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Parsha and Manuscript: Vayikra – ‘G-d Calling Moses’

Friday, 27 March, 2020 - 1:49 pm

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In the opening of the book of Leviticus, it states:[1] ‘And He called to Moses (Vayikra el Moshe) and the Lord spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying: speak to the children of Israel and say to them: when a man from among you brings a sacrifice to the Lord; from animals, from cattle or from the flock you shall bring your sacrifice.’ The question that arises is: why does it state that G-d first called and then spoke to Moses, when it would have been sufficient to have written, as in most statements in the Torah, that G-d spoke to Moses without mentioning that G-d called him first?

 

First interpretation - Affection

 

In the printed edition of the commentary of Rashi (1040-1105) it comments - from the Midrash - that ‘calling’ is an expression of affection and preceded all communications to Moses:[2]

 

And He called to Moses: Every time G-d communicated with Moses, whether it was represented by the expression “And He spoke (va’yedaber),” or “And He said (va’yomer),” or “And He commanded (va’yetzav),” it was always preceded by G-d calling to Moses by name.[3] Calling (k’riah) is an expression of affection (chibah), the same expression employed by the ministering angels when addressing each other, as it says in Isaiah:[4] “And one called to the other.”

 

Torat Kohanim - Two parts

 

The source of this teaching is from the third century Midrash Sifra on Leviticus, known as Torat Kohanim, attributed to Rabbi Hiyya. In the Midrash there are two parts: 1. All the communications to Moses were preceded by G-d calling Moses.[5] 2. The calling is a sign of affection (chibah).[6] Both these points are mentioned in the printed edition of Rashi.[7]

 

Midrash Rabba – calling

 

A similar teaching, but without mentioning the second part of the commentary that calling is a sign of affection, can be found in Midrash Rabba, where it states:[8] ‘If on Sinai, which was temporary, G-d did not speak to me before being called first, as it says in Exodus:[9] ‘And G-d called Moses from Mount Sinai saying,’ at the Tent of Meeting which is more permanent, as it’s for generations, G-d knew and called him, as it says:[10] ‘And He called to Moses.’

 

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Manuscripts – omits affection

 

In the Rashi manuscripts at Oxford’s Bodleian Library, the two parts of the commentary can be found in: MS. Oppenheim Add. 4o 188 (1301-1400), MS. Canonici, Oriental 81 (1396), MS. Michael 384 (1399), MS. Oppenheim 35 (1408) and MS. Canonici Oriental 35 (1401-1425). In MS. Oppenheim 34 (1201-1225), it however omits the second part of the commentary, that ‘calling’ was a sign of affection; it merely states that calling preceded all communications to Moses. 

 

Second interpretation - Etiquette

 

A second interpretation is from the Talmud in tractate Yoma,[11] where it says: “And He called to Moses: this teaches etiquette (Derech Eretz) that a person should not say anything to another unless he calls him first.” Rabbi Shmuel Eidels (1555-1631), known as the Maharsha, explains that the point of the Talmud is that one should call a person by using their name before speaking with them. This Talmudic interpretation can be found in two of the manuscripts: MS. Canonici Oriental 81 (1396) and MS. Canonici Oriental 35 (1401-1425). In the former, it appears first, followed by Torat Kohanim - that calling precedes all communications to Moses, while in MS. Canonici Oriental 35 (1401-1425), it appears after the teaching from Torat Kohanim – that calling precedes all communication to Moses. In the other manuscripts and the printed edition it does not appear at all.

 

Etiquette as separate to affection

 

The distinction between these two interpretations – etiquette and affection - is indicated by the fact they appear as two commentaries in the manuscripts. A difference in application is that the idea of affection suggests twice calling by name, as with Moses by the burning bush, and by extension, though not explicitly mentioned, in the beginning of Leviticus - that Moses’ name was in fact repeated twice. The idea of etiquette suggests a person's name should be called before speaking, but once is sufficient. As mentioned, in the printed edition and the majority of the manuscripts, the interpretation from the Talmud about etiquette, that a person should always call a person by their name before speaking to them, is omitted altogether. 

