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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Vayikra

He called to Moshe. (1:1)

In this pasuk, the Torah spells Hashem's summons to Moshe with a miniature aleph. The smaller size of this letter makes it stand out as if it were a word by itself. Horav Yosef Zundel Salant, zl, interprets the aleph's size in a novel manner. He cites the Midrash in Sefer Eichah in which Chazal extol the significance of young children in the eyes of Hashem. They say that when the Sanhedrin was exiled from Yerushalayim, the Shechinah did not accompany them. Likewise, when the mishmaros, who were the various "watches" of Kohanim that served in the Bais Hamikdash, were exiled, the Shechinah remained. Only after the tinokos shel bais rabbon, young school children, were driven into exile, did the Shechinah cease to dwell in Klal Yisrael. It was only in the merit of the Torah studied by such pure souls as the young children that the Shechinah continued to abide in Klal Yisrael.

Horav Salant suggests that this is the underlying interpretation of the pasuk in Shemos 25:22, "It is there that I will set My meetings with you, and I will speak with you from atop the Kapores from between the two Keruvim that are on the Aron." Rashi explains that when Hashem spoke to Moshe, the Voice came from Heaven to the top of the Kapores. It emanated out from between the Keruvim to Moshe Rabbeinu. Apparently, a strong spiritual significance is attributed to the Keruvim. Chazal teach us that the Keruvim looked liked little children. This implies that in the zechus, merit, of little children, Hashem constricts the Shechinah in order to teach Torah and mitzvos to Klal Yisrael.

We find this idea connected to the giving of the Torah. Referring to the pasuk in Tehillim 8:3, "Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings You have established strength", the Midrash relates that when Hashem was about to give the Torah to Klal Yisrael, He questioned who was to guarantee its observance. The people responded that they would be responsible to uphold the Torah. Hashem did not accept them as guarantors, noting that they were themselves too heavily in debt to Him. "Who is there that is not indebted to You?" asked Klal Yisrael. "The young children whose commitment is pure and virtuous. They will serve as security that the Torah will be observed. I will give you the Torah through the medium of their mouths. If you do not heed the Torah, I will collect from you the security--the young, innocent children."

Thus, as Hashem's voice emanates from between the Keruvim, it begins with a miniature aleph. At times, the word "aleph" is defined as, "to teach." This implies that Hashem speaks to us in the merit of the "little aleph"--our commitment to teaching Torah to young children. The aleph zeira, is a metaphor for Jewish education. Our resolve to see to it that every Jewish child is provided with a Jewish education is the catalyst for the Shechinah's choice to repose among us. Indeed, we may be so bold as to posit that Hashem's relationship will be manifest with us commensurate with the type and manner of education we avail our children. We will receive in accordance to that which we commit.

He called to Moshe, and Hashem spoke to him. (1:1)

The third Sefer of the five Chumashim opens with a summons to Moshe. Interestingly, the word trehu --Vayikra--"He called" is spelled with a small aleph at the end of the word. The commentators all express their insights into this deviation from the norm. We suggest the following reason for the small aleph, especially in light of its position at the beginning of Sefer Vayikra, which deals with sacrifices.

The Midrash in the beginning of Vayikra minimizes our obligations as Jews. Chazal relate: Hashem says to Klal Yisrael, "I have given you ten pure animals which you may enjoy. Three of these are within your reach: the ox, the sheep and the goat. Did I ask you to go out to the mountains and valleys to find a sacrifice for Me from all ten species? No! It is sufficient if you bring your sacrifice from those three that are readily accessible, those that you tend and feed." The words of this Midrash, although simple, carry a profound message. Hashem does not ask a lot of us. He does not demand that we give everything up to serve Him. Indeed, He asks only a little. He does not ask for all ten species of kosher animals to be used as a korban. He does not demand that we scourge the forest looking for that hard-to-find animal. He does not demand that we give up every day of the week for Him--only Shabbos. We are to set aside time during the day for prayer--set aside--not devote the entire day. We have to pay the extra price for kosher food, but is that excessive? Pesach might be an inconvenience, but is it a reason to complain? Hashem asks very little of us, because that is all it takes to indicate commitment. Regrettably, the all too popular idiom, "es is shver tzu zein a Yid," "it is difficult to be a Jew," has been exaggerated by those who attempt either to magnify their commitment or to conceal their lack of dedication. One should not view the observance of mitzvos as a major sacrifice. First, as we have just explained, it really is not that demanding. Second, a Jew should view his Jewishness as a privilege, as an opportunity to come closer to Hashem. He should serve Him with excitement, enthusiasm and joy. He should celebrate every moment and opportunity that he is granted to serve Hashem.

