The Backbone of Judaism by Leead Staller


Parashat VaYikra is renowned for having a miniature letter Aleph at the end of the first word of the Parasha.  Many Meforshim suggest that Moshe, against the will of Hashem, wrote the word VaYikra with a small Aleph as an act of humility. By seeming to write the word “VaYikar,” “And it happened,” without the Aleph, as opposed to “VaYikra,” “And he called,” with the Aleph, Moshe sought to suggest that God did not call him, seeking his presence, but rather happened to stumble upon him.  However, this explanation is very difficult to understand.  How could a mortal, Moshe, defy the will of the omnipotent, omnipresent, and ultimately ineffable Hashem, and decide to change the infallible Torah Temimah?

Parashat VaYikra begins by introducing numerous new Korbanot, animal sacrificies, to Bnei Yisrael, including the Korban Chatat, the sin-offering.  Perhaps Hashem intended this lesson of humility to be juxtaposed to Korbanot to send us a message. Moshe wasn’t disobeying Hashem, but complying. However, what was Hashem trying to convey to us via this juxtaposition? To answer this question, the purpose of a Korban must be explained.

The Ramban suggests that Korbanot have a direct correlation to Akeidat Yitzchak, and when we sacrifice an animal, it is really a substitute for the abominable action of sacrificing a human life. The  Ramban seems to suggest that were it not for the repulsiveness of slaughtering a human being, Hashem would condone human sacrifice. How can the Ramban make such an audacious claim?

Surely there must be a deeper meaning to what the Ramban stated.  By saying “sacrificing a human being,” he may not mean a sacrifice of the Guf, the physical body, but rather the sacrifice of our “freedom” by consenting to serve Hakodesh Baruch Hu as “Ovdei Hashem.”  To humans, enslavement is comparable to death.  For instance, Patrick Henry is notably quoted as saying, “Give me liberty or give me death!” It appears that without liberty, death is inevitable.  The Ramban is saying that sacrificing animals isn’t instead of sacrificing human lives, but rather a Zecher of what we have sacrificed from our lives.  By seeing this symbol of the Brit we have between ourselves and Hashem, and realizing how much we have sacrificed to keep it, one cannot help but feel humble and remorseful for having sinned. That is why Korbanot, such as the Korban Chatat, are necessary for transgressors.

The Gemara (Berachot 26b) states that Tefillah was established to parallel the Korbanot.  We can also see how humility is vital for Tefillah.  When Chizkiyahu HaMelech was plagued with a nearly fatal illness, he beseeched Hashem repeatedly to cure him, but to no avail.  Finally, Chizkiyahu was answered and healed.  What did Chizkiyahu do differently to warrant an answer the last time, but not the previous times?  “VaYomer Anah Hashem Zechor Na Eit Asher Hithalachti LeFanecha BeEmet UVLeiv Shaleim VeHaTov BeEinecha Asiti VaYeivk Chizkiyahu Bechi Gadol,” “and he said: ‘Remember now, Hashem, I beseech you, how I have walked before you in truth and with a whole heart, and have done that which is good in your sight.’ And Chizkiyahu wept a large weep” (Yeshayahu 38:3).  In his last prayer, Chizkiyahu concluded by weeping.  This degrading act showed Hashem how he acknowledged his helplessness and humbled himself to the point where he was able to clearly understand that he required Hashem’s assistance to live.  This seemingly small act of humility made all the difference and saved Chizkiyahu’s life.

By juxtaposing the message of Moshe’s humility contained in the word “VaYikra” to Korbanot and our acceptance to serve Hashem, the Torah conveys a very important point.  Observing all of the Mitzvot of the Torah to the letter of the law is improper if unaccompanied by proper Kavanah.  Not humbling oneself while doing Mitzvot, but rather doing Mitzvot to impress others or even himself, is inappropriate. This form of performing Mitzvot, as services not to Hashem but rather to one’s self or others as means to impress, may eventually lead to Aveirot and the need for a Korban Chatat.  If someone is haughty, he will be more willing to disregard the word of Hashem for his own and transgress. This person needs to be taught humility and needs to force his bloated sense of self to subside and to put full faith in the word of Hashem.  Humility is a cornerstone of Judaism and is a vital attribute that enables one to fully accept the words of Hashem.   BeEzrat Hashem, this humility will lead to the Emunah in Hashem necessary to bring about the Mashiach, BeMheira VeYameinu.

Timeless Thanks by Rabbi Steven Finkelstein

Look Who’s Calling? By Isaac Shulman