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Vayikra(Leviticus 1-5)

Angelic Speech

God calls to Moshe from the midst of the Mishkan, and God speaks. Rather than, "God spoke to Moshe," or even, "God called Moshe and spoke to him," the text reads "(He) called to Moshe, and God spoke to him". Rashi, clearly bothered by this awkward syntax, explains that this verse serves as an archetype for all Divine communication: First, Moshe was called, and only then was he addressed by God. Before the Word of God came to Moshe, there was a preliminary step. God reached out to Moshe, engaged him, invited him.

For all the statements, sayings and commandments, a calling preceded; this is a language of affection, a language used by the angels who serve on high, as it says (Yeshaiyahu 6): 'One called to the other.' But to prophets of the idolatrous nations, God reveals Himself in a fleeting language, (a language) of impurity, as it says "The Almighty happened upon Bil'am." 1

While we may have romantic notions of prophesy, there are times when the Word of God is described as a burden 2, especially when the message is a difficult one. A sudden revelation of the Word of God could cause sensory overload. We are therefore taught that the Word of God came to Moshe after a warm, loving invitation, preparing him emotionally, intellectually and physically for the awesome experience of communication from God.

Rashi cites a verse in the Book of Yishaiyahu in which the angels utilize this same form of preparation for their own prayers: they call and answer one another, using much the same language as God uses here when He calls out to Moshe. Interestingly, this proof-text contains a doxology: The angels prepare to speak to God, a reverse gesture to that of the verse at the start of Vayikra in which God speaks to man.

* * *

SPEAKING LIKE ANGELS

We know of another instance in which the speech of angels, even the "secret speech of angels," is mentioned; there, it was the Jewish People who utilized angelic speech to accept the Torah:

Rabbi Elazar said: When the Israelites gave precedence to 'we will do' over 'we will listen,' 3 a Heavenly Voice went forth and exclaimed to them, 'Who revealed to My children this secret, which is employed by the ministering angels, as it is written, 'Bless the Eternal God, ye angels of His, ye mighty in strength, that fulfill His word, that listen to the voice of His word.' First they fulfill and then they listen. (Talmud Bavli Shabbat 88a)

* * *

MOSHE'S GIFT

All of Israel accepted the Torah; unified, as one, they proclaimed, "na'aseh (we will do) v'nishma (and we will listen)," 4 employing the angelic formula which puts action before listening. This is angelic speech, uttered by man and directed towards God; the angels use this formula in speech among themselves, and here in the opening verse of Vayikra, God uses this same type of formula to address Moshe.

The voice travelled and reached (Moshe's) ears; the rest of Israel did not listen...

The voice came only to Moshe. All others heard silence. Why? When the Voice of God rang out at Sinai, readily audible to the entire nation, the people recoiled; they were not ready to listen to the Voice of God. They begged that God speak to Moshe and that Moshe then transmit the Word of God to them. They did not wish to listen.

And all the People saw the thunder, and the lightning, and the sound of the shofar, and the mountain smoking; and the People were shaken, and stood far away. And they said to Moshe, 'Speak with us, and we will listen; but let not the Almighty speak with us, lest we die. And Moshe said to the People, 'Fear not; for the Almighty has come to test you, and that fear of Him may be before your faces, that you sin not. And the People stood far away, and Moshe drew near to the thick darkness wherein (resides) the Almighty. (Sh'mot 20:15-18)

Their reluctance had profound ramifications. Despite their bold statement, "We will listen," - they would not to listen. It should come as no surprise, then, that the Word of God came only to Moshe.

