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Moses appointed twelve emissaries to scout out the Holy Land and return with a report. The representative for the tribe of Ephraim was Moses’ primary disciple, Joshua. Until this time, the lad’s name was Oshua. But Moses added a letter to his name and called him Joshua.
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Home » Marriage, Vayikra Parshah

Vayikra: When Small Is Great

Submitted by on March 6, 2011 – 2:27 amNo Comment | 3,218 views

The Humble Moses

The book of Leviticus begins with the sweeping majesty of Moses’ first entry into the tabernacle. “Vayikra,” G-d called unto Moses and invited him to the Tent of Meeting. Uplifting and inspiring as the moment was, Moses, understood that small is great, received his honor in abject humility. In the Torah, the letter Aleph of the word vayikra, is writ small to pay homage to Moses’ humility. (1)

The Midrash recounts this tale in dramatic fashion: When G-d spoke to Moses at the burning bush, Moses tried to hide, but G-d declared, “Go, and I will send you to Pharaoh.” Meaning, if you don’t liberate them, no one else will.  At the Reed Sea Moses set himself aside, but G-d proclaimed, “raise your staff and split it.” If you don’t split the sea no one else will. At Sinai, Moses once again set himself aside, but was instructed, “Ascend to G-d.” If you don’t ascend no one else will be permitted to.

At the Tent of Meeting Moses stood aside yet again. G-d finally said how much longer will you lower yourself? This hour awaits no one, but you! At that point, “Vayikra – G-d called unto Moses”, of all the people G-d could have called, he called only Moses.” (2)

The Small Aleph

It is rather fitting that G-d chose to allude to Moses’ humility by diminishing the size of the letter Aleph for the Aleph, at an earlier occasion, showcased its own humility and learned that small is great. (3)small is great - innerstream

Rabbi Akiva taught: The twenty- two letters with which the Torah was given are engraved with a pen of fire upon the awesome throne of the Holy One Blessed be He. When G-d sought to create the world the letters appeared before Him, each yearning to be the first letter with which the world would be created.

The letter Taf appeared and said, master of the universe, would that the world be created with me for the very word Torah begins with me, but G-d turned it down and the Taf withdrew. Next came the Shin, but it too was rejected and so it was with each letter. Last to approach was the Bet, who asked that the world be created with it considering it is the opening letter of Baruch Hashem, the traditional Divine blessing. G-d accepted the Bet and began creation with the word bereishit, in the beginning.

All this while, the Aleph stood silently by. G-d called to it and said, Alef why do you remain silent? The Aleph relied, it is because I have no strength with which to address you; their numerical value is great whereas mine is small; Bet is two, Gimel is three and so on whereas my value is merely one. G-d replied, Aleph, have no fear your place is at their head. You are one, so am I and so is the Torah, which I will give to my nation Israel and which I will begin with Aleph as it is written, Anochi, I am Hashem your lord. (4)

Standing Down To Gain Entry

The message is that those who flee from glory are crowned with it, but those who chase glory never catch up with it. The Aleph, as the first letter, could have demanded first rights to creation, but it didn’t. It didn’t see its greatness; on the contrary it saw its own paucity. And because it did, because small is great, it was selected to be the first letter of the Ten Commandments.

Moses, as the leader of the nation, could also have demanded entry into the tabernacle, but he didn’t. He humbly demurred. Before G-d, Moses must have thought, who is great? Ironically, his humility was his greatness. It was only on account of his humility that he was invited to enter the tabernacle.

The Bride

The astute reader will wonder why humility is a prerequisite to enter the tabernacle.

When the tabernacle was first erected Moses was unable (not permitted) to enter. (5) Jewish mysticism employs the metaphor of bride and groom to explain why Moses was at first denied entry.  The mystics taught that the tabernacle was to Moses, what a bride is to a groom. (6) Moses was not permitted to enter during those first moments because the tabernacle was still preparing for its much anticipated meeting with Moses and the groom is not invited to watch as the bride beautifies herself for him.

There are few secrets between husband and wife. However, even in a marriage there are intensely private moments when we want to be alone and even our spouses are not welcome. One such moment is when a wife beautifies herself for her husband. She does not want him to see the work in process because she takes intense pleasure from presenting the final product. She wants him to see her in her full glory and does not want to be seen before the work is complete. (7)

Entering before he is welcome is an invasion of her privacy. She wanted to give herself to him with all her love and in all her beauty, but by entering prematurely and without permission, he takes that from her. It isn’t his to take; it is a violation of her space, her love and her very person.

We might suggest that when the tabernacle was complete G-d’s very essence descended to be with Moses. The space G-d occupied was so intensely sacred that no one, not even Moses, was allowed to enter. G-d wanted to be alone with Himself before He gave Himself to the Jews. The Zohar employs the metaphor of a bride in her moment of beautification to describe this intense and sacred privacy.

However, though entry was forbidden, Moses, on account of his humility, was ultimately invited into this most private of cubicles. Just like a bride, who tolerates no one in her room, but does not mind the presence of an infant so did G-d invite Moses into His innermost cubicle because Moses regarded himself as an infant before G-d.

Some spouses resent being barred from their beloved’s private space. They demand the right to enter because secrets shouldn’t be kept between husband and wife. They tear down the curtains that their spouses put up and in the process tear down their spouse. They succeed in invading their spouse’s space, but when they finally enter they find it empty.

When we lay claim to our spouse’s space we deny them the ability to invite us in. When we cherish and love our spouse, when we feel privileged to be married to them, we empower them to invite us in. This is what we mean to behave like an infant in marriage. Just as an infant is enchanted with life and enthralled with its magic so should we feel enthralled to share our spouse’s space and grateful for the invitation.

Moses never felt entitled. He was thrilled and humbled by the opportunity to even await an invitation. The lesson he taught us is to love without reserve and to cherish without expectation. In the end, should we be invited to share that sacred space, our spouse will hold the door for us and lovingly welcome us in. And when we finally enter our spouse will be fully present; ecstatic with the opportunity to share. (8)


  1. Leviticus 1: 1.
  2. Vayikra Rabba 1: 5.
  3. This
    Midrashic tale and others speak to the mystical origin of the Hebrew letter. The Jewish mystics explain that each Hebrew letter represents a formula of Divine energy. The mystical flows represented by the letters are thus endowed with a consciousness, an ability to discern, analyze
    and even communicate.
  4. Yalkut Shimoni Genesis 1.
  5. Exodus 40: 35.
  6. Expounding on the verse “And they brought the tabernacle to Moses,” (Exodus 39:
    33) The Zohar says (Zohar I p. 235) that the Tabernacle was at that
    moment analogous  to a bride that is brought before her groom.
  7. This is akin to the host’s desire to have the house cleaned before the guest enters and does not appreciate it when the guest enters at the height of the clean up and preparation effort.
  8. Divrei Yisrael on Leviticus 1: 1.

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