This Shabbat we start reading the book of ‘Vayikra’ (Leviticus). The first Hebrew word, designating the name of the book, says that God calls to Moses. The invitation of calling to someone leaves us waiting to hear what a response might be. In fact, most of the book of Vayikra discusses sacrifices, our ancient dialogue with God, which ultimately resolves into prayer, our modern dialogue with God. All of it the result of God’s invitation and our response.
But the last letter of this first word, an aleph, is written smaller than the other letters. Interestingly, the last book of the Tanakh, Chronicles, also has an unusual letter in its first word. Chronicles starts with the name ‘Adam’, but the aleph at the beginning of that word is larger than the other letters. Two alephs, one smaller and one larger.
Adam, the first human being, and Moses, our greatest Jewish leader, appear to be presenting us with opposite views. The Midrash tells us that the aleph is smaller when God calls Moses because Moses is very modest and wants people to think that God happens to speak to him, not that God seeks him out.
On the other hand, Adam, who represents all of humanity, has an enlarged aleph in his name to show a stronger, less humble, more confident appearance. When it comes to humanity, there may be a greater calling.
How are we to resolve the two alephs?
We need them both to complete the portrait of a Jewish response when God calls. In our personal lives we are taught to be modest. Jewish modesty doesn’t mean thinking less of ourselves, it means thinking of ourselves less often. But when it comes to looking beyond ourselves, looking at others, entering the picture of peoplehood and humanity, we are to remember Adam and the larger aleph. We are to find our confident, stronger voices and unite them to promote peace and protect the innocent.
The two books, Vayikra and Chronicles, remind us of our two powers: the power of restraint, and the power to speak loudly and change the world. As Pesach nears, we will sit at our seders and discuss ancient concepts of suffering and redemption, and then we will discuss the world around us. Our discussions should include Adam and Moses, and which aleph should empower us in our responses.
I’d like to wish everyone a sweet and peaceful Shabbat –our Jewish time to regroup, rest, and reinvigorate.