The discussion around Vayikra often falls to the small alef found in the opening word – a discussion that prompts us to think of the education of our children, and the engagement of the next generation of our people. It is during this time, when we are engaging the kids through their Purim costumes, and teaching them the four questions for the Seder (and hopefully many more questions), that we can take a moment to delve deeper into the discussions of our weekly sidra.
So let’s start from the beginning, and focus on the word Vayikra, And He Called. Why is it that we find God calling out to Moshe, and why is this, the beginning of a new book, also known as Torat Kohanim, the laws of Kohanim, starts off with this calling?
The Ramban says that Shemot is all about our growth and development of our nation, culminating in erecting of the Mishkan and God’s decent to the camp to fulfil his goal of shochanti betocham, dwelling amongst the camp. Vayikra on the other hand is the story of the Jewish people’s avodah through the medium of the mishkan and her kohanim. One could think that the two books should really be one, that the latter is a logical step from the former. However the Ramban explains that there was a pregnant pause between the two, during which the nation became fearful of the shechina that was dwelling in the cloud. Yoma 4b discusses the fact that the word vayikra precedes the word vayedaber, in that the Torah teaches us derech eretz, proper conduct, by advising us that before one tells something important to his friend, he should first gain his attention.
Moshe and the people had become temporarily withdrawn from direct communication from God. Prior to the erection of the Mishkan, God either spoke to the people through a large spectacle like Har Sinai or directly to Moshe through nevuah, prophecy. But now, once the shechina had descended, God was not speaking to anyone. So when God was finally ready to speak again to Moshe, he had to convince him that the mishkan was primarily built for a close connection between the people and God, rather than a place where God hides away.
Once we understand the true purpose of the Mishkan, and the closeness that exists between the Jewish people and Hashem at this point – then we can truly frame the entire sefer, a book that is there to establish not just a concept of worship, but put it into practice.