Love before you speak
Vayikra: He called
1, 1 - 6, 26
- 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 -
- 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
Listen to the parasha Vayikra
Listen to the haftara of Vayikra Teamim Sepharadim
Listen to Parasha Vayikra
- 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
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.
WORDS VERSES SECTIONS
- 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
Devarim 54, 892 14, 394 955 34
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
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
"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
kadma keria, were preceded by
a call expressed
leshon hiba, in a language of
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,
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
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
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
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
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
1) education must not only transmit
knowledge, or laws of conduct and social organization (Hashem
could have transmitted this knowledge without a declaration
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
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"
Indeed, there are blank spaces between the paragraphs and
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.)
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:
(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
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
The Hebrew dictionary defines
leshem as follows:
mitokh kavana meyuhedet ledavar ze bilvad ve lo ledavar
Let us examine each of the elements
in this definition, in order to fully understand the meaning
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
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
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
aliah, going up
aliah, going up to the land of Israel, immigration to Israel
ata, you (masc.)
at, you (fem.)
kavod, weight, respect, honor
minha, offering, present
nedivut halev, the generosity of the heart
nefesh, identity, person
ola, going up
korban, sacrifice, drawing close
ruah, wind, spirit
"divrei hakhamim benahat nishmaim
The words of wise men are heard and listened to when they
are said pleasantly"
(Kohelet, Ecclesiastes 9, 17)