This week we start reading the third book of the Torah on Shabbat morning. It begins with a word written in a strange way. The word is Vayikra, which means "and he called". God calls to Moshe at the start of the book of Leviticus. But in the Torah, the last letter of Vayikra, the aleph, is written as a small superscript. If you read the word without the aleph, it would be Vayiker, which means "and it happened by coincidence." It's as if the word is teetering between two meaning, wondering whether the aleph will enlarge or fade away.
Responding to a call from God, or bouncing from happenstance to happenstance. These are two completely opposite perspectives on life. We can look back and ask: Did I hear a call and follow it, or did things just happen to bounce me a certain way?
Vayikra or Vayiker are two possible views on ourselves, two possible ways of interpreting how we got to this point. In the Haggadah, as we tell the Exodus story we quote the Torah: "Yaakov went down to Egypt." If there hadn't been a famine; if Yosef had not become the coordinator of food for all the land….. But the Haggadah explains: "Yaakov was compelled by the divine word."
We can always look back and find the coincidences, the random events that affected the turn we took. But one way we develop our capacity for freedom is to find the coherence hiding in the static. Underneath geographical moves, relationships that endure or have ended, professional transitions, is there a basic truth that is unfolding through me? Or was there one Vayikra moment when my path changed profoundly? Or is something calling me only just now?
Changing Vayiker into Vayikra means committing to a view of life beyond chance and coincidence. It means committing to enlarging the letter aleph. That first letter of the Hebrew alphabet stands for Anochi -- "I." "I' is myself, and also the Anochi of "I am Adonai your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt." The more we see our lives, looking back and ahead, as a response to the call of the divine Anokhi, the more we become "I", the authors of a life that is more than chance and happenstance.