This Week’s Torah Portion: Vayikra – וַיִּקְרָא (Levicitus 1:1−5:26)
By Cantor Lauren Adesnik
This week we begin the book of Vayikra, for which this third book of the Torah is also named. In English, we know this book as Leviticus, and it is filled with specific details pertaining to the sacrificial rites of the Temple.
This Parsha-and thus the entire book- means “And God called.” Perhaps we might understand this central theme, and the details contained within it as the methods by which we are to find sacred connection with the Divine. They are hard to understand, and graphically difficult for the imagination. Following the destruction of the two Temples, sacrificial rites gave way to prayer as a means of connecting with God.
The rabbis teach a midrash about the spelling of this opening word: וַיִּקְרָ֖א
Notice the tiny Aleph that completes this word. Without the Aleph, Vayikra would be pronounced Vayikar. Instead of reading “And God called” (to Moses), we would read “And God happened upon” Moses. The rabbis suggest that Moses wanted to write Vayikar, while God insisted otherwise. God did not just happen upon Moses- God called out to Moses on purpose! So, in the end, they compromised with a tiny Aleph.
Such a tiny (forgive my pun) difference, yet incredibly significant in how we might view our relationship with God and with the world. Hasidic teachings explain that this tiny Aleph contains the entirety of the Torah compressed within it, and it also represents a tiny seed or spark- the divine potential within each of us. God is within us, and our relationship with God is central to our heritage, history, and peoplehood.
This tiny difference also represents how we see the world. If we actively engage in God’s presence to what is unfolding for us, we understand ourselves as Vayikra- called by God. If we are disengaged from that manifest presence in everyday unfolding, it might seem to us that life “just happens” or- we meet life with mere happenstance.
Here lies the danger of complacency. When we forget our calling, and shrug off the possibility of divinity, or the experience of wonder, we simply drift through the world at our status quo, and slowly miracles and wonder, connection, and fulfillment drain away from us, until we are a mere shell of ourselves.
Vayikra, with all of its difficult-to-digest (literally) descriptions, charges us to fully awaken to life with all of our senses each and every moment. To constantly seek out wonder, praise miracles, and continually move toward our highest selves. When we do this, and attune ourselves to our highest potential, perhaps that tiny Aleph will grow.
Parsha Vayikra – וַיִּקְרָא Torah Summary: God instructs Moses on the five different kinds of sacrifices that were to be offered in the sanctuary:
The olah or “burnt offering” was a voluntary sacrifice that had a high degree of sanctity and was regarded as the “standard” offering. The entire animal, except for its hide, was burned on the altar. (1:1-17)
The minchah or “meal offering” was a sacrifice made of flour, oil, salt, and frankincense that was partly burned on the altar and partly given to the priests to eat. (2:1-16)
The zevach sh’lamim or “sacrifice of well-being” was a voluntary animal offering from one’s herd, sometimes brought to fulfill a vow. (3:1-17)
The chatat or “sin offering” was an obligatory sacrifice that was offered to expiate unintentional sins. This offering differs from the others in the special treatment of the blood of the animal. (4:1-5:13)
The asham or “penalty offering” was an obligatory sacrifice of a ram that was required chiefly of one who had misappropriated property. (5:1-26)
Vayikra – וַיִּקְרָא