In a poem by TS Eliot there is a statement, “In my end is my beginning”. Much earlier a similar idea was expressed by the Jewish poet who wrote in L’cha Dodi, sof ma’aseh b’machshavah t’chillah – “The end of the deed was the initial thought”. An appropriate notion for a week when we come to end of a Biblical Book.
The end of Vayikra reveals its beginning. Both its first and last sentences speak of God addressing Israel through Moses. In between is a treasury of teaching on what Israel were to make of themselves under Moses’ leadership.
A recurrent theme is holiness. They were to become a holy people worshipping the holy God by means of holy deeds. It was never going to be easy… in particular in learning how to behave towards each other. In Yiddish the message sounds simple: Sei a mensch! “Be truly human!” In Hebrew, as conveyed to King Solomon, it is v’chazakta v’hayita l’ish – “Be strong, and be a man!”
It’s harder than ever in our age. Abba Eban pointed out, “Until the Nazi Holocaust there was an innocent assumption that no man, however depraved, can stand unmoved before the innocence and fragility of childhood” – but now “the human race can no longer allow itself even this consolation… Think of a bureaucratic system under which men arise in the morning, carry out their quota of executions, have lunch, pursue their toil in the afternoon – and then return home to surround their families with a moving affection”.
Only if we begin with the right thought, that every human is made in the image of God, will we one day reach the final achievement of the Divine command.