17 Mar 2016

Vayikra – Zakhor 5776: Punctuated Affection

Download a printer friendly version here.

Vayikra – Zakhor 5776: Punctuated Affection

Caresses, expressions of one sort or another, are necessary to the life of the affections as leaves are to the life of a tree. If they are wholly restrained, love will die at the roots.

 — Nathaniel Hawthorn

The book of Shemot ended with a suspenseful cliffhanger. After constructing the Mishkan all had come together as planned and G-d’s Glory filled its entire space[1]. But what should have happened next did not. Moshe was meant to enter the Mishkan and begin service but we are told instead that:

Moshe was not able to come into the Tent of Appointment, for the…Glory of G-d filled the dwelling. (Ex., 40:34)

For some reason G-d kept Moshe out. Would he eventually be allowed in? We don’t find out until the opening words of the next book which tell us that Moshe was indeed personally invited in by G-d and room was made for his entry.

And He called to Moshe…(1:1)

Moshe was of course welcomed into G-d’s space as was expected but he was first held at bay so that G-d could personally invite him; setting a warm and affectionate tone to the event that would continue every time that G-d spoke to Moshe. Every piece of dialogue and engagement between them opened with warmth.

Vayikra teaches us that a personal invitation to Moshe preceded every declaration, every statement, and every commandment [of G-d]. ‘Vayikra’ is the language of affection and care. (Rashi, ibid.)

More important than Moshe doing the service was that he first know that he, and the nation, were precious to G-d and that the commandments were not simply logistical orders but actions occurring within a loving relationship.

With this consistent, caring address G-d maintained the awareness of the underlying affection that framed His entire relationship with Moshe and Israel. It began every interaction. This was particularly important considering that at some points the commandments and comments that would follow would be severe and strong in nature which could have cast doubt on the love. It was essential that, especially when certain statements might sound inconsistent with the overall tenor of the relationship, the assertion and validation of its true condition were there.

Relationships suffer when doubt seeps in concerning their integrity. When actions and words seem unreliable or insincere, or when little or nothing is said that validates the feelings between the people involved, the foundation of care upon which a relationship must be built falters.

The regular care that G-d showed to Moshe with the personal call to dialogue kept the awareness of the relationship’s warmth ever-present. There was no doubt as to the feelings and commitment G-d had towards Moshe.

There was a point on the journey out of Egypt, however, where the solidarity of the relationship was at risk[2]. It wasn’t easy for the other nations of the world to witness a fledgling tribe enjoying the bold and affectionate attention of G-d. It meant that G-d did care, that things mattered and that there were values in the world that could not be ignored.

The nations heard — they shuttered! (Ex., 15:14)

There was one particular nation, however, that was set on demeaning the preciousness that G-d’s relationship with Israel displayed to the world. They sought to instill doubt into it knowing the incredible havoc that doubt causes to the vulnerable participants in a loving relationship.

All that was needed was to damage perception by attacking the seemingly impenetrable people. They ambushed and took out the weak and fledgling members. The aura of the relationship’s uniqueness and exclusivity had been damaged. We read of this episode in a special additional portion this week. It begins by imploring us to Remember! – זכור!

When such confusion develops as to the meaning of the relationship, memory helps to heal it. Recalling the warmth, attention and tenderness helps to recalibrate and rebuild the destruction that doubt causes. G-d tells us in perashat Zakhor to remember how they tried to debase our relationship by taking advantage of our vulnerabilities and brazenly attacking.

You were weary and faint…They did not stand in awe of G-d! (Deut., 25:18)

For this reason, creating such moments of endearment is essential even if they are small, punctuated reminders. As long as they are genuine and filled with love, they stand as protections against the cold, harsh and cutting effects of uncertainty.

G-d used Vayikra — the special call to Moshe — to punctuate His bond with warmth and care. In doing so, the Almighty set an example for our other relationships. The ‘minor’ statements of real affection are not minor at all. They are the ironclad pins that hold the vulnerable edifice of love intact.

 [1] Exodus, 40:33-34

[2] This began with the nation’s own doubt as to G-d’s commitment to them. They asked: ‘Is G-d among us or not?’ This initial doubt opened the door for Amalek to enter and exploit it. Hence the immediate juxtaposition in the text of the question of G-d’s care and the approach of Amalek. (Exodus, 17:7-8.)

