“And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying” is a Torah reader’s favourite verse. It recurs throughout the last four books of Torah, always with the same trope. We have it memorized, and it is one less verse to learn for the weekly leining.
This familiarity makes a slight variation, such as in this week’s parashah – where the Book of Leviticus begins with “And the Lord called to Moses and spoke to him” – especially noticeable. Almost every other time God converses with Moses, He just starts talking. This time, God calls to Moses first.
Ramban suggests that the reason for this deviation was perhaps because Moses was scared. Moses knew that God would be atop the Ark of the Covenant, between the cherubim on its cover, and Moses knew that it was dangerous to be in God’s presence. In this reading, God called to Moses to reassure him that the Tent of Meeting was built for this very purpose and that his encounters with God there would be safe ones.
Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary suggests another possibility. God must call to Moses at this point in the story because Moses thinks that his mission is complete. By this point in the story, Moses has stood up to Pharaoh, led the Israelites out of Egypt, received revelation at Sinai and overseen the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). One can see why Moses would be deserving of a comfortable retirement. God calls to Moses to let him know that his work is not yet done.
These first words of the Book of Leviticus tell us something important about God. God has expectations of us and will call on us to meet them, including when we are scared or when we think we have done enough already. It is our role to be ready when God calls us near.