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Parashat Vayikra

The Steps of Moses

In 1997 I visited the Schocken Institute and held an ancient manuscript in my hand. It was a siddur from the fifteenth century. The quality of the manuscript was excellent. I managed to read the Kriat Shema and the blessings, the Amidah and nearly all the parts of the prayers except for one page which was black and looked burnt. I asked Prof. Shmuel Glick, who heads the Institute, to explain why it was so. He told us that the black page contained the Havdalah prayers. The Jews who had used it had held the candle above the page and the hot wax had ruined it.

Even inadvertently we leave traces in our books. We can hold the Pesach Haggada, smell it, and remember last year's menu. Who has not seen Grandmother's soup stains in a Haggada? Traces of our experiences remain on the page.

If we pick up any siddur, we can tell which pages were opened most during the years. There will be a yellowish tinge and some pages will be more noticeable than others.

Also in our portion, VaYikra, there is a similar phenomenon. As soon as we begin, in the first word of the portion, we will notice a small letter Aleph in the word VaYikra. That small aleph is a sign that Moshe, too, left his mark on the Torah.

Why do I tell you this?

The Torah tells us that when Moshe descended from Mount Sinai to give the Torah to the people of Israel, his face shone and he radiated light.


When he reached the beginning of the third book and heard the word VaYikra from G-d, he was not so enthusiastic. Baal Haturim says that Moshe did not want to write the word VaYikra but rather the word VaYikar, as in the matter of Balaam, as though it was only a chance occurrence that God appeared to him. In the end the Lord and Moshe reached a compromise and Moshe wrote a small Aleph. He transferred the ink that remained in his pen to his head and from that he received the radiance.

And why did Moshe feel discomfort towards the letter aleph? Because aleph is the first letter of the word ani, meaning "I"; that is, the ego. Modest Moshe decided to minimize the aleph. He saw himself as small and humble, not as great and important.

Those are the steps of Moshe left on the Torah. That small Aleph is the signature of the prophet.

Weekly Torah Portion

Old Hebrew Prayer Book
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