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 VaYikra: “When you look at him, you see Me!”

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daniel eliezer

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Join date : 2011-12-01
Location : Beit El, Israel

PostSubject: VaYikra: “When you look at him, you see Me!”   Wed Mar 13, 2013 2:22 pm

(This Torah was originally written for a different audience, and, as such, I was free to use - and freed from having to translate - transliterated Hebrew. At the moment I don't have the patience to translate the transliterated Hebrew other than for a few words - and only once. For those who are at a loss and who don't have access to Jewish libraries, most of the words (not many) can probably be found through Google. If the word is critical to what I'm saying, then it is explained.)

“When you look at him, you see Me!”

Dear Chevre,

A dear friend and I have a joke in which we call each other HaAnav HaGadol BaOlam – the Most Humble Person in the World. This humor derived from our thinking about Moshe Rabbainu, who was the Most Humble Person in the World, and realizing that, “If God were my dearest friend, would I be so humble?!”

Truthfully, our humor originates from our needs as human beings to recognize and be recognized. Even without getting involved with recognition as an end in itself, there is no doubt that much of what we do is because of recognition that we will receive. From fame to infamy and everything in between, recognition is a powerful motivator.

Recognition is such a major factor in our lives that it is difficult to find a people and society that do not place a premium value on it. Whom we choose to honor and award and why might be the most accurate measure of a culture that we have. In today’s world, where superlative pursues superlative and achievement overtakes achievement, society might even whither without it. Sometimes it seems to be that the sole underlying principle in this world is: “Be noticed!”

Thankfully, we also know that there is much positive recognition, especially that which is neither solicited nor sought. Those who have been blessed to receive the genuine accolades and acknowledgement, gratitude and commendation of others know that it is one of the most wonderful feelings that a human being can experience.

In relating to the centrality of recognition in our lives, the Torah emphasizes 'ענוה' anavah, humbleness and modesty - the opposite of recognition - as the epitome of achievement. Moshe Rabbainu, who spoke face to face with God, paradoxically is our paradigm for this virtue. Setting aside for the moment what this means, let’s consider one thing. Moshe Rabbainu was human and even though he didn’t pursue honor, award, or high office, nevertheless at some point in his life seemingly he would want at least the satisfaction of saying, “I helped do this!” Yet God tells us otherwise; that Moshe Rabbainu was genuinely the Most Humble Man in the World. How and why?

At the very beginning of Sefer Shemot (Exodus) [1:1] the Torah recites the names of B’nei Yisrael who had descended to Mitzraim, even though they had already been mentioned at the end of Sefer Bereshit (Genesis). Rashi, in explaining why God reiterates who had descended to Mitzraim, quotes a Midrash and makes a comparison between the stars and us. This is an incredibly beautiful Midrash, and I would like to share my understanding of it.

When we gaze at the nighttime sky, we are only interested in whatever light we can see, which means primarily the stars. Everything (and there is something there) that lies in between them is ignored. Additionally, although it is not so visible to us, stars are unique. No two are identical, anymore than any two of anything in creation are identical. David HaMelech (King David) explains their individuality by teaching us that God calls each one by name (Psalms 147:3). Furthermore, we know that were we to travel toward any single star, that as we approach it would gradually become more and more overwhelming in its luminance.

Our view from this side of the r’kia [Bereshit 1:6] (lit: 'curtain' but usually translated as firmament when referring to the sky) when we gaze Heavenward is the same view that God has when He gazes Earthward from His side. He, too, sees points of light separated by darkness. These points aren’t stars, but our neshamot, the souls of Am Yisrael, and the unlighted area that lies in between us is the rest of creation. Each of these points of light, as our names reveal, is unique. Equally, like the stars, as we get closer and closer to any individual Jew, each reveals more and more light of greater and greater intensity.

But why compare us to stars? To understand stars, God gave us the sun. “The sun, from [its home in] the East until its setting, praises God’s name.” [Hallel – Ps. 113:3] In its journey each day, the sun’s work is dispersing light and warmth, in which doing it gradually rises to a summit as if in its full radiance and warmth it can once and for all fix all of creation. But then, in not achieving this but still in having done what it could for today, it descends homeward to begin again tomorrow.

