The word vayikra that begins this week’s Torah reading, and is the name of the third book of the Chumash, is distinguished by having a miniature alef at the end of the word. I have written about this exceptional script/font in previous years. I concentrated then mainly on the traditional explanation that this small letter was inserted in the Torah to highlight the abject humility of our teacher Moshe, with this character trait of humility being the basis for his extraordinary relationship with the Creator. The focus of the explanation regarding this miniature letter was placed on Moshe. However, if I may, I would suggest another type of interpretation in which the focus is not on Moshe, the recipient of God’s words, but rather is on God Himself, so to speak.
In the famous vision of the prophet Elijah as recorded for us in the book of Kings, the Lord illustrates to the prophet and through him to all of Israel and mankind that God is not to be found in thunder and earthquakes, tornadoes and hurricanes and the other majestic and awe-inspiring vagaries of natural sound. Rather He is to be found in the still small voice that constantly emanates from Heaven.
God calls out to us in that modulated whispered tone of voice. He calls out to us with a small alef, reduced in size and volume. But the loud voice cannot maintain itself for all times, whereas the small voice that Elijah heard still echoes in our ears thousands of years later.
If one wants to hear God’s voice, so to speak, speaking to one’s self, then one has to strain to hear the whispered utterances, the nuances of tone, the drama of almost silence itself.
The rabbis of the Talmud emphasized this message and cautioned us: “The words of the wise are heard and appreciated when they are said with calm and softness.” In our world of constant sound, the cacophony of shouting and disagreements dominate the sound waves of the world.In such an environment it is difficult, if not almost well nigh impossible, to hear the whispered voice of Sinai, which is broadcast daily to the human race.
One of the basic tenets of Judaism is to somehow attempt to imitate the traits, so to speak, of our Creator. Therefore if God speaks to us in a soft and calm voice and manner, then that should be the voice and manner that we should constantly employ when communicating with others. King Solomon in Proverbs taught us that shouting is the weapon of fools. The greatness of Moshe is emphasized in his ability to hear the Godly voice speaking to him, while others, outside the holy precincts of the Mishkan/Tabernacle were unable to do so.
In an expansive way, one can say that those who cannot hear the still small voice of God, so to speak, are really deaf to the spiritual demands that the Torah places upon us – they are outside the precincts of the holy structure of Judaism. My revered teachers in my student years emphasized to us that high volume while praying does not always equal proper intent and concentration. God hears the silence of our hearts. We should all attempt to hear the softness of His communication, in His relationship to us.
Rabbi Berel Wein
Rabbi Berel Wein- Jewish historian, author and international lecturer offers a complete selection of CDs, audio tapes, video tapes, DVDs, and books on Jewish history at www.rabbiwein.com