The Small Alef

The book of Vayikra, the third of the Five Books of Moses, begins with a detailed catalogue of the individual offerings brought for all types of situations. G-d called out to Moshe and invited him into the Tent of Meeting in order to communicate these laws to him. Our masoret — tradition — requires that the letter alef in the word Vayikra be written by the scribe smaller than the other letters of the Torah scroll. It is called alef ze’ira — the small alef.

Some commentators explain the significance of this law as a reference to humility. Moshe did not want the honor he would get if the Torah announced that Hashem called out to him directly and invited him into a private meeting in the Tent of Meeting. He was forced, however, to write all the letters of the Torah without exception and so he wrote this alef smaller than the other letters.

Others add that the alef is written small in this particular place because it is the beginning of the book that deals with service to Hashem through sacrificial offerings. David Hamelech points out that G-d desires a broken spirit — humility — rather than a sizable offering: “Zivchei Elokim ruach nishbarah — The sacrifices of G-d are a broken spirit; a contrite heart G-d will not despise” (Tehillim 51:16). As a hint to this concept, Moshe wrote the letter alef small at the beginning of the book of Vayikra that deals with the subject of sacrificial requirements.

Rabbi Ovadiah Hadayah, zt”l, taught that the small alef stands for the number 1, signifying unity. Moshe Rabbeinu worked diligently as the leader of our people with the goal of maintaining unity. Every Jew is part of the unit called “Yehudi” and all must feel responsible for every other person in the nation. Sefer Tomer Devorah stresses this point, suggesting that feeling that one is a part of the greater whole called “Yisrael” makes one empathize with others, joining Jews emotionally together as one. This helps us achieve the spiritual goal of “v’halachta b’drachav” — emulating Hashem’s ways. He is uniquely “One”; so, too, the Jewish people must feel and, more importantly, act as one. The Torah hints again at this ideal in the second verse, where it says, “Adam — a person (singular) — who might offer a sacrifice to G-d from the cattle and the sheep you all (plural) shall bring your offering.” The verse opens in singular and closes in plural. When one improves his or her spirituality by serving G-d, one is offering on behalf of all the people.

We have been scattered all over the face of the Earth for close to two thousand years. Each area has developed dialects and customs different than those of others residing elsewhere. Today, more than ever, we sorely need Jewish unity. The central point of our lives, our holy Torah, is the tie that binds us together no matter where we live. “One” is the secret to our survival and “One” will be the prompt for our final salvation speedily and in our days! Amen.

Shabbat shalom.