By Rabbi Jonny Roodyn
At first glance, the book of Leviticus appears as unintelligible as its name. The technical details of the various offerings are a far cry from the dramatic stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the subsequent slavery in and redemption from Egypt.
However, there are lessons to be learnt from these sedras, just like all the others. The very first word of the book, after which it gets its name vayikra, is written in an unusual fashion.
The final aleph of the word is written in a smaller superscript font. This means that the word can now be read two ways, either as vayekar or in the conventional fashion, vayikra. These two words have radically different meanings.
The term vayekar has connotations of randomness and chance. This is a term that is used to refer to enemies of the Jewish people such as Amalek, ’who happened upon us on the way’ and the evil prophet Bilaam. By way of contrast, the word vayikra means ‘and he called’.
In this instance, it is God calling out to Moses in a direct and specific communication. The story is told of the great Chasidic leader, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk who, when asked the age-old question: ‘Where is God?’ replies pithily ‘wherever you let Him in’.
The Hebrew word for ‘world’ is olam, which comes from the word ne’elam, concealed. Human beings are given the choice to see the world as a collection of random events or as part of a big picture, one where the details are incredibly significant. The Chasidic masters say that there is always a voice calling out to us, but we have to be able to listen to it.
One who sees the world as a collection of random events is unable to find meaning or significance in things that occur, because they simply happen.
A person who lives with the perspective of vayekar has a very lonely existence. One where pain and suffering just happen, with no underlying reason and for no greater purpose.
All events are haphazard and there is no such thing as destiny. One who develops a sense of emunah and appreciates that events do not happen by chance is able to find meaning even in the most challenging of situations.
The small aleph teaches us that there is a fine line between these two approaches, but that it makes a world of difference.