The Torah Portion this week is Vayikra, which is the first portion of the book of Leviticus. Leviticus indicates the laws of the Levitical priesthood, which occupies much of this book. So, what is “vayikra”?
Vayikra is the first word of the book. It is found in Leviticus 1:1:
וַיִּקְרָ֖א אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֑ה וַיְדַבֵּ֤ר יְהוָה֙ אֵלָ֔יו מֵאֹ֥הֶל מוֹעֵ֖ד לֵאמֹֽר׃
Adonai called to Moses and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying: (and then commands are listed)…
The rabbis understand that each word in the Torah is placed there for a reason. And, 11th century commentator, Rabbi Shlomo Itzchaki, known as Rashi, says that this particular word is used "as a way of expressing affection, the mode used by the ministering angels when addressing each other" (and then he cites Isaiah 6:3).
According to Rashi, God is calling out to Moses in a familiar voice. A loving voice.
Looking at this same verse, the Talmud notes that God seems to do something twice- first God calls Moses and then God speaks to Moses. Why the repetition? Because, the rabbis say, one should first call to a person and then (once they get their attention) begin speaking.
In each of these cases it seems that God was calling out to Moses specifically and lovingly. It is interesting that this verse precedes an (almost) entire book of rules and laws to follow! It might be understood that these laws were meant as punishments or burdens to bear. However, this framing of this very first verse encourages us to understand a Divine love that requires action in the world. The question is, how do we express love in the world, today and everyday?