Commentary for Vaykira

31 Mar

Unlike most sections of the Torah in which God details various laws to Moses, which tend to begin with “And the Lord spoke Moses, saying,” our parshah, which details the laws of various common sacrifices, begins by saying that God “called to Moses [and the Lord spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying] (Lev. 1:1).” There are only four other times in the Torah when God “called to” Moses.   Once to get Moses’ attention at the burning bush (Ex. 3:4) and three times in relation to the giving of the Torah (Ex. 19:3 to instruct the people to get ready, and in Ex. 19:20 and Ex. 24:16 to call Moses up the mountain to receive the Torah). These three events- receiving the Torah, learning the laws of sacrifices, and getting Moses ready to do his part in freeing the Israelites from slavery in Egypt- are representative of the three concepts on which Shimon HaTzadik famously says that “the world stands” upon in Pirkei Avot 1:2: Torah, divine worship, and acts of loving-kindness.


Interestingly, when God “called to” Moses about each of these things, Moses already had a bit of experience with each one. By the time God calls to him at the burning bush Moses has already saved a helpless Israelite from being beaten by a taskmaster and also saved Jethro’s daughters from a group of ruffians by the well. When he is called to in order to receive the Torah (and help the Israelites prepared to do so), Moses has already been receiving God’s instructions and relaying them to the Israelites for quite some time, including detailing important mitzvot such as the laws of Passover, tefillin, and the procedures for the redemption of the firstborn, and Moses has experience with performing sacrifices with specific rules well before this week’s parshah, as Moses himself participated in the very first paschal sacrifice.


When most people think of a moment of “calling” they tend to envision someone being called out of the blue by some invisible force of destiny to pursue a path they had never considered before- as if all of a sudden a door appeared where there had never been one before and they felt compelled to walk through it and see what was on the other side. In reality, though, when most people experience a moment of “calling,” it is for something they already have some level of involvement in. When God calls to Moses to undertake these extremely important roles- being God’s representative in the liberation of the Israelites from slavery, being the instrument of transmission of God’s will to the world via the Torah, and for teaching the Israelites an organized system of worship to help them establish a relationship with God- in areas in which Moses already has some experience because rushing into something totally blindly and deciding that it is your destiny to do that thing is foolhardy. We can learn from the example God sets with Moses to help us find our own calling. Rather than looking for something to go rush off into, we should approach everything we do with our eyes, ears, minds, and hearts open because if we don’t, we might not hear that call when it comes.

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