The Virtue of Humility
Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky
When you read from a Scroll (a Sefer Torah) you notice that it has many secrets and details. There are letters that are bigger than others, smaller than others, longer than others, etc. There are letters that are upside down, cut off, or that have dots above them. It is not always clear the reason for these non-regular letters, but the sages tried to give a reason for every little dot they found in the Torah.
One of these non-regular letters of the Torah appears in our parashah. More precisely, it is the first word of the parashah, and also the first word of the Book of Leviticus.
The parashah begins as follows, “The Lord called Moses and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying: Speak to the Israelite people, and say to them” (Leviticus 1:1). If you read this verse from the Torah Scroll, you will notice that the first word of it, Vayikrah (“[He] called”) displays its final Hebrew letter, Aleph, smaller than the rest of the letters. This is called, in the languages of the rabbis, Aleph Ze’ira, a small Hebrew letter Aleph. Why is that? What did our sages say about it? You can find many rabbinical explanations about this fact, but I am only going to share one of them.
Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Peshischa (Przysucha, Poland, 1765–1827) was one of the key leaders of Hasidism. He wrote an interesting commentary on our famous Aleph. According to him, this small letter is a sign of Moses’ humility. Why? He explains it with the following parable: Imagine a man that climbs up to the top of a high mountain. When he is there and sees his fellow humans from above, he might think that he is higher and above all of them, that the other men and women are less than he is. However, this is of course incorrect, because the sudden greatness of this man is not due to his capabilities but to the high mountain on which he is standing.
The same could have happened to Moses when, at the beginning of our parashah, God, the Creator of the Universe, calls on him to approach and receive his teachings directly from God. At this point, Moses could have thought, “Who is like me in this world? Is there a man greater than I am?” But Moses was not pompous, for, as we read, “Moses was a humble man, more so than any other man on earth” (Numbers 12:3).
We are living through a horrible pandemic. Never before has there been a blow of this magnitude to our familiar routines such as the coronavirus, so broad and global in scope. We are trying to adapt to a new lifestyle, so different from the one most of us are used to living. This crisis is affecting all of humanity without making any distinctions of background, origin, beliefs, or status in society. Simple people, government officials, world leaders, and celebrities — no one is immune to the contagion. The situation is showing the whole world how weak and vulnerable humans are in the face of nature. Unlike Moses, who chose to be humble, we are all having a lesson about humility.
One of the main lessons that Judaism teaches is that we can always learn and grow spiritually, even when we are living through hard or bitter times. Maybe during this crisis (may it end sooner than later!) we can learn how important it is to live humble lives, to be happy with our lot, and to appreciate the many blessings we enjoy every day.
As Moses taught us in the Torah, our small differences regarding intellectual, social, or physical aptitudes disappear when we stand before God. We all deserve respect and dignity as human beings, and we should never believe we are worth more or less than other people. May this pandemic end soon, and may we learn to live humbly.