My dear readers, once again, we are taking a break in our New Testament series. We will get back to it as we draw closer to the Passover and Easter season, and in our Passover reflections you will see that the last days of Jesus are much better understood when seen through the Hebrew Bible. Before we do that, however, we will make two stops: next week I will share another another fascinating story about Purim; but today, we will again look at the Torah Portion. I just can’t miss one of the most amazing parashot in the whole Torah – Vayikra – the beginning of the Book of Leviticus.
HE CALLED – OR IT JUST HAPPENED?
Most of my readers probably know that the name of the Torah portion comes from the first words of the portion – and when it begins a book (as in our case today), it’s the same as the name of the book. Thus, the Torah portion VaYikra is the first Torah Portion of the book VaYikra (Leviticus). And here is the amazing part: this word VaYikra, the very first word of this book and this portion, contains a mystery. Some of you may know that there are three sizes of the letters in Torah—regular, oversized and miniature; each time we see a letter of a different size, we don’t see it as a scribal error, but look for a profound explanation. In the original Hebrew text, the very first word of our portion, “VaYikra” (Leviticus 1:1) has one specific feature: it is written with a small aleph at the end: Vayikra. Why? Why do we have this tiny aleph here? What is the hidden message behind this “scribal anomaly”?
In the Jewish commentaries, many explanations have to do with humility: Moses attained the highest level of humility, they say, and it was expressed by this miniature aleph of Vayikra. There is, however, another explanation, that I would like to share here. The word “VaYikra” without the aleph, would read “VaYiker”, which means – “and it happened”. As Rashi writes, “The expression ויקר has the meaning of coincidental happening.” There is a huge and truly ontological difference between the worldview based on Vayikra—”and He called,” and the worldview based on VaYiker—”and it happened“. While we are here on this earth, everything, absolutely everything, can be seen as something that “just happened,” as opposed to something that “He has called” into being: something He has created; something that He has caused. But faith knows that there is a little aleph beyond everything that “just happens,” — and it is this aleph that makes all the difference.
THE SPIRITUAL TOPOGRAPHY
The book of VaYikra (Leviticus) is placed in the very center of the Torah: there are two books before, and two books after. There is so much action before Leviticus— all the wonderful events and stories of Genesis and Exodus, all the great narratives that make for such dramatic and colorful pictures in childrens’ Bibles. There is also some action after this book, in Numbers and in Deuteronomy, although the very tone of the stories of the last two books is completely different from the first two. But here, in VaYikra, there is almost no narrative, virtually no action—everything stands still here. Why?
Torah is amazing. It’s incredible how we find, in every reading, something completely new in what seems to be so well known! Only recently I realized how profoundly the spiritual topography of our lives is reflected by the very placement of its books. I can certainly relate, as I imagine many of us can, to this spiritual topography. We have all had our Genesis and Exodus times, full of events and stories, actions and narratives, and through all these stories, all these turbulent times and battles, God eventually brought each one of us to the pinnacle of our lives, to our own Mount Sinai. There He met us; there He claimed us and called us His own. Then, after this wonderful experience, we got busy with doing things for Him – with being engaged in endless activities, with building Him a sanctuary. Inevitably, however, a moment comes, when, for one reason or another, all these activities stop, all of a sudden everything becomes still. And then, like Moses, we find ourselves in the next book of our lives — VaYikra.
Rashi quotes Rabbi Judah as saying: “Thirteen times in the Torah, God spoke to Moses and Aaron together, and corresponding to them were thirteen other occasions where God spoke only to Moses.” This is one of those times. Here God speaks to Moses only. I imagine when God first began speaking here, that Moses was confused, perplexed, even dismayed for a while. It’s not that he had never heard His voice before this book – by the time we enter this book, Moses is already a great and accomplished leader who knows really well the voice of the Lord and has done amazing things for Him and with Him. He had just led the people out of Egypt, received the Ten Commandments, had just completed building the Tabernacle, and I suppose, after all these activities, he was ready to just go on. I’m sure he expected the Lord to keep giving him some practical and guiding instructions: “Lord, what do you want me to do next? What do you want me to build for you? Where do you want us to go?” But there is no going or building in VaYikra. Instead, the Lord speaks of sacrifice.
As I have mentioned several times, it’s very likely that in the first century most synagogues in Israel followed the triennial cycle, however we don’t possess enough information to make a definitive conclusion. There were probably some synagogues in the Land which followed the annual cycle, in which case we can imagine Jesus, in these very days of the year, just a few weeks before His sacrifice, listening on Shabbat to this Torah portion.
Do you know that in Hebrew, the root karav ((קדב), from which the words lehakreev, to sacrifice, and korban, sacrifice, are formed, is the very same root that also forms the word lehitkarev, to come near, to draw near, to come closer. Yes, it is that simple: if you want lehitkarev leElohim—to come closer to God—you have to lehakreev, to go through korban—sacrifice. It is the same process, the same root. And only when we learn to sacrifice does the real closeness, the true intimacy with God, come. This new closeness with God is even greater than we previously experienced. God stops us – because He wants us closer to Himself. He wants us lehakreev – to sacrifice, and by doing that, lehitkarev – to come closer, להקריב ולהתקרב. Was this something that Jesus thought of as he listened to this portion?
I would like to remind you, my dear readers, that we offer a course, called Weekly Torah Portion, and those interested to study in depth Parashat Shavua, along with New Testament insights, are invited to sign up for this course (or to contact me for more information and for the discount). Also, I wanted to let you know that my book “Unlocking the Scriptures” is published already and is available on Amazon. You might enjoy also my other books, you can get them from my page: https://blog.israelbiblicalstudies.com/julia-blum/