Vayikra: The Greatest “Cover-up” ~ Tzvi Abrahams


כַּפָּרָה: atonement

כּוֹפֶר: redemption payment

כַּפֹּרֶת: the cover of the Ark

כּוֹפֶר: pitch

כְּפִיר: young lion

כְּפוֹר: frost

כְּפַר: village

כּוֹפֶר: one who denies Torah

כַּפָּרָה: Atonement

וְסָמַךְ יָדוֹ עַל רֹאשׁ הָעֹלָה וְנִרְצָה לוֹ לְכַפֵּר עָלָיו
And he will place his hand on the head of the olahand it will be pleasing to Him (Hashem) to effect atonement upon him.1

With the Mishkan now completed, Parshas Vayikradeals with the bringing of the korbanos/sacrifices, which were brought mainly to effect atonement. The main purpose for the building of the Mishkan was to give the Jewish People the opportunity to gain forgiveness for the sin of the Golden Calf and for future generations to also have the opportunity to gain forgiveness. In fact, if man was not given the means to be forgiven, the world would be unable to remain in existence.2

Every man is a world unto himself, and therefore each and every one of us needs the power of forgiveness to sustain our continued existence.

כּוֹפֶר: Redemption Payment

InShemos, the Torah commands one to pay a כּוֹפֶרpayment in the situation where one’s ox kills a man.3A murderer, however, or even someone who killed accidently, is not given the means to redeem himself through the payment of money. Instead, he has to flee to the nearest city of refuge, and if he is found guilty of killing with intent, only then can he receive kaparahwith the death sentence.

כַּפֹּרֶת: The Cover of the Ark

The Ibn Ezra draws a parallel between the כַּפֹּרֶת, the cover of the ark, and the pasukin Tehillimwhere it says: אַשְׁרֵי נְשׂוּי פֶּשַׁע כְּסוּי חֲטָאָה/happy is the man who is forgiven by having his sin covered up.4

In this sense, Hashem forgives our sins by covering them over. The concept of a “cover-up” in Torah terms is actually a good thing. The cover-up we are generally accustomed to is the attempt to hide a sin that still exists. The Torah’s understanding of covering up a sin refers to a sin that no longer exists, which can only be achieved through atonement. This is symbolized by the כַּפֹּרֶת, a cover that is born out of כַּפָּרָה/atonement.

In the same way, we have to banish the sin from our minds. In order for our sins to be forgiven, we not only have to refrain from the sin itself, we also have to uproot the thoughts and memory of the sin in its entirety. “Out of sight, out of mind,” — when we clean out our minds, it is, so to speak, out of sight from Hashem’s vision, and this effects atonement. As long as we entertain thoughts of our past sins, we can never be truly happy with ourselves. Happiness comes from having a pure mind, where we are able to stand up in front of Hashem without the shame of being clothed in stained garments.

It is around this time, the Shabbos before Rosh Chodesh Nisan, that we read ParshasHaChodesh. It was on Rosh Chodesh Nisan that the inauguration ceremony of the Mishkan took place, giving us the ability to bring korbanos, receive atonement, and effect hischadshus/renewal.

כּופֶר: Pitch

InBereishis, Hashem instructs Noach to build the ark וְכָפַרְתָּ אֹתָהּ מִבַּיִת וּמִחוּץ בַּכֹּפֶר/and to coat it with a protective layer of כֹּפֶר/pitch, both inside and outside.5The כֹּפֶרacted as a sealant to prevent the water from entering.

We see from here that the root כפרalso has an element of protection.

כְּפִיר: Young Lion

In the last paragraph of bentching, we quote a verse from Tehillimthat says: כְּפִירִים רָשׁוּ וְרָעֵבוּ וְדֹרְשֵׁי ה’לֹא יַחְסְרוּ כָל טוֹב/young lions roar and hunger, but those who search out Hashem do not lack any goodness.6

Aכְּפִירis a young lion. It is no longer a cub and yet has not reached full adulthood. Unlike the mature adult who can fend for itself, and unlike the lion cub that is taken care of by its mother, the כְּפִירis on its own and only gets a share of the leftovers. For this reason it can sometimes go hungry.

