At this time, Avivah Zornberg’s commentaries do not include Leviticus or Deuteronomy. Her method is to seek the underlying psychological tensions in the Torah text, that drawn readers into the story. She uses Rashi, the Midrash, and psychoanalytical theory for her explorations. This works particularly well with Genesis, Exodus, and Numbers, because interpersonal conflicts are central to the narrative stories. Leviticus and Deuteronomy do not fit easily into that framework. On the surface, Leviticus is written as a pilgrim’s guide to the Mishkan. Its content elaborates the rituals of the priests and the sacrificial cult, and aside from a few exceptions, it does not have a narrative structure. It appears superficially more halachic than literary story-telling. As we discussed previously in Temple Beth David Torah Study, Leviticus has a deep and complex literary structure. It is a journey, in its unique structure and form, to find the meaning of holiness.
I will try, in Avivah Zornberg’s manner, to use Rashi and the Midrash, as a vehicle to explore the underlying meaning and tensions in the text. Please help me in this journey!
The LORD called to Moses and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying:
Our journey is off to a good start, because Rashi finds this simple passage profoundly complex.
The LORD called to Moses: [The term “called”] is a way of expressing affection, the mode used by ministering angels when addressing each other.
Spoke to him: This implies that the Voice went on and reached Moses’s ears only but all the other Israelites did not hear it.
To him: This is intended to exclude Aaron.
From the Tent of Meeting: This teaches us that the Voice broke off and did not issue beyond the appointed tent. One might think this was so because the Voice was a very low one! [This is not true according to Scripture. The Voice was powerful but] was heard only in the tent.
God’s call to Moses is intimate. No one else, not even Aaron, who would be responsible for the priestly rituals could hear. The Voice is paradoxical — intensely loud, yet heard only by one person.
Midrash Tachuma, Vayikra 1:1
“Then the LORD called unto Moses and spoke unto him.” This text is related to Ps. 103:20, “Bless the LORD, O his messengers, mighty in strength who fulfill His word.” These are the prophets … R. Isaac the Smith said, “These are those who observe the sabbatical year. So why were they called mighty in strength? When [such a one] sees his field abandoned, and his fruit trees eaten, he suppresses his drive (like one mighty in strength) and does not speak.” And thus have our masters taught in Avot 4:1: And who is mighty? One who subdues his drive.
R. Tanhum be Hanila’i says, “Mighty in strength. This is Moses because no one is as mighty in strength as Moses. When Israel stood before Mount Sinai, they were not capable of hearing the divinely spoken word, as stated, ‘if we continue hearing the voice of the LORD our God any longer, we shall die.’ But Moses was not harmed.”
[Moses] stood alone outside [of the Mishkan], because he was afraid to enter the tent of meeting … The Holy One, blessed be He, said, “It is not right for Moses, since he made the Mishkan, to stand outside while I stand inside; so look I am calling upon him to enter.”
Now if you say that, when He spoke with Moses, He spoke in a low voice, [and] for that reason [only] he was able to hear, He only spoke in the voice [used in] in the giving of Torah. [That was] when they heard His voice and were dying at the first utterance. … But since He spoke in a loud voice, why did they not hear? Because the Holy One, blessed be He, decreed over the utterance, that it would go forth and come to Moses. So the Holy One, blessed be He, made a path for it by which the utterance went forth until it reached Moses, but it was not heard here and there.
Even Moses did not ascend until the Holy One, blessed be He, called him, “Then the LORD called unto Moses.”
Midrash Rabbah Vayikra 6 [referring to the same text at the end of Tanchuma above]
The Midrash recounts that Hillel used to teach a similar lesson: And so does Hillel say: “My self-abasement is my exaltation, while my self-exaltation is my abasement.”
The Midrash is saying that Moses only heard the Voice because, in some way, he was the only able to listen. The Voice was loud to him, but directed in a way that only Moses could hear it. What do you think this means? What is it about Moses, that allows him to uniquely listen?