Messing with Maimonides: Vayikra

One little alef and such a fuss.

Rabbi Dr. Raymond Apple,

 Raymond Apple
Raymond Apple


In the first words of the sidra, God called Moses.

The word “Called” ends with an alef. In the Torah scroll this letter is written small, because Moses wanted to leave it out but God insisted.

Without an alef the word means, “God happened to Moses”. That is, the whole event was accidental. God said, “No: I knew what I was doing and I fully intended to call Moses.”

One little alef, and such a big fuss!

Actually it’s a really big deal. Do things just happen, or does God plan them?

The historian HAL Fisher debated whether history had “a plot, a rhythm, a predetermined plan”. Henry Ford, who knew a lot about cars but little about events, said that history was “just bunk”.

Judaism is certain that God controls events and that, despite Moses, they don’t just happen – or, as Nahum Goldmann (I think it was he) remarked, we constantly lurch from crisis to crisis.

Our philosophy of history is that history has three stages, the past (where things began), the present (where we’re at now) and the future (what destiny will unfold as time goes on).

Israel is the quintessential example. Adapting something Martin Buber said (“On Zionism”, 1972, pages 147-8), Israel has three stages: the past (the historical existence of ancient times), the present (rediscovering our distinctive spirit) and future (the gaining of the messianic state of holiness).



The Torah reading goes into great detail about sacrifices. Maimonides regards them as Divine statutes given by God as a test of human faith (Hil’chot Me’ilah 1).

In his Guide for the Perplexed (Moreh Nevuchim part 3) he suggests that they have a historical basis: they are not the highest form of worship but an intermediate stage whereby humans will gradually drop debased rituals derived from an idolatrous environment and refine their rites by means of Torah laws about sacrifices in order eventually to come to God in purity and atonement.

Some notable authorities criticise Maimonides, but Abravanel supports him by means of a Midrash on Lev. 22: “A king saw that his son used to eat meat from animals that had died by themselves or had been torn by wild beasts, both of which were not kosher. The king said, ‘If he must eat this meat, let him do it at my table so that he will gradually rid himself of erroneous ways.’”

Critics said that whatever justification Maimonides was advocating, he was not dealing with the whole of the sacrificial system, which had its own spiritual and ethical purpose.

One of the arguments in favour of the sacrifices is that humans who yearn for God must learn to give up their addiction to material possessions and their selfish thoughts of and for themselves.