"the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise. 'Yet you have not called on me, Jacob, you have not wearied yourselves for me, Israel.'" - Isaiah 43:21-22
The Torah portion for this week is Vayikra, which means "and He called," from Leviticus 1:1-5:26, and the Haftorah is from Isaiah 43:21-44:23.
A basic theological question has been asked throughout the ages: If God has everything and lacks nothing, then why did God choose to make man?
The classical answer is that God created us out of love and a desire to have a relationship with us. However, in order for that to happen, God had to first give us free choice. There's no such thing as an authentic loving relationship that is a forced relationship. That's not love. So God created us, along with our godly soul, to have desires and passions that could potentially lead us astray.
God also sends us all kinds of challenges that put us in a position where we have to choose between right and wrong, between good and evil, between faith and despair, between God and something other than Him. God gives us free will so that we might choose Him.
The problem is that sometimes we don't. Sometimes we succumb to temptation. In those instances, we negate God's purpose for our existence and weaken our relationship with Him.
In this week's Haftorah reading, God complained about the nation of Israel which had done just that. In the words of the prophet Isaiah, "the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise. Yet you have not called on me, Jacob . . ." God formed us for Himself so that we might call on Him and have a relationship with Him. But at this time, Israel had chosen poorly and had not chosen a relationship with God.
The Jewish sages explain this situation with the following parable. A man went to the market to figure out what he could sell. The man noticed a stand where people paid four florins for a pound of nuts. It occurred to him that as the shell comprised half of each nut, people were paying two florins for half a pound of nutshells. So he decided to sell discarded nutshells for four florins a pound, much to the amusement of the crowd. The people laughed at him, saying, "Fool, people buy the shells only for the nuts in them. What good are empty nutshells?"
Similarly, God creates us with the downside of our nature, but also as the fruit of His labor. If we choose our negative tendencies, then we become all shell - empty, hollow, and without purpose. Our goal in life is to become less "shell" and more "fruit," by choosing God and goodness every day of our lives. Today, as we go about our lives, let's look for ways to become more of who God created us to be by choosing kindness, goodness, and godliness.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President