וַיִּקְרָא אֶל מֹשֶׁה וַיְדַבֵּר ה אֵלָיו מֵאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד לֵאמֹר.
And He called to Moshe, and Hashem spoke to him from the Ohel Moeid, saying.“וַיִּקְרָא אֶל מֹשֶׁה” – לכל דברות ולכל אמירות ולכל צוויים קדמה קריאה לשון חבה (יומא ד:; ויקרא רבה) לשון שמלאכי השרת משתמשים בו שנאמר (ישעי’ ו, ב) וקרא זה אל זה, אבל לנביאי האומות אומות העולם נגלה עליהן בלשון עראי וטומאה שנאמר ויקר א-לקים אל בלעם:
“And He called [vayiqra] to Moshe”: For all the declarations, statements and commandments, calling preceded them — a language of affection. (Yuma 4b; Vayiqra Rabbah). The language that angels use, as it says (Isaiah 6:2, [quoted in Qedushah]), “And they call, this one to that…”
But to the prophets of the nations of the world, He revealed to them in a language of transitoriness and impurity, as it says, “And G-d happened [vayiqar] upon Bil’am…”
– Rashi ad locאל”ף דויקרא זעירא. שמשה היה גדול ועניו לא רצה לכתוב אלא “ויקר” לשון מקרה כאילו לא דבר הקב”ה עמו אלא בחלום כדרך שנאמר בבלעם (במדבר כג:ד) כאילו לא נראה לו השם אלא במקרה (מדרש אותיות קטנות), ואמר לו הקב”ה לכתוב גם האל”ף ושוב אמר לו משה מחמת רוב ענוה שלא יכתבנה אלא קטנה יותר משאר אלפי”ן שבתורה וכתבה קטנה:
The alef of [the word] “vayiqra” is small. For Moshe was a great person and modest, and only wanted to write “vayiqar“, a term of happenstance [miqreh]. As though HQBH only spoke to him in a dream, as it says of Bil’am, as though Hashem only appeared to him by chance. (Midrash Osios Qetanos).
HQBH told him to write also the alef, and again Moshe told Him, because of his great modesty, that he would only write it smaller than other alef‘s in the Torah. And he wrote it in small.
– Ba’al haTurim ad loc
The book of Vayiqra opens with a contrast between “vayiqra“, being called by G-d, and “vayiqar“, serendipity. The Medrash Osios Qetanos, quoted by the Ba’al haTurim, says that this is the reason for the small alef — Hashem wanted to emphasize His closeness to Moshe, while Moshe had a hard time writing such a thing, and wanted instead to make the verse and the prophecy look more like happenstance than like a special relationship.
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks enhances this contrast in a recent mailing, by noting one of the key words in the Tokhachah (chapter of rebuke) near the end of the book of Vayiqra. Hashem writes that if even after feeling the negative consequences of our actions we continue to act with Him in qeri, He will respond to us with qeri. Many translations are offered for the word “qeri“, and as for connotation — the word also denotes impure sexual emissions. But among them, the Rambam ties it to miqra, happenstance, and therefore would translate these lines something like this:
כא וְאִם-תֵּלְכוּ עִמִּי קֶרִי, וְלֹא תֹאבוּ לִשְׁמֹעַ לִי–וְיָסַפְתִּי עֲלֵיכֶם מַכָּה, שֶׁבַע כְּחַטֹּאתֵיכֶם. … כג וְאִם-בְּאֵלֶּה–לֹא תִוָּסְרוּ, לִי; וַהֲלַכְתֶּם עִמִּי, קֶרִי. כד וְהָלַכְתִּי אַף-אֲנִי עִמָּכֶם, בְּקֶרִי; וְהִכֵּיתִי אֶתְכֶם גַּם-אָנִי, שֶׁבַע עַל-חַטֹּאתֵיכֶם. … כז וְאִם-בְּזֹאת–לֹא תִשְׁמְעוּ, לִי; וַהֲלַכְתֶּם עִמִּי, בְּקֶרִי. כח וְהָלַכְתִּי עִמָּכֶם, בַּחֲמַת-קֶרִי; וְיִסַּרְתִּי אֶתְכֶם אַף-אָנִי, שֶׁבַע עַל-חַטֹּאתֵיכֶם. … מ וְהִתְוַדּוּ אֶת-עֲוֹנָם וְאֶת-עֲוֹן אֲבֹתָם, בְּמַעֲלָם אֲשֶׁר מָעֲלוּ-בִי, וְאַף, אֲשֶׁר-הָלְכוּ עִמִּי בְּקֶרִי. מא אַף-אֲנִי, אֵלֵךְ עִמָּם בְּקֶרִי, וְהֵבֵאתִי אֹתָם, בְּאֶרֶץ אֹיְבֵיהֶם; אוֹ-אָז יִכָּנַע, לְבָבָם הֶעָרֵל, וְאָז, יִרְצוּ אֶת-עֲוֹנָם.
