Parsha Vayikra: It's the Little Things

The Little Aleph

I'm not going to kid anyone -- the book of Leviticus/Vaikra can be a rough read. The slicing and dicing instructions for sacrifices and long lists of laws with severe consequences appear on almost every page. Laws that do not square with our modern sensibility. Laws that have caused immeasurable pain in our society. Laws against homosexual relations. Laws that determine menstruating women are "unclean".

Leviticus is also the repository of the "Huh?" laws prohibiting mixing fabrics, getting tattoos, cross-breeding animals, picking up fallen grapes in your vineyard, tearing your clothes, and letting your hair become unkempt.

Modern, progressive Jews have largely set aside the laws of Leviticus. We don't notice if we mix linen and wool, we get tattoos, and some of us let our hair get quite messy. The laws against homosexuality -- which in Vayikra carries the death penalty -- are abhorrent to us.

Ditch Leviticus?

B'nai mitzvah kids hate it. Progressives flinch when conservatives quote its verses. We no longer have a Temple in Jerusalem, which most of the laws apply to. Is the only reason we read Leviticus in 2018...


The little aleph says no. 

The little aleph says, look for the small things, the hidden wisdom. Look for what your eye may have scanned over the first time. See what's there, in the spaces, in the silence.


1. Accept reading and studying Torah as an obligation. One of the consequences of reading Torah on a schedule every year is that we can't skip chapters or books that don't resonate with us. It's a homework assignment: You don't have to like it; you do have to do it.

2. Cherry pick. When people are accused of "cherry-picking" the bible and only quoting parts that suit their agenda, I have a hard time joining in the chorus that shames them. As humans in 2018, we have no choice but to cherry-pick the Torah for verses and ideas that are meaningful to us.

3. Use Commentary and Modern Translations. Yes, read the actual text of the Torah, but read it alongside commentary. Rabbis and Jewish educators have spent thousands of years combing the Torah for meaning in every era, and they've struggled with the same ideas you do. This year I highly recommend Rabbi Jonathan Sacks' commentary: I've been reading his book Lessons in Leadership for each parsha this year.

4. Remember the Aleph. Any tidbit of Torah that makes you think, challenges a position you hold, or enlightens your view of Judaism is enough.

Too many people turn away from Torah study because the study itself is so demanding.

Lean in.

You really do get an A for effort.

Or maybe an aleph.

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