|This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H, my grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H, my uncle Reuven Nachum Ben Moshe & my great aunt Rivkah Sorah Bas Zev Yehuda HaKohein.
It should also be in Zechus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandfather Moshe Ben Breindel, and my grandmothers Channah Freidel Bas Sarah, and Shulamis Bas Etta
-Mordechai Shlomo Ben Sarah Tili
-Noam Shmuel Ben Simcha
-Chaya Rochel Ettel Bas Shulamis
-Nechama Hinda Bas Tzirel Leah
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamos of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L, Miriam Liba Bas Aharon—Rebbetzin Weiss A”H, as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
**This D’var Torah is a re-written, much edited, and expanded version of an old one I wrote a few years ago.
וַיִּקְרָא ● Vayikra
● Why call the book, “And He Called”? ●
“Heart of the Service”
Sefer Vayikra includes little narrative and mainly discusses the straightforward Halachos, with this opening Sidrah focusing on the Korbanos, or the offerings to Hashem. As unfortunate as it is, Vayikra, by this nature, is readily considered a dull text by many of its readers, despite the unmistakable gravity of the laws contained within that text. That said, for better or for worse, we might say that there is a fair deal of contention between Vayikra and its audience.
This reality may not bother you conceptually, because, after all, there are many topics and laws from the Torah that are not popular to the masses. There are perhaps some that might come off as disturbing or in our own minds, immoral. And even if we fully concede with the morality of the Torah, it is still not simple to lead a strict, religious life, keeping the Mitzvos properly. We have temptations which run contrary to the Torah way, often which we would much rather satisfy. With that said, there is plenty in the Torah that is unappealing and uninspiring to us. That is a part of the incredible commitment to G-d which we live up to when we proceed to lead religious lives of strict Torah observance, regardless of how we feel.
However, at the same time, there are obviously plenty of aspects of the Torah which are inspiring; not just the narratives, but for example, many of the commandments, such as the celebration of the Yomim Tovim which reflect on the salvations that G-d performed for us. Certainly, Vayikra is packed with all kinds of law topics, spanning our subjective, culturally influenced spectrum, from inspirational to less so. But, at the end of the day, the larger goal is obviously one of inspiration. And when we open a new book which marks our Avodah which connects us directly to G-d, we might have expected the Torah’s presentation to air on the side of inspirational. No, G-d does not need to advertise or sell His work, but in a book revolving around that intimate relationship, perhaps it would have been appropriate for G-d to have done so. Certainly, so long as we are working with the natural challenges associated with the learning of Sefer Vayikra, one would think that the Torah might have at least begun this Sefer with a more exciting title which could perhaps capture that inspiring, all-encompassing message of the Sefer and the minds of the Sefer’s readers at that.
At first glance though, the Torah did not do that. The title, “Vayikra,”1 just means “And he called.” It isn’t even a meaningful sentence or phrase, let alone an appealing title for a book. Why was this Sefer named so plainly? Are there any thematic lessons contained in this plain and simple word, “Vayikra”-“And He called,” which might demonstrate the meaning behind this opening line for this section? Was there no better—perhaps, more captivating and awe-inspiring phrase to serve this important role? How does this seemingly weak title encompass the entire Sefer’s profound contents?
Tefilah – Keeping in Touch
As was pointed out, among the topics of this Parsha and Sefer is the concept of Korbanos which are the focal point of our Avodah. In the times of our ancestors, these sacrificial services were most essential to our Avodas Hashem. They were our means of direct spiritual connection with Hashem, as demonstrated by the root of the word “Korban” [קרבן], “Karav” [קרב], which literally means to “come close.”
