This issue is distributed in honor of the wedding of Binyamin and Rachel Kelly Shasha

Parashah Insights
by

Rabbi Yaakov Hillel
Rosh Yeshivat Ahavat Shalom

Parashat Vayikra

Humble Enough for Torah
On the Sidelines
“And Hashem called to Moshe, and Hashem spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying” (Vayikra 1:1). The third book of the Torah opens with the word Vayikra, “And [Hashem] called.” In Torah scrolls, alef, the final letter of this word, is smaller than the other letters. Our Sages discuss the reasons for this small alef, which teaches us an important lesson (see Zohar, vol. I, p. 239a et al). The Baal HaTurim writes that the small alef is the product of Moshe Rabbenu’s exceptional humility. Rather than “Vayikra,” a term which implies that Moshe was specially and specifically summoned to enter the completed Tabernacle, Moshe wanted to write vayiker, without an alef, which means “and He chanced upon.” This word, used in describing Bilam’s prophecy (Bamidbar 23:4), would make it sound like Hashem had appeared to him in a dream. However, Hashem insisted that the alef be included (Commentary on Vayikra 1:1; see Vayikra Rabbah 1:13).

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Moshe was not just another prophet. Never had there been and never again would there be another Moshe Rabbenu, of whom the Torah testifies “Mouth to mouth I speak to him, in a clear vision and not with riddles. He looks upon Hashem’s image” (Bamidbar 12:8). Almost the entire Book of Shmot revolves around Moshe Rabbenu. It recounts in detail the circumstances of his birth to Amram and Yocheved, his early years, marriage, and designation at the Burning Bush as Hashem’s messenger to redeem the Jewish people. These events are followed by Moshe’s leadership of the nation, the Giving of the Torah, and the construction of the Tabernacle in the desert, which brought the Divine Presence to rest upon Israel. Considering Moshe’s singular status as the Al-mighty’s chosen emissary, it would have been only natural for him to see himself as the supervisor of Torah and mitzvot on earth, as well as the general manager of the Tabernacle and all other sacred matters. But that was not Moshe Rabbenu. Rather than the proprietor of the Tabernacle, in his unparalleled humility he viewed himself as no more than a guest, waiting politely at the door to be invited in. Regardless of his central role in the construction of the Tabernacle and his unmatched closeness to the Al-mighty, he did not dream of entering on his own, unasked (see Midrash Tanhuma and Midrash HaGadol). Rabbi Yaakov Sekali, a student of the Rashba, writes that Moshe Rabbenu, the great leader of the Jewish nation, fled from power and authority. When Hashem revealed Himself to Moshe for the first time at the Burning Bush, instructing him to confront Pharaoh and liberate the Jewish people from slavery, Moshe did not accept the prestigious commission gladly; he offered every excuse he could think of to evade the responsibility. Among other protests, he asked Hashem to send his older brother Aharon instead. It took seven days of intensive persuasion on the part of the Al-mighty until Moshe finally agreed! (See Rashi on Shmot 4:10, 13.) Even when Moshe bowed to the Will of the Al-mighty and took on the mission, he would return quietly home after fulfilling Hashem’s instructions, staying there until Hashem told him, “What are you standing around at home for? Go to Pharaoh!” (see Midrash Tanhuma, Vayikra 3). This pattern continued until Mt. Sinai. Moshe tried then to evade further leadership, but Hashem immediately summoned him to ascend the mountain (Shmot 19:3). So too, when the Tabernacle was completed, Moshe again went off and sat on the sidelines, as if he were just another simple, ordinary Jew. Hashem told him, “All that I did, the entire complicated construction of the Tabernacle and its vessels, was only in order to speak to you, and you went off and sat on the side? Come here, close to Me,” as the Torah says, “And Hashem called (Vayikra) to Moshe.”

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Moshe was humble to the utmost degree. As much as he fled authority, it pursued him without letup (see Vayikra Rabbah 1:5). It was this great humility that led Moshe to eliminate the alef in Vayikra. When the Al-mighty insisted that it be included, Moshe made it small, minimizing its importance (Torat HaMinhah, Derush 35).

