Rabbi Berel Wein
With the beginning of the reading of the Book of Vayikra this Shabbat in the synagogue, the title of the book itself calls out to us for understanding what is meant when the Torah tells us that G-d called out to Moshe. Moshe experiences a special and unique method of G-dly revelation. The Torah testifies to this by describing that G-d, so to speak, talks to Moshe “face to face.” The prophets of Israel receive G-dly communication while in a dreamlike trance. But the thrust of Jewish tradition is that even though there is no longer any type of G-dly prophecy present in our world, G-d still communicates with humans, but He does so in very subtle means – in reflections of human behavior and world events themselves. Free will allows humans to behave as they will, yet there is a guiding heavenly hand in world affairs visible to those who wish to see it. A few decades ago, two scientists won a Nobel Prize for proving their ability to yet hear the echo of the sounds of the original “birth” of the universe at the moment of its creation. We all know that human hearing is possible only within a limited range of wave frequencies. Judaism preaches that good deeds, moral behavior, Torah observance, and loyalty to traditional Jewish values help expand our hearing ability – and this enables us to tune into heavenly sound frequencies which were originally blocked to us. The auxiliary message of Vayikra, when G-d called out to Moshe, is that Moshe’s hearing is so perfectly attuned to heavenly communication, he is always “face to face” with his Creator.
That is the true indication of the greatness of Moshe and makes him the most unique of all the world’s prophets, teachers, and leaders. The word “vayikra,” as written in the Torah, contains a miniature letter “aleph.” This indicates to us that G-d’s message to us is subtle, quiet, and easy to ignore temporarily but persistent and ongoing. As the L-rd told the Prophet Elijah, “I do not appear in the great wind or in earthquakes or other terrifying natural phenomena, but rather in a small, still voice.” Listening to a still, small voice requires good hearing acumen and intense concentration. Casual hearing will not suffice. In our times, the small aleph requires us to really listen and pay attention to what transpires in our personal and national lives. Oftentimes, we, like the Prophet Yonah, attempt to flee from the still, small voice that continually echoes within us. But it remains persistent and waits patiently for our hearing ability to improve in our everyday lives. The Bible teaches us that Shimshon began his career as the savior and Judge of Israel when he was able to hear the spirit of the L-rd beating within his heart. In our busy and noisy lives, with so much incessant sound exploding all around us constantly, we really have little time or ability to listen to our true selves – those small voices that are always speaking to us. Our inner voice is the medium that Judaism uses to teach us that the L-rd calls out for our attention, to give us moral and courageous guidance. But it can only be of value if we listen – and that requires concentration, thought, and commitment. A great sage once remarked that when a Jew prays to G-d, he or she is talking to G-d. But, when a Jew studies Torah, then G-d, so to speak, is talking to him or her. That is one of the reasons that Judaism places such a great emphasis on Torah study. As the Talmud says: “The study of Torah outweighs all other commandments.” It is the proven method for attuning to the spiritual frequencies that beat within us. Our Creator constantly calls out to us, and we have to make every effort to improve our hearing and our listening.