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Judaism, Torah and Talmud


Parasha No. 24
Vayikra: “He called”

Vayikra (Leviticus) 1, 1 - 6, 26

Love before you speak

- Position
- The mitzvot and themes of this parasha
- The overall meaning
- The meaning of letters
- Hashem's loving call
- Gentleness in education
- Ahava or kavod?
- Allow the other person time to reflect
- The principles of Jewish educaiton
- To be a dew on the land of others
- Emptiness in love
- Helping the other to listen
- God's weakness, as interpreted by Rabbi Yaakov - Abuhatzera
- Man's power to respond and reconstruct
- Moshe's modesty
- Follow the other's pace. God's patience
- Study of a short commentary by Rashi, prior to Pesah
- The Hebrew term: leshem
- Educational applications
- Hebrew words to be memorized

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Listen to the parasha Vayikra
(ORT Link)

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(Alliance link)


- The 7th of Adar is the birthday and hilula of Moshe Rabbenu
- The 11th of Adar is the hilula of the Hida, Rabbi Hayim Yosef David Azulai

Picture: Moshe gazing at the land of Israel, which he will not enter

Vayikra is the 3rd book of the Torah. It is the shortest book but constitutes the center of the Torah.


- Torah 304, 805 79, 847 5, 845 187
- Bereshit 78, 064 20, 512 1, 534 50
- Shemot 63, 529 16, 723 1, 209 40
- Vayikra 44, 790 11, 950 859 27
- Bemidbar 63, 530 16, 368 1, 288 36

And the second shortest book is the one which concludes the Torah
Devarim 54, 892 14, 394 955 34


The mitzvot and themes of the parasha

This parasha describes mitzvot 115 to 130, governing:
the details for making sacrifices (the ola or sacrifice of "going up", the offering or minha, incense, salt, animals, flour, birds),
those who are to make sacrifices (judges who erred, serious unwitting sins, errors in testimonies, erroneous use of the treasures of the Temple, etc.).

The overall meaning
The Shla demonstrates that these detailed injunctions constitute measures which help torepair the consequences of Adam's sin: this is seen in verse 2: ".. adam ki yakriv mikhem korban, when any man "adam" of you bringeth an offering.."
One day, man will regain primordial happiness and will then no longer need these corrective measures, writes the prophet Jeremiah (3, 16-17 - look up the reference).
Because these measures relate to the divine plan as well as to the present time and to the future realization of the plan, Rabbenu Bahya stresses that the book of Vayikra is integrally connected to the entire Torah (hakol mehubar vedavak, everything is linked and contiguous).

The meaning of letters
We have seen many times how the first word, title or verse of a parasha has a special function and embodies the meaning of the whole parasha.
Many commentators have stressed the importance of the first word of this parasha: "vayikra" (Hashem "called" Moshe), which ends with a small aleph - vayikra. Let's examine this particular sign which transmits a message, as per the remez method of interpretation.
The meaning of this word must be analyzed in the context of what precedes and follows it.
Indeed, Hashem "calls unto" Moshe three times (kara el, called unto):
when he revealed himself to Moshe from the burning bush (Shemot 3, 4),
when he gave him the Torah at Sinai (Shemot 19, 3),
when he gives him the sacrificial laws (this parasha).
Rabbenu Bahya examines the use of small letters in other contexts and notes that another small letter appears in the creation and he links the small aleph in "vayikra" to the small he in behibaram (Bereshit 2, 4). These represent moments of fragility, when an important proposition is made but man may hesitate in answering.

Isaiah 48, 12-13 helps us to understand that Hashem's call (keria) is connected to his initial plan and to the final goal, through his love for Israel:
"Hearken unto me, Yaakov and Israel, my called; I am he; I am the first, I also am the last.
Mine hand also hath laid the foundation of the earth and my right hand hath spanned the heavens; when I call unto them, they stand up together.
All ye, assemble yourselves and hear…"
We shall see how these two features (the call and the small letter) transmit an important message on how the Torah should be handed down and how teachings should be taught.

