Parashat Vayiqra (5780 – 2020)
Leviticus 1:1 – 5:26
“And He called out to Moses; and the Eternally Present One spoke to him from out of the Tent of Meeting, saying.” (Lev. 1:1) The fascinating beginning of this third book of the Torah has elicited many questions, commentaries and musings. I have returned to ponder it many times. God calls out to Moses! And God calls out from inside a modest tent. Can we imagine that God is really in that small structure? As Solomon asked when he celebrated the dedication of a far greater shrine, the First Temple: “Could it be, indeed, that the Almighty would dwell on earth? Look here! The heavens and the heavens’ heavens cannot encompass You, so how could this house that I built?” (1Kings 8:27)
So, among the many discussions I have devoted to this text over the years, in one of them (Sparks 2013) I have pointed to the concept of tzimtzum – contraction and shrinkage. It is a concept highlighted in kabbalistic thought. It is a way of imagining how the infinite God could be present in our finite world. Some see this concept alluded to in the special way that the first word of this Torah portion is written. The last letter of the word, vayiqra, is written smaller than the rest (- like this – vayiqra), signaling God’s contraction while calling out to Moses.
Our Torah portion gives us a poignant example of God’s contraction. It is an example twice over. First it portrays God’s Presence shrinking so as to fit into a little tent. Then it portrays God further contracting so as to make room for Moses to enter the tent and be with God. These are “contractions” that are preparatory to giving birth. They echo a much earlier example of contraction, the tzimtzum of God’s infinity so as to give birth to the world itself. Without such tzimtzum the all-encompassing God would have left no room for anything outside of God, for our own world. Thus, God chose to contract the Divine Presence for the purpose of making life possible.
We must take this lesson to heart as we practice the enforced tzimtzum of quarantine during this pandemic. We are all under a lot of pressure – the pressure caused by living in anxiety and uncertainty, and by living in possibly cramped living quarters and a cramped lifestyle. But we can remind ourselves that these retreats are contractions that are necessary to protect, save and create life. In this way we, created in God’s Image, are emulating the Self-limiting God Who, through such tzimtzum, gave birth to the possibility of life, to the possibility of us. Now it is our turn. And when this crisis passes, may we remember it.
Rabbi David Greenstein
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image – licensed commercial stock image
Thank you to John Lasiter for suggesting the title and selecting an image for this Torah Sparks – Rabbi Greenstein