Leviticus 1:1 – 5:26
Everything we do, everything we are as Jews, is framed by the Covenant between Israel and God. So, when a young boy was brought to his first day at cheder, at Torah school, the tradition was that he would begin with this week’s parasha. VaYikra, the first word in the text, means “And [God] called.” Our very first lesson is that God calls to each of us. To what exactly are we called? How do we hear the call? These we argue, however, the scribing of the text itself provides a clue.
In every Torah scroll, the last letter of VaYikra, an aleph, is written in a smaller size. Every time I see this, I am reminded of the story of the Revelation at Sinai. At Sinai, we became a covenanted people. Smoke poured from the mountain, the ground shook, there was thunder and lightning, and God spoke Aseret HaDibrot, the Ten Utterances, from on high. The first thing the Torah describes after the Ten Commandments is how the people were utterly terrified: they begged Moses to go up the mountain for them and bring the rest back. On the surface, it seems like Israel heard all Ten Commandments before crying to Moses for help, and most of the Classical Rabbinic commentators agree. However, not everything in Torah is as it seems. There is an odd grammatical shift between the First Commandment and those that follow. The First Commandment is written as God speaking in the first person, “I am the Lord your God ... you shall have no other gods besides Me." However, the others reference God in the third person, as in, "You shall not swear falsely by the name of the Lord your God; for the Lord will not clear one who swears falsely by His name."
Why would God switch to the third person? Isn’t that the way Moses would speak rather than God? As you might imagine, some rabbis began to wonder if the grammar changed because the speaker changed. It began to look like we only heard the first commandment before becoming overwhelmed and begging Moses to make it stop.
But what if even that was too much? Some rabbis said we only heard the first phrase: "I am the Lord your God.” After all that phrase encompasses both the reality of God and our covenantal relationship. Frank Rosenzweig, the early Twentieth Century philosopher, suggested that we only heard the first word “I” (Anochi in Hebrew). Truly hearing the “Anochi” of God, is like taking the entire Torah to heart. Then, there is the early Hassidic master, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Rymanov, who taught that even one word from God was too much for us.
What did Israel hear? According to Rabbi Menachem, it was the first letter of the first word: the alef. Contrary to what many of us think, the aleph is not a completely silent letter. Rather, the aleph is the tiny guttural sound we make at the back of our throats just as we are about to speak. Of course, to hear an alef, what do we need to do?
Listen. Very. Carefully.
Rabbi Menachem taught that God has been transmitting the sacred alef of revelation since the beginning of time, and will continue until time itself ends.. The great miracle at Sinai was not that God spoke, but that we, all of Israel at the same time, listened.
 Exodus 20:2-3
 Exodus 20:7
Hi there! I am the senior rabbi at Temple Beth Ami in Rockville, Maryland, where I have served since 2016.
(c) copyright 2018 by Rabbi Gary Pokras