Article

There are times in which we need to be 'big Alephs' and recognize that there are ideals worth standing up for; truths worth fighting for; values worth devoting ourselves to.

Rabbi Allouche

In an age plagued by narcissism, it is no wonder that “selfishness” has become a derogatory word. But is selfishness an entirely negative trait? Can selfishness ever be good and constructive?

“As a general rule, there are no attributes of the soul that are good or bad,” my dear mentor, world-scholar, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, once wrote. “There is no attribute that lacks its injurious aspect, its negation, and failure, just as there is no attribute – even if connected with doubt and heresy – that has not, under some circumstances, its holy aspect.”

One of the leading rabbis of the nineteenth century, Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Pshischa, once addressed his disciples with a surprising yet important request: “Write two truths on two separate notes,” he told them. “Let one state the teaching of our Sages ‘For my sake the world was created (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 37b).’ The other should state the verse uttered by our forefather Abraham ‘I am dust and ashes,” (Genesis 13:27).’

“Now place these two notes in your pockets. When you are feeling useless, take out the note that states ‘the world was created for you.’ But if your achievements engender arrogance, take out the second note and remember that you are but ‘dust and ashes.’ ”

A similar lesson is learned from the opening word of this week’s portion, “Vayikra,” which means “And G-d called Moses.” If you take a close look at it, in any Torah scroll worldwide, you’ll notice that this first word is spelled with a miniature Aleph. The commentaries point out that this letter comes to symbolize Moses’ exceptional humility.

Conversely, the first word of the book of Chronicles includes the word Adam, spelled with a disproportionately large Aleph. This alludes to the greatness of spirit, and the infinite potential which resides deep within each and every human being.

The reason for this contrast is poignant: There are times in which we ought to be ‘small Alephs’ and remain humble in the face of all that which we still need to learn and achieve.

Yet, there are times in which we need to be ‘big Alephs’ and recognize that there are ideals worth standing up for; truths worth fighting for; values worth devoting ourselves to. Some examples include the objective to create peace and harmony in our marriages, the pure and unadulterated education we owe our children, and the continued growth and cultivation of ourselves, and our Jewish identity.

And above all, we ought to be ‘big Alephs’ when we awake every morning, look at the reflection of our deepest self – with all of our G-d given talents and skills – in the mirror, and ask ourselves:

“How can we make a positive difference today? And how will we actualize our unique purpose today to better our world, and to elevate every place we will visit, and every person we will encounter?”