Weekly Reading Insights: Vayikra



Overview of the Weekly Reading

To be read on Shabbat Vayikrah, Shabbat HaChodesh, 1 Nissan 5778/March 17, 2018

Torah: Leviticus 1:1-5:26;Maftir HaChodesh: Ex. 12:1-20; Haftorah: Ezekiel 45:16-46:18 (for Shabbat HaChodesh. as its beginning mentions both Rosh Chodesh Nissan and the Pesach sacrifice)

Vayikra is the 1st Reading out of 10 in Leviticus and it contains 6222 letters, in 1673 words, in 111 verses.

A discussion of how to bring burnt offerings of cattle, smaller animals and birds. Different types of meal offerings: burnt, baked, pan fried, deep fried, and the offering of the first grain of the season. A discussion of other types of offerings: Peace offerings could be of cattle, sheep or goats. Sin offerings are brought as an atonement. The sin offering for the high priest, then for the community, for the king or for an individual. Sins that the Torah delineates specifically as requiring a sin offering, in which cases he can choose between smaller animals, birds or a meal offering. Details about guilt offerings brought because of errors, doubtful situations or dishonesty or theft. 

An essay from
Rabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter, director of Ascent

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This week's Torah portion is completely about the offerings that were made in the Tabernacle and in the Holy Temples that came after. Why do we need animal sacrifices? Why would the physical slaughter and burning of an animal be our primary form of divine worship for hundreds of years (see Avos 1:2; Yerushalmi, Taanis 4:1)? Why not something more humane that we could relate to in a more personal way?

In truth, the Lubavitcher Rebbe explains in his collected talks (v. 22, pp. 3-4), one of the ways to understand the significance of the sacrifices lies precisely through their seeming lack of spiritual experience. The Torah's word for sacrifice is korban, from the word karov, "close," indicating that the purpose of the sacrifices is to arouse and reveal the Jew's essential and unbreakable bond with G-d.

This closeness could not be adequately expressed in a service that highlights the Jew's unique spiritual capacities, for this essential bond with G-d is not contingent on the Jew's efforts and experience; it is purely the result of G-d's existential choice of His beloved nation, the Jews. Therefore this bond is best expressed through a Jew offering a korban, the spiritual value of which is not obvious, save for the fact that G-d has deemed it desirable for a Jew to offer a sacrifice to Him.

This idea can be connected to the name of the third book of the Torah that we are starting this week, which is also the name of the parsha, Vayikra. In English, Leviticus relates to the tribe of Levi where the priests who brought the offerings came from. In Hebrew, vayikra means "And He called." What can we learn from these words, "And He called" about how to serve G-d?

Every Jew has to know that from heaven G-d is always calling him. G-d is always demanding that a person elevate themselves, grow spiritually, and never be stagnant! There are always two sides to such a call. For the active person, who is already pushing ahead, who is to some extent a master of himself, the call is a challenge. You are not allowed to be satisfied with what you have already accomplished until now. Rather, you have to reach even higher.
But G-d is also calling to the person who sees themselves as lacking in accomplishments, the one who is not a fighter. For this person the call is like stretching out a helping hand. Don't ever give up! No matter how desperate the situation might seem, it is always in your strength to pull yourself up and out of from darkness to light. (Farbrengens of 1982, vol. 2, p. 1107)

In the Beit Midrash Hall of the Gur chassidim, everyone pushes to get closer to the Rebbe and his table. Young and old, connected or from the periphery, you are not supposed to be bashful about pushing. Once in the crowd there was a wealthy person, who was also an accomplished scholar. The problem was he was very aware of these qualities almost to the point of arrogance. When the pushing became too much for him, he complained loud enough for those around him to hear, "Derech Eretz! Where are your manners!" In all the tumult, the Rebbe also heard and said to the chassidim, "Don't push him."

Afterwards, the Rebbe said to this person in a tone of apology, "This is the way of chassidim, that they push around a person who is kosher." (the inference is that a kosher person (a compliment) gets pushed around, meaning he is forced to reevaluate his view of himself when he is among chassidim). With something like false humility, the wealthy person responded, "I am a kosher Jew!" And the Rebbe answered, "Therefore I told them to stop pushing you…" The first thing to decide when you realize G-d is calling you is whether you are on the top of the ladder or at the bottom.

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul

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For last year's essay by Rabbi Leiter on this week's Reading, see the archive.


Specifically, for an overview of the recommended articles in the columns:
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one sample:

Contemporary Kabbalists
Offer Yourself

From the writings & talks of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch

The service in the Temple and the Sanctuary centered around the principle of refinement – subduing one's physical nature, which leads to and brings about the transf

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