Since the destruction of the Batei Mikdash which resulted from our own sins, Avodas Hashem has never been quite the same. The institution of Korbanos was discontinued, marking what seemed to be a severance of that intimate connection we had with Hashem. However, although we lack the traditional Avodah, we still possess a secret key to G-d’s innermost chambers. We have a means that our ancestors utilized perhaps just as much as they did they did the Korbanos, namely, the ability to call out to Hashem through Tefilah, genuine prayer. In that vein, the Navi urges us to plead before Hashem: “U’Nishalmah Farim S’faseinu”-“And allow our lips to compensate for bulls.”2
So, just to recap, it seems that although G-d was “forced” to discontinue and disconnect that direct line to Him which we once had in the Korbanos, He left us this means of Tefilah. That is our saving grace. But, is that all Tefilah is? Is “prayer” or Tefilah—this remaining tool—merely the “next best thing,” the second best to Korbhanos, or is there something intrinsically prevailing about this particular pathway to G-d that has allowed it to endure generations of exile and distance to Hashem?
On the one hand, the Avos used both Korbanos and Tefilah prominently, and yet, it seems that Tefilah is merely “all we have left.” Due to technicality, the lack of a Temple, we can’t offer Korbanos, so we merely rely on Tefilah. We hope that our lips can possibly satisfy the debt we incurred in animal sacrifices which we have been rendered incapable of repaying. We hope that the exchange rate between Korban and Tefilah is close enough. And yet, on the other hand, the fact that Tefilah has outlived Korbanos does not have to merely imply a simple convenience to Tefilah, but it can be suggestive of a fundamental advantage to Tefilah, that Tefilah does afford us a connection, a long-distance relationship that can never fully be taken away, even if the Korbanos could be.
On the surface, we might reject this second possibility as Chazal teach us that the gates of Tefilah were effectively “closed” with the destruction of the Temples.3 However, at the same time, we are not withheld from standing by the gates and praying nevertheless. As a community, we continue to utilize Tefilah multiple times daily, as if to suggest that, indeed, Hashem continues to be the Shomei’a Tefilah4, the Listener of our prayers.
But, again, it seems quite obvious that Tefilah has less “efficacy” than that of Korbanos and that our line to G-d is not only longer distant, but it is weaker today. The question then is that despite this reality what it is that Tefilah still affords us today. Is Tefilah merely a desperate measure for these desperate times? Is it something more?
The Heart of the Service
Well, before we can understand the essence of Tefilah, we will have to better understand the alternative Avodah, the apparently primary Avodah which we now lack, that of the Korbanos. And if one thinks about it, Korbanos are not so simple. Korbanos apparently entail that we serve G-d these worldly materials such as animals, flour, and wine libations. What exactly we expect G-d to do with these things is not so clear. What is clear though is that G-d doesn’t need them. So, what exactly is it for? Who even came up with such a bizarre idea?
Although the Gemara tells us that Adam HaRishon, Primordial Man, actually offered the first Korban5, in the Chumash itself, the credit of the first Korban, or perhaps the discredit, is apparently ascribed to Adam’s first son, Kayin. Back in Bereishis, Kayin and, soon after, his brother Hevel each brought his own respective offering to Hashem in the form of Mincha, a meal offering.6 Without delving too deeply into the story, although Kayin and Hevel both offered these Korbanos to G-d and although Kayin even initiated, G-d accepted Hevel’s and rejected Kayin’s, thus the discredit on Kayin’s part. Although from the sheep that Hevel offered and the produce that Kayin offered, it is not clear whose Korban was actually “worth more,” at the end of the day, Rashi infers from the Torah’s descriptions of the respective Korbanos that Kayin’s Korban was inferior relative to what he had to offer7; apparently, Hevel’s Korban consisted of the best portion that he had to offer.
What emerges from the narrative of Kayin and Hevel is that one’s bond with G-d depends primarily on how much of oneself one puts into that bond. Since G-d doesn’t need the “food” of the Korbanos, the the Korban necessarily can only be as meaningful as the genuine will and effort that the one offering it puts into it. Since we work for our food and it is something meaningful to us, we demonstrate a measure of good will by channeling that part of ourselves to G-d. That our relationship with G-d is contingent on how much of ourselves are we willing to offer is the basis of that which Chazal famously teach, “Rachmana Liba Ba’i”-“The Merciful One wants the heart.”8
Evidently, the offering of the Korban alone is insufficient to forge the bond that it was designed to. The Korban will be rejected if it is lacking the proper will. The Korban must be backed by genuine Kavanah or intention. Aside from putting forth his animal, one has to constantly be concerned whether or not he is putting forth his Leiv. That intention is the heart of the service.
