The English translation of the first sentence of Vayikra is “And God called to Moses and spoke to him.”
The very first word of Vayikra, the third book of Torah (commonly called Leviticus), demands our attention. If you are reading the words in English, you wouldn’t give it a second glance – the English translation of the first sentence of Vayikra is “And God called to Moses and spoke to him.”
In Hebrew, in Torah, the word is written with the last letter, the Hebrew letter aleph, made smaller than the rest of the word. (Written with English letters instead of Hebrew, the word would look like this: VAYIKRa. So of course our rabbinic sages had to assign meaning to this anomaly.
In the previous chapter, Moses and the Israelites completed the work of building the Mishkan (portable sanctuary). Moses thought perhaps his job as leader was also completed. But in the next sentence God tells Moses, no, your job is not over. Now it’s time to teach the Israelites about their spiritual life.
So Moses is standing outside the Tent of Meeting when God “calls” to him, vayikra. This is not the first time God called Moses. In Exodus 3:4, at the Burning Bush, God calls Moses to be a leader, but that “vayikra” is written with all letters the same size. In this chapter, God is calling Moses to give instructions to the Israelites for making sacrifices. The Sages teach us that Moses was so humble about this role, accepting the sacrifices and atonements of others, that he needed the final letter in vayikra to be small, to demonstrate his humility.
In the Book of Exodus, Moses was called to be a leader, requiring courage and strength, not humility. In his role as a priest and counsellor, Moses is required to be humble. Rabbi S. Weiss taught , “The lesson here, of course, is obvious. When a person is humble, modest, unassuming; when he tries to limit his stature rather than promote it…the end result is that he becomes even greater!” So it was for Moses, modeling a lesson for all of us.
May this be a week of blessings and a Shabbat of peace,
Rabbi Debbie Israel