Vayikra: When God calls
Those of us old enough to remember the pre-computer age will also remember the horror and pain of proofreading a paper only to find a typographical error. To correct the error properly required retyping the entire page. An alternative was to squeeze the missing letter into the space between words. I mention this because the opening word of the book of Leviticus, Vayikra, is written in such a manner. The last letter of the word Vayikra is an aleph, and is squeezed into the space between the rest of the word and the first letter of the next word which is also an aleph. This scribal peculiarity is found in every Torah scroll and in every manuscript of the Bible known to exist. (About 15 years ago when I had the opportunity to visit the Vatican Library and hold a 12th century Torah scroll that is part of their collection, I saw that the aleph of Vayikra was written small in that scroll as well.)
If one assumes that this aleph was a late addition to the Torah text we are still left with two possible assumptions; namely that a letter was left out and added or a later editor wants us to understand the verse in a certain manner. However, the possibility exists that the original phrase was not “Vayikra el Moshe,” “And God called out to Moses and God spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting,” but rather, “Vayikar el Moshe,” “And God was dear to Moses and therefore God spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting.”
This second translation, which is my own, but based upon the commentaries of the previous millennium, is meant to convey the idea that the prerequisite for us human beings to hear God is for us to affirm that God is dear to us. While the Book of Leviticus contains so many seemingly irrelevant rules, about rituals we no longer observe, the underlying message of the book is its call to us to pledge our love and loyalty to God and to become God’s voice and hands in the world.
In our high-tech age of computer word processing, the human touch that leaves us questioning whether we are dealing with a missing or an added letter is replaced by the homogenized perfection of every word, and, at times, every person appearing the same. In our divisive political climate both here in America and in Israel and within the American Jewish community as well, too many people are so certain that they have the right understanding of God’s Will and that their opponents have nothing but evil intent when they dare to disagree.
I suggest to you on this Shabbat Vayikra that the text of the Torah is calling out to all of us to recognize the uniqueness in each of us; to hear the text as a reminder that when we hold God dear as did Moses, God will call out to us and speak to us by transforming our dwelling places and our communal gathering points into true Tents of Meeting where we meet together with each other and with God and where we can dare to disagree with each other and still agree to respect our differences.
If we each listen for this call this week perhaps we will be better prepared to welcome Elijah at our Passover sederim and recognize that the Messianic Age is achievable if only we are willing to hear the call of the psalmist, “Hineh ma tov umanayim shevet achim gam yachad,” “Behold how good and beautiful it will be when we sit together on peace.”