Not Just a Casual Fling
by Miri Korbman
Parshas Vayikra begins with Hashem calling Moshe to the Ohel Moed, where He will speak to him about the different Karbanos that will be brought by the Kohanim as part of the Avodah and on behalf of Klal Yisrael. Within the very first word of this Parsha, however, something is immediately, eye-catchingly off. In most Chumashim and Sifrei Torah, the “alef” in the word “Vayikra” is notably smaller than the other letters. Rashi (1:1) notes that according to the Sifra, every time Hashem speaks to Moshe the interaction is preceded by Hashem calling to Moshe, which is an indication of love and affection.
Before starting a conversation with Moshe, G-d beckons to him, invites him, so to speak, in a formal manner. This is in direct contrast to the way in which Hashem speaks to or communicates with “neviim” from other nations, such as Bilam, to whom G-d simply “happens upon,” as the Pasuk says (Balak 23:4), “VaYikar Elokim el Bilam,” - and G-d happened upon Bilam. As is elucidated by the Midrash in Vayikra Raba 1:13, when one looks more closely at the word Vayikra, one can see this alluded to in the smallness of the Alef: with the Alef, the word “Vayikra” refers to Hashem’s careful, purposeful, connected interactions with Moshe. Without the Alef, indicated by its small size, the word appears to read “VaYikar,”- and He happened - a reference to G-d’s far more casual and circumstantial relationship with other nations of the world and their leaders.
G-d’s relationship with Moshe, and with Klal Yisrael, is anything but casual. Hashem beckons to us, sends us a formal invitation to engage with Him, constantly. Through every event and incident personally and nationally, through every Mitzvah, every commandment, every entreaty, Hashem delivers direct messages to us, asking us, “Will you connect with Me?”
When Amalek attacked Klal Yisrael after we left Mitzrayim, the Pasuk says, “Asher Karcha BaDerech,” - they happened upon you (Klal Yisrael) on the way (Devarim 25:18). Amalek’s motto, its battle cry, is that everything is happenstance. Amalek “happened upon us,” just as, they believe, we “happened” to have been able to leave Egypt. God? Who is He? What concrete, tangible role can He possibly play? Amalek wants us to behave and feel casually toward God and about our relationship toward Him. Don’t take things so seriously – it’s merely coincidental! This attitude and perspective is the embodiment of Amalek we are commanded to eradicate, because it is so, so far from the truth.
For the rest of the world, who act and think according to this Amalek mentality, daily events, world history, life-changing, world-stopping pandemics – these things are happenstance, circumstantial, perhaps explained by science – except when they are not.
Later in Sefer Vayikra, Hashem will warn Klal Yisrael, “V’im b’zos lo tishmi’u li, v’halachtem imi b’keri,” if you don’t listen to Me and you act casually toward Me, “v’halachti imachem b’chamas keri,” I too will act casually toward you (26:27-28). The warning is clear: Hashem is telling us “My children, when you stop taking Me seriously, when you begin treating our relationship as a casual fling, something you can drop in and out of, it will be so difficult for you to feel that I am treating you with anything but casual happenstance. You will forget that I love you, you will fear that I have left you, you will look for Me, but will struggle to find Me, because you will have forgotten how to really see Me.”
The Navi (Shmuel 15:22) asks rhetorically, “HaChafetz laHashem b’olos u’zvachim kishmoa b’kol Hashem,” - does Hashem want sacrifices as much as He wants us to listen to Him? The Navi was chastising the Jewish people for bringing Karbanos without intent, for engaging in Hashem’s Mitzvos in a rote and unfeeling manner, for acting casually toward the Mitzvos, for dropping in and out of observance and neglecting the actual relationship. Chazal note (Sanhedrin 106b) “Rachmana Liba Bai,” Hashem desires our hearts. Hashem wants us, and wants us to want Him and His Torah. Before beginning Parshas Vayikra, where we will learn all about the Karbanos, the daily offerings that inherently draw us closer to G-d and are thusly named (Karban, from the word “karov,” to be close), we must be stopped and reminded of this: God invites Moshe, He calls to him. Our relationship is purposeful, it is not “Vayikar,” happenstance, and so, too, our relationship cannot be “bikeri,” casual.
Sometimes, when we are following laws and traditions, doing everything we need to do, we begin to forget the meaning, the feeling, the intent of those Mitzvos and tasks we are doing. With big things, like Karbanos, this happens and results in Karbanos being taken from us. Now, as most of us are stuck inside without being able to attend Minyanim, without being able to go to Shul and hear Torah reading on Shabbos, without being able to attend weddings or Bar Mitzvahs, the “big things” in Judaism feel as though they are being withheld from us. Most especially and perhaps painfully, the idea of a small, quiet Pesach Seder, sans the large gatherings of family and friends, is looming over our heads. We feel a keen sense of loss.
There is no more infamous psychological concept than this: you don’t know or appreciate what you have until you have it no longer. When these Mitzvos, these connectors to G-d that we perhaps treat far too casually, are taken from us, we are suddenly awakened, and our Ratzon, our desire, is ignited. We must miss what we had, for Chazal tell us “ain davar ha’omed bifnei haratzon,” - nothing stands before desire.
I heard the following incredible idea this week from Faigy Blumstein, an amazing human being and a wonderful educator at Meor Manhattan. The Ramchal explains that in order to fix the physical part of the world, we need to do finite physical actions; in order to fix the world spiritually, we need something infinite, and desire itself is infinite. Wanting something, longing for and imagining something, has a tremendous spiritual power. When we lose access to those Mitzvos we may have taken for granted, we can begin to want them, to desire them once more. Hashem has taken the actions from us to awaken us, to shake us from our casual stance and approach to Judaism. “Want Me!” He cries out, “See Me!” He calls, “be here with Me; miss Me,” He beckons.
Every single moment of this history we are living through is irrefutable proof that God is in control of the world. His reign is purposeful, not circumstantial. And our relationship might have been wilting, it may have become rote, casual. Prayer (the replacement for sacrifices) may have been taken for granted. No more. This week, we strive to take our relationship with Hashem seriously. While we may not have the Karbanos, we can long for them. We can imagine the Beis HaMikdash restored to its glory, just as we can imagine going to Shul again, with our whole community. We can envision a Pesach Seder overflowing with guests of all Jewish stripes. We can picture huge gatherings of Jews, sanctifying God’s name, loudly, publicly, joyfully. And when we are not using our incredible power of imagination to fuel this desire and connect us to G-d, we can focus on those Mitzvos that we can do.
Every single small Mitzvah we can do this week, in the confines of our homes, wherever and with whomever we find ourselves, is now a Big Mitzvah. Each blessing we recite, each word of prayer we utter, each kind deed we do, each moment of patience with others, each second we hold back from gossip, each recognition of God’s omnipotence, each phone call to a lonely friend or relative – these are the indicators of our Serious Relationship with God. Let’s show G-d we know how seriously He takes us; He is here with us – and He is staying.