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.)
There are two lenses through which one may explain this phenomenon - one scribal and the other spiritual.
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.
What does the small aleph have to teach us?
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.
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.
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
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.
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
- 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.
- Michael L. Munk, The Wisdom in the Hebrew Bible (2nd ed.; Brooklyn, N.Y.: Mesorah Publications, 1990; orig. 1983), 52.
- Menachem Mendel Schneerson, Likkutei Sichot vol. 17 (Kehot), pp. 7-8.
- 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.
- 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).
- Michael L. Munk, The Wisdom in the Hebrew Bible (2nd ed.; Brooklyn, N.Y.: Mesorah Publications, 1990; orig. 1983), 54.