Vayikra – ויקרא • The Little “Aleph”

March 26, 2020

From the Rabbi
Vayikra – ויקרא • The Little “Aleph”

This week, at our first virtual Shabbat morning service, we begin the Book of Leviticus: “Vayikra” – “And God called out….” In all Torah scrolls, the word vayikra – ויקרא is calligraphed such that the final letter of the word, the aleph is considerably smaller than the rest of the letters in the word, indeed, smaller than all the other letters in the Torah. As you can imagine, our rabbis have made much of this over the ages, interpreting the little aleph in a variety of ways as they have turned Torah over and over seeking her relevance. A recurring theme is that the little aleph points to a need for humility, for knowing our place, understanding our relative importance in the face of our cosmos, or in the face of the organismic whole of all that is.

It has also been interpreted as the still-small-voice of God, speaking softly and begging the question: are we listening?

This week, in this particular cycle of our reading of the Torah, I have been thinking of the little aleph as a letter, or a self, that has been diminished, pointing to the diminishment I feel as the life I had known and expected to participate in becomes so confined. And I couldn’t help but read the little aleph as symbolizing the insignificance of my power to change the course of the most important issue right now, healing the pandemic.

But yesterday, as I walked up the stairs to the second floor of our suite, I was heartened by a series of my own artworks hanging in the stairwell, tiny gouache paintings, each of which opens to a deep fictive landscape, each a tiny portal to a vast imaginal realm. And I shifted my thinking about the little aleph, realizing that my experience of these little paintings was similar to the experiences I have been having online. Online, I have been offered tiny windows into the homes of friends and family and members of community – all compressed alephs opening into the intimate spaces of so many people whose homes I would not ordinarily enter. The blessing of the little aleph is our precious intimacy with one another at this time. Let’s continue to develop that.

Perhaps the little aleph reminds us that this extraordinary moment can be a time to develop different sorts of connections, entering the smaller realms of one another’s lives, noticing the little things, hearing the personal stories, and gaining immeasurable new understanding of one another – understanding that will deepen our relationships forever.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Reminov, writing in the 18th century, teaches that in the intimacy of our face-to-face encounter with God at Sinai, God left a seal upon all our faces in the form of the letter aleph. )The א can be thought of as a [diagonal] nose and two eyes.) He says the letter aleph is hidden in plain sight on every human face, a seal of divinity.

The blessing I seek is that my longing to see human faces in this time of isolation heightens my awareness of the preciousness of every human encounter. Even as our circumstances are diminished, our little alephs can be sweet internal lights, beckoning to one another, inviting one another into vast realms of relationship.