Spiritual Curiosity

When Moses inquired about the goat of the sin offering and found that it had been burned up, he was angry with Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron’s remaining sons  . . .  — Leviticus 10:16

The Torah portion for this week is Shemini, which means “eighth,” from Leviticus 9:1–11:47, and the Haftorah is from 2 Samuel 6:1–7:17.

Here’s a bit of Bible trivia for you: The exact midpoint in the Five Books of Moses falls in this week’s Torah reading. Specifically, according to the original Hebrew version, the midpoint is in chapter 10, verse 16. On either side of the midpoint is the exact same word — in Hebrew drash, which in English means “inquire.” At the center of the Hebrew Bible we find “drash, drash,” “inquire, inquire.”

What is the significance of these words and what is their meaning?

According to the Jewish perspective, all learning begins with a question. Walk into any Jewish study hall and here is what you will not find: the quiet atmosphere of a college lecture hall where students sit passively listening to a professor talk. Rather, you will find a room alive with passion. It is loud and boisterous as students engage in the traditional question-and-answer dialogue. As one question is answered, another is asked. As one solution is suggested, it is probed and poked. And so the learning goes in a cycle that never ends.

The Sages teach that the question-and-answer format was adopted because it is the best way to learn and grow. Someone who thinks that they know everything will have a hard time learning anything. But when we have questions, we create a space inside us for something new. We are open to wisdom, God’s words, and to change.

This is why we find at the heart of the Hebrew Bible the words “inquire, inquire.” God is telling us that the heart of all learning is questioning. We must never stop asking, seeking, and probing. Because, as Socrates put it, “A life unexamined is not a life worth living.”

The Bible encourages us to examine life and seek out answers in the pages of our Bibles. A Talmudic Sage once said about the Bible: “Turn it over and turn it over; everything is there.” All of life’s solutions can be found in the Bible – and their discovery begins with a question.

As children, we are naturally curious about the world around us. It’s the way we learn how things work and who we are. However, as we grow older, that childlike wonder fades. As adults, we think that we have all the answers, but God says to us: “Inquire, inquire!” Never stop asking, never stop learning! The moment that we stop seeking is the moment that we stop growing. When we lose passion for the new, that’s when we become old.

This week, let’s reawaken our spiritual curiosity. Take time to look at your life, ask questions, and then search the Scriptures for answers. Now, repeat!

Spiritual Curiosity

The Small Aleph

The LORD called to Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting. — Leviticus 1:1

The Torah portion for this week is Vayikra, which means “and He called,” from Leviticus 1:1–5:26, and the Haftorah is from Isaiah 43:21–44:23.

This week, we begin Leviticus, the third of the Five Books of Moses. It begins: “The LORD called to Moses and spoke to him.”There is something extremely unusual about this verse, but it is only noticeable when looking at the original Hebrew. The word for “called out” is vayikra, the title of this week’s portion. However, in this instance, the word is written in a strange way. Aleph, the very last letter of vayikra and also the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, is written smaller than the rest of the word.

What is the message of the small aleph?

The Sages give a few suggestions. One idea is that Moses purposefully wrote it that way. Moses, being an extremely humble man, felt it was necessary to downplay his unique relationship with God. He made thealeph small as if to say, “even though God calls out to me, I’m really not that great.” It was a sign of humility.

However, there is another interpretation that relays a powerful message to us all. When we think of God calling out to someone, we might think of a huge, monumental experience that shakes heaven and earth. However, by making the aleph small, the message conveyed is that God often communicates with us in a much less impressive manner. Remember the story of the prophet Elijah? As he stood on the mountain and experienced fierce winds, a powerful earthquake, and a roaring fire, Elijah did not hear God’s voice in the wind, the earthquake, or the fire. Rather God’s voice was in “a gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:12).

Some people wait their whole lives to experience God, looking for some cataclysmic event. They see Him in wars, weather, and other world-changing events. But, while God undoubtedly can be found in events like those, we can also find Him in the everyday, less noticeable events.

He is in a child’s laughter and a baby’s cry. He is in the poor person who needs our help, and He is with us as we wait in to the grocery check-out line. God presents Himself in the countless opportunities we have every day to choose goodness, kindness, and godliness. He is that small still voice we hear, urging us to choose good.

God is in the little things, so small that it’s easy to miss sometimes. We must be constantly vigilant and aware so that we can hear God’s voice and find Him in even the most mundane aspects of our lives. Because some day we will realize that all those small things add up to something very large – a life lived with holiness and a deep connection with God.

The Small Aleph