נַהַם כַּכְּפִיר אֵימַת מֶלֶךְ מִתְעַבְּרוֹ חוֹטֵא נַפְשׁוֹ

Like the roar of a young lion should be the fear of the king, and one who trespasses the boundary between himself and the king, sins and endangers his life/soul.7

At Har Sinai there were boundaries placed around the mountain that we were warned not to cross over. These boundaries were for our own protection; if we would have crossed over them, we would have died. The idea of a boundary is to separate us from Hashem, which helps us become acclimated to having fear of the King. This in turn helps us to accept upon ourselves עוֹל מַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם/the yoke of Heaven, which means that we train ourselves to be aware that we do everything in the name of the King. On the other hand, if we have no fear of the lion (Hashem), it will end up eating us, especially a young, hungry lion.

The concept of atonement helps us to attain fear of Hashem, like it says:
אִם עֲוֹנוֹת תִּשְׁמָר יָ-הּ אֲדֹנָי מִי יַעֲמֹד.כִּי עִמְּךָ הַסְּלִיחָה לְמַעַן תִּוָּרֵא
If You are forever mindful of our sins, Hashem, who could withstand it? Rather, with You is forgiveness, in order that we come to fear You.8

כְּפוֹר: Frost

In our morning prayers, we say: כְּפוֹר כָּאֵפֶר יְפַזֵּר…לִפְנֵי קָרָתוֹ מִי יַעֲמֹד/frost, like ashes He disperses…who can stand up to His cold?9

Some things do not afford us protection, and just like the lion bites, so too one can get frostbite. 

כְּפַר: Village

Similarly, the village, unlike the walled city, is not protected and is open to the enemy.

כּוֹפֶר: One Who Denies the Torah

So too the כּופֶר בְּעִיקָר/one who denies the authenticity of the Torah and its sages, is in essence throwing off the protective boundaries of עוֹל מַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם/the yoke of Heaven. He is now, just like the frost, open to the elements and is susceptible to being bitten. As we have said before, it is not the snake that bites, but rather it is the sin that bites.10

In conclusion, the giving of korbanossymbolizes our commitment not to sin anymore, to cleanse our minds from any trace of sin, to beseech Hashem into giving us atonement through covering up our sins, which in effect protects us from any harmful repercussions. 

The root כפרis therefore a protective cover or lack of one. It’s a little bit like having life insurance: if you have it, you are protected; if you don’t, you are exposed. Having said this, life insurance only affords you cover in this world, whereas כַּפָּרָה/atonement gives you a protective cover even in the World to Come.

1Vayikra 1:4.


3Shemos 21:30.

4Ibn Ezra to Shemos25:17, quoting Tehillim 32:1.

5Bereishis 6:14.

6Tehillim 34:11.

7Mishlei 20:2.

8Tehillim 130:3–4.

9Ibid. 147:16.

10Shabbos 110a.

Vayikra: Don’t be a Behemah or a Chayah! ~ Rabbi Reuven Chaim Klein


Have you ever heard an old Jewish Bubby (Yiddish for “grandmother”) refer to wild kids as chayot or behemot? Do you know what she’s talking about? Both of those words mean “animal”, but, as we have already discussed many times, in the Hebrew language there are no two words which mean exactly the same. So what then is a chayah and what is a behemah?

Before moving on to the more technical, taxonomical definitions of chayah and behemah, we will first take note of several halachic differences between a chayah and behemah. According to halacha there are certain animal fats which are forbidden from being eaten. However, this prohibition applies only to animals which are considered behemot, not to animals which are chayot. Conversely, there is a special commandment to cover the blood of ritually-slaughtered animals and birds, but this commandment applies only to animals which are in the category of chayot, to the exclusion of behemot.

So what is a chayah and what is a behemah? Of the kosher animals, the term behemah is limited to three families of animals, which are designated by the Torah as the only types of animals that can be offered as sacrifices in the Holy Temple: the bovine, the ovine, and the caprine families. Those Latin-based designations names refer to the cows/bulls, rams/sheep, and goats, respectively. Only these three types of animals may be offered as animal sacrifices. This makes defining the term behemah somewhat easier, but still leaves us in the dark because there are other, non-kosher animals, like pigs, camels, and donkeys, which are seemingly also included in the category of behemah. So what defines a behemah as opposed to a chayah?

