With the start of the Book of Vayikra (Leviticus), the Torah continues the narrative of mitzvos (Divine commands), focusing on the animal offerings that were utilized to strengthen the bond between G-d and the Jewish people. In a considerable departure from the common “And G-d spoke to Moshe saying,” the Torah introduces a Divine interface with Moshe in decidedly different verbiage. “He called to Moshe, and G-d spoke to him in the Tent of Meeting, saying.” (1:1) Why did G-d need to call Moshe before he started to speak to him?
The Medrash (Vayikra Raba) explains that with this the Torah teaches the Jewish nation “derech eretz kadmah l’Torah”, proper courtesy and respect are prerequisites to Torah scholarship. Rabbi Michel Barenbaum (1905-2003; Mashgiach/Spiritual Mentor of Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem in New York City) elucidates that we are discussing the great Moshe – the father of wisdom and prophecy, who was G-d’s emissary for the release of the Children of Israel from the bondage of Egypt and for numerous other miracles, who literally went to the heavens to bring the Torah back to earth and assembled the Mishkan (Tabernacle) single handedly – even he had to wait to be summoned before he could enter G-d’s home. Furthermore, the Medrash states that this incident indicates that a scholar who lacks basic awareness is of lower stature than a carcass; so essential is the nature of courtesy and respect as the foundation of a Torah personality that one who lacks these traits is considered to be lacking any measure of basic awareness. Therefore, expounds Rabbi Barenbaum, despite all that Moshe had achieved in his personal stature, had he entered the Mishkan without first receiving a Divine invitation, the great Moshe would have been equated to a boor lacking any basic awareness, with a status lesser than a carcass.
Rabbi Barenbaum continues that such behavior is not simply expected of humankind. G-d Himself treated Adam and Chava (Eve) with the utmost courtesy and respect following their consumption of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge between Good and Evil. They had just violated the single, solitary commandment given to them – and with it brought to the world mortality, toil for livelihood and extended, laborious pregnancy. But when G-d came to confront them for their wrong, He stood at the edge of the Garden and asked Adam, “Where are you?” (Beraishis/Genesis 3:9), teaching humanity that one does not barge into his friend’s domain (even though G-d Himself had given them this domain mere hours previous). The angels who disguised themselves as travelers when they came to visit Avraham on his sickbed displayed similar courtesy. As Avraham gave them a lavish spread from which to partake, although they as spiritual creatures could not actually eat, they acted as if they were eating (ibid 18:8). Why the charade? Because the local tradition was to accept such graciousness and, as Rashi explains, it is inappropriate to deviate from the local custom.
And throughout the generations, our leaders have followed the Divine lead. The vestments of the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) had bells along the bottom edge of the “me’il”, the full length robe, so that “its sound shall be heard when he enters the Sanctuary before G-d and when he leaves.” (Shemos/Exodus 28:35) Rabbeinu Bechayeh (1263-1340; student of the great Spanish sage, Rashba, and author of a commentary on Pentateuch incorporating the four levels of understanding: simple meaning, medrashic, philosophical and kabbalistic exegeses) explains that any minister, prior to entering the Royal Chamber, must clap a chime to alert the King of his arrival, for one who enters the Royal Chamber suddenly is put to death. How much more appropriate prior to entering the Chamber of the King of Kings? Even Yosef (Joseph), when he resisted the advances of Potiphar’s wife, left his coat in her clutches (Beraishis/Genesis 39:12) – “evidence” used against him that lead to a twelve year prison term. Ramban (Nachmanides, Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman; 1135-1204; native of Gerona, Spain, he was one the leading scholars of the Middle Ages and successfully defended Judaism at the famed debate in Barcelona in 1263) notes that he did not forcibly remove it from her out of respect for her as his master’s wife, despite his superior strength and his knowledge that leaving this garment with her could be used to successfully frame him. Proper respect dictated this course of action.
Rabbi Barenbaum concludes that if our forefathers and prophets, our paradigms of living a life of “G-d consciousness” have all built their Divine service on the foundation of “derech eretz kadmah l’Torah”, following the example of no less than G-d Himself, as we build our own lives of G-dliness, we must make sure our “derech eretz” is rock solid.
Have a Good Shabbos!
This issue of Kol HaKollel is dedicated in memory of Rabbi Michel Barenbaum, ztvk”l, who passed away last week. His “derech eretz” and “midos tovos” serve as a paradigm to all who merited knowing him.
Copyright © 2003 by Rabbi Pinchas Avruch and Project Genesis, Inc.
Kol HaKollel is a publication of the Milwaukee Kollel Center for Jewish Studies 5007 West Keefe Avenue; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; 414-447-7999