parasha

Let’s Heed the Call!

Vayikra 5780

Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites

This Shabbat, we begin reading the third book of the Bible: the book of Vayikra, Leviticus. 

 

It seems likely that in light of the situation around the world due to the spread of the coronavirus, we will not be able to pray in synagogues as we follow the directives of the authorities.  We are obligated to take these directives seriously and follow them responsibly.  Where told to do so, people should pray at home, thus preserving their own health and that of others.  Many of those who come to the synagogue every Shabbat and listen to the weekly portion being read will not be able to do so this Shabbat.  Therefore, it is advisable to read the parasha from a Bible while adding a special prayer for those who are sick, “Shabbat should afford you a respite from crying out in pain and you shall soon be healed.”

The book of Leviticus deals mostly with halachot (Jewish laws) pertaining to the Temple: laws of sacrifices, purity and impurity, special laws for the kohanim (priests) and more.  For this reason, Chazal refer to this book as Torat Kohanim, Torah of the Priests. But during the last few centuries, it has become customary to refer to the books of the Bible according to the first words of each book, so this book is called Vayikra.

Midrash HaTanna’im (midrash written by rabbinic sages from the 1st and 2nd centuries) on Leviticus is also called Torat Kohanim or Sifra, and it clarifies verses, examines them, and learns from them.  Let’s see what the sages learned from the first verse in the book of Leviticus:

“And He called (vayikra) to Moses, and the Lord spoke (vayedaber) to him from the tent of meeting” – We are hereby taught that the voice was “cut off” and would not be heard outside the tent of meeting.  Could it be because [the voice] was low? It is, therefore, written (Numbers 7:89): “And he heard the voice” – the distinctive voice described in Scripture (Psalms 29:47): “The voice of the Lord, in power; the voice of the Lord, in glory. The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon… The voice of the Lord hews out flames of fire, etc.” Why, then, (if the voice is so vast) is it written “from the tent of meeting”? We are hereby taught that the voice was “cut off” and did not travel beyond the (the confines of) the tent of meeting.

(Sifra, Diburrah D’Nedavah, 2)

This midrash is briefly referred to in Rashi’s commentary on this verse: “The [Divine] voice emanated and reached Moses’ ears, while all [the rest] of Israel did not hear it.” If so, this was a unique and amazing phenomenon.  An incredibly and strong voice was heard by one person only: Moses.  What was the meaning of this?

The founder of the Hasidic movement, Rabbi Yisrael “Ba’al Shem Tov” (Ukraine 1700-1760) wrote about this with piercing wisdom.  He said that the great voice, the voice of G-d, was heard in each person’s heart.  There is no one who cannot hear G-d speaking to him, with His voice coming through Torah, through history, through various events, through reality – Man hears G-d but it is his responsibility to listen and recognize the voice.  Moses was on such a high level that he could hear G-d’s voice giving him the commandments of the Torah.  Other who could not recognize G-d’s voice weren’t able to hear it.

How relevant this all is to our current situation, unfortunately.  Modern man who was accustomed to controlling the forces of nature, suddenly finds himself out of control.  The coronavirus is wreaking havoc on humanity, and the support systems we became used to leaning on are suddenly unstable: the support of routine, of work, financial support, activities, science, public bodies, social support, and the support of leisure.  World order has been so undermined, it leads us all to ask an important question: What support can we confidently count on?

The entire Bible, from its first page to its last, conveys this message: G-d speaks to man.  Listen to Him! We are all going through an extremely challenging time, especially those who aren’t well. Let us be those who can recognize G-d’s voice through the events around us.  Let us be those who learn the lessons we are being taught.  Let us be those who comprehend that the coronavirus is not just a natural phenomenon but a call for repair and progress.

Wishing everyone – the Jewish nation and all of humanity - good health!!

 

 

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