This coming week’s (March 8) Torah portion features an interesting calligraphic anomaly in the Torah. The parsha opens with the words “Vayikra el Moshe (He [God] called to Moshe from the Tent of Meeting).”
Vayikra, the opening word of Leviticus, includes an Alef Ze’ira, a smaller than usual Alef at the end of the word. The Baal Haturim (Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher, 14th century Spain) explains that the little Alef symbolizes the humility of Moshe Rabeinu, who didn’t expect God’s direct call to him. He felt that he wasn’t really worthy of this direct communication with Hashem.
Today, we may live long lives without ever experiencing Moshe’s Vayikra. We may never receive that direct long distance call from God, but that doesn’t mean we should be oblivious to the Shechina moments in our lives.
But, what are Shechina moments?
These are times when the intensity of this transcendent experience is so strong the person feels the divine presence dwelling within. Shira and I have felt Shechina moments at the births of our children, at the britot of our boys at Adiya’s simchat bat, when our daughter Chanita was called to the Torah on her Shabbat Kallah, and at the Shabbat table with all our kids around us. A Shechina moment fills your body and soul with a feeling of reassurance that God must be with you, even if you didn’t expect the call.
In summary, Vayikra suggests that we should all be ready for the call to experience the Divine presence. In order to bring this about in a post-korbanot (animal sacrifices) era, we strive to get karov (close to God) as often as we can. Vayikra teaches us we don’t have to wait for the call to get close to God; there’s an opportunity for a Shechina moment just around the corner.
We can turn the Shabbat table from a solely gastronomical experience into an educational and spiritual Shechina moment for the whole family. The Shabbat dinner (Friday night and Shabbat afternoon) offers the family a weekly opportunity to be together without the need to rush through the meal to get to the board meeting or hockey game on time. Our Shabbat dinner table is transformed, as the Rabbis teach us, to an altar; a way of getting close to God in lieu of sacrifices.
In addition, observing kashrut and hachnasat orchim (practising hospitality) we turn our dinner table into davar shebikdusha (sanctified activity). We sit together for some quality time with family and friends. We chat about our week, what was accomplished, and what we should be thankful for. We discuss Parshat Hashavua and raise our modest Shabbat table to the Heavens.
As the Rabbis teach us (Pirkei Avot 3:4), “Three who dine at a table and exchange words of Torah are considered as have eaten at God’s table. As it is written (Ezekiel 41:22), And God spoke to me, ‘This is the table before Hashem.’”
Oneg Shabbat (enjoying the pleasure of Shabbat) is done by dining, talking, learning and singing together with family and friends. As the piyut (liturgical poem) goes, “Shabbat is a taste of the world to come,” or, in my words, you don’t have to wait until the age of 120 to appreciate Gan Eden (Paradise – the Garden of Eden). Shabbat offers a weekly genuine Shechina moment, an experience of joy.
Try it, you’ll like it!