Parsha Vayikra opens up with Hashem calling out to Moshe: “Vayikra el Moshe” (Vayikra 1:1). In the word vayikra there is a small letter aleph. This is a unique occurrence because we only find small letters in eight other places in the Torah. So, when this happens, our rabbis attempt to understand the deeper meaning.
One explanation I found very impactful, and helpful in our modern world, is the idea that God is calling out and helping us even if we don’t always see it. Sometimes Hashem calls out and helps in a loud way and sometimes in a quiet, more gentle manner. The aleph in vayikra symbolizes Hashem, the number one Being in the universe. It’s smallness alludes to Hashem being there for us in a quiet, hidden manner.
This “quiet-aleph” idea is highlighted in a favorite story of mine from the Maggid of Dubno. He shares about a poor person who was walking along the way, famished and tired, with all of their possessions on their shoulder. They were about to give up hope when suddenly, in the distance, they saw a small speck getting larger and larger as it drew near. It was a wagon being driven by a nobleman.
As the wagon approached, the nobleman saw the poor man struggling. He asked, “Why don’t you hop on my wagon? Relieve your burden, get some rest, and I will help you get to where you need to go.” The poor person was ecstatic. He could now take a much needed break. He hopped on the wagon, excitedly sat down, and began to relax as the wagon took off.
A little bit into the ride, the nobleman looked back and saw something peculiar. The poor person was still holding all his possessions on his shoulder! The nobleman asked, “Why don’t you put that down? Make it easy on yourself. Take a rest!” The poor man immediately responded, “Oh, no! You’ve already done so much for me. I wouldn’t want to put my possessions onto your wagon and cause any more burden to the cattle leading the wagon.” The nobleman was startled by this silly response, but he continued on, nevertheless, and the poor person arrived where they needed to go.
This story shares the idea that sometimes we think we need to carry all of the burden on our own when really Hashem is calling out to us, offering help. At times this help may be in a hidden manner, with a “small aleph,” but Hashem is there. In these moments we must let go and let God help us with our struggles and our burdens.
This valuable lesson appears at the beginning of our parsha because at this juncture Am Yisrael begins their active involvement in the Mishkan. They will need a lot of divine help in this service and they could mistakenly think they are doing it all alone. Therefore, Hashem opens our parsha with vayikra, with a small aleph, to remind Moshe and Am Yisrael in their time, and us in our time, that Hashem is with us. We just need to let go and make space for Hashem’s help and allow Hashem, and Hashem’s messengers in our lives, to help carry the burden.