Vayikra: This “Call” Is For You!

Bar mitzvah at Western Wall, Jerusalem. (Steve Lubetkin Photo/Used by permission)
Bar mitzvah at Western Wall, Jerusalem. (Steve Lubetkin Photo/Used by permission)

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

1 Comment

  1. Just an hour before reading Rabbi Address’ reflections on Vaykira, I finished a monthly lunch we call Story Time with several of my Fellows in Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine. The topic we shared at lunch was “finding meaning”. We were searching for ways to respond to increasingly pervasive social, economic, technological and regulatory forces that suck the life from our profession. It was clear to me that my students, these bright, millennial doctors hungered for a sense of calling in their profession no less than I. Like me they believe that meaning and a sense of being called may be found in the connections we make with our patients, in learning about their lives as well as about their illnesses, in asking “what they are famous for” or “what they do for fun.”

    It was also clear that over the course of a lifetime, professional or otherwise, what is meaningful to us and what we feel called to do changes as we learn more about the art and science of medicine, more about life and more about ourselves. With these changes comes growth and with growth, we find meaning.

    I left this month’s story time with a sense of hope, hope based on the understanding that my Fellows yearn to grow both professionally and spiritually and that they will create meaning, will engage and will be the doctors we wish to care for us when we are ill.

    Philip M. Gold M.D.

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