Vayikra 5782 – Esther and the Still, Small Voice

By: Dr. Joel Roffman

I should tell you – I wasn’t thrilled as I read through today’s parashah. The thoughts of giving a D’var on it weren’t happy ones. Setting the stage for what is to come in Leviticus, we read in the entire parashah about ritual sacrifice – the types and the specifics. Ugh!

Later in the Bible, and perhaps in response to all these rituals and sacrifices, Isaiah writes in Gd’s voice, “What need have I of all your sacrifices? I have no delight in lambs . . .Trample my courts no more! Bringing offerings is futile! Who asked that of you? Your New Moons and Sabbaths among assemblies with iniquity fill me with loathing.”

Rituals cause Gd loathing . . . Well, there goes that. Eighteen chapters of blood and animal parts must not be the main feature of our worship! Many of us would agree that too easily is religion – even ours – reduced to ritual and formula.

Abraham Joshua Heschel writes, “It is a distortion to reduce Judaism to a stream of ceremonies. No religious act is properly fulfilled unless it is done with a willing heart and a craving sole.” Prayer and worship must have some structure and form, but technically precise performance must not become its totality. Isaiah would surely agree and be proud. So where does that leave me for today’s D’var?

But wait! The title of today’s parashah – Vayikra – the very first word – has proven to be the quintessential grounds for arguments in the Torah and has been the basis for D’vrei Torah for generations. (Well, now, this is more like it!) Look at that first word of the parashah, Vayikra – a calling. Or at least that’s what it means when the aleph is put at the end of the word. But as you will notice in chumash when we begin today’s reading, the aleph at the end of the word is written in a much smaller font, almost as though it is either optional, or maybe to draw attention to what the word would mean without the aleph.

Without it, the word becomes vayikar, meaning to come upon, such as an encounter that happens by chance or perhaps a conclusion that a person might reach after a cold and detached analysis of a problem. To come upon and conclude, rather than being specifically directed to by an inner voice. Vayikar vs. vayikra.

Aha! Here is my theme! I pulled out my trusty Tanakh and recalled verses from Elijah that have repeatedly inspired me. “There was a great and mighty wind, but Gd was not in the wind. After the wind, an earthquake – but Gd was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake a fire. But Gd was not in the fire. And after the fire, a still, small voice. And the voice addressed him. “Why are you here, Elijah?”

Let’s keep that question and today’s Vayikra title in mind as we turn to our upcoming holiday of Purim. In the entire narrative, who is the missing character? Yes – Gd! There is not a single mention of Gd, let alone as the One who performs miracles and who, in this case, saves the Jews. When Haman’s plot and plan to kill all the Jews becomes public, Mordechai implores the newly-crowned Queen Esther for her help. He tells her that she will not be spared should all the Jews be killed. And he tells her that even is she doesn’t help, the Jews would be saved by other means.

And then, for me, the zinger. The one verse – Ch.5, V. 14 – that is imprinted in my mind and that stays with me all the time. “Perhaps,” begins Mordechai, “Perhaps you have attained your royal position for just such a crisis.” No mention of Gd.  But maybe this . . . is to be Esther’s Vayikra moment. Hear the call, Esther. Answer as Moses answered when he heard the calling. The Vayikra. Answer as Isaiah did when he, like Elijah, heard the Still, Small Voice asking, “Who shall I send? Who will go for us? Their answer was, “Hineni! Here I am. Send me.”

Psalm 26 encourages us to, “Test me, O Lord, and try me; test my heart and my mind, for I have set my course by you.”

Some years ago, before going into an exam room to see Mr. Thomas, I glanced at my personal notes in the electronic record, and was reminded that he occasionally served as a Christian missionary. He was seated on the exam table, his wife on the chair beside the table. After I reviewed his medical history with him, I examined him, and, during the course of our subsequent discussion, I asked him if he had been on any missions of late. He responded that he hadn’t been on any recent missions – Gd hadn’t directed him to do so in some time. “Oh really?” I asked. “Maybe you just haven’t been listening.”

May we all continually listen for the Still, Small Voice, the Vayikra, telling us what must be done, and may we all have the inner strength to answer, “Hineni! Here I am.”

Shabbat Shalom

Purim Sameach