We begin the third book of the Torah, Vayikra (ויקרא), which means, “And He called.”

G-d called upon Moshe to give him instructions related to five different types of sacrifices that the Jewish people are enjoined to bring upon the altar in the newly consecrated mishkan (tabernacle).

In this parsha, however, the word “vayikra” is written with a small aleph at the end (see image above). 

Rashi is just one of  many commentators who discuss this anomaly, by pointing to the difference between the word “vayikra” (ויקרא)  and another similar word, “vayikar” (ויקר). 

The latter is the word the Torah uses to describe G-d’s prophetic calling to Bilaam, a non-Jewish prophet in the book of Bamidbar (Numbers), when he was on his way to curse the Jewish people at the behest of Balak, the king of Moab.

One can see that the former “vayikra” (ויקרא) includes the letter aleph at the end, while the latter “vayikar”  (ויקר) does not.

While both iterations of the word mean “And He called,” Rashi points out that the underlying intent of the two are vastly different: Vayikra with an aleph is an endearing term, suggesting that G-d called out to Moshe lovingly and with deliberate intention.

By contrast, the word vayikar, without the aleph, connotes an encounter that lacked any personal warmth and intimacy and one that appeared by chance.

In making this distinction, Rashi provides a homiletical insight into Moshe’s character. He explains that Moshe, out of an abundance of humility, decided to describe G-d’s revelation to him with the same uncomplimentary word used for Bilaam- without the aleph.

When G-d instructed Moshe to include the aleph, Moshe made it small as a compromise, not wishing to draw attention to his special relationship with G-d. The unusual typography of the word vayikra, then, points to a lesson about the importance of humility.

But there is a deeper lesson here, according to Rav Shach, who points to two distinct and opposing philosophical outlooks that underlie these two words.

  1. Vayikar – everything in life happens by chance.
  2. Vayikra – everything in life is part of a Divine plan. Even if that plan is not currently recognizable, it’s all directed from above in order to guide you to the place you need to be.

Rav Shach explains that, in reality, there is no such thing as “vayikar,” i.e. chance encounters. The word “vayikra” represents more than a loving relationship between G-d and Moshe; it represents a relationship between G-d and the Jewish people and a core belief integral to Judaism: everything that happens is based on Divine Providence and is reflective of G-d’s intention.

The difference between the two words (and their vastly different meanings) is separated by only one letter—the aleph. The aleph, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, means “one,” pointing to the One G-d.

So while the two words begin with “vayikar,” suggesting a random event, when the letter aleph is added, the word takes on a new meaning, one that suggests that G-d is behind everything and that nothing occurs by chance or coincidence.

The belief that everything happens by chance is represented in this week’s haftorah of Zachor (the portion read from the Prophets after the Torah reading on the Shabbat before Purim) in the actions of Amalek, who went out of their way to attack the Jewish people as soon as they left Egypt.

There is a Torah commandment to remember what Amalek did to us.  In fact it is so important, that the Torah gives us two separate obligations:

  1. Remember what Amalek did to you.
  2. Do not forget what Amalek did to you.

Why is there a special obligation to remember Amalek? Because they attacked the Jewish people—men, women, and children–when they were at their most vulnerable. They attacked from behind when the Jewish people were weak and tired and were seeking freedom after hundreds of years of slavery. They did not follow the regular rules of war; they used the most cruel and heartless tactics.

The word that the Torah uses for Amalek attacking is “karcha” (קרך). Rashi teaches us that the word “karcha” comes from the word “mikreh” (מקרה). Both words suggests that the Amalekites surprised the Jews in a chance encounter.

In effect, the word “karcha” points to the philosophy of “vayikar,” one that was harbored by the Amalekites in that they rejected a belief in Divine providence that guides the world.

Amalek is the paradigmatic example of this philosophy. As a result, the Amalekites took their aim at the Jewish people, attacking them when they were at their weakest and most vulnerable. Every means of warfare is on the table in a world that does not believe in G-d.

Amalek stood out in their evil because they were the first nation to attack the Jewish people when they left Egypt. No other nation wanted to touch the fledgling nation, as they all had seen the miracles of the plagues and the Exodus. Every nation—except for Amalek that is. Amalek showed the rest of the nations that it was possible to take on the Jewish people.

This merciless attack happened at a time when the Jewish people were not only vulnerable and weak physically, but spiritually as well. They had begun to doubt whether G-d was amongst them. They had no water to drink in the desert and began to complain. It was when doubt crept into their thinking that Amalek attacked.

Could there be a connection between the Jews’ weakening faith and the subsequent attack? Was it purely a coincidence? The two consecutive events, occurring one after the other, suggests otherwise. Gematria, a practice of assigning a numerical value to letters and words in order to extract insight, also suggests a connection.

The numerical value for the word “doubt” (ספק) and the word “Amalek” (עמלק) both equal 240.

This numerical equivalence  suggests that there was a connection between the Jews’ doubt and the attack by Amalek. When the Jewish people questioned G-d’s providence, the nation that epitomized this corrosive belief attacked.

As Jews in the twenty first century, it is difficult to see everything as divinely ordained. But that is the challenge and the lesson here: seeing the events of the world not as “vayikar,” as happenstance, but as “Vayikra,” as G-d’s calling to us, in a deliberate and loving way.

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