(And) he called [va-yikira]… (Lev. 1:1)
“I don’t care how she’s dressed, it’s not OK!”
“I don’t care how she’s walking, it’s not OK!”
“It’s not a compliment…It’s street harassment”
“Vayikra” is a singular masculine verb (all action in Hebrew is gendered). These are the first words, and the Hebrew name, of the Bible book known in English as Leviticus. We know from context that the implicit “he” is God and that God is calling, from within the newly constructed Tabernacle, to Moses. But this year , our reading of Vayikra — (Lev. 1:1-5:26) in the annual Torah cycle — coincides with “Stop Street Harassment Week,” and I’m hearing those words a little differently.
Leviticus/Vayikra chapter 4 opens with a “soul” involved in an “unintentional” “failure.” Vayikra: Language and Translation offers five translations, with their associated notes and commentaries. For anyone seeking a drash [investigation] point, this could be a good spot to begin: What might it mean for a soul to fail unintentionally? And what, if anything, can be done about it now that we have no sacrificial system?
In his “Seven Approaches,” Richard Israel warns beginners:
Unless you are basing yourself on a traditional commentator, stay away from forms like Microscope or Puzzle [language- and detail-oriented dvar Torah models] until you know enough Hebrew to be able to distinguish between a real nuance in the text and a mere idiosyncrasy of translation.
This is useful advise. But I’ll pass along one short-cut that I’ve found in discovering spots where commentators have for centuries discussed alternative meanings.
What does it mean that “a soul unintentionally fails [Nefesh ki-techeta bi-sh’gagah]…”? — Leviticus/Vayikra 4:1-2
Is this an ethical or ritual error? Was the “soul,” in contemporary understanding, alone involved? Here are five translations with associated notes, suggesting (no surprise) no agreement:
YHWH spoke to Moshe, saying:
Speak to the Children of Israel, saying:
(Any) person [nefesh]– when one sins [ki-techeta] in error [bi-sh’gagah]
regarding any of YHWH’s commandments that should not be done,
by doing any one of them:
One of the reasons I started the “Opening the Book” blog series was my belief that the plethora of dvrei torah (plural of dvar [word] of Torah]) on the internet, as well as in print, doesn’t necessarily help anyone who is trying to prepare a dvar torah of their own, at least at the outset.
The mere quantity can seem daunting: With search engines returning over 19,000 hits on “Vayikra dvar torah,” it might seem there is simply nothing more to say (“Vayikra” alone draws over 100,000 hits). Those 19,000 hits, in turn, point to a raft of sources, which can seem overwhelming instead of encouraging.
There are terrific resources — text, hypertext, audio and video — on the web (see, e.g., On-Line Learning). But a strategy more contained than Googling or Binging the Torah portion can be helpful.
Vayikra: A Path to Follow quotes a Talmud passage linking this week’s Torah portion to rules of etiquette and ethics. Specifically, the first verse is linked to “Don’t speak until you’ve first called to the person with which you’re trying to communicate” and to “Don’t repeat what anyone says without express permission.”
Either or both of these rules are fine fodder for study and discussion and/or for a congregational dvar torah [“word” of Torah]. For those interested in becoming more comfortable with finding such connections to share with others, here, for what it’s worth, is how I found the quote shared in the previous post.
And the Lord called unto Moses, and spoke unto him [Leviticus/Vayikra 1:1], why does Scripture mention the call before the speech? — The Torah teaches us good manners: a man should not address his neighbour without having first called him. This supports the view of R. Hanina, for R. Hanina said: No man shall speak to his neighbour unless he calls him first to speak to him. Rabbah said: Whence do we know that if a man had said something to his neighbor the latter must not spread the news without the informant’s telling him ‘Go and say it’? From the scriptural text: The Lord spoke to him out of the tent of meeting, lemor [saying*]. Continue reading