Vayikra. “And God called to Moses.”
This is a strange way for the Torah to begin a conversation between God and Moses. Most of their conversations started with, “And God spoke to Moses, saying…” This is the first sentence of the book of Leviticus, so by now you’d think that God and Moses were getting along pretty well. So why did God have to call out to him?
The sages of the Talmud came up with a surprising answer: because Moses thought his job was done. Presumably he’d wandered off, maybe to visit friends, maybe to have a few minutes to himself.
As I thought about this, it made perfect sense. On God’s behalf, Moses stood up to Pharaoh, led the people out of Egypt, recorded the entire Torah while sitting atop Mt. Sinai, and built the spectacular Ark of the Covenant and the Mishkan, the portable tabernacle. To top it all off, he’d spent an entire week ordaining Aaron and his sons as the priests of the Mishkan.
It’s not hard to imagine that Moses thought he’d safely passed the baton to his brother and nephews and could take a well-deserved rest. God, however, had other ideas and immediately put him back to work, relaying important instructions to the priests and the entire community.
In other words, God called him out. Moses wasn’t going to get time off, because the job wasn’t done. It didn’t matter that others were there to help. Moses still had work to do.
I understand his reluctance. I can almost hear him saying, “Come on God, how ‘bout a couple of vacation days? I’m only human!”
But as the Rolling Stones sagely sang, You can’t always get what you want.
We often think of Moses as a sort of Energizer Bunny who kept going to the very end. Today, I find myself thinking of him as human, no different from the rest of us. He wanted to step away from his assignment and give the job to someone else, but the task still lay ahead of him.
How do we know that Moses returned to the task willingly? Because God didn’t have to shout, didn’t have to repeat the command. God simply called, and Moses was ready. This is the mark of a true leader, someone who willingly puts aside their own desires to serve the greater good.
May our nation be blessed with leaders such as this, as we enter a second year of the pandemic. The end is in sight, but the task is not yet over. Until then, may they have the strength, courage, and resolve to continue.