Ibn Ezra and Radak explain that behemot are domesticated animals, which live among people, and have utilitarian uses for mankind (e.g., their meat is for consumption or they are used for transportation). Chayot, on the other hand, are wild animals, which live in the uninhabited wilderness. Animals which fall into the category of chayot include lions and tigers and bears.

Nachmanides suggests a different way of drawing the distinction between chayotand behemot. He explains that all behemot are herbivores, meaning that they are animals which feed solely on plants and other flora. By contrast, chayot are carnivores, that is, meat-eating animals.

Interestingly, Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin (1816-1893) favors the approach of Ibn Ezra and Radak, and finds reason to doubt Nachmanides’ definitions. The Talmud (Bava Kama 19b) claims that deer do not generally eat meat. According to Nachmanides’ rubric, this would place deer in the category of behemot; yet we know that deer are kosher animals and are not one of the three families of kosher behemot listed above. Everybody agrees that deer are chayot. How then can Nachmanides define chayot as carnivorous animals? Because of this question Rabbi Berlin rejects Nachmanides’ approach and adopts the approach of the Ibn Ezra’s and the Radak. Nonetheless, a recently-published letter from Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky (a great and contemporary Jewish scholar in Bnei Brak) offers a fascinating defense of Nachmanides’ position. Rabbi Kanievsky proposes (in a letter addressed to my friend Rabbi Chaim Tzvi Lehrfeld) that even though deer do not eat animal meat, they do eat small insects and other reptiles. Based on this idea, Rabbi Kanievsky explains that eating those creeping creatures is considered carnivorous enough for deer to be labelled as chayot, even though they do not eat “animal” meat.

Either way, if your Bubby calls you a behemah or a chayah, it’s a call to stop acting like an animal — wild or not — and shape up!

Vayikra: No Lack of LK words ~ Yehoshua Steinberg

If one’s offering to G-d is a burnt-offering of fowl, he shall bring his offering from turtledoves or from young doves. The Kohen shall bring it to the Altar, וּמָלַק its head, and cause it to go up in smoke on the Altar (Leviticus 1:14-15).   וּמָלַק its head at its nape, but not separate it (Leviticus 5:8).

I would like to propose that there is a common link among all Hebrew words that contain the letter pair לק, namely: בלק, דלק, חלק, ילק, מלק, עלק, לקק, לקה, לקש, לקט. Common to all these words are aspects of destruction, annihilation, death/ and cutting off. Let us now analyze them, one at a time.

1)              Root מלק:

The only appearance in Scripture of the root “מלק” is in our parshah (portion), in the verse cited above. Rashi interprets וּמָלַק as: He cuts away with his nail at its nape, cutting off its neck until he reaches and severs the simanim (i.e., the trachea and esophagus). [It is interesting to note that the root “מלק” is a permutation of the root “קמל”, which most commentators interpret to mean cut off (see Metz. Tzion to Isaiah 19:6). I now see that Targumna (Vayikra, pg. 764) already made note of this.]


2)              Root בלק:

The root “בלק” also connotes cutting off/destruction, as Metz. Tzion notes in Isaiah 24:1, regarding the word וּבוֹלְקָהּ in that verse, and the word וּמְבֻלָקָּה in Nachum 2:11. We also find this root in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 98b), in the Aramaic expression “חילק ובילק”. While noting that others do not view the word ובילק as a verb, Rashi himself concludes that both in its usage there, as well as in Chullin 19a, it means “an expression of destruction” and is of the same root as the word וּמְבֻלָקָּה in the Nachum verse.


3)              Root חלק:

In its direct definition, divide, this root connotes separating or cutting apart. But in BB 11a, Rashi links it explicitly to cutting. In discussing the laws of dividing property among partners, the Mishna there states that the Books of Scripture may not be divided even if both parties are willing to do so. Rashi explains: “It was once customary to write the twenty-four books (of Scripture) on a scroll, like our Torah scrolls. Therefore, it is a disgrace to cut them.” Moreover, quarrels (מחלוקת) among people leads to destruction, as the Sages state in Mas. Derech Eretz 7:37: A city in which there is division is destined to be destroyed. The Sages stated: Quarrels in a city [leads to] bloodshed.


