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A Small Aleph Makes a Big Person
(Adapted from Ha'aros by Moreinu HaRav Zeidel Epstein, zt"l, Mashgiach of Torah Ore)
And Hashem called out to Moshe and spoke to him.
The first word in Sefer Vayikra is ויקרא. The Ba'al HaTurim points out that the letter aleph - א -in the sefer Torah is purposely made small. This is so that it should read Vayikar ויקרwhich means "happened." It is as if the possuk read "And Hashem happened upon Moshe and spoke to him." This is the way the Torah describes Bilaam's prophecy, a chance occurrence. It seems that Hakadosh Baruch Hu told Moshe to write the word vayikra and he wrote a small א so it should read vayikar. He didn't want to make himself look so important that Hashem singled him out to call him. It just happened.
What is going on here? If Hakadosh Baruch Hu told him to write the entire word vayikra why should Moshe Rabbeinu do differently? Hashem didn't tell him to shrink the א. It must be that Hashem never told him the size of the aleph, small or large. Therefore Moshe felt he had license to diminish the size of the aleph. Now, however, we have to understand why Hashem agreed to this and let him write a small aleph. The aleph is part of the word vayikra and is a letter of the sefer Torah just like all the other letters. It should have been written the same size as all the rest.
Another issue that we have to deal with is the choice of the word vayikra - and He called. Rashi is bothered by this word; all other places in the Torah it states "and He said," "and He spoke" - ויאמר, וידבר. Rashi explains that the word "and He called" describes how Hakadosh Baruch Hu always spoke to Moshe Rabbeinu. Every time He spoke or gave Moshe a command it was preceded by a call. This shows endearment. "Calling" - kriah קריאה - is the language used by the Malachim, as we say in Kedusha: "And each one (angel) calls out to the other…" וקרא זה אל זה ואמר. However, with the prophets of the nations Hakadosh Baruch revealed Himself using terminology of accident and tumah: ויקר אלקים אל בלעם "And Hashem occurred (happened upon) to Bilaam.
"Calling" is not merely calling someone to come over and meet me in a certain place. It is a language of endearment and love. The Angels use this language when talking to each other. It signifies that we want to unite and be together as one. The word "happened upon" ויקר has nothing to do with me; it doesn't touch me, it doesn't reflect my being. It was an accidental occurrence. External coincidental causes brought us together and made it happen. But we ourselves are different and therefore the word vayikar reflects disgrace and tumah - defilement.
Moshe Rabbeinu, in spite of his great humility, knew exactly who he was. He was the leader of Klal Yisroel, the unique individual who had received the Torah directly from Hashem to teach it to the Jewish nation. However, he knew that he was not worthy of his eminence due to his own merit. He had been chosen by Hakadosh Baruch Hu and granted the gift of greatness. He couldn't find it within himself to write "and He called" - ויקרא - with a normal sized aleph. This would have had a connotation of pride; an acknowledgment of his own self-importance. Instead he wanted to write vayikar ויקר - a chance occurrence - equating himself with Bilaam. This prophecy has nothing to do with me; it's not me; I'm not important. It was merely a Heavenly gift that Hashem Yisborach spoke to me and told me to write this. Hashem said to him, if you skip the aleph then the sefer Torah will be deficient, and Moshe Rabbeinu himself will be imperfect because it will reflect a false portrayal of the Rebbe of Klal Yisroel. He really was worthy of prophecy in his own right; he had greatness within him. He was truly so attached to Divinity and the spiritual he was united with Hakadosh Baruch Hu with every term possible denoting intimacy and endearment. However Hashem left a little room for variation: He didn't command how large the aleph should be. And so Moshe wrote a small aleph. And this truly reflects Moshe's greatness: he really felt that he wasn't worthy of anything he had. The small aleph is the greatness of Moshe Rabbeinu. If he would have written a large aleph it would have connoted that this was normal, this was the way it is supposed to be - of course the Ribono Shel Olam calls me. This would have been a contradiction to his marvelous humility, and so he wrote a small aleph.
