Leviticus (Vayikra in Hebrew) gets a bad rap. It’s usually dismissed by preachers and Sunday school teachers alike as tedious and irrelevant, full of blood and obsolete rules.
But God doesn’t waste words.
Vayikra begins with a series of word plays:
Leviticus 1:1-2 And the LORD called unto Moses, and spake unto him out of the tabernacle of the congregation, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, If any man of you bring an offering unto the LORD, ye shall bring your offering of the cattle, even of the herd, and of the flock.
There are two distinct word plays that I want to talk about. Let’s look at the less obvious one first.
This Torah portion–in fact, this entire book–is named “Vayikra” which means “called” or “summoned”, but there is something missing from the English translation. This isn’t the fault of the translators necessarily because the thing that is missing could not be translated directly. The Hebrew word vayikra in verse one is spelled strangely. Although Hebrew doesn’t use capital letters like we use in English, it does use cases. It has a standard case, an upper case, a lower case, and even an inverted case. In this case, the final letter in vayikra, aleph, is in lower case, almost like a subscript.
There is another instance in the Torah where vayikra is spelled strangely: “And God met Balaam.” (Numbers 23:4) This vayikra has no aleph at all. The rabbis say (and the KJV translators seem to have agreed) that this is because vayiker implies a chance encounter while vayikra is a deliberate summoning.
The rabbis go on to say that Moses used a small aleph in Leviticus 1:1 because he wanted to de-emphasize the fact that God sought him out from among all his peers to lead Israel to freedom and to deliver the Torah. Balaam’s encounter with God was made inevitable by the path he and Balak had chosen.
Moses’ encounter, on the other hand, was pre-ordained. The small aleph is Moses’ way of saying, “Yes, God chose me, but that doesn’t mean I’m better than anyone else.” We are all called. The questions to be answered are, how do we respond to our calling and what are we to do with it?
The second word play is more apparent, although the English translation still obscures it a little. Did you notice in the above paragraph how I used the word “case” so many times in a row that it almost became irritating? The Hebrew scriptures, especially prophecy, do this frequently. It’s a trick God uses to flag a particularly important idea or an idea that isn’t immediately clear in the plain text. The Hebrew words for “called unto”, “bring”, and “offering” all have the same root, kar, which refers to coming near. Putting the Hebrew words in, this passage looks something like this:
Leviticus 1:1-2 And the LORD vayik’ra unto Moses, and spake unto him out of the tabernacle of the congregation, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, If any man of you yik’rib a kar’ban unto the LORD, ye shall yik’rib your kar’ban of the cattle, even of the herd, and of the flock.
To make the sense even more clear in English, “YHWH told Moses to approach him and spoke to him from out of the tabernacle of the congregation, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, saying, ‘If anyone of you would approach God with an approaching, you will approach with an approaching from the animals of your herds and of your flocks.'”
So what is the message that is barely hidden here? It is the central theme of the entire book of Leviticus/Vayikra: drawing near to God. Although Leviticus describes a sacrificial system and priesthood that most people today view as obsolete and even barbaric, it also describes the only way that we might be restored to a close relationship with our Creator. Our restoration requires innocent blood to cover (atone for) our sins. (“Why” is another question entirely and might be beyond our ability to understand.)
We must first acknowledge our guilt and our inability to approach God on our own merits. Then we must accept the atonement that God has provided for us in his inestimable grace in the person of his Son, the Lamb of God. (Genesis 22:8 and John 1:29) The blood of Yeshua takes away our sins so that when God summons us we may draw near without being destroyed.
As in so many other cases, God has presented us with a choice. He told us to choose between life and death, blessings and cursings. In the Garden he provided the means of our destruction and on Calvary he provided the means of our salvation. We have but to choose and to surrender to the consequences.