Parashat Vayiqra: The Aleph Calls Out

The first word of Parashat Vayiqra catches the eye in that it's final letter is written qetonah, i.e. small (minuscule) and suspended, as above. This is the case in every extant sefer Torah (in scroll form) known. Despite the various commentaries midrashically attributing the diminished form to Moshe, it may go back only as far as the early Medieval period, as it is lacking in two early codices, i.e. Codex Leningradensis (1008 CE; below) and Keter Damasek (late 10th c.; below, beneath Leningradensis). It is, however, attested in Rabbi Yosef bar Shmuel Tov-Elem (Bonfils; 11th c.), as well as Vienna MS 1, Hillel ben David, and Yannis Haralambous (Typesetting the Holy Bible in Hebrew). Of the 16 Dead Sea scrolls and scraps representing Vayiqra, none can stand witness on this as none preserve Vayiqra 1:1.1

Codex Lengradensis (1008 CE)

Keter Damasek (late 10th c.)

(א) וַיִּקְרָ֖א אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֑ה וַיְדַבֵּ֤ר יְהֹוָה֙ אֵלָ֔יו מֵאֹ֥הֶל מוֹעֵ֖ד לֵאמֹֽר׃

(1) And He called to Moses and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying:

There are two lenses through which one may explain this phenomenon - one scribal and the other spiritual.

Scribal Explanations

How might the small aleph serve as a scribal aid?

Rabbi Shmuel David Luzzato (Shadal) offers a practical reason for the aleph ze'ira in his commentary (below), i.e. that the suspension of the aleph of וַיִּקְרָ֖א differentiates it from the aleph of the following word אֶל. Writing the two juxtaposed alephs as one small (suspended) and one normal safeguards against an accidental omission of one or the other. He points out that this also occurs with the qophs of יִצְחָ֔ק קַ֣צְתִּי (Bereshit 27:46) for the same reason, in that instance with the second qoph of the sequence.

(א) ויקרא: לענין א' זעירא עיין מה שכתבתי על קצתי בחיי (בראשית כ"ז מ"ו).

(1) Leviticus: concerning the diminished aleph, see what I wrote on qatzti b'chayei (Bereshit 27:46).

(מו) וַתֹּ֤אמֶר רִבְקָה֙ אֶל־יִצְחָ֔ק קַ֣צְתִּי בְחַיַּ֔י מִפְּנֵ֖י בְּנ֣וֹת חֵ֑ת אִם־לֹקֵ֣חַ יַ֠עֲקֹ֠ב אִשָּׁ֨ה מִבְּנֽוֹת־חֵ֤ת כָּאֵ֙לֶּה֙ מִבְּנ֣וֹת הָאָ֔רֶץ לָ֥מָּה לִּ֖י חַיִּֽים׃
(46) Rebekah said to Isaac, “I am disgusted with my life because of the Hittite women. If Jacob marries a Hittite woman like these, from among the native women, what good will life be to me?”

(א) ותאמר רבקה אל יצחק קצתי בחיי: הקו"ף זערה, נ"ל כי היה מנהג הסופרים בימי קדם כשהיתה תבה מתחלת באותה האות שהתבה הקודמת מסיימת, היו משמיטין אחת מהאותיות הדומות, ואולי היו מציינין האות ההיא באיזה סימן להודיע שהיא עומדת במקום שתים, ואחר זמן הוסיפו בין שתי התבות האות החסרה, ולהיות המקום צר כתבו אותה זערה, וכיוצא בזה ויקרא אן משה (ויקרא א' א').

(1) And Rivkah said unto Yitzchak, 'I am disgusted with my life....': the diminished qoph, mentioned above, is because it was the custom of the writers in ancient times when there was a beginning letter in the same letter that the previous letter ends to omit one of the similar letters, and it perhaps indicates that letter bears this sign to indicate that it stands in second place, and later [scribes] added the missing letter between the two letters; as it was [written into] a narrow place they wrote it tiny, as [also occurs] with And He called to Moshe (Leviticus 1: 1).

