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Entering the Tabernacle with a Small Aleph

03/18/2021 05:30:15 PM

Mar18

If you look for this week’s Torah portion, Vayikra, in a scroll, you will see that it is easy to find . There is a big break between the end of Exodus and the beginning of the new book of Leviticus, even though chronologically one follows the other almost immediately. There is also an unusual letter- the very first word “Vayikra” has its last letter, an aleph, written very small.  Our sages ascribe a very special significance to that aleph as it introduces Moses’s being summonded to dedicate the ancient tabernacle.   the typography of those first words bears an important lesson for us as we contemplate our own tabernacle.

Last year, as we began the book of Leviticus, we had just begun to close down for Covid, and we imagined that by the time we got to Numbers, the crisis would be largely over.  In my comments for this portion in 5780  I wrote “I fear that [Leviticus] will be largely behind us before we are again able to convene in person for prayer and study.”   Seems like I was off by just about a year.  The large gap in the Torah scroll reminds us that even when we have a significant break, we still have the ability to pick up where we left off.  That is the urge that many of us have- to return to “life as normal.” 

That  small aleph makes a big difference as well.  VayikrA, with the aleph,  means that God called, and summoned with purpose.  Vayikr, without the aleph, implies that an interaction was totally accidental and unintentional.  Moses, with his characteristic humility, wanted to write the word without an aleph, to imply that his interactions with God, and the tabernacle, were just happenstance.  God insisted that the aleph  be included, because the call to worship and holiness must be intentional. Indeed, later in Leviticus, two children of Aaron, Nadav and Avihu, enter the tabernacle without the proper preparation and concern, and pay for it with their lives.

Keeping in mind that small aleph, we are in the midst of a careful process of re-entering our  own tabernacle.  We are grateful to our COVID advisory group for their continued guidance and review.  For the past two months, we have been having live services with limited attendance, either outdoors or with just a few households from a simcha family.   Over Passover, each Shabbat and Yom Tov  service will be opened to congregants, by reservation, with about 60 attendees if we are able to be outdoors, or about 25 indoors.    We will continue to offer the zoom option. If demand exceeds capacity, we will offer additional opportunities for yizkor in person.

We have envisioned further phases as numbers of vaccinations and cases continue to improve.   The next phase will allow us to increase of the number of people at indoor. When services are indoors, we will allow both vaccinated and unvaccinated people to pre-register, with a limited number of slots for unvaccinated individuals.    Our later phases contemplate the resumption of kiddush outdoors, as well as daily minyan and the many other in-person activities that we have missed over this past year.

 As we undertake this process of re-entry, it is important to hold in our hearts that small aleph.  We are being called to the Tabernacle, but that our journey must be intentional and measured.   Perhaps this year, by the time we finish the book that we are starting this week, and begin the book of Numbers, we will indeed be in a very different place in our journey.

Sun, May 9 2021 27 Iyyar 5781