The first word in the Book of Leviticus is ויקרא – Vayikra, meaning, “And [God] called….” The diminutive א – alef catches the eye and calls for explication.
- א – alef, of course, has no sound. So, too, with sad people, lonely people, poor people, battered and bruised individuals, individuals cut off from society – we would hope that their silence will be so loud, we would stop whatever we are doing, and respond to the silence with acts of Tzedakah: justice, fairness, decency.
- If an א – alef has no sound, how much more profound must be the silent suffering of those represented by a diminished א. To explain it visually:my computer can reduce the size of the letter one point at a time until it is at most a dot, a near nothing. So worn, so tattered are the bodies and souls…all-too-often unheard and unseen. We would do well to seek them out, too…even more carefully than the ones represented by a full sized א alef.
- This word with the small א could have been written three ways: (A) with a subscript א, (B) in the normal position on the line (just shorter than the rest of the letters), or (C) as, is indeed the case in our Torah scrolls, with the א as a superscript. “A” would imply that people in need belong where they are in the Great Chain of Being, or that their present station in life is their own fault, or that they will forever remain the lowly and forgotten of society. None of these is an acceptable Jewish position. I believe that “B” would suggest apathy: disenfranchised people, human beings struggling to make their way in a dignified manner in the life are on the same line as the rest, but somehow smaller. You could look right over their heads and never see them. The Torah rejects that choice, too. So we are left with an א high on the line, meaning, their true place always remains one of Kavod – Dignity, and if due to circumstance, ill health, bad genes, disaster, a mismatch or mistiming, they have lost this sense of uniqueness and dignity, it is our job – everyone’s – to restore them to their proper and rightful place. Boldly, Judaism teaches us that we are God’s Agents in this endeavor of Tikkun Olam, Fixing the World.