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Parashat Vayikra 5784

March 18, 2024
by Rabbi Susan Elkodsi (AJR '15)
When I began studying Hebrew grammar with my friend Rabbi Amanda Brodie, one of the first things I learned about was the vav ha-hippukh (flipped), also called “the consecutive vav” or “narrative vav.” Normally, this letter serves as a prefix meaning “and,” “but” and sometimes “or,” and the word following is in the imperfect tense (an uncompleted action). But when this letter has a patah vowel (straight line) and the next letter has a dagesh (dot) inside, it “flips” and translates to something like, “and then….” basically suggesting a continuation of the narrative, and a perfect (completed) action.

Vayikra is the third of the Five Books of Moses, and the assumption is that it begins a new chapter in the life of the fledgling Israelite nation wandering in the wilderness. I say assumption, because unlike the other four books, this one begins with the vav ha-hippukh, alerting us to the possibility that perhaps this is really a continuation of the book of Shemot/Exodus.

The end of last week’s Torah reading, Pekudei, tells us that when Moses had finished the work of setting up the sanctuary, the Divine Presence filled the sanctuary. Because of this, Moses was unable to enter the Tent of Meeting. (Ex. 40:33-35). Now that the mishkan and its furnishings were complete, it was time for God to give further instruction regarding what would happen in this sacred space… korbanot, sacrificial offerings.

So the cloud rested in the sanctuary–vayikra el Moshe–and then… God called to Moses… and the conversation and instructions continue.

My head starts to spin when I begin to read about how these ritual sacrifices were to be performed; the butchering of the animal, dashing the blood, etc. I like to skip to the carbs–the grain offerings that took the shape of crackers, biscuits, pancakes or funnel cakes, depending on what the fine flour was offered with.

I noticed something new this time around, how the Torah introduces the grain offering: v’nefesh ki takriv korban minha la-donai… “When a person/soul presents an offering of meal to Adonai…” (Lev. 2:1)

It’s the only offering introduced this way, and that certainly didn’t go unnoticed by HaZaL, our Sages of Blessed Memory. The Talmud (BT Menahot 104) says, “Rabbi Yitzḥak says: For what reason is the meal offering different from other offerings that “a person [nefesh]” is stated with regard to it? The Holy Blessed One said: Whose practice is it to bring a meal offering? A poor person, and I will ascribe him credit as if he offered up his soul [nafsho] in front of Me.” Everyone has something to offer.

This Shabbat is also Shabbat Zakhor, the Shabbat of Remembrance, where we read the passage from Deuteronomy (25:17-19) where Moses reminds the Israelites to remember Amalek, who, “encountered you on the way and attacked-your-tail—all the beaten-down-ones at your rear—while you [were] weary and faint, and [thus] he did not stand-in-awe of God.”[1]

Many translations intimate, or downright assert, that it was Amalek who didn’t fear God, but we can also understand this as the Israelites didn’t fear God, and as a result, didn’t protect the vulnerable among them; the tired, weary and faint, those who were marginalized.

Perhaps what we need to remember is not what Amalek did, but what we did, and what we didn’t do. We fought Amalek and prevailed, but we didn’t do our best to protect our own people; we didn’t bring our best game. Parashat Vayikra tells us that when we bring a korban, a sacrificial offering, that it must be from our best, and thereby, we bring our best selves into God’s service.

The word korban has the root, kuf-resh-beit, which means, “to draw close.” Connecting these two Torah readings reminds us that when we draw close to each other, we draw close to God.

[1] Translation by Dr. Everett Fox.

Rabbi Susan Elkodsi  (AJR ’15) is the spiritual leader of the Malverne Jewish Center in NY and is immediate past president of the Long Island Board of Rabbis. Her writing has appeared on JewishSacredAging.com, and she has presented workshops for Limmud, NY, for AJR and in the community, and her book, Midrash HaZaK: Torah Wisdom by 70 Over 70 (but who’s counting), an anthology of divrei torah for older adults, will soon IY”H be published. Susan is passionate about helping Baby Boomers and older adults to find meaning and purpose in their lives within the context of Jewish tradition and teachings, and as part of a Jewish community. You can find her work on her website, www.babyboomerrabbi.com. In addition, she loves to knit, spin and weave, and she and her husband David recently added kittens Tiggr and Midnight to their family.