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Thursday, March 17, 2016
Vayikra- Sacred Call
This is what I taught this morning for Parashat Vayikra (Leviticus 1:1-2)
There is a chorus of birds singing softly from the woods behind my home. Last night’s rain is drip, drop, drop, drop, dripping off the roof. I am listening. I am listening.
“VaYiKRa, ... and He called”, so begins our parasha, the first in the book of Vayikra, placed at the center of the five books of Moses also referred to as Leviticus, or Torat Kohanim, instructions for the priests. But truly it is a book addressed to all of us. On the surface it indeed appears to be a kind of manual describing rituals, laws and ethics, but ultimately it is not only for the priests, it is a how to guide for all of us to live a life that is holy. The word vayikra, the opening to this parasha is written in a special way, the aleph at the end of the word, vov yod kuf resh aleph is significantly smaller than the other letters. There are many scholarly interpretations for this calligraphic choice. After reading through some of these, here is what makes sense to me. God, Mystery, Oneness of Being, calls out to us continuously, not just on special occasions, or in particular circumstances, and not only to certain people, but to everyone. The call arises, vayikra with a small aleph, a letter that is silent without a vowel to lend it voice, right from the middle of our noisy, busy, full, lives. Now of course, when we pause to meditate, walk mindfully in nature, hold a sleeping child in our arms, sit breathing wordless prayers aligned with the last breaths of someone on the bridge between life and death, it is more likely we might hear the sacred whispered summoning, yet it is ever present, this calling.
On the literal, p’shat level we read: “Vayikra el moshe; vayidaber adonai eylav, mei’ohel mo’eyd laymor. And God called out to Moses; from the tent of meeting, saying; daber el b’nai yisrael, v’amarta aleyhem, adam ki-yakriv michem karban, ladonai min habeymah, min habakar... speak to the children of Israel, say to them when any person brings an offering to God, you shall bring an offering of the cattle... “ And so on, then the text follows with specific instructions for different kinds of burnt offerings, the purity of each offering and all the rituals for how it should be offered.
We’ve already noted the small aleph at the end of vayikra. And while I don’t want us to be too caught up in our heads, as our practice is heart centered, curiosity led me to dig a little deeper into the sacred-soil of the text. In the middle of this five-letter word vayikra, we find yod-kuf-resh, yakar, meaning beloved, dear, precious. One might infer that The Beloved, God, calls to us from the center, the heart of the word vayikra, because we humans, adam, are dear, precious. Now what are we being called to do? According to the p’shat, bring a karban, a sacrifice, an offering. Perhaps you already know that root of karban, kuf-resh-bet is kerev, draw near, be close. In the text, the first offering cited is, habakar, the cattle, with different vowels this can be read as haboker, the morning, both from the root bakar, meaning inquire, seek, investigate. These first two lines of text are already a pretty clear, instruction for how to cultivate holiness: “Vayikra, the beloved summons in a whisper, yakar dear, precious human, kerev, draw near haboker, wake up, bakar seek, inquire, investigate, discern” right in the center, the middle, the heart of your of your noisy, busy, full life. Be present, listen to words spoken, whispered, sense voiceless “aleph” messages too. For every human is precious including you. Intimacy is a good thing, draw near to people in your life, allow them to draw near to you, in this way you will come close to ME, God, the Oneness between you, among you, within you. Wake up, again and again. Seek, inquire, investigate, discern what is most needed in a given moment, and let this be your offering.
These instructions also teach us about cultivating mindfulness/part of holiness: “Vayikra, the beloved summons in a whisper, yakar dear, precious human, kerev, draw near haboker, wake up, bakar inquire, investigate, discern” right in the midst of your of your noisy, busy, full mind. Be present, notice thoughts, emotions, sensations. Place a hand over your heart, feel the preciousness of this life, your life, you. Dedicate time to be intimate with your mind, in this way you will draw nearer to Oneness, which is both expansiveness and inter-being-ness, if only for the briefest of moments. Wake up, again and again. Investigate, “what is true?” Discern by gently observing projections into an unknown future and kindly notice habitual patterns from the past. Inquire, “What is happening now?” Inhale, feel the closeness of Nishmat Chayyim in your nose, mouth, throat, lungs, stomach, abdomen. Exhale slowly, lovingly, generously; let this be your offering.
So we sit together…
(Typically our group sits for half an hour, but should you choose to meditate now, set a timer and sit as long as is your custom.)
Chant: Ani l’dodi v’dodi li.... Rabbi Shefa Gold
As we go forth from here: Vayikra, the beloved summons in a whisper, yakar dear, precious human, kerev, draw near haboker, wake up, bakar seek, inquire, investigate. May your whole life be your offering.