Thursday, March 18, 2010

Being Called

This week we begin the third book of the Torah and read the parsha of Vayikra. It doesn't take us long to encounter something provocative. Already in the first word "vayikra", "And He called", we find a small aleph. Why? Moreover it's rather odd that the Torah should begin a book with "And He called". We would expect the verse to read "And Hashem called to Moshe", why the pronoun He, rather than Hashem's name? Only after it reads "And He called to Moshe" do we find reference to Hashem, as the pasuk concludes "...and Hashem spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting saying".

Rashi on this verse brings a fascinating Gemara that tells us of the uniqueness of Hashem's call. The Gemara explains the words "to him" in the first verse to mean that the voice emanated from Hashem but only Moshe was able to hear it. The rest of Israel did not hear anything. It was exclusively "to him".

Rebbe Nachman understood all the above to be telling us something, not just about Moshe, but about ourselves and our relationship to Hashem. He taught that G-d tries to convey messages to each of us and at all times. G-d, however, does not speak to us directly, but through the medium of his creations. Everything we encounter from the flowers in the field to the butcher behind the meat counter, has some message for us from G-d.

Its not a loud message. It does not beg to be heard. No, on the contrary, its a small voice, and often obfuscated by other sounds and easily missed. Rebbe Nachman said, that's the meaning of the small aleph in the word vayikra, to teach us that in order to be called we have to pay attention, because the voice by which we are called is a soft and quiet one. Like Moshe, we too are called, but also like Moshe, the calling is with a small aleph, and unless we are attentive we will miss it.

And further Rebbe Nachman said, the message Hashem sends out to us is a personal one. Like the Talmud says about the call to Moshe, our message too can only be heard by us. No one else will perceive it. And likely many will doubt its authenticity, though we for whom it was sent, and who heard it with our own ears and eyes, know it to be true.

The work Rebbe Nachman would tell us is to cultivate the ability to listen. If we devote ourselves to the work of listening and we are really prepared to hear then, like Moshe, we too will be called. It won't be the direct voice of Hashem. We are not prophets. But it will be the He of vayikra. And once we hear it we will know it to be Hashem speaking to us as the verse concludes "....and Hashem spoke to him...".

I found this insight powerful. So much of our avoda to Hashem we think of in terms of doing.
We run from one mitzvah to another. We are busy talking, thinking, acting in the service of Hashem. What we rarely do is listen. We don't listen to each other. We don't listen to the universe that speaks to each of us the unique personal message of Hashem.
When we have a problem we pray, we give tzedaka, we ask advice. We rarely just wait with attentive ears to hear the meaning and message in our struggle, a message only available to us, and only if we will listen for it with an open heart.

The parsha is teaching us that a prerequisite to kedusha, the sanctification, that is the theme of the book of Vayikra is to learn to listen to the small but clear voice of Hashem that calls to us.
Its not enough to know by study. Its not enough to teach and preach. Its not enough to do mitzvot with meticulous attention. If I want to be holy I need to listen. I need to hear G-d's call to me. I need to hear the unique message I am meant to hear and ultimately abide.

If I haven't yet heard G-d's voice to me it does not mean there is no message. No, it means I have not been sufficiently attentive or worse I have unknowingly blocked myself from hearing what I do not want to hear. Because indeed G-d uses his creations to deliver His messages to us and at all times.

So as they say in the vernacular, lets you and I, listen up!

Shabbat Shalom

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