The first word of the Book of Vayikra (Leviticus) is “Vayikra” (And He called). It is written in the Torah with a small Aleph. The Aleph is the letter that represents the will, the ego. It is the first letter of the word for “I” – ‘Ani’. When a person sees himself as being very small, like that small Aleph, then he makes room for the Divine Presence to dwell in him. His head is not swollen with the vanity of self-regard. Moses was the humblest of all men. Moses made of himself so little that he was barely in this world at all. He, as no man before or since, saw that there is only one Aleph in all of creation – only one Number One – G-d. Moses made his own Aleph – his ego – so small, that he merited that the Torah was given via him. To Moses, G-d ‘called’ – “Vayikra…”
The word “Vayikra” implies that G-d called to Moses with affection, just as the angels call to one another. G-d called, and Moses came. But when Balaam, the Midianite prophet, wanted to curse the Jewish People, the Torah says that G-d went to him. If Moses went to G-d, surely all the more so Balaam should have gone to G-d. So why did G-d go to Balaam? The answer is that when you receive an important guest, he is ushered into the sitting-room, but when the garbage man comes to the door, you go out to him so that your home doesn’t smell like a trash-can!
Moses had ten names: Moses, Yered, Chaver, Yekusiel, Avigdor, Avi Socho, Avi Zanuach, Tuvia, Shemaya, Halevi. Why wasn’t one enough? And of all his names, the only one that G-d used was Moses, the name he was given by Pharaoh’s daughter, Basia. Another question: If G-d called him by the name ‘Moses,’ it must be that this name defines Moses more than any of his other names. Why?
When G-d created the first man, the ministering angels inquired of Him “This ‘Man,’ what is his nature?” G-d replied to them “His wisdom is greater than your intellect.” G-d then brought various animals before the angels. He said to the angels “What are their names?” The angels didn’t know. G-d then showed the animals to Man. “What are their names?” He asked. Man replied “This one’s name is ox, and this one, donkey. This is a horse, and this a camel.”
“And you,” said G-d, “What is your name?”
“I should be called Adam, because I have been created from the earth (Heb. ‘Adamah’).”
“And I,” said G-d “What should I be called?”
“You should be called Adon-oy. For you are the Lord (Heb. ‘Adon’) of all.”
The Holy One, blessed be He, said “I am Adon-oy. That is My Name. For that is what the first man called me.”
A name is more than a way of attracting someone’s attention. A name is more than a conventional method of reference. The wisdom of being able to name something is higher than the angels, for a name defines and describes the very essence. For this reason one name was not sufficient for Moses. To define him, to bound his greatness in words, required ten names. However, G-d said to Moses that of all his names, He would only call him by the name Basia named him. What was so special about this name?
The name Moses comes from the word meaning ‘to be drawn,’ for Moses was drawn from the water by Basia. When Basia took Moses out of the river, she was flouting her father’s will. Pharaoh wanted to kill all the Jewish baby boys. By saving Moses, she put her life on the line. Because Basia risked her life to save Moses, that quality was embedded in Moses’s personality and in his soul. It was this quality of self-sacrifice that typified Moses more than all his other qualities, and for this reason Moses was the name that G-d would call him. This was the characteristic that made Moses the quintessential leader of the Jewish People. For more than any other trait, a leader of the Jewish People needs self-sacrifice to care and worry over each one of his flock.
The Psalmist wrote that “G-d’s voice comes with strength”, yet Rashi notes on our verse that G-d’s “voice” was heard only in the Tent of Meeting, and not outside it. If G-d’s voice was so loud, why did people not hear it outside the Tent of Meeting? The Tent of Meeting was a holy place – without distractions so that Moses was able to concentrate on the Divine. Outside the Tent, the Bnei Yisrael did not hear G-d speak, even though G-d’s voice was very strong and without boundaries, because the environment they created for themselves did not allow their spiritual ears to listen to G-d’s voice. The Torah says “and you will return to G-d your G-d and listen to His voice.” When a person purifies his surroundings and attunes himself to G-d’s Will, then he can hear His voice that calls to him.
“And He called to Moses, and G-d spoke to him…” (1:1). When a righteous person strives with all his heart to come close to G-d, He will reveal Himself with great affection in return. However a person who does not seek to be close to G-d will distance himself from the Divine Presence and may even feel neglected. When G-d spoke to Balaam in Parshas Balak, the Torah hints that Balaam’s Divine encounter was, in a sense, an accident. G-d never called Balaam because Balaam never searched for Him. In order to achieve G-d’s love, as Moses did, a person constantly needs to improve his thoughts and actions. One must strive to be a better person, rather than to feel complacent about one’s spiritual level. Since Moses reached out to G-d, He related to Moses in a much more determined manner than with Balaam. If we are careful not to “lock” G-d into a large box except for a few times a year, or even three times a day, then we will feel His influence on our lives.
Closeness and distance are not necessarily measured in kilometres or miles, for people can be close even when they are on different sides of the world, and they can be distant even though they may be sitting next to each other on a bus or living in the same house. Closeness is spiritual; part of the internal life.
We have no word in the English language to express the meaning of the korbanot (sacrifices) which were brought in the Beis Hamikdash. The word ‘sacrifice’ implies that I am giving something up that is of value to me so that the other person will benefit. Obviously, G-d cannot benefit from ‘sacrifices’, for He lacks nothing. ‘Sacrifice’ also implies having to do without something of value. In point of fact, what we gain from the ‘sacrifice’ is infinitely more valuable than the ‘sacrifice’. The word ‘offering’ is also inaccurate: The idea of an ‘offering’ is that it appeases the one to whom it is brought. It’s like ‘buying someone off.’ A kind of bribery. The reason that we have a problem translating the word ‘korban’ into English, is that our ideas of ‘sacrifices’ and ‘offerings’ derive from pagan cultures. Indeed, in those cultures, the word ‘sacrifice’ and ‘offering’ were apt and accurate.
The root of the word korban is the same as the word ‘closeness’. It is used exclusively in relation to Man’s relationship with G-d. When a person brought a korban, he wanted to bring himself close to G-d. Being close to G-d is the only real ‘good’ that exists. All other ‘goods’ are pale imitations, like worthless forgeries, compared to the real Good of being close to G-d. In the halls of Heaven, the problems of life solve themselves. Happiness is a barometer which rises and falls corresponding to one’s closeness to G-d. In the minds of those who have refined themselves, even suffering can become exalted to happiness when one is near to G-d.
Today when we no longer have the closeness to G-d that korbanos gave us, we still have its substitute – prayer. When we pour out our hearts in prayer, when we offer ourselves up to G-d, we bring close both ourselves, and the world with us, to our Father in Heaven.