Weekly Reading Insights


Overview of the Weekly Reading: Vayikrah
To be read on the Shabbat of 3 Nissan, 5762 (March 16)

Torah: Lev.1:1-5:26
Haftorah: Isaiah 43:21-44:23 (on the theme of sacrifices)

Stats: Vayikrah contains 11 positive mitzvot and 5 prohibitive mitzvot. Among the Weekly Readings,
ranks 26 out of 54 in number of verses, 20 in number of words, and 20 in number of letters

Vayikra opens with a discussion of how to bring burnt offerings of cattle, smaller animals and birds. It then continues with a discussion of the different types of meal offerings: burnt, baked, pan-fried, deep fried, and the offering of the first grain of the season. After these, other types of offerings are discussed. Peace offerings could be of cattle, sheep or goats. Sin offerings are brought as an atonement. First described is the sin offering for the high priest, then for the community, for the king or for an individual. There are some sins that the Torah delineates specifically as requiring a sin offering. In these cases, he can choose between smaller animals, birds or a meal offering. The portion ends with details about guilt offerings brought because of errors, doubtful situations or dishonesty or theft.


"And G-d called to Moses" (1:1)

We learn about the various offerings and sacrifices to teach us that we must be willing to make sacrifices, both monetary and otherwise, to afford our children a proper Jewish education. Furthermore, a child's earliest and most precious years must be devoted to Torah study, without regard for later professional choices. For this reason, young children just beginning their Torah studies start with the book of Leviticus.

(Avnei Ezel)

"The sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire on the altar." (1:7)

Even though a heavenly fire descended from on High to consume the offerings, the priests were still required to bring ordinary fire as well, to the altar. We learn from this that one may not rely solely on the "fire that descends from on high"--the natural, innate love of G-d which is present in the soul of every Jew. Each of us must also bring an "ordinary fire," kindle that innate love of G-d by taking the initiative and contemplating His greatness, to further nurture that inner spark.

(Lubavitcher Rebbe)

"He shall kill it on the side of the altar, northward, before G-d." (1:11)

The person bringing the offering must be willing to sacrifice his own wants and desires for a higher cause. The offering is only a symbol of our willingness for self-sacrifice. This is alluded to in the Hebrew word for "north," which is related to the word meaning "hidden." Even our hidden thoughts and feelings must be dedicated to G-dliness.

(Chidushei Harim)



Selected with permission from the five-volume English edition of Ohr HaChaim: the Torah Commentary of Rabbi Chaim Ben Attar, as translated and annotated by Eliyahu Munk.
The holy Rabbi Chayim ben Moses Attar was born in Sale, Western Morocco, on the Atlantic in 1696. His immortal commentary on the Five Books Of Moses, Or Hachayim, was printed in Venice in 1741, while the author was on his way to the Holy Land. He acquired a reputation as a miracle worker, hence his title "the holy," although some apply this title only to his Torah commentary.

"I someone sin and commit a trespass against the Lord, etc." [5:21-22]

The words vema'aleh ma'al meh HaShem may be understood in kabbalistic terms. Every Jewish soul depends on continuous input from celestial forces called shefa neshamot in order to sustain itself spiritually inside a body. The only soul which does not enjoy this continuous spiritual input is one whose nefesh, the person it resides in, has become guilty of criminal sins which will result in its being deprived of the celestial spiritual input. This is what the Torah meant when it described the nefesh being "cut off" in Genesis 17:14 as the consequence of a Jew ignoring the commandment to circumcise himself or be circumcised.
The celestial spiritual input into our souls which we have described enters by means of two thin "threads" through a person's two nostrils as this is the area where the nefesh is joined makom deveikut, to its owner, i.e. to G-d. This is what Moses meant when he said in Deut. 4:4: "all of you who have cleaved unto the Lord your G-d are alive as of this day."
If man commits the sins described in this paragraph his soul comes under the domination of the forces of evil, if the spiritual input from celestial sources were to continue, it would actually strengthen the forces of evil which have taken over in that person. When the Torah speaks of vema'aleh ma'al meh Hashem, this describes such a process of strengthening him who trespassed against G-d.
…All of Israel are branches of one soul. If any branch of that soul becomes involved in evil this has repercussions on the entire people. This is the deeper meaning of the words vekachash be-amito, his denial extends to the members of his am, his people. His people become kachash, "weak" through his sinful behavior. …The Jewish nation increases in spiritual power by means of its men of valor who contribute to its peace and harmony and who thereby assure it of itself.

