the Torah with a small alef. The Baal Haturim explained that because of his profound humility, Moshe would have instead left out the alef so that the Torah would say vayikar, which means “He [Hashem] happened upon him.” This is a more deprecating term. 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 Twerski quoted Rav Yitzchak of Vorki, who said that sometimes a person might belittle himself and act humbly 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 had shown off his humility in front of everyone, he’d 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 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. Some very bright people don’t learn much because they think that they already know everything. We must understand 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, we must be truly humble in the eyes of Hashem, and only then will we gain the knowledge of Hashem’s holy Torah.

The Essence of Vayikra

Rabbi Mansour explains how the small alef is the essence of the entire Parashat Vayikra. Whenever a Jew sins, 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 to bring Him back. But much like a person leaving a dark room needs time to adjust to the light, B’nei Yisrael could not receive the Divine Presence all at once. After falling so low from the sin of the golden calf, 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 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 allows us to return and repair our relationship with Him. He even ensures that the process will unfold at the right pace, step-by-step, so it will be effective.

Our Kind of Korban

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 Hashem instructed the Jews to bring to the Bet Hamikdash. We don’t have a Bet Hamikdash today, and until Mashiach rebuilds it, we must remain without one. Therefore, we won’t be able to bring sacrifices to be a Kiddush Hashem--sanctify Hashem’s name until that time.

The following story is related by R’ Eliyohu Meir Schmeltzer. I was speaking with a young man who worked in a Yeshiva, and he told me that he was very uncomfortable that there were so many women intervention experts walking down the same hallways as him. I commended him for feeling bothered, and I shared with him a story.

After I got married, I moved to Eretz Yisroel in 1986. A friend of mine, R’ Yerachmiel Toker’s toddler was playing on the porch. He got caught in a clothesline and lost consciousness. He was immediately administered CPR and rushed to the hospital. The child’s chance of survival was minimal, so they induced him into a coma for three days to reevaluate afterward. His mother, in tears, ran to many schools to beg them all to say Tehillim in the merit of her son’s recovery.

That evening R’ Yerachmiel Toker received a phone call from a holy colleague of his. His friend told him that last night he had a dream. In his dream, there were three judges in Heaven with two containers in front of them. One labeled “Life,” and one labeled “Death.” The judges were putting little pieces of paper, each containing names of different people on it, into either one of the containers. The name of the child in the coma appeared on one of the papers, and they were about to place him in the container labeled “Death,” when suddenly a blue pair of scissors came out of nowhere and sliced it into shreds. Then, he woke up.

R' Yerachmiel said, “Thank you for telling me that. If only that will happen.” In his head, he knew that dreams were usually insignificant. He came home and related the dream to his wife. She gasped and said, “The blue scissors! Just yesterday, in the merit of our son, I took it upon myself not to hand to or receive something directly from the hands of a man. When I went to get my blue sewing scissors sharpened, the man, as usual, reached out his hand to take it from me. I left his hand hanging midair, and uncomfortably I put the scissors down on the table. He took it. Those blue scissors are what will save our son!” The very next day, the child was perfectly healthy.

I turned to the young man who came to me and asked him to make a kabbalah for the area of tzniut, perhaps that would help him in some way. Two weeks later, he returned and told me he was mekabel on himself to walk with his head down in a certain area of the hallway. He described how two weeks earlier he had been going through serious financial difficulties. After two weeks, out of nowhere, he became eligible for a program and received a check for $10,000!

Many people think that making a Kiddush Hashem must be a big spectacle in front of gentiles, but it’s not. A vast personal sacrifice could be when someone stops eating out in nonkosher restaurants. It may be a sacrifice of his social life with friends of many years. Or another big sacrifice could be a woman who starts to wear skirts or cover her hair No one will compliment you for your sacrifice, so you will be doing it for the right reasons. By sanctifying G-d’s name we can see immense rewards in this world, and an even greater reward in The World to Come! In the times of Moshiach, it will be crystal clear to everyone that Hashem is the one true G-d, and that will be the ultimate Kiddush Hashem!

Change is Possible

Hashem gives every one of us opportunities to grow. We must first recognize an opportunity when we encounter it and then have the courage to take advantage and embrace it. Making these changes is probably one of the hardest things we can do because we may risk leaving behind lifelong friends who are not following on the same path as we are. However, suppose the changes occur at an unhurried pace and with long-term growth in mind. In that case, those changes will elevate life to one filled with Torah values that will bring much beracha and a valuable legacy for many generations to come!

As I experienced my own growth over my lifetime, I witnessed many mainstream families decide to become baalei teshuvah. This transformation meant leaving several of our old ways behind us and adopting new habits like learning Torah, which led us to tremendous personal development in mitzvot and maasim tovim.

There is a story about a group of young boys who lived in our community about fifty years ago. These boys, all in their late teens, were passionate about basketball, playing in the park a few times a week.