Spiritual Explanations

What does the small aleph have to teach us?

Literary Continuity

Rabbeinu Bachya's observation addresses more an aspect of literary function than of spiritual application, but as it not strictly a scribal device, but rather serves in a didactic role. Therefore, it is included herein under the spiritual lens.

(ו) ודע כי היה הכתוב ראוי לומר ויקרא ה' אל משה וידבר אליו, ומה שאמר ויקרא אל משה סתם להורות כי אע"פ שספר ויקרא הוא ספר בפני עצמו הכל מחובר ודבק עם מה שכתוב למעלה, כי כל התורה כולה בנין אחד וקשר אחד, ומלת ויקרא חוזרת אל הכבוד הנזכר וכבוד ה' מלא את המשכן והכבוד הקורא הוא הה"א של בהבראם שהיא זעירא, ולכך האל"ף של ויקרא היא זעירא, וזה מבואר.

(6) Know that actually the Torah should have written ויקרא ה' אל משה ויאמר אליו; the fact that the subject of who was speaking i.e. the Lord, was not mentioned indicates that although the Book of Leviticus is a Book in its own right, it is an integral part of what came before it; the entire Torah is one continuous document, a single structure. The word ויקרא is simply a reference to the attribute of כבוד which was last mentioned in Exodus 40,35 when the Torah wrote that this attribute filled the Tabernacle. The attribute which called to Moses was the “small” letter ה in the word בהבראם In Genesis 2,4. In order to make this clear the letter א in the word ויקרא here is also written small.

Intentionality vs. Coincidence

Numerous commentaries draw on the comparison between the verb וַיִּקְרָ֖א (Vayiqra 1:1), which is a qal 3ms wci of קרא (to call, proclaim) and the similarly-spelled verb וַיִּקָּ֥ר (Bamidbar 23:4), a niphal 3ms wci of קרה (to encounter). As the he a III-ה verb apocopates in many of its morphemes, including this one, the unpointed spelling is the same apart from the final aleph on the former.

(א) ויקרא אל משה. לְכָל דִּבְּרוֹת וּלְכָל אֲמִירוֹת וּלְכָל צִוּוּיִים קָדְמָה קְרִיאָה, לְשׁוֹן חִבָּה, לָשׁוֹן שֶׁמַּלְאֲכֵי הַשָּׁרֵת מִשְׁתַּמְּשִׁין בּוֹ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר וְקָרָא זֶה אֶל זֶה (ישעיהו ו'), אֲבָל לִנְבִיאֵי אֻמּוֹת הָעוֹלָם נִגְלָה עֲלֵיהֶן בִּלְשׁוֹן עֲרָאִי וְטֻמְאָה, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר וַיִּקָּר אֱלֹהִים אֶל בִּלְעָם (במדבר כ"ג): (ב) ויקרא אל משה. הַקּוֹל הוֹלֵךְ וּמַגִּיעַ לְאָזְנָיו וְכָל יִשְֹרָאֵל לֹא שׁוֹמְעִין; יָכוֹל אַף לְהַפְסָקוֹת הָיְתָה קְרִיאָה, תַּ"ל וַיְדַבֵּר — לְדִבּוּר הָיְתָה קְרִיאָה וְלֹא לְהַפְסָקוֹת, וּמֶה הָיוּ הַפְסָקוֹת מְשַׁמְּשׁוֹת? לִתֵּן רֶוַח לְמֹשֶׁה לְהִתְבּוֹנֵן בֵּין פָּרָשָׁה לְפָרָשָׁה וּבֵין עִנְיָן לְעִנְיָן; קַ"וָ לְהֶדְיוֹט הַלּוֹמֵד מִן הַהֶדְיוֹט:
(1) ויקרא אל משה AND [THE LORD] CALLED UNTO MOSES — All oral communications of the Lord to Moses whether they are introduced by דבר or by אמר or by צו were preceded by a call (to prepare him for the forthcoming address) (cf Sifra, Vayikra Dibbura d'Nedavah, Chapter 1 1-2). It is a way of expressing affection, the mode used by the ministering angels when addressing each other, as it is said (Isaiah 6:3) “And one called unto another [and said, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts]”. To the prophets of the nations of the world, however, God revealed himself in a manner which Scripture describes by an expression ordinarily used for denoting events of a casual character and of uncleanness, as it is said, (Numbers 23:4) “and God happened to meet (ויקר) Balaam” (the term ויקר, from the root ,קרה, is connected with מִקְרֶה which denotes “chance”, “occurrence”, and has also the meaning of “uncleanness”, by analogy with Deuteronomy 23:11: ‎לא יהיה טהור מקרה לילה) (cf. Bereishit Rabbah 52:5). (2) ויקרא אל משה AND HE CALLED UNTO MOSES — This implies that the Voice went on and reached his (Moses’s) ears only but all the other Israelites did not hear it). One might think that for the subsections there was also such a call! It, however, states, “[And the Lord called unto Moses] and spake (וידבר) [to him]”, thus intimating that a דבור, a complete section had (was preceded by) a call (e. g., in our text chapters 1—4), but not the subsections. And what purpose did these subsections serve (i. e., why are the larger sections broken up into smaller ones)? To give Moses an interval for reflection between one division and another and between one subject and another — something which is all the more necessary for an ordinary man receiving instruction from an ordinary man (Sifra, Vayikra Dibbura d'Nedavah, Chapter 1 9).

