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Starting Small

Did you know that even though Vayikra is the third book of the five books of the Chumash, it’s actually the beginning of a child’s traditional education in Tanach? We have a custom known as the “areinfirinish,” a little boy’s first introduction to cheder (school), that is usually performed sometime around his third birthday. After the child is brought into cheder, the teacher reviews the aleph-beis and nekkudos with him and then opens up Chumash Vayikra to the very beginning and reads the first two pesukim with him, and so Vayikra is actually the first piece of Chumash that a child learns.

The Midrash Rabbah quotes Rav Assi as to why that might be: Vayikra details the laws of all the sacrifices, pure and holy service. Young children, too, are pure and holy, and therefore, “let the pure come and engage in the study of the pure.”

When the third Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel, known as the Tzemach Tzedek, had his areinfirinish at three years old as was customary, his teacher taught him the first two verses of Vayikra. Noticing the uniquely small aleph at the end of the word Vayikra, he asked his grandfather, the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the reason for it.

The Alter Rebbe shared a profound lesson hidden within the letters. There are actually three sizes of letters in the Torah – large, small, and intermediate. Almost the entire Torah is written in the intermediate size. Here we have a small aleph in a word that references Moshe Rabbeinu. Elsewhere (the beginning of Divrei Hayamim) we see another unique aleph, a large aleph in the beginning of Adam’s name.

Adam, as the first man, created directly by G-d, was pretty perfect in form with wisdom that surpassed the angels. The thing is he knew that about himself and became too confident in his own abilities, leading him to stumble and fall with the sin of the Tree of Knowledge. Hence, the large aleph.

Now Moshe was also made of special stuff, with a soul formed from Chochmah of Atzilus, the very highest spiritual revelation of Divine Wisdom. Like Adam, Moshe was aware of his own abilities. However, unlike Adam, “והאיש משה עניו מאד מכל אדם אשר על פני האדמה” – “And Moshe was the humblest of all men on the face of the earth.” Moshe was aware of his own abilities but was equally aware that all abilities are just a gift from G-d and what matters most is how you use them. When Moshe would think of what he’d been blessed with, instead of making him arrogant, it made him extremely humble, as he would think that if someone else were blessed with all that he had been blessed with how much more could they achieve than what he (Moshe) had ever accomplished! And that is why we have the small aleph as Hashem calls out to Moshe.

We should each be aware of the many unique gifts and talents that Hashem has blessed us with – and He has blessed each of us in a different way otherwise we wouldn’t all need to be here – but we have to be careful not to fall prey to the same misguided thoughts that Adam fell to and instead we must emulate Moshe. Anything we have and anything that we are capable of is only on loan from G-d. None of it counts if we don’t use our talents to the max to make the world a better place. When we do achieve greatness, that doesn’t mean that there’s something inherently great in us, rather it’s the greatness of our Creator and we’re just lucky that He chose us for to be the packaging for that particular gift. Use your unique gifts well and remember the words of R’ Zusha of Anipoli, “I’m not afraid that they’ll ask why wasn’t I Moshe. Hashem already has a Moshe. I’m afraid of being asked, ‘Zusha, why were you not Zusha?’”

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