Vayikra – speech that leaves space for the other

"And He called to Moshe, and God spoke to him from the tent of gathering saying.  You shall speak unto the Jewish People and say to them…" (Vaykra 1:1-2)

There is a lot of speech – called, spoke, saying, speak, say – in the first two verses.  The opening comment of Rashion the opening verse of the book of Vayikra is simply awesome.  It puts both divine and human language in a different light. 

"All dibrot (speakings) and all amirot (sayings) and all  tzivuyim (commands) are predicated on a kriah (a calling) of love.  Such is the language that the angels use, as it says "And they call one to another and say (Isaiah 6:3).  However, God was revealed unto the nations of the world in a language of happenstance and impurity, as it says "And Elohim happened upon Bilaam" (Numbers 23:4).

Before analyzing the deeper message of Rashi, let us first clarify why this comment was made.  Clearly some of the words articulating speech in the first verse are extraneous.  Why doea it take three different phrases to say, "and God spoke to Moses?"  There is something about this interaction that, for Rashi, is the model for all other times when God and Moshe speak.

Rashi draws on two separate midrashim in order to address the problems that he sees in the verse.  First he quotes from the Sifra (Dibura Nedava, 1:1-7; see also Bavli, Yoma 4b) that each speaking was preceded by a calling of love.  Then Rashi refers to a Midrash from Vayikra Rabbah (1:12) comparing the way that God called Moshe to the way that God called the prophets of the non-Jewish world, ie. Bilaam.

The way that Rashi seemlessly links the two midrashim makes us wonder what they have in common.  Why is the fact that God spoke to the prophets of the Jewish People with love linked to the fact that God spoke to the prophets of the nations of the world without that love?  (See for an interesting analysis of the relationship between the two midrashim.)

I think that understanding the concept of God speaking to Moshe with love will shed light on our first question.  Why did God need to call Moshe in the first place?  When we look at the end of Sefer Shmot we note that as the Mishkan was completed Moshe's relationship with God was still, as yet, incomplete.

We are told that God's presence filled the Mishkan to such an extent that there was no space for Moshe.  (See Exodus 40:34 to end of book, see for some of where these thoughts originated, though he comes to conclusions that I can not accept.)  When God called Moshe into the Mishkan He was making space for an other.  Allowing for human existence even in the place of the divine presence.  God stepped back and left a space for Moshe to begin a dialogue.  The relationship that was created at that moment becomes that model for how we are to relate to others and to God, the ultimate Other. 

We must make space – for our spouses, children, parents, friends, community – in every interaction.  Part of the challenge of the rabbinate is to create a space where people can feel comfortable enough to tear down the inhibitions that limit out ability to connect – to connect to one another and, if we are fortunate, to connect to God.

For some that space will be the shul, for others a class room, for still others a shiva house, delivering meals on wheels, little league…  This is our greatest responsibility as a young and growing community, to insure those environments for every person who walks in the door.  (And not to forget about those people who do not walk into the door!)

Why then is there a difference between Moshe and Bilaam?  God's relationship to the Jewish People is different from God's relationship to the nations of the world.  The love that God feels for us is not better or more or higher, but it is different.  Undifferentiated love, is not real love.  So God calls Moshe with love to make space for one type of relationship and God calls Bilaam in a unique way to build a different relationship.


4 Responses to Vayikra – speech that leaves space for the other

  1. Mark says:

    but perhaps that is where we are falling short. so much of our efforts are focussed on life at shul when that is not how people spend a significant portion of their time. much of the mitzvot are centered around how we ought behave at work (in an agricultural society), how we interact with our fellow citizens and with the stranger in our community but todays Judaism seems to centered on the 2 hour period on Shabbat morning that we are sitting in services (arguably the easiest time of the week to be a “good” Jew). maybe we should be putting our communal efforts elsewhere?

  2. Rabbi Jeffrey Fox says:

    I think that Mark you are right and wrong. Yes, Judaism is not LIVED in shul. However, there is a necessity to have a place that brings the community together. Despite the re-engineering of the concept of community that has been foisted upon us by the internet – see this blog – there is still a need for shuls.

    The mistake that pulpit rabbis make is the false and somewhat arrogant assumption that we can change people’s lives from the pulpit. In the end, lives are changed in hospital rooms, shiva houses and wedding halls not during sermons. People are moved to live a different life not because “the rabbi gave a great sermon this Shabbat” but rather “because the rabbi taught me how to live my life last night,” or “the rabbi brought some light in a time of darkness.” I can only hope and pray that I am able to do that for some members of this community.

  3. Evenewra says:

    May we all bring that light to each other.

  4. Evenewra says:

    No posts this week? You busy getting ready for Pesach or something? šŸ™‚

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