Parshat Vayikra, Leviticus 1:1-5:26
Is bigger really better?
True or false? 1. The more we appreciate our insignificance, the more selfish we become. 2. Feelings of insignificance make a person selfless. 3. A sense of self-worth can be the source of humility.
This week’s Torah reading opens the third book of the Torah. Both the portion and the entire book are called Vayikra, which means “He called.” G-d is calling to Moses from the Sanctuary to teach him the laws that he would then transmit to the Jewish people.
There is an interesting anomaly in how the word vayikra is written in the Torah scroll. The last letter of the word, the letter aleph, is written in a small, undersized script. In contrast, the first letter of the opening word of the Book of Chronicles, “Adam” — also an aleph — is written in a large, oversized script.
Why the different sizes in the script? And why is the aleph small when relating to Moses while it is large when relating to Adam? In addition, do the small and large alephs hold a lesson for us in how to gain a positive and productive self-image?
The person who sees himself as the kingpin of creation, as being of paramount importance to the grand Divine plan, is driven to fill that role and serve that plan.
On the other hand, if man is insignificant, then he serves no higher purpose. “I am nothing” can be just another way of saying, “There’s nothing but me.”
A sense of self-worth can be the source of either arrogance or humility—depending on how a person regards his worth.
Adam and Moses were both great men, and both were cognizant of their greatness. Adam was the “handiwork of G-d” fashioned after “the divine image.” His sense of himself as the crown of
G-d’s creation is what led to his downfall (in the sin of the tree of knowledge), when he understood this to mean that nothing is beyond his ken.
Moses was well aware of the fact that, of all G-d’s creations, he was the only one to whom G-d spoke “face to face”; he knew that it was to and through him that G-d communicated His wisdom and will to the world. But rather than the inflated aleph of Adam, this realization evoked in him the self-effacing aleph of Vayikra. Moses felt diminished by his gifts, humbled by the awesome responsibility of proving equal to them. As the Torah attests, “Moses was the most humble man on the face of the earth”: not despite of, but rather because of his greatness.
Adam and Moses were both great men, aware of their greatness. But in Adam this sense of self-worth caused his downfall, whereas in Moses it evoked humility and further greatness.
True humility and a productive self-image do not come from denying one’s talents, but rather from acknowledging that they are merely a bequest from Above.
We are all spiritual heirs of Adam and Moses. When we feel inadequate we must remember that we are Adams, with big alephs. When thoughts of “Who am I?” deter us from our task, we must recall that we are formed by G-d’s own hands and are fully capable of caring for His garden.
At the same time, we must recall that we are like Moses and thereby ensure that our self-assurance does not develop into conceit.
As Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Peshischa taught, keep two truths in your pocket and take them out according to the need of the moment. Let one be “I am but dust and ashes,” and the other “For my sake the world was created.”
Rabbi Mendy Schapiro is the spiritual leader of the Chabad of Monroeville. This column is a service of Vaad Harabanin of Pittsburgh.