Parshas Vayikra: The Supremacy of Eretz Yisrael

This week’s parsha is Parshas Vayikra, and with it, we open the third book of Chumash.  Sefer Vayikra is also known as Torah Kohanim, for it is (mostly) the law book for the kohanim, from the tribe of Levi, to instruct them regarding their avodah in the Mishkan. 

The first verse of Vayikra states: וַיִּקְרָ֖א אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֑ה וַיְדַבֵּ֤ר ה֙אֵלָ֔יו מֵאֹ֥הֶל מוֹעֵ֖ד לֵאמֹֽרand He called to Moshe, and Hashem spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying (Vayikra 1:1).  The final letter, the ’alef’, in the word וַיִּקְרָ֖א is known as the ‘alef ze’eirah – a small alef’, because it is written smaller than the rest of the letters.  The well known, and oft quoted, reason for this is because Moshe, ‘the most humble man upon the face of the earth’ (Bamidbar 12:3), wanted to make it appear as if G-d just ‘chanced upon’ him (vayakar), and not that he, Moshe, was worthy of an actual Divine calling.  

However, the Zohar offers an alternative, and very powerful, explanation.  In his sefer, “Eretz Yisrael in the Parashah,” Rabbi Moshe D. Lichtman writes, “The Zohar offers a completely different answer, one that puts the entire book of Vayikra in perspective.  He sees the small alef as a sign of imperfection.  The Zohar writes: ‘Why is there a small alef?  Because this ‘calling’ was imperfect.  Why so? For it took place in the Mishkan, and in a foreign land.  True perfection can only be found in the Land of Israel.’

“Let us contemplate this answer,” R’ Lichtman writes.  “There was probably never a period in history during which the Jewish people enjoyed a more intimate relationship with Hashem than the forty year journey through the desert.  Heavenly clouds surrounded them on all sides, protecting them from the elements.  Their clothes grew with them and never wore out.  Celestial food was delivered to them fresh every day (at no cost).  They were led by the greatest prophet ever to live, and he was readily available to answer questions and give advice on religious matters.  And perhaps, most importantly, they had a portable Beit HaMikdash which accompanied them throughout their journey.  There, they were able to offer sacrifices to G-d and draw spiritual inspiration whenever they needed.  Can there possibly be a more ideal, loftier and spiritual existence than this!?

“When the Jews eventually entered the Land, they had to lead ‘normal’ lives.  (Michal notes – In fact, some say the reason the meraglim slandered and rejected the Land was because they didn’t want to leave this miraculous, elevated existence for the daily living, and reality, of life in Eretz Yisrael.)  They had to work the land to derive sustenance; they had to wage wars to conquer the Land; they had to make their own clothing and repair or replace them when they wore out.  Nevertheless, the Zohar teaches us that no matter how good it is in Chutz La’Aretz – even from a spiritual standpoint – something is lacking, for true perfection for a Jew can only be attained in G-d’s special Land!  

“Nowadays, many Jews feel quite satisfied with their spiritual lives outside the Land of Israel.  Baruch Hashem, the Diaspora communities can boast many fine yeshivot and shiurim, glorious chessed organizations, stores and restaurants that adhere to the strictest standards of kashrut, amongst many other wonderful spiritual accomplishments.  Let us not forget, however, that the Jews in the desert had it even better, yet their existence was considered imperfect, simply because it was outside the land of Israel.  

“Let the diminished alef at the beginning of this parsha serve as a subtle reminder that for many of us, we have yet to reach our ultimate goal – to serve Hashem in utter perfection in His Chosen Land” (Eretz Yisrael in the Parashah, p.181-182).  

As I pen these words from Yerushalayim Ir Ha’Kodesh, this unique and powerful insight is particularly moving, relevant and impactful to me.  After a long period of lockdown due to the pandemic, we (chutz la’aretz Jews) realized just how very precious, special and meaningful our Holy Land is.  Davening at the Kotel, walking her holy streets, breathing the air, and feeling truly at home once again… we are reminded that no matter how ‘good’ other lands may seem, we truly have no other home in the world – אין לנו ארץ אחרת.  I am reminded of the following story that is told by Miriam Peretz:  

“Once a soul went up to heaven, but it wasn’t accepted into the Garden of Eden.  The angels asked it to go back down to earth and bring up three gifts, which would allow it to open up the longed-for gates of Eden.  The soul went back down to earth and took a simple pin. A young Jewish girl had used it to pin her skirt, when she was tied to the tail of a horse that galloped through the city streets.  The girl was so modest that she didn’t want anyone to see any part of her flesh, and though the pin had pricked her and caused her to bleed, she continued to wear it to protect her modesty.  The soul took that pin, which was soaked with her blood.  It went up to heaven, and the gift was accepted.

“On its second journey, the soul brought a single thread from the kippah of a Jew who stood between two rows of men who whipped him.  They flogged him mercilessly, and when they had had their fill, he lifted his hand up to his head, felt that his kippah had fallen off, and bent down to pick it up.  The round of beatings began again, until he gave up his soul to his Creator.  The soul took a single thread from the kippah up to heaven, and this gift was also accepted.

“On its third journey, the soul reached the wastelands of Siberia, coming to the home of a Jew just as a gang of robbers was breaking into his home.  The Jew stood beside a small chest, and as he watched the robbers burst in, he protected the chest with his body.  The robbers pushed him, as they thought a treasure must be hidden inside the chest.  He fought them until he collapsed, because inside the chest was a box, and inside the box was dust from the ground of the land of Israel.  The soul flew with this dust-up to heaven, and the gates of Eden opened.  Through the dust of the land of Israel, the soul entered into the World to Come” (Miriam’s Song, p.31-32).

בברכת שבת שלום מירושלים עיר הקודש, 


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