 

Third interpretation - Could not enter

 

A third interpretation, from the Midrash, is that calling of Moses was the granting of permission for Moses to enter. This idea is expressed in the above-mentioned Midrash Rabbah:[12]

 

If on Sinai which had G-d’s holiness only for the giving of the Torah, I did not ascend without first being granted permission, as it says in Exodus:[13] ‘And G-d called Moses from Mount Sinai saying,’ at the tent of meeting which is for generations, how can I enter inside of it, unless G-d calls me, as it says in the first verse of Leviticus: ‘And He called to Moses.’

 

Based on this need of ‘permission’ for Moses to enter, the commentaries juxtapose the beginning of Leviticus with the end of the book of Exodus, where it states that Moses was unable to enter the tent of meeting:[14] ‘Moses was not allowed to enter the tent of meeting because the glory of G-d was present.’ It is therefore necessary for G-d to call Moses to enter.

 

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Widely accepted

 

Aside from Rashi, the commentaries from the 12th century until the 19th century follow this third interpretation that connects the beginning of Leviticus with the end of Exodus. The commentaries that discuss this interpretation include Rabbi Shmuel ben Meir, known as the Rashbam (1085-1158),[15] Ibn Ezra(1089-1167),[16] Nachmanides (1194-1270),[17] the Tosafot of the 13th century,[18] Rabbi Hezekiah Bar Menoach, known as the Chizkuni (1250-1310),[19] Rabbi Isaac ben Judah Abarbanel (1437-1508),[20] Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno (1475-1550)[21] and Rabbi Moshe Alshich in the 16th century (1508-1593).[22] In the 19th century, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812) continues to draw on the juxtaposition, explaining that the phrase: ‘the Glory of G-d was full (malei) in the Tabernacle,’ as opposed to filled (milei) the tabernacle, implies that the Tabernacle was full of the Glory of G-d in its source, not just its emanation. This is what prevented Moses from entering, despite his lofty spiritual stature. The calling to Moses, then, was an expression of drawing down the higher level of the Glory of G-d to Moses that allowed him to enter.

 

Why does Rashi ignore the interpretation? 

 

Why does Rashi ignore this third interpretation? This question is highlighted in the Oxford manuscripts that in fact bring the second interpretation from the Talmud about etiquette but not the third interpretation juxtaposing the beginning of Leviticus with the end of Exodus. In addition, why is the teaching from the Talmud about etiquette omitted in the printed edition and most of the manuscripts?[23]

 

Moses entered when the cloud lifted

 

There are two considerations for Rashi’s selection of commentary in the printed edition, omitting the most prevalent interpretation about the juxtaposition of the beginning of Leviticus with the end of Exodus. A problem with this juxtaposition is that Rashi, in his commentary on the verse in Exodus:[24] ‘Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting for the cloud rested upon it, and the Glory of G-d filled the Tabernacle,’ comments that Moses did not need permission to enter the tent of meeting:

 

Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting:[25] but one other passage says: ‘And then Moses would enter the Tent of Meeting,’[26] which is an apparent contradiction. The third passage came and reconciled them:[27] ‘because the cloud rested upon it.’ You may henceforth say that as long the cloud was upon it, he could not enter, but when the cloud withdrew, he could enter and G-d would speak with him.[28]

 

Accordingly, when the cloud was present, Moses indeed was unable to enter the Tent of Meeting, but after it departed he was able to enter. This removes the notion that Moses was instilled with fear and G-d had to call him to enter when the cloud was present, as Moses entered on his own once the cloud departed. For this reason Rashi does not bring the commentary that connects ‘calling’ Moses at the beginning of Leviticus with his inability to enter because of fear at the end of the book of Exodus.

