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Parshas Vayikra

Vayikra el Moshe Vay’dabeir Hashem ailav m’ohel mo’ed laimor (1:1)

            It has become customary for children to begin learning Chumash with the study of Parshas Vayikra. The Medrash (Vayikra Rabba 7:3) questions why it wouldn’t be more appropriate to start from the beginning by learning Parshas Bereishis, and answers that because our parsha discusses the bringing of sacrifices, which restore and enhance one’s purity, it is appropriate for young children, who are naturally pure, to begin their studies here. Although the two may share similarities, Rav Shimshon Pinkus questions what value there could be in teaching these concepts to such young children, who surely are incapable of grasping the intricate laws and underlying ideas behind the various sacrifices, as opposed to episodes from Sefer Bereishis with which they are familiar and to which they can relate more easily.

Rav Pinkus likens this question to the case of a simple villager who amasses enough money to purchase an automobile. Excited to show off his new purchase, he drives it everywhere until one day – out of fuel – it suddenly refuses to move any further. He turns for advice to a more sophisticated acquaintance, who advises him to refill the gas tank. In his ignorance, the villager argues that enough damage has been done in that his prized possession has ceased to function, and that adding dirty, smelly water to the vehicle could only make the situation worse. His friend patiently counters by noting that the villager didn’t produce the car and as such, is incapable of understanding how it works. The manufacturer, on the other hand, is intimately familiar with its every last detail, and has made it known that foul-smelling gasoline, and only gasoline, is capable of enabling it to continue functioning properly.

Similarly, even the most profound and experienced educator lacks the ability to fully comprehend the neshama of a child due to the simple fact that he didn’t make it. Hashem, who produces and inserts each precious soul into a Jewish child and therefore possesses the unique insight and knowledge into its inner workings, has declared that the essence of the soul is its pure source from just underneath His Throne of Glory. As such, He recognizes that the “fuel” so vital to the successful growth and nourishment of the neshama is the pure study of sacrifice.


Al kol korban’cha takriv melach (2:13)

            The Gemora in Taanis (2a) refers to prayer as “the Divine Service of the heart,” and we find repeatedly that the laws concerning the daily prayers are derived from those which govern the offering of the sacrifices in the Beis HaMikdash. If so, where do we find in our prayers a parallel to the requirement that every sacrifice be accompanied by salt? Rav Moshe Meir Weiss quotes a beautiful answer that he once heard from a Mr. Levinger, who suggested that our heartfelt, salty tears are intended to correspond to the “salt” which was brought together with every single offering!


V’im lo tagi’a yado dei she v’heivee es ashamo asher chata shtei torim
o shnei b’nei yonah l’Hashem echad l’chatas v’echad l’olah (5:7)

            Rav Nochum Boruch Ginsburg, author of Mekor Boruch, recounts that he once entered the home of the Ohr Someach, Rav Meir Simcha of D’vinsk, and found him beaming with clearly visible pleasure. Rav Meir Simcha explained to his guest that he had just merited to develop a beautiful and original insight into the subject he had been studying, for which he had received quite an unexpected approbation.

            The Gemora in Chullin (22a) rules that a bird which is brought as a Korban Olah may only be offered during the day and not at night, similar to the law regarding an animal which is brought as a Korban Chatas. The Gemora questions the need for stating this explicitly, as this law should be derivable from a more general principle, and answers that without this explicit ruling, we might have mistakenly concluded that the general rule is applicable only to the bird brought as a Korban Chatas but not to the one offered as a Korban Olah, thus rendering it necessary to directly state otherwise. The Rashba, in one of his responsa (1:276), questions the logic of the Gemora in suggesting that we might have differentiated between the laws of the two birds, as in regard to this law they are completely identical, and therefore concludes that this wording was mistakenly inserted into the Gemora and should be deleted.

            A number of commentators (Ibn Ezra, Moshav Z’keinim in the name of the Rosh, and Tur HaAruch) question why the Torah requires the poor person of our verse to offer two birds in lieu of the one animal he would have brought had he had sufficient means. They explain that because the bird lacks the inner organs of the animal, an additional bird is brought as a Korban Olah as a replacement for the missing innards.

Based on this explanation, Rav Meir Simcha suggested that the line in the Gemora which the Rashba found to be erroneous can now be easily understood. Because the entire premise of the bird which is brought as a Korban Olah is to compensate for the lacking innards of the animal he would have otherwise brought, it makes perfect sense to assume that just as the innards may indeed be offered at night, so too may the Korban Olah be brought at night, with the general rule requiring the sacrifice by day applicable only to the Korban Chatas, had the Gemora not explicitly ruled otherwise.

After his intense effort to develop this insight, Rav Meir Simcha briefly dozed off. In his dream, he saw all of the great Rabbis from previous generations sitting in the Heavenly Court and discussing the present lack of individuals capable of generating true and original Torah novellae. At this point, the Rashba himself stood up and announced, “In the city of D’vinsk there lives a Rav who has understood and delved into the truth of the Torah even more than I merited to do!”


V’im nefesh ki secheta v’as’sa achas mikol mitzvos Hashem asher lo teiasena v’lo yada v’asheim v’nasa avono v’heivee ail tamim min ha’tzon b’erk’cha l’asham el ha’Kohen v’chipeir alav ha’Kohen al shig’gaso asher shagag v’hu lo yada v’nislach lo (5:17-18)

            A number of commentators are troubled by the fact that the sacrifice prescribed by the Torah for somebody who is in doubt whether he indeed transgressed, such as a person who ate one of two pieces of meat and subsequently found out that one of them wasn’t kosher, is significantly more expensive – 48 times more – than that required of a person who knows with certainty that he sinned, as logic would seem to dictate that the opposite would be more appropriate.

