As our book opens, ‘vayikra’ has a small aleph


Why is “vayikra,” the first word of our parasha and the namesake of Sefer Vayikra, written with a diminutive aleph as its final letter? In his commentary on the Torah entitled Ba’al HaTurim, Rabbeinu Yaakov ben Asher provides an intriguing explanation:

“Moshe was [simultaneously] great and humble. Therefore, he did not want to write ‘vayikra’ (and G-d called); rather, he desired to write ‘vayikar’ (and G-d happened to appear), which is an expression of a purely accidental meeting. By using vayikar, it would be as if Hashem spoke to him in a trance or in a dream, as the Torah states regarding Bilam.

“[Hashem, however, ruled against this view] and explicitly commanded Moshe to write the aleph [in order to represent his true eminence to the world.] Moshe, however, responded to Hashem — based upon his thoroughgoing humility — and told Him that he would only consent to write a miniature aleph that would be smaller than any other aleph in the Torah; and so, he wrote it in this manner.”

According to Rabbeinu Yaakov’s interpretation, there was palpable tension between Hashem and Moshe, as Hashem perceived Moshe in an entirely different manner than Moshe viewed himself. In the Almighty’s judgment, Moshe was truly great and ever His faithful servant, for we know that with Moshe alone did He: “speak mouth to mouth; in a [direct] vision and not in riddles.”

Moreover, only Moshe, of all the prophets, was able to see marot (visions) of Hashem. Clearly, Hashem sought to publicize Moshe’s unique nature by writing vayikra in its standard manner as the first word of our parasha. Moshe’s unparalleled anavah (humility), however, was at odds with this, and he therefore wrote “a miniature aleph that would be smaller than any other aleph in the Torah.”

The Chasidic rebbe, Rav Simcha Bunim Bonhardt of Peshischa, is cited as having said a beautiful mashal (parable) that illustrates the depth of Moshe’s anavah and advances our understanding of the miniature aleph:

“Vayikra is written with a tiny aleph. The reason for this may be explained by the following mashal: There was a valiant man whom the king elevated to higher and higher levels [of power and authority] until he was raised above all his other officers. On one occasion, the king sought to ascertain if he [the intrepid individual] maintained the same level of awe toward him as he had in earlier times. He [the king], therefore called upon him to come to him. And this officer, being that he was truly humble in his self-perception, came before the king and presented himself in awe and fear in exactly the same manner as he had done in the past [prior to achieving his fame and glory].

“The referent of this parable is Moshe, whom the Holy One blessed be He, raised up [above all others] and performed, through his agency, countless miracles and Matan Torah (the Giving of the Torah). Nonetheless, when He called to him [at the beginning of our parasha,] it was with a miniature aleph [at Moshe’s behest].”

Anavah emerges as a constitutive element of Moshe’s very being. In contrast, most of us must work at developing this middah (ethical characteristic). We are fortunate that the Ramban (Nachmanides) gives us ready guidance as to how to undertake this process:

“Speak gently at all times … with your heart focusing on Hashem… In all your actions, words, and thoughts, regard yourself as standing before Hashem, with His Schechinah above you, for His glory fills the whole world. Speak with fear and awe, as a servant standing before his master. Act with restraint in front of everyone. When someone calls you, don’t answer loudly, but gently and softly, as one who stands before his master.”

Two salient points emerge that guide us toward the attainment of anavah: Our encounters with others should embody respect and dignity, and we must focus upon Hashem, ever conscious that we stand before His Divine Presence.

With the Almighty’s help, may our efforts to achieve these goals enable us to fulfill Moshe’s clarion call to the Jewish people: “And you shall do what is proper and good in the eyes of Hashem.” (Devarim 6:18). V’chane yihi ratzon.