An essay from Rabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter

Vayikrah )

The Reading begins: "A person, when he will bring from you an offering to G-d" (1/2). Rabbi Moshe Alsheich (of 16th century Safed) writes that when we sin we distance ourselves from G-d, but an offering in the Temple atones for this, bringing us close to G-d again. Today, this atonement is accomplished by reading about the offerings in our daily prayer, and by doing teshuvah (returning to G-d). Still, it would be fitting that when we sin, we should offer our own lives as atonement-"from you an offering"; in His kindness, G-d allows us to offer an animal instead. The actions in preparing the sacrifices described in the portion's first verses are actually processes of spiritually cleansing ourselves from the sin. This is completed with "He should skin the burnt offering" (1/6), meaning that the sin-defiled spiritual garments we wore are removed. Following this, the sacrifice is "cut it into pieces"-all negative thoughts that originally caused us to sin are eradicated. They are burnt up by the supernal fire, and thereby the hold of the Heavenly accuser is weakened, and he will not be able to again drag us to sin.

The Rebbe Rayatz of Lubavitch commented that the word "to offer" can be literally translated "will come close." Then the verse is read "A person when he wishes to come closer to G-d." When doing so, it is incumbent on us to check our spiritual status to know exactly what steps are necessary in this spiritual ascent. Such an inspection will most likely reveal at how low a level one truly is. This could lead us to think, "How can such a lowly creature such as I come closer to G-d?" and deter us from any attempt to improve. Therefore, the answer is given immediately, "from you is the offering"- a spiritual ascent is dependent completely upon us. Every Jewish person has the inner strengths that will allow success in a spiritual journey to come closer to G-d, even against the most difficult of obstacles. This potential is not only for advancing to higher levels than before, but even to reach the level of "G-d"-the tetragramaton, the last word in this section of the verse-and signifies a supranatural level.

"He should skin the burnt offering, and cut it into pieces" (1/6). Rebbe Michil of Zalotchov demands of us to be on guard against self-delusions. It is easy to judge ourselves favorably, or sometimes just ignore our faults in the face of even minor positive traits. ("I know I am not perfect, but at least I am a good person...") In connection with the above verse, he says that when we become conscious of any positive trait, we often relax our guard and forget about our faults. Even worse than this, a person can then be led to false pride, which may blind him or her from attaining any spiritual growth. The solution is to examine every part of our body, in its fulfillment of commandments associated with it: Leg-do I walk fast enough when on my way to do a mitzvah? Heart-do I pray with proper devotion? Mouth-etc.... If we are honest with ourselves, we will see that the negative traits we have yet to perfect in ourselves, far outweigh any of our positive traits. This is the inner meaning of the verse, 'to skin the burnt offering'. In Hebrew, the word for burnt offering is 'olah', which technically means 'that rises' alluding to arrogance. Read the verse as follows: "to skin (or remove) the olah"-the false pride-"from yourselves"... so it will not interfere with your true self assessment...then "cut it into pieces"-check every body part for flaws, our faults.

Two students of the Maggid of Mezritch (successor to the Baal Shem Tov), discussed their spiritual status. One said, "Where will all of our sins get us?" His colleague answered "Don't worry about sins, for them you can do tshuvah. What the likes of us really have to worry about are mitzvahs!" Sometimes in our urgency to repair past mistakes, we overlook the even more important requirement to increase both the quantity and the quality of our mitzvahs!

Shabbat Shalom!

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