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Torah Commentary - Vayikra

                                                     *Commentary courtesy of Menahem Me-Zahav

We are starting today the third book of the Torah. The book is known to us as Leviticus, a name taken from the Septuagint - King Ptolemy’s translation of the Bible (3rd century BCE). Its Hebrew name is VaYikra and it is derived from its opening sentence: “VaYikra el Moshe - And God called upon Moses” (Leviticus 1:1). The book has also a third name: “Torat Kohanim” (The Law of the Kohanim). It points to the book’s main function, the detailing of all the duties and customs that will fill up the lives of the Kohanim, destined to become Israel’s religious leaders.                                                                                                                                                                                              

Note: The Hebrew word “Vayikra” (that starts the Sidrah and the Book) appears with a small Aleph 
          (Aleph Ze’eerah). It can be seen in the Etz Hayim Chumash page 585). Most of the Commentators,    
          explain the phenomena, as an admiration towards Moses’ great humility. The Aleph usually means 
         “Great”. I.E. the word “Aluph” (which is a derivative of the word “Aleph”) means “Head of a large 
         tribe” in the Torah, or “The title of an Army General” in modern Hebrew. All together - the small 
         Aleph at the head of our Sidrah, implies therefore, that despite being a most important man, Moses 
         was nevertheless, a most humble human being as well.                               

The Origin of Leviticus – is there any justification to doubt its origin?
Some modern Bible Critics assign the origin of Leviticus to the School of Ezrah & Nehemiah. They contend that Ezrah and his followers wrote the book on their own, to document the duties of the Kohanim in the new (2nd) Temple that was being re-built and just about to be completed (End of 6th Century BCE). 

Does this opinion make any sense? 
Let us consider the following first argument: Exodus’ ending story covers the inauguration of the Sanctuary, the consecration of the Kohanim and the incredible sense of Holiness that befell our ancestors when they observed that: “The cloud covered the Sanctuary and the presence of the Lord filled it” (Exodus, 40:34). Leviticus, which covers the duties of the Kohanim (that were just consecrated at the end of Exodus), fits therefore logically, in its traditional sequential position - right after Exodus. It should therefore also be titled ‘The Third Book of the Torah’. 
Another argument can be made as follows: The book of Leviticus contains many commands that are addressed by God Himself directly to Moses who delivers God’s instructions to the Kohanim. Many times, God speaks to Aaron and Moses together. (There is at least, one case where God speaks to Aaron alone. See Leviticus 10:8). All these people, Moses, Aaron and his children – the new Kohanim, lived some 850 years before Ezrah & Nehemiah. 
This fact, rules out therefore any suggestion that the Book of Leviticus, may have been written by anyone other than Moses himself.  

Prayer VS Sacrifice. 
Our Sidrah outlines laws regarding sacrifices offered in the Sanctuary. For almost 900 years - offerings served as the sole expression of worshipping God. Around the 3rd Century BCE, prayer in a Synagogue, started to complement the offerings. At the destruction of the 2nd Temple (68 CE) the prayer in the Synagogue, became the undisputed and only way, of worshipping God. The power of prayer, is highly valued by Rabbinical authorities. The Rambam (Maimonides - 12th Century CE) explains that: “Prayer is the best way to obtain ‘Nearness to God’. Prayer is not limited to the Temple in Jerusalem. 
It may take place everywhere, and by everyone”.  
The main offerings in the Sanctuary:
The Burnt “Olah” offering: It was tendered by a person who felt guilty over a wrong, that he  
may have committed.  With the sacrifice he was expressing his remorse, and a wish to do right in the     
Meal “Mincha” offering: It was given by a person who felt guilty, but could not afford an animal sacrifice. 
The Meal offering consisted of flour mixed with oil and frankincense (“Levonah”).
The Sin “Chattat” offering: Was presented by a person, who unknowingly misbehaved. At a later time, he found out, that his wrong doings, did harm someone else. It goes without saying, that before he brings the offering, he must apologize to the person whom he (unknowingly) harmed.
The Guilt “Asham” offering: Was an offering by a person who had willfully transgressed and wanted to ‘come clean’ before God. “And the Kohen shall make atonement for him and he shall be forgiven” (Leviticus 5:26).

The Thanksgiving - “Todah" offering: It was an expression of appreciation by its donor to God for
some good that had come to him (IE: Recovering from a disease, being released from prison, returning
unharmed from a grueling voyage, etc.). 

