The Five Books of the Torah contain two instances of the phrase, “vayikra Hashem el Moshe,” “and Hashem called to Moshe.” The first appears in Shemot 24:16, in the context of Kabbalat HaTorah, and the second is found in the opening words of our parasha, as a prologue to the many and varied laws of the korbanot, offerings.
Rashi, in his commentary on our verse, bases himself upon a statement found in the Midrash Sifra and notes that each time Hashem communicated with Moshe, it was preceded by the Almighty directly calling upon him (“kadmah kriah”). In addition, he suggests that the word “vayikra” is an expression of abiding affection (chibah), since this is the language the Ministering Angels use to call to one another (“v’karah zeh el zeh,” Yeshayahu 23:4).
In a particularly trenchant analysis, Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch opines that the words “vayikra Hashem el Moshe” carry singular theological significance. In his view, they teach us that the Word of Hashem came to Moshe directly from the Creator, rather than through some kind of internally-generated voice:
“A call came, and then G-d spoke to Moses. This is probably meant to establish the speeches of G-d to Moses as the Word of G-d coming to Moses and to prevent that misused misrepresentation which tries to change the Divine revelation to Moses into some kind of revelation in Moses, and either put it on par with all those imaginary visions of a so-called ecstasy, or simply as an inspiration coming from within a human being.”
Rav Hirsch continues his exposition of our verse and notes that the words “vayikra Hashem el Moshe” separate Judaism from all other religions that have ever existed:
“[It is certainly not the case that Moses’ Divine revelations were merely self-created ecstatic moments.] This [notion,] of course, relegates Judaism, ‘the Jewish Religion,’ to the nature of all other religious phases which have occurred in human history, to a ‘contemporary phase in the history of the development of the human mind.’ But this is not so, [for as the Torah states:] ‘Then the L-rd would speak to Moses face to face, as a man would speak to his companion…’” (Shemot 33:11).
At this juncture, Rav Hirsch recapitulates his first theme, and underscores the exceptional import of Hashem speaking to Moses “face to face, as a man would speak to his companion”:
“[This means that just like] speech from one man to another emanates purely and completely from the mind of the speaker, and in no wise whatsoever comes from the mind of the hearer, and nothing from the mind of the hearer brings it about, so was G-d’s Word to Moses purely and solely the speech of G-d. Not from within Moses, from without, it came to him, called him out of whatever train of thought he might be in at the moment, to listen to what G-d wished to say to him. This vayikra, this call preceding G-d’s speech, does away with that idea of the words of G-d which He transmitted arising from within Moses himself.”
Rav Hirsch highlights a crucial principle of Jewish theology, namely, that Hashem spoke directly to Moshe. As the Torah states: “And there was no other prophet who arose in Israel like Moses, whom the L-rd knew face to face” (Devarim 34:10).
Moshe’s encounters with Hashem, and the authentic prophetic experiences they entailed, form the foundation of our entire Torah. The Voice from Sinai continues to shape the nature of our people and Judaism, and echoes until our own historical moment. We are truly blessed that “Hashem called to Moshe.”