And He Called to Moses – and Who Heard?
My words are largely based upon Prof. Y. Leibowitz’s Sheva Shanim shel Sihot al Parashat HaShavua, pp. 438-441. My prayer is that, in due time, they shall bring redemption to a wounded and bleeding world.
Rashi, following the Sages (Yoma 4a), makes a precise textual inference:
And He called to Moses (Vayikra 1:1)-This implies that the Voice went on and reached his [Moses’s] ears only, but all the other Israelites did not hear it.
(Rashi quotes based on Silberman translation)
An interesting question arises in this connection: On whom does the hearing depend, on the speaker or on the listener? Or perhaps on both of them? (The halakhah regarding the blowing of the shofar comes to mind. As the RaMBaM formulated it, “He does not fulfill his obligation until both hearer and blower have proper intention” – Hilkhot Shofar 2:4).
In addition, what is the instrument through which one “hears” the voice of God? Rashi’s further comments shed some light on the kinds of voice and hearing involved:
From the Tent of Meeting – This teaches us that the Voice broke off and did not issue beyond the Tent of Meeting.
Since we have not been informed that the Tent of Meeting was surrounded with a sealed acoustical wall and a sophisticated system of insulation – it did not even have a roof – we can assume that we are dealing with a rather different kind of “voice” and “hearing.”
The midrash Tannaim Sifra (Chapter 5) further clarifies the issue:
Could it be [that the Voice was not heard outside the Tent] because it was weak? The words et hakol [the Voice] teach us otherwise: The Voice is understood in Scripture [in accordance with the verse]: The Voice of the Lord is power, the Voice of the Lord is majesty; the Voice of the Lord breaks cedars (Tehillim 29:4). If so, why does it say from the Tent of Meeting? This teaches us that the voice was cut off [from being heard outside the Tent].
According to the above, ability to hear the Voice is not limited by hearing problems or acoustical issues. Rather, it is dependent upon the will of the Speaker, or that of the listener, or upon the relationship between Speaker and listener.
Yeshayahu Leibowitz (in his Sheva Shanim Shel Sihot al Parashat Ha’Shavua) cites the Midrash HaGadol on this topic, which presents a particular reading of the Sifra selection brought by Rashi:
Could it be that [the Voice] was weak? The word hakol [the Voice] as understood in the Writings, teaches us otherwise. And if so, why does this one [Moses] hear it and this one [
According to this way of thinking, the ability to hear the Voice is conditional upon divine grace, and God chooses those who will hear His Voice.
In contrast to this view, we may glean a different notion from the words of Rabbi Hayim ben Atar, author of the commentary Or HaHayim:
And He called to Moses: Perhaps this is intended to speak of God’s powers, that He can call out in a great Voice and be heard only by those whom he chooses. That is the meaning of and He called to Moses – although He called out, His speech was only heard by Moses and not by those with Moses.
The Hebrew expression asher yahpotz – “whom He chooses” - is ambiguous. Does it mean “whom He chooses,” as the Midrash HaGadol would claim? Or does Rabbi Hayyim ben Atar mean to say that he who chooses to hear God’s Voice will be able to hear it, making the whole thing dependent on people themselves?
Prof. Yeshayahu Leibowitz tries to suggest that both views share a common element: Whether God’s voice only reaches those special individuals chosen by God, or whether it reaches all people who choose to hear it, reception of the Voice is not dependent on the Voice itself, but rather upon the character of the person receiving it. Leibowitz deduces from this that, in any event, worship of God via the acceptance of the yoke of the Torah and the commandments can enable people to hear the Voice, and not vice versa. This is largely compatible with the RaMBaM’s theory of prophecy.
The Tanaitic midrash Sifra, and Rabbi Hayyim ben Atar in its wake, also expound upon the word leimor [“saying,” from the verse The Lord called to Moses and spoke to him from the Ten of Meeting, saying]:
He spoke with him for
Moses, the greatest of prophets, served as the “pipeline” for transmitting God’s Voice to
RaShBaM explains: “’You speak to us’ – If they had not said this, God would have communicated all of His commandments to them directly.”
Moses, who was capable of “hearing,” had to mediate between God and
And what are those words which are heard in our parasha, which opens a series of parshiyot dealing with the sacrificial worship of God?
RaMBaM’s attitude towards the sacrificial rite, which he explained in the Guide for the Perplexed, is well known. He saw the sacrifices as a kind of concession to irrepressible pagan tendencies. The Torah’s precisely prescribed rite, which required painstaking attention to the proper place and method of sacrifice, would raise it into a form of worship of God.
In contrast to the RaMBaM, the RaMBaN and others viewed sacrifice as a way to draw near to God, in which a person could symbolically sacrifice his own animalistic nature by offering up an animal sacrifice.
It seems to me that, at the end of the day, the common theme of these two approaches is that God’s Voice commands us to exercise restraint and maximum control over our drives, while not denying the existence of those drives.
Can words of prayer or the study of these parshiyot serve as proper substitutes for the hard work of giving reign to reason, morality, and God’s Voice over the powerful drives which awaken in us in our hours of distress? Do today’s synagogues and batei midrash serve as places where the public is taught to lend God’s Voice control over strange and violent emotions?
This question may demand ceaseless thought. Perhaps it all depends on the quality of our hearing of that Voice. Or, perhaps, as Yeshayahu Leibowitz lyrically expressed it, do the hearer and the speaker of God’s Voice stand within the Tent of Meeting, or outside it?