VaYikra (Shabbat Zachor)
Lev. 1:1 – 5:26 

Rabbi Gary Pokras 

After God brought us out of Egypt with a mighty outstretched hand, what was our destination? According to Rabbi Menachem Nachum of Chernobyl (d. 1797) it was not the Promised Land! In his commentary, Meor Einayim (“Light to the Eyes”), he found the ultimate destination in this week’s Torah portion: VaYikra. 

Rabbi Menachem Mendel notes that immediately after leaving Egypt, God gives us the commandments about observing Passover and circumcision, but nothing else. Then, weeks later, at Sinai we are given the Torah but are then immediately commanded to turn our attention to building the tabernacle, delaying our understanding of Torah until the construction is completed.  

To help us better understand this sequence, he offers a parable, asking us to imagine what it would be like to suddenly bring someone who had always lived in darkness into bright sunlight. They could never endure it and could only be exposed to light little by little before they could try again. Similarly, the Israelites in Egypt lived their entire lives cut off from the light of God, and that light could only be revealed bit by bit – not all at once, lest they too become overwhelmed.  

In his commentary to VaYikra, Menachem Mendel makes two observations about the word VaYikra itself, which is also the first word in the portion and in the book of Leviticus. VaYikra means “and He/he called.” First, Menachem Mendel notes that we don’t discover it is God who is calling until later in the verse. He sees this as a kindness towards those who might be intimidated or unready (or uninterested) if they knew God was calling. Second, he notes that the last letter in the word VaYikra, an alef, is always scribed in a small superscript. He connects this to the mystical concept that this letter is the aluf, the Chief of the Cosmos who calls out to and indeed lives within each and every one of us.  

Menachem Mendel teaches that God is never stops calling us to return. We don’t always pay attention to this call. Other times we only perceive it vaguely, and without understanding that it is the Holy One calling us. In other words, we still live in darkness. He writes: “This is why the verse states VaYikra [using a pronoun and not God’s proper name]. But when we do understand that it is the Holy One calling to us, and we return from our incorrect ways and turn back to the Blessed Creator, then [the verse continues]: ‘And the Holy One spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting.’”  

The alef within is that tiny, hard to hear divine voice, speaking to us even when we are unaware of its presence. All of us, no matter how lost or wicked, can return, can make teshuvah. The alef is the divine voice within us that unceasingly invites us back to God and reminds us how much better we feel and act when we return. Each time we respond to the call, our awareness of the divine light around us increases. 

Return to the light of God is the destination, the place of Promise we all seek.