Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Vayikrah-An open invitation to all

“And He called, summoned Moses ...”(Leviticus 1:1)

The book of Leviticus opens with an invitation-from God to Moses. Unlike the many other introductions to moments of communication where we read that God spoke to Moses saying, here it seems as if Moses needed a special introduction , a calling to attention by God before the communication will flow. Many are the interpretations associated with this unique opening between God and Moses.Some portray Moses as standing outside the Tent of Meeting hesitant to enter, awaiting God's summons or permission. We encounter the image of Moses on the outside wanting to get in, wanting to enter into a divine space, yet reluctant, waiting to be invited, to be called upon.Many point to Moses' humility as expressed in the posture of waiting; others understand this withdrawl as a way of showing deference to Aaron his older brother who is responsible for the cult of sacrifices and thus should be addressed by God.

The midrash in Vayikrah Rabah focuses upon the institution of conversion as a part of the attention paid to this phenomenon of being called upon to step forward and enter the space of the divine. The Midrash emphasizes the positive and the desirable aspects of conversion and praises the convert for her decision to abandon idolatry and link her life to the Jewish people.In a very dramatic way, we are being informed that God awaits the stepping forward of not only Jews but all people, making it clear that the torah and the God of Israel are not the exclusive possessions of natural born Jews-all have an opportunity to embrace the reality of the godly in life, so much so that the summons is addressed to all humanity and God' eagerly awaits our response to His open invitation to enter the tent of sacred living.Moreover, according to Jewish law, the non-Jew is permitted to offer sacrifices in the Sanctuary based on the verse: “adam ki yakriv mikem,” adam refers to generic man which is inclusive of the non-Israelite.

The section, which curiously appears to be the most parochial and exclusive to the Israelite- the code of sacrifices- especially since we tend to think of the ethical dimension of religion as the more universal, suggests that the invitation by God to reach out to the holy by way of worship, is in fact extended to all human beings. There is a place for all at the table of sacrifice and giving, and the only cover charge is the willingness of one's heart to respond to the “vayikrah”-the voice of the divine in any way it can be heard.

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