Thoughts on Vayikra

This week’s parasha is Vayikra, Leviticus 1:1 – 5:26,with a special Maftir reading,2  Deuteronomy 25:17-19, as this is Shabbat Zachor (1 Samuel 15:1-34), the Shabbat before Purim. The three verses in Deuteronomy remind Jews everywhere to remember the atrocities perpetrated against Bnei Yisrael as they traversed the wilderness and that, after HaShem establish them in the land, they were to blot out the memory of Amalek from under the heavens (Deuteronomy 25:19). Sadly, Israel apparently did not eradicate Amalek or his descendants as commanded, as the main protagonist in the Purim story is Haman (pause reading at this point to boo at his memory) of whom it is said was the son of Hammedatha the Agagite. This name recalls Agag, king of the Amalekites who was conquered and taken prisoner by Saul, and then cut into pieces by Samuel, which we will read about in the haftarah. In short, as we remember the victory of the Jews over the schemes of Haman (pause reading at this point to boo at his memory), we equally remember the command to blot out the memory of Amalek from under the heavens. The reading from the Besorah is from John 8:31-47.

This week’s reading begins, וַיּקְרָא אֶל־מֹשֶׁה, And He called to Moshe (Leviticus 1:1). But why is it said, “and He called” instead of simply “HaShem spoke to Moshe” or “HaShem commanded Moshe”? To find the answer we need to look at the end of last week’s parasha.

Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of ADONAI filled the Tabernacle. Moses was unable to enter into the Tent of Meeting because the cloud resided there, and the glory of ADONAI filled the Tabernacle. (Exodus 40:34-35)

Though Exodus ends, the narrative continues. Our parasha, Vayikra, as well as the entire book of Leviticus, carries on the narrative begun in Exodus. Thus, Vayikra begins with HaShem calling out to Moshe from the Mishkan, which Moshe could not yet enter due to the heaviness of the cloud of God’s glory, His presence, that rested upon it. Another indication of this continuation is that at the end of Exodus, chapter 40, the Mishkan was completely assembled, and Leviticus immediately begins by describing the proper way to approach HaShem through the sacrificial system.

Normally Leviticus is understood as a dry book of instructions emphasizing the legal, moral and ritual aspects of the covenant that Bnei Yisrael accepted at Mt. Sinai. Are all of these instructions really necessary? A modern novel supplies the answer.

In the novel Lord of the FliesWilliam Golding tells the story of a group of boys who get stuck on an uninhabited island. They are forced to govern themselves; however, their system quickly falls apart as the boys unleash their evil and savage sides. The result is a fight for survival. Golding’s message is that a society without rules and governments would result in a complete chaos.3

Family, as well as communal relationships and responsibilities, are defined so that individuals know the boundaries of acceptable behavior and learn what is expected as moral and ethical standards. Similarly, through the parameters and rules in Leviticus, the people of Israel know what is expected of them in their relation to the One who delivered them from Egyptian oppression to be their God and Sovereign.  Included within these parameters is the means to restore their relationship with their God and with their fellow man when they transgressed the instructions of HaShem. The idea that “all we need is love” may make a nice song, but without the parameters defining that love in relation to others it is doomed to fail and decay. Remember when the Pharisees attempted to test Yeshua asking him, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Torah” (Matthew 22:35)? His answer is well known; first, he reaffirmed the Sh’ma, then he stated that one must love their neighbor as themselves (22:37-39). However, he did not stop there. His next statement supports what was said earlier about HaShem’s instructions to Bnei Yisrael.

The entire Torah and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (22:40)

Without the Torah and the Prophets, we would not know what it means to love God or to love our neighbor – or for that matter how to love ourselves. It could also be said that without love, all of the rules and regulations are merely words on a page. The rules and regulations show us how to love, and it is love that truly empowers the rules and regulations.

Remember Yeshua’s words, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments,” (John 14:15). Later John would write to his community, “Now we know that we have come to know Him by this—if we keep His commandments,” (1 John 2:3).

A final observation, according to Jewish tradition it is customary to begin teaching young children from Leviticus instead of beginning with Genesis. It is said, “The reason for this is that the little children are pure, and the sacrifices are pure. Let the pure ones deal with purity.”However, another reason is that they have already learned the patriarchal stories at home when they were very toddlers, and they start their formal education with Leviticus so that they will learn how to interact with one another as well as with their God. Thus, echoing the words of Yeshua, “I tell you, unless you turn and become like children, you shall never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).

Shabbat Shalom

1Unless otherwise noted all Scripture references are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

2 Maftir (מפטיר) the “concluder” refers to the last person called up to the Torah on Shabbat and holiday mornings: this person also reads the haftarah portion from a related section of the Nevi’im (prophetic books). last accessed 13 March 2019.

Gleaned from Leviticus Rabbah 7:3

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