Over the last few years, it has become a habit of mine to leave my phone on silent mode. I am sure (I am hoping!) that many of you can relate to this. I am often in meetings or other spaces where I do not want my ringer to go off. And even when I am at home or in the office, I still usually keep my phone in silent mode. Of course, when my wife wants to get a hold of me, this is not a good system to have. “You never pick up when I call!” There are so many sounds and notifications on my phone, it gives me anxiety to be hearing all of them all of the time, so I usually prefer to silence the noise and operate on my own timeline.
This week we begin reading the book of Leviticus/VaYikra/ויקרא. The opening Midrash on the Parsha (Lev. Rab. 1:1) begins to teach us the meaning of the Torah reading by use of a verse. “Rabbi Tanchum Bar Chanilai opened (Ps. 103:20), “'Bless the Lord, His messengers (malachav), powerful ones who fulfill His word, obedient to His spoken word.'/בָּרְכוּ ה’ מַלְאָכָיו, גִּבֹּרֵי כֹחַ, עֹשֵׂי דְבָרוֹ, לִשְׁמֹעַ בְּקוֹל דְּבָרוֹ.” The Midrash concludes that this verse, when it mentions messengers or angels (malachav), is actually referring to human beings*.
The Sfas Emes (Rabbi Yehuda Aryeh Leib Alter, the Gerrer Rebbe, Poland 1847-1905) teaches that every single one of us has been sent (nishtalah/נשתלח) into this world to do the will of our Father in Heaven. There we are called messengers (shaliah/שליח) and angels (malach/מלאך). He goes on to teach that there is potential holiness in every act and everything, if we can only be attuned to it. When a person keeps him/herself ready and aware during every action that there is nothing that exists devoid of God’s will; when a person realizes that there is a mission to raise up holiness in everything that we do, that is when we are truly called “angels/malach/מלאך”. This is the meaning of “fulfill His word/osei devaro/עושי דברו”--that we actually merit to complete that which is spoken (she’oseen diduro/שעושען דיבורו) in every thing that we do. And this is the meaning of “powerful ones/giborei koah/גיבורי כח”--that we, the angels, grab onto the potential (koah/כח)** divinity in all things and make it a reality. So when our Parsha, Parshat VaYikra, begins with “And God called to Moses, etc./ויקרא אל משה” (Lev. 1:1), it teaches us that Moses was constantly ready to hear the sound of the call like an angel or messenger who is constantly engaged in service as if there was nothing else going on in the world.
Moses our Teacher, peace be upon him/משה רבינו עליו השלום, is our role model. This week, let us try extra hard to access his qualities. Let us try and turn on the ringers of our spiritual phones. If we prepare ourselves to be ready to do the right thing, then when we get the call, we will hear it and pick up immediately.
*The Midrash cites the next verse (Ps. 103:21) “Bless the Lord, all His messengers...” to teach this point. Messengers means humans, while “all messengers” refers also to heavenly angels. The lack of the word “all” limits our verse to only humans.
**Here the Sfas Emes is using a pun. Koah/כח literally means “power” or “strength”. However, he also uses it in the sense of “potential”. For him, there is potential (koach/כח) holiness in all things that can be brought into reality (po’al/פועל). For example, there is potential (koach/כח) holiness in the act of eating food. And when one makes a blessing/bracha/ברכה on the food and the act of eating, s/he is changing the potential (koach/כח) into reality (po’al/פועל) and bringing the holiness out of its core and up to the surface.
Rabbi Ezra Balser has been the rabbi at Temple Beth Sholom since July 1, 2016. He received his “smicha” (ordination) in June 2017 from Hebrew College while also earning a Master’s Degree in Jewish Studies. He has also received the iCenter's Certification in Israel Education.