Thursday, May 14, 2009

Listening to the Voice of Vayikra

Listening to the Voice of Vayikra
Iyar 20, 5769 / May 14, 2009
35th day of the Omer

Of the Five Books of Moses, Leviticus - Vayikra - is perhaps the most intimidating and difficult to grasp. It deals throughout the length of its twenty-seven chapters with details of the Temple offerings and issues concerning ritual purity. To be sure, these are topics very foreign to the modern ear, and little wonder, as these subjects, since the destruction of the Holy Temple nearly 2000 years ago, have long been rendered "irrelevant." However, if we can, as our sages intimate, shed off some of our years of skepticism and cynicism that accumulate with life's experiences, and regain the innocence and purity of our earliest youth; if we can lose for a moment the prejudices and preconceived notions upon which we are imbibed in today's western, post-modern humanistic world, then we can begin to rediscover the book of Vayikra and its real message: a love-letter from G-d to man, a message of intimacy and tenderness from the Creator of the universe to His most precious creation.

From the very first word of Leviticus, "vayikra" - "And He (G-d) spoke to Moshe," (Leviticus 1:1), we are taught by the great sage, Rashi, that the choice of this particular word implies affection and, is, in fact the very word used to describe the speech of the angels. And so, it would seem, we are in for something very different in the book of Vayikra, as we depart from the narrative of the experiences of the children of Israel in the wilderness, and, instead, are made party to a direct communication from G-d to His beloved prophet. And if we listen very quietly to the speaking voice of Vayikra, it will become clear to us why the name of G-d, "Hashem," which signifies the Divine attribute of loving kindness, and not harsh restriction, is the name with which G-d signs His communications to Moshe and Aharon, and the children of Israel throughout Leviticus. And then we can begin to open our hearts to the true meaning of the phrase, "a sweet savour unto the L-rd," first used in Leviticus 1:9. Hardly a carnivorous craving for burnt flesh, the phrase, as Rashi explains, describes G-d's sublime satisfaction with His creation, who has performed the offering precisely as He has intended for it to be done. And then we come to understand later in the book of Vayikra that the spiritual affliction, tzar'at, referred to commonly as "leprosy" does not imply some kind of Divine retribution, but is G-d's direct and nurturing way of keeping His children spiritually healthy.

Finally, as we conclude the book of Vayikra this coming Shabbat, we come upon the description of G-d's blessings, "If you follow My statutes and observe My commandments and perform them..." (ibid 26:3), and then the notorious list of curses, "If you do not listen to Me and do not perform all these commandments..." (ibid 26:14) Again, contrary to a popular notion that these are the expressions of an angry, vengeful god, these words of rebuke, in fact, harken back directly to the opening affectionate voice of "vayikra." For what G-d is intimating is the transcending and uplifting, even liberating notion that He doesn't merely require a meticulous and mechanical adherence to His commandments, He also wants us to hearken to His voice - the still, small voice of Vayikra, the intimate, loving, tender Divine voice that speaks to each and every one of us as individuals, if only we will hearken to it. The mighty, thunderous crescendo of Vayikra. which reflects and amplifies the hushed intimacy of the entire book, draws to a close this most tender and personal of the Five Books of Moses.

Sefirat Ha'Omer - Count for Yourselves:Forty-nine Days that can Change your World
The forty-nine days between Passover and Shavuot, (between leaving Egypt and receiving Torah at Sinai), are days laden with awesome spiritual potential. The opportunity for growth is ours for the taking. We invite every one to click on the embedded one-minute inspirational video, and join us as we celebrate the 49 days of the counting of the Omer.
(Click here to view the video if the above embedded link does not work.)

Rabbi Chaim Richman is presently in the United States. Last week's Temple Talk is currently being broadcast on Israel National Radio. Next week will feature a Temple Talk from the archives. A new Temple Talk will be broadcast on May 26, following Rabbi Richman's return to Israel.
For details of the Rabbi's remaining speaking engagements in the USA, please click here.

This week features the new Light to the Nations teaching by Rabbi Chaim Richman, entitled, "Ten Levels of Sanctity, part II: The entire city of Jerusalem is the equivalent of the Israelite encampment in the desert. Its sanctity is greater than elsewhere in the land of Israel, and its special status is eternal." Click here to view.

"But if you will not listen to Me and you will not observe My commandments…" (Leviticus 26:14) G-d requires more than simply fulfilling His commandments. He expects us also to listen to His voice in everything that we do, to be informed by His presence in all our deeds and thoughts. Click here to view Rabbi Richman's short teaching on parashat Behar-Bechukotai (Leviticus 25:1-27-34).

Blessings from the holy city of Jerusalem,
Yitzchak Reuven
PO Box 31876
Jerusalem, Israel 97500

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