Hashem's loving call
Rashi comments on the way Hashem addresses himself to the people from the beginning of the Torah:

"lekhol dibrot, all the words, he spoke

ulekhol amirotit, all the utterances

ulekhol tzivuyimet, all the commandments

kadma keria, were preceded by a call expressed

leshon hiba, in a language of affection."

The Sifra also interprets as a mark of affection the doubling of names, when God called Moshe, when He called "Avraham, Avraham" (Bereshit 22, 12), and "Yaakov, Yaakov" (Bereshit 46, 2 - Rashi also interprets the double call here as a mark of affection), and "Shmuel, Shmuel" (I Shmuel 3, 10).

Note how often Rashi emphasizes God's love, and, indeed, it is noted by Rashi at the beginning of his commentary on each book of the Torah:
on Bereshit 1, 1 ("by an act of His will, ratson, he gave the earth to his peoples and by an act of His will he took it back to give it to us");
on Shemot 1, 1 ("and here are the names of the children of Israel: even though they were counted by their names when they were alive, they are counted again after their death in order to show us how much they were held in affection, hibatan affection for them");
on Vayikra (as above);
on Bemidbar 1, 1 ("Hashem spoke to Moshe in the desert of Sinai…it is from the depth of his affection for them, mitokh hibatan, that he counts them at every moment");
on Devarim 1, 1 ("these are the words which Moshe spoke to all Israel..since these are words of reproach and since all the times that the people angered God will be listed here, the facts are glossed over in order to preserve the honor of Israel").
This is not simply Rashi's personal interpretation: it is what has been handed down by tradition since the time of Moshe. With his precise analyses, Rashi helps us to understand the text.

Gentleness in education
We should apply "this quality of God", this midda, to our own conduct. How? According to the rule described in Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) 9, 17: "divrei hakhamim benahat nishmaim.., the words of wise men are heard when they are spoken gently."
This particularly applies to the teaching of the Torah and to education in general; we should emulate the Creator and the way he addressed His people in order to instruct and enlighten them.

Of course, when educating one must not give choices (otherwise children, like the people, would never acquire the foundations they need in life). This said, we have just learnt, through the first word of Vayikra, that:

1) education must not only transmit knowledge, or laws of conduct and social organization (Hashem could have transmitted this knowledge without a declaration of affection);

2) the Torah represents someone who calls out to another person in order to join together, and in the same way, parents should educate their children.

3) the Torah also represents someone who wishes to inspire the other person through a relationship of love, and it is through this relationship that knowledge is transmitted.

4) in order to create this relationship, it is preceded by a very personal call, often indicated in the Torah with a double call of the person's name. Since the Torah is extremely brief in its use of words, this repetition must be seen as a necessity.

Ahava or kavod ?
To describe all of this, Rabbenu Bahya does not use the word hiba, affection, but the word kavod, respect, honor. The word kavod means weight in Hebrew, and metaphorically it means to give weight to another person, to recognize his weight, personally and individually, as is said of Hashem: "ukhvod Hashem male et hamishkan, and the glory of Hashem filled the tabernacle" (Shemot 40, 35).
There is no contradiction between Rashi's interpretation (affection) and that of Rabbenu Bahya (respect); they are in fact the same, for to hold someone in affection means to value, respect and love him.
A few weeks ago, my shoe mender - while continuing to hammer in the soles of my shoes - asked me: "what do you do?" I answered that I teach psychology at university. "Then perhaps you can help me. I have a question which constantly preoccupies me and I can't find the answer: does love (ahava) come before respect (kavod) or the other way round. What comes first and which is the most important?" I told him that I admired his thinking and that I couldn't answer his question. Is it possible to find, anywhere but in Israel, shoe menders who think like this? He must certainly have come from a lineage of ancestors who had studied the commentaries of Rashi and Rabbenu Bahya.

