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Vayikra: Why do some people start in the middle?

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Why do some people start in the middle?

This coming shabbat we will be commencing our reading of Sefer Vayikra, the Book of Leviticus, the middle book of the Torah. In the Yalkut Shimoni, an anthology of midrashim, there is a suggestion that we should start teaching our children chumash from the beginning of Vayikra and not from the beginning of the Torah in Bereishit. And why? Says the Yalkut, the sacrifices which form the major part of the content of Vayikra are pure, and children are pure. Therefore, ‘let the pure come and immerse themselves in the pure.’ 

In addition, there are some who point out that the final letter of the word Vayikra, which is the opening word of the book, is a tiny alef. And they suggest that because alef is the first letter of the alef bet, and it is small, the smallness of the letter represents those who are tiny, our little children, and they should commence the very start of their learning of chumash with Vayikra, which is the middle book. 

Now, we need to add some rationale to this whole concept. Some of our commentators say that this particular custom emerged as a result of the destruction of the Second Temple. After the destruction, our rabbis declared that children should always learn the Book of Vayikra first in order that they should be well versed in the details relating to sacrifices and that they should grow to love the sacrificial rite so that the importance of it should never be lost from our people. 

Then there are those who point out that the word sacrifice, korban, comes from the term kirva, which means to be close. It represents our closeness to Hashem. The sacrificial rite included details for which we have no logic, giving a message to young children of how important it is for them to feel naturally close to Hashem, and also not to be confused or disappointed by the fact that we cannot understand absolutely everything. Nonetheless, we can have a close spiritual connection to our Creator, accompanied by a meaningful and joyous life. 

But most of all, our commentators point out that in the Book of Shemot we are given as a nation the mitzvah that we should be a ‘Mamlechet Kohanim’ – a nation of priests. The Kohanim were the ones who brought the sacrifices which form the content of the Book of Vayikra, and we are called upon as a Jewish people to be the Kohanim of the world. And as a result, our prime task is Kiddush Hashem, sanctifying the name of God, right around the world, all the time. 

This is the prime lesson that we want our children to be aware of from the most tender age, so that they will grow up to be outstanding ambassadors of our people and of Hashem. Through all of their future actions, may they indeed produce a great Kiddush Hashem. Not only is this an important lesson for our children, it’s an important lesson for all of us. May we indeed, through our deeds, always cause the sanctification of Hashem’s name.

Shabbat shalom.