Commentary on Parashat Vayikra, Leviticus 1:1 - 5:26
The last lines of the book of Exodus have Moses placing the finishing touches on the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle is enveloped in clouds with the presence of the Holy One emanating from its center. Moses is prevented from entering because the clouds indicate that the Holy One’s presence is there in full glory. Then the next book, Leviticus/Vayikra, opens with God’s inaugural meeting with Moses.
“And He called to Moses, and God spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting saying…”
Rashi on Leviticus 1:1
“Every time God spoke to Moses, he was welcomed by this calling which was a term of endearment. It was the same language used by the ministering angels for they too, ‘called one to the other…’ (Isaiah)…And the voice went to Moses alone for Israel was unable to hear the sound… Yet, everything God said to Moses for thirty-eight years was for the sake of Israel. It was only after the generation of the spies — those who were afraid to conquer the land of Israel — had died that God spoke to Moses for his sake alone. As it is written, “After all the people from the generation of the war had passed, God spoke to me.” (Deuteronomy 2:16)
Your Rashi Navigator
1. What problem in the text is Rashi addressing?
2. How does he answer it?
3. Rashi says that God’s calling Moses to the tent was done in an endearing manner, but God’s actual words were incredibly harsh, how do you understand this contrast?
4. What allows God to finally have a conversation with Moses?
5. Why does this make a difference?
Rashi calls us to pay attention to the fact that God is literally calling on Moses, but not like a salesperson or a telephone solicitor, but like a relative. It is like heeding “a calling” to what we feel we are destined to be. Moses alone heard this voice even though this was the same voice that echoed thunderously at Sinai. The calling shook his very being, unbeknownst to those throngs milling about the camp.
More amazing is the fact that Moses’s calling was not for him at all, but it was for all of Israel. His calling was to be God’s interpreter, God’s translator, God’s humanizer. Rashi notices that God never had a personal conversation with Moses until after the generation of the spies had all finally died.
God’s work was to try and keep Israel in order; Moses’s calling was to promote the cause of Israel and not his personal relationship with the Holy One. As long as the community wandered in the desert because of their disinclination to enter the land, God would only speak to Israel in stern tones and Moses would not have the benefit of basking in God’s grace.
Nevertheless, when God calls Moses to these meetings, he does so with love, saying that these people are your responsibility, but my tone is directed toward them through you. You, Moses, embody this generation in all they represent. My calling reminds us both that there is the potential for a relationship after our work is done, but only then.
Moses finally gets that conversation after this generation is gone and before the new generation is about to conquer the land. It is there that, “God spoke to me…” Moses says, and Rashi infers that God spoke to him with the gentleness and affection Moses had always deserved.
The promise that the conversation would indeed happen sometime was important enough that Rashi made note of it. It reminds us that how Moses was called made it possible for him to receive the harsh word of his Lord.
Provided by Hillel’s Joseph Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Learning, which creates educational resources for Jewish organizations on college campuses.