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Peering Behind the Mask (Parshas Vayikra)

parsha sefer vayikra Mar 26, 2020



After an overwhelming week at work, Daniel decided to go on a nature hike to recharge. Without letting anyone know of his plans, he heads off into the mountains. As he is enjoying the view and the peaceful quiet around him, he suddenly slips and tumbles off the edge of a cliff. He plunges downwards, but somehow manages to grasp onto a branch jutting out of the cliff face. He clings to the branch for dear life, trying not to look down at the ravine below.

As his life flashes before his eyes, he is struck by a single thought: "I am alone. Nobody knows I am here, and I have no way of escaping. I am going to die." He begins to take stock of his life, thinking about the good times he’s had and what he has managed to accomplish in his short existence. He thinks about his family, and how much they are going to miss him. Just then, a rope soars past his head, hanging directly in front of him. After a moment's shock, he grabs the rope and holds on for dear life as someone on the other end begins to pull him up over the cliff edge.

As Daniel reaches the top, he is still gasping and amazed at the fact that he just survived. He immediately asks the man who saved him, "How did you know that I was hanging from the edge of the cliff and needed rescuing?" The man stares back at him blankly and says, "I didn't. This morning, I randomly decided to practice throwing ropes over cliff faces."

There are two reactions that Daniel can have to this series of events. He can recognize the miracle that just occurred, thanking Hashem for sending him salvation when all hope seemed lost. Or, he can laugh at the coincidence of both his falling and this man practicing rope throwing at the exact same time, thankful that he happened to get lucky this time. This decision is, in fact, one that we face in every moment and aspect of life, and it is a theme that underlies the entire Purim story. As Parshas Vayikra always falls around the holiday of Purim, let us delve into the meaning of Purim and its connection to Parshas Vayikra.


The Battle Against Amalek


A striking feature of Parshas Vayikra lies in its very first word. The first word of the entire sefer, "Vayikra" is written with a small aleph. What is the meaning of this small aleph? There is also a powerful connection between Parashas Vayikra and our ideological battle againstAmalek. Some years we even read Vayikra along with Parshas Zachor- our yearly obligation to recall Amalek's attempt to destroy us. What is the deeper connection between the small aleph in Vayikra and our battle against Amalek?

To address these questions, we must understand the nature of Amalek. Amalek attacked the Jewish on their way to Har Sinai. The most striking aspect of this attack is its timing. Hashem had just performed the makkos and split the sea for the Jewish People, acts that had worldwide reverberations. The Jews were viewed as invincible, untouchable. And exactly then, Amalek chose to attack the Jewish people, undertaking a practically suicidal battle with zero provocation. What was their motivation in undertaking such a mission? This question can be extended to the Purim story as well. Haman, suddenly promoted to second in command, makes it his mission to wipe out the entire Jewish people. As a descendant of Amalek, he is clearly continuing their legacy of Jewish obliteration. What is the reason for Haman's hatred of the Jews and singular desire to wipe them out? Why is this the spiritual legacy of Amalek? In order to answer this question, we must examine the fundamental principles of Jewish belief.


Three Fundamental Principles


The first fundamental principle is that Hashem is the Creator of the world- He is the source of time, space, and our entire reality. The second principle is that Hashem has a direct relationship with this physical world- this is the concept of hashgacha, that Hashem oversees and controls the events of this world. The third fundamental principle is that there is a purpose to this world and our lives within it. There is not a single aspect of life that is random, rather each and every occurrence and interaction is part of an infinitely beautiful grand plan, a cosmic symphony, a masterpiece.

Amalek's entire existence is devoted towards destroying the second and third of these principles. Amalek claims that although Hashem may exist, he has absolutely no connection to us or our world. Our lives are therefore meaningless, and this world is devoid of spirituality. This destructive mission is summed up in the pasuk describing Amalek's attack on the Jewish people. As we read in Parshas Zachor, we must remember what Amalek did to us: "ashar korcha baderech" - how they "happened" upon us while we were traveling (Devarim 25:18). The word korcha is a strange one, and Rashi therefore quotes three interpretations of this word, each fundamental and significant.


Randomness and Happenstance


The first meaning of the word “korcha” is based on its connection to the word "karah"- happenstance. This explanation reflects Amalek's claim that everything in this world is random and meaningless. There is no hashgacha, no Divine providence. Anything that happens to you, whether bad or good, has no deeper meaning or significance behind it. Amalek implied that they just "happened" to be here with swords in hand, ready for battle, they simply "chanced" upon the Jewish People as they were on the way. 

This is the exact approach that Haman took when plotting to kill the Jews. He did not rationally calculate a date on which to kill the Jews, rather he specifically chose one through a pur, a lottery. A lottery embodies randomness and chance. Haman let the luck of the draw determine when he would kill the Jews, an act of devotion to "karah" - happenstance. [The gematria, numerical value, of Amalek is safek- doubt. Amalek represents doubt and uncertainty, randomness and chaos.]


Keri: Spiritual Marriage


The second interpretation offered by Rashi connects the word "korcha" to "keri", a concept linked to marital impurity.Judaism views marriage as a lofty mitzvah, whereby the relationship between husband and wife holds incredible potential for spirituality. The Ramban explains that the relationship between man and wife ideally reflects the relationship between Hashem and the Jewish People. It is a relationship of spiritual and existential oneness, where potential is developed and actualized.

