Unapologetically, now on day 16 of the worst cold I have suffered through in all my recollection, I offer not a new musing, but a retread. Some of you may not know the musical reference, so here is a link to a YouTube video of Lou Bega’s “Mambo Number 5.”
Yes, I admit it. That silly song was running through my head as I was thinking about what to write this week. Lou Bega’s “Mambo #5” the one that goes “”A little bit of Monica in my life, a little bit of Erica by my side, a little bit of Rita is all I need, a little bit of…” Not a song I particularly like, care for, or approve of, but it is definitely catchy-it has a good “hook” as we say in the music business.
I couldn’t help myself. I looked at the text, saw that little alef, and my mind was off and running. It started out as “a little bitty alef in Vayikra” and gradually evolved into “a little bit of alef in my Torah, a little bit of bet in Bereshit, a little bit of gimel in my Gemara, a little bit of Dalet in my Daf Yomi…” and so on.
[If you’re asking yourself “what little alef?” at the moment, take a look at a Hebrew text of sefer Vayikra in a Torah scroll. You’ll notice that the first word “Vayikra” is written with the last letter, an alef, smaller than the other letters.]
The sages have had an absolute field day with this little oddity in the text. Why is it there? Many suggest it is about humility. Some suggest a connection to the story of Balaam in Bamidbar 23:16 where G”d encountered (vayikar, a little word play) Balaam – and Moshe, in his humility, felt he deserved no more of a summons than Balaam received (never mind the obvious temporal problems with this suggestion.)
A few years back, I also suggested this interpretation: G”d “called” or “summoned” (Vayikra) us to the commandments. G”d’s call was for our striving to follow them (the full size vav-yud-qof-resh) with the recognition that we might not always be perfect in attaining them (the smaller alef.) And if parashat Vayikra makes anything clear, it’s that G”d expects us to have both advertent and inadvertent violations of G”d’s law, and provides appropriate atonement options for them.
And I also mentioned a more radical liberal interpretation:
“There could even be a more radical interpretation-one suited to the more liberal Judaic theologies of this day and age. It is not an interpretation I personally accept, but I would be guilty of the sin of omission if I did not mention it, because it is one of the interpretations that occurred to me. Perhaps the small aleph represents G”d’s recognition that maybe G”d’s own ‘call’ to us could be incomplete – and might need adaptation over time. Thus, we have the interpretation that the commandments are living laws, that can grow, change, and be adapted to fit the changing realities of the universe we live in. And that when the task of tikkun olam is done, and we have reshaped the commandments as needed, the alef will reach its full size, and the “call” will be complete. And how fitting it is that the ‘first letter’ is the last to be completed”
(This line of thinking is also a slippery slope for where it can lead to in terms of Christian re-interpretation of the text, and indeed, some Christian theologians have seized upon it as another of their proof texts that Christianity “completes” Judaism. No thanks. We’re still cooking up lots of good stuff here over in the Jewish world – we’ve not been superseded.)
Alef. A little bit of alef. Little. Why? Maybe G”d remembered how awesome and mighty and shattering to humans G”d’s voice might be. G”d began simply calling out to Moshe, uttering “VA – YIK-R…” and then realized “whoops, better tone it down before I blow them all away with my words” and finished with a quiet little “…a…” Hmm, I like that interpretation. “A lot of Va-Yik-R… in my life, I need a little ‘..a..’ in my life…”
And that quieting down of that little alef. It reminds us that we need to sometimes quiet the noise all around us so we can heart G”d’s “still small voice.”
Well, it seems I still have a “little bit of alef in my life…” And that brings me back to another insight this innocuous and offensively macho Mambo opened up for me.
G”d called to Moshe – and out tumbled words and letters. First out, of course, was a alef. It’s that little alef, hanging on like a drop of dew, then dripping down from G”d’s lips to water our souls. Makes sense, of course-alef, the first letter. It name similar to a verb root (alef-lamed-fay) that means “to learn.” And is not learning the beginning of everything? And were not G”d’s utterances at creation the beginning of everything? See-the connections just keep coming. But I digress.
The little alef found its way in so many different places in our sacred texts. Literally thousands of alefs. (My apologies to the Hebrew literate among you for that pun.) Everywhere, those little pieces of G”d’s words. “A little bit of G”d in all my words…” (I wonder if some enterprising and scholarly reader is willing to determine if there is at least one alef in each of the 613 mitzvot?) (No one has done this since this was originally published in 2001!)
That little alef. It does so many things. Here’s one more-it reminds us to not overlook the little things – in our sacred texts, in our lives, in anything we do, say, read, here.
I’m glad that little alef is there. I and others have gotten so much from it already. And what about you? What can that little alef tell you? What doors can it open with you, hidden meanings unmask for, lessons teach to you?
So this Shabbat, I wish you all “a little bit of alef in your Shabbat…”
Adrian ©2013 portions ©2001 by Adrian A. Durlester
Other musings on this parasha:
Vayikra 5772 – Confession: Not Just for Catholics
Vayikra 5771 – I’d Like To Bring To Your Attention…
Vayikra 5770 – You Can Fool Most of the People Most of the Time
Vayikra 5768 – Redux 5763 – Kol Kheilev
Vayikra 5767-Stuff That’s Bugging Me
Vayikra 5766 – Osymandias
Vayikra-Shabbat Zachor 5765-Chatati
Vayikra 5763 – Kol Cheilev
Vayikra 5759 & 5762-Salvation?
Vayikra 5760-Meaningful Gifts