Now that we have a better understanding of the magic of Korbanos, what is the magic of Tefilah? Is there a magic to it or is Tefilah just a severely downgraded version of Korbanos which we use only out of our lack of a better avenue?
The Service of the Heart
If Tefilah is just mindless lip service, indeed, there is likely no magic to it. Like our animal sacrifices and meal offerings, G-d doesn’t need that either. Perhaps we give something of ourselves by standing in prayer, with or without Kavanah, but we’re certainly giving no more than we would be if it were an animal sacrifice from our assets, and even then, the Korban can be rejected if it lacks passion. Although some may “practice” Tefilah in that way, that could not be what Tefilah actually is.
If so, then what is Tefilah? The word Tefilah [תפילה], more than prayer, believe it or not, has connotations of bonding.9 The word implies an intimate intertwining of two entities, which we might argue, suggests an even deeper connection than that of “Korban” which merely implies closeness. Perhaps even more fundamentally, Tefilah is referred to by Chazal as Avodah She’B’Leiv10, literally, service of the heart. That’s right! That essential element contained in Korbanos, the very gas pedal that drives Korbanos which we’ve identified as the heart, is in fact, the essence of Tefilah itself. In this way, Tefilah is not merely the service of the heart, but it is the heart of the service!
Thus, Korbanos and our daily recitation of the Siddur’s contents are nearly one in the same, but both definitionally rely on the same ingredient of Kavanas HaLeiv. But, that is what Tefilah is. It is not merely lip service, but more fundamentally, it is the heart that yearns for that bonding that characterizes Tefilah most literally. Tefilah is the heart in motion. But, again, Korbanos apparently do not work independently of the Tefilah which represents the heart of that service. Both Korbanos and Tefilah require Kavanas HaLeiv; in other words, both Korbanos and Tefilah require Tefilah, if you will. Tefilah done properly is primarily the passion and focus, creating the true bonding experience. That makes Tefilah the essence of all Avodah.
All of the above would explain why Tefilah has outlived Korbanos; it is the eternal driving force of Korbanos. It does not rely on the existence of a Beis HaMikdash, though it helps. It doesn’t even require that place one of our animals on the Mizbei’ach, though again, it helps. Tefilah, the heart of the service, comes directly from within. And without this Avodah She’b’Leiv, there is no Avodah. Tefilah is what transforms the animal carcass on an altar into a Korban in the first place, and for us, it is what transforms lip service into a genuine calling to Hashem.
The Essence of Vayikra
Perhaps, with this more sophisticated understanding of Avodah, we can return to our first issue, the seemingly lackluster name of our Parsha and Sefer, “Vayikra.” What is the unique message of “And He called”?
Now that we’ve identified the heart of Avodah, it means everything. Without the soulful call which is the basis for the relationship, there is no Avodah. And perhaps, on some level, Hashem is making that first call to us. Thus, the Sefer begins:
“Vayikra El Moshe Vayidabeir Hashem Eilav MeiOhel Moed Leimor Dabeir El B’nei Yisrael V’Omarta Aleihem Adam Ki Yakriv MiKem Korban LaHashem…”-“And He [Hashem] called out to Moshe, and Hashem spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying: Speak to the B’nei Yisrael and say to them: ‘When a man among you offers a Korban to Hashem…”1
Notice the progression. Before Hashem introduces the Avodah of the Korbanos designed to create that bond between Him and His people, He prefaces with “Vayikra”—a calling, which, as Rashi explains11, is a term of affection! It is the bond that allows the Korbanos to bring closeness. It is G-d’s Tefilah, so-to-speak.
