Parashat Vayikra: The Small Alef
The Book of Vayikra receives its name from the first word in the Sefer – “Vayikra” (“He called”). The Sefer begins with G-d calling Moshe and summoning him into the newly-constructed Mishkan, to issue the commands relevant to the Korbanot (sacrifices).
Anyone who looks at the way this word – “Vayikra” – is written in the Torah will immediately notice something peculiar: the final letter, “Alef,” is written considerably smaller than the other letters of the Torah. This in itself requires explanation, but the significance of this small letter might be even more far-reaching than it at first appears. Although the numerical value of the letter “Alef” is 1, if we spell the word “Alef” (“Alef,” “Lamed,” “Peh”), and combine the values of its letters, we arrive at 111 – the number of verses in Parashat Vayikra. This might allude to the fact that the message of this small “Alef” is the essential message of this Parasha. If we understand the small “Alef,” then we can understand the fundamental concept underlying all of Parashat Vayikra.
The construction of the Mishkan served to rectify the sin of the golden calf. Anytime a Jew commits a sin, he drives the divine Presence from his soul; he banishes the spark of Kedusha, the piece of G-d within him, and sends it away to exile. Teshuba (repentance) means making ourselves worthy of once again receiving that spark, and being a repository for the Shechina. And thus after the sin of the golden calf, God’s presence left Beneh Yisrael, and they needed to build the Mishkan in order to bring Him back. But this process needed to unfold gradually, step by step. Beneh Yisrael could not receive the divine presence all at once. After falling so low after the sin of the golden calf, the process of the Shechina’s return had to proceed slowly. A person leaving a dark room needs time to adjust to light. He cannot have the lights turned on all at once instantaneously. His eyes are simply unable to handle the drastic transition.
The Tasher Rebbe of Montreal, in his Abodat Aboda, explained that this is the symbolism underlying the small “Alef” at the beginning of Sefer Vayikra. Moshe Rabbenu was at the 50th level of Kedusha, the highest stature attainable by a human being. God instructed Moshe that in order to bring Beneh Yisrael back to where they needed to be, he would have to lower himself so the spiritual light he radiated would be smaller. After the darkness of the golden calf, Beneh Yisrael could not immediately receive the brightest spiritual light. And thus God appeared to Moshe on a lower level of prophecy, symbolized by the small letter “Alef.”
This explains the comments of Rashi to the first verse of Sefer Vayikra, where he writes that the word “Vayikra” is a “Lashon Hiba” – a term that connotes love and affection. The Tasher Rebbe explained that the entire concept of Parashat Vayikra, G-d’s willingness to restore His Shechina among Beneh Yisrael in the Mishkan, is a great act of love. Beneh Yisrael betrayed Him in the worst way, worshipping a foreign deity just weeks after receiving the Torah, and yet He was still prepared to return to them. He always gives us the opportunity to return and repair our relationship with Him. And He even ensures that the process will unfold at the right pace, step by step, so that it will be effective.
This is why the small “Alef” embodies the essence of the Parashat Vayikra. The concept underlying Korbanot is that we have the ability to restore our relationship with Hashem after falling. This entire book is a “Lashon Hiba,” an expression of great love by G-d, who is always prepared to welcome us back in Teshuba, and is always prepared to help us along this process.