This week begins the 3rd book of the Torah, Sefer Vayikra. Vayikra translates as, ''and He called'', refering to God''s calling to Moses. Thus the theme of ''divine calling'' stands out as a central teaching of this book, and of a spiritual life in general. The idea of calling rubs up against our deepest human hopes, quandries and discomforts. It stirs our questions of self-worth, of purpose, of productivity, and identity. To grapple with calling is, in essence, to grapple with one''s sense of ''size''.


In fact, one of the core teachings around Vayikra deals specifically with size, for the word itself features a sudden and glaring shift in the size of one of its letter. The aleph of vayikra is diminished...and how it stands out in its diminution! Commentaries amass around this one scribal detail. It becomes a key illustration of the paradox of Moses'' humility and his greatness. The Midrash shares that when God instructed Moses to write “Vayikra” in the Torah, he was reluctant. He begged God to omit this word which so expressed his being singled out with such distinction. God insisted the word be retained, though agreed to one concession. He said, “Reduce the letter Alef to a small size. This will indicate that you humbled yourself and made yourself small.”
 
The letter aleph, the first of letters, is identical to the word ''aluph'' – meaning ''chief, leader''. This story thus offers us a model of calling and leadership that is built upon an act of ''making oneself small'', a ready antidote to the inflation of ego that so often accompanies leadership. Moses is the aluph, the leader, who humbly diminishes himself. Along the same theme, the Midrash shares that the reason God called to Moses was because of Moses'' humility. For Moses stood outside of the Tent of Meeting and humbly refrained from entering1. Instead he waited for God to called him forth.2
 
Given that this Torah reading falls around the time of the holiday of Purim, I can not help but be struck by a parallel image to this that is found in the Purim story. For the defining moment of the Purim narrative is when Esther defies the royal decree against approaching the King without being called. In order to save her people, Esther risks life and limb to approach the King (who of course is taken as a metaphor for God). She approached without being called. Her act of initiative succeeds and proves her to be the leader of the generation. The contrast to Moses'' tale is striking. Whereas Moses in his humility shrunk away from approaching God until called, Esther, with great hutzpah, rose to the task of approaching the King without being called...and in that she was rewarded and in that she fulfilled her calling.
 
Esther''s model of leadership teaches us that divine calling is not simply about the diminishment of size, but is more about the balancing of size. Yes, perhaps it is the case for Moses that in order to take on the largeness of leadership, he needed to diminish himself. But for Esther, her calling was fulfilled when she stepping forward in self-assertion and expression.3 Both figures had to find a balance point from which to approach the divine. And so it is with us in our own efforts to enact our calling in the world. We all must find the size that is appropriate for us in any given situation. For some of us, that might mean diminishing our aleph, but for others, it might mean expanding our hutzpa. The highest ideal for which we can strive is the balancing out of size.


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Integration exercise: Make an effort to notice your ''size'' in a given situation (at a dinner party, within a crowd, with your spouse or children). Size yourself up. Do you need to diminish your self or build yourself? Should you speak out or keep quiet? What is your calling at that moment and what size fits the task?


*


A Prayer for Proportion


Hashem, what do you want of me?
 
To shy or to shine?
To bury or to blare?
Am I called to sit demure
or am I called to dare?
 
And if I blaze too bright
and brazen
will you cover me
with your hovering
of ceiling soft and cloud?
 
Or if I cower too cautious
will you pillar into fire
to summon me
to summits higher
than I myself allow?


Is our lesson in the lessening
or is it in the rowdy
row of song?
 
Is it our task to tremble
at the Tabernacle?
To stutter and stub our toes
lest we should overstep
or open what is better left closed?


Or rather are we called
to tackle the treasured whim
of entrance
to pay the tole of voice
and tell the truth with boisterous
and boyish zeal?
 
Perhaps it is our destined path to steal
the stash of cunning keys
of calling clad in harmony
 
To push aside the tapestry
to the draped domain of God
enshrined within our very sleeves?
 
What of we who have traced
long geneologies
of uncalled-for humility


All too familiar with the art of a whisper
the firm push of a hush.
 
What of we who have witnessed
minions of with-holding
and modesty gone amuck
and all we want
to do is step through
the crowd who cower at the gate
and enter into the incensed den of witness


To be seen and to be shown
- to allow for expression
where long lines of repression
have sown
something not humble or holy
but something pained
estranged from calling
withheld and shamed
 
And yes I blame
the black-belts of chastity
and rather belt a song
to set a frenzy of
shifting tides
of size
in perpetuity
For I want no tight wrap of scroll
to seal my childrens'' lips.
I want them to quip
well-equipped.


Practiced as piano scales
instilled with skills
of opening to gusts of prayer.
 
Where yawn is turned to song
and closets into windows
full of phosphorescence
and ever-falling-music notes.
 
To not be thrown by winds
of all-too-human trends
to know intuitively
to chose
how to speak
and when


To know when to request a feast
to save something precious from
becoming extinct.


So, please,
help us as we strive
in the balancing out
of size and shine


Instill in us the wisdom
to know how to best
approach the King Divine

Please visit my website to read more about my work and my counseling services through the "Jerusalem Center for Transformative Torah & Therapy". www.havayah.com
 

 
1Vayikra Rabba 1:5

2  Humility appears to be the Biblical trademark of greatness. Bezalel, the great and singled-out constructor of the mishkan, was also a man of humility. His name means “In the shadow of God” and evokes an image of one who lingers in the shadows, not the showman on center stage. In the Torah, it is the man who shuns the lime-light that shines with God''s light.  
3  Recall the line where God instructs Moses, “Reduce the letter alef...indicating that you...made yourself small.” These words are strikingly reminiscent of the well-known Talmudic tale of the diminishment of the moon. The Talmud explains why it is that in the Biblical story of creation the moon, which is initially described as a “great luminary”, is later refered to as a “small luminary”. The tale reveals that the moon asked God how both she and the sun could rule the skies, “How can it be that 2 kings can wear the same crown?” God replies, you''re right! Now, “Go make yourself small.” Thus it is that the moon becomes the small luminary in contrast to the great light of the sun. This story is taken as a source for the inequalities between men and women, where women, like the moon, are historically take the diminutive role to men. But most importantly, the Messianic era is called a time when “the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun.” (Isaiah 30:27.) The messianic ideal is one of ultimate equality and balance.

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