The Wisdom in the Hebrew Alphabet

Diminished א Teaches Humility: The small א at the beginning of Leviticus teaches humility. Leviticus begins וַיִּקְרָ֖א אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֑ה, He [God] called to Moshe. When God dictated the Torah to Moses, He told him to begin this Book with the word וַיִּקְרָ֖א, He called, a term of endearment that would indicate the intimacy between the Divine Presence and him. Moses, the humblest of men, was reluctant; who was he that God should hold him in such regard? Instead, Moses wanted to write וַיִּקָּ֥ר, He happened by, an unflattering term that implies that Moses heard God's word only by coincidence, not that God held him in any particular regard. That was the term God would later use to describe His appearance to the wicked Balaam (Numbers 23:4). God insisted that Moses write the affectionate וַיִּקְרָ֖א, but He permitted him to make the א small [וַיִּקְרָ֖א] so that it would bear at least a slight resemblance to the term that indicates coincidence (Baal haTurim)....2

(א) א' דויקרא זעירא שמשה לא רצה לכתוב אלא ויקר כדרך שנא' בבלעם כאלו לא נראה לו השם אלא במקרה ואמר לו הקב''ה לכתוב גם באל''ף וכתבה קטנה. ויקרא אל משה. ר''ת אמ''ו בעטרה שעטרה לו אמו. הקדים משה לשם כביכול כאחד שמדבד עם חבירו ומקדימו דרך מוסר. כתיב לעיל ואש תהיה לילה בו. וסמיך ליה ויקרא אל משה לו' מתוך שקרא לו ודבר עמו היו פניו בוערות כאש:

(1) And He called. The א of ויקרא is written as a small letter because Moshe wanted to write ויקר (and it happened), the way it is written regarding Bilaam, which implies God appeared to him only as a chance occurrence. God, however, told him to write the א which indicates His love [אהבה], but Moshe made it small.

Small Aleph and Large Aleph

The Lubavitcher Rebbe observes that the Tanakh also has within it an enlarged aleph, i.e. in the occurrence of Adam as the first word of the Book of Divrei Hayamim. The implication is that the humility of Moshe shown through the small aleph of Vayiqra 1:1 is in contradistinction to the arrogance/pridefulness of Adam displayed through the large aleph below.

