Our Torah portion for this week is Vayikra ("and he called"), the very first section from the Book of Leviticus. In Jewish tradition, Leviticus is sometimes called the "Book of Sacrifices" since it deals largely with the various sacrificial offerings brought to the altar at the Tabernacle. Indeed, over 40 percent of all the Torah's commandments are found in this central book of the Scriptures, highlighting that blood atonement is crucial to the Torah. Indeed, since the revelation of the Tabernacle was the climax of the revelation given at Sinai, the Book of Leviticus serves as its ritual expression: As it is written: "For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement (kapparah) by the life" (Lev. 17:11).
Unlike narrative portions of other books of the Torah, the Book of Leviticus begins with the LORD "calling out" (i.e., vayikra) to Moses to explain that the way to draw near to Him is by means of atoning sacrifice. It is noteworthy that throughout the book, only the sacred name of the LORD (יהוה) is used in connection with sacrificial offerings, never the name Elohim (אֱלהִים). This suggests that sacrificial offerings were given to draw us near to experience God's mercy and compassion rather than to simply appease His anger.... In other words, the Name of the LORD represents salvation (i.e., yeshuah:יְשׁוּעָה) and healing for the sinner, not God's judgment (John 3:17). Indeed, the word korban (קָרְבָּן), often translated as "sacrifice" or "offering," comes from a root word karov (קָרַב) that means to "draw close" or "to come near" (James 4:8). The sinner who approached the LORD trusting in the efficacy of the sacrificial blood shed on his or her behalf would find healing and life...
Note that the word in the ancient Greek translation of the Torah (called the Septuagint) that was selected to translate the Hebrew word kapporet (i.e., "mercy seat") is hilasterion (ἱλαστήριον), sometimes translated "propitiation." The New Testament picks up this usage in Romans 3:25: "God put forward Yeshua as a propitiation (ἱλαστήριον) through faith in His blood." In other words, the shedding of Yeshua's blood - represented by His Passion upon the cross - was "presented" upon the Heavenly Kapporet, before the very Throne of God Himself for our atoning sacrifice (i.e., kapparah:כַּפָּרָה) before God.
Please see the quick summary for Vayikra for more information. You can also download the Shabbat Table Talk for this portion here:
Note that last Shabbat marked Rosh Chodesh Adar (חודש אדר), that is, the twelfth month of the Jewish calendar (counting from the month of Nisan). During Jewish "leap years," however, an additional month is inserted into the Jewish calendar, and the month of Adar is appended by an additional month called Adar Sheni (or Adar II). From the point of view of the holidays, Adar II is theoretically recognized as the "twelfth month," so the holiday of Purim, for instance, is always celebrated during Adar II during Jewish leap years....
The holiday of Purim is always observed exactly one month before the holiday of Passover(Megillah 1:4), and since both holidays celebrate God's deliverance of His people, the month of Adar (II) is considered one of the happiest of the Jewish year: "When Adar comes, joy is increased" (Ta'anit 29a). This year the month of Adar II began on Sat. March 1st, and Purim begins two weeks later, under the full moon (i.e., Sat. March 15th). That means that Passover begins one lunar month later, on Monday, April 14th (at sundown).
Like the month of Elul (i.e., the month that precedes Rosh Hashanah and the New Year in the fall [Exod. 23:16]), the month of Adar is a time to prepare our hearts before the start of the New Year of spring and the great holiday of Passover...
The following (simplified) blessing can be recited to celebrate the last month of the year and to ask the LORD God Almighty to help you prepare for this coming season:
The holiday of Purim (פּוּרִים) celebrates the victory of the Jewish people over the dark forces of anti-Semitism in the world. In a sense, the entire holiday is a spoof or joke made at the expense of those who senselessly hate the Jewish people (and who therefore hate the God of Israel). Purim is therefore both a time of irony and a time to celebrate how God secretly acts on behalf of His people so that they will eventually triumph over their enemies.
Throughout the centuries and in various places, many have tried to destroy the Jewish people, but none has succeeded. עַם יִשְׂרָאֵל חַי / am Yisrael chai: "The people of Israel live!" Israel is God's "super sign" that He is faithful to His covenant promises (Jer. 31:35-37). Christians likewise can trust that God's sovereign hand works all things together for good -- even if at times things appear bleak and desperate (Rom. 8:28).
This year Purim is celebrated Saturday, March 15th (at sundown), that is, on the 14th of Adar, the day after Haman's roll of the dice indicated that the 13th of Adar was most "propitious" date to exterminate the Jews of Persia. Note that Purim is celebrated the day after since it was at that time that the Jews experienced the joy of their deliverance (in Israel, Purim is observed a day later still (i.e., on Adar 15th) and is called Shushan Purim).
פּוּרִים שָׂמֵחַ / Purim Sameach: "Happy Purim!"
Blessing before Torah Study:
Parashah is the weekly Scripture portion taken from the Torah. Each parashah is given a name and is usually referred to as "parashat - name" (e.g., parashat Noach). For more information about weekly readings, click here.
Aliyot refer to a smaller sections of the weekly parashah that are assigned to people of the congregation for public reading during the Torah Reading service. In most congregations it is customary for the person "called up" to recite a blessing for the Torah before and after the assigned section is recited by the cantor. For Shabbat services, there are seven aliyot (and a concluding portion called a maftir). The person who is called to make aliyah is referred to as an oleh (olah, if female).
Maftir refers to the last Torah aliyah of the Torah chanting service (normally a brief repetition of the 7th aliyah, though on holidays the Maftir portion usually focuses on the Holiday as described in the Torah). The person who recites the Maftir blessing also recites the blessing over the Haftarah portion.
Haftarah refers to an additional portion from the Nevi'im (Prophets) read after the weekly Torah portion. The person who made the maftir blessing also recites the blessing for the Haftarah, and may even read the Haftarah before the congregation.
Brit Chadashah refers to New Testament readings which are added to the traditional Torah Reading cycle. Often blessings over the Brit Chadashah are recited before and after the readings.
Mei Ketuvim refers to a portion read from the Ketuvim, or writings in the Tanakh. Readings from the Ketuvim are usually reserved for Jewish holidays at the synagogue.
Perek Yomi Tehillim refers to the daily portion of psalms (mizmorim) recited so that the entire book of Psalms (Tehillim) is read through in a month. For a schedule, of daily Psalm readings, click here.
Gelilah refers to the tying up and covering the Sefer Torah (Torah Scroll) as an honor in the synagogue.
Divrei Torah ("words of Torah") refers to a commentary, a sermon, or devotional on the Torah portion of the week.