Humble Reception
Moshe’s exceptional humility made him worthy of receiving the Torah from the Mouth of the Al-mighty and transmitting it to all future generations of the Jewish people, as we learn from our Sages’ words, “Moshe received the Torah from Sinai” (Avot 1:1). The Hidda raises an interesting question concerning our Sages’ choice of words. Why say that Moshe received the Torah “from Sinai?” Sinai was nothing more than the address, so to speak; Moshe received it from the Al-mighty at Sinai, but not from Sinai. And yet our Sages’ wording is entirely accurate, since it was because of Sinai that Moshe received the Torah. Mt. Sinai was not one of the world’s great mountains; it was small, plain, and inconspicuous, hardly the site to attract special attention. And yet our Sages tell us that it was precisely this quality which earned Sinai the unequalled distinction of being the site of the Al-mighty’s Revelation to mankind. Our Sages tell us, “The Holy One, blessed be He, passed over all the mountains and hills and rested His Presence on Mt. Sinai, and Mt. Sinai was not high and mighty” (Sotah 5a). Hashem values humility and despises pride. Sinai was the embodiment of humility and the antithesis of pride, making it the ideal location for the Giving of the Torah. Our Sages compare Torah to water. Water does not flow up, it flows down. If we wish to acquire Torah, we must be lowly and humble. Just as water seeks ground level, so does Torah seek the modest and the humble. Arrogance drives it away, while humility attracts it (Taanit 7a). Moshe Rabbenu was truly and sincerely humble, and the lesson of Mt. Sinai was not lost on him. As he saw it, Hashem had chosen lowly and insignificant beings as His vehicle for the Giving of the Torah, so that it was perfectly understandable for Hashem to select Moshe to receive the Torah. He too was simple and low, a perfect match for the humble site. In this sense, Moshe truly “received the Torah from Sinai” (see Lev David, Chapter 32). As we see, then, Sinai is symbolic of the humility which is essential for Torah.

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The Meshech Hochmah (Shmot 3:11) explains that the Divine Presence rested on Moshe at the highest possible level ever to be attained by mortal man: “Never again did there arise in Israel a prophet like Moshe, whom Hashem knew Face to face” (Devarim 34:10). He merited this specifically because of his humility; “And the man Moshe was very humble, more than any other person on the face of the earth” (Bamidbar 12:3). Moshe’s level of prophecy was in direct proportion to his extraordinary humility, so that this most humble of men was also the greatest of prophets. And yet, even then, he remained the same truly humble individual (Torat Cohanim 1:12). Moshe had wrought great miracles and spoken to the Al-mighty “Mouth to mouth.” Surely he knew that no other human being compared to him. Did he really imagine himself to be inferior even to a small child? The answer lies in Moshe’s vast comprehension of the Al-mighty. Knowing so clearly what He is, he also understood how lowly and small any human being is in comparison, no matter who he might be. Hashem only rests His Divine Presence on a humble individual (Nedarim 38a), just as He only rested it on Sinai, the humblest of mountains.

Ready to Receive
Rabbi Yosef Irgas discusses the greatness of humility and the lowliness of pride (Pri Megadim, Ot Alef; see also Igeret HaRamban). He writes that arrogance is the root and foundation of all bad middot. It follows that humility, the direct opposite of arrogance, is the foundation of all good middot. Our Sages teach that derech eretz, or in other words, good middot, preceded the Torah (Vayikra Rabbah 9:3). The best way to make ourselves worthy of receiving the Torah is by improving our middot. The Maharal explains that this is the reason for the custom to study Pirke Avot (the Ethics of the Fathers) on Shabbat between Passover and Shavuot. The ethical teachings of Avot deal with middot and character development. Studying them is the ideal preparation for receiving the Torah, which is given to our nation every year anew on Shavuot (Derech Hayyim, Chapter 6). Because the Torah is G-dly wisdom which is spiritual, abstract, and intangible, it cannot dwell in one whose character is flawed. This is why our Sages teach that Moshe received the Torah specifically “from Sinai.” Because he had the trait of Sinai – humility – he merited receiving Hashem’s Torah, given at Sinai.

