Parashat VaYikra begins a new Sefer, one that is focused on the concept of sanctity. Although the Sefer is called Torat Kohanim by Chazal and much of the Sefer relates to the priestly service, the underlying message is spirituality, which we should all strive to emulate.
The Korbanot, which occupy most of this Parashah and Sefer, etymologically stem from the word “Karov,” which means to draw close. The Korban is therefore a means to sanctify our earthly possessions, which will help draw us closer to Hashem.
Rashi (VaYikra 1:1 s.v. VaYikra El Moshe) records the comment of the Midrash Tanchuma on the small Alef in the first word, “VaYikra.” He says that little children should begin their Torah study with VaYikra. The reason for this is so that our children, who are considered pure, should learn matters of purity, because it is as if they are offering a Korban to Hashem.
The next Pasuk reads (1:2), “Adam Ki Yakriv MiKem,” literally translated as, “When one offers a sacrifice from you.” However, we would think that the Pasuk should read, “Adam MiKem Ki Yakriv,” “When one of you offers a sacrifice.” As the original Lubavitcher Rebbe explained, the sacrifice is really from us and the animal is just a prop that we use to draw us closer to Hashem.
This striving to sanctify the ordinary can also be seen in the requirement to have salt with every Minchah offering (VaYikra 2:13). Rashi (ad loc. s.v. Melach Berit) cites a Midrash that on the second day of Creation, Hashem created the atmosphere and separated the upper waters from the lower waters. The lower waters complained that they were not allowed to stay in the Heavens closer to Hashem, so Hashem “appeased” the lower waters by assuring it that they too will return to Heaven, as seen by the water libations on Sukkot and the sea salt that is part of the Minchah offering. Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky points out that all water evaporates and returns to Hashem, while only the salt remains. However, even the earthly salt is also part of the Minchah offering to Hashem.
We have a physical existence – a Guf. However, we also have a Neshamah that strives to reconnect with Hashem. The Ba’al HaTurim offers a reason for the small Alef in VaYikra. He writes that the word “VaYekar” was used by the Torah in connection with Bil’am. Moshe was too humble to think he should be called by Hashem with an extra Alef and, as a compromise, the Alef was made small.
Both Bil’am and Moshe were very great prophets, yet there was a major difference between their outlooks and ways of life. I suggest that the small Alef represents Moshe’s Neshamah striving to be with Hashem. It is this striving that can and should define our lives. It is the difference between the meaningless physical existence of Bil’am - of VaYekar - and a complete spiritual life of Moshe - of VaYikra - that should make us strive to become closer with Hashem.