When small is great


Different Jewish ethnicities have varying traditions regarding the proper way a Torah scroll should be written. Yet, vayikra — the first word of our parasha and the namesake of sefer Vayikra — is universally written with a diminutive aleph as its final letter.

In his commentary on the Torah entitled “Ba’al HaTurim,” Rabbeinu Yaakov ben Asher zatzal provides the following explanation as to why vayikra is written in this way:

“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 Balaam. [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’s view of himself. In the Almighty’s judgment, Moshe was truly great, for with Moshe alone did He “speak mouth to mouth, in a [direct] vision and not in riddles.” As Moshe was different than any other person, Hashem sought to give voice to this idea by writing vayikra as the first word of our parasha. 

In stark contrast, Moshe was so humble that he described Aharon and himself as, “v’nachnu mah (of what significance are we)?” (Shemot 16:7,8) Little wonder, then, that the Torah famously teaches us, “V’ha’ish Moshe anav m’ode mi’kol ha’adam asher al p’nai ha’adamah (Now this man Moshe was exceedingly humble, more so than any person on the face of the earth).” (Bamidbar 12:3)

The last thing Moshe wanted, therefore, was to write vayikra, rather than vayikar. As such, he faced a dilemma: How could he follow the command of the Master of the Universe while remaining existentially true to himself? Moshe’s solution was an elegant compromise: He wrote vayikra with a tiny aleph as its concluding letter, thereby implementing Hashem’s p’sak (decision) while maintaining his personal integrity.

Anivut (humility) unmistakably emerges as one of the driving forces of Moshe’s personality. Most of us, however, need to work at developing this middah, but we are fortunate that the Ramban 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, always 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. (Iggeret HaRamban)

Two salient points emerge in this section of the Iggeret HaRamban that guide us toward the acquisition of anivut: Our encounters with others should embody respect, and our minds and hearts should be focused upon Hashem with the conscious recognition that we ever stand before His Divine Presence.

With the Almighty’s help and our fervent desire, as we follow the Ramban’s roadmap for acquiring anivut, may we fulfill the verse, “And you shall do what is proper and good in the eyes of the L-rd” (Devarim 6:18). In so doing, may we choose the path that is “harmonious for the one who does it, and harmonious for all humankind.” (Pirkei Avot II:1) V’chane yihi ratzon.