This week, we begin the Book of Vayikra (Leviticus) with a parasha of the same name.
In his introduction to the Book of Vayikra, Ramban explains this is the book of instruction for the Kohanim (Priests) who would conduct the sacred services in the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and later in the Temple, and the Levi’im (members of the Tribe of Levi) who would serve as guardians of both the Tabernacle and the Temple. The book describes the offerings of animals, grain and incense and other aspects of the Temple service.
The title of the book and the parsha come from its very first word, “Vayikra” which means “He called”. “He (God) called to Moses from the Tent of Meeting …” (Leviticus 1:1) Ramban explains that God calls to Moses because the Shechinah, the Cloud of Glory representing God’s Presence, fills the Tabernacle and makes it holy. No one, not even Moses, can approach a place of such holiness unless God summoned him.
Coming into the Tabernacle without being called was very serious. Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Avihu, entered the Tabernacle with fire for an offering that God had not commanded, and they died. (Leviticus 10:1) The same holiness attached to Mt. Sinai before the giving of the Ten Commandments. God told Moses to set boundaries around the mountain, so that the people would not touch it and die. (Exodus 19:12)
Next week we will read of a similar rule, one instituted not by God, but by a man. Purim begins on Wednesday night, and we read Megillat Esther, the story of Queen Esther. Although she is the queen of Persia, even she cannot approach the king unless he has called her to the throne. The punishment is death. She decides she must go to the king and try to convince him to spare the Jewish people. She sends her uncle Mordechai a message, to ask the people to fast for her safety. She closes her letter with the bravest words in Torah: “Then I will go in to the king, though it is unlawful. And if I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:17)
People cannot approach the Divine Presence because of its great holiness. People cannot approach the king because he wants to protect himself and control his schedule.
Do we do things that keep people from approaching us? Am I kind and welcoming to everyone who comes to talk to me, and pay attention to what they are saying? Do people know that when they call or text me with a problem I will be understanding and try to help? If I am rude or thoughtless in the way I respond to someone, I may not hurt them physically, but I wound their spirit.
By being open to other people – “calling” them to us – we have a chance many times every day to be Helpful, Friendly, Courteous and Kind.