Earlier, in our discussion of the sin of the Golden Calf, 5 we examined the symbiotic relationship between na'aseh and nishma. The Talmud and Midrash point out that the sin of the Golden Calf damaged the commitment the Jewish People had made to na'aseh: transgression of the commandment forbidding all idolatrous images was abandoned so soon after the Jews declared "na'aseh" - "We will do," we will fulfill the mitzvot. At the moment they transgressed, they were stripped of the two crowns with which the angels had adorned each of them: the crowns of na'aseh and nishma were forfeited.6

R. Simla lectured: When the Israelites gave precedence to 'we will do' over we will listen, six hundred thousand ministering angels came and set two crowns upon each Israelite, one as a reward for 'we will do', and the other as a reward for 'we will listen'. But as soon as Israel sinned, one million two hundred thousand destroying angels descended and removed them, as it is said, 'And the children of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments from Mount Horev.' R. Hama son of R. Hanina said: At Horev they put them on and at Horev they put them off. At Horev the put them on, as we have stated. At Horev they put them off, for it is written, 'And [the children of Israel] stripped themselves,' etc. R. Yohanan observed: And Moshe was privileged and received them all, for in proximity thereto it is stated, 'And Moshe took the tent.'

The two crowns with which Israel were adorned represent the two spheres that are uniquely human. Na'aseh represents creative human action, that uniquely human realm of purposeful 'doing,' the realm of the hands and arms. Nishma represents the realm of human intelligence, of thought and understanding - the realm of the head. The choices they made, their actions and their reluctance to stand up and listen to the Word of God, caused the Jews to forfeit both crowns. Moshe, who had no part in the sin of the Golden Calf, who alone heard the Voice of God Mipi haGevura, was given all of the crowns that the Jews had forfeited. Rashi credits these crowns as the source of the glow of Moshe's face.7 Only on Shabbat do the rest of the Jewish People re-take some of this glory. This, according to the Ariza"l, is the neshama yeteira which we each receive on Shabbat.8

Citing this teaching of the Ariza"l, Rav Zadok of Lublin draws a fascinating parallel of cause and effect, spiritual malady and cure99: Rav Zadok connects the two crowns, representing the pro-active na'aseh and the intellectual nishma, to the Mitzva of the Tefilin (Phylacteries) of the hand and of the head.10 The Jews corrupted these two human capabilities; as an antidote, they were given the commandment of Tefilin. This may explain why we do not don Tefilin on Shabbat. Additionally, women, who according to tradition did not sin at all in the Golden Calf episode, are not obligated to wear Tefillin.

* * *

TO BE ANGELIC

The language of the angels may have an additional connotation. Every angel has a unique role and task; no two angels are bidden to perform the same task, and no angel is asked to perform two tasks.11 Yet in order to offer praise to God, they call out, inviting one another to join in.

And one cried to another, and said, 'Holy, holy, holy, is the Eternal God of Hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.' (Yeshayahu 6:3)

The Meztudot David (commentary to Yeshayahu 6:3) explains that the invitation allows the angels to synchronize their prayer, to utter praise together. The sound that is formed is the sound of one voice, completely unified.

This unity was also a central aspect of receiving the Torah, when the Jews stood "as one man, with one heart" at the foot of the mountain.12 This unity surely colored their cry, "we will do and we will listen"; they spoke like angels, both in form and in content.13

* * *

TO TEACH LIKE AN ANGEL

Rashi continues his comments with a statement of primary importance for all educators:

The voice travelled and arrived at the ears of Moshe, the rest of Israel did not listen. You would think that the invitation was for the "pauses" as well; therefore it teaches "He spoke": for speech there was an invitation, but not for the pauses. And what was the purpose of the pauses? To give space to Moshe to contemplate between sections and between topics. Certainly a common person teaching a common person (should conduct himself likewise).

The scene we have before us involves the ultimate teacher, and the ultimate pupil - the teacher is God, the student, Moshe Rabbenu. The teaching method employed was meant to assure maximum understanding: God invites Moshe to hear His words, and then "gives Moshe space" to understand, consider and internalize the lesson. All intellectual pursuits can be challenging. A teacher must have patience in order to assure that the information transmitted is understood, processed and internalized. If, says Rashi, this is true of this teacher and this student, kal vachomer - how much more so - when mere mortals are involved.

* * *

A DIVINE PAUSE

The pause that Rashi speaks of here is intriguing. This is the first verse of a new Book; where is there a pause for contemplation? The answer may be unexpected: The pause is represented by the white part of the parchment, the part not written upon, the part left empty. There are spaces between letters, between words, and at times between one sentence and the next, but the largest white space in a Torah scroll is between one Book and the other.

