This week we begin reading the book of Vayikra, the book of Leviticus, which is nestled in the center of the five books of the Torah. The Hebrew name for the book is the first word, “vayikra” which means “to call out.” This “calling” is a term of affection and care as it is the same word with which the ministering angels call to God. Rashi, one of the Torah commentators suggests that to “call out” to another individual expresses a desire to create a relationship with the one to whom we call, so here as God calls us and we call to God, we establish a relationship together of closeness and love. But how do we create this relationship?
The Torah teaches that each of us is created in the image of God. Part of the obligation which accompanies the honor of being fashioned after God is that we strive to become as “God-like” as we can. The Torah commentators then ask what it means to be God-like. Many suggest the way to do this is to imitate the deeds that God performs in the world and they focus on a number of acts by which God has aided human beings, the times God has reached out and touched the lives of individuals in need: by visiting the sick, burying the dead, comforting mourners, celebrating with bride and groom. It is notable that the ways we become like God are not through “other worldly” activities, not by separation from other people, in fact, exactly the opposite. It involves “calling out” to one another, vayikra, focusing on the needs of others, reaching out to touch their lives with goodness and humanity. These are the gifts that God gives to the world and these are the gifts we can give to each other.
And it is interesting that this week where we begin the section of the Torah concerned most with ritual practice, it reminds us with the first word, vayikra, that ritual is meaningless when it is not accompanied by deeds of goodness and acts of kindness towards one another.
This Shabbat is also Shabbat Zachor, the one which comes immediately before Purim. We read an extra portion of the Torah and a special haftarah where we are called upon to remember Amalek and to blot his name out from the earth so that we forget his existence. Amalek was the person who brought destruction upon the Israelites and is the ancestor of Haman about whom we read at Purim. Many enemies have risen against the Israelites but Amalek is singled out as being the most heinous because of the way he treated other people. Instead of fighting a fair battle he attacked the old and the weak, those who were most vulnerable were his targets and for this reason we must remember him and forget his name. But how can we both remember and forget Amalek? We can remember his crimes and work to eradicate such behavior from the earth so that we usher in a time where we all call out to one another in love and compassion and then no longer even remember Amalek and those like him in the world.
So this Shabbat, Vayikra/Zachor, we call out to one another, we reach out and embrace each other with love and kindness so that we will come to a time of peace, goodness and care for one another.
Shabbat Shalom & Happy Purim!