Rich and Humble
Parshas Vayikra begins with Vayikra, “And He called [Moshe],” written with
a miniature alef at the end. Rashi notes that the idea of Hashem calling
Moshe before speaking to him indicates Hashem’s esteem for Moshe. A king
doesn’t walk into a room unannounced; so too Hashem’s conversations with
Moshe were so significant that they required a preamble.
While we find a similar expression with regard to the gentile prophet
Bila’am, “Vayakar el Bila’am (Bamidbar/Numbers 23:4),” the lack of
an alef at the end of vayakar changes the meaning of the word
from “calling” to “coincidence.” It’s as if to say, “It happens to be that
Hashem spoke to Bila’am.”
Ba’al HaTurim explains that Moshe, in his exceptional humility, felt
compelled to ascribe to his prophecy the second meaning of Vayikr(a) –
happenstance. It was not because of any inherent qualities that Hashem
spoke to him, he felt, but because circumstance (the need for a leader)
required someone do the job. He was just in the right place (Midiyan) at
the right time (when Hashem wanted to take the Jews out of Egypt). Moshe
would have been tempted to write, Vayakar, “And it happened to be that
Hashem spoke to him,” except that, obviously, he couldn’t deviate from
Hashem’s wish. Hashem dictated Vayikra, so he wrote Vayikra. Still, in
recognition of his humbleness, Hashem told him to write Vayikra with a
small alef at the end.
From our perspective, we read the verse and are awed by Moshe’s extreme
self-deprecation; having taken the Jews out of Egypt and delivered them
the Torah, he saw himself as no more worthy than the distasteful Bila’am,
who attempted to destroy that very same nation. Moshe, one imagines,
probably read the verse and said, “You see, Hashem really wanted me to
write Vayakar – He just felt bad for me.”
Parshas Vayikra is not the first time we find the expression, Vayikra el
Moshe in the Torah. A very similar phrase in found in Shemos/Exodus 19:6,
and the identical phrase is found in Shemos 24:16. Why is the small alef,
signifying Moshe’s humility, not found there? Normally, unless there is a
specific reason to defer, the Torah notes something at the first instance
of multiple occurrences.
The Gemara (Nedarim 38a) says that Hashem does not allow the Shechina
(Devine presence) to dwell on a person unless he is strong, rich, wise and
humble. While the need for the recipient to be wise and humble is obvious,
R’ Chaim of Velozhin asks, of what significance is it that he is also
strong and rich? (Indeed, the Rambam (Shemona Perakim) understands the
Gemara to refer not to material wealth and physical strength, but rather
to the riches and strength referred to by the Mishna (Avos 4:1), “Who is
rich? One who rejoices with his lot. Who is strong? One who controls his
The absolute prerequisite, R’ Chaim explains, for achieving “Presence of
Shechina” is humility. “I dwell,” Hashem says, “with the
downtrodden” (Yeshayahu 57:15). One who is weak and poor and humble,
we cannot be sure that, were he to suddenly become rich and famous, he
would remain humble.
The only way we can ascertain if a man is truly humble is when he enjoys
all the luxuries and power life has to offer, yet remains simple and
unassuming. This is why, he explains, the Shechina cannot rest with the
humble, unless they are also wealthy, strong and wise.
At face value, this is questionable. As things stand, the man is humble.
True, it’s possible that if the tables were turned, he too might change,
and the previously humble pauper would turn into an arrogant, self-
centered magnate. That’s something we can’t know until it happens. But
Hashem knows the truth. If the person is presently a humble person, and
Hashem knows his humility is real and not just a product of his situation,
why should his lack of wealth and power prevent the Shechina from resting
Perhaps the idea is not that humility amid wealth and power is a proven
humility, but rather that one who has achieved wealth and power, yet
remained humble, has achieved a higher level of humility.
One may have the physique and genetics to bench-press 400 lbs., or to run
a marathon in under four hours, with training. Maybe he can scientifically
prove his disposition. Probably even now, before training, he’s stronger
or faster than most people. But if he never trains, his ‘greatness’ will
forever remain in a state of untapped potentiality; he will never have
achieved the strength and stamina of a champion performer.
Remaining humble amid wealth and power doesn’t just happen. Power
corrupts. Wealth blinds. The righteous person can overcome the pitfalls of
wealth and power, to be sure, but only through toil and extreme character
Given the chance, the humble pauper may indeed have the potential to
withstand the temptations of wealth and power, remaining every bit as
unassuming as he was before fortune struck. That doesn’t change the fact
this his humility is the humility of a pauper.
Apparently, the Talmud reveals that there is a level of Shechina which
demands a more nuanced form of humility. A humility that has withstood the
corruption of wealth and power; a humility in the light of which the
humility of the simpleton pales.
Moshe, Chazal say, became wealthy from the shavings of the Tablets upon
which the 10 Commandments were carved (Nedarim 38a). Until then, he was
ostensibly poorer (materially) than everyone else, because while the Jews
were busy gathering the wealth of the Egyptians at the Red Sea, Moshe was
busy tending to Yosef’s coffin.
The first instances of Vayikra el Moshe are written before Moshe carved
the Second Tablets, from which he became rich. He was certainly an anav
(humble) then as later. But the Torah withholds the allusion to Moshe’s
humility until now, after he was independently wealthy. He was the “same
old Moshe,” yet not at all the same old Moshe. His humility now is more
noteworthy, and far more substantial. Have a good Shabbos. [See R’ David
Volkin, MiShulchan Gavoha]
Text Copyright © 2008 by Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Torah.org