This necessity to write a small aleph should be a lesson to us all. Each one of us must recognize our own intrinsic greatness and importance: and consequently our obligation to fulfill our vital role in life. However, we have to know, we have to fully internalize that everything we have, all of our talents, are merely gifts from above from the Master Creator of the Universe.
Moshe Rabbeinu wrote every word in the Torah. As the sefer Torah comes to its closing lines, Moshe wrote, "and the man Moshe was exceedingly humble." Certainly Moshe believed this statement, it is an explicit possuk in the Torah. However, it didn't arouse within him any sense of arrogance or conceit. It was merely a statement from Hashem Yisborach. It was a Heavenly gift of which he was unworthy. It had nothing to do with him. Yet, in spite of his humility in his own eyes, he was head of the entire Klal Yisroel. His prominence and position demanded him to conduct himself accordingly. This is the lesson to us. Recognize your greatness, your importance and all the wonderful talents and gifts within yourself. But recognize them for what they really are: gifts from Above in order to grow. The smaller the aleph, the greater you are, and the greater is your role and obligation in life.
The Ba'al HaTanya, Rebbe Schneur Zalman of Liadi, was a talmid of the Maggid of Mezritch. One night, Rebbe Schneur Zalman knocked on the Maggid's door.
"Who's there?" asked the Maggid.
"It is I," said Rebbe Schneur Zalman.
"Who?" Rebbe Dov Ber repeated.
"It is I," Rebbe Schneur Zalman replied.
"Who?" the Maggid inquired again.
"Schneur Zalman," he answered. With that, he was finally admitted.
He entered the room and conversed with his Rebbe. The Maggid had a very strange request. The next day Rebbe Schneur Zalman was to go to a certain bris mila [circumcision] held in a nearby village. Rav Shneur Zalman didn't know the people, but since the Rebbe had told him, he went. Seeing Rebbe Schneur Zalman's old and tattered clothing, it was assumed that he was a beggar, and he was seated at the end of the table.
After the seuda [festive meal] a silver spoon was found missing. The "beggar" was immediately suspected of theft. "Nu, give back the spoon, you thief!"
Denying the charge, he shouted, "It was not I!"
His accusers began to beat him. "It was not I," he repeated.
Eventually, one of the waiters, not able to continue witnessing the beating of an innocent pauper, admitted to taking the spoon, and Rebbe Schneur Zalman was exonerated. When he returned to Mezritch, the Maggid was waiting for him.
"How many times did you have to shout, 'Not I'?" he asked his astounded student.
"Two times you announced to me, 'It is I,'" he continued. "'I' is a term reserved for the Ribono Shel Olam. There is only One in the universe who may say 'I'. If we are aware of Hashem's presence, how can we, mere mortals, pride ourselves on being 'I'? We must strive for total bitul, self-effacement.
"Twice you called yourself 'I,' so two times you had to announce, 'It is not I.'"
When Hashem instructed Moshe, "Make for Me a Mikdash," Moshe replied back, "Ribono Shel Olam. Even the Heavens and the Heavens above the Heavens cannot contain You. And here you tell me that you want to rest your Divine Presence in such a small structure as this?" Hashem answered, "This is My portion." (Shmos Rabba 34:1)
Hakadosh Baruch Hu confined His Divine Presence together into a man-made structure. He said, "Make for me a Mikdash so that I shall dwell within them." As Chazal darshan, "It doesn't state "within it." Rather it states "within them" - within each and every one of us. A person has to look at himself as a Beis Hamikdash. However, it can't be an empty edifice. You have to put the Aron Hakodesh containing the holy tablets - the holy Torah. That little bit of Torah sanctifies the person and changes him into a new creature. That small aleph transformed Moshe Rabbeinu into a holy Angel. The tininess of the aleph did not demean him one iota - it was his greatness and preeminence. Without this tiny aleph he would have been deficient and imperfect and not the same "Moshe" totally connected to Hashem Yisborach.
The gemara (Berachos 17a) asks, If women are not obligated in learning Torah, how can they merit a portion in the World to Come? The gemara answers that they take their little children to Shul (our word school derives from the word Shul - the cheider used to be the school where the rebbe taught the little children).
