Modesty and Humility Enables One to Acquire Torah and Attract the Shechinah
“He called to Moses, and the L-RD spoke to him … saying, ‘Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: When a man among you brings an offering to the L-RD …’” (Lev 1:1-2).
Our Sages have spoken at length on the small-sized aleph in the word vayikra. For example, the Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni 427) explains that Moses merited being summoned by G-d because he made himself small and ran away from honors. Moses did this when he said, “I am not a man of words” (Ex 4:10), meaning, “I am unworthy of the mission that You want to entrust me with.”
The Torah, which is the path of life, teaches us in this Parsha that one must serve G-d without any reservations, as we have explained with regards to the verse that states, “When a man among you [mikem – lit. “of you”] brings an offering to the L-RD.” One must observe the commandments of the Holy One, blessed be He, up to the granting of one’s very self – including even martyrdom for the Torah and the mitzvot – and to take nothing into account but G-d’s honor, without worrying at all about one’s personal interests. This is what is meant by offering a sacrifice to the Eternal “of oneself”, meaning to make a sacrifice of one’s self, and at that moment it will be considered as being “to the Eternal”.
This is why the Torah begins the book of Leviticus with the word vayikra written with a small-sized aleph, which in addition has the smallest numerical value of all the letters, meaning that a man should compare himself to it. He should, moreover, be conscious that the enthusiasm that reigns over the beginning of his task should be accompanied by great humility and self-effacement. The Torah also instructs us that it – the Torah, which is called aleph in the sense of the verse, “Va-a’alephcha [And I will teach you] wisdom” (Job 33:33) – can only survive and take root among one who makes himself small, for the Sages have said that the Torah only resides among the humble (Taanith 7a).
As for the word !98*&, as a whole it evokes the same thought. The letter & (vav) represents man who bends and humbles himself, for he was created but on the sixth day, at the end of the entire Creation. This is so that he may realize that everything already existed before him (Sanhedrin 38a), without mentioning that he is dust and ashes: “For you are dust, and to dust shall you return” (Gen 3:19). He must therefore work enormously hard to arrive at a state of true perfection.
The middle letters (98*) of the word are the same that form the word 8*9 (“void”), which alludes to the realization that man should have of his emptiness. Even if he is great in Torah, it suits him, nevertheless, to have the sense of being completely empty, as if he were at the very beginning. Finally, the small-sized aleph, as we mentioned, indicates the one who begins to study Torah, for it should always be in his eyes as new as on the day when it was given on Mount Sinai, as if he had just received it (Tanhuma Ki Tavo 1 on verse 7). At that very moment, he will have no reason to be proud of himself, since he will have started studying but on that very day. If he really behaves as such, he will merit that the Torah comes to live in his heart, as it is written, “Your Torah is in my innards” (Ps 40:9). Radak explains that “in my innards” means “the inside of my heart”, for the heart is part of the innards. All these considerations lead to modesty and humility.
Unfortunately, the Torah is not the only thing to be found in the heart of man. The evil inclination also aspires to enter into man and make its home within him. Furthermore, it is said that it rests in the heart, between the two openings therein (Berachot 61b). Man’s essential fight therefore lies with his evil inclination, and man’s greatest aim should be that his interior be similar to his exterior (Berachot 28a). In effect, we know that, vis-à-vis a person’s exterior, it is very easy to come off as virtuous, to do good deeds in public, and to therefore fool the entire world. It even happens that a man convinces himself that he is a Tzaddik, whereas in reality he has neither Torah, nor fear of G-d, nor love for people, nor love of G-d. He resembles an empty well, a well that the Torah says contains not a drop of water, but rather is packed with serpents and scorpions (cf. Gen 37:24; Shabbat 22 and Rashi). What does this mean? The Sages have said that water always represents Torah (Bava Kama 17a), as indicated by the verse that states, “Everyone who is thirsty, go to the water” (Isa 55:1). Now concerning the well that we are speaking of, not only does it not contain words of Torah comparable to water, but it is filled with evil forces, comparable to serpents and scorpions (Perkei d’Rabbi Eliezer 13). A man such as this can appear righteous from the outside, however to arrive at a level of true perfection that would prevent him from ever falling spiritually, he would require great help from Heaven as well as a tremendous amount of work on his part.
Indeed, he will have to put in unceasing effort to maintain within himself, both internally and externally, the Ark of the Covenant, which is in actuality the holy Torah. The fact that the Ark was inside the Temple, not outside of it, teaches us that the essential effects of study occur within a man; the Torah should truly become part of his body. And in the same way that the Ark was covered with gold both inside and out (Ex 25:11), the interior of a man should be as fine as his exterior (Yoma 72b). Even if he is extremely learned and great in Torah, this does not exempt him from watching over the internal aspects of his actions in such a way that his words actually reflect his thoughts (Pesachim 113b), and that his mouth and his heart be in accord with one other (ibid. 63a). In fact, the greater someone is, the more powerful the temptations he will experience. This is why the evil inclination tries Torah scholars more than all others, which obligates them to watch themselves without cease.
Now, this is what we call the presence of the Shechinah in man: The more a man conducts himself with modesty (feeling, as if were, empty, and conscious of being but dust and ashes, nothing permanent and nothing to feel proud about), the more he merits, in the same way, that the Shechinah should reside in him. It could happen that at that moment, the evil inclination will look to discourage him by telling him as follows: “If you are as empty as that, how are you ever going to amount to anything?” A man should therefore know that even if he is at the very beginning, he is nevertheless very precious in the eyes of G-d (98*, which brings to mind the middle letters of the word !98*&).
We will now be able to explain why our Parsha follows the one of Pekudei. The Book of Exodus ends with the verse that states, “For the cloud of the L-RD would be on the Tabernacle by day, and fire would be on it at night, before the eyes of all the House of Israel throughout their journeys” (Ex 40:38). The word “fire” alludes to the Torah, as it is written, “from His right hand He presented the fiery Torah to them” (Deut 33:2). The Sages have said that fire always designates the Torah (Mechilta Ex 19:18). The concept of travel also alludes to the Torah, which allows for an internal voyage “from strength to strength” (Ps 84:8). On the verse that states, “They journeyed from Rephidim” (Ex 19:2), the saintly Or HaChaim explains that the Children of Israel had considerably strengthened themselves in the study of Torah. This means that when a man dives into the Torah day and night and “journeys” in it “from strength to strength”, he merits that the Divine cloud comes and rests on the Tabernacle, which is to say that he will enjoy the presence of the Shechinah in himself as well as in all the House of Israel. All this is because of humility, evoked by the word vayikra. Certainly, this requires considerable personal work, however humility is one of the traits by which the Torah is acquired (Taanith 7a), and a man who practices it resembles the Temple.