Parshas Vayikra

Throughout the entire Torah there is a rather striking peculiarity. Moshe Rabeinu – Klal-Yisroel’s supreme leader, the Emissary of God to emancipate Klal-Yisroel — is called by a name that he didn’t receive at birth. Instead of being referred to by a name that he received from his parents, he is called by a name he was given by Basyah the daughter of Paroh who had somewhat adopted Moshe. The truth is, in the Chumash itself there is no mention of any name for Moshe Rabeinu other than Moshe. The Medrash tells us that he was named by his parents either Tov or Tuvia (for differing opinions on this, see Gemorah, Sotta 12:). The question is: why doesn’t the Torah refer to him as Tuvia/Tov? Furthermore why doesn’t the Torah even mention the fact that he was given the name Tuvia/Tov at birth, why must he remain unnamed till he goes to live with Bas-Paroh?


The Yalkut at the beginning of this week’s Sedra explains that Moshe is always referred to as such because Hashem chose to call him Moshe as the Passuk says “and He called to Moshe”. Although this would explain why we call him Moshe, it doesn’t really explain why Hashem calls him Moshe. In other words this Medrash (Yalkut) only serves to strengthen our earlier questions.


The Zohar Hakadosh (Shemos) says that although Basyah decided to name the newfound baby Moshe, she didn’t really grasp that she had named him what Hashem had really intended for his name to be. The Passuk explains that she named him Moshe because she drew him out from the water. “Moshe”, however, would be more accurately rendered as “he will draw”; the Seforno explains that as indeed being Moshe’s purpose: to draw Klal-Yisroel out of Egypt. The Or HaChaim Hakadosh uses this Zohar to explain why regarding Moshe the Passuk gives us the reason for the name first, whereas when the Matriarchs gave names the name is given first and its explanation only afterwards. The Or-HaChaim says that when the Medrash tells us that the Matriarchs gave a name they had Ruach-Hakodesh (Divine Inspiration) as to what name to give (see Medrash Rabba), whereas Basyah didn’t as is evident from the Zohar. Therefore the Imahos first knew what the name should be and only afterwards understood the reason for the given name. Basyah on the other hand first thought of a reason and only then created a name based upon that reason.


If the intended name for Moshe Rabeinu was Moshe, we can then understand why the Torah refers to Moshe Rabeinu only as Moshe. Perhaps we can even understand why there is no mention in the Torah of any other names for Moshe. The question that remains is why it took Bas-Paroh to come up with the correct name for Moshe.  Why couldn’t his own mother, one of the most righteous and virtuous women to ever have lived, come up with the correct name from day one?


Although the name Moshe seemed to have been appropriate for the mission that he was to eventually accomplish, that of freeing Klal-Yisroel from bondage, it would seem unfair to say that he only achieved such greatness because of his name (see Gemorah Brachos). What was, however, very unique to Moshe was that Moshe always cared for the well-being of his people. This was exceedingly unusual because he wasn’t really part of their suffering personally. Moshe Rabeinu spent the formative stage of his life, the years that shaped his understanding of the political and social conditions, completely isolated from his people as a member of the Egyptian elite. Yet, even though he lived in the lap of luxury he searched for his people and he searched to alleviate their pain and suffering. This is the quality that allowed Moshe Rabeinu to be the emissary of God to free Am-Yisroel from their oppression in Egypt. This caring characteristic of Moshe Rabeinu is what abled him to draw Klal-Yisroel out of their slavery and into freedom. Had Moshe only grown up in the confines of his parents’ home, his compassion for the rest of his brethren wouldn’t be anything spectacular. Had Moshe lived with his family and his people he would have been just another suffering Jew. It was only because Moshe Rabeinu wasn’t part of their suffering and yet nonetheless remained utterly compassionate to their anguish, that he was able to rise to being a leader fit to redeem Klal-Yisroel.


Yocheved, Moshe’s mother couldn’t have been privy to such Divine Inspiration because as her son he didn’t posses the wherewithal to be the Savior of Klal-Yisroel. Only after Basyah had adopted Moshe as her son did Moshe have the opportunity to be able to grow to become the ultimate leader for Klal-Yisroel. Therefore the name Moshe was only applicable from the point of Bas-Paroh adopting him.


In life one grows and rises to heights only by seizing all of life’s situations and predicaments in order to utilize them for the sake of growing.




