This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
The latest article is posted here once a week. You can search the archive for past articles.
Parshat Vayikra (5764)
If you look in a Torah scroll you will see that the first word in this week's section ends with a small letter "VAYIKRa" (G-d CALLED).
That's the way it's supposed to be written.
This does not seem to make sense. This small letter changes neither the meaning nor the pronunciation of the word. Why is it small?
Even more, why does the Torah use 'G-d CALLED' here and deviate from the usual term; "G-d SPOKE (VaY'DABER)"?
Also, this week begins the month of Nissan; the month of miracles and we begin and we begin to learn the detailed laws of animal sacrifices.…. Is there any connection?
Here are two stories that will, with G-d's help, help us understand.
First story: When the second leader of Chabad, the holy 'Mittler' Rebbe, passed away the obvious successor was his son-in-law (and nephew) Rabbi Menachem Mendel (the Tzemach Tzedik). His insight, care, strength of character, complete Torah knowledge, desire to strengthen Judaism and willingness to fight all its enemies made him a candidate not only to be the leader of Chabad but the leader of the entire world! (Hence his name Tzemach Tzedik hinting at the Moshiach whose name will also be 'Tzemach')
But he flatly declined! A large contingent of Chassidim even came to his house to change his mind but still he adamantly refused saying "Who am I to be a leader?"
They answered, "That is exactly why we want you! We need someone who truly does not want to be a leader. THAT is the best sign of a true leader!" (e.g. Moses and King David)
Second story: The Tzemach Tzedik became Rebbe and in the latter years of his life a large group of some twenty Chassidim from the city Tolinesh in Serbia decided to travel to Lubavitch (a three month journey!) to spend Passover with him. They left their city shortly after Chanuka and shortly before Pesach they arrived at their destination.
They assumed that because they come from afar they would certainly be allowed to enter the Rebbe's Seder on the night of Pesach itself. But they were in for a disappointment.
On the night of Pesach they finished their festive meal as quickly as possible and rushed to the Rebbe's home but the Rebbe's secretary would not let them in.
Besides the fact that the Rebbe was weak and it was not his custom to eat the Pesach meal in public his house was simply not big enough to take so many guests. Rather, the secretary suggested, they should go to the home of the Rebbe's son, Rabbi Yehuda Leib, who was also a holy genius and would certainly give them an unforgettable spiritual experience.
With no other choice they went. It was already late by the time they reached Rab Yehuda Leib's house and then they had to wait over an hour while he rested. But finally he received them cordially and told them that because it would soon be morning and he didn't have time to sit with them at length, he would tell them a wondrous story that he just experienced the other day.
They agreed and he began.
"Last year I asked my father for permission to listen in to some of his private audiences and one day he told me to hide in one of the corners of the room and listen.
"The first person that entered was a well built, clean shaven young man of some twenty years old that seemed to be very anxious and afraid of something.
"He told the Rebbe that he was a Cantonist (Jews that had been snatched from their homes at a young age and 'prepared' for service in the Czars army by torture to 'wean' them from Judaism). He, unlike many others, survived and resisted the weaning process but now he decided he'd had enough and he deserted. He was on the run and he needed the Rebbe's blessing so he wouldn't get caught.
"But my father didn't agree. 'No! NO!' he said forcefully. 'You must go back to your battalion as soon as possible and G-d will protect you from all harm. You will merit to have long life and see children and grandchildren learning Torah and doing the Commandments of G-d.'
"The bewildered soldier looked at the my father in disbelief and said, 'But Rabbi, if I go back now … just for leaving these few days I could have my head chopped off. You don't know our commander. He is a very cruel person, a wicked animal, and a Jew hater at that!'
"'Don't worry!' he assured him with a smile.'It will be all right. Just tell him you went to visit relatives and he will let you off.'
"'The soldier took a few seconds to digest it all but finally nodded his head, said he would do what the Rebbe told him and began to turn to go. But my father stopped him.
"'I have a request for you, please don't refuse. Soon will be the days of Passover, ask permission from your commander to allow you to go for two days to the nearest town to celebrate the holiday with other Jews. Certainly he will agree. But, please do not sleep in the same house that you eat at. Rather, both nights of the holiday go to the Synagogue and sleep there no matter how much your host insists you sleep by him.
"'Afterwards return to your battalion and then on the seventh day of the holiday again plead before your commander to give you a second leave for the last two days of the holiday. Also this time… do not sleep in the house where you eat but rather go to the general guest house.' The soldier agreed, saluted, bowed and left.
"This was almost exactly a year ago" Said the Tzemach Tzedik's son, "and since then I had heard nothing. Then, just a few days ago my father again told me to hide in the corner of his room.
