There is a very famous scene in the movie titled “Ecce Bombo” from the film maker Nanni Moretti that has become paradigmatic: Michele, the leading actor in the movie, receives a phone call from a friend who invites him to a party. You cannot hear what the friend is saying, just Michele’s uttering:
“No, really, I don’t feel like it. I also have a half date at a bar with the others. Look, what kind of party is it? It’s not that everyone is dancing around the circle at ten o’clock and I’m thrown into a corner, aren’t I? Ah no, if you dance, I don’t come. No, then I’m not coming. What do you say, should I come? Do you notice me more if I come and stay aside or if I don’t come at all? I will come. I will come and stand, thus, near a window, in profile, against the light. You will say to me: “Michele, come over here with us, come on”, and I: “go, go, I’ll join you later”. I come, see you there. No, I don’t feel like it, I’m not coming. No. Yes. See you next time. Good evening.”
Parashat Vayikra has a weird opening. If you look at a scroll, you will see that the first word, vayikra, ‘and He called’, is written with a little aleph at the end. If you ignore the little aleph at the end of the word, you could read it as vayikar, meaning that God did not call specifically Moses, but that He happened upon him. The word vayikar is used for example in Numbers 23:4, when God appears to the prophet Bilaam.
We know from our midrashim that Moses had several arguments with God and one of these was about the aleph in the first word of this Torah portion. Moses, in his humbleness, asked God to write the word vayikar instead of Vayikra. God refused and they came to the compromise agreement of the little aleph as a reminder and a sign of Moses’ humility. But the outcome is that everyone notices this little letter and wonders the reason why. So, what should keep Moses in the shadows shines more light on him. Should Moses have asked nothing of God? Should he have insisted with his request? Or did he make a good choice and compromise? Which of the three possibilities would be more effective in guarding Moses’ humbleness? Do you notice me more (in Moses’ case less) if I come or if I stay at home?
When the consequences of our actions are predictable, when we have to choose between something crystal good or crystal bad, everything is easy. However, life and human behavior most of the time are characterized by uncertainty. Times like ours are so uncertain that we live constantly in doubt and we are not sure of the consequences even of our daily actions, about which we don’t care during normal times. Should I go to take some food? May I go for a walk? Are our governments taking good decisions? Or should we do otherwise to make things go better?
Probably what we can try to do is to hear the content of that Vayikra, that call, from God, calling us to responsibility, fairness and compassion. We should try to answer that call and the call of people around us as best we can, staying aware that we are human beings, we can make mistakes and we should be at the same time strict and compassionate with ourselves and with others. And that when we are lost we have still prayer to ask our God what we might need to try to make a good (even not the best) choice.
So God, please:
Give us discernment and understanding to make good decisions.
Bring us back to your Torah, to our tradition, to find in it the values that should guide us.
Forgive us if we make a mistake and give us enough compassion to forgive ourselves and each other, because we are fragile.
Look at our affliction, because we are suffering and only in relief we can be calm and help each other.
Bring health to us, please. And give hope to us, because with hoping souls we can try to face the sickness of our bodies.
Ken yehi ratzon.
Martina Loreggian LBC rabbinic student
The views expressed in this D’var Torah do not necessarily reflect the position of Leo Baeck College.