The basis of all this is genuine. If Hashem speaks to us with affection, it is because each one of us is a sanctuary for His presence and a manifestation of His glory. Similarly, when we relate with affection to our spouses or our children, it is not because we have to, it is because they genuinely deserve it.

Give the other person time to reflect
With his characteristic simplicity, depth and humor, Rashi continues his commentary:
"ledibbur hayta keriya ve lo le hafsakot,
it is for words that he called and not for interruptions" (hafsakot).
Indeed, there are blank spaces between the paragraphs and changes insubject.
What is the aim of these spaces?
"lehitbonne bin parasha lefarasha uvein inian le inian
to give Moshe time to reflect between one parasha and another and between one subject and another.
"kal va homer le ediot halomed min haediot
so it is all the more necessary when a mere human being learns from another human being."

The principles of Jewish education
Rashi, who is recognized by all not only as a great commentator but also as a great educator, teaches us something important here:
a learned educator must not remain distant and throw his knowledge from up high,
he must come close, show his affection, and allow moments of silence to enable a student to feel he exist and is of value,
he must allow the student time to assimilate, reflect and integrate in a personal way what he is being taught,
he must create a common rhythm of learning.

To be the dew on the land of others
Other commentaries speak of the Torah as tal, the delicate dew which, unlike heavy showers that fall from the skies, does not destroy the land, but enables every seed to grow at its pace (refer to methods of study in the Lev Gompers).

Emptiness in love
The most apt expression to describe this dialogue is that which the Torah uses when it refers to the place of speech, the place of love situated "between the two cherubims, miben shnei hakerubim" (Shemot 25,22).
I have related elsewhere that, marveling at the respect-presence-distance-sensitivity in my relationship with my Torah master, Rabbi Moshe Yoseph Zenou, I told him that his name, Moshe, was an acronym from the initials of miben shnei hakerubim. He answered with a blessing, as was his custom..
The two cherubs differed from each other (an essential requirement) and between them was an empty space, a quiet space ensuring the freedom and fulfillment of each partner, and not possessiveness. Then there is no reason to flee or to withdraw. The space enables two partners to see "the presence" between them. The wings of the cherubim flapped in the space. It is represents a loving distance. This helps us to understand the periods of nidda between a couple, periods of silence, distance and respect.

Help the other person to understand
God's call to Moshe shows us that to help the other person understand from which place one seeks to speak to him is also a mark of great consideration, for the person may not have noticed who is addressing him and would remain in the dark: this can be a source of unhappy misunderstandings, particularly if one is communicating an intimate and important message.
This represents a positive attitude - "remove thy shoes," as is asked of Moshe at the burning bush (Shemot 3, 1-6) - to remove all marks of uncleanness and to draw close respectfully and modestly.

God's weakness as interpreted by Rabbi Yaakov Abuhatzera
This is possibly one of the meanings of the small, modest, aleph in vayikra: modesty and sensitivity are essential in order to avoid overpowering the other person.
This approach, which Hashem demonstrated to Moshe, is found throughout the Torah and should be emulated in all relationships.
Rabbi Yaakov Abuhatzera takes us further in this direction, to heights we would not have dared to scale: analyzing the word vayikra, in Mahsof hallavan, he tells us that the small letter is a sign of the weakness and fragility of Hashem's presence in the world, which is called shekhina or malkhut. It represents, so to speak, the state of weakness, dalut, in which the world has put Hashem. Thus, every day the divine plan is impoverished.

Man's power to respond and to reconstruct
It is the duty of man, of the children of Israel, to reconstruct this state of plenitude, firstly through the shaharit prayer, the long morning prayer (recited at a normal pace and pronouncing every word clearly and aloud, as is the Sephardi custom, the prayer lasts around one quarter of an hour on days when there is no Torah study, as on Mondays and Thursdays).
This is a recurrent theme in the works of Rabbi Yaakov Abuhatzera (refer to his commentary on Bereshit on the word behibaram, or on the beginning of parasha Teruma, or on parasha Beshalach, on the song that follows the crossing of the Red Sea).