Towards the end of this week’s Sedra, the Torah instructs us regarding a person who stole a possession from his fellow. The Torah discusses a few scenarios, but in all of them the bottom line is that an individual stole something from someone else. The Torah tells us that on “the day of their sin” not only is the person required to repay his theft, but he is also required to bring a Sin offering. “The day of their sin” seems to be somewhat ambiguous terminology, which receives differing interpretations from the various Targumim.

The Targum Yonasson explains it to mean “the day that they admit to having sinned”—a highly plausible and easily understood explanation. However, the Unklus translates it literally, meaning “on the day of their sin”—the day of their theft. Unklus’s translation is rather open ended. If someone has sinned by stealing in some form from his fellow, then why should we assume that he is going to repay him right away? Furthermore we are referring to a case where he is caught and not where he simply confessed and returned the stolen object. This is evident from the fact that the Torah refers to his repaying his theft together with its fine, which would have to be decreed upon him by a Beis Din (although the Targum Yonasson explains the day of their sin to mean the day when they admit to having sinned, this isn’t a problem because even when they are caught they are still required to confess verbally as part of their Teshuva process). Thus, there is no reason to assume that the theft, trial, conviction and retribution all would occur in the same day.

In both explanations of the terminology, we sense a common thread of immediacy. Perhaps the Torah and even the Targum Unklus are not being so literal, but rather are coming to teach us a lesson for sinners: Hashem does not expect there to be no sinners amongst Klal-Yisroel. Hashem does not even expect that Klal-Yisroel’s sinners will admit to their sins right away, on their own accord. What Hashem does expect is that somehow we, the community of Klal-Yisroel, should worry that justice is achieved in the shortest and most direct way possible. He expects us to ensure that the “day” a theft is committed, it is dealt with immediately.

It is our job to make sure that in our communities, justice prevails.



With this week’s Sedra we begin Sefer Vayikra, a complex and detailed Sefer dealing with the laws of sacrifices. The idea of Korbanos (sacrifices) has existed since time immemorial. Adam Harishon brought Korbanos, his sons brought Korbanos etc. Underlying the concept of Korbanos is the basic and natural of man giving back to God. This being the case, it should be a relatively simple topic about which to instruct us. However this isn’t the case. The Torah dedicates one of its Five Books in its entirety to this subject.

It is clearly incumbent upon us to know the various particulars regarding the Avoda of the Korbanos once they have been given; but why must there be so many particulars?

When the Torah commands us regarding interpersonal behavior – the Torah tells us ואהבת לריעך כמך (love your fellow as you love yourself) – it requires us to do for others as we would like done to ourselves. Why doesn’t the Torah tell us that we should act towards others as they wish to be treated?

Furthermore, when the Tana Hillel explains this teaching of the Torah he explains it as a negative obligation: don’t do to others what you would not want them to do to you.  Why did Hillel find it necessary to put this injunction in the negative form?

The answer to these questions is one and the same. The Torah cannot request from us what we don’t know – and we cannot possibly know how others wish to be treated. What we do know is how we wish to be treated. Thus the Torah commands us to project our likes and dislikes onto others in order to insure some level of human decency. However this level of decency is far from perfect because what we might want is not necessarily be the same as what another might want. It is no doubt for that reason that Hillel formulated his prescription in the negative. Projecting our likes onto others could turn out to be hurtful and may not be appropriate.  To refrain from doing to others what we would not want done to ourselves on the other hand is easier, safer, and at the very least avoids causing potential harm.  No action is better than the wrong action.

This is true for interpersonal relationships. When it comes to Retzon Hashem, however, things are different. Hashem indeed tells us exactly how He wants it done. The Torah is teaching us an extremely important lesson: an individual’s scope is limited. When one gives one should ideally give in a way which is pleasant and desired by the receiver  (like Karbanos to Hashem) – not just what makes the giver feel good.


This week’s Sedra focuses on the various different types of Korbanos. The Torah relays all sorts of important instructions as to what can be brought as what sort of Korban and as to how each Korban is supposed to be sacrificed.


Korbanos aren’t something foreign to us. Adam’s sons (Kayin and Hevel) brought Korbanos, Noach brought Korbanos, and the Avos Hakedoshim brought sacrifices as well. From this Parsha on, however, the approach to Korbanos changes.


Until Parshas Vayikra, except for Korban Pesach, a Korban could be brought from what one wanted, when one wanted, and how one wanted to. However, in our Sedra already the entire process is transformed through the appearance of all sorts of rules and regulations.


