Shabbat Vayiqra - שבת ויקרא

Maqam RAST

Small Aleph

ויקרא אל משה - At the opening of Leviticus 1:1, the Masoretic Text has a small letter Aleph at the end of the word Vayiqra (ויקרא). Although there are no definite answers as to why some letters are large or small, this has been a subject of rabbinic speculation. The word Vayiqra, "and He called," indicates that God had a direct connection in His relationship with Moses. When God calls other prophets, however, he uses the more cold word "ויקר" (translated as "appeared"), as he does with Bilaam in Numbers 23:4. According to the Ba'al HaTurim, in God's dictation of the Torah to Moses, He wanted Moses to write the word ויקרא; indicating their intimate relationship. Moses, however, in his humbleness, wanted to write the word ויקר; putting him on equal footings with prophets from foreign nations. In what seems to be a compromise, Moses makes the Aleph in Vayiqra smaller in order to follow God's dictation but at the same time not appear arrogant. Tiqqun Highlights, Beth Torah Bulletin, 3/16/19.


כי יקריב - In the Book of Leviticus, Moses teaches the proper procedure of how to offer a sacrifice should one feel inclined to do so. While sacrifices are generally viewed favorably by God (ריח ניחח לה׳), there is a possibility (see Maimonides) that the entire practice is optional (כי יקריב), and merely a concession to allow the people to worship in a way that was meaningful and well-understood by them. We learn from the prophets (Jeremiah 7:22) that technically, God, at Sinai, didn't actually command to bring sacrifices, and that He prefers that we spend our time improving the world with acts of kindness, justice, and righteousness (עשה חסד משפט וצדקה בארץ). Rather than focusing on rituals (such as sacrifices and prayers) and then living corruptly, God says (Jeremiah 9:23) that He seeks (כי באלה חפצתי נאם ה׳) those who have their priorities straight and live by ethical, moral, and honest values (Beth Torah, April 1, 2017).


אדם כי יקריב ... ונפש כי תקריב - For lavish animal offerings, Leviticus 1:2 uses the simple word, “Adam” (אדם), or man. For more simple flour offerings, Leviticus 2:1 applies the more elevated word, “Nefesh” (נפש), or soul. Although at times these words are interchangeable, commentaries derive a lesson from this. When it comes to bringing a gift to God, what is most important is not the type of gift one brings, but rather how one brings it. We learn from the specific usage of these words that God prefers the one who brings a simple flour offering but with sincerity over the one who brings an expensive meat offering brought without much thought. Since the institution of prayer is said to parallel that of the sacrifice, the same lesson applies as well. One can derive that God prefers the prayers of the one who pours out their heart and soul over the one who just shows up to services as a routine but does not actually concentrate on praying. Beth Torah Bulletin, 3/17/18.

Place Your Hand

וְסָמַ֣ךְ יָד֔וֹ עַ֖ל רֹ֣אשׁ הָעֹלָ֑ה - When one brings a burnt offering, Leviticus 1:4 instructs that they place their "hand (ידו)" on the animal's head, and this is what is acceptable. We know from other offerings that one places two hands on the animal's head, so why is the word "Yado" (ידו), singular, written here and not "Yadav" in the plural (ידיו)? The Talmud (TB Menahot 93) answers that the word "Yado" comes to teach that one must bring the offering by himself, with his own hand, and not delegate the task to a messenger (שליח). Occasionally, in contemporary Jewish society, I come across advertisements of people offering to say prayers or learn Torah on another able-bodied person's behalf (for a fee, of course), and this, in my opinion, is wrong and even disrespectful. As we learn from the word "Yado" and not "Yadav," when it comes to our sacred relationship with the Almighty, there are no intermediaries or messengers; one must have the proper respect to conduct all activities in person and not delegate the task to others. Beth Torah Bulletin, March 28, 2020.

Maqam of the Week: RAST

On Shabbat Vayiqra (Leviticus 1:1- 5:26), Maqam RAST is applied to the prayers, according to the Red Pizmonim Book, and at least 18 other sources. This maqam, defined as 'head' in Arabic (ras), and considered the "father of the maqamat," is always the first maqam used in any collection of Arabic songs. This relates here, as Vayiqra is the first perasha, or head, of Leviticus. This maqam also relates to this Torah portion, because, metaphorically speaking, sacrificing the 'head' of an animal is considered an atonement for one's head. Maqam RAST is also used each Shabbat at Minha services. Sephardic Pizmonim Project, www.pizmonim.com.