The Eternal One called to Moses and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying: Speak to the Israelite people saying....
Vayikra , the first word of Parashat Vayikra, can be translated as "called." In Parashat Vayikra, God calls Moses to the Tent of Meeting to give him a running list of instructions concerning different types of sacrifice. Moses is to give these instructions to the Israelite people.
This is not the first time Moses is called by God to fulfill the important role of communicating God's messages to the Israelites-he has already been established as a leader of the people. Still, this parashah gives us yet another glimpse into Moses' character and the qualities that makehim a great leader. Upon close inspection of the Hebrew letters of the first word of our portion, one can't help but notice that the last letter of the word, alef, appears smaller than the preceding four letters. In preparing for writing this Got Shabbat, we read numerous commentaries that speak to the small aleph representing Moses' humility (the quality or state of being humble).
Many consider humility the trait of one who accepts challenges despite the recognition of his or her limitations. It can also be the trait of one who knows he or she is capable of doing the task at hand but does it in a way that isn't boastful or doesn't threaten the feelings or skills of others. While Moses balked at times about the tasks he had been given, not sure he was the right man for the job, ultimately he stepped up to the plate. He not only did what God asked him to do, he did what was best for the well-being of the Israelites. In order for them to become a nation, they needed to follow rules and instructions that would allow them to live in community with each other and to relate to God. Though Moses felt that others might be more capable of handling the responsibilities put on his shoulders, he humbly and confidently did as God instructed, doing what was best for the greater whole.
One thing that children learn in Early Childhood Centers and in their families is how to live in community with others. Young children are naturally egocentric, becoming more aware of the world and the people around them with each age and stage. Looking at how young children play near or with other children, we can learn something about the emerging development of humility and community. It is perfectly normal for a three-year old to participate in parallel play with his or her playmates. In this type of play, two or more children play side by side, but don't necessarily interact with others.
As they get closer to their fourth birthday and beyond, they eventually begin to engage in cooperative play. This requires a whole host of new skills, including the need to be aware of the needs of their playmates, to take turns, to sometimes put aside one's own preferences and desires. Through their play, children learn to be part of a community of others.
Humility 101: Let's consider an example of how this might play out in the life of a young child. Your daughter has a play date with a classmate from school. When the youngster arrives at your house, the two of them scurry off to build a castle out of a new set of Legos she recently received as a birthday gift. Within minutes, you hear crying coming from the playroom. When the crying persists, you decide to intervene. As it turns out, your daughter insists on building the castle all by herself, her explanation being that she is "better" at building with them because they are her Legos and she knows how to use them. A conversation ensues during which you remind her of the importance of cooperating, of sharing and of taking turns. In other words, your daughter has to put her own needs aside and allow her friend to join her in building with the Legos, even though your daughter might be "better" at creating the Lego structure.
Like Moses, we can help our communities thrive by striving for balance in our own lives. Humility helps us to achieve this balance not only in how we approach our own lives but in how we deal with others. By acknowledging that each of us has a job to do in contributing to the bigger whole, we can each do our part-sometimes small, sometimes big-in making the world a better place in which to live. Sometimes it means stepping up to the plate, like Moses did, and using our skills and talents to assume responsibility for certain tasks. Other times, it means stepping aside and allowing others to take the lead. By doing so, we take active steps to live in community with others.
Questions and Ideas for Parents:
- What are some ways in which you demonstrate humility in your life? To your children?
- Do you think humility is an important part of leadership? Why or why not?
- Are there specific sacrifices you make that allow you to live in community with others?
Questions for Children:
- What does it mean to be a show-off?
- When do you get to be a leader at school? What do you have to do to be a good leader?
- If you are really good at doing something and someone else wants to do it with you or instead of you, what would you do?
Pages 756-778 in The Torah: A Modern Commentary Revised Edition, by W. Gunther Plaut.