A Divine Call to Action


Once, on a mission to Israel, we needed a minyan for a prayer service during the airplane flight. We were a total of six men in our group, so we began to scan the plane for the remaining four for the requisite 10 men.

As I went up and down the aisles, one fellow turned to me and said, “Rabbi, make sure you get Jews for the minyan.”

I looked at him in astonishment and assured him that I had no other plans. But why was he worried? He replied that many years ago on a flight to Israel they also needed four men to complete a minyan. They went around calling out “We need four for a minyan — four for a minyan.” Before they knew it, four guys got up and joined them. They handed the men kippot and started the service. Suddenly the newcomers stopped the proceedings and asked what was happening. The others explained that they needed four more men to make the minyan. The newcomers, astounded, said, “We thought you were asking for four Armenians, so we joined you. We are not even Jewish.”

These fellows responded to the call but misinterpreted the message. This week’s Torah portion teaches the same lesson about the importance of hearing the call correctly. The portion begins with the words: “And the Eternal called unto Moses,” (Leviticus 1:1). Our sages point out that this wording is unusual. Generally, in Scripture, we encounter the expression that “God said to Moses” or “God spoke to Moses.” As one rabbi noted, you don’t have to be a biblical scholar or even barely familiar with Hebrew grammar to appreciate that the phrase “and He called” suggests that the mind of the person addressed is not attuned to or in communion with the mind of the speaker. One doesn’t call a person with whom one is in intimate conversation or rapport. One calls a man to attract his attention.

The midrash in the Yalkut Shimoni uses this insight to provide a beautiful homily. The midrash points out that the one who flees from positions of honor and authority, achieves honor and authority. The Yalkut provides many examples of great Jewish leaders who illustrate this principle and comments that Moses represented the best example of all.

The Yalkut tells us how Moses tried to reject the appointment to be the savior of the Jewish people and lead them out of Egypt. God, however, was adamant, and Moses performed admirably. At this point the Midrash comments:

“In the end he brought them out of Egypt, parted the Red Sea, brought down manna from heaven, provided water from the well and quail from heaven, caused them to be surrounded with the clouds of glory and erected for them the sanctuary. Having reached this stage, Moses said, ‘What more is there for me to do?’ And he sat in retirement. Thereupon the Holy One, Blessed be He, reproved him saying, ‘By your life! There is still a task for you to perform that is even greater than that which you have done until now — to teach my children my laws and to instruct them how to worship Me.'”

If “Vayikra,” the call to continue his task, applied to the greatest leader we ever had, how much more does it apply today?

Why, for example, is philanthropy for Jewish causes suffering among the most affluent and generous of Jewish generations?

Why is higher education in Jewish studies absent among the most educated and cultured in Jewish history?

Why is commitment to a Jewish homeland missing after only one generation past the Holocaust?

At a similar juncture in Jewish history, the great sage Hillel asked, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” That question challenges us today to go back to work, “Vayikra,” to achieve a positive response to God’s call.


Elazar Muskin is rabbi of Young Israel of Century City.

Lev Eisha Women Pray Their Own Way


On the first Saturday of each month, while weekly, traditional Shabbat morning services are taking place at Adat Shalom synagogue, another service transpires behind the main sanctuary that is anything but traditional. Women of all ages dance between davening, beat tambourines and sing loudly, and instead of praying silently they share with one another.

They are the women of Adat Shalom’s Lev Eisha (A Woman’s Heart), “a joyous community of Jewish women engaged in prayer, study, spiritual growth and friendship.” Founded by a handful of women in 1999 as an outgrowth of the Wagner Women’s Retreat — an annual retreat at Camp Ramah in Ojai organized through the University of Judaism’s Wagner paraprofessional program — Lev Eisha has grown to average more than 100 women at each service and more than 400 people on its mailing list.

Lev Eisha attracts a diversity of women that ranges from young to old, unaffiliated to observant, and while most are not members of Adat Shalom, they travel from Orange County and the San Fernando Valley to attend the monthly service. While the women of Lev Eisha pride themselves on their diversity, it is a hunger for a spiritual connection that unites them.

“The women that come have a very strong spiritual need and are seeking something in a Jewish context,” said Elaine Craig Segal, Lev Eisha’s president. “You can get meditation and other things, but people looking to find a spiritual connection within their own religion can look to Lev Eisha.”

Lev Eisha offers women an opportunity to express themselves through music.

“In a regular service I don’t find a spiritual connection. The words, to me, don’t go as deep,” said Debbie Juster, a West Los Angeles resident. “Here, the music goes deep inside and I feel a comfort and a spirituality that is connected with music.”

Led by cantor Cindy Paley, the music in the Lev Eisha prayer booklet is a collaborative effort of Paley and Lev Eisha’s Rabbi Toba August, which combines “California style,” a contemporary mode characterized by such musicians as Craig Taubman and Debbie Freidman, and “Jewish Renewal” music, such as musicians Hanna Tiferet and Linda Hirschhorn, which comes out of the Renewal stream of Judaism. Joy Krauthammer, a member of Sarah’s Tent, also volunteers each month to accompany the women with such instruments as bongo drums, xylophones and rainmakers.

“The music cracks open your heart,” said August, who directs Adat Shalom’s religious school in addition to leading Lev Eisha. “It’s the only time I can really pray. The music lets you go in and find God — to find your divine within. It helps you cry and it helps you laugh. It allows people to enter into prayer.”

In addition to the music, the camaraderie and the opportunity to pray with other women keeps women coming back to Lev Eisha.

“When women get together to pray the energy is different. We are not competitive. Our voices can be heard,” said Mollie Wine, a cantorial soloist that helps lead the service. “I often daven with Chabad — with a mechitzah — but once a month I just want to be with the girls.”

The women of Lev Eisha, however, realize that their approach to Judaism does not appeal to everyone.

“There are some women who wouldn’t want to pray this way,” Segal said. “This is not a traditional service, so if you feel you are very traditional in your observance you probably wouldn’t want to do something like this. It doesn’t speak to everyone.”

But for women who it does speak to, it speaks loudly.

Barbara Axelrod, a two-time survivor of breast cancer told The Journal that she discovered Lev Eisha at the time when she needed spirituality the most.

“It really has had a lot to do with my inner healing,” Axelrod said. “When I was laying in bed at the hospital it would give me peace when I would close my eyes and envision being here. It gives me such inner peace and joy.”

Like it has done for Axelrod, August wishes that the Lev Eisha service can offer women hope.

“I want the women to walk out with a faith in God and the understanding that they’re not alone in their lives and that they will be able to cope with whatever their life experience offers them,” August said. “I also hope they gain a deeper appreciation of the joyful moments and a more profound ability to cope with painful illnesses and losses. I pray that they walk out feeling renewed.”

For more information about Lev Eisha, contact leveisha@earthlink.net .