 

Opening with affection

 

A further consideration of Rashi, besides the difficulty in juxtaposing the beginning of Leviticus with the end of Exodus, is to see the opening of the book of Leviticus connected, not with the end of the book of Exodus but, with the beginning of Exodus and, indeed, the beginning of the other books of the Torah, whereby they all open with an expression of G-d’s affection for Israel.[29] In the opening of the book of Genesis, Rashi comments:[30] ‘Now for what reason did He commence with:[31] “In the beginning G-d created heaven and earth?” Because of the verse:[32] “The strength of His works He related to His people, to give them the inheritance of the nations.”’ In the opening of Exodus, it opens with the counting of the Jewish people, whereby Rashi comments: ‘And these are the names of the sons of Israel: Although G-d counted them in their lifetime by their names,[33] He counted them again after their death, to let us know how precious they are to Him, because they are likened to the stars, which He takes out from beyond the horizon and brings in by number and by name, as it is said: who takes out their host by number; all of them He calls by name.[34]

 

In the book of Numbers, the Torah begins with the counting of the Jewish people in the second month of the second year from the Exodus:[35] ‘The Lord spoke to Moses in the Sinai Desert, in the Tent of Meeting on the first day of the second month,[36] in the second year after the Exodus from the land of Egypt, saying: Take the sum of all the congregations of the children of Israel, by families following their fathers’ houses; a head count of every male according to the number of their names.’ Rashi comments:[37]

 

The Lord spoke in the Sinai Desert on the first of the month: Because they were dear to Him, He counted them often. When they left Egypt, He counted them;[38] when many fell because of the sin of the golden calf, He counted them to know the number of the survivors;[39] when He came to cause His divine Presence to rest among them, He counted them. On the first of Nissan, the Mishkan was erected, and on the first of Iyar, He counted them.

 

In a similar vein, Rashi chooses a commentary in the opening of the book of Leviticus to explain G-d calling Moses, before speaking to him, following the above theme, reflecting the affection of G-d for the Jewish people. For this reason, in Rashi’s view, the most suitable interpretation for G-d calling Moses before speaking to him is from Torat Kohanim - to show a sign of affection. It is for this same reason the commentary of the Talmud about etiquette is also omitted in most versions of Rashi. Although a lesson in etiquette is a valid reason for a superfluous word in the Torah, in this case, Rashi aims to be consistent with his commentary on the text of the Torah in the opening of the other books of the Torah, indicating the idea of G-d showing an endearment to Moses and indeed the Jewish people.

 

 


 

[1] Leviticus 1:1-2.

[2] Ezrat Kohanim on Torat Kohanim 1:12.

[3] Torat Kohanim 1:2-3.

[4] Isaiah 6:3.

[5] Torat Kohanim 1:1-9.

[6] Torat Kohanim 1:12.

[7] The complete commentary as found in Torat Kohanim includes also the detail that the calling of Moses twice by name: Moses, Moses, is a sign of affection. 

[8] Exodus Rabba 46:3.

[9] Exodus 19:3.

[10] Leviticus 1:1.

[11] Talmud Yoma 4b: Rabbi Zerika raised a contradiction between verses before Rabbi Elazar, and some say that Rabbi Zerika said that Rabbi Elazar raised a contradiction: It is written in one place: “And Moses was not able to enter into the Tent of Meeting because the cloud dwelt on it” (Exodus 40:35), as Moses was unable to enter the cloud. And it is written elsewhere: “And Moses came into the cloud” (Exodus 24:18). This teaches that the Holy One, Blessed be He, grabbed Moses and brought him into the cloud since he could not enter on his own. The school of Rabbi Yishmael taught: There is a verbal analogy that resolves this contradiction. It is stated here: “And Moses came into the cloud,” and it is stated below, in another verse: “And the children of Israel went into the sea on dry land” (Exodus 14:22); Just as below, there was a path within the sea, as it is written: “And the water was a wall for them” (Exodus 14:22), here too, there was a path through the cloud, but Moses did not actually enter the cloud. The verse says: “And He called unto Moses, and the Lord spoke unto him from within the Tent of Meeting, saying” (Leviticus 1:1). Why does the verse mention calling before speaking, and God did not speak to him at the outset? The Torah is teaching etiquette: A person should not say anything to another unless he calls him first. This supports the opinion of Rabbi Ḥanina, as Rabbi Ḥanina said: A person should not say anything to another unless he calls him first. With regard to the term concluding the verse: “Saying,” Rabbi Musya, grandson of Rabbi Masya, said in the name of Rabbi Musya the Great: From where is it derived with regard to one who tells another some matter, that it is incumbent upon the latter not to say it to others until the former explicitly says to him: Go and tell others? As it is stated: “And the Lord spoke to him from within the Tent of Meeting, saying [lemor].” Lemor is a contraction of lo emor, meaning: Do not say. One must be given permission before transmitting information.