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Reception and Transmission
However, our Sages’ wording describing the transmission of the Torah from Moshe to subsequent generations raises an additional question. They write, “Moshe received the Torah from Sinai and passed it on to Yehoshua, and Yehoshua to the Elders, and the Elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets passed it on to the Men of the Great Assembly.” Concerning Moshe, the mishnah says “received.” From then on, the process is described not as reception, but as “passing on.” Was Moshe the only one to receive the Torah? Apparently he was, because he was the only human being who ever lived who was capable of receiving the Torah in its entirety. This special distinction was not due to the great wisdom, exalted level of prophecy, political acumen, or sparkling charisma of our nation’s greatest leader. It was because of the one trait of Moshe’s singled out by the Torah for praise: “And the man Moshe was very humble, the most humble of all people on the face of the earth” (Bamidbar 12:3). Humility is an essential prerequisite for Torah (Taanit 7a). Torah is the G-dly wisdom which teaches man how to perfect himself and by so doing, rectify and perfect the world as a whole. The Torah is so vast and so deep that it contains guidance for all of mankind in all times, places, and circumstances. However, in order to accept and internalize this vast body of wisdom, one must first understand that he is indeed very far from perfection, and has much to learn and improve. The proud individual cannot receive the Torah, because as he sees it, how much instruction does he need? His reception and acceptance will be limited, because he is blind to just how very much he and the world are lacking. Moshe achieved a level of closeness to the Al-mighty never known to any other man. With his knowledge of the greatness of G-d, he had a correspondingly greater awareness of man’s insignificance, which engendered his enormous humility. As the most humble man on earth, he realized that he and the world were sorely lacking, and was therefore able to receive the Divine wisdom, guidance and instruction of the Torah in full. In order for the Torah to be given in full at Sinai, there had to be a recipient who could accept it in full. After Moshe’s initial acceptance, he could then pass it on as he received it to coming generations, even if they were not on the level to receive it as he had.

Humble at Heart
We gain further insight into the importance of humility in learning Torah from Rabbi Hayyim of Volozhin’s explanation of our Sages’ words, “Who is wise? One who learns from every person” (Ruah Hayyim on Avot 4:1). What is the connection between gaining wisdom and the willingness to learn from anyone?
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He writes that “Who is wise?” refers to one granted wisdom by Hashem because of his own efforts. Hashem grants wisdom to the wise (Berachot 55a), but the first stage in wisdom is fear of Heaven (Iyov 28:28), which we acquire and develop on our own (Berachot 33b). The first, most basic level of fear of Heaven is a humble awareness of our own insignificance. We should understand that any Torah knowledge we have acquired is not due to our own spectacular brilliance, but only because Hashem has given it to us as a gift. Anyone can be granted a gift – even someone we consider to be on a much lower level than ourselves. He may have a very great degree of fear of Heaven, which made him worthy of insights that others, although apparently more important, were not granted. This attitude makes us willing to “learn from every person,” gaining knowledge we could never have acquired had we been proud. Fear of Heaven, then, is the receptacle for wisdom, beginning with the humility to learn from anyone. If we fear Hashem and are humble, He will grant us further wisdom. The Ruah Hayyim goes on to provide an interesting insight into the nature of true humility. He writes that humility goes deeper than tolerating insults and humiliation. It means sincerely believing in one’s heart that he really is nothing, even in comparison to the very lowliest of the low. If one has achieved some measure of wisdom, he should realize that considering what he is capable of, he has done nowhere near enough. The individual whom he perceives as lowly, on the other hand, may well have exerted himself to the maximum of his own capacities, making him more worthy than one who has not done his best with what he has. We find this attitude in Moshe, when he tried to refuse the task of freeing the Jewish nation. He said, “Please send by the hand of whoever You will send” (Shmot 4:13). The Ramban explains that Moshe meant that anyone Hashem could possibly choose to send would be more worthy than him. King David too said that simple maidservants were more precious in Hashem’s eyes than he, the King of Israel, was, and he felt honored by the honor they gave him (II Shmuel 6:22). However, one who privately considers himself terribly important, even if he makes a point of swallowing insults in order to fulfill the commandment of “humility,” is not truly humble. His humility is merely external, not internal. It is precisely if he considers that he has done his duty in the realm of humility that he obviously has not. The genuinely humble man is sure that he is still overly proud.

