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Vayikra 5780-2020

“Moses, a Leader with a Calling”
(Revised and updated from Vayikra 5761-2001)

 

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

 

In this week’s parasha, parashat Vayikra, G-d calls Moses from the Tent of Meeting–the Tabernacle, giving him instructions regarding the sacrificial rites and rituals. The actual language recorded in Leviticus 1:1 reads: וַיִּקְרָא אֶל מֹשֶׁה, וַיְדַבֵּר השׁם אֵלָיו מֵאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד לֵאמֹר , And He [G-d] called to Moses, and G-d spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying.

The word, וַיִּקְרָא“Va’yikra,” as it appears in the Torah scroll is written in an odd manner. A diminutive, tiny letter “aleph” appears at the end of the word. The  Ba’al HaTurim  explains that this little aleph is due to Moses’ great modesty. Because of Moses’ extreme humility he sought to describe his “conversations” with the Al-mighty in a manner that paralleled the exchange that G-d had with the wicked prophet, Balaam, in Numbers 23:16. The Torah there uses the expression, וַיִּקָּר השׁם אֶל בִּלְעָם . וַיִּקָּר“Va’yikar” means that G-d appeared to Balaam by chance, randomly, by accident. An alternative meaning of the word “Va’yikar” implies contamination. The word “Va’yikar” in Numbers indicates that G-d communicated with Balaam haphazardly, and not lovingly. The Midrash says that G-d refused to allow Moses to use the word “Va’yikar,” in the Torah, implying that Moses’ interchange with G-d happened randomly, and insisted that Moses include an aleph in the word to imply affection. The small aleph clearly teaches that the exchange between G-d and Moses was not at all like G-d’s communications with Balaam–to the contrary, it was a loving and deliberate revelation.

Others suggest that Moses, at the Al-mighty’s insistence, reduced the aleph himself out of humility, to underscore a distinction between himself and Balaam.

Rashi,cites the Midrash Tanchuma, Leviticus 1, which says that the voice that came out of G-d’s mouth was so powerful that it shattered the trees around, and was heard throughout the world. Yet, the Midrash maintains, that only Moses heard G-d’s voice, because the people were not worthy of hearing it. This too, is alluded to through the diminutive aleph.

As we have already noted, many commentators point out that the diminutive aleph is used for special emphasis to underscore that G-d’s speaking to Moses was not haphazard, but truly part of the Divine plan. While G-d conveys his profound messages to other prophets, even non-Jews, other prophets do not always hear the message properly or understand it fully. However, when Moses heard a message from G-d, he hung on to each word of the message, working on every word until he had mastered its full meaning.

To Moses, each word uttered by the Al-mighty was precious, every syllable pregnant with meaning. For Moses, it was not just G-d speaking to him; it was not simply a message sent to a prophet, it was a calling. This was so, due to the fact that Moses saw his role as prophet as the very essence of his being. Moses’ commitment to G-d and His word was total and uncompromised. Consequently, Moses’ commitment to serve as G-d’s messenger was total and complete. It was therefore no accident that G-d spoke to him, or through him. It was not just a “happening,” not simply a coincidence, as the word “Va’yikar” implies, it was the very essence of Moses’ life and the ultimate purpose of his being.

Often, people in leadership positions come to think of themselves as gifted leaders, and relish the fact that others defer to them with great reverence. Many of these so-called “leaders” are particularly fond of the pomp and ceremony, the honor and distinctions, that are often part of their leadership roles. But, few, very few, have the total sense of commitment, who see their role as leader as the embodiment of their life’s work, and regard their ultimate responsibility to those whom they represent.

To be sure, it is not easy to be a leader, and certainly no one can measure up to the high standard set by Moses our Leader. But, every one of us can look upon the model of Moses, and the message of the word “Va’yikra,” as a means of clarifying what is true and genuine leadership.

Simply stated, true leadership may be recognized through two essential ingredients. Does the would-be leader have a sense of “calling,” and does the would-be leader have a sense of “modesty”? Genuine leaders, who possess these wonderful qualities, deserve to be embraced, followed and emulated.

May you be blessed.