"I waited, suddenly the door opened and who entered? None other than the same soldier! But this time he was full of gratitude and excitement! He apologized for the delay and explained that this was the first opportunity he had since then to get a leave. He told my father what happened.
"He followed the Rebbe's advice, returned to his commander and it was just as the Rebbe had said; when he said that he went to see relatives, he smiled understandingly, slapped him on the shoulder and released him. It was a revealed miracle!
"But that was just the beginning. A few days later; the day before Pesach, he again approached his commander asked for a two day leave to spend the holiday in the town and his request was granted! Another miracle!
"Just hours later the soldier was seated around a richly decorated table with other well dressed Jews in a warm festive home about to begin the Pesach Seder. It was like being in heaven! During the meal tiredness overcame him several times but he made it till the end. Then after the meal was over he remembered what the Rebbe said and dragged himself to the nearby Synagogue to sleep despite the pleading of his host to stay.
"As he entered the Shul a dejected, disheveled fellow of about fifty year of age stood up from the corner where he had been sitting and approached him.
"The man was obviously desperate for someone to talk to and despite the fact that it was obvious that the soldier desperately wanted to lie down, he poured out his sad story.
"His name was Efriam the Tailor. He had been a wealthy man but after his wife tragically passed away over a year ago he made the mistake of marrying a woman some twenty years his junior without really investigating her. After several months of what he thought was a happy marriage, while he was on a business trip, she took all his valuables and ran off with one of his gentile servants leaving him penniless.
"He reported it to the police but there was nothing they could do and when the news of his tragedy spread his creditors began hounding him. They foreclosed all his mortgages and took even the roof over his head. Now he had only this Shul to call home.
"The soldier comforted him as best as he could before he went to sleep on one of the benches and the same scene repeated itself the next night but in more detail; his wife's name was Sherel the servant's was Vashka etc.
"That next evening the soldier returned to his camp and, just as the Rebbe promised, five days later his commander again agreed to give him another two days holiday leave.
"In the meantime the troops had moved and were now encamped near a larger city where the Jewish community had better arrangements for guests; two guest houses, one for men and one for women.
"That night after the holiday meal, the soldier again left his host's house, turned to the men's guest house, was given a bed and went promptly to sleep. But in the middle of the night he was awakened by drunken singing and yelling.
"It seems that bunch of gypsies had somehow gotten in to the guest house and, not noticing him and thinking they were alone, began drinking and carousing. The soldier was about to yell at them to leave but suddenly he heard one of the voices was a woman's! He listened and he heard the names 'Sherel' and 'Vasha'! Somehow the Rebbe knew that they would be there!!
"The soldier snuck out quietly from the room, rushed to the home of the town Rabbi, they both went to the police and that night the thieves were arrested, imprisoned and forced to return almost all of what they had stolen.
"The soldier, as he told the story to my father, became more and more amazed and so did I!" And the visitors from Tolinesh were satisfied.
From the first story we see the Rebbe's true humility and in the second we see his detailed love for every Jew. And now we can answer our questions.
Rashi explains that the word 'VaYikra' implies a calling in endearment… but only when spelled with the last letter 'Alef'. Without that last Alef (as when G-d called 'VaYikr' to the evil Bilam (Num. 22:4)) it means a cold, perfunctory calling.
The 'Alef' represents the G-dly soul of each Jew [the first letter of the first word (Anochi) of the Ten Commandments (Which contains the entire Torah)].
But the SMALL Alef implies humility.
This is what endears the Jewish people to G-d. As the Torah says (Deut. 7:7) "You are the smallest of all the nations"
But there must be a Jewish leader in every generation (like Moses in our weekly portion and the Rebbe in our stories) that teaches the Jews this lesson.
True Jewish leaders are living examples of humility and their entire job is to teach the world humility: Namely that G-d miraculously creates us constantly from nothing and we must be grateful that we can repay Him by doing His commandments.
Even if it means bringing an animal (i.e. the selfish animal in each of us) to a place it doesn't seem to belong (the Holy Temple) to transform and unite it to its creator.
This is the secret of the sacrifices; 'KORBON' stems from the word "KOROV": to come close.
When all these 'animals' are united with the Creator then the .. the small 'Alef' of each Jew will also unite with all the others as ONE (alef) and the truth will be revealed; that G-d, the Torah and the Jewish people are one.
This is the message of the month of Nissan, the month of Miracles (Nisim) and the month of Redemption. Just as Moshe miraculously led us from Egypt so will Moshiach lead us from the terrible exile we are in now.
He will strengthen Jewish identity, brotherly love and closeness to HaShem and His Torah. Just as the Rebbes of Chabad have been doing for almost 300 years.
May we see the complete redemption this Nissan with …. Moshiach NOW!!
Copyright © 1999-2018 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.