Law and Lore

Laws for Reading Megilah

  1. Everyone is required to hear the reading of the Megilah once at night and once during the day. One has all night to fulfil the night reading and all day to fulfil the daytime reading. The period for the nighttime reading is from 18 minutes after sunset until 72 minutes before sunrise. The period for the daytime reading is from sunrise to sunset.
  2. If one missed reading the Megilah at night it can not be made up during the day.
  3. It is proper to read the Megilah together with a large congregation of people. Thus even if there is a Bet Midrash that holds 100 people it is preferable to go to the Bet Keneset (synagogue) where even more people will be present — for the more people present the greater the splendour of the King. At the time of the Bet Hamikdash even the Cohanim and
  4. Leviyim would refrain from their service and go to hear the Megilah in order that the miracle could be properly publicised.
  5. If because of the great number of people present the Megilah reading can’t be properly heard, a smaller minyan may be assembled.
  6. Both men and women are equally required in hearing the Megilah. Thus, women that could not make it to the Bet Keneset when the Megilah was read for the congregation must hear it from someone who knows how to read it correctly.
  7. When the Megilah is read in someone’s home, the berachot must be said first.
  8. Children over the age of six should be taught to hear the Megilah.
  9. The Megilah must be read by someone who is required in reading it in order to fulfil the obligation of those who are hearing it. Thus children under the age of thirteen may not fulfill the obligation of those over thirteen.
  10. In a large Bet Keneset, where in some places the voice of the reader can only be heard faintly, it is permitted to set up a microphone to amplify the voice. However, if one is sitting in a place where the voice of the reader can’t be heard at all without a microphone, they may not hear it read there from a microphone.
  11. Children under the age of six who cannot remain quiet during the entire reading of the Megilah should not be brought to hear the Megilah. For the noise they make disturbs the others from fulfilling the obligation. In addition, even if the parent removes the child from the synagogue, while they are out they miss the reading themselves.
  12. It is prohibited to speak during the reading of the Megilah until the end of the last beracha. One who spoke in the middle must reread the portion that was missed until the place of the hazan is reached.
  13. It is customary for the congregation to recite four verses out loud: 1. Ish yehudi haya beshushan habirah …(2:5) 2. Balayla hahu nadedah shenat hamelech …(6:1) 3. UMordechai yasa milifnei hamelech …(8:15) 4. Layehudim haytah orah vesimha …(8:16) which are then repeated by the hazan.

When finished reading, the Megilah is first rolled up and then the beracha “haEl harav et rivenu” is said. When the Megilah is read without a minyan the last beracha is not recited.

Parasha Perspectives

I Vayikra

1a             Olah  (literally “uplifted”, referred to as ‘burnt
offering’): Bulls. (1:1-9)
1b             Olah of sheep and goats (1:10-13)
2a             Olah from birds (1:14-17)
2b             Mincha (grain based offering) wheat meal (2:1-3)
2c              Mincha baked unleaven loaves or matza (2:4)
2d             Mincha of pan fried wheat and olive oil (2:5-6)
2e             Mincha of deep-fried wheat and oil; rules (2:7-13)
2f              Omer, a Mincha of first barley grains (2:14-16)
3               Shelamim (lit. “peace”) offering: cattle (3:1-5)
4               Shelamim from sheep (3:6-11)
5               Shelamim from goats (3:12-17)
6               Chatat (literally “sin”) offering: of the High
Priest (4:1-12)
7               Chatat of the community (4:13-21)
8               Chatat of a ruler (4:22-26)
9               Chatat of a commoner: goat (4:27-31)
10             Chatat of a commoner: lamb (4:32-35)
11a           Chatat of others: reluctant witness, impurity,
unfulfilled vow (5:1-10)
Bring lamb/goat.  Poor bring two turtle-doves or
young pigeons
11b           Chatat of others. The even poorer can bring
an offering of fine flour (5:11-13)
11c            Asham (lit. “forfeit”) offering: due to
accidental ‘meilah’ – misappropriation  (5:14-16)
12             Asham of one who doubtfully committed a
(chatat--punishable) offence   (5:17-19)
13             Asham for breach of trust (5:20-26)
 Taken from, ‘Torah for Everyone’ by Rabbi Dr Raphael Zarum, Dean of LSJS