How Far Should Self-sacrifice Go in the Service of G-d?

It is written, “And He called to Moses, and the L-RD spoke to him” (Leviticus 1:1). Why does the text use two terms (“called” and “spoke”), which apparently mean the same thing? If the passage begins with “He called”, why does it then use another word (“spoke”)? In addition, why is the word vayikra (“and He called”) written with a small aleph?

We will also try to explain what Rashi said in the name of the Sages (Yerushalmi Taanith 3:4; Torah Kohanim on this verse) concerning the fact that the word leimor (“saying”) means that G-d told Moses to say harsh words concerning himself (Moses) to Israel, meaning that Moses was to relate to them that G-d only spoke to him for the sake of the Jewish people. (Proof of this is that during the 38 years following the incident of the spies, He no longer addressed him). Why is this teaching found here?

We will also try to understand what lies behind the fact that when we teach Torah to very young children, we begin with Parsha Vayikra (Tanhuma Tzav 14) so that they be educated in holiness and purity, just like the sacrifices in question, which are holy and pure.

The theme of Parsha Vayikra is the unconditional devotion that man should demonstrate towards G-d, as is taught by the verse that states, “When a man among you [mikem: lit. “of you”] brings an offering to the L-RD” (Leviticus 1:2). This verse can also be read as “When a man makes of himself an offering to the L-RD.” In addition, the word mikem has a numerical value of 100, which alludes to the 100 blessings that one should say daily (Menachot 43b). This instruction is drawn from the verse that states, “And now, Israel, what [%/] does the L-RD your G-d require of you?” (Deuteronomy 10:12), the word %/ being read as %!/ (100). There it also consists of a complete commitment, without which it would be difficult to say 100 blessings every day, especially when one is confronted by the needs of the public or when one has to earn a living.

Yet there exist two types of commitment. The first is the one of a man that only seeks to get closer to G-d and spiritually elevate himself day after day to reach the Eternal, a movement evoked by the verse that states, “from strength to strength” (Psalms 84:8). All the desires of such a man are aimed at giving complete satisfaction to his Creator. Even when he is tired, he takes no account of his personal state. He only aspires to spiritually improve himself and to help the Shechinah that is in exile, lifting it out of the dust where it is found (Zohar II:238a). This consists of a coming together (;&"98;%). One consistently feels that one is still very far away, and one fervently desires to come closer ("98) to G-d and to arrive at the fiftieth gate of holiness, without needlessly worrying about oneself.

The second type of commitment is less intense than the first. It is the commitment belonging to a man who certainly devotes himself to prayer, the study of Torah, and charity and good deeds, but without these being exclusively for the love of Heaven. He also has in mind the honor or benefit that he could receive from his fellow. He observes the mitzvot with all his heart, but his intentions are not completely pure. He rises early to go to synagogue, but he chats during prayer or does not concentrate sufficiently. In such a case, what will all his devotion accomplish? We can describe it as rottenness ("&89), like a piece of mildewy bread. Rearranged, the letters of "&89 are the same as those of "&98 (“near”).

This is what the Torah alludes to when it says, “When a man among you [mikem] brings an offering to the L-RD.” Man’s worship has the main goal of bringing himself (mikem) closer to the Eternal at every moment, by 100 blessings and the constant study of Torah. It is in order to arrive at the 50 gates of purity, for this is a true sacrifice (0"98), which brings him closer (%"98%). The word korban is in effect composed of the letters "98 (“near”) and 0 (whose numerical value is 50). It consists of bringing oneself closer to the 50 gates of holiness and distancing oneself from a commitment that could be described as “rottenness” ("89). The word “rotten” (0&"89) is formed from "89 (“rottenness”) and 0, for this incomplete commitment can lead a man to the 50 gates of impurity. In fact, the Sages warned us against using the Torah for personal reasons (Nedarim 62a).

To distance ourselves from this type of attitude, we must bring to mind the day of our death, particularly when faced with temptation (Berachot 5a). This is also alluded to in the word 0"98 (sacrifice), formed by the letters "98 (kever, the grave) and 0. If we keep this in mind, we will only seek to devote ourselves entirely to G-d by disregarding all impure motives.

The sacrifice also teaches us humility, that of the animals which stretched out their necks to have their throats slit in honor of the Eternal. However, one should definitely not resemble them on the animalistic and material level. The Sages have said that the animal only dominates a man when it has an impression of being in the presence of another animal (Shabbat 151b), and it is written, “You save man and beast, O L-RD” (Psalms 36:7). All while being careful not to imitate a beast on its animalistic side, we must learn humility and self-effacement from it.

