Friday, March 23, 2007


Parsha Vayikra / 4 Nisan 5767 / 23 March 2007

Rabino Berel Wein

The Chumash of Vayikra, which we begin reading this Shabat, is probably the most difficult and esoteric of all of the five books of the Torah. It is long on ritual detail, especially of the laws of the sacrifices in theMishkan and later in the Temple in Jerusalem and of the laws regarding purity and defilement. It is very short on narrative, though it does contain a large number of the actual mitzvoth of the Torah, especially inthe latter part of the book.

Because of its construction and its difficult content, it seems to behardly a likely candidate for the initial introductory lesson to Torah tobe taught to young children. There is none of the “story” appeal that Bereshith, Shemot and Bamidbar have within them, nor is there the soaring historical and moral essay of Torah that Devarim represents in its words and content. Yet, the Jewish tradition throughout the ages was to start a child’s education in Torah by teaching the book of Vayikra.

In the words of the rabbis, “Let the holy, young and still innocent children of Israel come to begin their education by studying the book of Vayikra, the book of holiness and sanctity.” Though this is the tradition, there has been a tendency in our times to no longer follow this rabbinic advice and to use Bereshith as the introductory conduit to the splendid and wondrous world of Torah for beginning students.

Be that as it may, the mere idea of using Vayikra for that purpose bears note and comment. After all, the rabbis of the Talmud and Midrash were superb educators, so what were they thinking of when they made that recommendation regarding beginning study of Torah with the book of Vayikra? What does the subject of ritual holiness have to do with knowledge and the real world?

In our modern day world, holiness is not a popular subject for discussion. Since there is almost nothing that is profane or unholy in our world where “everything goes” and every type of human and social aberration is condoned if not even encouraged, naturally there is no room for a discussion of purity of body and mind and holiness of behavior and soul.

The rabbis of old who lived in the Classical Era of Greco-Roman thought, mores and culture were well aware of the disappearance of holiness and purity from civilized society. They therefore insisted that the first lesson that a Jewish child learns should be of the presence and necessity of holiness in the world of the individual and society.

In the havdala service, we emphasize the difference between the holy and the profane, the noble and the tawdry. Rabbi Meir Shapiro ruefully remarked in the 1920’s that American Jewry “knows how to make Kiddush but forgot about havdala.” Moral behavior stems from a realization of the innate holiness that life itself represents.

All of the stories of our people, of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs of Israel, of the Exodus from Egypt, even of the revelation and granting ofthe Torah on Sinai, will be of little avail in helping Israel survive if they are not grounded in a sense of holiness and purity – both nationa land personal. And, we must reinforce this and make moral behavior the practical way to behave in a world that has lost much of its moorings. So let us listen and pay attention to what Vayikra has to say to us.

Shabat shalom.

Rabbi Berel Wein

Rabino Berel Wein- Jewish historian, author

Jerusalem Post – 24 March 2007 / 5 Nisan 5767


The rabbis of the Talmud placed great emphasis upon proper preparation forgood deeds. The Talmud uses the phrase hazmana milta – preparation is most important. This is undoubtedly a great idea in all areas of life. Being prepared is the watchword of the military and hopefully of the civilian areas of governmental responsibility.

In Judaism all of life is viewed as being a series of stages of preparation. The rabbis in Avot characterized this world and our mortal lives as being the “foyer” of the palace and the World to Come, the eternal world of our souls, as being the palace itself. They admonished us to prepare ourselves in the foyer in order to gain proper admittance to the palace itself. So preparation is undoubtedly one of the key traits of Judaism.

Preparation comes in many different forms and shapes. The holiday of Pesach which is almost upon us requires a great deal of physical preparation, more so perhaps than any other holiday on the Jewish calendar. Cleaning the house, removing the chametz, baking the matzot, making arrangements for ourselves and our families where and how to spend the holiday, koshering utensils and silver, and somehow paying for all of this constitutes much of our physical preparation for this glorious holiday.

The hurrying bustle that always precedes Pesach is palpably presental ready. But Jewish tradition always demanded a spiritual preparation as well. Not only do we need to have clean houses and apartments, we are alsoto have clean souls and minds, a clarity of vision and a strong sense of holy purpose. It is far easier to remove the physical chametz from our homes than to dislodge the spiritual chametz that infects our souls,personalities and behavior. Whereas the removal of physical chametz and physical preparation for Pesach requires hustle and bustle, strain and expense, exertion and many times frustration and impatience, the removal of spiritual chametz demands quietude, contemplation, concentration and a good deal of tenacity and patience. There really is no shortcut to becoming a truly free person, in the highest Jewishly spiritual sense ofthe word. Intense preparation is required in order to achieve that goal. I have always felt that preparation for spiritual freedom asks of us to consider the following basic questions that should nag us all: What is the purpose of human life in this world? And, what do I do to achieve that purpose once I decide what that purpose is? The Mesillat Yesharim, that prime work of Jewish morality, ethics and philosophy authored by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto (eighteenth century Italy, Holland and Israel) addresses these questions.

The book clearly expounds the traditional Jewish view of life as having the purpose of service to God and humans. And it outlines in great detail the steps one must take to climb the spiritual ladder of holy purpose and ultimate freedom. Many Jews study this work in the month of Elul as an introduction to the spirit and awe of the High Holy Days.

Again, I have always thought that its study should also precede the holiday of Pesach for it outlines for us the ultimate methods for eliminating our spiritual chametz from our midst. We do ourselves a great disservice if we arrive at the Pesach Seder table in a state of spiritual unpreparedness.

Sometimes we are so physically exhausted by our physical exertions before Pesach that we actually doze off at the Seder. Sleeping through the Sederin a spiritual sense, being unprepared and cold off the street will never create within us the requisite feeling of freedom that Pesach is meant to create.

In our world of constant sound and background noise, it is difficult to find time and place for personal contemplation. Great effort is requiredto carve out a place for one’s own self-development and spiritual growth. The words in Yiddish were that “one must work upon on one’s self.” The word “work” in that phrase is by no means accidental.

Getting prepared properly for the holiday of Pesach is no mean feat. In the Hagada we speak of our “[physical] redemption and of also redeeming our hearts and souls.” It is this two-fold redemption that Pesach represents that makes it such a meaningful and important holiday. The preparation for Pesach must therefore of necessity also be a two-fold one.

Being half-prepared unfortunately equals being unprepared. As facing atest in school knowing that one is prepared for the exam creates within the student a feeling of self-confidence, so too does being properly prepared for Pesach create within us the sense of true freedom and holy mission.

Shabat shalom.