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Rabbi's Erev Shabbat Message

03/27/2020 01:50:15 PM


Shabbat Shalom - Shabbat Vayikra
Shir Tikvah Learning Community

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Saturday, March 21st 
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grab your own bagel and coffee and log in a little early.

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Taking Leave of Shabbat

Saturday, 8:00 pm

Join Leora Troper and family  for
the prayers that mark the end of  Shabbat and begin a new week. 

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What you might want to have in your own home to participate:

A container of sweet smelling spices

A havadalah (three braided) candle

A glass of wine - for dunking, not for drinking



Rabbi Ariel Stone returns from sabbatical until April 1st. 


Many thanks to  Rabbi Brian Zachary Mayer for his kindness, his teachings, his sense of humor, and help during this difficult time. 

How we interpret the Bible
can lead to wonderful learning
about the self.


*Vayikra*, “And he called.”
Leviticus 1:1–5:26



My friends who have been reading this weekly column, this is odd. It’s odd because it’s my last Torah portion message to you as “the rabbi filling in,” and it is the first chapter of the next book of the Bible. So, it’s a closing and an opening. I thank you for reading my words, and I send you love.

Should you want to keep up with me, I send a 40/52 week a year newsletter which you can find here:



The book of Exodus ended with Moses and the Israelites creating the tabernacle for God can dwell among them.


The sections

God instructs Moses on the five different kinds of sacrifices that were to be offered in the sanctuary: The olah or burnt offering was a voluntary sacrifice that had a high degree of sanctity and was regarded as the standard offering. The entire animal, except for its hide, was burned on the altar (1:1-17).

The minchah or meal offering was a sacrifice made of flour, oil, salt, and frankincense that was partly burned on the altar and partly given to the priests to eat (2:1-16).

The zevach sh'lamim or sacrifice of well-being was a voluntary animal offering from one's herd, sometimes brought to fulfill a vow (3:1-17). The chatat or sin offering was an obligatory sacrifice that was offered to expiate unintentional sins. This offering differed from the others in the special treatment of the blood of the animal (4:1-5:13).

The asham or penalty offering was an obligatory sacrifice of a ram that was required chiefly of one who had misappropriated property (5:1-26).


rB’s Reflection



When one—even someone not able to read Hebrew—looks at the text of the written words on a Torah scroll, one sees that most of the columns of text are maintained with the occasional indentation and otherwise perfect full justification. At times, though, one sees things that are different from the standard. For example, there is a section in Exodus about the parting of the Red Sea is beautifully spaced, like a three rung ladder—you can’t miss it. (Look at it here.)

And then there are small abnormalities—like the one that begins the book of Leviticus. The last letter—the aleph—of the first word—Vayikra—is diminutive. (See it here.)

You might know about enlarged letters, such as the bet at the beginning of Genesis and the ayin and daled of the Shema. This is like that. (If you want to see lots and lots more letters inverted, cut through, or a final letter in the middle of the word, try this link.)

Here, the last letter—an aleph—of the first word, the titular word—“And He called”—is small.

[I don’t like that the male singular pronoun is used here to describe God—who is beyond gender. But the need to translate it this way, as it is, is pertinent to understanding the literal word we are speaking about.]

Why? Why is the last aleph smaller?

(Read on.)


Simcha Bunim of Przysucha, a 19th-century hasid, suggests the small aleph is due to Moses’s humility. He imagined that God said the word Vayikra and Moses wanted to write it kuf-resh-hay—to mean “and it happened”—but that God insisted on Moses writing it kuf-reish-alef—that God called him.

Moses, the idea goes, was humble.

He didn’t want to point out that God had called him.

The compromise was Moses wrote it with the small aleph.

Because of his humility.

Which reminds me of a joke.

A brilliant rabbi was subpoenaed as a witness and after being sworn in was asked, “Is it true you are a great scholar?” The rabbi responded, “In fact, I am among the top five scholars in the entire world.” The judge, taken by the brazen statement, questioned him, “Doesn’t Judaism extol a virtue of humility?” The rabbi looked down at his feet and said, “Absolutely, your honor; however, I am under oath.”

Humility is of great importance. It reminds us that we are not as capable as we might think ourselves to be. That none of us are really much of anything without others.

And, yet, of course, we are all fabulous.

Both. Both at the same time. We need to be humble. And, we need to remember we are amazing.

For this reason, Simcha Bunim suggested we carry two slips of paper in our pockets—one that reads “I am but dust and ashes,” and one that reads “for my sake, the whole world was created.”


Look back up at the summary of this portion. It’s rules upon rules upon rules for how to sacrifice bulls.

Which, I think is why many of the traditional commentators spend so much time talking about the first word. Cause the rest of this portion is really bull.

(That was supposed to be a little joke. The “bull” part.)

Read on, you’ll see where I’m going with this.

Of yourself

So why is it important that we study this book, which Neil Gilliland—who I randomly found on the internet—calls “One Hundred and One Ways to Kill a Bull”?

The traditional answer is that the Torah is a document for all times and if you do not find something meaningful in it, the deficiency is that you did not look hard enough.

So, why look at detailed laws of sacrifices? Because in the details there are amazing things that can be found.

For example, while the English translations of Leviticus 1:2 reads, “When any of you presents an offering of cattle,” the Hebrew stumbles a little on the placement of the “you.” A more direct translation would be “A man who brings of you an offering of cattle.”

What might this mean?

That the true sacrifice anyone is supposed to do is of their own sense of self.


Signing off—littleBIG

Today we looked at the first word and the second verse of Leviticus.

That’s it.

And, so much came out of it.

It never ceases to amaze me how much can come out of so little.

It has been an honor to share what I know with you.

That you have read it humbles me.

With love,


Thu, April 2 2020 8 Nisan 5780