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Absorbing the Kedusha

By Rabbi Jonathan Tawil
March 17, 2016

It is the custom of Am Yisrael, that when someone is called to the Torah, their name is first called out prior to their Aliya.

There is a famous story of how one Shabbat an Israeli who was not a normal attendant to shul was invited for his first ever Aliya.

The Gabai came over to him and asked him what his name was, and he replied “Moshe”. Then the Gabai proceeded to ask him in Hebrew – “Ben…?”

The Gabai was intending to find out his father’s name, but Moshe not understanding this looked at him with a weird face. Moshe thought to himself, this is unusual, why does he want to know my age? “Ben ChamishimVeArba”, he answered – 54 years old. The Gabai, startled, shook his head and said “No no, Aba (your father)?” Again poor Moshe had no idea what he wanted and by then was getting angry. Why does this Gabai wish to know my father’s age? “Ben ShmonimVeShesh” – he is 86!

We are called to the Torah by our name. Part of our name is who our father is, and we are known as X Ben (the son of) Y.

Yet why is it that we need to be called by name to the Torah at all? Why not get the Gabai to just point out the person he chooses to go up to read the Torah?

The answer is hinted at in this week’s Parsha.

After five weeks of reading about the Mishkan, we now turn to the third book of the Torah – Vayikra. This book deals mainly with the instructions concerning the sacrificial rituals and commands that need to be performed in the Mishkan. These sacrifices were continued when they reached the Promised Land and in both Bet Hamikdash – so during a total period of about 1,300 years.

Amazingly close to 250 of the Torah’s 613 permanent commandments are enumerated and described in the book of Vayikra. This means that in some sense ALMOST half of all classical Judaism’s core commandments are to be found in this book.

The English name for this book is Leviticus which seems more appropriate than the Hebrew word. Leviticus indicates that the book deals with the work of the Levites (priests). How is the Hebrew name of Vayikra apt for this section?

The book begins, “He called (Vayikra) to Moshe, and G-d spoke to him from the tent of meeting saying…” Rashi’s opening comment on this portion is: Each time G-d spoke to Moshe, told him something or commanded him, He first called to him. This is a word denoting love and closeness, as we find with the ministering angels, “They call one to another…” (Yishaya 6:3). However, when G-d speaks to non-Jewish prophets, He appears to them ‘incidentally’, as the Torah states, “The L-rd happened (Vayikar) upon Bilam”.

This is a very interesting Rashi, since we know that Hashem always calls to Moshe first before every prophecy. So why did Rashi not make this comment until now? And what difference does it make if G-d calls first before speaking to a prophet, or if He just appears to them?

OhrGedaliyahu explains that when G-d called to Moshe it was as if He was saying ‘Prepare yourself to come near to Me’. This is what Rashi means by calling Vayikra a term of closeness; that it gave Moshe an opportunity to prepare himself and draw nearer to G-d. The Midrash (Rabba, Ki Tavo 7-9) finds a hint to this from the way that G-d gave the Torah to Moshe. The verse states “G-d called Moshe to the top of the mountain – and Moshe elevated himself” (Shemot 19; 20). In a similar vein, when a man comes up to read from the Torah, he must first be ‘called up’.

Through Hashem calling a person, an opportunity is given to prepare themselves to come close to G-d. In this way the Torah that they will receive will not be merely tangential to them, but they will be able to absorb it and make it part of themselves.

This is the opposite of what happened with Bilam. G-d came to him ‘incidentally’ without calling to him first. Though Bilam received a message through prophecy, we see that this fact had no effect on Bilam’s personal conduct. He remained greedy, cunning and steadfast in his hatred of the Jews.

Vayikra deals with sacrifices. The Hebrew word for sacrifice is Korban, which comes from the root Karov, meaning closeness. Rashi is highlighting the fact that it is particularly at this point that the Torah wishes to stress that there needs to be a calling before every Avoda. There needs to be preparation in our service of Hashem.

Nowadays, prayer has replaced sacrifices and it is through our prayers that we draw near to Hashem.

The Gemara (Berachot 6b) relates that RebbeChelbo stated in the name of RavHuna, ‘Whoever fixes a place for his Tefillah (prayer); the G-d of Avraham will help him.’ (Rashi: ‘Just as He helped Avraham.’). The Gemara continues to relate that a person who prays in his MakomKavuah will be called an Anav (a humble one), a Chassid (one who goes beyond the letter of the law,) and a student of AvrahamAvinu.” The Rashba explains that your MakomKavuah helps you settle your mind with the proper Kavanah (intentions) before you pray. You realize before Whom you are standing, and you stand in awe and fear of Him. When you prepare yourself in this way, your tefillah is naturally better.

Similarly the Gemara (Shabbat 10a) Rava bar RavHuna would put on fine shoes when praying, as it says “Prepare yourself to meet your God, O Israel” (Amos 4:12).

Let us all heed the calling from Above, let us enter our prayers with time and preparation, and mayHashem answer our Tefilot Amen.


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