Parashat Vayikra – Erev Shabbat 27 March 2020
Week of 22-28 March 2020
Torah portion: Leviticus 1:1-5:26 Haftarah: Isaiah 43:21-44:23
Theme: Partnership with the Lord
Leviticus 1:1 begins with the words, “The Lord called to Moses and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying, ‘Speak to the Israelite people and say to them…’”.This is the only text in Torah where the Lord calls before He speaks. In the Book of Exodus, God speaks to Moses in the open places: the Burning Bush, Midian, Sinai; his presence there is public. At the end of Exodus, however, once the Tent of Meeting is erected, God chooses concealment over openness. When the cloud descends over the Tent, Moses is unable to enter until it lifts. (Ex. 40:34 & 35).
God’s call to Moses, in Vayikra, indicates an important shift in relationship. God gives Moses permission to come before the Divine Presence (Rashi & Rashban). Moses is called to an intimate partnership with the Lord; God needs Moses to accomplish His mission. Another interesting comment on the text notes that the opening word of Leviticus, Vayikra ends with an alef which in Torah scrolls is inscribed smaller than the other letters in the word. A number of commentators seek a reason for this. One argues that the small alef recalls the word, Adam (human being) and reminds individuals “to make themselves small”, that is, to avoid arrogance. Another explains that the Torah does not include an exhortation to be humble because, were humility to be commanded, it would no longer be humility. The commentator concludes every person should cultivate true humility (The Chumasch, 7-8). Rabbi Gelfand suggests a slightly different interpretation. She makes the point that, in order to communicate with another, whether it be a person or God, it is necessary to engage in what the mystics call tzimtzum (a withdrawing or contracting of oneself), in order to make room for the other in the conversation. By calling to Moses, God creates a situation whereby His Presence withdraws inwardly to create space for Moses. Moses becomes a partner rather than a passive recipient in the relationship with God. Numbers 12:3 reads, “Moses was exceedingly humble, more than any other human who is on the face of the earth”. But have we reflected on the profound mystery that our God is a humble God, a God who needs our partnership, just as He needed the assistance of Moses to achieve His plan for humanity?
Leviticus 1:2 introduces the subject of offerings. The root of the word, “offering” is “coming near”. A Hasidic commentator gives an interpretive reading, “One who wants to become karov, close to God – must bring an offering, mikem – that is, from oneself.” And what is the offering to HaShem, God of Mercy? It is, J. Marder suggests, “the beast” within ourselves. The ritual of animal sacrifice, understood symbolically, conveys the struggle of flawed human beings to become more humane. Not only will relationship with God call forth a humble spirit then; it will also have a transformative effect, summoning the person to offer God his/her innermost strength and will, to submit to God and to dedicate all of their acts to the service of God.
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. How does tzimtzum assist the quality of your prayer life as well as your conversations with others? 2. With no animal sacrifice, how do we confront and eradicate “the beast” within us? 3. Relationship with God calls a person to mission. Share some experience of this in your own life.
Bibliography: Goldstein, ed., The Women’s Torah Commentary (Vermont 2000); Plaut, The Torah: A Modern Commentary (New York 1981), Eskenazi & Weiss, The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, (New York 2008), Goldstein, The Women’s Haftarah Commentary (Vermont 2004), Stone Edition, The Chumash (New York 1998)