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Greetings from the holy city of Jerusalem!
This week's Torah portion begins with God speaking to Moses (Leviticus 1:1). Rashi points out that God addresses Moses with the word "vayikra," whereas in Parshat Balak (Numbers 23:4) God speaks to the gentile prophet, Bilam, with the word "vayikar." Although these two words are almost identical, the word "vayikra" comes from the root word "to call," whereas the word "vayikar" comes from the root word "to happen." What does this difference in terminology signify?
The commentator Shem MiShmuel explains that God did not call to Bilam with affection; rather, He simply chanced upon him and happened to speak to him. But the word "vayikar" also has a deeper significance in the story of Bilam. According to the Shem MiShmuel, Bilam's experience communicating with the Divine was just something that happened - just another event in his life. Speaking with God did not change Bilam or move him to grow in any way; it simply happened to take place.
Bilam wanted the best of both worlds. He wanted to be close to God, but, at the same time, he was not willing to change any aspect of his lifestyle. Although Bilam claims that he wishes to die the death of the righteous (Numbers 23:10), it is clear from his conduct that he has no intention of compromising his behavior in order to reach this goal. Yet the point of Torah is to make a difference and spur us to growth. Surface knowledge that doesn't make a difference in our lives is almost worthless. The true value of Torah is revealed when we allow it to penetrate, and when we use that wisdom to change our lives.
According to our tradition, the word vayikra is written in a Torah scroll with a small letter aleph. Although the text is ambiguous regarding who exactly called to Moses, this letter makes it quite clear. Aleph is spelled the same way as the word aluf, which means "chief." Furthermore, the letter aleph itself is composed of one long line and two short lines, which resemble a vav and two yuds. The numerical value of these component letters is 26 - the same numerical value as God's four-letter Name. Thus, the aleph teaches us that the Chief (aluf) of the World (i.e. God, numerically 26) is ultimately One: the numerical value of the letter aleph.
When we use Torah to grow, we have the opportunity to elevate ourselves and become God-like. It was God who called to Moses, calling to him with love: "Come here! Come close! Grow toward Me!"
May we all merit to hear our calling in life, and may our knowledge penetrate below the surface and make a difference in how we live our lives.