Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Parshat Vayikra: The Power of Preparation

I find the opening Rashi to Sefer Vayikra very special:

1. And He called to Moses. Prior to any communication with Moses... God preceded by calling [to Moses] [קְרִיאָה] is an expression of affection, the [same] expression employed by the ministering angels [when addressing each other], as it says, “And one called (וְקָרָא) to the other…” (Isa. 6:3).
To the prophets of the nations of the world, however, He revealed Himself through expressions denoting coincidence and impurity, as the verse says, “and God happened to [meet] (וַיִּקָּר) Balaam” (Num. 23:4). - [Bemidbar Rabbah 52:5] [The expression וַיִּקָּר has the meaning of a coincidental happening, and also alludes to impurity. [See Deut. 23:11, regarding the expression מִקְרֵה לַיְלָה.]

The notion that Kedusha is created by preparation, by planning and forethought, is a cornerstone of Judaism. Contemporary society romanticises about spontaneity as if immediate, instinctive and impulsive actions are an ultimate test of Truth; a window into one's heart, a person's inner world. Hence "Love at first sight" is a virtue in the eyes of some. In fact "Love at first sight" is a very bad idea and will generally lead to a failed relationship. For the success of a love relationship is based upon many qualities but it is something tht is built painstakingly and slowly, over time.

On Friday night, we recite the phrase:

סוף מעשה במחשבה תחילה -
"The (successful) completion of a process is due to the initial thought and planning"

Before God engages Moshe in conversation, He calls out to him, allowing him to prepare and to enter the correct frame of mind, and only afterwards does He engage Moshe in conversation.

Now this Midrash works at a peshat level here too. after all, Rashi is sensitive to the fact that Parashat Vayikra opens in a very unusual manner.

א) וַיִּקְרָא אֶל מֹשֶׁה וַיְדַבֵּר יְדֹוָד אֵלָיו מֵאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד לֵאמֹר:
ב) דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם

Why the double intro here? Why not a simple: ויְדַבֵּר יְדֹוָד אֶל מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר?

A global look at peshat explains it beautifully. At the end of the Book of Shemot, we read:

"Then a cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter into the Tent of Meeting, because the cloud abode on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle."(Exodus 40:34-36)

Moshe is waiting for God to invite him in. Why is Moses not allowed in initially? Why the wait? and ... at what point does God respond? Very simply, it is in our opening passuk:

"And [He] called to Moses, and God spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying..." (Leviticus 1:1)

In other words, Moshe has to wait for God! Then, "Vayikra" - God calls him in - "VaYedaber" - he speaks to him. But why the wait? Back to Rashi... There is value in the wait. It prepares Moshe for the great rendezvous with the Almighty. God does not surprise us. He teaches us the lesson that in order to experience His presence, we need to prepare ourselves, to purify our thoughts and minds.

And indeed our tradition prepares for the entire month of Ellul before Rosh Hashanna, we prepare on Friday so that we are ready for Shabbat. What is Pesach without the planning beforehand? To enter the Temple, all manner of purification processes are necessary! If it is to be worthwhile, it needs prior planning and forethought. The Talmud tells us that the pious men of that era would sit and prepare before prayer. They planned, meditated, studied, for a considerable amount of time. Prayer also needs planning in order to make it meaningful. We cannot expect prayer to be deep and moving if we run off the street with a hundred things on our minds and then say the words. Our minds are elsewhere! Proper prayer needs serious planning.

This lesson is a difficult one in our instant, soundbite, take-out, AIM age. And yet, if we DO want to reach Kedusha, a genuine contact with God in a deep place, a sense of His presence, it needs to be preceded by קריאה - by anticipation and preparation. It takes time; it is a slow, gradual process. It is not sponaneity but rather the hard persistent work that precedes our Encounter with God, allowing us to enter into the "Tent of Meeting."

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