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Vayikra and Listening to the Call

This week we begin the sixth year of my weekly Torah Thoughts.  For five years, without ever missing a week, we have learned Torah together.  Thank you for your continued participation.

We begin again.  We begin the third book of the Torah: Leviticus.  This book is concerned with the priestly cult, with sacrifices, ritual impurities and priestly garb.  “The bull shall be slaughtered before the Lord and Aaron’s sons, the priests, shall offer the blood, dashing the blood against all sides of the altar which is at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting.” (Leviticus 1:5) 

These words and the book in which they are found challenge us with questions of relevance.  So much of what we read in the pages of Leviticus we no longer do. Thousands of years ago the centrality of sacrifices as the primary means of approaching God was replaced with tefilah, prayer and gemilut hasadim, loving deeds. 

And so we weave stories.  We spin interpretations in order to discover meaning.

The first word of Leviticus, vayikra, means “and he called.”  The book opens with the commandments about sacrifices.  It begins with God calling to Moses.  “And the Lord called to Moses…”  Vayikra is written in a most unusual way in the Torah scroll.  The last letter of this opening word, the alef, is stylized smaller than all other letters.  Alef is silent in Hebrew.  It could be absent.  It also begins the Hebrew word for “I,” anochi.

A midrash in the name of my colleague Rabbi David Stern.  When God calls to us, the “I” must be diminished.  The self must be made smaller in order to hear the call.  The ego must be small but not absent.  How many times has Susie said to me, “I told you that!  You were not listening.”  Focus.  Pay attention.  Listen.

God often calls.  Are we listening?

We must incline our ears to detect God’s voice.  It shimmers throughout nature.  In the changing of the seasons, in the emerging leaves of the trees coming to life, the singing of the birds in the morning, and even the flurries of a Spring snow shower, we can discern God’s creative hand.  We must open our eyes and incline our ears.

When a homeless man reaches out to me and asks for food do I respond?  Do I hear the faint words of God calling me to feed the hungry?  Do I fulfill the mitzvot of gemilut hasadim and bring healing to my broken world?

God calls.  Do we listen?