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"And He called to Moshe, and Hashem spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying" (Vayikra 1:1). Rashi explains that the Hebrew word "Vayikra," which means to call, is an expression of love which the Angels use among each other.
However, the letter "aleph" at the end of the word is written in the Torah very small. One of the reasons given is that Moshe Rabbeinu, who was the most modest of all, didn't want to write that Hashem called him. Without the aleph, it would read Vayikar which would be translated that Hashem "happened upon" him, as it says regarding the evil Bil'am when he prophesied (Bemidbar 23:4). Since he could not actually change the word from the way Hashem dictated it to him, though, the most he could do was to write the last letter small.
A few weeks ago (Shemos 34:29), the Torah taught us that when Moshe came down from Sinai with the second tablets, the skin of his face shone with a tremendous radiance. There is an opinion of the Sages that this light came from the left over ink in his pen which he smeared on his head. The question is asked, though, why was there any left over ink? Didn't Hashem give Moshe the exact amount of ink he needed to write the Torah?
As a child I was taught that one of the explanations given is that this ink was extra because Moshe wrote the aleph smaller than it should have been.
The message behind this interpretation is that the Rabbis taught (Eiruvin 13b) that "one who runs away from greatness; greatness pursues him." Consequently, since Moshe tried to avoid honor at all costs, he was granted the greatest honor of all - that his face shone with the Light of Hashem for all to see.
However, the Torah stresses that Moshe did not know that his face shone. For had he known, he would have avoided that too, as we see that he then proceeded to cover his face with a mask.
Some modest people, who follow in Moshe's ways, make it difficult for the greatness which is pursuing them to overtake them, and all of their lives they succeed in being a few steps away from honor. However, people say, when does greatness finally catch up with them? When they die and can no longer run away. Then, at their funerals, they are extended the honors they always deserved as thousands assemble to show their respects for the deceased and tell stories about them.
Last year, Rabbi Yisroel Grossman zt"l passed away in Jerusalem. He lived a life of extreme modesty but his greatness was revealed when thousands of people attended his funeral and visited the family during the week of shiv'ah, telling remarkable stories about him.
He was an erudite Torah scholar who was always learning and wrote 14 volumes of Responsa (his last days in the hospital, with breathing contraptions attached to his body, he complained that he can only learn 7 pages of Gemara a day!). Yet his home was always open to anyone in need and he would spend hours of his precious time listening to people's problems and helping them.
During the shiv'ah his tiny apartment was swarmed with visitors who came to console the bereaved family. Tensions were high among the children who were trying to be careful that everyone receives the honor due him or her and that no one feels slighted in any way. Suddenly, a woman, who was obviously not all there, and her young daughter arrived. Noticing a carton of sodas, she asked one of Rabbi Grossman's daughters for a drink which she quickly gave her. Then she asked for a drink from a different bottle and received that too. Then she asked for something for her daughter and a drink from another bottle for herself. The daughter, who was very pressed for time, finally said to her, "Why don't you just take the whole carton?" The woman understood the hint and immediately replied, "Oh ho. Your father had a lot more patience for me than you have."
Indeed, the last thing he told his son, Rav Yitzchak Dovid shlita, was, "The greatest thing in Heaven is to do a favor to a Jew."
I was privileged to see his Last Will and Testament which he left for his children. We were all totally shocked to read how, in his extreme modesty, he wrote how afraid he is of the Judgment Day, having accomplished very little in his life. He foretells that he knows that people will eulogize him as having been a righteous scholar; but it is all false.
One of the many stories that were told was about someone who published a siddur with the customs and commentaries of one of the Rabbis of Karlin. Rabbi Grossman was very anxious to get a copy as soon as possible and, indeed, the publisher produced a special volume in honor of the Rabbi who was thrilled to receive it. However, the man noticed that Rabbi Grossman did not pray from it in shul on Shabbos and was very disappointed. On Sunday, he came to visit the Rabbi who paid him handsomely for the masterpiece but explained that he could not pray in it because he had inscribed on its pages: In honor of the Gaon and Tzaddik (the Genius and Righteous one) Rabbi Yisroel Grossman. 'A siddur contains only truths," the modest Rabbi said. "I cannot pray in a book which contains lies!"
Further in the Will he writes that although it is embarrassing for him to admit his faults to his children, he has no choice because he is doing it in order to beseech their help. "Imagine someone who fell into a pit and is in danger of drowning and needs help desperately. Would he not cry out for help because when they come people will see that his clothes are torn and filthy?
"Similarly," he continues, "I am frantically calling for your help. Please, do whatever you can to save me. Learn Torah, pray, give tzedakah and perform mitzvahs in memory of my soul. Say that it may be a merit for Yisroel ben Moshe Shneur Zalman. And if I can, I will repay the favor by beseeching Hashem to help you in return."
Those of us who read these remarkable words cried hysterically as we began to comprehend a bit the extreme modesty of this giant of a man who surely wanted us to consider a bit how strict the Judgment Day is in order that we mend our own ways in time. And that would surely be a great merit to his pure soul.
May his memory be a blessing to us all among all of our brothers and sisters in Israel.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network