The Diminutive Aleph

March 16, 2021

3 min read


Vayikra (Leviticus 1-5 )

He [God] called to Moses, and God spoke to him from the Ohel Moed [Tent of Meeting] (Vayikra, 1:1)

In the Torah scroll, the word for “He called,” vayikra, is written with a diminutive aleph. Without the aleph, the word would be vayikar, which means “He happened upon him,” a rather defamatory term used when God spoke to the villainous Bilaam (Numbers 23:4). The Baal HaTurim explains that because of his profound humility, Moses wanted to use the word vayikar in regard to how God spoke to him. Inasmuch as God commanded him to write vayikra, Moses wrote a diminutive aleph.

Some commentaries note that when the Torah was given at Sinai, God called to Moses several times (Exodus 19:3, 20), and Moses wrote the word vayikra without a diminutive aleph. Why the difference?

R' Yitzchok of Vorki explained that sometimes a person may feign humility, when he publicly belittles himself. This is in fact vanity rather than humility, because he is trying to give the impression that he is humble.

When God called to Moses at Sinai, it was in the presence of the entire congregation of Israelites. To have asserted his diminutive status before the eyes of everyone at that time would have been flaunting his humility, which is vanity rather than humility. Moses, therefore, did not make any pretense of humility. When he was called to the Ohel Moed, the Tent of Meeting, however, no one but Moses heard the call (Rashi). Here the expression of humility was genuine and sincere.

There are people who try to impress others with their humility. This affected humility is the polar opposite of true humility.

Humility is the finest of all character traits, but it must be sincere.

Another significance of the small aleph is that in addition to being the name of a letter, aleph is a word that means “learning.” The message of the diminutive aleph is that one can learn only when one is humble. There are some very bright people who do not learn much because they think they already know everything. Vanity is an obstacle to learning.

The mountain of the Sinai range where the Torah was given is the lowest in the range. This was to teach the Israelites that one can acquire Torah only if one is humble.

Repeatedly in Torah literature, Torah is symbolized by water, and it is pointed out that just as water always flows to the lowest level, so Torah flows to those who think of themselves as least. The greatest acquisition of Torah was by Moses, of whom the Torah says was “the most humble of all men on earth” (Numbers 12:3).

The diminutive aleph represents both Moses' profound humility and the lesson that only with humility can one gain knowledge.

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