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It’s All For You

In the aftermath of the Golden Calf, God tells the Jewish People to build a Mishkan. Once it is built and operationally ready, God calls Moshe to tell him the laws of sacrifices:

וַיִּקְרָא, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה; וַיְדַבֵּר ה’ אֵלָיו, מֵאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד לֵאמֹר – God called Moshe; and spoke to him from the Hall, to say… (1:1)

Calling to somebody is a deliberate expression of consideration and care; it is the highest honor to be so directly recognized by the Creator. Quite unusually, the word וַיִּקְרָא appears in the Torah scroll with a small א. Rashi, citing a Midrash, takes this to mean that while writing the words, Moshe was uncomfortable writing about God seeking him out directly, and wrote the final letter in a small font, evoking a comparison to the prophecy of Bilam, whose prophecy has a sense of erratic encounters rather than deliberate meetings – ויקר אלוקים אל בלעם.

This teaching serves to illustrate Moshe’s humility, but it raises a major issue.

One of the foundations of Judaism is that Moshe Rabbeinu had prophecy unlike any other; it is Moshe’s Torah that we hold in such high esteem. By comparing himself to Bilam, or anyone, doesn’t Moshe actually undermine the entire Torah?

Our sages teach that Bilam didn’t have prophecy because of his qualities; but to preempt a prospective claim that if the nations of the world had a prophet like Moshe, they might have acted differently. Accordingly, it follows that Bilam was a prophet for the people’s sake, not his own merits; the abilities and achievements were incidental to the man.

R’ Shlomo Farhi explains that this is the common thread Moshe could draw between himself and Bilam. In the aftermath of the Golden Calf, God told Moshe to raise his people’s spirits, and as Rashi explains, he does so by saying that God only talks to him because of the people – צא ואמור להם דברי כבושים. בשבילכם הוא מדבר עמי.

In the distinctive words of R’ Simcha Bunim of Peshischa, a man standing at the top of a mountain can’t be proud of how tall he is. As high as he may stand in the physical world, the mountain lends him his height over others, nothing else. In much the same way, Moshe achieved greatness yet remained humble. His great accomplishments were not attributable to his own effort; the people had given him his power.

However great you or them might be, we are all here to serve.