A Taste of Torah in Honor of Shabbat
by Rabbi Avi Weiss
Shabbat Parshat VaYikra
1 Nisan 5758, March 27-28, 1998
Why is the letter aleph in the word va-yikrah, the very first word of the Book of
Leviticus written smaller than the others?
Smaller, suggests the Ba'al Turim, because it points to Moshe's (Moses) humility --
teaching an ethical lesson.
Moshe preferred the text to read va-yikar without a
final aleph, as va-yikar means "by chance." Rather than state
that God called Moshe (va-yikra) implying a constant close relationship, Moshe in his
modesty wished the text to read that on occasion God spoke with him (va-yikar).
Moshe, of course, adheres to God's command that the
aleph be included, but does so humbly and writes a small aleph.
A second more mystical thought comes to mind. Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook, the first
Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Israel insists that the soul is made up of different
Hebrew letters. When performing a mitzvah (commandment) Rav Kook argues, the letters
shine brightly. In other words, whatever the action required for a religious
observance, it ought reflect an inner spiritual quest - and, that quest is expressed
through the illumination of the inner letters.
Perhaps this teaching explains why the aleph is smaller. The aleph being the first
letter of the alphabet represents all Hebrew letters, and those letters for Rav Kook
mirror the idea of the "soul aglow." A korban (sacrifice) which
is the subject of God's calling to Moshe (va-yikra) should not remain an external empty
gesture. It must be complemented by the human being's inner decision to internalize
the mitzvah. Hence, the aleph is distinguished by being written small, as the goal of the
sacrifice is to stir the figuratively small albeit powerful "lights of the
soul" drawing one near God. No wonder the very word korban comes from the word
karov, to come close to God.
A final Chassidic thought: Rav Shlomo Carlebach often told the story of the Munkacsza
passport. In this story his uncle asked the Munkacsza Rebbe for a
passport to travel from Munkacsz to Berlin just before WW II.
Considering the climate of the times the request seemed
impossible to fulfill. After many hours, the Rebbe emerged from his private chambers
and gave him an empty piece of paper soaked with tears with which Shlomo's uncle
was escorted everywhere in Germany with great honor.
Rav Shlomo explained that the Munkascza passport surfaces over and over in our lives.
When a bride walks around the groom, they give each other the Munkascza passport.
When children are born they close their eyes and cry, giving to and receiving from
their parents the Munkascza passport. And when we stand near the Kotel to pray
before the Lord, we do so with the Munkascza
passport. And, concluded Rav Shlomo, when we begin the Talmud, we start on the
second page -- daf bais. Where is daf aleph, the first page? It is empty,
absolutely empty. It is the Munkascza passport.
Rav Shlomo never explained what the Munkascza passport meant, but for me it represents
infinite love. Hence the aleph of va-yikra is small to remind us of the importance
of approaching God with daf aleph, with the Munkascza passport -- symbol of the
unconditional love that we ought have for God and that God has for us and that we should
all have for each other.
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