Thoughts on the weekly Torah reading

Weekly portion – וַיִּקְרָ֖א – Vayikra – ‘And He called’ – Leviticus 1:1-Leviticus 5:26

By Aviel Schneider | | Topics: Weekly Torah Portion

In the five books of Moses, the Torah, you can find the history of the people of Israel from the creation of the world to redemption in the Promised Land that God promised Abraham. These five books are divided into weekly readings. Twenty-five years ago, my father Ludwig Schneider wrote the book Key to the Torah for the 54 weekly readings. A messianic thread of suffering across the Torah. The Torah has 70 faces, they say in Hebrew. I would like to point out some of these facets in order to broaden the perspective even further. The weekly Torah readings open our eyes and hearts to the entire Word of God, the Bible. The Torah sheds light on the entire biblical text, and so each time we discover something new that makes us think and makes the Bible relevant and alive.

The third book in the Torah begins with the following verse: “And He called (Vayikra) Moses, and the LORD spake unto him out of the tabernacle of the congregation…” This call comes after people were blocked from entering the Tabernacle. God called Moses, but He also calls you.

A person needs more than just happiness. A person needs meaning in life. I would argue that happiness and meaning are the same thing. A person who finds meaning in life is a happy person. And a happy person has found meaning. However, they are two different things that do not always agree. Happiness is largely a feeling of fulfillment. Meaning, on the other hand, concerns the meaning of life and in particular the purpose and reason for living. Happiness concerns feelings of the present. And meaning in life refers to the past, present and future. Happiness is mostly associated with receiving, although meaning in life lies more in giving. People who are exposed to stress, worry or fear are often not happy, but their lives can still be meaningful. Sad experiences that have happened to us in the past dampen our happiness in the present, but many people also feel that they have discovered the meaning of their life precisely because of them.

And here begins the meaning of the Hebrew word Vayikra – “And He called” – not only for the first Torah reading in the book, but for the entire third book in the Torah. Actually, the word Vayikra is unnecessary, because in the same verse it immediately says, “and the LORD spoke to him out of the tabernacle of the congregation.” If God called him, why must His speech be mentioned afterwards? The same repetition occurs when Moses is called to Mount Sinai. “And Moses went up to God, for the LORD called (Vayikra) to him from the mount, and spake unto him.” Also at the burning bush in the desert. “And when the LORD saw him approaching, God (Vayikra) called him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses! He answered: Here I am!” Thornbush, Mount Sinai and Tabernacle, from all three God first called Moses, and then addressed him. Three spiritual milestones in which God explained to Moses the meaning of his calling with covenants and rules for salvation.

When the prophet Isaiah was called by God, it is also written: “And one called (Vayikra) to another, saying, Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory. Then the posts of the thresholds shook at the voice of their cry, and the house was filled with smoke.” Later in Isaiah’s message of redemption (40) it says: “A voice calls in the desert – Kol Koreh Ba’Midbar.” Calls and desert can also be read like calls and speeches, because desert and speech (מדבר) come from the same Hebrew word root. So here too, the call is followed by speaking.

A calling in life begins with a call, then comes the talking. Isn’t this the origin of a central idea in Western thought? Man chooses a profession or a way of life, not only because of the benefits, but because he feels called to it. I know doctors who studied medicine only because of an inner calling, because they want to heal people in need.

When we see injustice that needs to be corrected, sickness that needs to be healed, or need that needs to be filled, and feel that calling speak to us, then we are moving closer to that call – to hearing the call of God. “And He calls – Vayikra.” But what does this have to do with approaching? To approach in Hebrew is Karev (קרב) and Karev comes from the same root word for sacrifice – Kurban (קורבן). With the call you draw closer to God. The entire book of Leviticus contains the various sacrifices and instructions on how to offer them to God. “A true sacrifice that is valid before God is an offering of oneself to God and thereby coming closer to God. Anyone who only diverts sacrifices from their abundance is not offering themselves,” my father wrote at the time.

So why does Vayikra appear here, at the beginning of the third book in the Torah, right in the middle of the five books of Moses? Because this book is all about sacrifice, about rules between God and man, like rules in every relationship. We are willing to make sacrifices when we feel that this is the call in life that we are called to. How do we know what our calling is in life? Where the inner “What can I do” meets the “What must be done” is where the divine call lies. That’s where God wants us to be, and then He speaks to us.

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One response to “Thoughts on the weekly Torah reading”

  1. Norman K. Beer says:

    I used to subscribe to the magazine “Israel Today”, so now are you renewing it? If so I will recommence. God bless you.

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