The Anatomy of a Mitzvah

For the week ending 17 March 2018 / 1 Nisan 5778

The Secret of the Small Alef

by Rabbi Yitzchak Botton
Library Library Library

The Hebrew word “Vayikra” — “And He (G-d) called” — is the name of the third book of the Torah, as well as its first parsha. Rashi points out in his opening comment that the term “vayikra” indicates that G-d called to Moshe with special affection, and that it is the language which the Heavenly angels use to call to one another.

There is, however, something peculiar about the way the word vayikra is written in this parsha: its final letter, an “alef,” is smaller than the rest of the letters in the word. What is the lesson behind this small alef?

The letter alef is the first letter of the word ani (I), the self. By writing a small alef the Torah teaches us that when one makes himself “small,” attaining true humility, G-d draws that person close to Him and shows him great love and affection. The Torah testifies to the exalted level of humility which Moshe reached, causing him to merit receiving G-d’s Torah, and being the one chosen to teach it to the Jewish People.

The Mitzvah of Learning Torah

Torah is an expression of Divine wisdom. G-d, though infinite, affords each one of us the opportunity to connect with Him by engaging in Torah study. Though it is one of the 613 commandments, one should not foolishly look at learning Torah as an obligation or burden, but rather as a privilege.

The first word of the Ten Commandments, “Anochi,” which refers to G-d and literally means “I”, is an acronym for the phrase, “Ana Nafshi Ketavit Yehavit — I, Myself, wrote and gave the Torah.” This shows us how important the Torah is, for G-d took great care to write and organize each detail of the Torah. This refers to the essence of the Torah as it is in Heaven, as it was later dictated to Moshe, who wrote it on a scroll for the Jewish People. Thus, Torah study is tantamount to learning wisdom directly from G-d.

A more literal reading of the above acronym reveals an even deeper message: “I wrote down My very soul and gave it (in the Torah).” This profound concept can be understood according to the words of Maimonides: “The Creator, blessed is He, and His knowledge and His life are one... He is the Knower, He is the known, and He is the knowledge itself; all is one…” (Mishneh Torah) Through the mitzvah of Torah study one connects to G-d, the Source of all life.

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