There are so many things we can discuss as we enter the book of Vayiqra. I think we should start by talking about the word “vayiqra”, which comes from the root word “qara”, meaning “calling”. This word denotes a high status and is a call of love. We see another example of this word used in Yeshayahu 6:3 describing the Seraphim which stood in attendance before Hashem’s Throne of Glory:
“One would call to the other, “Holy, holy, holy! The L-rd of Hosts! His presence fills all the earth!”
This word differs from the word “vayiqar”, which is the word used in Bamidbar 23:4, when Hashem called to Balaam. Unlike “vayiqra, the word “vayiqar” denotes something of low status that is unclean & disgusting. Hashem told Moshe to use the word “vayiqra”, but Moshe didn’t think himself worthy of any special status. If you look at a Torah scroll you will see that the aleph in the word “vayiqra” is quite small. Moshe, of course, obeyed Hashem, but he made the “aleph” smaller than the other letters. This actually served only to prove Hashem’s point in using the word “vayiqra”.
“The man Moshe was very humble” (Bamidbar 12:3)
Moshe reached his greatness because of his smallness in his own eyes. He deserved this special status because he fled from honor and did not seek to be elevated above the people he led.
“But Moshe said to Hashem, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and free the Israelites from Egypt?’” (Sh’mot 3:11)
Eruvin 13b tells us that whoever lowers himself will be raised up by Hashem, and whoever in his arrogance tries to elevate himself, Hashem will humble and lower that person. This gemara also states that whoever searches for prominence, prominence flees from him, but whoever flees from prominence, prominence searches after him.
The Midrash Tanchuma (Vayiqra 3) tells us that if a person seeks honor, honor will flee from him, but if one flees from recognition, it shall ultimately find him.
Pirkei Avot 1:13 states that he who seeks renown will end up losing his reputation.
“A man’s pride will bring him low, but a lowly spirit will support [his] honor” (Mishlei 29:23)
Humility is often thought of as self-effacement, but that is not a proper understanding of the concept. You can study any number of books on “mussar”, and they will all give a similar definition of humility – its about knowing your proper place in the world and acting accordingly.
Humility means occupying the proper space, not too much or too little.
Unbridled self-interest and arrogance are a sign that someone thinks too highly of himself and believes the world revolves around him. We’ve all met these people. They behave as if the world would be a sad place if not for their presence. Unfortunately, these people are usually too self-absorbed to recognize that most people flee from them. But the same is true of one who has too little self-esteem, never standing up for themselves and forever viewing themselves as the perpetual victim. Victim-mentality is actually a convenient way to avoid responsibility. Our goal needs to be somewhere in the middle.
Look at it this way. When someone sits on a bench, if she is arrogant, she might kick her feet up and take up more room than she really needs. If she is stuck in self-doubt and victim-mentality, she will probably be hanging off the edge, trying not to take up too much room, not even what should normally be allowed. In reality, we should take up just enough space, leaving space for others as well.
Moshe had a big job. His humility did not mean that he was weak and timid. Some people have bigger talents, and they are tasked with bigger jobs. It’s not about the size of the talent or the job, it’s about being able to do what you were designed to do, without making it about yourself.
“Moshe was the most humble of men because he stepped up to his monumental responsibilities and acted from a place of service, not ego.” (The Spiritual Practice of Good Actions, G. Marcus, PhD)
So, in just this one word, “vayiqra”, we can learn a big lesson about staying small in our own eyes, yet realizing our value in G-d’s eyes. Rebbe Nachman explains in Likutei Moharan 1:4.7, that being praised can be dangerous because it is liable to bring one to arrogance. We need to remember that serving Hashem is a privilege, and the talents and aptitudes we have are gifts he has given us, so that we can serve him.
There is something else I want us to consider when we think about the word “vaiqra/calling”.
“The Nesivos Shalom of Slonim states that Hashem calls out to every person through the events that happen to him during his lifetime. In every situation in which a person finds himself, he can “hear” Hashem speaking to him if he wishes, even though Hashem’s calling is not blatantly obvious. At times, Hashem speaks to an individual through happy events, and the person can hear Hashem’s voice through joy and good spirits. At other times, Hashem speaks to an individual through crisis and sorrow, and the person must hear Hashem’s voice through his pain. A person’s entire life – including everything that happens to him – is one long calling. Every person has a task to complete in this world, a specific assignment that only he can fulfill. At times, unfortunately, people block their ears from hearing the voices that are clearly calling to them from Heaven.” (Aleinu L’Shabeiach on Vayiqra, R’ Yitzchok Zilberstein)
In chapter 3 of Mesillas Yasharim, the Ramchal compares this world to the darkness of night. Darkness can obscure our vision so that we don’t see what is right in front of us. Darkness can also cause us to see a pillar or a tree and think that it is a person, or visa-versa. The physicality and materialism of this world blind a person’s intelligence in much the same way. Materialism can keep us from seeing the obstacles the world puts before us. Too many people go through life in a fool’s paradise, only to find it was all a lie in the end. And sometimes like the one in the darkness that mistakes a pillar for a person, we can become confused, seeing evil as good and good as evil. Such a person, whose perception deceives him, will persist in his evil deeds actually thinking that his path is a righteous one.
So, we all have a calling, and we need to realize we have the talents and abilities we do in order to help us to achieve our custom designed purpose. Our calling isn’t our choice, and our talents and abilities can be taken from us as easily as they were given. I pray we can overcome the falsehood of self-honor, and humbly do our job with joy and excitement for having the amazing privilege to serve our Creator. And I pray we have the good sense not to become too enamored with the trappings of this world, which can blind us to our true purpose.
We cannot very well talk about Vayiqra without mentioning sacrifices. I think it is important that we understand the difference between the Hebrew word “korban” and the English word “sacrifice”. Korban comes from a root meaning “to draw near”. Sacrifice means “to make sacred”. The Torah teaches us that the primary function of the korban is to restore the spiritual equilibrium of the community. The one who inadvertently sinned brought an offering, and after it was accepted, he still needed to right the wrong he had done, by reimbursing the victim, or paying a fine, or whatever legal penalty was applicable. There is not any compensation for the korban. One doesn’t receive protection from punishment for his sin. The korban is not given to appease Hashem or to pay Him homage. The korbanot were designed to make a sinner’s heart contrite, so that he would be aroused to repent. The “Olah” or burnt offering was completely consumed by the fire. No one derived any benefit from it. We learn from this that we must serve Hashem with no ulterior motives, not seeking any glory or any benefit for ourselves. With a genuine belief in Divine Providence, we will realize that Hashem is behind all our successes, and they are only true successes if done for the sake of Heaven. When we cultivate our talents, and we succeed, we need not boast, as we realize Hashem’s blessing is what allowed both our talent and our success, not our own efforts. Likewise, when we experience a setback, we need not despair, for we realize that when we have given it our all, and tried as hard as we possibly could, if the result is a (so-called) “failure” or setback, we can be assured that it was Hashem’s will, and that “gam zu l’tovah”, this too is for the good!
Each day we must bring ourselves to Hashem, and offer ourselves as living sacrifices. That means dying to self, but realizing our potential. Ladies, I pray we can refrain from making it about ourselves. May we humbly honor Hashem with our talents, and may our lives be a fragrant offering!
Be blessed and be a blessing,