Making Room for the Shechinah
Our Sages teach that the proud individual pushes away the Feet of the Divine Presence (Berachot 43b), and that the Holy One, blessed be He, says of him, “He and I cannot live in the world” (Sotah 5a). Why is this so? Because there is no place

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on earth which is not filled by the Al-mighty: “The entire world is filled with His Glory” (Yeshayahu 6:3). Pride on our part is an attempt to take over His place. The prouder we are, the less room we leave for Him, so to speak. The more humble we are, the greater the degree to which Hashem’s Divine Presence can be manifested on earth. This is why human pride is not compatible with Heavenly pride, and should be minimized to the most extreme degree. Rabbi Hayyim Palagi discusses the question of our obligation to cleave to the Attributes of the Al-mighty on the one hand, and the negativity of pride on the other (Nefesh Hayyim, Maarechet Gimel, Ot Alef). The Torah commands us to cleave to the Al-mighty (as in Devarim 10:12, 11:22, 28:9 et al). Our Sages ask, “Is it possible to cleave to the Divine Presence? It is written (Devarim 4:24), ‘For Hashem your G-d is a consuming fire.’” They explain that man cleaves to the Al-mighty by emulating His Attributes: Hashem clothes the naked, visits the sick, comforts the bereaved, and buries the dead; so should we (Sotah 14a). However, pride is also one of Hashem’s Attributes, as much as any other: “Hashem reigns, He is clothed in pride” (Tehillim 93:1). Perhaps we should emulate this Divine trait as well – just as He is proud, so should we be proud. And yet, how can we, if pride is strictly forbidden? Our Sages tell us that there is indeed a permissible dosage of pride. A Torah scholar must have “an eighth of an eighth of pride” (Sotah 5a). This tiny smattering of self-respect, just one part in sixty-four, is essential to maintain the dignity of the Torah he teaches and represents. Appreciation of one’s worth as a student of Torah and servant of Hashem, in the sense of “his heart was proud in the ways of Hashem” (II Divre HaYamim 17:6), is necessary if we are to fulfill Hashem’s mitzvot with our heads held high, rather than cringing when others mock us for being “too religious” (see Rema’s glosses on Orah Hayyim 1:1). And yet, pride is different than other Divine Attributes. When we emulate Hashem’s Attribute of Hesed (Lovingkindness), for example, we cause the Divine Attribute of Hesed to be aroused in Heaven, bringing Divine lovingkindness down to our world. When we fight for the honor of Torah in this world, we strengthen the Divine Attribute of Gevurah (Might). Our positive behavior, modeled on His, becomes a conduit for Divine bounty. The one exception to this rule is the Attribute of Divine pride. As our Sages teach, human pride and Heavenly pride are direct opposites. Not only does our pride not result in an influx of the corresponding Divine Attribute, it instead pushes away the Shechinah, preventing it from dwelling among us, G-d forbid.

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Artificial Admiration
So detrimental is pride to Torah that the Ruah Hayyim writes that we must actually flee honor, because it leads directly to pride. One whose heart contains even a shred of arrogance will be incapable of achieving wisdom. In addition, honor bestowed by others will also be a great deterrent to wisdom. This is why our Sages prayed, “Let my soul be as dust to all. Open my heart to Your Torah” (Berachot 17a). If others consider our soul to be literally as dust, they certainly will not honor us. Unhampered by honor, our heart and soul will be receptive to Torah and mitzvot. If others nonetheless honor us against our will, we should not be moved. Instead, we should realize in our hearts that we lack all qualifications for honor in any case (Ruah Hayyim on Avot 4:1). In our generation we are plagued by a new form of empty honor: media publicity. Today’s media spokesmen wield great power. They can lift a personality to the skies or grind him into dust, as they wish. Unfortunately, some individuals are so eager for a taste of admiration that they will do almost anything to grab the public eye. If they fulfill a mitzvah, it will be accompanied by such fanfare that they are guaranteed a headline (plus photo), just to make sure that no one misses the moment. This is dangerous business; if we inflate ourselves in this manner, we make it all too easy for the Al-mighty to burst our bubble. We are better advised to realize how harmful spurious honor is, and flee it as we would a fire.