Amalek, however, claims that marriage is no more than animalistic mating, a relationship devoid of meaning and spirituality. Perhaps the reason for this is connected to Amalek's very conception.Amalek was the result of Eliphaz's relationship with his concubine, Timnah (Bereishit 36:12). Unlike Jewish marriage, which is rooted in a devoted and loving commitment, a concubine reflects a purely physical relationship, lacking the spiritual components of true marriage. The very nature of Amalek's creation became their national ethos. Amalek has divorced the physical from the spiritual, viewing the physical as detached from any higher spiritual source. The physical urges of man are the ultimate motivation in this world, as there is nothing deeper to the world or human interaction than its physical facade.

The name Amalek shares its root with the word melikah, which is the process of removing the head from the body of a bird before it was offered as a sacrifice.The head is the highest part of the body, representing the mind and the spiritual, the body is the lower part, representing the physical. Ideally, the two are connected. Amalek attempts to disconnect the head from the body, to disconnect the spiritual (head) from the physical (body), claiming that there is no spirituality within the physical world, no meaning, no connection to Hashem or anything higher.


Kor: Cooling Off the Flame


Rashi's third explanation of the word "korcha" is based on a midrash that relates the word to "kor"- cold. The midrash describes the mashal of a boiling hot bath of water that nobody dares jump into for fear of being scalded. Along comes one man and boldly jumps into the boiling water, severely burning himself in the process. He may have harmed himself, but he has now cooled the water enough for others to follow suit and jump in as well. This is what Amalek did as the Jewish people traveled from Egypt to Har Sinai. After Hashem performed the ten makkos (plagues) and took the Jewish People out of Egypt, the nations of the world were ready to accept both Hashem and His Torah. They began flocking towards Har Sinai, on a mission to join the Jewish people in accepting the Torah. [As the Ramchal explains at the end of Derech Hashem, until the Torah was given, any nation could have joined Klal Yisrael.] The Jewish people were at the height of their success, about to receive the Torah, and the other nations were ready to accept the Torah along with them. At this point, Amalek attacked the Jewish People, undertaking a nearly suicidal mission but showing the other nations that the Jews were not as invincible as they seemed. They "jumped into the scalding bath" - attacked the Jewish people, and "cooled the waters"- showed the other nations that the Jewish People were vulnerable to attack. Why did Amalek do this? Why were they willing to burn themselves simply to weaken the Jewish People? 


The Philosophy of Amalek


Amalek rejects both Hashem's control of this world and the ability for physical man to uplift himself to the level of the spiritual. Torah is the epitome of both of these principles and provides the guidelines for how to achieve this spiritual elevation. It is based on the axiom of Hashem's connection with this world, and it is the means for elevating ourselves and all of physicality to a higher purpose. Amalek stands in direct opposition to this, and when they saw not just the Jewish People, but the entire world, ready to adopt the Torah way of life, they had no choice but to attack. Amalek's entire existence is predicated on a lack of connection between Hashem and this world, therefore a complete acceptance of that principle by all the nations of the world would mean the cessation of Amalek's existence. Amalek attacked the Jewish People in order to prevent Matan Torah, to stop the world from accepting Hashem's Torah and the truth that lies within it. And although Amalek was sorely beaten, with only a few survivors, they still managed to slay a few Jewish warriors. They showed that the Jews were not invincible, "cooling" down the excitement of all the nations of the world and paralyzing their readiness to accept the Torah.Amalek Won. Physically, they lost, but in a deeper way, they won. The nations of the world walked away.

[The most dangerous thing in the world is to cool off someone's passion and fire for avodas Hashem (service of Hashem). Once life becomes practical and toned down, everything begins to wither away. This is what Amalek represents: cooling the flame. For this reason, the middah (attribute) of Amalek is mockery and sarcasm. Sarcasm is the tool we use to distance ourselves from truth. When something is too much for us to handle, we respond with sarcasm, creating an internal wall that allows us to distance ourselves from this truth, refusing to confront it. A single sarcastic comment can mitigate the impact of the most moving and inspiring speech.]


Why Isn't Hashem Mentioned in the Megillah?


Megilas Esther is unique as it is the only book of Tanach in which Hashem's name is not mentioned. This is because Purim marks a transition in history, when our battle against Amalek manifested in a new form. Until Purim, history was punctuated by frequent open miracles, nevuah (prophecy) was common, and Hashem was openly revealed in the world. 

The second stage, ushered in by Purim, is characterized by hidden miracles. In our present world, Hashem is no longer openly manifest and clearly visible. In this stage, we must choose to see Hashem, through the darkness. It is in this stage that Amalek's claims are all the more tempting to believe, as it is easy to ignore Hashem's involvement in this world. Our challenge is to see past the surface, to see the miraculous within the natural, the ethereal within the mundane, the infinite within the finite.


The Small Aleph


We can now give meaning to the small aleph in Vayikra and understand why we read it around the time of Purim. When you look at the word Vayikra, with its tiny aleph, at first you only see the word “kara” – happenstance. This word embodies the essence of Amalek, a God-less reality, devoid of spirituality and meaning. Only when you look closer, and peer beneath the surface, do you see the aleph. Aleph, the first most spiritual of all the letters, represents oneness and the transcendent root of reality. Hashem is echad, one, and our goal in this world is to see the spiritual oneness inherent within every event and object in this world. Amalek seeks to hide the truth, to disconnect us from our source, and thus to strip all meaning from life. Only when we see past the surface, when we recognize the aleph in Vayikra, and trace everything that happens in this world back to Hashem- our spiritual source- will we ultimately defeat Amalek and all that they stand for.




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