“Moses, The Leader With A Calling”

by Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald

In this coming week’s parasha, parashat Vayikra, G-d calls Moses from the Tent of Meeting, the Tabernacle, and gives him instructions regarding the sacrificial rites and rituals. The actual language recorded in Leviticus 1:1 reads: “Va’yikra el Moshe, va’y’daber Hashem ay’lav may’ohel mo’ed lay’mor,” And He (G-d) called to Moses, and G-d spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying.

The word, “Va’yikra,” as it appears in the Torah scroll is written in an odd manner. A diminutive, tiny letter aleph appears at the end of the word. The Baal HaTurim (Rabbi Yaakov Turim c.1275-c.1340) explains that this little aleph is due to Moses’ great modesty. Because of Moses’ extreme humility he sought to describe his “conversations” with the Al-mighty in a manner that paralleled the exchange that G-d had with the wicked prophet, Balaam in Numbers 23:16. The Torah there uses the expression, “Va’yikar Hashem el Bil’am.” “Va’yikar” means that G-d came to Balaam by chance, by accident. An alternative meaning of the word Va’yikar implies contamination. The word “Va’yikar” in Numbers indicates that G-d spoke to Balaam haphazardly and not lovingly. The Midrash says that G-d refused to allow Moses to use the word Va’yikar, “and it happened,” in the Torah when describing his interchange with G-d, and insisted that Moses include an aleph in the word to imply affection. The small aleph clearly teaches that the exchange between G-d and Moses was not at all like G-d’s communications with Balaam, to the contrary, it was a loving and deliberate revelation.

Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, 1040-1105) cites the Midrash Tanchuma which says that the voice that came out of G-d’s mouth was so powerful that it shattered the trees around and was heard throughout the world. Yet, the Midrash maintains, that only Moses heard G-d’s voice, because the people were not worthy of hearing it. This too is alluded to through the diminutive aleph.

As we have already noted, many commentators point out that the diminutive aleph is used for special emphasis to underscore that G-d’s speaking to Moses was not haphazard, but truly part of the Divine scheme. While G-d conveys his profound messages to other prophets, even non-Jews, other prophets don’t always hear the message properly or understand it fully. However, when Moses heard a message from G-d he hung on to each word of the message and worked on every word until he had mastered the total meaning of the communication. To Moses, each word was precious, every syllable pregnant with meaning. For Moses, it wasn’t just G-d speaking to him; it was not simply a message sent to a prophet, it was a calling. This was so, due to the fact that Moses saw his role as prophet, as the very essence of his being. Moses’ commitment to G-d and His word was total and uncompromised. Consequently, Moses’ commitment to serve as G-d’s messenger was thorough and complete. It was therefore no accident that G-d spoke to him, or through him. It was not just a “happening,” not a coincidence, as the word “Va’yikar” implies, it was the very essence of Moses’ life and the ultimate purpose of his being.

Many people of stature like to think of themselves as leaders and are thrilled to hear others refer to them as such. Many of these so-called “leaders” are particularly fond of the pomp and ceremony, the honor and distinctions, that come along with their leadership roles. But few, very few, have the total sense of commitment where they see their roles as leader as the embodiment of their life’s work.

To be sure, it’s not easy to be a leader, and certainly no one can measure up to the high standards set by Moses our Leader. But every one of us can use the model of Moses, and the message of the word “Va’yikra,” as a means of identifying what is true and genuine leadership. Simply stated, true leadership may be recognized through two essential ingredients. Does the would-be leader have a sense of “calling,” and does the would-be leader have a sense of “modesty”? If they are leaders that posses these qualities, let us embrace them, follow them, and seek to emulate them.

May you be blessed.