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No less than anava man

Written by Rabbi Daniel Leeman

The word “vayikra”, meaning “He (G-d) called him (Moshe)” indicates the special relationship Moshe had with G-d. But when it came to writing the Torah, in his humility, Moshe wanted to instead write “vayakar” (written the same as “vayikra” but without the letter ‘aleph’ at the end – indicating a more coarse language) which G-d did not sanction, and so Moshe eventually settled on writing “vayikra”, but with a small aleph [1]

But surely after the fact, the small letter ‘aleph’ merely draws attention to and publicises Moshe’s ‘humility’, which surely serves the opposite function of that which he was attempting to instil? Furthermore, in any case, surely genuine humility involves humbling oneself to another without seeking even a compromise?
Finally, the bottom line is that a letter is still a letter regardless of its size, and therefore ultimately the word “vayikra” is written rather than “vayakar”, and if so, why did Moshe so willingly relent?

One day, R’ Moishele Paneth-‘Dejer’ (1843-1902), received a telegram from the revered Shinever Rav, (R’ Chaskale Shinever, the ‘Divrei Yechezkel’ – son of Sanzer Rav, the ‘Divrei Chaim’) inquiring after his health.
R’ Moishele was perfectly healthy and replied to that effect. But nevertheless he thought the message was out of the ordinary and so he decided to journey to Shinev.

The next day, the Shinever Rav received the cable and his sexton, R’ Zalman Szander, also noting the out-of-ordinary nature of the telegram, asked him what drove him to inquire after R’ Moishele’s health.
The Rav replied that he had had a terrible dream that the most righteous person is the generation would die shortly, and then he concluded: “Who could it possibly be other than R’ Moishele?”

The very next day the Shinever Rav passed away.
(R’ Moishele arrived just in time for the funeral!)

“Moshe was very humble from all men.” [2] In this very verse, which Moshe also recorded, we have a tradition that the word “anav”, meaning humble, is written without a letter ‘yud’ but ‘pronounced’ with a letter ‘yud’. In such circumstances there is generally a difference between the way the word is written and its pronunciation, but in this case there is no difference whatsoever (to the extent that some printed texts do not even bother to record the change). And so it is unclear what the ‘change’ is actually achieving. But perhaps that is exactly the point: it demonstrates that some ‘changes’ do not make a significant difference to us. So too, Moshe settled on writing “vayikra” with a small aleph, even though the word still reads “vayikra”. He was not seeking to publicise his humility, but rather he made the change for himself, away “from all men”. He wanted a constant, personal reminder that “from all mankind” there must be plenty others who could do a better job than him. This is what caused him to be “very humble” and in turn develop a close relationship with G-d [3].

Have a humbling Shabbos,


Additional sources:
Story: The Sun and the Shield, Devorah Glicksman
[1] Vayikra 1:1
[2] Vayikra 12:3
[3] See Igeres haRamban

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