Parashat VaYikra-No Need to Stumble to be Humble
1. And He called to Moses, and HaShem spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying,
א. וַיִּקְרָא אֶל מֹשֶׁה וַיְדַבֵּר יְ־הֹוָ־ה אֵלָיו מֵאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד לֵאמֹר:
Sefer VaYikra consists mainly of instructions and ramifications of how to bring a korban, a sacrifice, to HaKadosh Barukh Hu (as well as some other direct missvot). So for the next two and a half months at least, I will guide you through all the exciting and inspiring details of how to slaughter ox and sheep and bring them as korbanot to become closer to HaShem. I know it’s very thrilling and all but please, try and contain your enthusiasm here, I don’t want to put anybody into shock….
Sefer VaYikra begins when HaKadosh Barukh Hu calls Moshe Rabbenu into Mishkan for the first time. ‘VaYikra el Moshe’. When we look at the pasuk in the Torah, the aleph of the word VaYikra, the first word of the Sefer, is written smaller than the other letters.
We don’t see that often. How come? Did HaShem run out of ink when He was writing this pasuk? Was there a budget cut in the publication of the Torah?
The Hakhamim tell us that the small alef at the end of the word VaYikra alludes to the humility of Moshe Rabbenu.
The Midrash tells us that when HaShem spoke to Moshe at the burning bush, Moshe tried to hide, but HaShem declared, ‘Go, and I will send you to Paroh.’ Meaning, if you don’t liberate them, no one else will. At the Yam Souf, Moshe set himself aside, but HaShem proclaimed, ‘Raise your staff and split it.’ If you don’t split the sea, no one else will. At Har Sinai, Moshe Rabbenu once again set himself aside, but was instructed, ‘Ascend to HaShem.’ If you don’t ascend, no one else will be permitted to.
At the Mishkan, Moshe Rabbenu stood aside yet again. HaShem finally demanded: How much longer will you lower yourself? This hour awaits no one but you! At that point, ‘VaYikra—HaShem called unto Moshe.’ Of all the people HaShem could have called, he called only to Moshe Rabbenu.
Despite all this honor and privilege, despite the fact that he was arguably the most important person in the world, Moshe Rabbenu continues to maintain such humility that HaKadosh Barukh Hu has to literally go out and call him to tell him he is supposed to enter the Mishkan.
We all can draw such hizouk from the humility of Moshe Rabbenu. But what exactly is the connection between humility and the letter alef? Why would we think of humility the first second we see that little alef in the pasuk?
Says Rav Gurkow, it is rather fitting that HaShem Yitbarakh chose to allude to Moshe Rabbenu’s humility by diminishing the size of the letter aleph. For the aleph had, on an earlier occasion, demonstrated its own humility.
Rabbi Akiva taught: The twenty-two letters with which the Torah was given are engraved with a pen of fire upon the awesome throne of HaKadosh Barukh Hu. When HaShem sought to create the world, the letters appeared before Him, each yearning to be the first letter with which the world would be created.
The letter tav appeared and said, ‘Master of the universe, would that the world be created with me, for the very word ‘Torah’ begins with me’ But HaShem turned it down, and the tav withdrew. Next came the shin, but it too was rejected. And so it was with each letter. Last to approach was the beit, who asked that the world be created with it, considering it is the opening letter of Baruch Hashem, the traditional divine berakha. HaShem accepted the beit’s plea and began creation with the word Bereishit, “in the beginning.”
All this while, the aleph stood silently by. HaShem called to it and said, “Aleph, why do you remain silent?” The aleph replied, “It is because I have no strength with which to address You. Their numerical values are great, whereas mine is small: beit is two, gimmel is three, and so on, whereas my value is merely one.”
HaShem replied, “Aleph, have no fear; your place is at their head. You are one, so am I, and so is the Torah which I will give to my nation, Israel. I will begin it with aleph, as it is written, ‘Anochi, I am the L‑rd your HaShem.’
Obviously we can all understand the power of humility, but how do we reach such levels?
HaRamban tells us in Iggeret HaRamban, that a humble person is one who overcomes anger, doesn’t respond to others in a loud, has his head bent low, and does not look at a person in the eye when he speaks to them….
Of course we can do all these things, but what is a person supposed to view himself as, what is he supposed to think of himself?
Rabbi Schneur Zalman explains:
The first man, Adam, was 'the handiwork of HaShem,' and HaShem attested that his wisdom was greater than that of the angels. Adam was aware of his own greatness, and this awareness caused him to overestimate himself and led to his downfall in the sin of Ess HaDaat, the Tree of Knowledge.
Moshe Rabbenu, who possessed a Neshama deriving from the highest levels of divine being, was also aware of his own greatness (he did not put himself down!), but this did not lead him toward self-glorification. On the contrary, it evoked in him a broken and anguished heart, and made him extremely humble in his own eyes, thinking to himself that if someone else had been blessed with the gifts with which he, Moshe, had been blessed, that other person would surely have achieved far more than himself. Thus HaKadosh Barukh Hu testifies in the Torah that 'Moshe was the most humble man upon the face of the earth.'
In the letters of the Torah, there are three sizes: intermediate letters, oversized letters, and miniature letters. As a rule, the Torah is written with intermediate letters, signifying that a person should strive for the middle path. Adam's name is spelled with an oversize aleph in Sefer Bereshit, because his self-awareness led to his downfall. On the other hand, Moses, through his sense of insufficiency, attained the highest level of humility, expressed by the miniature aleph of VaYikra.
It becomes clear that those who flee from glory are crowned with it, but those who chase glory never quite reach it. As humble people, we are aware of our strengths, we don’t put ourselves down! But this by no means is a reason to hold ourselves in a higher regard than others. On the contrary, when we realize these gifts we have only come from HaShem, when we realize how small we are in comparison to HaShem, it puts us in our place.
As the first letter, the aleph could have demanded first rights to creation, but it didn’t abuse its greatness. And as a result, it was selected to be the first letter of the Aseret HaDibrot, the Ten Commandments. Likewise, Moshe Rabbenu, as the leader of the nation, could also have demanded entry into the Mishkan, but he didn’t. He humbly objected. Ironically, his humility was also his greatness, and it was only on account of his humility that he was invited to enter the Mishkan.
Be’Ezrat HaShem may we all develop an awareness of our greatness, but also the sensitivity that we are not better than others; we are only partners in this world. We must realize that we all have the capability to change the world (we really, really do) but this is not reason at all to lend ourselves to arrogance, we are only a minuscule speck on the face of this earth. In this zekhut may we achieve true humility comparable to that of Moshe Rabbenu!
Shabbat Shalom uMevorakh!!!!
Based on the teachings of Rabbi Lazer Gurkow, Rebbestin Ginzburg, and Chabad.org