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Vayikra 5763

By: Rav Michael Susman

This shiur is dedicated to the memory of Rav Eli and Dina Horowitz, instructors in the Tochnit Hora'ah at Midreshet HaRova, who were murdered by terrorists on Shabbat Pekudai. Hashem Yikom Damam.

This week we begin to read the third sefer of the Torah, Sefer VaYikra. While the connection between Sefer Breishit and Sefer Shemot is starkly evident, the relationship between Sefer Shemot and Sefer Vayikra is, at first glance, less obvious. Sefer Breishit ends with the death of Yosef and the beginning of Galut Mitzrayim. One need not be a Bible scholar to understand that the story of Yitziat Mitzrayim is the natural continuation of the narrative. But just in case we missed the point, the Torah tells us of the promise Yosef demanded of his brothers, namely that they take his body with them when Bnai Yisrael are ultimately redeemed. Sefer Shemot tells the story of that redemption. The connection, however, is not found merely in the narrative sequence. As the Ramban famously suggests in his short introduction to Sefer Shemot, Sefer Breishit is the book of creation. By this he not only means that Sefer Breishit describes the creation of the world, but that it contains the basic personalities and events that will shape the history of the Jewish people. Maaseh Avot Siman LaBanim. Sefer Shemot then finishes the story, describing Bnai Yisrael's journey from Galut to Geula, both physically (Yitziat Mitzrayim) and spiritually (Matan Torah and the building of the Mishkan). Is there also a connection between Sefer Shemot and Sefer VaYikra, and if so, what is it?

Interestingly, a similar dual narrative/thematic connection can be suggested between Sefer Shemot and Sefer VaYikra. Sefer Shemot ends with the construction of the Mishkan, followed by a description of of the heavenly cloud descending upon it and the Mishkan being filled with the "Glory of Hashem". This prevented Moshe from entering the Mishkan. Sefer VaYikra then continues the narrative by telling us of Hashem calling to Moshe (VaYikra), thus enabling him to enter the Mishkan. We find a thematic connection in the Ramban's introduction to Sefer VaYikra. After having built the Mishkan, Bnai Yisrael are now instructed both in its care, and, more importantly, the institution of Korbanot. The Korbanot act as a vehicle of atonement from sin, thus giving Bnai Yisrael a tool to prevent their sins from causing the Shechina, Hashem's presence which dwells in the Mishkan, from withdrawing from them. Having successfully brought the Shechina into their midst at the end of Sefer Shemot, Bnai Yisrael receive the wherewithal to retain the Shechina in Sefer VaYikra.

This approach of course, is in consonance with the Ramban's conception of the Mishkan. In the beginning of Parshat Teruma (Shemot 25), the Ramban lays out his view that the mitzva of building the Mishkan was given prior to Chet HaEgel. Having received the Torah, Bnai Yisrael have achieved an unprecedented level of holiness, kedusha. As a result, they are now worthy of having the Shechina dwell amongst them on a permanent basis, as it had dwelled with them temporarily on Har Sinai. At the same time, the Mishkan would provide a place for Hashem to speak directly with Moshe, as He had done on Har Sinai. This explains why the voice of Hashem emanated from between the Keruvim, which were situated on what was the single most holy place in the Mishkan, the Aron. If the Mishkan was meant as a replication of Har Sinai, then it would be necessary for Bnai Yisrael to maintain the level of kedusha that they had attained there in order ensure that the Shechina would not leave them. This is the purpose of the Korbanot and the associated mitzvot of kedusha that are found in Sefer VaYikra. (As is well known, Rashi does not accept this conception. Rashi follows the position of the Midrash that states that the mitzva of building the Mishkan was given after Chet HaEgel, as a way to atone for that sin.)

This connection between Har Sinai and the Mishkan also explains the striking parallels between the description of Moshe ascending Har Sinai (Shemot 24:15-18) and his entering the Mishkan (Shemot 40:34-38 and VaYikra 1:1). (This is best done on your own with a Chumash.) In both cases Moshe approaches the holy area that is enveloped in a cloud and within which the Shechina is resting. In both cases Moshe must wait until he is called (vayikra) before entering.

We may also use this to explain a different disagreement between the Ramban and Rashi. Where exactly did Moshe stand when Hashem spoke to him in the Mishkan? Based on the above analysis, it is not surprising to discover that the while Rashi claims that when Moshe spoke with Hashem in the Mishkan, he stood outside the Kodeh Kodeshim. The Ramban on the other hand says that Moshe stood face to face with Hashem, directly before the Aron, in the Kodesh Kodeshim. This, too, is a direct consequence of the parallel between the Mishkan and Har Sinai. Just as Moshe faced Hashem directly when receiving the Torah on Har Sinai, so too did he face Him directly during subsequent communications. This is but another example of the Mishkan playing the role of dwelling place for the Shechina, and successor to Har Sinai. Rashi, on the other hand is not bound by this conception of the Mishkan, and therefore can leave the Kodesh Kodeshim as the exclusive realm of Aharon, the Kohen Gadol, on Yom Kippur.

There is another potential disagreement between Rashi and the Ramban concerning Moshe's behavior in the Mishkan. As we have already seen, the presence of the Shechina prevents Moshe from entering the Mishkan until bidden to do so by Hashem. The question is, was this an isolated instance demanding that Moshe be specifically called, or was this the standard practice, with Moshe always awaiting a summons before entering the Mishkan in order to speak with Hashem. Rashi adopts the latter approach. He explains that the Torah chose to tell us here that Hashem called Moshe so that we would relate to our passuk here as the paradigm for all subsequent times that Moshe spoke with Hashem in the Mishkan. By calling him each time, Hashem demonstrates the affection that he feels for Moshe in a tangible fashion. The Ramban does not reject this approach, but also suggests that it is equally possible to explain that this was in fact a one time occurrence, and that subsequently Moshe entered the Mishkan at will.

Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch adopts this approach as well, but points out that we see the term "VaYikra" used three times in the interaction between Moshe and Hashem. It is first used as the sneh is burning but is not consumed. It is then used as Moshe ascends Har Sinai. Its final appearance is here in our Parsha. These three places represent the range of possibilities where Hashem may speak to Moshe. From the desolate desert, to the awesome scene at Matan Torah, where thunder and shofar blasts were mixed together, to the quiet, contemplative setting of the Miskan, Hashem would always bring His message in the same fashion. The common denominator was always the same, Hashem called and Moshe responded, and listened. Never was the message diluted by what Moshe said or imagined. Moshe needed no preparation to speak to Hashem, and Hashem's words were never heard or interpreted through the filter of those preparations or expectations. This, then, is the paradigm for Avodat Hashem. Always listening and being ready to do what is demanded of us, but without tainting the message, or the mission, with the brush of our expectations.

Shabbat Shalom


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