Wednesday, March 16, 2005

THE ALEPH OF TORAH

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Parshas Vayikrah, which details the complex laws of korbanos opens with a lesson seemingly unrelated to the bringing of a korban.

The first word of the parsha is Vayikrah. As we all know, the alef at the end of this word in the Sefer Torah is considerably smaller than the four other letters which comprise the word.

Vayikrah means “he called.” Without the final alef, the word is vayiker, which means “he happened to [appear to] him.”

When transcribing the Torah, Moshe Rabbeinu in his humility wrote vayikrah with a small alef, in order to downplay his importance and his closeness with G-d.

Rashi explains that vayikrah is an expression of love, one used by the angels as well. Vayiker, on the other hand, is a euphemism applied to something tamei, unclean, or something that happens infrequently.

Moshe Rabbeinu would rather have had future generations think that his relationship with Hashem was akin to the relationship Bilaam had with Him. He preferred that no one know its true nature; that it was derech chiba, as Rashi says, one of singular love.

Moshe Rabbeinu, the greatest leader the Jewish people ever had, the greatest Novi who merited the unparalleled distinction of peh el peh adabeir bo, wanted to leave an impression that he was not all that great after all.

The Medrash states that Moshe wiped his forehead with the extra ink that remained from reducing the size of the alef in vayikrah, and this caused the koran ohr panav, the unnatural brightness of his face. The drop of ink wiped across his brow is what gave Moshe Rabbeinu’s face the brilliant glow.

The posuk that recounts how Moshe returned from Har Sinai with the facial luster tells us that the Jewish people were afraid to approach him. But Moshe was unaware of how his face had been altered and called out to Aharon, the Nessiim and all of the Jewish people. From then on, he concealed his face with a mask during the times that he was not in communication with Hashem.

Moshe was the anav mikal Adam, the humblest of men who walked the earth. Chazal teach that the Torah was delivered on Har Sinai because it was a small and unassuming mountain. Torah leadership and Torah itself demand humility. The “alef” of Torah leadership—and the foremost requirement in molding oneself into a Torah personality—is to conduct oneself with anavah.

Moshe Rabbeinu had just spent forty days and forty nights in the company of Hashem. He had written the luchos, received the secrets of the Torah and all the halachos leMoshe mi’Sinai. And when he returned he was prepared to speak to the Jewish people just as he had before, as if nothing had changed.

After spending forty days and nights in Divine company he was still able to communicate with ordinary people; he didn’t consider it below his dignity to deal with the common folk. But the people knew better. They saw that he had changed, that it wasn’t the same Moshe Rabbeinu; that he was treated with a special love by Hashem.

NO AIRS OF SUPERIORITY

Moshe Rabbeinu was strong and assertive when it came to chastising Bnei Yisroel when they sinned; he did not hesitate to confront Korach and his evil group; he did not vacillate when dealing with Pharoh; but when it came to interacting with his fellow Jews he did so with pure anavah.

Somebody smaller than Moshe would have considered it beneath his dignity to speak with mortals. Moshe Rabbeinu was great enough that he didn’t. After writing the luchos, when he ascended the highest levels of kedusha, Moshe approached Klal Yisroel no differently than prior to that Divinely uplifting experience.

It was the very humble act of writing the small alef that instead of veiling his greatness, caused it to become known. Kol haboreach min hakavod hakavod borei’ach acharov; Moshe sought to escape from honor and thus proved himself most deserving of the ultimate kavod.

It would surely be to our advantage if we followed the lesson of Moshe Rabbeinu and realized where we stand in society—on equal terms with each and every other Jew. Only a person who is indeed small can perceive himself as better than others.

Any believing Jew ought to know that if he is born more intelligent than others, it is a gift from Hashem and it obligates him to do more than those created without these gifts. Smart as a person is, there is so much he doesn’t know and will never be able to learn. A humble, G-d fearing person feels smaller as he gains more knowledge, for the more he learns the more he realizes that there is yet more to know—and the more he becomes aware of his own inadequacy.

Any intelligent person who has been blessed with wealth also ought to realize that his largesse is a gift from G-d, as well as a challenge to see if he will use it for good.

If a person were to honestly review all he did as he was climbing up the corporate ladder and building his business, he would have to acknowledge all the missteps he took, or almost took, which had the potential to sink him. His mistakes didn’t wipe him out and his near-mistakes were caught in time, only because Hashem wanted him to succeed. Therefore, even the most grievous miscalculations failed to torpedo the pre-ordained plan. Only a fool can think that his genius and dazzle earned him his millions.

And the same is true with any gift a person possesses; only someone thoroughly blinded by conceit can think that they did all by themselves. Did they create themselves with beauty and intelligence? Do they have anything to do with the way they look? Was it something they did that made them smarter than other people?

HUMILITY COMES FIRST

The foremost prerequisite in bringing a korban—the proverbial “alef” of the entire process—is to realize that humilty is the first letter of Torah observance. Someone who is coming to offer up a sacrifice to atone for a sin he committed has to be cognizant of the fact that he is but a small cog in a Divine plan. One who sins may have forgotten that all he has is from the Creator and has thus fallen prey to temptations of his Yeitzer Horah.

A person who realizes that all he has is from Hashem is much less likely to sin and to harm his fellow man.

It is not enough to dwell in the House of the L-rd; it is insufficient to seek atonement through a Korban if one fails to appreciate his proper place in creation. A haughty person will continue to trample on people’s property and feelings. An arrogant individual will continue to be careless with his observance of mitzvos. After all, who out there can tell him what to do?

