To hear words of Divine, we must act with humility


Leviticus 1:1 – 5:26

I Samuel 15:1-34*

The word vayikra, with which this parashah begins, means "and He called out." That is, G-d called out to Moses from the tent of meeting. The medieval commentator Rashi explains that the voice of G-d reached Moses' ears, but the Jewish people did not hear it. The voice stopped at the walls of the tent.

One might conclude that the voice was soft and faint, but Rashi teaches that on the contrary, it was powerful, "a voice that breaks cedar trees" (Psalms 29:5). Yet this powerful voice could not be heard even by one who pressed his ear right up against the wall of the tent. How was that possible? A miracle, perhaps? A hallucination?

In his Darchei Mussar, Rabbi Yaakov Neiman suggests a fascinating explanation that is not necessarily a miraculous one. He suggests that it is possible that only Moses heard G-d's voice because he was so attuned to it. It passed right by the others without their even being aware of it.

We know that the ears of different species are set for different audio frequencies. Some sounds that can be heard by one species cannot be heard by others. It would require a very high spiritual frequency to hear the voice of the Almighty. Moses, apparently, was attuned to that frequency.

The Mishnah (Avot 6:2) says in the name of Rabbi Yehoshuah ben Levi, "Every day a heavenly voice (bat kol) goes forth from Mount Horeb and proclaims, 'Woe to humanity because of the Torah's humiliation.'" The fact that none of us has ever heard the heavenly voice doesn't contradict the rabbi's declaration. He and people of his spiritual status undoubtedly heard the voice. They were attuned to the spiritual frequency upon which heavenly voices travel.

Having the faculty of hearing does not always mean that we will hear, just as having the faculty of sight does not always mean the images that reach us will make an impression on our minds and hearts. They may just die away on the surface.

The significance of listening and hearing as well as understanding what G-d has to say to us repeats itself in Scripture.

When, for example, in this week's Haftarah, Samuel speaks to King Saul reproving him for failing to properly fulfill G-d's command, he asks, "Does G-d delight in offerings as He does in listening to His voice? Behold, to obey is better than a choice offering" (I Samuel 15:22). King Saul's inability to hear accurately what G-d said to him through the prophet lost him his kingship.

The secret of Moses' ability to listen may be found in the spelling of vayikra. The alef at the end of this word is a miniature one, written in the Torah in a small diminutive

lower case. The explanation for

this was Moses' renowned humility. Instead of vayikra, which means that the Almighty called to him, Moses wanted to write the word vayikor, without the alef at the end. That would mean that G-d just happened to appear to him in the sense of a happenstance, not deliberately seeking Moses out. G-d insisted on the alef appearing so that we would understand that He called to Moses, but He allowed it to be written as a small letter in recognition of Moses' humility. It was this quality of humility that allowed Moses to be what we would call today a "good listener."

It is interesting that later in our Torah portion, the Torah speaks of a leader who sins: "When a ruler sins (Asher nasi yichtah)" (Leviticus 4:22). The commentators point out that the first letters of these three Hebrew words spell out the work ani (I), implying that the root cause of a ruler sinning is his ego and his pride. Arrogance deafens the ruler to the call of the Almighty.

The Book of Vayikra introduces the concept of sacrifices with the word vayikra to teach us that it is far more important to listen to G-d's word than to bring the choicest offerings to His altar.

Shabbat shalom.