Parshat Vayikra

Torah Reading for Week of March 14 – 20, 2010

“G-d Calls to Us”

by Elihu Gevirtz
AJRCA Third Year Rabbinic Student

Parasha Vayikra begins: “Vayikra el Moshe…” “He called to Moses and the Holy One spoke to him from the tent of meeting…” Rashi explains that vayikra (he called) was a preparation for being addressed with specific directions. He explains that it is a way of G-d expressing affection for Moses, the same mode used by the angels when calling to each other, as in Isaiah 6:3: “And one called to another, saying Holy, Holy, Holy is the Holy One of Hosts! His presence fills all the earth!”

What aspect of G-d was it that called to Moses? Rashi offers a teaching from theSifra, saying that whenever a divine communication was made to Moses, it was preceded by a “call” from the voice of the Holy One. The Sifra arrives at this conclusion based on the occurrence of the phrase “Vayikra el Moshe” at three significant moments, each introducing a new revelation: 1) when G-d spoke to Moses for the first time at the burning bush (Ex. 3:4), 2) when G-d spoke to Moses for the first time at Mount Sinai (Ex. 19:3), and 3) when G-d spoke to him for the first time from the tent of meeting (Lev. 1:1). All three of these encounters required Moses to become alert, to be called to attention, and to turn his eyes to hear the voice of G-d. Rabbeinu Bachya explains that the aspect of G-d that called to Moses was the chevod Adonai, the Divine Presence that filled the Mishkan (“the tent of meeting”) as described in Exodus 40:35.

Our parasha continues with detailed directions for presenting offerings of livestock. The descriptions are bloody and graphic. It is difficult for us to understand the animal sacrifices of our ancestors. We can begin by examining the word korban which is often translated as “offering”. The root of the word korbanmeans “to come near” or to “approach”. Thus it can be understood that G-d wanted our ancestors, and (many would say) wants us to come near, to approach the Holy One. In biblical times, other cultures of the region may have offered human beings. Instead, we were directed to offer our livestock that we raised to be food for us. Instead of food, we offered up the most perfect of these animals as a way for us to get close to G-d. We drew near to G-d by offering what would have been our food, our livelihood, our survival.

We stopped offering animals long ago. What are we supposed to do now? How do we get close to the Source of Being now? G-d wants us to be close. How do we get there? The answer might be provided to us in the words of the parasha: “The Holy One called to Moses.” So too, the Holy One calls to each of us, and says, “Hey, wake up, look… I’m here. Come be near me.” The first thing we need to do is to be like Moses: purify our hands – meaning – purify how we make a living and how we behave in relationships and in society; and purify our feet – meaning how we walk on the earth. The second thing is to pay attention when the Holy One calls and to trust that directions will follow.

Our task is to come near. Our task is to talk and pray to the Holy One every day. May we open our hearts to hearing G-d’s affectionate voice calling to us, and may we act in holy ways, so that we experience the whole earth filled with Divine Presence.

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