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VaYikra, Leviticus 1:1 – 5:26

“How Will We Answer The Call?”


VaYikra el Mosheh vaYedaber YHVH elav me-ohel moed – He called to Moses. The Eternal One spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting.” [Lev. 1:1] Thus begins not only this week’s Torah portion, but the Book of Leviticus itself.

This is the third of the three times in Torah that Moses is specifically “called.” The other two times happened earlier in Exodus. The first at the Burning Bush: “When the Eternal (YHVH) saw that he had turned aside to look, God (Elohim) called to him out of the bush.” [Exod. 3:4] In this instance, it is Elohim, the feminine indwelling-as-Creation aspect of God—the Shechinah according to Kabbalah—which calls to Moses. The image is that God, as She is manifest, expresses as everything, even as a lowly bush. The second call happens in the early moments of the Sinai Revelation: “Moses went up to God (Elohim). The Eternal One (YHVH) called to him from the mountain.” [Exod. 19:3] Here, it is the transcendent-masculine unmanifest aspect of the Divine that calls to Moses. This time the Torah’s language conveys Revelation as a supernatural otherworldly event, defying the laws of nature, and unfolding beyond what our senses can perceive or even fathom.

Here in Leviticus, in contradistinction to the first two times in Exodus, that which is calling remains name-less: “He called to Moses.” The encounter with the Divine happens within, inside a tent, when the Tent of Meeting represents the inner dimension of oneself—one’s inner temple. This “structure” within which the Meeting occurs is the silent spaciousness of the meditative heart. This kind of encounter is always unmediated, sudden, and unpredictable. It just happens. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (19th century, Germany) writes: “There is a small “a” (alef) [added in Torah at the end of] the word “VaYikraHe called,” to allude to [Moses’] lack of preparation… it may be read [instead:] “vaYiker el Mosheh—It happened to Moses.” Here, Rabbi Hirsch reads the word VaYikra without the small extra “a” (alef) at the end (which might have been the Torah’s original version) to point to the “touch of Grace” that this kind of inner Revelation ultimately is. He concludes: “God’s word came to Moses as something that happened (VaYiker) to him, unforeseen from the start.” [The Hirsch Chumash – VaYikra, p.2]

Perhaps what “happened” to Moses was that he awakened to this small alef within himself. The alef may not have been added to the word after all, it might simply have revealed itself to him; hidden in plain sight as it was. Chasidic master, 19th century Menachem Nachum Twersky of Chernobyl, wrote in his magnum opus Meor Einayim: “… ‘He called to Moses’ is written with a miniature alef. God, the cosmic alef is present in miniature form within each [of us], calling us to wake up.”

There is something powerful in the use of the word “vaYikra” calling Moses these three times in Torah. It reveals to us three different modalities through which the Divine calls to us in an invitation to awaken. First, the Divine voice is always speaking to us through Her works of Creation. The miracle of Nature displayed before us on this earth, the grandiosity of an expanding universe through which our little blue dot is traveling, are all instances of Divine Revelation. It is we who have to make ourselves available to see the miracles before our eyes and hear the whisper of God’s voice through them. It is we who have to “turn aside” from our myopic ego-constricted life-routine, and at last “look.” The second modality is through our encountering God as the Great Thou; an otherworldly Presence in our lives to which we can turn, talk to and commune with.  This approach brings us in relationship with the transcendent Presence at Sinai. Here our heart and soul turn heavenward, up the great mountain, to meet God at and even beyond the summit, as we journey spiritually from communion, to union, to identity. The third modality, in this week’s Torah portion, is the turning toward our center, heeding the call of the name-less One arising from within the proverbial inner Tent of Meeting. Like the image conjures up, the practice, here, is to go inside and in silent meditation finally discover that the Voice that has been calling us to draw near all along, has always been our own True Voice.