Have you ever wondered what is the best part of the Torah to start to teach your child? The obvious start would be at the beginning – Bereishit, or perhaps you would prefer to start it with the first mitzvah given to Klal Yisrael as a nation?
It is interesting to note that Kol Bo and Rokeach bring the Midrash Tanchuma which states that when a child first starts to learn, they should begin with the book of Vayikra!
The Kli Yakar, also brings this tradition, stating that it is for this reason the first word Vayikra is spelt with a small Aleph.
The letter Aleph represents the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet. The fact that it is small hints to the fact that small children should start to learn the Torah (represented by the Aleph, and the fact that Aleph can also imply Limud see Iyov 33:33) from here.
What is so special about beginning with the book of Vayikra; surely this seems a bit out of touch and technical for a young child?
The Midrash states that children are pure and free from sin therefore, G-d said, they should start with the sacrificial section; these pure children should delve in pure matters (the sacrifices). The Midrash continues that nowadays after the Temple was destroyed and the sacrifices were terminated, if not for the children who learn about the sacrifices, the world would cease to exist.
What is the deeper meaning of this Midrash, that children are pure so they should learn about pure matters?
The Pardes Yosef explains the reason we teach them from Vayikra, is to teach them that in life there will be sacrifices. At the moment they are pure, they have not experienced the trials and tribulations of this world. Our aim is to see that they stay pure. We send a message to them that when it comes to Avodat Hashem, the path is not easy, there will come times when they will need to make difficult decisions, sacrificing their own desire for that of G-d.
This message is actually two way; at the same time we are also teaching the parent, that when it comes to Chinuch – education, there will be sacrifices. A mother and father are being told that educating children is not a simple matter. There are times when the father has to leave his business activities behind in order to focus on his family, and there are times where the mother has to forgo her business and social activities.
The Ben Ish Chai gives a Mashal of a person who went into the store to buy a mirror. He wanted a fancy mirror and was willing to pay any price. The owner showed him a few of his most splendid mirrors. Each time however, the buyer declined. After showing him several different mirrors and being denied each time, the owner asked the man what was wrong with those mirrors. The man answered: “Look, can you see that ugly image in the mirror, it’s rough, and unattractive.”
The owner looked on in amazement. Do you not understand, a mirror shows the exact image that is looking into it? You are looking into it so you are seeing yourself. If you wish the image in the mirror to change, then you need to change yourself, not the mirror!
By focusing on ourselves and making those extra sacrifices in life for Hashem, we benefit ourselves. Our children see us and follow suit.
When a child begins to learn, he is full of enthusiasm, he is willing to forgo everything for the chance to sit and learn from the same book his father beautifully studies from. The message to him, is to take that enthusiasm and know that there will be sacrifices along the way, keep that enthusiasm dear to him and always focus on Avodat Hashem.
Sacrificing time might be hard, but we should know that the more a person sacrifices for Hashem the more Hashem pays him back.
The Sefer Barchi Nafshi, brings a story of a man who boarded a plane to a certain city in the US. He noticed the person next to him had a name tag on him, and was called Mr Weinstein. They struck up conversation, and when the meals were served, he took Kosher, but Mr Weinstein didn’t. He asked Mr Weinstein in a casual way, why it was that he didn’t order Kosher. Kosher meals are so tasty on flights!?! Mr Weistein answered that he had survived the Holocaust. Unfortunately all his family had been killed by the Nazis, apart from one son. He survived for a few years with his son, but then near the end of the war, they took his son away and presumably killed him. He never saw him again, and that was the last straw. Why should he keep Kosher?
The man was startled and had no response.
Four years later, and on Yom Kippur the man was going to Shul and noticed an elderly Jewish looking figure smoking, sitting on the bench.
As he approached he was surprised to see it was the same man he had met a few years earlier on the plane. He saw this as no coincidence, and decided to go up to him and strike a conversation. He told him that he should come in to Shul, just to say Kadish and remember the dead by saying Yizkor over their names in synagogue.
The man reluctantly agreed. They entered the synagogue and for the first time in years he said Kadish. He was moved. Then he approached the Chazan to say over the name of his son at Yizkor, Katriel Menachem Ben Yechezkel Shraga. The Chazan heard the name and fainted. A few minutes later they awoke him. What’s the matter? They asked are you ok? The Chazan said that that was his name! It turned out that the Chazan was none other than Mr Weinstein’s son, which he had presumed dead. The Chazan would never have known, were it not for that decision to enter the Shul and those few extra steps taken by the father. What jubilation in the synagogue that Yom Kippur!
Our daily lives are full of decisions. Our Avoda in this world is to serve Hashem, place our priority in His Service and sacrifice our decisions for His commandments.
The child begins to learn the Torah from Vayikra as represented by the small Aleph, to show that in life sacrifices will follow, but in the end, these will lead to Kiruv Hashem, coming close to Hashem, and Him calling (Vayikra) us!