The mother of the Tzemach Tzedek, the third Lubavitcher Rebbe, died when he was very young and he was raised by his grandfather, R. Shneur Zalman of Liadi. When the child was three, R. Shneur Zalman brought him to cheder [school] for the first time.

As is customary, he instructed the teacher to study the first passage of Parshas Vayikra with the child. After the teacher read the passage to the child, the boy asked the Alter Rebbe: “Why is the alef in the word Vayikra small?”

R. Shneur Zalman entered a lengthy state of meditative rapture and then replied:

Adam, the first man, was G‑d’s handiwork and G‑d testified that his wisdom surpassed that of the ministering angels. But Adam knew his own greatness and was overcome by his awareness of this. [Therefore] he blundered [and committed] the Sin of the Tree of Knowledge.

Moses our teacher... also knew his own greatness. But not only was Moses not overcome by his awareness of this, instead, it gave him a broken and contrite heart...

G‑d states in the Torah: “The man, Moses, was exceedingly humble, more than any person on the face of the earth.” No matter how low a person’s stature and how simple he was, Moses would measure himself against him, thinking that if that person had possessed the positive spiritual qualities with which Moses had been endowed - and had not earned through his own work - and his ancestral merit, that person would certainly have been better than he.

There are three types of forms for the letters which the Holy One, blessed be He, gave at Mount Sinai: oversized letters, average-sized letters, and miniature letters. The Torah is written in average-sized (benonim) letters. For the intent is that a person should be a benoni (an intermediate). Through the Torah, one reaches the level of a benoni. With regard to Adam, the first man, whose recognition of his own greatness caused him to commit the Sin of the Tree of Knowledge, an oversized alef is used. With regard to Moses our teacher whose Divine service of recognizing his own humility brought him to the highest level of humility, Parshas Vayikra uses a miniature alef.

R. Shneur Zalman was implying that through his humility, Moses merited unique Divine closeness that enabled him to correct the sin of Adam, the first man.

Parshas Vayikra

The story mentioned above raises an obvious question: The Tzemach Tzedek had not asked his grandfather about Adam. Seemingly, R. Shneur Zalman could have explained about Moses’ humility without drawing the contrast to Adam. Why was it necessary for him to mention Adam at all?

Moreover, the fact that an oversized letter is used in the Torah is obviously a sign of greatness. Why is the feature that seemingly highlights Adam’s greatness used to point to his shortcomings?

These questions can be resolved by understanding that R. Shneur Zalman was primarily concerned with educating his grandson, a child who had already demonstrated the potential for greatness. He wanted to teach him how to live with opposites, to refer to the well-known adage: “Just as a person must recognize his own shortcomings; so, too, he must recognize his own positive qualities.”

The awareness of one’s shortcomings should not negate the recognition of his positive qualities. Instead, the two can coexist. In this way, a person will not be overcome by the recognition of his positive qualities, for he realizes that they were granted him as gifts from above.

This approach empowers a person to utilize his positive potentials fully and yet not fall into the trap of pride. Understanding that he has been given manifold potentials by G‑d encourages him to put them into practice without feeling the smug conceit that often comes with success.

These concepts apply, not only to people with obvious gifts like the Tzemach Tzedek, but to all of Adam’s descendants. For every man and woman possess a certain dimension of the G‑dly power granted to Adam before the sin. We are all, like Adam, G‑d’s “handiwork in which He takes pride.” Certainly, the sin had an effect and that G‑dly dimension was driven into the hidden aspects of our personalities, but it is present in every one of us. We all possess inner goodness that knows no connection to sin. There is no reason to shy away from any spiritual task or mission, for we possess the spiritual gifts to fulfill it in the most complete fashion.

Looking to the Horizon

The era of Mashiach will be more than a return to Eden-like conditions. For if the entire process of sin and teshuvah (repentance) was only to get us back to the starting line, then the entire saga of the world’s spiritual history would be without purpose. Instead, the cycle of sin and teshuvah will bring mankind to a higher level than before, as implied by our Sages’ statement: “In the place of the masters of teshuvah, the completely righteous are unable to stand.” For teshuvah draws down a higher, unlimited light.

Eden was an environment of holiness. It was evident how every element of nature was an expression of G‑dly truth. But what was revealed was the G‑dliness of nature.

Teshuvah taps a dimension of G‑dliness that is above the limits of nature, relating to Him above all defined patterns. So high are the peaks to which we can reach through teshuvah that, at the time of the Redemption, we will appreciate that it was worth enduring all the thousands of years outside of Eden to reach those levels.

Our Sages declare: “The Torah has promised that at the conclusion of their exile, Israel will turn in teshuvah and immediately, they will be redeemed.” For the entire motivation behind exile, including the exile from the Garden of Eden, is to motivate teshuvah. When the Jewish people appreciate that cue and respond with sincere teshuvah, they will be redeemed immediately.