torah: rabbi david etengoff

Small aleph and the greatness of Moshe rabbeinu


Sefer Vayikra begins with a call from G-d to Moshe: “G-d called to Moses, speaking to him from the Communion Tent.” In a celebrated gloss, Rashi, basing himself upon Midrash Rabbah, Vayikra 1:13, notes that the use of “vayikra” (and He called) is significant, since it stands in stark contradistinction to the manner in which Hashem communicated with the non-Jewish prophets of the world: 

“And He called to Moses: Every [time G-d communicated with Moses, whether it was represented by the expression] vayidabare (and He spoke) or vayomer (and He said) or vayitzav (and He commanded), it was always preceded by [G-d] calling [to Moses by name] (Midrash Sifra 1:2-3). [Kriah] is an expression of affection, the [same] expression employed by the ministering angels [when addressing each other], as it says, ‘And one called v’kara to the other’ (Yeshayahu 6:3). To the prophets of the nations of the world, however, He revealed Himself through expressions denoting coincidence and impurity, as the verse says, ‘and G-d happened to [meet] (vayikar) Balaam’ (Bamidbar 23:4). [Midrash Bamidbar Rabbah 52:5] The expression vayikar has the meaning of a coincidental happening, and also alludes to impurity.”

In sum, Rashi opines that the term vayikra connotes a number of crucial aspects of the unique I–thou relationship that obtained between Hashem and Moshe:

1. A planned, respectful, and considered encounter

2. Deep and abiding affection

3. Angelic metaphor, allegorically representing Moshe’s greatness

4. Kedushah (holiness-based) and purity

As Rashi emphasizes, it is essential to realize that this four-pronged approach was completely absent from Hashem’s dealings with the prophets of the other nations, since His meetings with them were mere happenstance. These incomplete revelations took place in secret and in the dead of night, without warning and by surprise, and lacked holiness and purity.

We are finite beings; therefore, it is natural for us to view our relationship with Hashem from our own perspective.

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