He also demonstrates that the words in the second verse of Vayikra, which describe the sacrificial offering of animals, have the same numerical value as the three components of man (nefesh, identity; rouah, spirit; neshama, soul). I have not described his demonstration in detail, as it can only be taught on an individual basis.

He then shows that the morning prayer brings us closer to Hashem, step by step, in respect of each of the three components of our being. We thus draw closer to Hashem and give him the possibility of "fulfilling" His presence and carrying out His beneficial role in the world.

He tells us that the shekhina needs this reparation every day (tzrikha bekhol yom binian haddash, tikkun). This means that God's modesty stems from His love for man.
(Let us reflect on this: if things are so bad in the world, it is because man has not answered God's loving call.
This also shows us how great is man's power, and in particular that of Jews, for they have been given this unique knowledge about the nature of man and the world, and they possess an immense historical archive and tradition of learning which contains its proof and detailed analyses. These documents span thousands of years and are all written in the same language (Hebrew), which we speak and read today, both in our study of ancient texts and in our daily lives. It is immensely moving to stop and reflect on the gift which this immense heritage represents. Our Sages and the prophets have described God's bewilderment and His hurt, as well as their own, in the face of a people who refused to see and read this letter of love and all that it tells us about our existence. They wrote: the day will come when non-Jews everywhere will seize Jews by the garment and plead: "teach us your wisdom, we are thirsty for your knowledge." We still run the risk of not heeding God's loving call, choosing instead to follow the calls of political parties or ideologies which preach a more simplistic credo than that of the Torah.)

Moshe's modesty
The commentators also stress Moshe's modesty. Although a great man, he was the most modest of men. This is why Rabbenu Bahya introduces his commentary on the parasha with verse 22, 4 from Mishle (Proverbs): "what follows modesty and is its fruit: the fear of God, riches, honor and life, ekev anava, yirat Hashem, osher vekhavod vehayim." He writes that Moshe was circumspect in everything except modesty and humility.

Follow the rhythm of the other person. God's patience
If this is the ideal nature of a learning relationship, how much more so is this true for all relationships of love. When two people love each other, like Hashem and Israel as described in the Song of Songs, love means to learn from the other person, to follow his or her rhythm, to aspire to what is possible in the present and to what will never be possible. Hashem demonstrate immense patience, for he always waits for man, despite the gifts of happiness which He has given him and which man has rejected: for men remain in the desert, dispersed or immersed in the tragedies they have created. Yet Hashem tells them again and again: "if you want to return….."

This moderating control over one's personal will and desire, when the other person is unable to respond, is a recurrent theme in the Torah:
from the Creator who said "it is enough" (dai) to the expansion of creation,
to the infinite value accorded to the sacrifice of the poor man as that of the rich man, for what counts is the generosity of the heart (nedivut halev) and "the altar should be adorned with the sacrifice of the poor as in the use of the word yakriv, he will sacrifice" writes Rashi on verse 1, 17 (lama amar hakhatuv yakriv. kedei she yehiye hamizbeah sava u mehudar be korbano shel ani). He adds, on the first verse of chapter 2: "who is accustomed to make an offering voluntarily? The poor person. The Holy one Blessed be He says: I value him as though he had offered his nefesh, his self."
It is at this level of spirituality that God demands sacrifices to be made: adam ki yakriv mikhem korban, when a man gives of himself through the offering which he brings."

Thus the sanctuary, the way it is organized and the sacrifices offered in it, teach us to "live" and to "live well" according to the rhythms of the creator who made us in his image and in his likeness.

Rashi condenses all of this into a few words. He writes on verse 9 which describes the sacrifice of the ola: "ola, le shem ola, in the intention of the ola." We shall now move on to a detailed examination of Rashi's method of commentary. (Those who wish to further their knowledge of Rashi should click here.)