4)              Root דלק:

The root “דלק”, in all of its meanings, connotes pursuit for the purpose of destruction, annihilation and death (see Rashi to Psalms 7:14), as in the following examples: And they will ignite (וְדָלְקוּ) them and devour them (Obadiah 1:18); hotly pursuing (דֹלְקִים) lips and an evil heart (Proverbs 26:23); Woe, O city of bloodshed! I too will … increase the wood, kindle (הַדְלֵק) the fire (Ezekiel 24:9-10); His throne was of fiery flames, its wheels a fire ablaze (דָּלִק) (Daniel 7:9-11), i.e., “a fire raging in wrath and fury to annihilate the evil ones” (Malbim, ad loc.) [See also Genesis 31:36; Deuteronomy 28:22; I Samuel 17:53; Isaiah 5:11-24; Psalms 7:14, 10:2; Lamentations 4:19.]


5)              Root לקק:

We do not find any examples wherein the term “לְקִיקָה”, licking, has a direct connotation of cutting/cutting off. However, we do find this connotation for the equivalent meaning verb “לחך” (lick up) (see Aruch, root “לקק”). In Balak’s statement regarding what Israel might do to his people, Now the congregation will lick up (יְלַחֲכוּ) all our surroundings (Numbers 22:4), Onkelos translates יְלַחֲכוּ as יְשֵׁיצוּן, they will destroy. [It appears that this is what Ibn Ezra refers to when he writes in his comments to Joel 1:4 that Targum refers to a ילק as cutting off.] Sifsei Chachamim explains that it is an expression of “extirpating from its root,” a fear that was justified by Scripture’s testimony that in the recent battle with Og, king of Bashan that triggered Balak’s fear, the Israelites smote … all his people, until there was no survivor left of him (ibid. 21:35). Similar to this description of utter annihilation by way of the verb licking up, Moses prophesied that the Israelites will annihilate the nations occupying the land of Israel by way of the statement, You will devour (וְאָכַלְתָּ) all the peoples that Hashem, your God, will deliver to you (Deuteronomy 7:16). As explained by Ibn Ezra, “it is a mitzvah to annihilate them like one who eats bread.” Similarly, in the Mishnah (B.K. 60a), the Sages infer from the verse, If a fire shall go forth and find thorns, and a stack of grain or a standing crop or a field is “consumed,” the one who kindled the fire shall make restitution (Exodus 22:5), that he is also held liable if the fire “consumed trees, stones, or earth.” Rashi explains that by “consumed earth,” the Mishnah means that the fire “licked up a ploughed field and it was ruined” — using the phrase לִיחֲכָה נִירוֹ that appears earlier in the Gemara (ibid. 6a, 10a).


6)              Root ילק:

We also find the link of לק to destruction in the noun יֶלֶק, another name for אַרְבֶּה (locust), which brings about destruction to the crops of the field. Commenting on the verse, There fire will consume you … it will consume you like the chewing-locust (Nahum 3:15), Rashi explains that “the chewing-locust destroys and annihilates all the greenery of the field.” Moreover, in discussing a plague of various types of locusts that will destroy all the crops in Israel, the prophet states, What remained from the גָזָם, the אַרְבֶּה has devoured; what remained from the אַרְבֶּה, the יֶלֶק has devoured; and what remained from the יֶלֶק, the חָסִיל has devoured (Joel 1:4). Ibn Ezra explains that the different types of locust were named based on the degree to which they destroyed the greenery. The גָזָם (cutting-locust) only cuts it off (גוֹזֵז); the יֶלֶק (chewing-locust) licks it up (לוֹקֵק) and cuts it off (as indicated in Targum) with its tongue, and the חָסִיל (demolishing-locust) completely eliminates it (חוֹסֵל).