The gemara here is discussing little kinderlach. What is so great about their Torah? What do they learn anyway? A little aleph beis? Aleph, beis, gimmel? And this has the power to send their mothers to Gan Eden after 120 years?
Nissan is החדש הזה לכם "This month is yours." It is for your benefit, for your perfection; to awaken within you a relationship with the Ribono Shel Olam. Someone distant from Torah thinks only about physical worldly pleasures. This creates mental dullness. It reflects a different hashkafa, a different Torah, an outlook very distant from the real core of the holy Torah.
The Yalkut Shimoni (sec 573, also briefly mentioned in gemara Shabbos 147b) discusses Rabbi Elazar ben Arach. As is stated in the second chapter of Avos, he was one of the 5 close talmidim of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai. According to Abba Shaul, he was considered the greatest of the 5 disciples. As long as his rebbe was alive he stayed by his side to learn Torah. After he passed away, however, his comrades went to study at the Yeshiva in Yavne, while R. Elazar, together with his wife, went to settle in the area of Diomesis. It was a resort city with spas (see Rashi) and beautiful scenery. With the passing of his rebbe, he took for granted that the mantle of leadership would shift to him, being the greatest of all the talmidim. Therefore he assumed that the talmidim of the yeshiva would follow him and come to study with him in Diomeses. He was wrong. They stayed in Yavne. Observing the situation, he wanted to join them to continue studying with his comrades. But his wife refused to leave the resort town. She asked him, "Who needs whom?" "They need me," he said. She answered, "Does the bread go to the mice, or the mice to the bread?" So he stayed and learned alone. In the meantime, lacking the refinement that comes from learning together with everyone in yeshiva, his talmudic brilliance faded.
One day he was called in to an academic conference in Yavne. It happened to be Parshas HaChodesh and he was honored with the aliyah. The custom then was that the person who got the aliyah, read the sefer Torah. The possuk reads החדש הזה לכם Hachodesh hazeh lachem (This month is yours). Instead he misread it as החרש היה לבם Hacheresh haya libam (Their hearts became dumb). This was taken as a Heavenly sign that he had forgotten his learning and was no longer a brilliant scholar. The talmidim davened for him and he regained his brilliance. As a result, the mishna in Avos was taught: "Rav Nahurai said, go into exile to a place of Torah, and don't say to yourself that the Torah will come after you. Only your comrades can maintain it by you, don't rely on your own mental prowess." (Some versions of the text explain that Rav Nahurai was Rav Elazar ben Arach. Why was he called Rav Nahurai? The word nahurai in Aramaic connotes light - he enlightened the eyes of the chachamim.)
Rav Elazar ben Arach stayed in the resort city and studied alone. His mind became dull (dumb). He didn't even realize the change. The way he was now seemed fine - kosher v'yosher. Everything was wonderful. But he didn't have the same challenges as before.
A person's job in this world is to sanctify his very being, his limbs, his mind. Rabbeinu Yona (Shaar 3:158) writes that a person has to sanctify his mouth, his lips, his eyes. These are the utensils of his miniature Mikdash; with them he serves his Maker. This is expressed in the Sh'lah (on Taanis 60b), "Make for me a Mikdash so that I shall dwell within them," - within each and every one of us. The person himself becomes a Beis Hamikdash. Within him is the Mizbeach (Alter) with the Shulchan, the Holy Aron and the Holy of Holies where the Shechina dwells. His mitzvos, his Torah, are his sources of life. One little letter, one little spark of holiness brings a connection to Hakadosh Baruch Hu which is the true measurement of the individual.
A person has to value and cherish the smallest accomplishment and view it as a valuable feat in his lifelong climb to spiritual radiance. Even if it is only a tiny little aleph.
Wishing everyone a Gut Shabbos!
© Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
Yeshiva Shaare Chaim.
Rabbi Parkoff is author of "Chizuk!" and "Trust Me!" (Feldheim Publishers), and "Mission Possible!" (Israel Book Shop ? Lakewood).
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