Parshat Vayikra: Calling the Jewish People

What is the call of “Vayikra” for the Jewish people today?

Numerous commentaries explain that parshat Vayikra is a direct continuation of Shemot, which ended with Moshe outside the mishkan. Even Moshe, the greatest prophet of all time, could not enter the holiest place at all times. Vayikra teaches that when an individual was impure, s/he too could not enter the mikdash. Human experiences of holiness have a rhythm of ebbs and flows, highs and lows. Similarly, Rabbi S.R. Hirsch teaches that the root of the word “korban” is “k.r.v,” to come close. The korbanot in the time of the mikdash (and today our tefillot) are a way to draw closer to Hashem – highlighting that one cannot stay in a continuous state of holiness. We are human beings, not angels.

Perhaps Rashi alludes to this in interpreting “Vayikra” as an expression of God’s affection (חבה) for Moshe and invitation to draw closer to holiness and hear God’s words. Rashi relates this to the call of angels in Isaiah – which we say in the kedusha of the amidah – “And one called (ve-karah) out to the other, holy, holy, holy…” In entering the ohel moed, Moshe becomes angel-like. In standing with feet together and saying kedusha we strive to be holy like angels (whose feet were like a straight foot). However, we can’t stay this way permanently.

Regarding the position of feet in prayer, Rav Kook writes that our feet are for both walking and standing. When we walk, legs apart, we advance and grow in Torah knowledge. When standing with feet together in prayer, we solidify ourselves through unity (achdut).

There is also a rhythm within the Jewish nation. There are times we as a people can debate constructively and withstand moving in different directions, at different paces. And then there are times we need to pause in order to solidify, to draw closer in holiness and focus on achdut. Shabbat Shalom🌸 -Karen Miller Jackson

Parshat Vayekhel-Pikudei/HaChodesh: Renewal and Repair

“All big things come from small beginnings.” – James Clear

Parshat Vayakhel-Pikudei coincides this year with Shabbat HaChodesh. These two Torah readings relate to the themes of renewal and repair.

The book of Shemot ends with a description of the kelim (vessels) used in the mishkan. The final object is the kiyor (basin), from which Moshe and Aaron are commanded to wash their hands and feet. This practice, referred to by the rabbis as “kedushat yadayim ve’raglayim” – sanctifying of hands and feet – was also done by kohanim each morning in Temple times as they prepared for their service. Some halachic authorities view this as the source of the mitzvah for all individuals to wash hands (netilat yadayim) every morning upon waking. Some of the holiness which was once only accessible by the kohanim in the mikdash, can be attained by all individuals, anywhere. This is also expressed by Talmud Berakhot which teaches that when a person washes hands and then says tefilla, it is as though s/he built an altar and made an offering to God. The small, physical ritual of washing hands daily can influence our inner state of being.

The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch explains that each morning we are likened to a “new creation.” Each day has new potential for holiness, to renew and repair. The mitzvah to sanctify the first new moon of Nisan – read on Shabbat HaChodesh – is also associated with the potential for renewal: “This month is for you…” The Mei Hashiloach comments: “The power of the month will be for you, that you should be able to renew yourselves in Torah and actions.” Numerous commentaries point out the connection between the word “chodesh” and “hitchadshut” (renewal) for the Jewish people.

The gradual renewal of the moon’s light and handwashing at the beginning of each new day highlights that small steps – individually, communally and nationally – have the potential for renewal and repair. Shabbat Shalom🌔🌷-Karen Miller Jackson