Vayikra: G-d Is Near

By: Rabbi Jay Kelman |

Perhaps Man’s greatest fear is his ultimate irrelevance, that we really don’t make a difference and that in the greater scheme of things, our lives are for naught. This is why people yearn to leave a legacy, and it is often for this reason that people have children. The historical tendency to value male babies over females is due to the fact that it was (is?) the male who would carry on the family name and legacy. Upon marriage, females were typically absorbed into the family of the husband.

It is for this reason that Judaism places so much importance on greeting people, going so far as labeling one who does not return the greetings of his fellow man as a thief. By saying hello to someone, we bestow importance upon them. It is only during shiva, a time when man recognizes his own tragic impotence, that greetings are prohibited. In a similar vein, Jewish law looks askance at the use of nicknames; a name represents the essence of a person, and to trivialize it is to trivialize man.

“And he called to Moshe”. So opens the central book of the Chumash. What did G-d come calling for? Rashi points out that it is a call of chiba, endearment, expressing G-d’s love for Moshe and the Jewish people. G-d calls us because he loves us. Our sacrifices, Korbanot, literally bring us closer to G-d. They are a reich nichoach, a “satisfying aroma” to G-d from His beloved people.

If we examine the openings of the other books of the Chumash we will find the similar theme of G-d expressing love for His people.

“And these are the names of the Children of Israel” (Shemot 1:1). The names of those descending to Egypt had already been listed in Parshat Vayigash. Rashi points out that the verse is repeated here to show us the chibah, the love that G-d has for us, and He counts us both while we are alive and even after we have passed on.

“And G-d spoke to Moshe in the wilderness of Sinai, in the Tent of Meeting, on the first of the second month in the second year after the exodus from the land of Egypt, saying, ‘Take a census… ‘(Bamidbar 1:1-2). Once again, Rashi tells us that due to the chiba, G-d’s love for us, “He counts us at every hour. When we left Egypt, He counted us; when we suffered losses in the sin of the golden calf, He counted us; and when He comes to rest the Divine presence upon us, He counts us”.

“And these are the words that Moshe spoke to all of Israel, on the east bank of the Jordan, in the desert, in the aravah, near suf, in the vicinity of Paran, Tofel, Lavan, Chatzeroth and Di Zahav (Devarim 1:1). Where was Moshe standing when he spoke to the Jewish people? If the verse is meant to tell us where Moshe was, it is not very clear at all. The book of Devarim is the book in which Moshe rebukes the Jewish people for the sins committed during their (and their parents’) sojourn in the desert, warning them that if they want to be successful in the future, they must not repeat the mistakes of the past. Yet instead of criticising them directly, Moshe only alludes to the many places where the Jewish people sinned. As Rashi points out, this was done to protect the honour of the Jewish people. What greater sign of love? Even as you criticize, you protect their dignity and honour.

Even the opening of Sefer Breisheet, “In the beginning, G-d created the heaven and the earth”, written before humans existed, bespeaks G-d’s love for the Jewish people. As Rashi points out, the Torah really should have begun with Parshat Bo, which details the laws of Pesach. Yet it does not do so in order to demonstrate the right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel. “All of the land belongs to G-d, He created it and He gives it to whom he desires”. Even before the Jewish people existed, G-d was thinking of us.

The Torah can best be described, then, as a book detailing the love of G-d towards the Jewish people. The mitzvoth of the Torah given to purify man are the best expression of that love and concern. G-d does not need our mitzvoth—we do. Thank G-d we are the recipients of His love and concern, and have been given the precious treasure of the Torah to enrich, ennoble, and bring us a life of meaning and true joy.