The Torah emphasizes in the opening words of this week’s Torah reading that God, so to speak, called out to Moses to instruct him in the laws and strictures of sacrifices in the Temple service. What is the significance of “calling out” – which always implies doing so by name, such as by parents naming their child – instead of the usual verses beginning that God, so to speak, “spoke” or “addressed” Moses?
The answer lies in the exclusive nature of the word “vayikra.” It denotes a personal message, a sense of privacy and intimacy between the caller and the one who is being called. One notices that this is the same word used in describing the Heavenly voice that called out to Moses from the burning bush at the beginning of his eternal mission.
It connotes a relationship between the parties, a sense of personal uniqueness, with the absence of any possibility of randomness in the encounter between the two. Closeness to Heaven, a relationship to God and eternity, lies at the heart of Jewish tradition. It is what makes one feel special about being a Jew, the elusive spiritual component that we all wish to capture and experience.
We are reminded that simple faith is not so simple after all. To hear the Heavenly call, other noises in our lives have to be diminished. Heaven speaks to us in a small, still voice, in the sound of our parents’ and ancestors’ voices, in the intimacy of family and purpose.
The idea of sacrifice is primarily exhibited and found in the entity of the family. The relationship in a marriage, of raising children, of honoring and caring for parents and others, all entail substantial personal sacrifice. For a person to feel noble and blessed in performing these sacrifices –as most are required on a constant and even grinding basis – one needs to feel a personal calling.
Love for another human being is such a calling. It enables us to perform immense sacrifices without a whimper of complaint. Love is really the calling out of one person to another person. It is the reflection of the constant echo of God, so to speak, calling out to us in our earthly lives. That calling transcends time and space, physical presence and material goods.
If left to our own base, selfish nature we can never get to the point of hearing and acting on our calling. We are left to be influenced by the thunderous noises that permeate our society and social environment. We must always strain to hear the still, small voice that speaks to us individually and personally.
Rashi points out that the voice that Moses heard could only be heard in the holy place of the Tabernacle/Mishkan. Only in striving to create a holy place in our home, our workplace, our family and our society will we be privileged to realize that Heaven is calling to us.
Rabbi Berel Wein is a noted scholar, historian, speaker and educator, admired the world over for his audio tapes/CDs, videos and books, particularly on Jewish history. Formerly rabbi of Bais Torah Synagogue in Suffern, NY, he has been rabbi of the Hanasi Synagogue in Rehavia, Jerusalem since moving to Israel in 1997.