Advanced study on Rashi: leshem

(this study is suitable only for advanced students
who have a good knowledge of Hebrew.)

Study on a short commentary by Rashi, prior to Pesah.

In his commentary (ola, leshem ola, the sacrifice of going up "for" the sacrifice of going up), Rashi repeats the word ola which means to go up or the sacrifice of going up and he adds the word: leshem. We have already studied Rashi's method and the 5 questions which should be asked when studying a commentary. What is Rashi telling us here, what does he want us to understand and why such brevity?

Indeed, Rashi's brevity is illuminating for it emphasizes the message he wishes to make:
1. In the word ola, you should not just hear the "external" meaning of ola, or think of it as a technical term, for those who know the difference between the ola and the other sacrifices;
2. We should always read the word ola, as leshem ola, understanding it through this expression which means "for, towards," as in the other Hebrew expressions bishvil, lemaan ; thus it is written in Pirkei Avot: "vekhol maasekha yiyu leshem shamayim (2, 12), may all your deeds be towards the heavens."

The Hebrew dictionary defines leshem as follows:
mitokh kavana meyuhedet ledavar ze bilvad ve lo ledavar aher.

Let us examine each of the elements in this definition, in order to fully understand the meaning of leshem:
mitokh, means "from within," from within ourselves. This is the concept of lev (heart), which we have studied many times: it represents a form of knowledge which stems from within and which touches the essence of things, as in the expression: the best knowledge is through the heart. Jewish tradition also teaches us that the heart is connected to the higher levels of knowledge, but I shall not elaborate on this here. This means that our knowledge should not be based purely on logic and reasoning, or on dictums such as "I think, therefore I am." We need to change our way of thinking and perceiving the world.
mitokh kavana, means "from within an intention towards." We often think or act according to our own needs and desires, without an intention towards the other person or the other person's welfare; thus we act without kavana: to pray without kavana is prohibited in Judaism.
mitokh kavana meyuhedet, means "from within a particular intention," one that is specific and attentive, and not vague.
mitokh kavana meyuhedet le davar ze, means "from within a particular intention related to the present being or moment."
mitokh kavana meyuhedet le davar ze bilvad, "from within a particular intention related only to the present being or moment." This means to relate to "you" and not to another person. Thus the sacrifice of the ola loses its value if the Cohen cannot connect it to the intention of the person offering the sacrifice. We can more easily understand now the importance of the word ata (you) which is found in every blessing.

Thus, with this brief expression leshem, Rashi teaches us, at the very beginning of his commentary on Vayikra, what is a sacrifice and how it should be made.
This is why the prophets implore the people, who have the privilege to come to the Temple, not to alter this act which unites all levels of existence.

(end of advanced level)
Click here to go to the page on the Hebrew vocabulary of the Torah.


Applications to one's personal life

1. With the approach of the sacrifice of passing over (Pesah) and all the activities which characterize this period, Rashi teaches us a concept we should not lose sight of, during this period of activity and rites recalling those of the Temple: act through the heart and to direct our actions to a specific intention.

2. Judaism harnesses our concrete and carnal aspects and redirects them; without this, Judaism would be a totally spiritual, idealistic religion, which is dangerous. History has shown us repeatedly that idealistic religions and credos, which are not grounded in reality and which do not value the other person, end up as fanatical regimes which justifiy brutal genocides in the name of phony ideals such as the salvation of the soul. In such religions there is no respect for the other person, because the individual himself has fled from the place where he should stand face to face with God, with a modest God.

3. This is the basis of the book of Vayikra and, having understood it, we can move on to other commentaries and concepts. We should now re-read the parasha from this perspective and think of the sacrifices as the educational center which will help us develop all these qualities in our daily lives: the sacrifices should be viewed as acts of "rapprochement" (drawing close, which is the original meaning of the word korban). We must replace the non-Jewish meaning of the word "sacrifice" with the Jewish meaning of "drawing close."

