25 March 2023
Parashat: Leviticus 1:1-5:26
Haftarah: Isaiah 43:21-44:23
The book of Leviticus/VaYikra opens with God instructing Moses on the nature of the sacrificial system to be used in the just finished tabernacle: “The Eternal called to Moses and spoke to him from the tent of Meeting, saying…” (Leviticus 1:1)
Our rabbinic teachers wonder why both “called” and “spoke” are used, where one would have sufficed. Two separate acts are involved, they insist. First, God addresses Moses by name, intimately and affectionately, and only then does the conversation ensue. The force of the verb “va-yikra – and the Eternal called” conveys a longstanding relationship. The call is an invitation to resume contact, to begin the dialogue afresh. Moses has done his task exceedingly well. Rabbi Ismar Schorsch suggests that the way God pronounces Moses’ name suggests divine satisfaction. We can usually tell what is coming by how someone initially pronounces our name. The prepositional phrase in “and spoke to him” suggests that God turns to Moses alone. No one else is privy to what will be said.
One midrash envisions God as taking up residence in the Tabernacle and finding everything executed exactly as prescribed. The final two chapters of the book of Exodus stressed that after the completion and installation of each artifact, that it was done “as the Lord had commanded Moses,” as if each object were stamped with God’s endorsement.
Interestingly, in the text, each time Moses completes and installs an artifact, this completion is followed by the phrase: “as the Eternal had commanded Moses.” In the Torah scroll, each time this phrase is used, it is followed by a space in the Torah text. What is the purpose of these empty spaces in our text?
To this question, the midrash responds with psychological insight: the spaces in our text remind us of the physical spaces of time between God’s revelations to Moses, and they offer Moses – and us – time to absorb and internalize what has been transmitted.
After the silence is the call; each time God addresses Moses, be it to teach, converse or command, God first lovingly calls him by name.
In truth, were our lives punctuated with periods of silence, perhaps we could hear God calling us by name more often.