Weekly Torah Commentary — Vayikra March 23, 2012

We begin studying the third book of the Torah this week, Vayikra/Leviticus. In Hebrew, Vayikra means “and He called” which are the opening words of the book in which Hashem calls upon Moshe to initiate the service in the Tabernacle.

There is a fascinating element in these first few words that is lost to anyone who cannot read the Torah in Hebrew. In the word, Vayikra, the letter alef is written especially small. What is the reason for this? And why is it important?

This tiny alef speaks loudly and clearly about a concept intrinsic to the Torah as well as to Israel.
The Sages, especially Rashi, teach us that this unusually written letter relates to Creation, Israel and the virtue of humility.

In the act of Creation, Hashem chose to — in a manner of speaking — “diminish” Himself by hiding Himself in the created world. We allude to this concept when someone recognizes the power of Hashem in a magnificent sunset, or His awesome greatness in majestic mountains, or His exquisite loving kindness in the birth of a baby. In such instances, we do not see HIM but we recognize His presence hidden in each of these examples. The G-d of all the Universe is content to be humbly concealed with the work of His hands.

Rashi asks the question, “Why does the Torah begin with the creation of the world? Should it not have begun with the birth of the Jewish people since the Torah was given to the Children of Israel?

He goes on to answer his own question by saying that in Hashem’s wisdom it was indeed appropriate to begin the Torah with the story of the creation of the world in order that the nations would understand that the Creator of All has the right to choose the Land of Israel as His peculiar possession and therefore He also has the right to give it to whomever He chooses.

What about the birth of Israel? Here, too, we find the concept of “diminishing”. After the glorious days of great promise in the time of the patriarchs, the children of Israel were diminished by slavery in Egypt where for many years it seemed that the presence of Hashem was increasingly hidden from them. As the years of hardship and cruel bondage continued, the hope of seeing the promises made to Avraham, Yitzhak and Ya’acov weakened, and for some, disappeared altogether.

At the right time, Hashem sought out a man hidden away in Midian, far from his enslaved brethren.
He called him, instructed him, and sent him back to Egypt with a mandate: demand of Pharaoh freedom for My people. Could He not have raised up a leader from among the slaves?

It was not His way. He chose a man, Moshe, who had been himself hidden away for some forty years, and to that humble man Hashem entrusted the message of deliverance.

The birth of the nation of Israel is likewise connected to the concept of “diminishing”. In Devarim, Hashem tells the people that He did not choose them because they were the greatest but because they were the least. The nation that in the end of Days, when the Kingdom of Hashem is restored to the earth, will be the pre-eminent nation over all must have its beginnings, and indeed most of its history, be characterized by humility. Israel is a small country, as countries go. Our entire population today is less than some of the major cities in America. From an earthly viewpoint, this is a humble nation, yet within its essence, Israel carries a divine mandate, an eternal destiny.

Humility, symbolized by the uniquely small alef in the opening word of this week’s parsha, is a virtue greatly prized by Hashem. He sets the example for when Hashem invited Moshe to enter the Tabernacle and initiate its service, Moshe could not because the glory of Hashem filled the entire Mishkan. In essence, Hashem had to ‘diminish’ the intensity of His presence so that mortal man could stand in the Tabernacle. In His very own willingness to hide Himself in creation, and in history, as we saw just days ago when reading the Scroll of Esther on Purim, Hashem demonstrates the beauty and the importance of humility. He has kept His chosen people small and humble compared to the rest of the nations of the earth but one day that will all change.

One day, Messiah will appear. He will ascend the throne of David and establish Hashem’s kingdom on this earth and as the prophets proclaimed, in that day all the nations will come to Jerusalem to worship the King and to celebrate the Festivals of Hashem. It is the path of humility – and only humility – that will lead Israel to that glorious day.

In Tune with Torah this week = meditating on the humility of G-d Himself. May His example lead us to flee from all pride and egotism and embrace that true humility which is precious and dear to the very heart of our Heavenly Father.

Shabbat Shalom

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