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FANCY MEETING YOU HERE

by Michael Alterman    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

Dispersed throughout the Torah scroll are various letters which are written either larger or smaller than regular size.

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Dispersed throughout the Torah scroll are various letters which are written either larger or smaller than regular size. Perhaps the most famous example of a miniature letter occurs in the first word of this week's portion. When Hashem calls Moses into the mishkan (Tabernacle) to teach him about the various karbanot (offerings), the Hebrew letter alef at the end of the word "vayikra - and He called" is written small. Why?

The Baal Haturim, a classic 14th century commentary on the Torah, explains that if one were to read that word without the alef it would say "vayekar - and He happened upon". This would imply that Hashem appeared to Moses out of chance, without any particular love or affinity for him, as if he had merely stumbled upon Moses in the mishkan. The Torah uses that same term when Hashem appears to Bilam, the gentile prophet (Numbers 23:16). To distinguish Moses from Bilam, Hashem wanted to use the more endearing word "vayikra" to describe His calling to Moses, for it suggests a greater love and purpose, consistent with the high regard in which Hashem held him. However Moses, in his monumental humility, was uncomfortable copying the word "vayikra" as Hashem had dictated it, and he wanted to leave off the laudatory alef. Such an insult to Moses' dignity Hashem could not bear. Therefore, as a compromise Moses wrote the letter small to decrease the honor which he would receive, while at the same time complying with Hashem's requirement.

It is interesting to note that Moses' great humility is recorded as an introduction to the section of the Torah discussing the various karbanot brought in the mishkan. Perhaps Hashem wanted to save the prospective donor of an offering from falling prey to one of the worst attributes possible - arrogance. Put yourself in the shoes of the pious Jew as he ascends to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem with his magnificent bullock. The animal is quite valuable and represents a true sacrifice on the part of the giver. Thoughts of honor and haughtiness may be whizzing through his mind as he is about to prove his dedication to Hashem by parting with his valuable commodity. "Look at how great I am," he gloats, "I am willing to give up so much, just for the sake of Hashem."

Nothing, however, could be more inconsistent with the intended purpose of karbanot. The offerings were meant to bring forth thoughts of humility and modesty as the giver imagines himself bound to the altar in the animal's place. To remind us to remain humble, even upon making such a tremendous sacrifice, the Hebrew letter alef is written small, as the Torah exclaims that one of the greatest accolades to be bestowed upon Moses was that he was humble.

This same lesson applies to us today. While we do not have the privilege of bringing karbanot, we do perform many mitzvot and acts of kindness with great dedication. The temptation to seek honor and glory for our good deeds remains a true test to each and every one of us. However, with hard work and introspection, we have the power within ourselves to overcome this obstacle and purify our intentions.

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Michael Alterman, a graduate of Yeshiva Atlanta, is enrolled in a joint program with the Ner Israel Rabbinical College and the University of Baltimore.

You are invited to read more Parshat Vayikra articles.

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