One day after a game, a boy asked his friend to help raise money for a new yeshivah that his rabbi had opened. The friend agreed, and over the next few weeks, the two teenagers raised hundreds of dollars for the rabbi’s yeshivah. The rabbi was so impressed that he asked to meet the second boy who aided his fundraising. At first, the boy was reluctant and shy, but then he agreed to meet with him. When they met, the teen was very inspired by the rabbi and decided to try to learn with his friend at the rabbi’s new yeshivah. The other boys in their group didn’t follow them, but as time passed, these two boys continued to learn and grow in Torah. These two boys grew to be leading Rabbis in our community. Hashem gave them an opportunity to grow, and they seized it. For the past forty-plus years, they have been spreading Torah throughout our community through their yeshivot and kollelim.

If you haven’t guessed by now, the boys who raised the money are none other than Rabbi Shlomo Diamond, Rabbi of the Sephardic Torah Center Kollel in Long Branch and Ilan High School, and Rabbi Hillel Haber, Rosh Yeshivah of Shaare Torah. Because they were willing to grow without worrying about sacrificing their social lives, they helped countless families grow to great spiritual heights and completely changed our community, baruch Hashem!

May we all aspire to be humble like Moshe. May we all realize that while the sacrifices we make for Hashem and Torah can sometimes be very difficult, Hashem hand-picked these tests and challenges for us to triumph over and grow stronger in our devotion to Him.

The True Joy of Purim

Purim is one of the most joyous days of the year, and as kids we learn that that is because of the great miracle that Hashem did for Bnei Yisroel. While that is true and a major part of our celebration, there is a deeper meaning behind the joy of that day.

The Gemara in Masechet Shabbat explains that during the time of the Purim miracle Bnei Yisroel reaffirmed their acceptance of the Torah. The first time they accepted the Torah, Rashi says that Hashem held a mountain over their heads and threatened to destroy them if they did not accept. This time, Bnei Yisroel accepted the Torah out of love without coercion.

Pirkei Avot says, “Mitzvah goreret mitzvah—one mitzvah causes another.” The question arises, is that always true? Unfortunately, many of us know great Torah observers who became irreligious. The Ba’al Shem Tov explains that “Mitzvah goreret mitzvah,” refers to when the mitzvah is done with excitement. The special joy of Purim is the joy of mitzvot because that’s the commemorated day when Klal Yisroel renewed their acceptance out of a place of joy and enthusiasm. Let us continue this process and continue to grow and stretch ourselves to do the mitzvot for Hashem like Bnei Yisroel on Purim many years ago.

Not so Natural

This Motzei Shabbat and Sunday morning we will be listening to the reading of Megillat Esther. If you listen closely, you will notice that the name of G-d is not mentioned once! We do not see Hashem mentioned when the Jews cry out to save them from Haman’s wicked decrees and not a “Baruch Hashem—blessed is Hashem” when the war is won.

The Kedushat Levi explains that during the story of Purim, Hashem’s presence was concealed and hidden. It was not clear to see that all the politics and decrees were all carefully orchestrated and a part of the Will of Hashem. That is why Hashem’s name can’t be found. However, if you look closely, you may be able to find abbreviations and acronyms hinting to Hashem’s presence in the Megillah. For example, “Yavoh Hamelech V’haman Hayom—the King and Haman came that day,” the first letters of each of the words spell out the name of Hashem.

Hashem’s presence during the Purim story was hard to see because He purposely disguised Himself in nature. This Yom Tov—holiday teaches us that Hashem doesn’t hide behind nature; Hashem is nature itself. During the times of galut—exile it is so hard to see Hashem amongst our busy lives. The Megillah teaches us that while Hashem’s presence may seem hidden to us, He can be found if we look deeply into nature and “coincidences,” because Hashem is actively creating nature. May we all merit to clearly see Hashem’s Presence and Glory in the times of Mashiach soon!

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Amram Sananes, written by Jack Rahmey

Discussion Point:

What are some sacrifices others have made for us?

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Le’ilui Nishmat…

Eliyahu Ben Rachel

Rabbi Shimon Chay Ben Yaasher

Avraham Ben Garaz

Sarah Bat Chanah

Esther Bat Sarah

Avraham Ben Mazal

Shulamit Bat Helaina

Rabbi Meyer Ben Chana

Rahamim Ben Mazal

Batsheva Bat Sarah Esther

Rafael Ben Miriam

Ovadia Ben Esther

Rav Haim Ben Rivka

Moshe Ben Mazal

Moshe Ben Yael

Yitzchak Ben Adele

Avraham Ben Mazal

Meir Ben Latifa

Chanah Bat Esther

Yaakov Ben Rachel

Malka Bat Garaz

Moshe Ben Garaz

Avraham Ben Kami

Yaakov Ben Leah

Mordechai Ben Rachel

Chacham Shaul Rachamim Ben Mazal

Natan Ben Rachel

Saadia Ben Miriam

Eliyah Ben Latifa Simhon

Margalit Bat Mazal

Ovadia Haim Ben Malaky

Rabbi Aharon Chaim Ben Ruchama

Luratte Bat Masouda

Esther Bat Menucha

Uri Ben Rahel

Rivka Bat Dona

Shalom Ben Zahra

Rachel Bat Sarah

Refuah Shelemah…

Rachel Bat Devorah

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