[12] Exodus Rabba 19:3.

[13] Exodus 13:9.

[14] Exodus 40:35.

[15] Rashbam writes: And he called to Moses: in the view of our being told at the end of the last portion, at the end of the book of Exodus, that Moses could not enter the Tabernacle (Exodus 40:35), this is why G-d called now to Moses from the Tabernacle. As a result, the meaning of the verse here is G-d called to Moses from the tent and spoke to him. The meaning of the verse is parallel to Exodus, where it states (Exodus 19:3): ‘And G-d called to him from the mountain,’ where the operative clause is the word: ‘from the mountain.’ It is important for us to know from where G-d’s voice originated. At that time it came out of the mountain, whereas now it came out of the Tabernacle. At that time it signalled that G-d had “descended” into the domain of earth, i.e. on top of Mount Sinai, whereas now it signalled that G-d had taken up residence in His home on earth, the tabernacle. At a later stage, after G-d had limited His presence to the Holy of Holies, we hear in Numbers (7:89) that His voice was heard originating from above the lid of the Holy Ark (kapporet), between the two cherubs. At the earliest stage of G-d communicating with Moses His voice originated in the burning bush, the site of Mount Sinai, also, as we know from Exodus (3:4).

[16] G-d called to Moses: since scripture has already stated that ‘Moses was not allowed to enter the tent of meeting because the glory of G-d was present (Exodus 40:35),’ G-d must have called to him from within the tent of assembly telling him to enter therein, where He would speak to him. Moses used to go behind the partition where the glory resided (Exodus 25:22).

[17] Nachmanides brings three interpretations, but gives priority to the interpretation, as mentioned by the Rashbam. He also elaborates on the Rashbam’s interpretation by saying that Moses was fearful to enter the tent of meeting, and the purpose therefore of G-d’s calling was to remove that fear and to comfort him.

[18] Da’at Zekeinim maintains that the calling of Moses was due to fear. They write according to the Tanchuma on this verse, that G-d had to call out to Moses from the Holy of Holies, as Moses was at that time standing outside of the tabernacle.  He did so because He did not consider it fitting for Moses who had erected the tabernacle, to have to stand outside while His Glory was inside. Moses had been afraid to enter, as he had not been invited to do so as long as the cloud had been resting above the tabernacle. 

[19] Chizkuni writes that Moses had to wait to be given permission to enter the sanctuary, in continuation from the book of Exodus when he was not able to enter the sanctuary, the tent of meeting. For this reason, Leviticus begins: ‘And he called to Moses,’ omitting to say who called to Moses, because it is a literal continuation of the end of the book of Exodus where it talks about the Glory of G-d being in the tent of meeting, and therefore Moses was unable to enter the tent of meeting.  

[20] Ababanel writes of the need of Moses to obtain permission from G-d to enter the tent of meeting, though omitting the idea that he was filled with fear.

[21] Sforno writes: ‘And he called to Moses: always out of the cloud; similar to what was described already at Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:16): “He called to Moses on the seventh day out of the cloud.” Moses could never enter the Tabernacle without first having obtained permission to do so.’

