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Parashat Vayikra

Dedicated for a Refuah Shelemah for Rachel bat Sarah, Mrs. Shellie Rahmey, from her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

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, “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 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 Hashem instructed the Israelites 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 until that time.

However, 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 the Torah.

In Midrash Rabba, our sages tell us that Hashem says, “Listen to Me because nobody ever loses by doing so.” A person is constantly faced with decisions. He can either choose to do what Hashem wants or disobey Hashem and choose what appears to provide a more significant, short-term gain. However, 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 apparent but extremely obvious.

Today we don't have korbanot—burnt offerings to give on an altar 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 families and friends. We work and sacrifice to give our children good educations and healthy upbringings. For our elderly parents, we offer our time when they need us to help care for them. We sacrifice many ways to build a peaceful home together for our spouses.

Then there are personal sacrifices. For instance, a vast personal sacrifice could be when someone stops eating out in unkosher 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. Making any of these sacrifices comes with a lot of hesitation and fear. It’s crucial that when we make a sacrifice, personal or otherwise, we commit and stick to it to continue to grow. We should never be afraid of growing because although it may seem like a sacrifice, in hindsight, we will see how much better we become, and we may be responsible for literally changing the course of history.

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.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Amram Sananes, written by Jack Rahmey

Discussion Point:

  • What are some sacrifices others have made for us?

Etz Haim

Shining Light on the Parasha

is available to purchase at

Eichlers, Mekor Judaica, and Tehilat Yitzchak in Brooklyn.


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