VAYIKRA (Leviticus, 1:1-5:26) — “Little Big Man”

They say out there that Jews have horns.  Even Michelangelo thought so — you remember his famous statue of Moses with horns.  Where’d he get that crazy notion? 

Actually, we read it – sort of – in the Torah two weeks ago: When Moses came down from the mountain with the two Tablets of Testimony in his hands, he didn’t realize that his face was shining (literally, “gave off horns” of light) from speaking to G-d.  (Exodus, 34:29) 

What caused this brilliant spiritual radiance to emanate from his face?  The Midrash Tanchuma tells us that when Moses writing the Torah, there was some extra ink on his pen.  Every Torah scribe has a cloth with which to wipe away excess ink from his pen.  Moshe allowed himself to be that “cloth.”  He wiped the ink onto his face.   That ink caused these horns of Divine Glory to shine from his face.


Take a peek at a Torah scroll that is open to this week’s portion and you will see what looks like a typographical error.  The first word of the Book of Leviticus has one letter that is noticeably smaller than the rest.  The last letter of the word “Vayikra,” the letter Aleph is written in a smaller “font” than the rest of the word.    It seems, according to the Baal Haturim, that Moses objected to the use of the word “Vayikra” – “and He (G-d) called” (to Moses).  Moses preferred to write the word “Vayikar,” without the letter Aleph

The difference between the two words is that Vayikra (literally, “and He called“) is a word that is used describing the summoning of a distinguished person, while Vayikar (literally, “and He happened upon“) is used to describe a conversation with a lesser individual.  (When G-d calls to the wicked Balaam in Numbers 23:16, the Torah uses the word Vayikar.) 

While dictating the Torah to Moses, G-d would tell Moses what to write and Moses would write it.  When they reached Leviticus, 1:1, G-d told him to write “Vayikra” with an Aleph, a phrase that clearly demonstrated the great esteem in which He held Moses.  Moses, in his humility, requested that G-d allow him to delete the Aleph.  He preferred to replace the dignified expression with the more informal phrase “Vayikar.”  G-d refused to compromise the honor of Moses and insisted that the Aleph remain.  Moses demonstrated his reluctance to accept that honor by writing the word “Vayikra,” with an Aleph, but with a smaller and less significant Aleph.


Did you ever notice that the people least deserving of respect are the ones most likely to demand it?  And the truly righteous people, the giants among us, are the ones who shy away from honor and glory.  The Talmud tells us that those who pursue honor find that honor evades them; while the ones who flee from honor find that it always manages to catch up with them. 

Moses, the greatest of the prophets, shied away from recognition.  He argued that he wasn’t worthy of the honor of leading the Israelites out of Egypt.  G-d wouldn’t take no for an answer.  Moses didn’t want glorified, royal terms used to describe his relationship with G-d.  G-d wouldn’t take no for an answer.  The more Moses tried to avoid glory, the more it pursued him.


Remember the shining countenance of Moses we discussed above?  That spiritual glow that blazed from his face from the extra ink on his pen?  Where did that “extra” ink come from?  That was the leftover ink from the little Aleph!

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz



 “Where’s The Beef?” (2010)

 …Leviticus is a vegetarian’s nightmare.  …  Do we, the civilized Jews of the 21st century really expect to return to the antiquated cult of animal sacrifice?! Can you see it… Jackie Mason… slaughtering bulls on the Temple Mount? Meanwhile, Paul McCartney and the animal rights crowd will be protesting outside!  🙂 And should we really be burning all that meat?  Is G-d THAT hungry?  Why not send it to a homeless shelter??! :-)… The interesting thing about animal sacrifice is that there is no such thing…

Read more.


“Bringing G-d Home” (2008)

 He called to Moses, and G-d spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting…  (Leviticus, 1:1)

 The grammar of this verse is problematic – “He called to Moses.”  WHO called to Moses?  Obviously, as we see at the end of the verse, it was G-d who called him.  Wouldn’t the verse be clearer if it said, “G-d called to Moses, and He spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting”?…  G-d… “shrank Himself” … 

Read more.


“Keeping Score” (2006) 

I try to write a new Torah Talk message every week…I was planning to write a new message this week.  As you will soon see, I have good reason to send this message, from three years ago, once again. 

Last Shabbos, my family enjoyed the pleasure of hosting a couple whom we have known for many years…  As we sat at the table Friday night, I told them a story about a former student of mine.  I didn’t recall at the time that I had written up the story in Torah Talk, and I certainly didn’t realize that it was written in reference to this week’s Torah Portion. But I was totally unprepared for what met me on Sunday morning…

Read more.


“Dehydrated Water” (2005)

… Salt is a preservative.  Before the days of refrigeration, they used to preserve meats by salting them.  A well-salted side of beef could last for months without being refrigerated.

Why would you want to preserve foods that are being “consumed” by G-d on the Altar?  If they’re being “eaten” right away, they won’t have time to spoil!  If you cook something and eat it immediately, there is no reason to keep it fresh by putting it in the Fridge!…

Read more.


“Hey, YOU!” (2004)

… Did you ever send someone a well thought-out message by email?  A little while later, we receive the response — a short, terse, copy of our comments with a two-or-three word response.  No “hello,” no “good-bye,” just the proclamation from on high!…

Read more.


“Little Big Man” (2001)

They say out there that Jews have horns.  Even Michelangelo thought so – you remember his famous statue of Moses with horns.  Where’d he get that crazy notion? …

Read more.


 This is the weekly message at   Copyright © 2000-2011 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.


Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (  and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.


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Published in: on March 23, 2001 at 1:45 pm  Leave a Comment  

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