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Called by the Desire for More

Mar 06, 2022

The introduction to Leviticus is strange:

וַיִּקְרָ֖א אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֑ה וַיְדַבֵּ֤ר יי אֵלָ֔יו מֵאֹ֥הֶל מוֹעֵ֖ד לֵאמֹֽר

And He called to Moses, and God spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying:

God calls Moses and only then speaks to him (what is the function of the calling? What does it mean to be called?) And the word for calling, 'Vayikra', is traditionally written with a little letter alef at the end.  

As usual, I podcasted myself speaking to myself about the sources, if you have 19 minutes to listen along, you can find the podcast here (or apple, google, spotify, etc.) You can read the sources I used here.

Using the texts of Rashi, Jacques Lacan and Maimonides, we try and figure out the function of this 'objet petit a', this surplus of meaning that drives the desire to transcend the system of law. One of the ways that this desire manifests itself is by doing the right thing, without being able to articulate why. 

Without the little alef, the word 'Vayikr' means something like randomness, happenchance. It's the randomness of Purim, of Amalek,  of sometimes being safe and sometimes being attacked, without a narrative to make sense of it. One way of getting out of this raw random reality is by making up a story: if you keep the commandments you will be rewarded, etc. Another way is to celebrate the randomness, get drunk, destroy illusions and fake stories. But sometimes we are 'called' to something above the bare facts of existence, a calling to fulfillment that doesn't have words to explain itself.  

(Obviously, I'm talking about Russia's war on Ukraine, obviously I can't read the Torah without that filter. In the past weeks, I've seen such beautiful acts of chesed, people called to go beyond themselves to help people they've never met. There are sparks of prophecy in this, as well as the raw reality of war.)

The final verse of the book of Esther, which itself is a meditation on sparks of prophecy in raw reality, describes Mordechai:

כִּ֣י ׀ מׇרְדֳּכַ֣י הַיְּהוּדִ֗י מִשְׁנֶה֙ לַמֶּ֣לֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵר֔וֹשׁ וְגָדוֹל֙ לַיְּהוּדִ֔ים וְרָצ֖וּי לְרֹ֣ב אֶחָ֑יו דֹּרֵ֥שׁ טוֹב֙ לְעַמּ֔וֹ וְדֹבֵ֥ר שָׁל֖וֹם לְכׇל־זַרְעֽוֹ׃

For Mordechai the Jew ranked next to King Ahasuerus and was highly regarded by the Jews and popular with many of his brethren; he demanded the good of his people and spoke for the welfare of all his kindred. (Esther 10:3)

Mordechai was doresh tov, he demanded goodness. He didn't see it or imagine it, but he demanded that the world be better than it was. He was dover shalom, he spoke peace, and it insisting on peace, manifested it in the world around him. May we learn to insist and speak in such a way.

Happy complicated Adar, dear friends!


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