When God Calls – Vayikra

Why on earth would we put God on hold?

Edited by Salvador Litvak, the Accidental Talmudist

Wondering who or what spoke to Moses in the first verse of Vayikra? What’s with the small Alef? How are these first eight words a sign of leadership, transmission and “black fire on white fire”? Sal Litvak and his Accidental Talmudist probings invite Rabbi Lori and others to contemplate these thoughts.

And He called to Moses, and the Lord spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying… – Lev. 1:1

Rabbi Lori Shapiro, Open Temple

The Book of Leviticus departs from the Biblical narrative as the scribal voice shifts. Our text illustrates this idea, weaving “Something spoke to Moses,” a phrase that splinters or dilutes the relationship of Moses and God through this non-specific pronoun, and replaces this formerly explicit and intimate relationship with God as a nebulous “He” or “It”. The ambiguous pronoun construction continues, “and God said to him at the Tent of Meeting.”

Just who is the subject speaking to Moses? And who is God speaking to? The scribe answers the question by directing us to the temporary “construction site” – the Ohel Moed, a space that only permitted the Priestly class as the gathering place within. In this subtle, seemingly throw-away verse with ambiguous grammar, we discover the transmission of authority — moving away exclusively from God to Moses — and passing it over to the Priests standing by, eager to scribe their expressions of holiness to follow in this Priestly Book of Torah.

Lt. (res.) Yoni Troy, Israel Defense Forces officer

Why begin the third book of the Torah with this eight Hebrew-word seemingly banal sentence?

This supernatural Godly encounter with flawed human beings touches upon a basic question: Why not create a perfect universe? Why create one with such flaws?

G-d wants us to be the completing factor. Throughout the Bible, G-d seeks a partnership with humanity — to challenge us to improve ourselves and create a better world.

Each one of us was created in our own way, born into certain situations with certain abilities. While this creates a lot of conflict, when harnessed correctly the mix can lead to perfection. If we use our strengths to help others rather than hurt them, we can create a synergy overcoming our weaknesses.

In the army, every job is essential to keep Israel safe. Some jobs are considered to be more prestigious such as pilots and commandos. However, without the cooks and mechanics the army could not function. As it is in the army, so too in civilian life and throughout the world: each country, culture, religion offers its unique contribution.

G-d’s call to Moses symbolizes the great connection between G-d and humanity. This connection continues through each of us. While Moses already took the receiver-of-the-Torah slot, each one of us has our own special way to do G-d’s bidding. We each can offer a unique contribution. While G-d’s summons today may seem less direct, by remaining attentive we will hear The Call to fulfill our destiny.

Miriam Yerushalmi, CEO SANE; Counselor; Author

In the wilderness, the Tent of Meeting was the special place G-d would rest His presence to speak to Moshe Rabbeinu. It was set up beyond the border of the main camp, distanced from the home-tents of the people. At times, even Moshe would not enter this tent, but spoke with G-d at its doorway. Although the Bnei Yisrael were able to look at the doorway, it was not possible to “sneak a peek” into that tent and catch a glimpse of the Holiness it contained, unless one was invited to do so.

Similarly, the people’s tents, which of necessity were set up fairly close to each other, were also arranged in a way that prevented uninvited scrutiny from the neighbors. Why would that be? Why would the Tent of Meeting be inaccessible for the casual viewing of the people? Perhaps one reason is that, had they seen the G-dly perfection within that tent, they would have continually compared every other tent to it, and found them all wanting.

According to the Baal Shem Tov, “not looking into one’s neighbor’s tent” means that the Jews did not scrutinize their neighbors’ faults. The way to develop ahavas Yisroel, to come to love your friend as you love yourself, is by not looking at their faults. Look into your own tent, and work on your own shortcomings. But don’t be too hard on yourself–realize that G-d speaks to each of us from within our own tent, and His holiness resides there, too!

Rabbi Nolan Lebovitz, Adat Shalom

The third book of the Torah begins with God calling out to Moses. As compared to the rest of the first Hebrew word – VaYikra – the Aleph is always written in a smaller size, making it pronounced.

Our people’s Exodus and our communal effort to build the Tabernacle has proven successful in the previous book, and now the institution is ready for personal interactions with God. The first interaction is of course between God and Moses. Each year at this time I wonder, “What did Moses say prior to this verse that prompted God’s call?”

We strive for a prayer experience in which we, as individuals, receive a call back from the large Aleph, the Oneness of the universe. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel acknowledged the personal nature of prayer in his book Man’s Quest for God (1954). The transition from communal structure in Exodus to personal worship in Leviticus is a tension we have lived with as Jews from antiquity through today.

Sometimes my prayer is for Israel, for our people or for our national homeland, and sometimes my prayer is personal, for my family or for myself. Sometimes my prayer feels heard and sometimes perfunctory. As Heschel argued, the key is to keep praying. Sometimes the Aleph will feel large, and sometimes small. Through prayer we try to connect the small Aleph of our self to the larger Aleph that joins us all together, as one.

Dini Coopersmith, Speaker, Israel Trip Director, www.reconnectiontrips.com

When the call initially comes for Moshe, it is anonymous – “He called to Moses.” Only afterward is it more specific – “the Lord spoke to him, saying….”

The Baal Shem Tov refers to the statement of the Zohar (3rd part, 126):”every day a heavenly voice rings out, saying ‘return, my naughty children.’” Like the proverbial tree that falls in the forest, he asks: why don’t we hear this heavenly voice? and if we don’t hear it, is it really happening?

This is the hidden voice of God that comes to each and every one of us, through the events and circumstances of our lives. Saying: “return to me, return to your true self.” We can choose to listen, grab hold of that voice, make a positive change, meet the challenge, or we can ignore that still small voice within, which directs us toward an Infinite source of wisdom and insight.

What a shame if we ignore this heavenly voice, thinking: Maybe this isn’t God, maybe people are to blame, this is a meaningless event, just a hassle that I have to overcome. Moshe teaches us that when that call comes, we listen, even if life’s twists and turns are confusing. The details will become clear later on.

As we close a strange Covid year, let’s tap in to the insights we have gained. Let’s listen to that inner heavenly voice, exhorting us to find our true selves, to grow and connect to God through all events and become great.