One who wishes to set themselves upon the path of perfection and atonement must first follow the example of Moshe Rabbeinu and seek to minimize his own self-importance. One who wants to achieve true greatness must realize how small he is in the grand scheme.

True Jewish leaders have time for children and the peshutei am who line up for their blessings. Gedolim through the ages have been beloved and renowned as much for their gadlus b’Torah as their midos tovos. Gedolim have always been eminently accessible and approachable by supplicants who seek out their wisdom and counsel. Since the days of Moshe Rabbeinu, our manhigim have never considered it beneath their dignity to minister to the masses.

Rav Shach would distribute candy to children; Rav Boruch Ber posed for the camera of a widow who wanted to earn a few desperately needed kopeks selling his picture; we all know the stories. They were not just sweet old men; they were giants who made time for everyone. They knew that it didn’t take away from their own kavod to give kavod to others.

THE MISSING MEMBER OF THE MISSION

I recently heard a story about a contemporary Rosh Yeshiva that exemplifies the trait of kindness fused with humility. It is doubtful whether its hero even remembers it happened.

Last summer, a young man who had recently become a baal teshuvah went to Yerushalayim to study in Yeshiva Ohr Someach. On Friday night he was sitting in his rebbi’s home, recounting a story that had happened to him in the holy city.

He told the rebbi that he had gone to the Kosel to daven and noticed some excitement and commotion nearby. People were crowding about, craning to get a look at someone.He shouted out to nobody in particular, “What is going on?” A man heard him and came over to him, explaining that two great rabbis had come to Israel on a mission for an organization named Lev L’Achim. The man told him that they are very famous and beloved American rabbis and the people at the Kosel wanted to catch a glimpse of them. One of them, he said, is Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Levin who heads the Telshe Yeshiva in Chicago. He identified the other as Rabbi Aharon Schechter who heads a famous yeshiva in Brooklyn called Rabbi Chaim Berlin. The man suggested that the baal teshuvah join the others and approach the rabbi and ask him for a brocha.

Feeling bashful, the man declined. His new friend then took him by the hand and said, “Come I’ll take you over to the rabbi.” He introduced him to Rav Schechter and asked him to give the young man a brocha that he should succeed in his studies in Yerushalayim.

The young man relating this story marveled at the kindness and warmth of a total stranger who went out of his way to make sure he received a coveted brocha from the visiting rabbi. He had had wanted to thank his benefactor, but before he could do so, the man got swallowed up in the crowd and disappeared from view.

The rebbi commented that there were actually three American rabbis on that mission, not two. “Didn’t the man tell you about Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky? He is the Rosh Yeshiva of the Philadelphia yeshiva and a leading rabbi in America. He was part of the mission. Unfortunately, you missed on opportunity to meet one of the senior and leading roshei yeshiva.”

The rebbi then showed his guest one of the various Israeli publications that had published pictures of the Lev L’Achim mission. “Look right here,” he said to him, “here is a picture of the three of them, and that one is Rabbi Kamenetsky.”

The young man blinked in amazement. “That is the man who befriended me!” he exclaimed. “He’s the one who took me by the hand and brought me over to Rabbi Schechter for a brocha.”

Rav Shmuel was the selfless and unassuming man who had slipped away from the paparazzi and dozens of followers. He was busy extending a helping hand to a young man at the Kosel, answering his questions and bringing him to the great Rosh Yeshiva for a brocha.

That is anava. That is something for us to emulate. We don’t always have to push to the front to the center of action. There is plenty to accomplish behind the scenes and from the sidelines.

There are countless times that Rav Shmuel is at the front, on the Mizrach and on the dais where he rightfully belongs. Yet he is great enough to know that it is not beneath his dignity to step back when necessary, in order to befriend someone lost in the tumult and seeking some direction.

And if it’s not below his dignity it should not be beneath ours to find time for other people and not always be so self-centered. Let us try to inculcate in ourselves anavah and ahavas Yisroel and do our best to implement these qualities in our dealings with our fellow Jews. We can take the time to say a nice hello, give directions and assistance to those who need it. Life is not all about us; it’s about what we can do for the other guy as well.

That is the alef of Torah—the very first step. From this foundation, all the rest follows.

6 Comments:

Blogger Lisaantlip said...

"A haughty person will continue to trample on people’s property and feelings … After all, who out there can tell him what to do?"

It is implied by these words that the author is concluding that it is meritorious to embody the opposite of these traits. So, nu?
When is the retraction and apology going to be printed?

12:43 AM  
Blogger yeshivish said...

lisaant, Do you think that your comment is interesting? enlightening? convincing?

Or are you just out to harass and insult - the very things that you accuse others of doing....

11:43 AM  
Blogger Lisaantlip said...

ah, reb pinchos, good to hear from you again! how are things going for you?

12:59 PM  
Blogger yeshivish said...

rabbi tendler, I am not "reb pinchos".

BTW, congratulations on another useless comment

1:26 PM  
Blogger Lisaantlip said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

1:46 AM  
Blogger Lisaantlip said...

"rabbi tendler"?
hahaha, i wish it were true.

Ah Freilachen Purim, Reb Pinchos.

May your columns only continue to be as inspiring, poetic and beautiful, as they are heartfelt and true.
May you see much hatzlacha in your efforts as time progresses and steps are taken to correct the past and move on.

2:17 AM  

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