This Shabbat we begin the third Torah book, Leviticus. Its’ theme, throughout the book, is a detailed examination of Jewish law. This portion sets the stage for this topic by emphasizing laws of sacrifice. There is a tradition within certain parts of our community that a child begins study of sacred texts with this passage. Indeed, the last letter (aleph) in the first word of the portion , “Vayikra”, is written with a small “aleph” and there is a tradition that speaks to the fact that this smaller letter represents the child. There are several “Midrash” on this letter, some of which also speak to the value of humility. However, I invite you to look just at the first word as a whole, “Vayikra”, “and God called”.
I am very interested in how you react to this powerful image of God “calling”. I wonder how many times in our life we have been “called” but refused to answer or were even unaware of its presence. And I am not concerned as to your definition of God who does the calling. Many who read this may not believe in a Biblical God, but do hold to a belief in some “power” or “life force” that operates in the universe. And what of that “call?” How can we respond? Often we reach a stage in our lives when we know we must change. Sometimes it is a result of external situations, other times–and I think this is very indicative of times as we get older–it is a feeling that something inside of us is changing and that in some way, we are being “called” to move on. This often is unsettling. At times, we may fight it and think these fellings to be not normal.
Rabbi Abraham Twerski comments on this feeling by saying that this internal discomfort may not be a sign of disease or unrest of the soul: “but it may also be true that the discomfort is a sign of health rather than of disease, and that it indicates a need for growth rather than for treatment.” I think this gives us a powerful insight into a way to keep looking forward. Judaism celebrates change. It supports the idea that, no matter what age we may be, growth and personl evolution is a positive value. Indeed, we are being “called” by our faith and our tradition to always look ahead, to engage the future and to never fear answering that call.
Rabbi Richard F Address, D.Min
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.