Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Vayikra
To dedicate this lesson



Rabbi Berel Wein

There is very little narrative present in the entire chumash of Vayikra which we begin to read publicly in the synagogue this Shabat. The chumash of Vayikra is also called Torat Kohanim because of the laws of the Mishkan/Temple service, the duties of the kohanim, the laws of ritual purity and impurity, and the detailed descriptions of the sacrifices offered in the Mishkan/Temple. To many people these laws and details are anachronistic if not even completely not understandable in the context of our present world and its society. Yet all of the words of the Torah are eternal and all have value to everyone at any given moment in human time. Therefore I think that it becomes obvious that the Torah here shows us that there is a world that requires sacrifices and is influenced somehow by the offering of those sacrifices. It is also a world where ritual purity and impurity matter greatly and have profound influence over human life and society. In this alternative world that we sense exists and is sometimes able to allow us a glimpse of it the chumash of Vayikra reigns supreme. In that basically unseen world all of the laws of Vayikra matter greatly. The chumash of Vayikra comes to remind us of our limitations, both mental and spiritual, and that we must be able to accept the fact that we cannot always fathom God’s motives in commanding us to do or not do certain human behavior and actions. The chumash of Vayikra is not meant to confuse and unnerve us. It is rather meant to humble us.

Human beings always wish to be in control of one’s life. But life blindsides at unexpected moments and in unpredictable ways. The experiences of life only reveal to us how powerless and irrational we really are. There is very little that we are actually able to control. Therefore human beings always long for solutions and answers that emanate from the occult - from another world of being that we dimly are aware of its existence, So here we have the rub. The Torah is unalterably opposed to magic, superstitions, and appeals to spirits. So how do we square that strict approach with the presence of all of these laws in Vayikra that obviously rely for their relevance and strength of purpose on the existence of another unseen world? The answer lies in our understanding that all of the words of the Torah are to be first taken at face value and that the ultimate reason for obedience to those Torah laws is the fact that we were commanded to do so. Many times the correct answer to the ubiquitous question of "Why?" is "Because!" All parents apply this rule of life at numerous times while attempting to raise their children in a proper fashion. The Lord for His own reasons, so to speak, employs this same method when dealing with the Jewish people who had already previously pledged allegiance to the Torah and its values. The chumash Vayikra is a prime example of this axiom of Jewish life.
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