Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Vayikra Leviticus: 1:1-5:26
Efrat, Israel – “And He called to Moses and the Lord spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting” (Leviticus 1:1).
The formulation of this first verse of the third book of the Bible seems rather strange. Why does the Bible have G-d (as it were) call – or call out – to Moses and then “speak” to him? Why did the Bible merely not open with the words “And the Lord spoke to Moses” without having called him beforehand? The most classical commentary of Rashi notes that whenever a (Divine) speaking or saying or commanding is preceded by a Divine “calling” it is a sign of special love, since “calling” is the verb used by the angels who obviously had a special relationship of love with G-d.
The Midrash Sifra goes one step further, suggesting that whenever the verb of calling (Hebrew Kara) is used, it means that G-d called the individual by name twice and that the individual responded with the word hineni, which means total acceptance and acquiescence to carry out the bidding of the One who is summoning him. This midrash specifically defines G-d’s calling as implying special love and encouragement of a quick response. The proof text is the Divine call to Moses at the burning bush: “…And G-d called to Him from the midst of the bush and He said, ‘Moses, Moses’ and he said, ‘hineni’ (here am I, ready to do Your bidding with alacrity)”.
What I find difficult about this exclamation is the assumption that calling one’s name twice is a signal of special affection. When I think back to my childhood, when my mother of blessed memory (who was the disciplinary in the family) would call out my name once, I responded in a relaxed fashion; however, when I heard her call, “Steven, Steven” (and the second time was usually louder and even with a bit of a threatening voice), I knew I was in trouble. So what is the Midrash teaching when it insists that the calling of a name twice is a sign of special love?
I believe the meaning of the Midrash will become clear when we take note of a time honored mystical concept – which even finds expression in our Selichot prayers during the ten days of Penitence – that there are two images for every individual: the image of the person as he/she is – and the image of the person as it appears in the Divine throne of glory as part of the ethereal chariot (merkava). As Rav J.B. Soloveitchik once explained, there are in reality two yous: you as you are in this world at present, and you who you have the potential to become; this second potential image is engraved on G-d’s throne of glory. Ultimately (after 120 years) we are judged in terms of how great a distance there is between those two yous, between who we are in reality and who we could have been in potential.
In the seven nuptial blessings recited under the marriage canopy and repeated at the conclusion of every festive meal during the first marital week (Sheva Berakhot), there are two blessings which seem to have the same subject, although one is short and to the point and the other is much more descriptive. The first of the two is, “Blessed are You … who forms the human being”. The one immediately following reads, “Blessed are You …. Who has formed the human being in His image, and in the image of the form of his mold has He prepared for him from it an eternal building”. The first of these blessings refers to the individual as he is, who is in love and who loves his/her marriage partner; the next blessing refers to the individual as he/she can potentially become, in accordance with each of their Divine images imprinted on the throne of G-d’s glory. It is this potential image that links the individual with eternity that gives the individual the potential to contribute towards the eternal building of Israel. It is also this potential image which can truly come to be realized now that each of the two individuals comprising the couple is completing his/her own being with having chosen a life’s partner.
I believe that when the Almighty calls out to an individual referring to him or to her by name twice, the first name refers to the individual as he/she is and the second name refers to the individual’s image imprinted on G-d’s heavenly throne; the very fact that G-d mentions the names together means that the Almighty believes that the image of the individual on earth is approaching – and certainly has the possibility of becoming identical with – his potential image of an eternal building. This is certainly a sign of Divine love, of a special relationship which must of necessity exist between such an individual and his/her Parent in Heaven. In no instance is this more evident than in the case of Moses, who developed himself to such spiritual and intellectual heights that he was able to communicate the Divine will and even the Divine words. For an individual such as Moses, the Divine call is really a vocation, a calling which will always bring the response of hineni, immediate and total fealty.