Vayikra: Is It a Coincidence?

Posted on March 17, 2021

by Hazzan Barbara Barnett

This week’s Torah potion is called Vayikra, and it begins the third book of the Torah The first word of Vayikra contains a scriptural anomaly. (Can you spot it?)

Something here a bit strange and unexpected and might make you think the scribe who created the Torah scroll erred with his quill pen. —an aleph. It is superscripted and quite tiny. The question is “why?” Speculating about the “why” has puzzled Biblical scholars for centuries.

The word “Vayikra” means “He called,” referring to G-d calling out to Moses. Often in the Torah, G-d “speaks” to Moses, He “says” to Moses. But here he “calls out.” But the aleph in Vayikra seems ambiguous. Is it meant to be there or is it an error of some sort? It may to some seem a trivial matter, but the presence or absence of that one letter vastly changes the meaning of the text.

Without the aleph, the word becomes vayikar—by chance—a chance encounter and not the definite “call” out to Moses from G-d. It’s tiny thing, but significant. Numerous scholars over the generations have commented and interpreted the meaning of this seeming scribal anomaly.

Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Sacks suggested that the “aleph” is written so small to emphasize that G-d calling out to us is not always done in the grand gestures and miracles like the splitting of Reed Sea or the sending the signs and wonders in the lead up to the Exodus, which we commemorate on Passover. Sometimes G-d’s presence nearby, calling out to us, abides in the quiet gestures of the day-to-day of our lives. That the small coincidences, the happenstances, so easy to dismiss, may indeed by G-d calling—not vayikar, but vayikra. Easy to miss, unless you attune yourself to the everyday miracles, signs and wonders, which help us draw near to G-d. As the korbanot, the offerings described in such detail in Vayikra are meant to accomplish, and the Hebrew word “korban” implies.

This sense of G-d’s presence signified by the difference between “vayikar” and “vayikra” calls to mind my favorite quotation from Albert Einstein, “Coincidence is G-d’s way of remaining anonymous.”

From our home to yours, Phil and I wish you a wonderful Pesach.