For the past few weeks, we’ve been meeting on Wednesdays to study the book of Leviticus, one of the least read parts of the bible, at least for most Christians. I confess to having largely ignored this part of scripture, since it didn’t seem to be very relevant to my 21st century faith journey. But I’m glad that I’ve had the chance to dive into this text with our church family, and explore the richness of the ancient writers’ ritual and spiritual vision. What might seem at first like an obscure and strange text filled with nothing but instructions for animal sacrifices and dietary laws is, if you look beyond the surface, an invitation to draw near to the Creator. The Hebrew name for the book, taken from the first word, is “Vayikra,” meaning “and God called.” God is calling, and inviting God’s people to listen. Rabbi Ben Spratt, in reflecting on this portion of the Torah, writes:
“In a world filled with every color, taste, and sound under the heavens, if there is one powerful component of life that is absent, it is silence. We have erased it from every area. We have put speakers in subway cars and buses; music plays in grocery stores and woos shoppers off the sidewalks. Blaring TVs are in our cabs and cars. And rare is the person who doesn’t plug in music or podcasts amidst his or her daily journeys through cities of sound. Auditory cacophony and visual din are so needed for many of us that we use white noise to sleep, and Twitter and email feeds to wake up.
Take away our sensory distractions, and discomfort descends. For in silence we are forced to hear the things we so often drown out. The cries of the soul. The existential solitude. The questions of person, place, and purpose.
And, out of that silence, God may speak. Our early Sages imagine that since the dawn of time God has been calling out to every person at every moment: Abraham was simply the first person to be silent enough to notice. God has been calling out of a bush aflame. Moses was simply the first person silent enough to notice. In another example, God was whispering in the quiet: Elijah was the first to notice it on the mountaintop, as we read about the famous “still, small voice” or soft whisper of silence (I Kings 19:12).
Our tradition, which imagines the universe created with words, and encourages us to fill our homes and sanctuaries with speaking and song, believes that God calls out of the aleph – the small spaces of silence.
We live in a world in which it is so hard to stumble upon silence. And when we do, we would often prefer receiving an electric shock to staying within it. And yet, Vayikra, God calls out to us, in each moment of each day. The prophet Zephaniah, envisioning what will happen on the day we enter the Messianic era, offers our ancestors these words of God: ‘On that day... I will make silence in love.’
And there, we may just hear God’s voice.”
Vayikra—God is calling. Or, as we in the UCC might say, “God is still speaking.” Thanks be to God. Amen.