And so, this Shabbat, we come to the beginning of the great Book of Leviticus. We settle in for discussions of law and ritual. In traditional schools, it is customary for Torah education to begin with the first verse of this book: “And God called to Moses” (Leviticus 1:1). If you go to your Hebrew Torah, you will see that the word “Va’yikra” (called) is written with one letter, the “aleph”, smaller than the rest. Why?
There are many interpretations, as you can imagine. One speaks to the idea of the little child who is being called to study Torah and in this sense, is holy. Another interpretation speaks to the value of humility. In the world of “Mussar” (ethical teachings) this value is powerful. We are reminded that humility is a positive virtue and, to some, the necessary first ingredient to living a proper life. Or, to put it in another way, keep that ego in check or you loose sight of truth. There is also another insight that is so important, that of having “too much” humility, which leads one to low self esteem. If we see our self as only that small “aleph”, then we become paralyzed in life. In a real sense, we do not have the ability to answer God’s call.
We are told by our doctors, and some of us see this, that our own aging sometimes has the effect of having us loose some height. Yes, we become physically smaller. My last physical exam had me arguing with the doctors measuring tool. How could this Torah portion relate to this? Well, let me suggest that one of our goals is that we are constantly being “called” by the sacred and that no matter what our stature physically, our spiritual stature continues to grow, if we so choose. The commentators also remark on the fact that our Judaism tells us that no matter what age or situation we find ourselves in, the ability to learn, grow and answer God’s call is never ended. The idea of humility also comes into play as we age and begin to assess our life story. In that reflection we are humbled in our attempt to understand all that has transpired in our life. In looking back, we can gather understanding and courage to move into the future. That small “aleph” is calling us to continue to learn and in doing so, to walk in humility with the sacred in life.
Rabbi Richard F Address, D.Min
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.