(א) אָדָ֥ם שֵׁ֖ת אֱנֽוֹשׁ׃
(1) Adam, Seth, Enosh;

(א) וַיִּקְרָ֖א אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֑ה וַיְדַבֵּ֤ר יְהֹוָה֙ אֵלָ֔יו מֵאֹ֥הֶל מוֹעֵ֖ד לֵאמֹֽר׃

(1) And He called to Moses and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying:

Likkutei Sichot

Moses rectified Adam's mistake. He recognized his greatness but nevertheless remained humble. His humility was not self-delusional but the result of simple reasoning. He thought: “I cannot take any credit for any of my gifts or accomplishments since they are all God-given. Indeed, if another person had been given my potentials, he would have accomplished more and climbed greater heights than I have.” He understood that true humility does not mean denigrating oneself but seeing the virtue in others.

We are all spiritual heirs of Adam and Moses. When we feel inadequate we must remember that we are Adam, with a big aleph. When thoughts of “Who am I?” deter us from our task, we must recall that we are Adam, formed by God's own hands, and fully capable of caring for His garden. At the same time, we must recall that we are Moses, are thereby ensure that our self-assurance does not develop into conceit.

Moreover, if we remember the small aleph, we, too, will merit to be called by God, and this revelation will provide us with the strength to answer God's call, drawing ourselves and the world at large closer to Him. This is the true essence of the sacrifices [in Leviticus], whose laws are introduced by the lesson of the small aleph.3

Rabbi Bunam of P'schish'cha (Poland, 19th century)

The word aleph means to teach,4 thus implying that one should learn always to be "small" and humble. No man was better qualified to teach this lesson than Moses, who was not only the greatest of all prophets, but the humblest person who ever lived.

Call of the Divine Spark

The Wisdom in the Hebrew Alphabet

Call of the Small א: The small aleph also calls us to teshuvah (repentance). In the phrase וַיִּקְרָ֖א אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֑ה, He called to Moses, the subject is not specified. The subject is really the Aluph [Chief]5 of the World, Who is denoted by the small א. God makes Himself "small," as it were, so that His holiness can be found everywhere, even in the heart of the most wicked person. In everyone's heart the Divine spark flickers, always ready to blaze into a flame of repentance. Not every person responds to the call of the small aleph - the Godly spark within himself. But whoever heeds the call and returns to God binds himself to holiness, and God's influence on him steadily increases and becomes more obvious, as the verse continues: and HASHEM spoke to him. Thus the small aleph symbolizes God's accessiblity to every Jew, no matter how low he may have fallen, and, simultaneously, to man's duty to heed God's call to repentance (Meor Einayim).6


  1. Martin Abegg Jr, Peter Flint, and Eugene Ulrich, transl,, The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible: The Oldest Known Bible Translated for the First Time into English (San Francisco, Calif.: HarperCollins, 1999), 77-78.
  2. Michael L. Munk, The Wisdom in the Hebrew Bible (2nd ed.; Brooklyn, N.Y.: Mesorah Publications, 1990; orig. 1983), 52.
  3. Menachem Mendel Schneerson, Likkutei Sichot vol. 17 (Kehot), pp. 7-8.
  4. Per William L. Holladay, ed., A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1988), 18 [CHALOT]- one of two identical roots with different meanings, i.e. [I] qal: impf. תאלף: learn (oth.: get accustomed to) Pr 2225. piel: impf. יאלף, אאלפך; מלפנו (< מאל'): teach Jb 155.; [II] hif.: pt. מאליפות: produce a thousandfold Ps 14413.
  5. Per Marcus Jastrow, Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic Literature (New York, N.Y.: Title Publishing, 1943), 68 - m. (b.h. אלף) prince, chief. Gen. R. s. 20 beg. אלופו של עולם the world's chief (Aleph, i.e. Adam).
  6. Michael L. Munk, The Wisdom in the Hebrew Bible (2nd ed.; Brooklyn, N.Y.: Mesorah Publications, 1990; orig. 1983), 54.