VaYikra 5778

D'var Torah | Leviticus

Since the invention of the telephone people have dreamed up various ways of making phone calls a source of fun. Bart Simpson’s mischievous prank calls became a further encouragement to this cultural phenomenon. Prankdial, a website entirely devoted to facilitating prank calls, claims to account for a quarter of a billion such calls.   Despite the fact that taping phone calls without the knowledge and approval of both parties is illegal in most of the United States, law enforcement agencies do not regard it as a serious enough problem to require action. Hence, many such taping and even videos are marketed and widely accessible for listening or viewing.


Essentially, the recordings capture the reaction to customers who make impossible demands or claimants demanding compensation for fictional misdeeds. Among the most popular are calls asking the recipient to page a fictitious personality. The most famous of this genre is a series of calls to the Tube Bar in Jersey City, New Jersey. Recordings that surfaced in the 1980’s chronicled a wave of calls to a short-tempered bartender named “Red.” Red is asked to page Al Koholoic of Stu Pid or Cole Kutz or Sal Ammy. Inevitably, Red makes a public announcement before realizing that it is a joke. The expletives that follow are also recorded.


Why people would make crank calls is explicable, though indefensible: they are looking for cheap fun at the expense of a dupe. But why the receivers of the prank calls consistently fall for them is less easily explained. As one crank-caller noted (Globe and Mail, June 26, 1993): “…if they were really listening, they would realize how ridiculous it is.” But most people do not really listen.


It is with this observation in mind that RaShI (1040 – 1105) explains the difference between the prophets of Israel and the prophets of other nations. To the prophets of Israel God calls (“VaYikra…) but to the prophets of the nations, God doesn’t call; He appears to them by chance, as was the case with Bil’am (Numbers 23:4). Awareness of God by Gentile prophets is more accidental than anticipated. Therefore, because the call from God is accidental, the message from God becomes incidental. The prophets of the nations – like the victims of prank calls – cannot anticipate the message. They are unprepared for what they hear and, hence, they do no really listen.


The implication goes beyond a contrast in the nature of prophecy between the prophets of Israel and the prophets of the nations. What we infer is that the value of God’s words for us is directly related to how well we are prepared to receive it.




Words to Live By

What lies behind you and what lies ahead of you pales in comparison to what lies inside you.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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