By Shalom Olensky
In the first verse of Leviticus in which G-d calls endearingly to Moses, the very first word, “Vayikra” (“And He called”) has one of its letters smaller than the rest.
Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (also known as the Alter (Older) Rebbe; founder of the Chabad movement) himself brought his grandson to his first day of Cheder (Torah school). The teacher there learned the aforementioned verse(s) with the child who then asked his grandfather, “Why the small letter?”
After a period of spiritual enrapture, Rabbi Schneur Zalman explained: “Adam new how great he truly was. But this led him to folly and a sin. Hence his name, when mentioned in Chronicles, is spelled with a big letter. Moses, on the other hand, although knowing how truly great he was, was humble to the extreme; to the extent that when comparing himself to any other person, he felt that would that person have been endowed with all the charms that he had been given, that person would have been even better than he. Therefore this verse makes one letter smaller than the rest because that is how Moses viewed himself next to others.”
- Why mention Adam? To answer the child’s question on this verse, the focus seemingly need only remain on Moses and his great humility.
- Why the lengthy description of Moses’ thoughts about another?
The Alter Rebbe wished to mentor his grandson – later to be the successor of the Alter Rebbe’s own successor – on a twofold theme: The importance for every Jew to, like Adam, appreciate his own importance while at the same time employing humility, like Moses, so as not to be taken in by it and led astray.
Hence, it was necessary to compare Moses to Adam as both of them, specifically because of their recognizance of their own righteousness, had to be wary of self-aggrandizement. And it was necessary to portray the extreme mode of Moses’ humility which is demonstrated by the fact that in addition to seeing himself as unimportant, he also saw everyone else as more important than himself. This type of humility can ward off even the most sophisticated inclinations towards self-aggrandizement.
Every Jew is righteous for we all have a spark of Adam within us. Just as Adam was the handiwork of G‑d Almighty and therefore, in essence, was far removed from sin, so must every Jew recognize this quality in himself; that way he can withstand a feeling of being too inferior to fulfilling something holy. At the same time one must learn from Adam’s mistake and Moses’ accomplishment which represents the need for and the method to reach humility.
(Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. 17, Vayikra)