Parshat Vayikra

Torah Reading for Week of March 10-16, 2019

By Rabbi Anne Brener, AJRCA Professor of Ritual and Human Development

The views expressed in this drash are those of the author. We welcome Torah insights and teachings from all viewpoints, and encourage dialogue to strengthen the diversity of our academy.

Let’s start at the very beginning, which, according to The Trapp Family Singers, is a very good place to start. In the first sentence of the book of Vayikra/Leviticus, we are told that “God called to Moses from the Tent of Meeting.” The very first word in that sentence “Vayikra/And God called, (Lev. 1:1)” literally calls for our attention because it is uniquely written in the Torah, with its last letter, “א/aleph”written smaller than all of the other letters in the text.

Many commentators, through the ages, have riffed on this anomaly, often seen as being emblematic of Moses’ humility. Moses, the object in this exchange with the Great Mystery/aka God, must do his own tzimtzum/contraction in order to reduce the prism of ego surrounding him, so that he can apprehend God’s call through a clear lens. Likewise, we must do the work of spiritual growth in order to understand the charge to which our own lives are calling us. The fact that aleph  is also the first letter of the word, “אני,” which means, “I,” also is seen as proof that we all need to mirror Moses’ diminution of self in order to discern what life expects of us.


I’m currently teaching a class on Spiritual Direction at AJRCA and that word, Vayikra, is very much the foundation of our explorations, as our students seek to determine and refine what they are called to do.


Two of my own teachers, Rabbi Jonathan Omerman and Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi (z’l), have stressed the fact that we have all been called by our lives with a sacred mission. Reb Zalman spoke of each of us being “deployed” from the quiver of God/our mothers’ wombs, with an explicit purpose. It is our life-task, he taught, to find and refine that purpose.


Reb Jonathan asked a question that I pose to my students over and over. He said, “everybody’s looking for the right answer, but what we need are better questions. And the most important question is this: “what is the question for which your life is the answer?”


In Spiritual Direction, we ask that question. We review the hills and valleys of our lives to find a through-line that reframes our journey as something with purpose and meaning. We cease to be victims of the slings and arrows that have wounded us, as we explore the travails of our lives as cauldrons in which our unique call has been refined.


In this way, “the wall becomes the door , a paraphrase a line from the Song of Songs, in which the question is asked, “our little sister, is she a wall or a door (Shir ha Shirim 8:8-1).” In Spiritual Direction, we spend as much time as we need gently knocking on the wall that thwarts our path, until we find the sweet spot. Then the wall miraculously transforms into a door, or to mix metaphors and paraphrase another Jewish commentator, Paul Simon, the ceiling becomes the floor.”


That transforming miracle is a key part of the equation in Spiritual Direction; it is the same thing that called Moses: The Holiness at the Core of the Universe, which is present and calling to us at every stage of the journey.  I invite you to review your life and articulate the Holy Journey in which you are engaged. Start at the very beginning.