Vayikra 5783 – El Baruch
The entire universe is made up of letters. Every creation, every living thing, contains H’s and C’s and O’s (H2O, CO2, etc.) in myriads of formations that make each one of us unique but at the same time connect us to every other living thing that is made up of the same stuff as us. We each have our own way of walking through the world, our own individual perspective on creation and the world around us. When we sing an acrostic prayer like El Baruch, we acknowledge our own smallness in the space of the universe and at the same time our connection to each individual letter. The word אוֹת, “letter,” also means “symbol.”
Our prayers are made up of individual letters, each aleph and bet and tet with its own purpose and symbolizing its own idea. Even if we aren’t sure what we want to say when we pray, our mystical praying ancestors imagined the letters we recite floating in the air and forming new words to actualize our thoughts and intentions. So even though the specific prayer itself that we say every day remains the same, the words and letters are imbued with our kavanah, our intention, and change their meaning before our very eyes.
In this week’s parsha, Vayikra, God calls to Moses and explains the laws of various sacrifices:
וַיִּקְרָא אֶל־מֹשֶׁה וַיְדַבֵּר ה׳ אֵלָיו מֵאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד לֵאמֹר׃ דַּבֵּר אֶל־בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם אָדָם כִּי־יַקְרִיב מִכֶּם קרְבָּן לַה׳ מִן־הַבְּהֵמָה מִן־הַבָּקָר וּמִן־הַצֹּאן תַּקְרִיבוּ אֶת־קרְבַּנְכֶם׃
God called to Moses and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying: Speak to the Israelite people, and say to them: When any of you presents an offering of cattle to God: You shall choose your offering from the herd or from the flock. (Vayikra 1:1-2)
The word mikem, “from you,” in this sentence is superfluous. But our commentators believe that every word matters, and so they understand that this word means that each one of us is like a letter. We each have our own specific offering to bring, and God desires not just an offering in general but our specific offering! Your gift, your You-Ness, is the very thing that is most desired.
How would it change the way we pray and the way we walk through the world if we believed that the prayers we offer and the gifts we bring to the world are just what the world needs?