One of the primary aspects of literary genius that riddles the book of Leviticus is its name in Hebrew which is vayikra meaning “He called”. This refers to the intentional vocation given to Israel through the Torah by YHWH. But equally as interesting is howVayikra-leviticus the title of the book was often written with a miniscule “r” which could render the name vayikar, meaning “He chanced upon”.


Why did the editors of the early documents intentionally force the reader to choose between the title of the book meaning “purposed vocation” or “random chance”? Vayikra is a call ushered forth in love with an intended purpose. Vayikar is a random happenstance or fortuitous coincidence[1]. To grasp what the editors of the Torah might have been doing, we must take note of how the book ends with YHWH’s warning in chapters 26-27. Specifically, “If in spite of this, you still do not listen to me but continue to behave bekeri towards me, then in my anger I will behave towards you bekeri…” (Lev. 26:27-28).


Rabbinic commentary, in discerning the nature of keri suggests that it could read “if you harden yourselves” or “if you are rebellious” or “overconfident, failing to trust me”, then God will respond in kind. Note that Rabbinic commentators do not think that a “tit for tat” reading is in play here, rather God’s response is organic to the response of humans. Sacks notes that it could mean that “if, when I bring trouble upon you in order to cause you to repent, you say that the trouble is purely accidental, then I will frustrate you with the appearance of chance” (my shift in language)[2].


Maimonides understands keri to be related to mikre, meaning “chance”, as if it has no larger significance – a random happenstance. We can now discern the importance of vayikra. It concerns the difference between mikra and mikre – between history as God’s call and mission and history as mere chance – without a meaningful narrative into which to cohere events of our lives. It is for Israel to choose how to read their history and the purpose of the laws of Leviticus.


So also, we get to choose to read events in our lives as vayikra or as vayikar. If we choose not to see or hear the underlying purpose and interconnectedness of all things, then vayikra will become vayikar. It is not a contradiction; it is the self-fulfilling truth of the lens through which you interpret an event will inevitably shape the resulting view of that event. How you see is what you see as Richard Rohr often notes. Events can be cohered into a narrative of meaning or coalesced into a lens of randomness – a constructed interpretation which places randomness as the (dis)ordering lens. We get to choose which narrative framework to use – one that coheres with our true identity and mission of the restoration of all things or a narrative of your making that unites random events into a narrative of vanity, othering and violence. Studies of interpretive bias then tells us that the more we see the world through a given lens, the stronger that lens becomes for us – ultimately leading to the self-fulfilling reality of believing that our way of seeing is the only way of seeing.

[1] Sacks, Jonathan. Leviticus. Pg. 64.

[2] Sacks, pg. 66.