Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah –Vayikra
“Because the Bible said so!” If I had a dime for every instance that I have heard this line, I would be wealthy beyond words. When in a conversation with someone about scripture, and I hear this phrase, I try to reframe the conversation. In most cases, people are quoting from one English translation or another. I have to ask which translation and get met with an awkward stare. It is kind of like the bumper sticker that reads, “God wrote the King James English Bible, don’t be confused with those Hebrew or Greek translations.”
Of course, someone’s translations only amount to that person’s/those persons’ interpretations of the text. Even if read in Hebrew, without vowels or sentence structure, the text can say many things. All that said, hidden gems exist in the text. If one cannot read Hebrew, then he/she is forever foreclosed from seeing (never mind understanding) these gems.
In the first chapter of the Book of Chronicles, the first man’s name (Adam) is written with an oversized Aleph. In the first word of Leviticus (Vayikra), the aleph is tiny. Most of the time, all the letters are normal-sized. Our sages teach that when the text appears in awkward forms (and it happens spread throughout the scroll), there must be a reason. Volumes of commentary exist on these anomalies.
According to Rabbi Menachem Mendel (2nd Lubavitcher Rebbe), the small “aleph,” here speaks of Moses’ humility. While God is calling to Moses specifically, Moses remains unsure of his worthiness to hear the divine. The enlarged “aleph” for Adam speaks to his ego that ultimately got him in trouble.
While I appreciate these takes on the text; I question how Adam, who had no knowledge of even his own self-worth (or that there was such a thing), could have had an ego. Further, Moses has already been on top of the mountain and gone “panim el panim – face to face” with God. The late Rebbe is certainly entitled to his opinion, but I happen to see it in exactly the opposite manner. I immediately go to a few different ideas when confronting these texts:
First, taking the text just on the level of its appearance, the scrolls scream that there is no uniformity in the scripture. It is not static, not consistent, and not ever read as a “fait accompli – a finished product.”
Second, as to Adam, perhaps the enlarged “aleph,” reminds us that greatness is not about what one has or what one has accomplished. Simply being human is our greatest value. We dignify the simple human who has no resume, no possessions, no friends or enemies, and no influences that overwhelm his drive to celebrate being. We get so bogged down in things that, as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel admonished us, we forget that “being” is a blessing.
As to the diminished “aleph” speaks to the realization that faith is not related to status. Faith is simple – simply powerful, but too many people try too hard. Faith does not manifest in how many rituals one performs. Faith manifests when one opens his/her heart to empower the spirit of love and appreciation to overcome the distractions of callousness, ignorance, and fear. One does not earn headlines because of one’s faith; one earns blessings. One does not break records because of faith. No, one does, however, garner the strength to endure life’s trials, the love to create valuable relationships, and the vision to enhance the world of everyone with whom he/she interacts.
Our faith traditions are supposed to help us grow into better humans. We need paradigms to help us know how to engage in meaningful ways. We study scripture to spawn our next wrestling match with our better selves. We don’t read the text to affirm our extant holiness; we study to learn the next path we must travel in pursuit of better appreciation. As one of my classmates once put it in context of common parlance: “We have to get over ourselves before we can understand what’s really important.”