Gaining Control: Vayikra

Journey into the Soul of the Weekly Torah Portion

The Book of Leviticus: A 10 Part Journey

The Book of Leviticus teaches
that life is an inner sanctuary:

The human psyche is made of many parts,
some more sublime, some more prone to desire —
but all necessary.

Discover profound wisdom you can use
to harness your inner beasts and direct all your energies
toward a higher calling and a life of purpose.

Vayikra: The Most Heavenly Fragrance
Vayikra, the third of the Five Books of Moses, deals primarily with the various details necessary for the construction of the Mishkan and the various offerings that were brought within it. The seemingly archaic commandments surrounding the sacrificial service include the myriad details of the animal sacrifices that were brought in the Mishkan, and later in the Beis HaMikdash. In this week’s class we will explore the meaning and purpose of the animal sacrifices, why they are neither outmoded nor barbaric, and why these above all the offerings were called by G‑d: “A pleasant fragrance to HaShem”. We will conclude that an understanding of these sacrifices on both a practical and symbolic level remains not only relevant, but also crucial for all of us today.

Tzav: Preparing to Greet the Shechinah
In this week’s parshah we find the intriguing and often overlooked account of the seven-day process during which Moses alone initiated Aharon and his four sons into G‑d’s priestly service. Only after the completion of this procedure on the eighth day, when the new Kohanim were fully initiated into their roles, could Moshe instruct his brother, now Aaron HaKohen, to ‘approach the altar’. With Aharon’s first sacrifice HaShem’s longstanding promise to the Jewish people was finally fulfilled: “And I shall dwell amongst the children of Israel, and I shall be their G‑d. And they shall know that I am HaShem their G‑d, that I took them out of Egypt in order to dwell amongst them…’ In this class, we will analyze some of the most important aspects of these seven days of preparations. We will try to understand why they were necessary antecedents to the first day that ‘the glory of HaShem filled the Mishkan’.

Shemini: Immersed in G‑dly Precision
If we examine anything of great value and beauty in this world, whether it is natural or man-made, we will find a work of great complexity, where every detail counts. Everything about Torah, from the letters of a Torah Scroll to the final rulings of the Halacha-which is ultimately G‑d’s detailed instructions to us for how to interact with His highly nuanced world- is similarly exact. We therefore take great joy and pleasure in understanding and immersing ourselves in the precise details of G‑dly observance in theory and in practice. In this week’s class we will look at some of the details behind one of the most beautiful, mysterious and important mitzvot that we have, the mitzvah of mikvah, and how it serves as a practical metaphor for our relationship with the Divine.

Tazria: What it Means to be Human
What does it mean to be human, and what are the defining features that set us apart from animals? At the core of the Torah’s answer are man’s dual nature—comprising two opposite potentials for good and evil—and the power of free choice to manifest either at any time. We will show in today’s lesson that man’s ability and choice to sin is unique in creation, and that sin itself provides an additional dimension to our definition of a human being. In order to have the potential to sin, the human soul must in part come from the lowest point of the spiritual universe. But it is precisely and only because our basest drives come from such a low place that we can rise to the greatest spiritual heights.

Metzorah: The Most Hidden Treasure
In this week’s Torah portion we learn about an extraordinarily painful, disfiguring and ultimately fatal disease called tzora’at. This disease was unique in that it would even contaminate inanimate matter, like rocks and limestone. The result of affliction with tzora’at was so horrific that even before a human was contaminated, the Torah ordered entire homes to be completely demolished when the disease was found to have spread to a house’s walls. And yet, our sages tell us, the demolishing of these homes was a good thing-beneficial and a blessing. In this week’s class we will explore a theme that has been discussed for as long as we human beings have pondered the world in which we live: The link between hardships, loss and HaShem’s consistent, ever-present goodness and kindness.

Acharei-Mot: Can I Love G‑d Too Much?
In an age where nothing seems more necessary than greater spirituality and closeness to G‑d, it seems almost absurd for there to be something wrong with trying to become too close to Him. Nevertheless, the Torah gives us many examples of cases where too great of a religious enthusiasm led to ruin. For example, we learn in this parsha that on the day of the inauguration of the Mishkan, two sons of Aaron brought an unsolicited sacrifice into the Holy of Holies, and they lost their lives as a result. In the aftermath of this episode, HaShem gave Moshe a command to give Aaron himself. It was a very strict warning that he should not come into the Holy of Holies, except on Yom Kippur with only the designated sacrifices. A Midrash related to this warning contains a parable explaining Aaron’s potentially destructive love of HaShem. In this week’s lesson we will explore Aaron’s love of G‑d in the context of that parable and find out how through our relationship with a spiritual mentor each of us can determine the appropriate measure of closeness and respectful distance that we should seek in our own relationship with HaShem.

Kedoshim: Love Yourself
In today’s class we will explore a fundamental principle of Judaism: Ahavat Yisrael, the commandment to “Love your fellow as yourself.” We are all created with an inborn self-love, and a natural need for self-protection. How then is it truly possible to love someone to the same degree that you love yourself? We will strive to understand this important mitzvah, beginning with how it’s explained according to the classical commentaries. We will then see how the Chassidic explanation of the commandment leads to the breaking down of the useless barriers that separate us all.

Emor: Speak Good and it will Be Good
In an age where positive visualization, and “The Secret” are all the rage, it is important for us to realize that the depressing and negative world that emerged from post-war Europe was revolutionized by a Jewish spiritual leader who always sought to find the good in everything- in every situation, and in every person. This week’s lesson is about not just seeing the goodness in life, but more importantly, how to spread that goodness by speaking about it. While it is very important for every Jew to focus on lashon hora, and the destructive, negative power of speech, it may be even more important in our own age to be mindful of what positive speech can accomplish. In this lesson, we will examine the Rebbe’s view of the transformational power positive speaking.

Behar: The Kabbalah of Interest
The charging of interest to another Jew is a very serious prohibition that the Prophet Ezekiel lists among the worst of transgressions. But loans are a central part of any healthy economy, and Jewish legal authorities throughout history have grappled with ways to preserve the economic value of loans for all parties. Contemporary scholars have sought to apply these complex rulings to modern situations – especially in the State of Israel. The question is: Why can’t you charge a fair rate of interest? Why should you lose out by doing someone a favor? In this week’s class we will explore the meaning of the Torah’s prohibition against charging interest, and what it can teach us about the general relationship between the G‑dly Jewish soul and the mundane, material world.

Bechukotai: Can a Person Give Too Much?
The primary theme of chumash Vayikra is kedushah- the conditions and actions that enable us to unleash our G‑dly potential and rise above our animalistic natures. There is no action where kedusha is more manifest than in the act of giving tzedakah. With the exception of some Social Darwinists and some Hindus who believe that the poor are meant to be poor as a matter of natural or divine law, the whole world recognizes the fundamental human obligation to care for the needy. And as the Rebbe often noted, this refers not only to those who are deprived of the most basic material sustenance, but to those who are in spiritual need as well. While most people leave it up to their current emotional and financial state in deciding how much to give, Jewish law is very specific as to the limits and boundaries of tzedakah. A key question disputed by the sages and commentaries has been over the issue of whether or not there are upper limits to one’s generosity. Can one give too much? Is it a mitzvah to impoverish oneself by helping others out of poverty? In this week’s class we will examine this important halachic question in the light of chassidus.