21 And if you walk with Me randomly, and do not come to listen to Me, I will add to you seven times more plagues, according to your sin. … 23 And if with these [plagues] you do not turn to Me, and you walk with Me randomly. 24 I too will walk with you randomly, and I — I too — will punish you sevenfold, according to your sin. … 27 And with this [additional punishment] you do not turn to Me, and you walk with Me randomly. 28 I will walk with you with the fury of randomnss, and I — I too — will give you trials, sevenfold, according to your sin. … 40 And they will confess their sin and their fathers’ sin, the embezzlement which they embezzled from Me, and also that they walked with Me randomly. 41 I too will walk randomly with them and I will bring them into the land of their enemies; only then their calloused hearts will be humbled, and they will have repaired their iniquity.
– Vayiqra 26:21,23-24,27-28,40-41
In retrospect the verses of rebuke clearly describe life in exile. G-d abandoning us to the forces of history. As a tiny nation with no political power, that alone is to guarantee punishment.
And yet, when we look at galus overall, our survival these 1943 years since the fall of the Beis haMiqdash speaks louder of Hashem’s Presence than reading all the narratives of Tanakh! As we will say next week, “Vehi she’amdah — This is what stands for our ancestors and us: that not one alone sought to destroy us. Rather, in every generation they rise up to destroy us. And Hashem saves us” — albeit too often with many many casualties — “from their hands”.
What divides vayiqar from vayiqra? A single letter, an inaudible letter, and yet also the letter that represents the start, and the unity of the Creator. What divides being called from happenstance? Hearing the “small still voice” of G-d within. Whether one chooses to look for Him or unfortunately chooses not to.
This thought from the Chief Rabbi reminded me of Rav Dessler’s approach to the line between nature and miracle. A topic I discussed in Mesukim MiDevash for Beshalach, pp 1-2:
Most of us live within a world in which the laws we call “teva” apply. R’ Chanina ben Dosa, however, lived in a world where the laws of neis applied. In this world, oil and vinegar are equally flammable…. Rav Eliyahu Dessler elaborates on this principle. Mekubalim speak of four olamos, each of a higher level than the previous: asiyah (action), yetzirah (formation), beri’ah (creation) and atzilus (emanation)….
People have two sources of information that they consider absolute. The first is their senses – sight, sound, and so on. The second is their self-awareness. The senses bring us information about the physical world. Self awareness brings us concepts like truth, freedom and oppression. Someone mired in the desires of the senses lives in the physical world. He focuses his attention on it, just as everyone focuses on that which is important to them. “Every tailor notices and looks at the clothing of the people in the street; and similarly every shoemaker, shoes…” The man of the senses therefore perceives it as more objective and more absolute than the world of the self…. This is olam ha’asiyah.
However, one can rise above that to the olam ha’yetzirah. This is not merely another level, but another world with its own laws, laws that do not conflict with free will. Those who focus on this world have no question that free will exists. To them, it is the ideals of this world that are more objective and absolute, and the senses, more subjective. Rav Dessler explains that this is how nissim can impact one person’s senses and not another’s. Yetzirah is the Maharal’s plane of nissim, and as the Maharal noted different people will perceive the miraculous differently, or not at all. And so the sea split in olam hayetzirah, but not in olam ha’asiyah.
According to Rav Dessler, someone who truly sees the world in terms of justice and kindness, freedom or oppression, to the extent that those laws are more objective and more absolute than gravity, conservation of energy, or electromagnetic force, then those laws actually do drive their reality. Such a person would live in a world of miracle rather than nature.
As long as we refuse to see Hashem’s “Hand” in the calamities of our exile, we see the events as random (Purim – Lots), qeri. When one seeks out the small alef, one’s experience is an entirely different reality; rather than being subject to happenstance or called by G-d.