We have already said that humility leads to Torah, and the Sages teach that this is one of the characteristics by which it is acquired (Perkei Avoth 6:6[5]), and that we find it among the humble (Taanith 7a). The same idea emerges from the study of the sacrifices. In the past, the Children of Israel witnessed daily miracles within the boundaries of the Temple (Perkei Avoth 5:5), and therefore it was very easy for them to conquer their evil inclination, without mentioning the fact that when the sacrifices were offered, they perceived the truth, and thus all their sins were forgiven and they were purified. In addition, as they realized that everything that was done to the animal should have really been done to themselves (see Ramban on Leviticus 1:9), they immediately repented and came closer to G-d. Yet in our time, how can we conquer the evil inclination? If it was difficult during the time of the Temple, when everything was clear, what can we say of ourselves, who have neither Temple nor sacrifices? How then can we get closer to G-d?

It is precisely this lack that will help us, for we still have a primary weapon: Torah and prayer. As it is written, “Let our lips substitute for bulls” (Hoshea 14:3). This means that our prayers replace the sacrifices (Berachot 26b). As for the Torah, it also represents a sacrifice, for whoever studies the subject of burnt offerings is considered as having bought one (Menachot 110a). Consequently, we possess two forms of sacrifice! If we study Torah and devote all our energy to it, we offer ourselves to G-d by, as it were, killing ourselves for it (Berachot 63b). In fact when the verse states, “A man that dies in his tent” (Numbers 19:14), this can mean that he should “kill” himself in the tent of Torah, following in this way the steps of Jacob, “a wholesome man, abiding in tents” (Genesis 25:27). It is therefore obvious that even in our time, we can merit a considerable reward, for by the strength of the Torah, by prayer, and by the 100 blessings, we have the possibility of becoming a sacrifice totally devoted to G-d, even if we no longer see what happens to an animal when it is offered. If we manage to draw out the best part from our exile, we will be able to attain a spiritual level even greater than that reached by the generations living during the time of the Temple.

Let us return to the question of why we begin the Torah education of young children by this Parsha. Yes, it speaks essentially of commitment and fervor, that is clear, for children are able to devote themselves without any thought for those things which interest them (such as sweets, for example), and they have to be taught how to channel this energy towards holiness and purity. Not only do we learn from the sacrifices how to give ourselves over completely to holiness, but we also learn from children how to arrive at a complete commitment to G-d. We do this by observing the fervor that children put into attaining their own goals.

We will also be able to answer the difficulty that we brought up concerning the fact that G-d said to Moses to say to Israel harsh words concerning himself. What connection is there between this and what the text states, and from where did Rashi draw this interpretation? Let us recall that Moses wanted to enter into the Tent of Meeting, but could not because of the Divine cloud (Exodus 40:35). At that moment, he understood that he could only speak with the Eternal through the merit of Israel (Berachot 32a). Having thus understood the greatness of the Children of Israel in G-d’s eyes, he immediately humbled himself and wrote the word vayikra with a small aleph. This teaches us that when the Eternal called him, it was uniquely because of the merit of the Children of Israel (the idea of being small refers back to them by allusion, since he was the teacher and they were the students). He noticed that all his strength came but by their merit, and this is what constitutes, “called … spoke”. The word “spoke” (9"$) suggests a leader, such as in the expression dabar echad ledor (“only one leader for a generation”) Whether it be Moses’ ability as a leader, or the fact that G-d had called him, both of these facets stem entirely from the merit of the Children of Israel, for by himself Moses could not enter into the Tent of Meeting.

A greatly important principle emerges from this analysis: Everything that a great Rav or scholar receives from G-d is only by the merit of his students, for it is thanks to them that he can spiritually elevate himself and continue to train other students. The Rav should learn from this how to teach his students, and also how to learn from them how to devote oneself entirely, as did Moses our teacher, who took note of the Children of Israel’s devotion. In this spirit, the Sages have said, “When a student is exiled, his teacher is exiled with him” (Makot 10a), This is also why it is written, “Say to the Kohanim, the sons of Aaron, and tell them” (Leviticus 21:1), a repetition whose goal is to direct the great to watch over the small (Yebamot 114a). G-d puts the great on guard against pride, for it is but by the merit of the small that they become great. Consequently, it is proper to lower oneself before one’s students and not to keep one’s Torah for oneself, in the spirit of the Mishnah that states, “If you have learned much Torah, do not claim special credit for yourself” (Perkei Avoth 2:8). One should not allow oneself to become weary of teaching, as we have learned from Rav Pereda, who taught his student 400 times (Eruvin 54b). One should be self-effacing before a student and teach him the meaning of devotion, all while learning it from him. In this way, one can resemble a sacrifice offered to the Eternal.


Modesty and Humility Enables One to Acquire Torah and Attract the Shechinah
Book of Vayikra Index
Humility As Sacrifice


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