The Tanna in Pirkei Avot instructs us to delve deeply into the Torah, for the Torah contains the essence of life. One must keep this sage advice in mind when searching through the parshah of Vayikra for an appropriate message for a chassan and kallah.
The parshah begins, “And [G-d] called to Moshe, and the L-rd spoke to him from the sanctuary” (Vayikra 1:1). Many commentators are intrigued by the phrasing of this initial verse: what does it mean that G-d first called to Moshe and then spoke to him? What is the significance of G-d calling first to Moshe?
Rashi explains that before speaking with Moshe or issuing him any commands, G-d would first call for him – as a means of introduction, “Vayikra,” says Rashi, “is a term of affection, a term used by the heavenly angels.”Let’s contrast that with the word used at the start of G-d’s conversation with the evil prophet Bilam, the similar “Vayikar – And [G-d] appeared…” (Bamidbar 23:4), suddenly, without warning. But in His love for Moshe, G-d would preface every communication to him with an introduction.
With regards to Moshe, “Why did calling precede speaking?” The Gemara answers that “The Torah taught proper manners. A person should not say something to his friend unless he calls him first” (Yoma 4b). In other words, one should not initiate conversation suddenly.
The same point is made in Masechas Derech Eretz (5): “Every person should learn proper manners from G-d, Who stood at the entrance to the Garden [of Eden] and called to Adam, as it says, ‘And G-d called to Adam and said to him…’ (Bereishis 3:9).”
Once again, one sees how G-d deals with those whom He cherishes. Chazal wonder why the Gemara bases its lesson on a verse from Vayikra when it could have chosen the earlier verse from Bereishis, the very one quoted in Derech Eretz, to teach the same lesson. Why choose a later verse?
Chazal offer a brilliant distinction. Rather than repeat the lesson first learned through G-d’s treatment of Adam the Gemara wishes to broaden it. For G-d’s relationship with Adam was not similar to His relationship with Moshe. Though G-d spoke to Adam many times, He had a more intimate relationship with Moshe, who, the Torah tells us, was the only person to speak with G-d “face to face.”
The Gemara specifically chose the verse in Vayikra, where G-d called to Moshe, to teach that even when one wishes to talk to someone with whom he is very familiar, with whom he is in daily contact, with whom he maintains a comfortable, affectionate relationship, it is still improper to abruptly begin a conversation. “In my entire house he is trusted,” G-d said of Moshe, and still, G-d formally addressed him before every discussion.
This lesson in derech eretz is one of the foundations of interpersonal relationships and especially crucial for married couples. What two people have a closer, more loving relationship than husband and wife? Still, the Torah sets protocol, instructing that consideration must prevail.
The specific lesson of the need for a proper introduction is vital to avoid taking each other for granted. Proper behavior between people, no matter how comfortable they are with each other, is mandatory. Derech eretz must pervade even our most intimate lives. Close contact does not dismiss proper behavior. On the contrary, demonstrations of respect only increase a couple’s affection for each other and set the tone for the comportment of the entire household.
My dear chassan and kallah, coming from families whose derech eretz is ingrained, you are both acutely aware of the importance of even the most subtle gesture. Along with kindness and compassion, selflessness and sensitivity, we are confident you will imbue your family with derech eretz and build a Jewish home worthy of our respect, admiration and blessing.