Friday, December 30, 2011

Being Ready for the Call - Friday Kavvanah, 12/30/2011

Having just returned yesterday from Israel, I was up quite early this morning, and it afforded me plenty of quiet time while the family was still asleep.  I read pretty carefully through Parashat Vayyigash, and through my jet-lagged haze spotted the following (Genesis 46:2):

וַיֹּאמֶר יַעֲקֹב יַעֲקֹב; וַיֹּאמֶר, הִנֵּנִי
God called to Israel in a vision by night: "Jacob!  Jacob!"  He answered, "Here I am."

The dialogue is a precise echo of the end of the Aqedah, the story of the binding of Isaac (Genesis 22:11):

וַיִּקְרָא אֵלָיו מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה, מִן-הַשָּׁמַיִם, וַיֹּאמֶר, אַבְרָהָם אַבְרָהָם; וַיֹּאמֶר, הִנֵּנִי
Then an angel of the Lord called to him from heaven: "Abraham!  Abraham!"  And he answered, "Here I am."

Even the trope marks (the Masoretic accents that historically clarify the text and today indicate chanting melody) are identical, including the "pesiq," the vertical line placed between the repeated names, indicating a luftpause, a break for air that audibly recalls the beat separating them as the story unfolds in real time.

Why the exact repetition?  The biblical author surely wants us to connect the two stories.  Abraham is about to slaughter his son Isaac; his grandson Jacob is about to leave Canaan, the land that has been promised to each of the Patriarchs, to go down to Egypt for Lord knows how long.  Each is a hugely significant moment, lush with personal and national meaning, and the readiness of both characters to answer to God's call is formidable. Both are moments when God's voice is not expected, but clearly needed.

Some Jews come to the synagogue on a regular basis to communicate with God, but how many of us are ready to answer God's call to us when it comes?  Rabbi David Kimhi (aka Radaq, 1160-1235 in Provence) comments that here God calls Jacob's name twice because it had been so many years since Jacob had received any kind of prophecy, and thus he was probably not expecting to hear God's voice again.

Similarly, if God calls on any of us, would we hear it?  Shabbat shalom.

Rabbi Seth Adelson

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