[22] The Alshich writes that Moses was instilled with fear to enter: ‘Moses was outside the Tent of Meeting and was not able to enter due to fear, as it concluded in last week’s Torah portion that the Glory of G-d filled the Tabernacle, therefore G-d had to call him to enter. Balancing the fear that Moses had to enter, the Alshich also argues that G-d wanted to show a respect to Moses that surpassed Abraham, in that G-d spoke to Moses without an intermediary, as indicated by: ‘And He called Moses,’ without any name, whereas G-d spoke to Abraham through an angel. The Alshich argues, however, the reason for G-d’s name not being explicitly mentioned when calling Moses was out of dignity for G-d, since the voice of G-d was initially heard outside the Tent of Meeting. The subsequent: ‘And G-d spoke’ was only heard ‘from the Tent of Meeting,’ meaning within the Tent of Meeting and not outside. For this reason the first calling is written without any description, out of dignity for G-d, since it extended outside the tent of meeting.

[23] There is a commonality between the Talmudic teaching about ‘calling’ as ‘etiquette’ and the midrashic teaching from Torat Kohanim about ‘calling’ as an expression of affection. Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi in Likkutei Torah, Vayikra, indicates this where he mentions the Talmudic interpretation in the context of his interpretation that broadly follows the interpretation of the Rashbam. Both of these commentaries – ‘affection’ and ‘etiquette’ – are, however, inherently incompatible with the interpretation that juxtaposes the calling of Moses with his fear to enter the tent of meeting due to G-d’s presence. In the latter, the calling is due to Moses’ situation, whereas the reasoning for the calling due to etiquette and affection is more about the expression of G-d than anything to do with any inability of Moses to enter the tent of meeting. Accordingly, both, the Talmudic reasoning to show etiquette and the Torat Kohanim to show endearment are compatible.

[24] Exodus 35:34-35.

[25] Exodus 35:34.

[26] Numbers 7:89.

[27] Verse 35.

[28] Torat Kohanim, Shalosh Esrei Middot, Thirteen methods, section 8.

[29] Likkutei Sichot 23:67.

[30] Genesis 1:1.

[31] Genesis 1:1.

[32] Psalms 111:6.

[33] Genesis 46:8-27.

[34] Isaiah 40:26. Tanchumah, Buber, Exodus 2; Exodus Rabba 1:3.

[35] Numbers 1:1-2.

[36] The Torah should have begun the book of Numbers with chapter nine about the Paschal offering that took place in the first month of the second year from the Exodus (Numbers 9:1-2): ‘The Lord spoke to Moses in the Sinai Desert, in the second year of their exodus from the Land of Egypt, in the first month, saying: The children of Israel shall make the Passover sacrifice in its appointed time.’ The reason for this anomaly is explained by Rashi (Numbers 9:1): ‘For it is a disgrace to Israel that throughout the forty years the children of Israel were in the desert, they brought only this Passover sacrifice alone.’ Tosafot (Kiddushin 37b) and many commentaries on Rashi explain the disgrace is the fact that the Jewish people had to stay in the desert for forty years due to the sin of the spies, during which time they were not commanded to bring the Paschal offering, until they arrived in the land. In Likkutei Sichot (23:69), the Lubavtcher Rebbe explains that the view of Rashi is that the disgrace is the fact that the Jewish people did not initiate and complain to bring the paschal offering, as they complained about the laws of inheritance and the paschal offering for those who were impure in the first year of the exodus, even though they were not commanded to bring it until they entered the land. The reason, then, for not opening the book of Numbers with the Paschal offering is not due to it being a disgrace in itself, as it is in fact mentioned later in chapter nine, but that the opening of a book of the Torah, in the view of Rashi, should contain, despite being as a result not chronologically in order, an expression of affection between G-d and the Jewish people. The counting of Israel that took place a month later, is indeed a sign of endearment, as Rashi comments (Numbers 1:1): The Lord spoke in the Sinai Desert on the first of the month: Because they were dear to Him, He counted them often.’

[37] Numbers 1:1.

[38] Exodus 12:37.

[39] Exodus 32:28.

 

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