Addressing Our Loved Ones

While God commands Moses, He also calls to him affectionately.

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Provided by the Jewish Theological Seminary, a Conservative rabbinical seminary and university of Jewish studies.

I never heard my parents address each other by their first names. They showed their mutual affection, which remained palpable till late in their lives, by using pet names. My father called my mother "Mutti"(from the German word for mother--Mutter) and my mother always called him "Schatzi" (from the German word for treasure--Schatz). As my father aged, he developed the habit of saying "Mutti" to himself audibly and often, without ever intending to attract her attention. Alone in his study, he would emit the sound of her name when he rose from his desk to get another book or just reclined to rest for a moment. She was clearly the anchor of his life.

A Seminary Story

It was only when I came to the Seminary as a student in 1957 that I realized that "Schatzi" was a common name of endearment among Jews from Germany. Adele Ginzberg (affectionately known to students as Mamma Ginzberg) had never called her late renowned husband, Professor Louis Ginzberg, anything but "Schatzi". Seminary lore recounted that whenever she attended his class in Talmud and interrupted with a comment, as was her wont, she would address him unselfconsciously as "Schatzi" much to the students' delight.

This is the manner in which the rabbis handle an evident redundancy in the first verse of our parashah. The book of Leviticus opens with God instructing Moses on the nature of the sacrificial system to be used in the just finished tabernacle: "The Lord called to Moses and spoke to him from the tent of Meeting, saying...(Leviticus 1:1)."

Our rabbinic ancestors, unlike impatient modern readers, tarry on the "inelegance" of two verbs--"called" and"spoke," where one would have sufficed. Two separate acts are involved, they insist. First, God addresses Moses by name, intimately and affectionately, and only then does the conversation ensue. The force of the verb "va-yikra--and the Lord called" conveys a longstanding relationship. The call is an invitation to resume contact, to begin the dialogue afresh. Moses has done his task exceedingly well. The way God pronounces his name intimates divine satisfaction. We can usually tell what iscoming by how someone initially pronounces our name. The prepositional phrase "to him" suggests that God turns to Moses alone. No one else is privy to what will be said.

One graphic midrash envisions God as taking up residence inthe Tabernacle and finding everything executed exactly as prescribed. The final two chapters of the book of Exodus had stressed after the completion and installation of each artifact that it was done "as the Lord had commanded Moses," as if each object were stamped with God's endorsement. God's reaction resembled that of a king who had instructed his architect to build him a new palace. When finished, the king toured the edifice and discovered that every section bore an inscription with his name. Like that satisfied sovereign, God summoned Moses, who had been waiting respectfully outside, to enter the Tabernacle. God could not have been more pleased.

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Rabbi Ismar Schorsch

Rabbi Ismar Schorsch served as chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary.