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The Small Aleph

Vayikra (Leviticus 1-5 )

by Rabbi Menachem Weiman

What a difference a letter makes.

Without understanding the Hebrew text of the Torah, it will always be a foreign book to you. I often find it odd when a Christian missionary approaches me to convert me to his/her way of thinking, and when I ask, "Have you read the Torah in its original language?", they admit they can't even read Hebrew.

Of course a lot of the wisdom and instructions for living comes through in any language, but the real stuff is in the language that the Infinite One created for the purpose of communicating His message. French may be the best language for romance. German may be a great language for philosophy. Hebrew is the language of Godliness.


The first word of this week's portion, Vayikra – "And He called" – contains a scribal abnormality that is rarely found in the Bible. The last letter of the word, an aleph, is written smaller than its normal size. Why is this done? What lesson is God trying to teach us?

Since the aleph is small, at first glance you might read the word without the aleph and pronounce it "vayikar." In fact, we find that word used when God appears to the character Bilaam in Numbers 23:4: "And God happened upon Bilaam."

Although the two words have a similar meaning, the Midrash tells us that the word vayikra (with the aleph) implies a loving, close relationship, as in Isaiah 6:3 when the angels are calling to one another. And the word vayikar (without an aleph) implies an accident and spiritual impurity, kind of like when a potty-training child has an "accident."


"Your Arm's Too Short to Box with God" was an interesting title of a Broadway show some years back. While the message is clear, sometimes we find very righteous people arguing with God. (Some commentators even say that the word "Israel" means to struggle with God.)

Moses had several arguments with God, one of them over the use of the aleph in this word. Moses, in his humility, wanted God to use the word vayikar without an aleph to show that he regarded himself no better than Bilaam. Yet God wanted Moses to write it with the aleph as an expression of intimacy and affection. So they compromised – by using a small aleph.

Why would God allow His will to be changed when He wished to express His relationship with Moses a specific way? Possibly to suggest that compromise is the essence of relationships. Every good relationship includes compromise, or else it turns one-sided. If only one side always gives in, resentment builds and unhealthy energy develops.

The mezuzah that's placed on the doorpost emphasizes a similar concept. There arose two different opinions regarding the placement of the mezuzah. One opinion held it should be straight up and down. The other opinion held it should lie horizontal. Our custom has become to put it on an angle. Not vertical, and not horizontal. A harmonious home is built on compromise.


An enlightening thought comes out of the use of the aleph in this special Hebrew word. The letter aleph is the only thing that stands between vayikra and vayikar, purpose and accident. Is it really possible that God came to Bilaam accidentally? Was the Almighty strolling down the road aimlessly? No! The Infinite Being can't "happen upon" anyone; it's against His definition. However, it is possible that Bilaam related to God that way. Moses saw the hand of God everywhere, whereas Bilaam viewed God as popping in and out his life like Superman.

Everything that happens to you can be viewed as an accident, a meaningless occurrence based on the randomness of the universe. But our definition of God is that He is part of every molecule, from the atom to the Milky Way and beyond; and part of every event, from the twitch of a fly's compound eye to the orbit of Pluto.

Aleph is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, has the symbolic value of one, and often represents God, the ultimate oneness. So the letter aleph is perfect to bring out this point. When the aleph is there, all of life is purposeful and meaningful. When the aleph isn't there, life is happenstance, and consequently a source of spiritual impurity.

The choice is yours: Will you notice the aleph?

Spiritual Exercise:

This week, pick three events that happen and ask, "What might be the reason the Almighty is having this happen to me? What lesson can I learn? What benefit is hidden in it?"


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