Indeed, Horav Shraga Feivel Mendelowitz, zl, was once asked why the children of the first Jewish immigrants to arrive on these shores went off the derech, alienating themselves from their heritage. He responded, "Because their parents kept Shabbos and mitzvos with mesiras nefesh, self sacrifice." What did he mean? One would think that the only way to serve Hashem is with mesiras nefesh! The answer, however, is that while one should serve Hashem with mesiras nefesh, he should not view it as such, and, surely, should not walk around complaining about what he must give up in order to keep Shabbos and be an observant Jew. Children growing up in a home in which the parents are despondent about their lot in life, where they constantly express their dissatisfaction regarding what they have to give up in order to be observant, will not have a strong inclination to follow in their parents' traditions. A Jew must take pride in his heritage, so that he can bequeath to his children a legacy of love, joy, and enthusiasm.

When a person offers a meal-offering to Hashem...And he (the Kohen) shall scoop his three-fingersful from it, from its fire-flour and from its oil, as well as from its frankincense; And the Kohen shall cause its memorial portion to go up in smoke upon the altar.... (2:1,2)

The Torah begins the laws of the Korban Minchah, meal-offering. While the Torah lists five varieties of voluntary, personal meal-offerings, they all consist of the same basic ingredients: finely ground wheat flour, oil, and frankincense. Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, infers from the word "minchah," which in the Hebrew language means "gift" or "tribute," that the meal-offering proclaims the owner's acknowledgment that his life and all he has is a gift from the Almighty. Grain, a staple of the human diet, represents our very existence. Oil symbolizes comfort, and the frankincense alludes to joy, both gifts from Hashem. We have only to recognize their source and appreciate them.

Chazal recount a fascinating story in the Talmud Megillah 16. They relate how the wicked Haman was searching for Mordechai in order to carry out the king's decree that he take Mordechai through the streets dressed in royal garb. He found Mordechai teaching Torah to a group of students, specifically about the laws of kemitzah, the three-fingersful offering which was placed upon the Mizbayach. Haman questioned Mordechai, "What are you studying?" "We are studying the laws of kemitzah. In the times of our Bais Hamikdash, one would take a small scoop, place it upon the Altar, and it would serve as an atonement," was Mordechai's response. Haman scoffingly rejoindered, "Let your 'kemitzah' attempt to push aside my ten thousand silver talents." Haman was telling Mordechai, "Let us see if your little bit of flour has the power to override my decree backed by ten thousand silver talents."

Obviously a more significant message can be derived from this interchange. Horav Mordechai Rogov, zl, suggests a noteworthy interpretation of their dialogue. Despondency and depression must have engulfed Mordechai when he saw the wicked Haman before him. Here was the man whose one goal in life was to use his guile and power to totally destroy every living Jew. What made matters worse for Mordechai was that the single antidote to Haman's decree--adherence to Hashem's Torah--was not prevalent among the Jews. Most of the people had assimilated. They not only went to Achashverosh's banquet, they enjoyed themselves eating whatever foods they desired, acting in a manner unbecoming Torah Jews. Only a small, insignificant group of Jews, "Mordechai's people," resolutely maintained their conviction, not acceding to the dominant, rampant assimilation. What could this small group do? How could they succeed in counteracting Haman's decree?