On Guard
A beautiful example of a saintly Jew who ran away from the honor he so richly deserved was Rabbi Tzvi Michel Shapira of Jerusalem, a disciple of Rabbi Yehoshua Leib Diskin, the Brisker Rav. Rav Tzvi Michel was a saintly scholar and mekubal. It was said of him that while he valued every mitzvah at a million, he rated a mitzvah performed in private as worth a hundred million. If ever he was “caught” at a mitzvah he was devastated; it was as if all his effort had been ruined. For many years, it was his custom to sleep for a short time until midnight, slip out to immerse in a mikveh, and then spend the rest of the night learning. If he noticed others out in the narrow streets, he would duck into an alley and hide until they passed. Like this, he innocently believed, no one would know where he was going and what he was doing, even in the small, close-knit community of old Jerusalem. In his later years, Rav Tzvi Michel’s vision dimmed and his reflexes slowed, and it became more and more difficult for him to spot passersby in time. His pious neighbors did not want to upset him, so when they saw him coming, they would hide, and he never knew that he had been found out.

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As we see, pride is antithetical to Torah, to be avoided at all costs. Humility is not only one of the forty-eight ways in which Torah is acquired (Avot 6:6). It is the foundation, literally the key to Torah, as we learn from Moshe Rabbenu. Two of our great Torah Sages discuss the matter of dealing with undue honor. Both Rabbi Elizer Papo, author of the Pele Yoetz (Yaalzu Hassidim 15) and Rabbi Eliyahu David Rabinowitz-Teumim, known as the Aderet (Nefesh David 3), reach the same conclusion concerning an interesting teaching of our Sages: “If you know only one tractate and you are honored for knowing two, you must tell them that you only know one” (Jerusalem Talmud Shevi’it 10:3). They write that in our times, we are no longer on the level to be able to follow this ruling of our Sages’ literally. Let us imagine that someone praises us publicly for our extensive knowledge of Shas, and we break in with a righteous protest: “No, no,” we say. “I don’t know anywhere near that much.” Our outburst will have the opposite effect. Rather than cutting us down to size, it will gain us further accolades for our wonderful humility – and deep down, we know full well that that is what will happen. We are better off, they write, letting the moment pass, while reminding ourselves that in actual fact, we barely know even a single tractate properly. We should work on true, internal humility, rather than on externals which are really a camouflaged bid for further honor. The evil inclination is a brilliant, powerful adversary. He knows our weakness better than we do, and he plans his attack accordingly. This is why we pray, “Remove the Satan from before us and from behind us.” At times he will approach us from behind, so to speak, dressing us up in the fuss and feathers of false humility, while in truth, we are a blazing fireball of pride. At other times he hits from up front, convincing us that we are so utterly, miserably worthless that there is no point in even trying to accomplish anything in Torah and the service of Hashem. If we are such a wretched specimen, he says, why bother at all? This brokenhearted humility may look terribly pious, but it is no more than a clever scheme to take us away from spiritual growth. We cited Rabbi Hayyim of Volozhin’s teaching that we must feel real humility in our hearts; we should view everyone, bar none, as more worthy than ourselves. Ignoring the importance of attaining true humility will harm our ability to achieve profound understanding of the Torah. However, we need to understand what this means. Our perception should be that compared to what we could accomplish with our G-d-given capacities, we have pitifully little to show for ourselves. Others are no doubt doing their best with the particular gifts they were given. Rather than viewing our capacities and accomplishments as nothing, we should understand that if only we exert ourselves to our fullest, we are capable of greatness.

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This essay contains divre Torah. Please treat it with proper respect.

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