7)              Root עלק:

The leech עֲלוּקָה) ), which sucks out the lifeblood of a person, is used as a simile for death and the grave in Proverbs 30:15, according to Rashi and Midrash Tehillim. [Metz. David explains that “the grave is compared to a leech because it sucks and draws all living beings to it just as the leech sucks the blood.”] Likewise, the Rambam writes in Hil. Teshuvah (8:5): This utter loss (of a person who merits no share in the World to Come or Afterlife) is what the Prophets call metaphorically a well of destruction (Psalms 55:24), utter loss (ibid. 88:12), hell (Isaiah 30:33) and a leech (Proverbs 30:15). They refer to it with all sorts of expressions of annihilation and destruction, because this is destruction from which one can never recover, and the loss can never be reversed.


8)              Root לקש:

In relating how Jacob caused Laban’s flocks to bear many spotted and speckled sheep by placing peeled rods in front of them during mating time, Scripture states (Genesis 30:42) that he did not place the rods there בְּהַעֲטִיף הַצֹאן (which Onkelos translates as בְּלַקִישׁוּת עָנָא), so that the עֲטוּפִים went to Laban. Rashi explains that בְּלַקִישׁוּת עָנָא means “when the sheep were late-bearing,” similar to the Scriptural word מַלְקוֹשׁ, which means the latest rains of the wet season; thus, the עֲטוּפִים (“late-bearers”) ended up remaining with Laban, as they were not affected by the rods. However, Rabbeinu Bachya (ibid. v. 38) says that עֲטוּפִים refers to the tired and weak ones, that already gave birth in the past. Since they are exhausted and weak, they don’t bother to look at what is in front of them; hence, Jacob did not exter himself to put the rods in front of them. Baal HaTurim, following this same definition, compares it to the verse, הָעֲטוּפִים בְּרָעָב (Lamentations 2:19), which means “those who were so weakened by hunger that they died.” Malbim suggests an entirely different definition of the root “עטף”, yet one that also relates to weakness and death. In his comments on the verse, A prayer of the afflicted man when יַעֲטֹף (Psalms 102:1), he writes: This depicts either an individual exile, or the entire nation of exiles as a single person, whose soul is עֲטוּפָה from its many sufferings, i.e., is fainting and about to leave his body. [See also Malbim to Psalms 77:4, and Targum Yonasan to Jonah 2:8).]

We also find an instance in Scripture (Job 24:6) of the root “לקש” appearing in verb form, They reap produce in the field; the wicked יְלַקֵּשׁוּ the vineyard, with Ibn Ezra defining it as “the cutting off of the לֶקֶשׁ (late crop).”

9)              Root לקה:

The Aramaic root ,”לקה” means hitting [with Onkelos translating וַיֻכּוּ (they were beaten) as וְלָקוּ] or flogging [the punishment of thirty-nine lashes is called מַלְקוּת]. Moreover, according to one view in the Talmud (see Sanhedrin 10a), the flogging by the Beis Din (religious court in Jerusalem) is intended to serve as a replacement punishment for death.


10)          Root לקט:

Scripture states, It shall be on that day that God will thresh (יַחֲבּוֹט), from the surging [Euphrates] River to the Brook of Egypt, and you will be gathered up (תְּלֻקְּטוּ) one by one, O Children of Israel (Isaiah 27:12). Thus, the direct meaning of לקט is gathered. However, Rashi notes that Targum Yonasan translates יַחֲבּוֹט as יִתְרְמוּן קְטִילִין, but then adds that in his own opinion, the terms יַחֲבּוֹט and תְּלֻקְּטוּ work as a pair, with the verse stating that just as one whacks the olives off the tree, while someone else then gathers them up, so will God gather the people of Israel after they were separated from their enemies. Note that the root “לקט” is a permutation of the root “קטל”, meaning kill, and we can find an allusion to this connection in Rashi’s comments. We also find that the similarly meaning term “אסף” (gather) also has another meaning of die, as in וַיֵאָסֶף אֶל עַמָיו, and he was gathered (i.e., died) to his people (Genesis 25:8). For death is essentially a gathering up of one’s soul and returning it to its original home.

May it be G-d’s will that we should gather (נלקט) up only mitzvot and good deeds, that we should be able to grasp (לִקְלוֹט) the wonders of all the Torah’s hidden mysteries. May we merit to see the day when the nation of destroyers (עמלק), and their latter-day proteges will themselves get the ultimate licking they deserve.