Parashat Vayikra: What's in a double name?

The first verse of Leviticus seems rather strange. Why does the Torah have God call out to Moses and then speak to him?

March 29, 2006 12:41
3 minute read.
vayikra 88

vayikra 88. (photo credit: )


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"And He called to Moses, and the Lord spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting" (Leviticus 1:1). The first verse of Leviticus seems rather strange. Why does the Torah have God call out to Moses and then speak to him? Why didn't the book just open with "And the Lord spoke to Moses"? Rashi, the most classical of all commentators, notes that whenever Divine speech or a Divine commandment is preceded by God "calling," it is a sign of special love, since "calling" is what the angels do. The Midrash Sifra goes a step further, suggesting that whenever the verb "calling" is used, it means that God called the individual by name twice, and that the individual responded with the word hineni, which implies total acceptance of the bidding of the One summoning him. This midrash defines God's call as a sign of special love, encouraging a quick response. The proof text is the divine call to Moses at the burning bush: "…And God called to Him from the midst of the bush and He said, 'Moses, Moses' and he said, hineni [here am I, ready to do Your bidding]." What I find difficult about this explanation is the assumption that calling someone's name twice is a sign of affection. When I think back to my childhood, when my mother of blessed memory (who was the disciplinarian in the family) would call out my name once, I'd respond in a relaxed fashion; however, when I heard her call, "Steven... Steven" (and the repetition was usually louder, with the hint of a threat), I knew I was in trouble. So what is the Midrash teaching when it insists that calling a name twice is a sign of love? I believe the meaning will become clear when we take note of a time-honored mystical concept - which finds expression in our selihot prayers during the 10 Days of Penitence - that there are two images for every individual: the image of the person as he/she is, and the image of the person as it appears on the ethereal chariot. As Rabbi J.B. Soloveitchik once explained, there are in reality two yous: you as you are in this world, and the you who you have the potential to become as engraved on God's throne of glory. Ultimately, we are judged in terms of how great a distance there is between these two yous - between who we are in reality and who we could have been. In the seven nuptial blessings recited under the marriage canopy and repeated at the conclusion of every festive meal during the first marital week (sheva brachot), there are two blessings which have the same closing: the first is simply the short blessing, "Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who forms the human being"; the one immediately following is far more descriptive: beginning with a prolonged introduction, "Blessed are Thou… Who has formed the human being in His image, and in the image of the form of His mold has He prepared for him from it an eternal building," and again concluding, "Blessed art Thou, who forms the human being." I would suggest that the shorter version refers to the individual as he is, who is in love and who loves his/her marriage partner; the next blessing refers to the individual as he/she can become, in accordance with the Divine image imprinted on the throne of glory. It is this potential image that links the individual with eternity, that gives the individual the potential to contribute to the eternal building of Israel. It is also this potential image which can truly come to be realized, now that each of the two individuals comprising the couple is completing his/her being by choosing a life partner. Our sages, after all, teach that a man without a woman, like a woman without a man, are only half individuals. From this perspective, the biblical interpretation becomes clear. When the Almighty calls out to an individual twice, the first name refers to the individual as he/she is, and the second refers to the individual's image imprinted on God's throne; the very fact that God mentions the names together means that He believes the individual on earth is approaching his potential. In no instance is this more evident than in the case of Moses, who attained such spiritual and intellectual heights that he was able to discern and even communicate the Divine will. For an individual such as Moses, the Divine call is really a vocation, a calling which will always elicit the response of hineni - immediate and total fealty. The writer is the founder and chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone Colleges and Graduate Programs, and chief rabbi of Efrat.

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