Parshat Vayikra and Rosh Chodesh Nisan

This parsha begins Sefer Vayikra (The Book of Leviticus; please consult any standard chumash) gets its name from the opening words; “vayikra”, which means “And He called.” The parsha discusses the five main korbanos brought by the people to the Mishkan (Tabernacle):

  1. The Olah – a consumed offering placed on the Mizbeiach (altar).
  2. The Mincha – an allegiance or gift offering. This was not an animal sacrifice, but an offering of flour brought by a poor person.
  3. The Sh’lomim – a peace offering. This was a means of expressing thanks to G-d on a joyous occasion.
  4. a. The Chatos – a sin offering which serves as an atonement for certain sins committed unintentionally by a person including the Kohen Gadol (high priest) and the king.  b.  Korbon Oleh V’Yored – a special type of sin offering which varies with the wealth of the sinner. These offerings are required for the following offenses:
    1. swearing falsely that one had not seen or not heard evidence needed for testimony.
    2. entering the Beis HaMikdash or eating consecrated food while ritually unclean.
    3. Failing to fulfill a vow.
    4. Confessing to a transgression.

5. The Oshom – a guilt offering which is required as part of the penitence for unintentionally using consecrated property or for retaining someone’s property by falsely swearing.

The opening word of the parsha is the best place to begin our analysis. If you look at any standard Chumash, you will observe that the final letter alef in the word vayikra is purposely written very small. This is precisely how it appears in the Torah scroll itself.

The sages write that this was done to teach us a lesson about modesty. By writing the alef in the word vayikra very small, the word could be read as vayekar which means “and He met”. The Torah is teaching us that Moses, in his great humility, wanted to lessen his status and importance. We could therefore interpret the verse to means “And G-d met Moses” instead of the traditional “And G-d called Moses”.

A Midrash teaches that Moses was chosen to lead the Jewish people out of bondage because of his great humility. Despite his ability to speak with Hashem  “ponim el ponim” which means “face to face”, he always remained humble. If Moses, our greatest Prophet and teacher, can remain humble in those circumstances, how much more so must we remain humble with our modest roles in life and blessings given to us by Hashem!

The use of the word “sacrifice” as a translation of korbon is a bit misleading. In the twenty – first century, the idea of animal sacrifices is highly offensive. However, from the context of the times, in an era when some cultures engaged in Human sacrifice, animal sacrifices are not as extreme. Besides, being chukim, the Jewish people did not have any choice! The korbonos, as we have said, have a deeper meaning. Whether the person was rich or poor, everyone had an obligation to do his part and to reflect on Hashem’s presence in the world. Even the poor person was required to bring an offering for Hashem (as well as giving tzedakah).

The story is told of a rabbi taking a ride with a wagon driver. While they were passing an orchard, the driver stops and overcome with hunger, decides to go and pick some apples. He instructs the rabbi to act as the lookout and warn him if he sees anyone approaching. The driver climbs up a tree and as he begins to pick an apple the rabbi shouts out, “Watch out, he’s looking!” The driver quickly climbs back down the tree, runs to the wagon, and quickly drives away. After a minute or two he stops the wagon and notices that nobody is coming after them. He asks the rabbi why he shouted that someone was watching. “Ah”, says the rabbi, “Hashem sees everything and He was watching!”

We learn at the end of the parsha that if a person swears falsely about being given a deposit, he/she must make a guilt offering. The Torah states that such a person commits a transgression against Hashem. Denying a deposit is tantamount to denying Hashem in the eyes of the sages. The gemara in tractate Bava Metzia 4a (translation from The William Davidson digital edition of the Koren Noe Talmud Bavli) states:

What the gemara means is that when a person denies a loan, that means that the person fails to repay the loan on time. The sages would prefer to believe that the person wants to repay the loan, but for some reason does not have the money available at the right time. On the other hand, a person who denies a deposit, who is not permitted by law to make use of it, must intend to steal it and is therefore unfit to testify in court. While these laws are complex, the Torah reminds us that how we act toward another person, is just as important as how we act toward Hashem.

This Shabbat is also Rosh Chodesh Nisan. As we approach the festival of Pesach, we increase our spirituality and joy to recall how Hashem delivered us from bondage with “a strong hand and an outstretched arm”. The Jewish year begins in Nisan (the first month) and it is also known as the month of “Aviv“(Spring). But the Hebrew word Aviv, spelled alef-vet-yud-vet can also mean the “father of twelve”. If so, why do we not celebrate Rosh Hashannah in Nisan? Well, in a way we do. In Meseches Rosh Hashannah 2a we read that there are four new years (translation from The William Davidson digital edition of the Koren Noe Talmud Bavli):

We will discuss this further in another blog.

About the Author
Jonathan Wolf is a retired high school physics teacher. He retired to NJ with his wife. He is an adjunct professor of physics at Fairleigh Dickinson University. He has published professional papers and has been the author of AP Physics review books as well as general HS and college physics review books. He is a past President and ritual chairman at a conservative synagogue on Long Island, NY before he retired to NJ.
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