ויקרא (“Vayikra”) + 1 = ויקרב (“Vayakreiv”)
Interestingly, the word “Vayikra” in our Sidrah is written with a small letter “Aleph” [א] (thus is reads: ויקרא), which has been expounded on by many.
However, based on our understanding of Avodah, perhaps we can suggest a unique message from the attention that is drawn to the “Aleph” in “Vayikra.” The word “Vayikra” [ויקרא] in its Gematria or numerical value is only one off from the word “Vayakreiv” [ויקרב] the language for coming close, the foundation of Korbanos. In fact, they share the same exact spelling and the only difference between the words is that “Vayakreiv” ends with a “Beis” [ב] and “Vayikra” ends with that small “Aleph.” Again, the numerical difference between the two words is just one, that letter “Aleph.” The idea may be, as was explained earlier, that essentially, a Korban is made up of Tefilah, thus, the one element that Korbanos have more is the actual motions involved in the act of offering the Korbanos. But, in essence, they’re the same. Korbanos or merely calling out—it all runs on Tefilah!
“Close to all of His callers…”
If you were not convinced by the Remez (hint), then perhaps you will be by this explicit verse which we recite three times daily in our very own Tefilah:
“Karov [קרוב] Hashem L’Chal Kor’av [קראיו] L’Chol Asheir Yikra’uhu [יקראהו] Ve’Emes”-“Hashem is close to all of His callers, to all who call Him sincerely [with genuineness].”12
This goal of Kreivus, closeness with Hashem—that which is literally accomplished by a proper Korban—can apparently be attained by a genuine, heartfelt Tefilah! Without Korbanos, but through the mere Avodah She’b’Leiv, we can still tap into the Leiv She’B’Avodah!
The message of Vayikra is a powerful one. It is that G-d is calling on Am Yisrael to perform Mitzvos and multiple Avodos. As we have been and will continue to emphasize, G-d doesn’t need our Mitzvos or Korbanos. However, the Tefilah aspect of the Korbanos and all our deeds is reflective of how much of ourselves we imbue into that Avodah. It is representative of our efforts to sacrifice part of ourselves to so that we can bond with Hashem. So, while we don’t have Korbanos today and as a result, attaining that closeness with G-d is not as simple. However, we still we still have the essence of Korbanos—“Vayikra”—the ability to call out to Hashem.
None of this is to undercut the distance that was created by the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash which marked the end of Korbanos. But, when one is desperate and needs to reach his loved one but is physically prevented from doing so, the only thing left to do is to call out to that person. “Vayikra” instructs us to do just that with Hashem. In fact, the distance which demands our calling also demands that we display our true feeling of absolute desperate need to stay connected, perhaps in a way that the “proximity” offered by Korbanos could not. Indeed, distance does not only make the heart grow fonder, but in our case, that desperation created by that distance can evoke the precisely heartfelt Tefilah which is the heart of all Avodah.
In the end, though we stand on the opposite side of a spiritual gap dividing us from G-d with the lack of a Mikdash and Korbanos, we can actually maintain the deepest level of closeness—the most fundamental bond with G-d by calling out with our Avodah She’b’Leiv, or better, the Leiv She’b’Avodah.
May we all be Zocheh to appreciate the Koach HaTefilah along with the spiritual bond it creates and take advantage of it by using this form of Avodah among all others to connect with Hashem, bringing us closer to our Geulah in the times of Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! Have a Great Shabbos Zachor & a Freilichin Purim!!
-Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂
- Vayikra 1:1
- Hoshei’a 14:3
- Brachos 32B and Bava Metzia 59A
- Amidah, Shema Koleinu
- Avodah Zarah 8A
- Bereishis 4:3-4
- To 4:3 citing Bereishis Rabbah 22:5, Tanchuma 9, and Targum Yonasan
- Sanhedrin 106B
- See Rashi to Beresishis 30:8 citing Onkelus.
- Ta’anis 4A
- Citing Toras Kohanim 1:6-7
- Tehillim 145:18