It would seem that the idea of offering a Korban to Hashem should ideally be a mitzvah fulfilled out of a passion for Hashem. As such it would only seem right that there should be significant room for originality. One would think it should be a passionate spontaneous act; that one should be able to bring whatever one might want to, whenever and however one might want to. Why is it that the Torah seems to be robbing from us this most basic privilege?


Korbanos are a highly personal expression of love for Hashem.  In human interpersonal relationships a gift or an offering may be brought to someone who is truly loved by the giver. The giver may surprise their loved one and give them something the loved one never asked for. The receiver may appreciate it immensely. This is all true when both giver and receiver have similar or mutual mentalities and likes. When, however, the subject is our relationship with Hashem, we are dealing with an entirely different order of things.  We cannot begin to understand what sort of offering we could design that would truly please Hashem. At the same time Hashem doesn’t need our offering; there is nothing that Hashem is gaining by having us offer Him things.


Hashem designed for us the perfect gift for Himself, but these gifts were custom- tailored for the sole purpose of enabling us to give something to Hashem to express our absolute love for Him. Thus when we offer a Korban to Hashem we initiate a spontaneous act of affection for Hashem while at the same time we know that it will be viewed in a favorable light by Him.


We might imagine that serving Hashem means expressing our love and enthusiasm spontaneously, with the highest, biggest, most expensive buildings, objects or other expressions of our love.  Hashem therefore reminds us that the highest expression of our love for Him is our ability to submit ourselves to His Will.  In other words, it is precisely by adhering exactly to every detail of every instruction for building the Holy Temple, for offering sacrifices, for any activity undertaken to serve him, that we can manifest our love.  Hence, Hashem’s extensive, and detailed, instructions on what, when, where, and in what ways we are to build the Sanctuary, offer sacrifices, etc.  It is within the implementing of such Commands that Hashem has integrated a very real expression of our artistic and other abilities.   The Torah explicitly refers to the artistic gifts that Hashem bestowed on Bezalel, for instance.


We live in a liberal age. It’s à la mode to be creative in the way one serves Hashem. What is oft forgotten is that only Hashem can determine how He can best be served.


This week’s Haftorah is from Yishayahu. It is particularly curious because instead of mirroring the Sedra it stands out in stark contrast to it. The Sedra discusses the bringing of Korbanos to Hashem as a virtuous activity, whereas the Haftorah relates how Hashem didn’t want our Korbanos because we were worshipping Avoda Zara. Why was such a Haftorah picked instead of one relating our Avoda in the Beis Hamikdash? Why was such a negative Haftorah chosen?

The contrast between the two suggests that there is a lesson to be learned here.

It is clear from the Haftorah that Hashem doesn’t want us to offer Korbanos if we also worship Avoda Zara. It is equally clear from the Parsha that Hashem does want us to offer Korbanos and that bringing them is indeed virtuous.

One of the fundamental machlokesim between Chassidus and the Misnagdim is whether one’s intentions or one’s actions are more important. This is something that can be debated back and forth at length. There are, however, instances in which what is more important is clear one way or the other. Sometimes the whole idea is to do something and thoughts alone are not sufficient. Other times action is worthless with the wrong intent. When one offers Korbanos to Hashem the idea is to show complete and utter faithfulness to Hashem.  The mechanics and procedures of Avoda Zara may have similarities to Judaism’s, but its essence and substance are starkly different.  My father has often explained that whereas Paganism is ‘me-centered’, Judaism is ‘Hashem-centered’ and that Avoda Zara is really the attempt of man to control, or at least to influence nature so as to bend it to his whim. Theoretically one could attempt to do the same to Hashem.  Bilam offered Korbanos to Hashem and it was clear that his intention was to try to influence, כביכול, Hashem’s Will.

It would seem that this is the lesson of the jarring contrast between the Parsha and Haftorah. One cannot worship both Avoda Zara and Hashem. Korbanos to Hashem can only be brought if one is doing so as a sign of serving Hashem; if one does so while at the same time  serving, הבדילל, Avoda Zara, it is clear that he is not devoted to Hashem but is rather trying to influence nature to be what he sees as best for himself.

What the Prophet Yishayahu is condemning is the propensity to confuse (and substitute) procedure for substance, to delude oneself in thinking that one can do as one pleases and yet fulfill moral obligations and serve Hashem by going through the motions of offering sacrifices.

Perhaps this is what Chazal mean when they say תפילה is עבודה שבלב. When we worship Hashem we can only do so by dedicating ourselves to Hashem.