Responding to the Call – VaYikra 5784

D'var Torah | Leviticus

In 1963 John Lennon lamented “I call your name, but you’re not there.” Those lyrics are part of a song that was recorded by several different artists, including the Beatles, which has a direct connection to the opening words of the third book of the Torah. Before Moses, God spoke to many but he “called” only to Adam (Genesis 3:9).  Moses received God’s “call” three times. At the burning bush God calls to Moses to launch him on his mission to Egypt to demand the liberation of the Hebrew slaves (Exodus 3:4). Prior to ascending Mount Sinai, God calls to Moses and announces His intent to give Moses the Torah (Exodus 19:20). And before spelling out the details of the sacrificial rites, God calls to Moses a third time (Leviticus 1:1).

What constituted the call is unknown. It could have been his name. But there is no consensus on what that was. (Remember that Moses was the name given him by Pharaoh’s daughter, not his mother.) According to one midrash Moses had seven names (Mekhilta D’Rabbi Yishmael 18:1; Exodus Rabbah 27:8). According to another, he had ten (Yalkut Shimoni, Exodus 4). One can only speculate on which name would have caught his attention. Perhaps the call was, instead, some furtive signal.

Two other questions that naturally arise are first, why did God call to Moses three times and, second, why did God call to Moses at those specific times? In answer to the first question, Moses’ singular position merits a special call. Moses enjoyed a unique relationship with God. He spoke to God “face to face.” The Sages held that while other prophets had somewhat blurry visions of God, Moses saw God through a clear lens. And, of course, it is through Moses that the Torah was given by God to Israel. And this last fact helps answer the second question. God calls to Moses at the key moments in his life: first when he is transformed from a fugitive from Pharaoh’s justice living as a simple shepherd into a spokesman for God demanding an end to injustice, next, as the conduit of God’s instructions to His people, and then, when he is given the means for approaching God (Hebrew word for sacrifice – “korban” – comes from the same root, meaning “to draw near”). Each crucial moment necessitated a call that would demand Moses’ complete attention.

Whatever the call might have been, noteworthy is the fact that Moses, in each case, responded to the call. He did go to Egypt and spoke truth to power. He brought down the Torah. And he put in place the system of ritual practice that brought Israel closer to God. In life, all of us may get a “call,” for some important professional or personal reason. The question is whether or not we are willing to heed it. The example of Moses is heartening. And we would all do well to emulate his example.

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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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