4. This commentary should inspire us to identify the areas we wish to improve in our relationship, in the way we draw close to God and to others, and then to do so step by step:
Try to draw closer in all these aspects. Do not waste your life in material or technical things; live through the heart.
Draw closer. Apply the lesson of the parasha to the person with whom you have the most meaningful relationship.
In particular, do not lose sight of this concept, or the meaning of the other person, the meaning of existence, the meaning of our "life," the meaning of intimacy, and of our intentions.

5. Apply this concept to your religious life and activities, and begin preparing now, in this way, for the festival of Pesah and for the Haggadah, which everyone must read on Seder night. Like the book of Vayikra, the Haggadah begins with an intimate, discrete call: the song Halahma (this bread, in Aramaic). Our Sages explain that Aramaic is used in order to camouflage love and make it discrete. Then rapprochement can take place. The same role is found in the kaddish and the Song of Songs.

6. Torah study also must not be an intellectual exercise, but must be translated into action and connected to one's inner, emotional life: we should listen to the words which speak to us most and write them down. From a few words, a poem will emerge. Our Sages always wrote from the heart and Jewish tradition contains thousands of these poems, even though only a few are recited in our prayers. It is because of this tradition that I include poems in my commentaries.

We have accomplished three stages of study in this commentary:
analysis of a particular feature or detail in the text;
interpretation of meaning and all its implications: religious, social, educational and inter-personal;
discovering, through it all, the meaning of human existence: everything is based on love: love which combines modesty and lofty aspirations. This constitutes balance and harmony, as represented in the relationship between Hashem and Moshe.


Hebrew vocabulary to be memorized

hiba, affection
ahava, love
aliah, going up
aliah, going up to the land of Israel, immigration to Israel
ata, you (masc.)
at, you (fem.)
bilvad, only
dai, enough
kavana, intention
kavod, weight, respect, honor
leshem, for
meyuhad, special
minha, offering, present
nadiv, generous
neshama, soul
nedivut halev, the generosity of the heart
nefesh, identity, person
ola, going up
korban, sacrifice, drawing close
ruah, wind, spirit
ratzon, will
tokh, in

"divrei hakhamim benahat nishmaim
The words of wise men are heard and listened to when they are said pleasantly"
(Kohelet, Ecclesiastes 9, 17)


- Psychology and Repentance
   (in french)

Part 15

Part 16

- Jerusalem excavations
- Terror and counseling
- Peace and peoples
- Israel and Iran
- Visual study & song on snow
for, through our union with the song of nature, the plan of Creation will be fulfilled

Poem: to be moon

In french

Avec Modia, vivez
vos vacances en Israël,
Texte et photos

- Par Modia, arrivez au Kotel
- La vie du Kotel
- Prières au Kotel
- Fête au Kotel
- La destruction du Temple
- Photos rares et émouvantes des abords du Temple
- Synagogues de Jérusalem
- Maisons de Jérusalem
- Les fleurs de Jérusalem
- Ici, tout sur Jérusalem
- "Le" texte sur Jérusalem
- Voir et visiter Israël
- Voyage dans le Nord d'Israël
- Belle carte d'Israël
- Jérusalem et les nations

- Vacances en Israël sur Modia
- Le Kotel en film direct
- et ici aussi, autre caméra

- Trahison historique:
L'antique synagogue de Jéricho


Part 17

- Love towards all people
- Light in war
- Before the hanukiah
- Land of Israel
- Jerusalem excavations 2007
  Proof of the lies propagated
  by the media

In french - Hope in Israel

Part 20
"Encounters with God
in the real"

- You are planning a tour in Israel - Photos
- My photos and judaism
- New year of beauty
- Flowers
Gallery photos

Part 21

- My english songs


Rav Professor
Yehoshua Rahamim Dufour
(Dipur, in hebrew)

All images on the site are personal photos of the author, except a few specified that images are copyright External authorized
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