            The Mir yeshiva spent much of World War 2 in exile in Shanghai. Aware of the dangers faced by their families and friends, the daily prayers were intense, and those during the Yamim Nora’im were powerful beyond words. One year, in the middle of the Rosh Hashana prayers, one of the boys walked out, only to return minutes later wearing a different outfit. At the conclusion of the prayer services, several boys inquired about his peculiar behavior. He explained that he had been trying his utmost to pray with the concentration and devotion appropriate for the Day of Judgment, but try as he might, he repeatedly felt that his prayers weren’t coming out properly or ascending heavenward. He finally remembered that a number of mystical sources write that wearing shatnez can prevent a person’s prayers from being accepted, and he realized that the new suit he had received for Yom Tov had never been tested for shatnez. Suspecting it as the culprit, he quickly returned to his room and donned his regular weekday suit, and indeed noticed a marked improvement in his prayers. After the holiday concluded, his new suit was checked and indeed found to contain shatnez, just as he had suspected!

            The Chasam Sofer writes that if the smallest bit of dirt would fall onto a bride’s gown, it would be easily detected and removed. If, on the other, it falls onto an already filthy garment, it would be difficult to locate as it would blend in with the other numerous stains which preceded it. Similarly, if a righteous person is unsure whether or not he has sinned, as in the case of a person who finds out that he may have consumed a non-kosher piece of meat, he will be able to clarify the matter himself by simply checking his pure neshama to see if it has been sullied, just as the student in Shanghai was on such a high level that he was able to detect and identify the problem with his suit. Our verses speak about the case of a person who is unable to recognize whether or not he sinned, which can only be the case if his originally pristine soul has been repeatedly stained through his prior transgressions, and it is for arriving at this pitiful spiritual state through his previous sins that the Torah requires such an expensive sacrifice to effect his atonement!


V’lo osi karasa Yaakov ki yagat bi Yisroel (Haftorah – Yeshaya 43:22)

            The Darkei Mussar (Parshas Balak) writes that from the thousands of parables developed and related by the Dubno Maggid, there were three which the Kotzker Rebbe proclaimed as having been said with Ruach HaKodesh (Divine Inspiration). One of those three was used to explain our verse.

            A businessman once returned home from his travels and hired one of the young porters at the train station to carry his luggage to his home. Upon arriving at the man’s house, the porter put down the bags and approached the man to receive his payment. The traveler took one look at the boy and informed him that he had mistakenly brought the wrong suitcases. The surprised porter questioned how the businessman could make this claim with such certainty when he had yet to even see the bags which were still outside. The man explained it was clear from the boy’s appearance that he had sweated and exerted tremendous effort to transport the luggage, but the bags which belonged to the businessman were filled with lightweight items which wouldn’t have required such exertion, so it could only be that the porter mistakenly brought the wrong suitcases.

            Similarly, Yeshaya relates that Hashem tells the Jewish people, “You haven’t called Me” in your performance of mitzvos. The Ohr HaChayim HaKadosh writes (Bamidbar 23:21) that the study of Torah and the performance of mitzvos should be enjoyable and invigorate a person, as Yeshaya teaches (40:31), å÷åé ã' éçìéôå ëç – those who look to and trust in Hashem will be constantly strengthened and refreshed. The Navi chastises the Jews that they must not be learning and doing mitzvos for Hashem’s sake, and the proof to this claim is instead of feeling renewed and energized, “you grew weary of Me!”


Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1)     The Medrash (Vayikra Rabba 7:3) states that in the absence of the Beis HaMikdash, one who recites and studies the laws of the various sacrifices will be considered in Hashem’s eyes as if he actually brought them. When the Temple will be speedily rebuilt, will a person who sinned and subsequently recited the passage discussing the appropriate offering still be required to physically bring the offering, or will his recitation render him as one who has already brought the required sacrifice and is therefore exempt? (Shu”t Lev Chaim, Matamei Yaakov, K’motzei Shalal Rav)

2)     The Baal HaTurim explains (1:1) that the letter “aleph” in the word “vayikra” is written smaller than the other letters due to the humility of Moshe Rabbeinu, who preferred to use the expression “vayikar” – which is used in reference to Hashem’s communication with Bilaam and which connotes that the contact was coincidental. Hashem instructed him to write “vayikra,” so he wrote a small letter “aleph.” However, the expression “vayikra” is used in reference to Hashem’s speaking to him several times previously (Shemos 3:4, 19:3, 19:20, 24:16). Why did Moshe only write a small “aleph” at this point? (Yaaros Devash Derush 6, Rav Shmuel Dovid Walkin quoted in Peninim MiShulchan Gevoha)

3)     The Medrash in Pirkei D’Rav Eliezer (31) states that the shofar which was blown at Mount Sinai and which will be blown to herald the coming of Moshiach comes from the horn of the ram which Avrohom Avinu offered as a Korban Olah (Bereishis 22:13) in place of Yitzchok. However, the Gemora in Chullin (90a) derives from an apparently redundant word (1:9) that the Kohen is required to burn the animal’s horns and hooves together with the rest of the animal, so how was Avrohom permitted to save the ram’s horn? (Ohr HaChayim HaKadosh 1:9)

4)     In one of the songs traditionally sung at the meal eaten on Shabbos morning – “Boruch Keil Elyon” – the refrain praises a person who observes Shabbos as pleasing Hashem just as one who offers a “minchas machavas” – a pan-baked meal-offering (2:5) Of the five different categories of menachos (meal-offerings), why is one who keeps Shabbos specifically compared to this type?

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