Friday, March 18, 2016

Torah Thoughts on Vayikra

               This week’s Torah portion, Vayikra (Lev. 1:1 – 5:26) begins the book of Leviticus, which describes the priestly functions, and the details of the sacrifices the Israelites bring to God in the Tabernacle. In last week’s Torah portion, the last of the book of Exodus, we learned that the Tabernacle had finally been completed, and the presence of God, as promised, entered the sanctuary. The very moment that Moses finished the work, “The cloud covered the Tent of Meeting and the Presence of God filled the Tabernacle.  Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud had settled upon it and the Presence of God filled the Tabernacle” (Ex. 40:34-35). 
                In the Torah study group at my synagogue, the rabbi asked us why we thought Moses could not enter the sanctuary.  Had not Moses just spent forty days with God on the mountain?  I thought that the reason was an act of courtesy.  It is as if you participated in a work of tzedakah by building a house for a family through Habitat for Humanity.  When the house was finally completed, and the family took possession of it, wouldn’t they want some time alone to appreciate their new home?  How much the more so, if a holy residence had been built for God, should God not be given the time to appreciate it?  And with the first word of parshat Vayikra, Moses receives God’s invitation.
                Vayikra”-- God called to Moses from within the Tent of Meeting.  Rashi understands the use of this word as one of endearment, of invitation.  Most of God’s utterances begin with vayomer, He said, or vay’daber, He spoke, or vayetzev (He commanded).  The only other time in Torah that God uses vayikra to Moses is when He invites him to Mount Sinai.  Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, in his opening essay on Leviticus in his work Covenant and Conversation writes: “Vayikra is the language of invitation, friendship, love.  In love God called Abraham to follow Him.  In love God led the way for the wandering Israelites in a pillar of cloud by day, fire by night.  In love God calls the people Israel to come close to Him, to be regular visitors at His house, to share His quality of holiness, difference, apartness: to become, as it were, mediators of His presence to the world.”
                Let us accept God’s invitation to be a regular visitor, to be at ease and know that we are welcome in God’s home.

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