Parashat Vayikra: Every person has a name

The way that God turns to Moses teaches us how to behave in our own relationships.

 SCRIBES FINISH writing a Torah scroll. (photo credit: DAVID COHEN/FLASH 90)
SCRIBES FINISH writing a Torah scroll.
(photo credit: DAVID COHEN/FLASH 90)

The book of Leviticus opens with God turning to Moses:

“And He called to Moses, and the Lord spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying...” (Leviticus 1:1).

The repetition raises a question. Why does the Torah find it necessary to say both “He called to Moses” and “the Lord spoke to him?” Furthermore, what was the content of what was said to Moses when God called to him?

Rashi explains based on Midrash: “Every [time God communicated with Moses] ‘And He spoke,’ or ‘and He said,’ or ‘and He commanded,’ it was always preceded by [God] calling [to Moses by name] as an expression of affection, the [same] expression employed by the ministering angels [when addressing each other], as it says, ‘And one called to the other…’” (Isaiah 6:3).

We learn that the calling is an expression of affection, but Rashi doesn’t explain what the content was. This, we can learn from the words of the Midrash:

 Moses was a leader with humility, which is what we should be looking for today.  (credit: Wikimedia Commons) Moses was a leader with humility, which is what we should be looking for today. (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

“From where do we learn that all the calls were ‘Moses, Moses?’ We can derive that – ‘and God called to him from within the thorn bush, and He said, Moses, Moses! teaches that all the calls were ‘Moses Moses’ the language of affection, the language of urging” (Yalkut Shimon, Leviticus 247, 429).

What is the significance of this call using Moses’ name? Why was it necessary?

The Maharal of Prague (Rabbi Judah Loew, 1512-1609) explains: “When He calls him by name, it shows He wants what He is calling and knows him by name, since He is calling him by his unique name. But when He speaks to him without calling, it shows he does not know him by name and; therefore, calling him by name is affectionate” (Gur Aryeh, Leviticus 1:1).

A person’s private name expresses his singular essence. We find this also in the book of Genesis.

And the Lord God formed from the earth every beast of the field and every fowl of the heavens, and He brought [it] to man to see what he would call it, and whatever the man called each living thing, that was its name (Genesis 2:19).

The Torah describes the process of Adam giving names in collaboration with God in order to emphasize the importance and essence of the “name.” The first human, with God’s assistance, succeeded in seeing the inner world of each animal, understanding its natural traits and their significance in relation to man and, based on that, gave them names.

Names given to people are not coincidental. Parents giving their children names merit a spirit of prophecy, a moment of Divine illumination, and based on that they choose the name that suits their child’s unique essence.

Calling a person by their name expresses the connection between the caller and the person being called. When a person begins speaking by using the name of his friend, he is expressing the fact that he acknowledges that person’s unique essence. Using a person’s name expresses respect, appreciation, acknowledgement, and a sense of a close, positive connection. The person feels “seen.”

Using a person’s private name creates a personal connection. This is also the psychological principle behind various attackers objectifying their victims and not relating to them as people. This was cruelly demonstrated during the Holocaust when the idea that “every person has a name” was erased and replaced by a tattooed number devoid of personality. This dehumanization allowed the murderers to act more easily without human emotion coming into play.

The way that God turns to Moses teaches us how to behave in our own relationships. We have to remind ourselves and those around us of the human, respectful, and appreciative connection that stands at the foundation of every command or request.

The same is true about relationships between spouses, parents and children, or teachers and students. It is always best to start with calling the person by name, expressing the personal connection between the two people. Furthermore, using a person’s private name not only expresses that connection, but can create and deepen it.

Remember – every person has a name. We should use it. ■

The writer is rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.