I would like to begin this column in a somewhat unusual way, by describing the circumstances of its writing. I write it while on a short vacation from a reserve duty to which I was called, and still in an IDF uniform. The reason I share this information with you, is because, as happens many times, the events during the week can shed light on the same week's portion. More specifically, it caused me to think about the Passuk opening the Parsha, in which we are being told 'And He called Moshe'. The Hebrew word 'Vayikra' can be also translated as summoned or beckoned; but what does it actually mean?
While understanding the obvious differences between the realities under discussion – the only thing I am more certain about than the difference between myself and Moshe Rabbeinu is the difference between my company commander and G-d – I do believe that there is something here to be learned about the experience of being called, the meaning of being summoned.
Frequently it is being overlooked, for example, that being called does not affect you only when you are on active duty. No less important is the fact that you may be called. You must always keep yourself ready and accessible, in case the need for you will arise. For Moshe, as we know, the very possibility of being called completely changed his life, causing him to separate from his wife, as noted by Miriam his sister and justified by G-d (Bamidbar 12:1-8 and Rashi there).
However, it should be clear that the real difficulty begins as the summon comes. You are to drop everything you do, leave your home and family, and step forward to the task. If this happens often and for long durations of time, it may extract very high prices in children education, for example. The Torah is mute regarding the fate of Moshe's two children, Menashe and Eliezer, but Chazal taught us that one of them became no less than a priest to an idol (Baba Batra 109a)! Can this tragic fate be seen in light of Moshe's complete dedication to his call for G-d, His Torah and His nation, to a degree which prevented him from devoting himself to his own children's education?
It is not by accident, obviously, that this 'calling' is introduced in relation to the sacrifices; being called is accompanied many times with willingness to pay the high tall associated with this kind of life.
But even that seems to fall short of taking full account of the meaning of being 'called upon'. The Hebrew word Vayikra is associated with an additional meaning – to read. This additional meaning is underlined by the custom to write the final letter of 'Vaikra' – the Alef – in a small letter. Without the final Alef, the word means 'an accident', 'an happenstance'; with the Alef the meaning becomes one of reading and deciphering symbols.
Put differently, the first requirement in order to be called for reserve duty, as an example, is to read your mail; in more general terms, one must have his ears open to hear the calling. If when the signs come one misinterprets them, either by ascribing them to accident or to nature, one may fail to act according to his calling. If Moshe would have thought that the burning bush is just another desert mirage, or G-d really wills the complete destruction of the people in the aftermath of the golden calf sin, that would have been a misreading of the signs and may have concluded in the complete failure to the mission.
The life of those 'on call', thus, is the life of those who open their eyes for signs; whose ears are ready to catch even remote whispers; who have the faith to see and the courage to act.
Rabbi Baruch Winetraub is Former Rosh Kollel in Toronto (2012-2014) and currently Rav-Mechanech at Yeshivat Har Etzion, and Rav Kehilat Mevaser Zion, Tel Mond
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