The Books of Sh'mot and Vayikra cannot and should not be separated: In the final scene of Sh'mot, Moshe stands at the doorway of the completed Mishkan, poised to enter. As Sh'mot comes to an end, his quest is held in abeyance.

Then a cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the Glory of the Eternal God filled the Mishkan. And Moshe was not able to enter into the Tent of Meeting, because the cloud abode on it, and the Glory of the Eternal God filled the Mishkan. And when the cloud was taken up from over the Mishkan, the Children of Israel went onward in all their journeys; but if the cloud was not taken up, then they journeyed not till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the Eternal God was upon the Mishkan by day, and fire was on it by night, in the sight of all the House of Israel, throughout all their journeys. (Sh'mot 40:34-38)

The Mishkan is completed, yet Moshe waits; he has time to think, to prepare, to contemplate. When the voice calls out to him, he enters; now the lesson can begin. The pause is the white parchment between the Book of Sh'mot and the Book of Vayikra. When we understand that Vayikra is very much a continuation of the book of Sh'mot, the seemingly awkward language used in the first verse becomes less strange - "And (He) called to Moshe" picks up where Sh'mot left off, with Moshe at the door of the Mishkan, waiting to be invited in. The encounter begins, but it is a continuation of the previous scene.

The stage is set: In this new/old scene, God speaks to Moshe, for the people choose not to be spoken to. The crowns which they had previously received have now been transferred to Moshe, and his face is adorned by a wondrous glow. Yet despite the choices the People have made, despite the sin of the Golden Calf, despite having opted to hear the Word of God indirectly - despite having been stripped of the crowns of na'aseh and nishma - the Jewish People is neither estranged from God nor unworthy of Divine communication.

"(He) called to Moshe, and God spoke to him, to say:" Go and speak words of endearment: 'It is for you that He speaks to me.' For we find that during the entire 38 years when Israel was as outcasts due to the (sin of the) spies, from that point onward God did not speak to Moshe...

Just as the source of Moshe's glow is from the collective, the Word of God comes to Moshe because of the nation as a whole. In the merit of the collective, God speaks to Moshe; although the People rejected their ability to listen, forfeiting their commitment to nishma, the Torah still belongs to them. It is theirs, and Moshe becomes Moshe Rabbenu, Moshe our Master Teacher, because, from this point onward, his sole purpose is to act as a conduit between God and the Jewish People, returning to them what is rightfully theirs.

Perhaps Rashi's kal vachomer regarding God's teaching methods applies equally to the other elements we have noted in this verse: God calls out to Moshe, creating a warm and loving relationship, encouraging and engaging him. While an atmosphere of fear and intimidation may cause a student to be attentive, this is not the appropriate manner to transmit Torah. If we are to transmit the Words of the Living God, we must emulate God in this way, too.

When the Talmud describes the type of person from whom we should learn Torah, it brings a verse from the Book of Malachi.

7. For the priest's lips should guard knowledge, and they shall seek the Torah from his mouth; for he is an angel (messenger) of the Eternal God of Hosts.

And so said Rabbah b. Bar Hana: R. Yohanan said, What is the meaning of the verse, 'For the priest's lips should guard knowledge, and they shall seek the Torah from his mouth; for he is the messenger (angel) of the?' [This means that] if the teacher is like an angel of the Eternal God of Hosts, they should seek Torah from his mouth, but if not, they should not seek Torah from his mouth! (Talmud Bavli Chagigah 15b)

An angel is a messenger of God.14 Angels transmit the Word of God exactly as they have received it; they reflect the message, and seek to help those receiving the message to connect, through that message, with God. The angel does not attempt to re-create you in its own image; the angel reflects to you the Image of God, and helps you rediscover the Divine Image within yourself.15

The Divine Image which the angel reflects - both the Image of God who has sent the message, and the Divine Image within man that the angel addresses - is unique. As we have noted, each angel is unique; each angel has its own identity, its own task. Just as God is unique, His messenger is unique, and every person, created in the image of God, has uniqueness.16 A teacher who strives to create pupils in his own image, accomplishes the opposite of true Torah education: The teacher of Torah is tasked with helping each and every one of his students find their own, unique Divine Likeness within.

