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Leviticus 1:1 – 5:26

VaYikra el Mosheh vaYedaber YHVH leave me-ohel moed.—He called to Moses. The Eternal One spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting.” (Lev. 1:1)

Thus begins the Book of Leviticus. In all of Torah, there are only three instances when Moses is “called” by God. This is the third and last time. The first time was 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). Notice that it was Elohim, the feminine indwelling-as-Creation aspect of God—the Shechinah, according to Kabbalah—who called to Moses. In Kabbalah, the Divine feminine Presence expresses as everything, even as a lowly bush. The second call happened in the early moments of the Sinai Revelation, and both feminine (Elohim) and masculine (YHVH) aspects of God were involved: “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 un-manifest 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 the Book of Exodus, that which is calling remains name-less: “He called to Moses.” Moses’ third call happens in the Tent of Meeting, an inner space, the inner dimension of oneself, 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) comments, “There is a small ‘a’ (alef) [added in Torah at the end of] the word “VaYikra—He 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 may have been 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 may simply have revealed itself to him, hidden in plain sight as it were. A Chassidic master of the 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 to describe the calling of 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 grandeur of an expanding universe through which our little blue dot is traveling, are all instances of Divine Revelation: from the swirling galaxies to the lowliest desert bush. It is we who have to make ourselves available to see the miracles before our eyes and hear the whisper of God’s voice in the roar of the ocean, the babble of a brook, and the soughing of wind in meadows and trees. It is we who have to “turn aside” from our myopic ego-constricted life routine to check out life’s burning bushes. The second modality is through our encountering God as the Great Thou, an otherworldly Presence with Whom we can commune. This approach brings us into relationship with the transcendent Presence at Sinai. Heart and soul turn heavenward, up the great mountain and beyond, to meet God 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 nameless One arising from within our inner Tent of Meeting. When we go “inside,” through silent meditation, we discover that the Voice that has been calling us to “draw near” has always been our own True Voice.