The lesson of the kemitzah gave Mordechai hope. The bitter cup of fear and despondency transformed into a cup of consolation and encouragement when Mordechai realized that his small group of dedicated and determined Jews was essentially no different than the kemitzah. The Kohanim consumed the Korban Minchah almost completely --almost--except for one little bit: the kemitzah. The only part of the meal-offering which is placed upon the Mizbayach is the kemitzah. Yet, this insignificant "sacrifice" influences the atonement. While it is minute in quantity, its effect is overwhelming! Imagine the power and effect of a small amount if it is sacrificed upon the Mizbayach.

This was Mordechai's lesson. Regardless of their number, in spite of their size, if people are committed and willing to sacrifice themselves for their ideals, then they have the potential to save Klal Yisrael. Our strength has never been in numbers, but rather in conviction. Our power has never been in quantity but rather in commitment to Hashem and His Torah. When Mordechai told this to Haman, his response was atypical. Haman's arrogance was humbled; his strength weakened. He told Mordechai, "You are right. The power of your kemitzah is sufficient to overcome my ten thousand silver talents. I cannot defeat you with physical strength as long as even a small segment of your people remain steadfastly committed to serving Hashem. That relatively small number of Torah observant Jews has the power to undermine all of my efforts.."

It shall be, when he shall be guilty in one of these things, then he shall acknowledge/confess (to himself) what he has sinned about. (5:5)

We may note that the concept of viddui, confession of guilt, is expressed almost exclusively in the reflexive form: "vsu,vu." Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, explains that Hashem does not need our confession; He has no need for us to notify Him of our guilt. Confession is for the sinner; he must acknowledge his guilt--to himself. The first step towards penance, the initial step of contrition, is hakoras ha'cheit, recognizing that one has sinned--and accepting in earnest the error of his deeds. One cannot begin to think about offering a sacrifice for guilt until he has personally acknowledged his guilt--to himself.

All too often, we deceive ourselves into justifying our actions in an attempt to mitigate our guilt. Obviously, the fact that an individual offers a korban indicates a recognition of guilt. How much of the guilt, however, does he actually concede? One must acknowledge that he has sinned, the extent of the sin, and the true amount of his guilt--without attempting to ameliorate his transgression.

Horav Hirsch adds that it is not sufficient for an individual to merely acknowledge sin--even to himself; he must also admit to "vhkg tyj rat" concede guilt to the specific circumstances that preceded the sin. In order to avoid a repeat performance of the sin, he must recognize the situation and behavior that has led up to his downfall.

How different is the Torah's concept of viddui from the generally accepted practice of confession. Chazal view "sharing" one's sins with another human being as something to be rejected, rather than lauded. They view revealing the sins one has committed against Hashem as offensive. The one who is truly repentant views his sins with shame and attempts to hide that shame within his heart. The sin is a matter between the sinner and Hashem! To publicize one's transgression against Hashem is immature and nothing more than an attempt to decrease one's own guilt. Teshuvah is a private matter which should be noticed quietly by others, not proclaimed by the penitent.


1. What differences exist between the manner in which a Korban Olah was offered in the Bais Hamikdash and the way it was offered upon a bamah?

2. What type of Korban Olah does not require semichah?

3. Must a Kohen make the shechitah on the korban?

4. If a Kohen Hedyot wore the vestments of a Kohen Gadol when he performed the avodah, is the avodah still valid?

5. May a Yisrael perform kemitzah?

6. Which ingredient must be added to every korban?

7. If a wealthy man set aside money for a korban and then became poor; does he bring a korban according to his present financial status?


1. An Olah that was brought in the Bais Hamikdash required semichah. It was to be slaughtered on the northern side of the Mizbayach.

2. There is no semichah for an Olas ha'of, a korban brought from a fowl.

3. No. Shechitah is kosher even if performed by a zar, one who is not a Kohen.

4. No. The Kohanim must wear the vestments specified for them.

5. No

6. Salt

7. He brings a korban ani according to his present status.

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