At the beginning of this week’s Parashah, before Hashem speaks to Moshe, the Torah states, “VaYikra El Moshe,” He calls to Moshe (VaYikra 1:1). Ramban (ad loc. s.v. VaYikra El Moshe VaYedabeir Hashem Eilav) explains that Moshe’s unparalleled humility is confronted by the Mishkan’s unparalleled holiness. Hashem has to call to Moshe because His Shechinah in the Mishkan is so overwhelming that Moshe, in his humility, is too afraid to enter. Moshe must first be reassured that the Mishkan has been built to benefit him and the people.
Rashi (ad loc. s.v. VaYikra El Moshe), on the other hand, explains that Moshe is on a level that Hashem speaks to him in an affectionate way, similar to how He speaks to the Mal’achei HaShareit. Furthermore, Rashi contrasts Hashem’s call to Moshe with that of Bil’am; while Hashem calls out to Moshe, “VaYikar Hashem El Bil’am,” “Hashem chances upon Bil’am” (BeMidbar 23:16).
Why would Hashem calling out to Moshe be more representative of His affection than simply appearing to him? We can understand this through a Mashal about a king who is eating dinner when his servants inform him that a beggar is at the door. The king, knowing that the beggar is filthy, comes to the door and greets the beggar so that the beggar will not soil the king’s possessions. Afterwards, the king sits down to eat again. His servants return and report that his good friend is at the door. The king tells his servants to bring in his friend so they can talk. The king lets in his good friend because he wants to be with him inside his house, unlike the beggar whom he does not. Bil’am is the beggar whom Hashem does not want inside his house, while Moshe is the king’s good friend whom the king likes so the king invites him into his own house.
To further understand the difference between Moshe and Bil’am, we must understand Rashi (ad loc. s.v. VaYikra El Moshe) who states that even though Hashem’s voice can be heard throughout the world, Hashem makes it audible only to Moshe because the people are not supposed to hear Hashem’s voice.
Rav Moshe Feinstein questions why Hashem’s voice must be so loud if no one aside from Moshe is able to hear it anyway. He explains that although the Torah was taught to all of Bnei Yisrael through Moshe, they must know that Hashem’s voice is always loud enough to hear. It isn’t that only Moshe could hear Hashem’s voice; rather, it is only someone who has achieved the special level of Kedushah and connection to Hashem like Moshe who can hear His voice.
Both Moshe and Bil’am saw Hashem in an almost identical way; the difference was their attitude toward their gift. Bil’am took advantage of his gift and used it in an unsatisfactory way. Unbeknownst to many people, Bil’am wanted to be close to Hashem. He wanted to live a righteous lifestyle; the only problem was he could not abandon his immoral one. On the other hand, Moshe used his gift for only one reason: to serve Hashem and bring Bnei Yisrael closer to Him. Moshe Rabbeinu sees that he is the only one who can hear Hashem and he dedicates himself to bringing others to this level. Moshe became as great as he was because of his attitude. Unlike Bil’am, Moshe is totally selfless. Moshe Rabbeinu recognizes that his ability to hear Hashem came through his work ethic, rather than by being chosen by chance. Moshe therefore attempts to pass on this trait to the rest of Bnei Yisrael and for this reason merits the opportunity to interact with Hashem in this fashion.