Here's the d'var Torah I offered yesterday at my shul for parashat Vayikra.
In cheder, the Hebrew elementary school of late 19th and early 20th-century eastern Europe, boys began learning Torah at the age of five. They began with Vayikra, which we call in English "Leviticus." (They'd go on to learn mishna at the age of seven, and Talmud once they had mastered the mishna.)
We have a five year old. And I cannot for the life of me imagine him reading Torah fluently at this age. But setting that aside, I am perennially fascinated by the fact that the cheders of old -- and contemporary schools which follow the cheder model, mostly in the Hareidi / ultra-Orthodox world -- begin their studies of Torah not with בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים, "as God was beginning to create the heavens and the earth..."
They begin with וַיִּקְרא אֶל-מֹשֶׁה , "and God called to Moses" -- which is to say, with Leviticus, the book of the Torah which I suspect most modern Jewish adults like the least. Sprinkled blood and burnt kidneys and laws about nakedness -- it couldn't be further from the post-sacrificial Judaism we know and cherish.
Many scholars and rabbis and literary critics make the case that Torah has a chiastic structure. In a book with a chiastic structure, the most important part is not the beginning or the end, but what's in the middle. Leviticus is in the middle of the Torah: ergo it's the most important part.
The scholar Mary Douglas argued that Leviticus too has a chiastic structure, which tells us that the most important material in Leviticus is in the middle: the holiness code, which exhorts us to be holy as Adonai our God is holy. Leviticus is the heart of Torah, and holiness is the heart of Leviticus.
And what is at the heart of the quest for holiness? וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ: אֲנִי ה׳: "and you shall love your neighbor, your 'other,' as yourself: I am Adonai." (Leviticus 19:18.) It may not be exactly the verse in the dead-center middle of the Torah, but it's close.
Here's Martin Buber on that verse:
"Love your neighbor as yourself; I am Adonai" (Leviticus 19:18). There is a Chasidic interpretation of the last words of this verse: "I am Adonai." – "You think that I am far away from you, but in your love for your neighbor you will find Me; not in his love for you but in your love for him."
He who loves brings God and the world together. The meaning of this teaching is: You yourself must begin. Existence will remain meaningless for you if you yourself do not penetrate into it with active love and if you do not in this way discover its meaning for yourself. Everything is waiting to be hallowed by you; it is waiting to be disclosed and to be realized by you.
For the sake of this, your beginning, God created the world.