The tiny alef at the end of the word “Vayikra” has aroused the mind of countless generations. Normally every letter of the Chumash is written in standard size, neither bigger nor smaller than the others. This alef is an exception, and the Ba’al HaTurim explains it as part of a disagreement between Moses and the Almighty.
The word itself – with an alef – means “And He called”; without an alef it is “vayikar”, “And He happened”. There is a “vayikar” in Num. 23:24, when God happened upon Bil’am, which means that the Creator had not nominated Bil’am for distinction from the moment of creation but simply used him when he happened to be there.
With Moses, however, the Divine plan included Moses from the beginning. God worked out when He made the world that there would be a Moses, whose role was to lead the people and bring them the Torah. Moses was always present in the Divine mind and when the time came God called to him.
Moses, however, when he came to write the Torah at God’s command, did not want to show off or big-note himself, so he wanted to write merely “vayikar” as if it just happened to be his good fortune to be there when God needed someone.
Moses said, “Vayikar!” God insisted, “Vayikra!” God won the tussle. Moses had to comply, but he wrote the alef small in order to record his reluctance.
THE ETHICS OF OFFERINGS
The portion says,
“When any of you brings an offering to the Lord…” (Lev. 1:2). The sages remark that the verse can be understood as saying, “When anyone brings an offering, it shall be his own…”
A donation to the sanctuary must belong to the donor. Someone who wants to give an offering may not do so if, for example, he has stolen the item he wants to donate. Naturally, people will object and say that such a thing is quite inconceivable. But in fact it is not only conceivable but tempting.
A person’s means can possibly be the outcome of a situation or deal in which they have gained resources or even a reputation at the cost of other people. If that person now announces a generous donation to a good cause, the gift is tainted and not really his to give. It is not relevant that the cause is in desperate need of funds or support.
There is a sentence in Tanach that says, “The stone cries out of the wall…” (Habakkuk 2:11). In our context the message can well be that if, say, a synagogue is built using an ill-gotten donation, the bricks and stones of the building will shout out and the building will have no peace. The moral of the story is that it is better to remain poor but honest, and if you realise that you will be the even indirect cause of people suffering, it is better to live with your own conscience and leave other people in peace.
Not even for the sake of generosity to a good cause can Jewish ethics justify a person transgressing the rule,
“When anyone brings an offering, it shall be his own”.
READY TO RETURN
The portion begins with God calling to Moses.
He calls to every one of us, each in our own way.
According to a Midrashic source, His Divine Presence sometimes finds it has to move away from man. Human sin leads Him to move up into the first of the seven heavens, and from there into the second, the third, and even further away from the earth. What brings Him back is human righteousness.
His message is tantamount to saying,
“I yearn to return to you. Open a door by your deeds; make Me feel welcome in your midst.”
As He calls to Moses to ascend the mountain, so He calls to us to elevate ourselves morally and bring him down to be with us.
Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, and was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and the leading spokesperson for Jews and Judaism on the Australian continent. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem.