This week’s portion begins with the words Vayikra El Moshe, “And He called to Moses”. We completed the book of Shemot last week which began with us as slaves in Egypt. We recalled the miracles and plagues in Egypt and the Exodus. We were reminded of the splitting of the sea and felt as we were there when the commandments were given at Sinai. We saw the tablets smashed in front of the Golden Calf. We awaited Moses’ second return from Sinai with the second tablets. And when Moses announced the building of the Mishkan we felt as if we were contributing. We watched the craftsmen go to work and in ten weeks saw the ark, the alters, the menorah and the table along with the mishkan itself.
Now Hashem is calling Moses to enter the Tabernacle for the first time.
If one were to open the Torah scroll and look at where the book of Vayikra begins, one would notice that the first word is written in a strange fashion. The final letter of the word Vayikra is written with a small aleph. The Rabbis ask why.
The Baal HaTurim, in his commentary to this verse, states that Moses wrote this aleph smaller than the other letters, out of humility. Moses wished to use the word, Vayikar – and it happened to minimize his own importance especially in relation to other prophets. Hashem would not allow it. So a sort of compromise was reached. Hashem insisted on the word Vayikra, bit Moses reduced the size of the alef.
Moses was singled out among all of the Children of Israel and chosen to directly communicate with G‑d, yet always wanted to minimize his own importance. If one were to write a three word epitaph for Moses, one might chose to write, G-d’s Humble Servant. Despite the fact that Moses was great in prophecy, Torah and wisdom, the trait that G‑d found fit to mention in the Torah was his humility. The Torah itself testifies to the fact that Moses was the most humble person on the face of the earth.
We received a great deal of feedback on last week’s newsletter and the article about Mickey Kairey. So many recalled their own memories of Mickey and a number of you told me that Mickey and my dad were cut from the same cloth. Both were humble servants. And it’s true. I’ve often said that my dad was the most humble person I knew. Mickey was like that. He never took credit and always acknowledged what other people did. When complimented, he said that Hashem allows all of us to do something good.
One person told me that although Mickey and my dad were very similar in their humility and willingness to serve the community, their greatest skill was a skill so lacking today, it was the ability to listen.
I was telling my wife about Mickey coming to collect the money from the a’pah. She asked what an a’pah was. It’s the Sedaka Box or the pushka. I imagine the word a’pah is related to the word kuppah or communal charity box.
I recalled a lesson he taught me that I would never forget. I was perhaps seven years old. Mickey came up the steps and sat in the dining room. We asked him if he wanted something to eat or drink. And I brought the box along with a small baggie. I was proud as the box was completely full and we had some dollars in the baggie as well. He lifted the full box and then opened his valise. He took out an empty box and handed it to me. He told me to shake the empty box and asked me what I heard. I shook it and it was silent. He asked me what other box is silent. I wasn’t sure. He put three coins into the empty box and told me to shake it again. I did and it made lots of noise. Then he handed me back the full box and told me to shake it. I tried and there was no noise at all because it was so full.
He explained, “Pal, when someone knows nothing, they have nothing to say, like the empty box. And when someone really knows everything, they wait and listen and weigh what they hear and then they speak cautiously. But when someone knows a bit, he wants everyone to know that he knows something and makes lots of noise as if he knows everything. Three pennies in the box aren’t worth much, but they make lots of noise, while the boxed filled with bills and coins, is silent.” He told me that my father and grandfather and my uncle Nouri were men who said little and did much and that was the best path in life to take. And then he joked that he probably talked too much and could learn from the Bibis.
And finally there was the man who told me that the skill my dad and Mickey shared was based on the Mishna in Ethics of Our Fathers. Heveh Mekabel Et Kol Adam Besever Panim Yafot which loosely translates as, “Greet each person with a pleasant demeanor”. There are certain people who walk into a room and make people smile. You are always happy to greet them. And they make everyone feel great. I told stories about my dad with everyone from the corner coffee vendor to the parking lot attendant and this was true for Mickey all the more so.
But when it came to Mickey, one had to think this was an anomaly.
Over the years I often heard stories about a man named Arama. As I understand, Arama was responsible for the Chevra Kaddisha during the early years of the Syrian Community. The Chevra is a bit different among Syrians. In many communities people buy plots in cemeteries. But by the Syrians, after 120, we get sent to Staten Island where the Chevra takes care of everything. So Mr. Arama took care of the bodies after a person passed away handling the purification and everything through the burial. The man was truly righteous living a life of chesed shel emet, true kindness for the dead who could never repay the favor. People can be appreciative, but they are often superstitious. And so when Arama came down the block, people would cross to the other side. The superstitions were so bad that people were afraid to have Arama in their homes, to shake his hand and to speak with him. I hear the stories and want to cry for Arama.
Arama had a student. And his student took over the Chevra after him with all his responsibilities of taking care of those who passed, purifying their bodies and arranging for their burials. The student too might have also taken on the moniker of Dr. Death and with it, all the associated superstitions as foolish as they are. But when the student walked down the street, you crossed to greet him if you were on the opposite side of the street. You not only shook his hand, you hugged him, and stood still while he rubbed your back and massaged your shoulders. And you went out of your way to speak with this student because he always made you laugh. The student of Arama was Mickey and thus the anomaly.
And now you can begin to understand how special he was. Mickey was like that small Aleph. Small in stature perhaps, but huge in meaning and presence.
The secret of men like Mickey and my dad was their humility, service and how they received everyone with a kind face. We have lots to live up to.
By: Rabbi David Bibi