Moshe Rabbainu, who stood next to God and spoke to Him face to face, merited to share God’s vantage point and His view of Am Yisrael. When he descended the mountain, Moshe Rabbainu returned not only with the Torah but also with God’s understanding of us. Yet how does this teach us about his anavah – his humility? Maybe the answer lies in understanding the one aspect of Moshe Rabbainu that is the essential ingredient of him and the foundation of the Torah.

From the beginning of Sefer Shemot until the end of Sefer Devarim (Deuteronomy), Moshe Rabbainu is a central figure in everything that happens. Pharaoh, Mitzraim, Torah, Midbar, Miskhan, Kohanim, Leviim, and preparation for Eretz Yisrael are just some of the list of all that he did. Nevertheless, despite however incredibly multi-talented and accomplished he was, whatever Moshe Rabbainu did and whatever Moshe Rabbainu taught one thing was absolutely true: that everything - every single bit of it - was coming from God. For all of his immense substance, in some way Moshe Rabbainu was as transparent as glass. When you looked at him and at his life and when you dealt with him, all that you could see was the Divine.

We now start reading Sefer VaYikra (Leviticus), which focuses on Kedushah (Sanctity) since it contains the laws of the Kohanim, the rituals of avodah in the Beit HaMikdash, the laws of purity and impurity, etc. The first word of the Sefer VaYikra is ‘VaYikra’ meaning ‘And [He, i.e. God] called’, and hence the reason for the name of the Sefer.

In this instance, the word ‘VaYikra’ (which is spelled: vav yud quf resh aleph) ends with an undersized letter ‘aleph’. The Midrash teaches us that it is undersized because God (lacking a way to give Moshe Rabbainu the honor that was due him) took ink from this letter ‘aleph’ and placed it on Moshe Rabbainu’s forehead. (This, incidentally, is considered the source of the light that beamed from Moshe Rabbainu’s face.)

Even coming from God, this seems to be a tremendously disproportional exchange in relation to what Moshe Rabbainu did. In reality, however, we don’t even begin to understand what Moshe Rabbainu received. The Torah – God’s master plan for creation – begins with the letter ‘beit’, which is the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet!? The obvious question is, “Why didn’t it begin with the first letter, the ‘aleph’?” And, since it didn’t begin with the ‘aleph’ [which had to have been created(*) before the ‘beit’], where did it use that first ‘aleph’?!

The obvious answer, of course, is that the first ‘aleph’ was used in the first letter of the first word in the first commandment that was uttered at Har Sinai: “אנכי” - ‘Anochi’, God’s being. Since Torah is one of the reasons for creation (Am Yisrael the other [see Rashi, Bereshit 1:1]), that’s the visible ‘aleph’, the one that we can all point to and say, “There it is! That’s God!” Where, however, is it in this world? Do we see it? Can we point to it? God can and did. From the first ‘aleph’ in the first word in Sefer VaYikra, which focuses on Kedushah (Sanctity), God takes ink and anoints Moshe Rabbainu’s face. Utterly against his will, the honor and award that Moshe Rabbainu fled his whole life overtook him.

The Torah teaches us: “And the man, Moshe, was extremely humble, humbler than any person on the face of the earth. [BaMidbar (Numbers): 12:3] The meaning ‘humbler than’ comes from the use of the Hebrew letter ‘mem’, which when used as a prefix is used for the comparative ‘than’. ‘Mem’, also, can be used for the preposition ‘from’, and then we get the reading: ‘from every person’. When we understand that Moshe Rabbainu stood alongside God and learned to see Am Yisrael as God sees us, then we can understand how Moshe Rabbainu got his humbleness ‘from us’.

In God’s giving Moshe of His ‘aleph’, we know why. God said, “When you look at him, you see Me!”

Chodesh Tov and Shabbat Shalom,

Daniel Eliezer
II Nissan 5773

(*) Normally we understand the letters of a language (i.e. that language’s alphabet) to be those shapes or symbols that are used to pronounce the language. Hebrew is entirely different, because the letters of the Hebrew language are literally the building blocks of Creation. As such, because they’re part of the created world, they also had to be created and, consequently, created in order. This is the reasoning behind the question of, “Why does the Torah begin with the Hebrew letter ‘ב’ (beit), the second letter of the alphabet and not with an ‘א’ (aleph), the first Hebrew letter?”
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