The Thanksgiving Offer – When should one bring it?  
              The Talmud gives an interesting sign to help people decide, when should one bring a sacrifice of  
              Todah, namely - a Thanksgiving Offer. 
               The sign varies. It depends on matching, the person’s past suffering with one of the 4 letters of the 
               Hebrew word “Chayim” (“Chet”, “Yud”, “Yud” & “Mem”) that means “Life”. 
              The letter “Chet” stands for “Choleh” (Sick) - One who was sick and has recuperated.                                                                
              The (1st) letter “Yud” stands for “Yam” (Sea) - One who was on a dangerous trip on the sea and    
              The (2nd) letter “Yud” stands for “Yissurim” (Sufferings) - One who was incarcerated and was 
              then freed.  
              The letter “Mem” stands for “Midbar” (Desert) - One who crossed the desert and has come back      

The book of Leviticus (as we read more of it) contains diverse subjects.
They all have but one objective - the promotion of the holiness and uniqueness of the Jewish people.

There are 2 Scrolls of Torah taken out today. The 1st Scroll is for the Sidrah of VaYikrah. 
It is then lifted and dressed (Hagbaha & Gelilla). Afterwards, the following section, regarding Shabbat Zachor is read from the 2nd Scroll. 

Special Maftir reading for Shabbat Zachor, Deuteronomy 25:17-19, Page 1135
 Shabbat Zachor is the 2nd of the 4 special Shabbats preceding Pesach. It takes its name from the first word   
 of the special Maftir reading: “Zachor”- Remember what Amalek did to you”. Israel must always remember   
 the brutal attack of the Amalekites, right after they left Egypt. (Deuteronomy 25:17).                                                
 God enjoins us to fight Amalek and all that it embodies, until it is “wiped off, from under the skies” (Deuteronomy 25:17-19).  

Shabbat Zachor always precedes the Holiday of Purim   -   Why?
There is a linkage between Purim and Shabbat Zachor.
And here it is:
Haman, the archenemy of the Jewish people, is described in the Purim Megilla as - “Haman Ha’aggagi”. It shows up in the following Passuk: “After those events, King Achashverosh elevated Haman the son of Hammedata Ha’aggagi” and nominated him to a higher position than all his deputies” (Esther 3:1).
In Today’s Haftarah (Below), we read about the Amalekite King Agag. It shows up in the following Passuk: “And he (King Saul) captured Agag, The king of Amalek, alive” (I Samuel, 15:8). 
The above descriptions do ‘qualify’ Haman to be a straight descendant, of the Amalekite King Agag who was defeated and caught (in our Haftarah) by King Saul.

Hence the linkage between Purim and Shabbat Zachor.

God’s Command of Zachor – Remember and Do Not Forget. 
Amalek of the 11th century BCE has since mingled, with other nations and cannot be identified any more.
The command for “Zachor – Remember” applies by most of us today, to the memory of millions of Jews murdered for just one reason: Being Jews. The ultimate defeat of the Evil Haman, serves therefore as a reminder, that we shall always strive, to make our world a safe place, for all the Jewish People.     

Haftarah: Shabbat Zachor,  I Samuel, 15:1-34, Page 1281. 
Our Haftarah is directly linked to Shabbat Zachor. It describes the war that King Saul by direct order of God, declares against the Amalekites (Circa 1025 BCE). 
It was aimed at repaying the Amalekites for their brutal attack (Some 200 years earlier), on the weak and exhausted Israelites, who just left Egypt. 
God requires a total destruction of the Amalekites. 
King Saul, in defiance of God’s command, spares the Amalekite King Aggag’s life. “And he (King Saul) captured Agag, The king of Amalek, alive” (I Samuel, 15:8). 
For losing his determination at this crucial moment - Samuel the Prophet, is ordered by God, to declare Saul to be unfit, to continue serving as king. 

Samuel notifies King Saul that he “will soon be replaced by a better man” (I Samuel 15:28). 
The tragic saga of Saul, the first King of Israel, will now start to unfold. 
David Ben Yishay (David Son of Yishay), is now destined to ascend the throne (1013 BCE) and establish the Great Kingdom of Israel, with its Capital of Jerusalem. 
It will endure for over 4 centuries (Until 586 BCE).

      Q.  Where in the Bible does the word “Yehudi” (Jewish) show up for the first time?
      A.  In the Purim Megilla - Megillat Esther.
            The Name “Mordechai Ha-Yehudi” Is mentioned a few times, as well the word “Yehudim”, which is 
            the plural version of “Yehudi”. The first time “Yehudi is mentioned in the Megilla can be found at 
            chapter 2 passuk 5. Mordechai is introduced there, as “Ish Yehudi” – “A Jewish Man”.    


Thu, July 18 2024 12 Tammuz 5784