When the Jewish People accepted the Torah, we spoke in a unified voice, like the angels; we gave precedence to na'aseh over nishma, like the angels. But when we stepped back, passing up the historic opportunity to listen to the Voice of God, we sent a messenger of our own to do the job in our place. Moshe listens for us; in turn he becomes the teacher, the messenger of God, the angel sent to reconnect us with Torah, with God, and with the Divine Image within each and every one of us.

The word of God comes to Moshe, spoken in the language of angels. It comes to Moshe because the people could not listen. But it comes to Moshe in the merit of the people who themselves once spoke like angels. To fulfill his role, Moshe must be like an angel; he must be a true teacher. To succeed in his task, Moshe must teach each person in a way most suited to their unique needs and capabilities. Moshe does not attempt to re-create Israel in his own image; rather, he becomes a conduit between man and God. Like an angel, he conveys the Word of God exactly as he received it, enabling the message of Torah to resonate within each individual's tzelem Elokim.17 We, in turn, put on the Tefilin of the arm before the Tefilin of the head, echoing the angelic formula which we hope to reinstate: "Na'aseh v'nishma - We will do, and we will listen."

The angels represent a wonderful merger between individualism and the collective. Each angel has its own unique role, its own unique voice. But it is specifically with this diversity of voices that the angels praise God - in unison. The uniqueness of each is maintained; disparate spiritual needs and levels, so much a part of individuality, are not sacrificed or disregarded. What a wonderful sound is achieved when each unique, individual voice calls out with respect and love to the others to join in worshipping God!18


NOTES

1. The difference between "He Called" and "happened upon" )vayiker) is the letter aleph; this distinction is diminished, due to the sbeing written with a small font (vayikra). For more on the smaller font see http://www.aish.com/torahportion/moray/Vayikra_-_And_He_Called.asp.

2. See for example Malachi 1:1 - "The burden of the word of the Eternal God to Israel by Malachi."

3. Sh'mot 22:7.

4. Rav Yehonatan Eybishitz explains that Jews who have faith are transformed by action; others, who adopt a philosophical approach as their starting position, require to "hear" first, something which he understands as an intellectual process. This idea is echoed and elucidated by the Yismach Moshe (Moshe Teitelbaum), Parshat Mas'ei, page 86.

5. See my comments on Parshat Vayakhel 5769.

6. See Midrash Rabbah Shmot 42:1.

7. Rashi Talmud Bavli Shabbat 88a, for more about this glow see my comments to Bereishit 5769 "Clothing of Light."

8. See the comments of the Sfat Emet Ki-Tisa 5661.

9. Rav Zadok Hakohen Pri Zaddik Bamidbar section 10, also see Rav Zadok Hakohen Pri Zaddik Chanukah section 23, Rav Zadok Hakohen Pri Zaddik 15th of Av section 1.

10. Rav Zadok also notes that the Talmud (Megila 16b) associates the term Vayikar with Tefilin, these same letters are visually striking in the word Vayikra, where the aleph is written in a smaller font. This same point can be found in the Ahaiv Yisrael Vayikra.

11. See Bereishit Rabbah 50:2: "It was taught: One angel does not perform two missions, nor do two angels together perform one mission."

12. See Sh'mot 19:2, and Rashi's comments.

13. See Rav Zadok Hakohen Pri Zaddik Pesach Sheni section 2.

14. See Shem Mishmuel Vayakhel 5673.

15. Rav Noach Weinberg shared this insight with me in a private conversation regarding Talmud Bavli Chagigah 15b. See comments of Ibn Ezra to Malachai 2:7.

16. This was a recurring theme in many of the lectures of Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik.

17. See Sfat Emet Vayikra 5636.

18. The Rambam (Guide for the Perplexed part 2 chapter 32) implies that at Sinai, each person saw revelation in a different manner, see Commentary of the Recanati Sh'mot 20:1.


Published: March 21, 2009

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Visitor Comments: 1

(1) Bahia Betina Masri, March 25, 2009 1:38 AM

the love that God gave Moses is great.

this same God´s love was trasmited to the jewish pepeol so they love Him with all their fear and may keep Him near.Without the love of God nothing is worthy to live.

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