Vayikra: The Call

He [God] called to Moses, and God spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying… (Vayikra 1:1)

We walked past walls of water
and traversed the burning sands.
We trudged from darkness, eyes
asquint beneath the dawning light.
We stood and trembled at the mount
afraid to hear Your words.

And yet Your voice still calls us,
encouraging and tender,
and though we may dissemble
as do children rapt in play,
we are never out of earshot
of the still small voice.


In a commentary on Vayikra from Speaking Torah: Spiritual Teachings from around the Maggid’s Table, (Vol 1) by Rabbi Arthur Green et al*, the authors cite the Me’or Eynayim** who teaches that God brought us out from Egypt, split the sea for us and guided us through the wilderness. Then He gave us the Torah and subsequently commanded us to build the Mishkan, so that “I might dwell within them.” (Shemot 25:8) The Me’or Eynayim notes that the text says “within them” and not “within it”. He describes someone who has always lived in darkness, never having seen the light, and he says that such a person would have to be exposed to daylight gradually (first through a small crack then widening it to a window and then bringing him outside) otherwise he would be dazzled by the brightness. He compares such a one to the children of Israel. “In Egypt they were submerged in fifty levels of impurity. Had He shown them the radiance of His presence immediately, they would not have been able to bear it. They needed all these steps along the way. But the whole purpose was, “Let them make Me a Tabernacle that I might dwell within them.” ”
Rabbi Green et al explain that the Me’or Eynayim is showing why the book of Vayikra is at the centre of the Torah – all that has gone before has been leading up to this point: “the moment of the call to serve”. He says the entire narrative until now is preparation for “He called to Moses.” The authors add, “So too our own narratives. All of our life stories up to this moment are there to prepare us for that call. The Hasidic reading of be-tokham as “within them” rather than “in their midst” means that the call comes to each person. The Tabernacle is being prepared within our heart; it is from there that the word calls to us. everything else leads up to this.”

In a further teaching on the same verse, the Me’or Eynayim comments on the small aleph at the end of the first word of Parashat Vayikra, from which the parasha and the book derive their name. He teaches that God is present in a contracted form in every one of Israel, even the most wicked. The proof of this, he says, is that every transgressor has thoughts of repentance, which is really God Himself calling to him saying, “Return to Me,” only he does not realize that it is God calling him. The Me’or Eynayim continues that the phrase “He called to Moses” is written with a miniature aleph denoting that God, the “cosmic” aleph, is present in contracted form within each one of Israel, calling us to return. These are our thoughts of repentance, but we do not recognize them as God calling to us. Thus, he teaches, the verse says, “He called” and not “God called”. But once we realize it is God calling and we turn back to Him, then the verse continues, “God spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting.”
Rabbi Green et al add, “The call of God is present in each of our lives. None of us, despite both our sinfulness and our claims of disbelief, is so far from God that we have no voice of conscience.” They conclude that perceiving conscience as God’s voice speaking “anonymously” initially, and then identifying it as His call, is the first step in an ongoing process.
In a further discussion on this one opening word of the parasha, “Vayikra – He called”, Rabbi Green wonders, as do the Chassidic Rabbis who are quoted, what it means to be called by God. He asks whether it only occurs in biblical times (as to Abraham, Moses and Samuel) or whether any life of devotion is a response to God’s call, even if it is an inaudible call.  Or N. Rose adds that although the metaphor of God’s call is a compelling one for him, he prefers the term “discernment” which he understands as investing effort in “exploring core values and commitments and the needs of the world around us.” This, he believes, requires listening both to external wisdom – of the sacred traditions and of trusted friends – and to inner voices. This he perceives as attunement to God’s call.

In his book Orchard of Delights, The Ohr Chadash Torah Commentary, Rabbi Avraham Aryeh Trugman addresses Rashi’s comment that God’s voice reached Moses’s ears only but the rest of the people did not hear it. This, he submits, is reminiscent of Elijah the prophet, who initially thought that God was in the fierce wind, then in the earthquake, and then in the fire. Finally he heard God in the “still small voice.” (1 Kings 19: 11-12) He suggests that God calls to us in a still small voice through the circumstances of our lives.

And finally, on a different theme on the same opening verse, in a commentary on Parashat Vayikra from 2013, http://ziegler.aju.edu/Default.aspx?id=10203, Rabbi Aaron Alexander reflects on “the elusive art form of difficult-conversation starters.” He looks at the first verse of the parasha, “And God called to Moses, and God spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying… (Vayikra 1:1). He notes that this seems fairly straightforward: God wants to tell Moses something so He calls him and starts explaining about sacrifices. However, careful examination of the text raises the question of why God first called to Moses before speaking to him. Rabbi Alexander notes that they were both in the Tent of Meeting so why did it not suffice to say, “And God spoke to Moses”?
Rabbi Alexander cites Rashi, “This “calling” is an expression of affection, the mode used by the ministering angels when addressing each other, as it says, “And one called to the other and said…” So Rabbi Alexander suggests that this represents “a gentle and thoughtful invitation, a tender communication from God to Moses.” He says that although God and Moses were already in the same place, God was inviting Moses to “join the conversation… and be fully present.” He believes that this interpretation is worthy of emulation, offering a better model of engagement in human interaction than we frequently employ. He describes this as “loving invitation.” He says, “Even in an assumed safe space, an ohel mo’ed interaction demands thoughtful, kind, and honest entry. Jumping right in with a “we need to talk” followed by whatever needs to be said may not allow the listener to prepare for the difficult message to be delivered. The example set forth by God and angels offers an alternative access point for the adrenaline-filled moments that can consume our day-to-day experience… The challenge is that each opportunity demands precisely the kind of warmth that Moses must have heard when God called him in that Tent…”

*Rabbi Arthur Green with Ebn Leader, Ariel Evan Mayse and Or N. Rose

**Rabbi Menachem Nachum Twersky (c. 1730 – 1797) was the founder of the Chasidic dynasty of Chernobyl which is named after the Ukrainian town of Chernobyl, where he served as the maggid (preacher).
Rabbi Twersky was a student of the Baal Shem Tov (the founder of the Hasidic movement) and his student and chief disciple the Maggid of Mezritch. He is considered one of the pioneers of the Hasidic movement. His book, by which he is known, the “Me’or Eynayim” (meaning “vision”, lit. “the light of the eyes”), comprises insights on the weekly parasha, and reflects his predilection for Kabbalah. It is considered one of the major works and foundations of Hasidic ideology.
Rabbi Menachem Nachum Twersky was succeeded by his son, Rabbi Mordechai of Chernobyl – also known as the Chernobyler Magid, who himself was succeeded by his son R’ Aaron of Chernobyl. All of Rebbe Mordechai’s eight sons became rebbes in different cities.
Thus the Chernobyl dynasty includes the rebbes of Chernobyl, Cherkas, Turisk, Talne, Korestchov, Makarov, Skver, Rachmastrivka, Malyn, Hornosteipl, Machnovka, Ozarnetz, and several others.
Chernobyl Hasidism as a movement survived the ravages of the Holocaust, although many of its members perished. There are many scions of the Chernobyl dynasty alive today, and anyone with the last name Twersky (or Twerski) is likely to be a descendant of the Chernobyl dynasty.

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