The Temple Institute: Temple Talk: II Adar 3, 5771/March 8, 2011

"And He called to Moses"
(Leviticus 1:1)

Who called to Moses? The verse continues, explaining that "HaShem spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting." But the questions remains: Why the mysterious beginning? The book of Leviticus is the third of the five books of Torah. It is the middle book, the very heart of the written Torah. The anonymous nature of "And He called to Moses" almost suggests that we are eavesdropping on a very intimate conversation. Even the Hebrew word which begins the book of Leviticus, Vayikra - "And He called" is written in a unique and mysterious fashion. According to tradition as old as Torah itself, the letter alef, which concludes the word vayikra is written smaller than the other letters. While there are a number of midrashic explanations as to why this is, the smallness of the alef itself lends to the notion that the speaking voice being described in the verse is barely audible, not more than a whisper. In fact, some commentators suggest that only Moses could hear this voice.

Here we are, in the middle of the Five Books, reading the first words of the first verse of the book of Leviticus. If we are indeed witnessing the middle of a conversation, then where did the conversation first begin? We have been discussing during the concluding readings of the book of Exodus, the striking parallels between the account of the six days of creation at the beginning of Genesis, with the description of the building and assembling of the Holy Tabernacle at the conclusion of Exodus. The Tabernacle, by heavenly design, is a microcosm of the world that G-d created. It contains within its boundaries the refined and exalted world which existed before Adam, the first man, and Eve, ate from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. Recalling that incident, we remark that after taking of the fruit Adam and Eve discover their nakedness. They are ashamed and hide themselves from G-d. G-d nevertheless seeks them out and demands that they be accountable for themselves. The result of their actions is that they are banished from the Garden of Eden. They step out of Eden and into the dawn of history.

Now fast-forward to our opening verse in the book of Leviticus. Could it be that G-d is taking up again this pre-exilic conversation with man? Is this why G-d's name is not specifically mentioned in the opening verse? If we are already in the middle of a conversation it is unnecessary to mention the speaker's name each time he speaks. This idea seems to be confirmed in the very next verse where G-d continues: "Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: When a man from [among] you brings an offering to HaShem; from animals, from cattle or from the flock you shall bring your offering." (Leviticus 1:2) The Hebrew word used for "man" in this verse is adam. This particular word has only been used sparingly in Torah since the conclusion of the story of Adam the first man. And in each of these cases it was used to describe a type of man, ("pere-adam" - "a wild ass of a man" Genesis 16:12, "bechor-adam" - "the first-born son of man" Exodus 13:12) . Here in our verse, adam is again being used to designate the man that G-d created.

The Tabernacle has been established and the opening verses of Leviticus mark the beginning of the Divine service. With the advent of the Tabernacle a way has been created for man to step back into the pure existence of the garden of Eden. G-d is calling, whispering to man - adam - through Moses, saying, "You no longer need to be naked and ashamed! Through the performance of the Divine service you and I can re-achieve the intimacy that we enjoyed before you ate from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge!"

And just how is this achieved? In Eden man reached for the spiritually lofty fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, and lowered it by bringing it down into this world of the physical. Here G-d is saying, "When a man from [among] you brings an offering to the Lord; from animals." (Leviticus 1:2) Again, in the Hebrew, the true meaning becomes clear. A more insightful translation of the Hebrew would read like this: "The man within you will bring near to Me his animal nature as an offering!" That is, man will take of the lowliest aspects of his nature, and draw them up spiritually to G-d so as to become closer to G-d. This is the intention of the offerings (korbanot - literally "drawing nears") of the Holy Temple. In this way man - adam - can erase the distance which his error in Eden caused between him and G-d.

Temple are established, it is up to man to take the final steps. To come out from hiding, to come out from the cold of the exile - this is the reason for the Holy Temple and this is the purpose of the Divine service and the animal offerings. This is the secret of Leviticus, the heart of Torah, the culmination of creation!

Tune in to this week's TEMPLE TALK as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven prepare for the awesome day of Purim which is quickly approaching. But what is true joy? Is Purim a time for revelry and ribaldry? Or is there something deeper going on? Our hosts consider the matter and decide that Purim is the most misunderstood holiday on the calendar. We begin reading the book of Leviticus this week, which our hosts call the "Book of G-d's Rights." They find that like vanilla and Purim, Leviticus is lonely... misunderstood, isolated and not fully appreciated for what it really is. It's secret is communicated very quietly in its first three words: "And He called... "

Complete Show