(Torah Portion Vayikra) Great Personalities
This week we begin reading Vayikra, the third book of the Torah, which begins with the word “Vayikra” – “And He called.” G-d called our leader Moshe and instructed him about the sacrificial offerings performed in the Temple.
Commentators explain that whenever G-d commanded Moshe, He first called him, as a gesture of love, honor and respect and only then did He speak to him concerning the laws. Moshe was called by G-d like the ministering angels are called in heaven.
Moshe was loved and respected by the Almighty because of his devotedness, humility, righteousness, trustworthiness and his many other attributes.
Throughout our history, G-d entrusted us with great sages and luminaries who exemplified and modeled Moshe’s traits. These leaders were (and are) steeped in Torah study and were in awe of the Almighty at all times.
Because of their closeness to G-d, these sages are vested with special energy in their prayers making them especially effective; therefore people flock to seek their blessing.
Due to the Torah they contain and the purity of devotion they achieved, when they enter a room people stand out of respect, similar to the respect given when an actual Torah is removed from the ark.
Just as G-d honored and respected our leader Moshe, calling him by name, so too, we display our respect to the Torah that Moshe taught and has been absorbed by our leaders and teachers.
In a beautiful book written by the daughter of a great luminary and sage Rabbi Yonoson Steif o.b.m. (d.1957), she describes a touching scene that she witnessed as her father prepared to leave his house before being admitted to the hospital.
“My father went over to the bookcases which held his holy books from which he had studied, kissing each and every one of them, one at a time. He also apologized to specific books for not using them enough.”
She continues, “When he came to a Sefer – book written by the Chasam Sofer – he pulled out a yellowed paper on which he had written something and said, ‘Holy Chasam Sofer (d.1800), when we will meet (in heaven) I would like to show you an approach to the question that you raised.’ He closed the Sefer and lovingly and gently returned it to its place.”
Before what was to be his final trip to the hospital, Rabbi Steif, sensing that he would not return home, repeated the same ritual, this time he kissed each Sefer and emotionally bade it good-bye.
These tender scenes demonstrate the deep regard and respect that this Sage had for the knowledge he amassed from the Holy books.
When Reb Steiff would speak on the phone with Reb Moshe Feinstein o.b.m., he would rise and stand during the entire conversation. At times he would even put on his hat and jacket, out of his deep admiration and respect for Reb Moshe, the great leader, even though he was not in his presence.
When describing the various sacrifices, the Torah speaks of a special sacrifice which the Nasi – leader of the Jewish people would offer if he accidentally sinned. The Torah begins this segment with the word, “Ashair.” This a derivative of the word Ashrai which means praised.
How can the Torah possibly praise the leader for tripping up and sinning?
The Torah is not praising the leader directly. Rather, it is focusing on the generation, saying, “Praised is the generation that has such a G-d fearing and humble leader who takes it to heart to offer an offering upon making a personal mistake. A person like this will certainly seek atonement if he sinned purposefully.”
Rabbi Shimon Schwab o.b.m. once received a phone call from a woman who asked him a Halachik question. Rabbi Schwab answered the question and hung up. It then dawned upon him that his answer may not have been clear and might cause her to do something incorrectly. This was before caller ID and the lady had not identified herself. Rabbi Schwab took out a Tehilim – Psalms and began praying that the lady calls back. Sure enough, a few minutes later she called back and he was able to clarify the issue!
Praised are we, who have leaders like this!
Wishing you a most restful, uplifting, peaceful
and inspirational Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks