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Vayikra: The Book of Calling
by Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh

>>> Listen to Audio Lecture here

 

Every person has a God-given mission in life. But how can we know what that mission is, and what it demands of us?  The book of Vayikra, which means "And He called," revolves around the main service of the Tabernacle--sacrifices to God. In this meditation, Rabbi Ginsburgh analyzes the inner meaning of the sacrifice to God, and how our service of Him is intrinsically linked to first hearing His call.

 

The Divine Call

The meaning of the name of the third of the Five Books of Moses that we begin to read this week, Vayikra, is "And He (God) called." Likewise, Vayikra is the name of this week's Torah portion, the first of the portions of the book of Vayikra. The previous book, Shemot, culminated with the completion of the construction of the Tabernacle. Vayikra opens with the basic service of the Tabernacle--the offering of sacrifices to God. Before enumerating the laws pertaining to the sacrifices, God calls upon Moses to enter into the Tabernacle. Our sages explain that due to Moses' great humility and rectified nature, he would not enter unless specifically called. In the following meditation, we will contemplate on the nature of this call, and its connection to the service of sacrifices to God.

The Stage is Set

From the phrase that opens the laws of sacrifices, we can immediately discern the underlying purpose of the sacrifice: "When a man brings a sacrifice from you to God." (Vayikra 1:2) It would seem more appropriate to insert the words "from you" after "man." However, we learn from this specific order of the words that when a person brings a sacrifice, he must see it as actually sacrificing himself--either in entirety or partially as dictated by the type of sacrifice being brought--to God. With this thought in mind, the stage is set for the entire service of sacrifice in the Tabernacle.

The Call-Sacrifice Connection

In Hebrew the root of the word for "sacrifice," korban, is kuf, reish, beit.

This root means "to draw near." The purpose of the Tabernacle is to give us the ability to draw near to God, and to become close to His absolute infinity and essence. This is the merit that God has given us--the opportunity to sacrifice to Him--to draw near to Him--in His sanctuary.

The Hebrew root of the word for "call," kara, is kuf, reish, alef. Both of the roots of the words kara and korban share the first two letters, kuf and reish. Only the third letter differs, and this letter is actually a sequence. In kara "call" the third letter is alef (the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet) while in korban "sacrifice" the third letter is beit (the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet).

Discovering our Mission

From this sequence we learn the proper order in our service of God. The first step in revealing our mission is to open ourselves up to God so that we can hear His call. Before we can perform our mission, we must come close to Him--to be ready to sacrifice ourselves to Him. Although we must be ready in our hearts to die for God, we bring an offering instead. This offering is our essence, sacrificed to God. We can then go out to perform our mission in life. When we bring others close to God, this is called kiruv, which means, "to bring the other near." Kiruv shares a root with korban, sacrifice. After a person hears God's call and goes out into the world as His emissary, he then becomes the voice of God that enters into him, as it were, and calls upon other souls to come close to God.

The Ability to Distinguish Between Good and Evil

The first species of animal specifically mentioned as a sacrifice in this portion is "cattle," bakar. The specific use of this Hebrew root for cattle instead of the other, more common forms of words for cattle leads us to an enlightening observation. The Hebrew root of bakar; beit, kuf, reish, is a permutation of the root of korban; kuf, reish, beit.

The very same root bakar also means "morning" and most essentially, "critical analysis"--the ability to distinguish between different states of reality. (This also leads us to understand the meaning of the word boker for "morning"--the time when dawn allows us to distinguish between states of reality that were previously in the dark.) From the fact that "cattle," bakar is the first species mentioned for sacrifice we learn that the beginning of drawing near (karav) to God is the ability to distinguish in oneself between good and evil, and to rid oneself of the evil. This is like the "morning" (boker) star beginning to shine in the consciousness. One cannot come close to God and sacrifice himself if he doesn't have the power of bakar.

The Abulafia Cycle

Every root of three different letters has six possible permutations. In all the Hebrew language, there are only seven examples of words in which all six of the permutations create roots in the Hebrew language of the Bible. The root karav is one of these seven.

The early master of Kabbalah, Rabbi Abraham Abulafia would meditate on a Hebrew word by taking the permutations of the root and contemplating on the cycle of images appearing and disappearing one after the other. In this way, he would experience the various meanings as one flow of Divine consciousness. Let us look at the other permutations of the root karav, and create this cycle of images:

Root   Meaning
Kuf, reish, beit To draw near, sacrifice
Kuf, beit reish Grave 
Reish, kuf, beit Rot
Reish, beit, kuf Corral
Beit, kuf, reish Cattle, morning, distinguish
Beit, reish, kuf Lightening – flash of insight


In each set of six permutations, there is always at least one permutation with a most negative connotation if it would stand alone. In the example above, the permutation with the most negative connotation is "grave." However, when it is understood within the flow of the entire cycle of permutations, its inner positivity is revealed.

Full Cycle

In order to come "close" (karav) to God and to sacrifice oneself to Him, one must hear God calling. He then must be willing to enter the "grave" (kever), to bury his ego until it entirely "rots" (rekev) away, and then revive to enter the "corral" (rabak), as "cattle" (bakar) with the distinguishing power of morning, and then finally experience the anticipated "flash of lightening" (barak)--the new revelation of the unity of God. From there he can go out into the world and call upon others to come close to God. When we sacrifice our essence, we must be willing to die and rot. But the final promise is of the lightening flash of true, new Divine revelation.
 

 


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