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עשה תורתך קבע – אמור מעט ועשה הרבה

Parshat VaYikra – Join the Conversation

Posted by rabbiart on March 16, 2010

For the traditionalist or the modern, the place to start studying this Parshah is with… of course… Rashi. Its always good to read the Rashi, but for this parshah he has no less than six separate comments on the opening verse. Even before we read the Rashi, we should emulate him and pay close attention to this very first verse. It has nine words, and three are verbs having to do with speech and conversation. That this is not accidental is made clear by also observing the second verse, which has a very common opening – “Speak to the Israelites and tell them”. The book of VaYikra could easily and simply opened with verse two in the normal fashion.  This signals us to pay  close attention to the opening verse which reads

וַיִּקְרָא, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה; וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָה אֵלָיו, מֵאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד לֵאמֹר


HaShem called to Moshe, and spoke to him from the meeting tent,  saying.

In his opening comment, Rashi observes that any time HaShem communicates with the word call (kara) it is an expression of affection.  He brings Isaiah 6:3 into his comment, a verse we recognize from the Shacharit Kedushah.  In that verse, the seraphim called out to one another to proclaim the kedushah of HaShem.  Could Rashi be saying, or could we interpret his comment to mean that, just as the seraphim who call to one another in the presence of HaShem are all on equal standing, when HaShem calls to Moshe, that Moshe is (during the conversation) on an equal footing of HaShem?

After all, Moshe is the one Jew in history who spoke with HaShem face to face. And in several of Rashi’s comments on this verse, he states that only Moshe could hear HaShem, whose voice could not be heard outside of the Meeting Tent.  Comment on “to him”, Rashi  says that even haShems initial call to Moshe was not heard by anyone of the Israelites except Moshe.  So we see thatMoshe had a private audience with the divine presence, which after the episode of the spies, would not happen again for 38 years.

Finally, regarding the last word of the verse – “saying”, Rashi explains that Moshe should understand (because HaShem tells him) that HaShem is only speaking to Moshe for the sake of the Israelites.

Speech is what puts anything and everything into motion.  HaShem speaks, and the world is created.  HaShem speaks at Sinai, and the nation of Israel is created.  HaShem speaks to Moshe in the meeting tent, and national institutions of worship are created. Seraphim speak in heaven, and Jews on earth repeat their words in a conversation with the divine presence.

Vayikra describes – in painstaking detail – the workings of the sacrificial rite. The modern – especially the liberal – Jew often finds this parshah, and much of the book of VaYikra, inaccessible.  But in this opening verse we can see how rabbinic Judaism understood the sacrificial rite and was able to replace it with the prayer service we have to this day.  Because offering sacrifices is understood not as the killing of animals and the splashing of blood, but as a conversation between the people and our G-d.  Because what happens in the Meeting Tent, the Jerusalem Temple, and synagogues to this day is an encounter and a conversation between each of us and our G-d.  Because each of has – like Moshe – the ability to hear the call, to have the conversation with HaShem that is only for our ears, and to understand that we are able to have the conversation not on our own entitlement, but for the sake of all Israel.

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