(At a Pesach farbrengen,1 ) the [Previous] Rebbe related the manner in which the Alter Rebbe brought his grandson, the Tzemach Tzedek, to cheder [for the first time]. Among the points the Rebbe mentioned is that the Alter Rebbe instructed the teacher to study the first passage of Parshas Vayikra with the child.2 After the teacher had studied the passage with the child, the child asked the Alter Rebbe: “Why is the alef in the word Vayikra small?”3

The Alter Rebbe entered a state of dveikus for a long time and then replied:

Adam, the first man, was G‑d’s handiwork4 and G‑d testified that his wisdom surpassed that of the ministering angels.5 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.6

Moshe our teacher... also knew his own greatness. But not only was Moshe not overcome by his awareness of this, instead, it gave him a broken and contrite heart, making him very humble in his own eyes.7 He thought: Were another person who was not Amram’s son, or the seventh generation in descent from Avraham, to have been given such a lofty soul and such ancestral merit, that person would certainly have been better than he.8

G‑d states in the Torah:9 “The man, Moshe, 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, Moshe would measure himself against him, thinking that if that person had possessed the positive spiritual qualities with which Moshe had been endowed — and had not earned through his own work — and his ancestral merit, that person would certainly have been better than he.10

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 (beinonim) letters. For the intent is that a person should be a beinoni (an intermediate).11 Through the Torah, one reaches the level of a beinoni. 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 Moshe our teacher, whose Divine service of recognizing his own humility brought him to the highest level of humility, Parshas Vayikra uses a miniature alef.


In this story, there is, on the surface, a point that requires clarification: Why was it necessary for the Alter Rebbe to mention (and indeed, state first) the lengthy description of Adam the first man and the explanation of why an oversized alef is used with regard to his name? This is seemingly unrelated to the explanation of why a miniature alef is used in Parshas Vayikra. [On the surface, it would appear] sufficient to say that the miniature alef in Parshas Vayikra is an allusion to Moshe’s great humility.

Furthermore, the explanation that the miniature alef in Parshas Va­yikra alludes to Moshe’s humility is stated in several of the commentaries to the Torah.12 They,13 however, do not mention the oversized alef used with regard to Adam. Now, the Tzemach Tzedek had not yet learned about the oversized alef used with regard to Adam (for it is used first in Divrei HaYamim). Indeed, he was just beginning to study Chumash. Thus on the surface, it does not seem appropriate to mention, and at such great length, the concept of the oversized alef used with regard to Adam the first man.

{In particular, this is true because the explanation given by the Alter Rebbe concerning the oversized alef used with regard to Adam speaks unfavorably about him.14 The Torah does not speak pejoratively even about a non-kosher animal.15 Certainly, it would not be appropriate to speak about Adam — G‑d’s handiwork, as the Alter Rebbe stated — in such a manner (unless there is a necessity to do so).16 }


It is also necessary to understand the lengthy explanation [the Alter Rebbe gives] with regard to the humility of Moshe. Seemingly, it would have been sufficient to state in short (as the other commentar­ies do) that Moshe was exceedingly humble, as the Torah states.

It is possible to say that the Alter Rebbe wanted to clarify to the Tzemach Tzedek how it was possible for Moshe to be “humble in his own eyes” although he was aware of his own greatness ([which is so extraordinary that] no one can compare himself to Moshe).17 For Moshe thought that if another person had been granted the same positive qualities with which Moshe had been endowed, i.e., his lofty soul and ancestral merit — as opposed to those he earned through his own efforts — that other person would certainly have been better than he.

Nevertheless, there are points that require clarification:

a) This concept itself requires explanation: Why is it necessary to emphasize that Moshe also recognized his own greatness (and thus create a need to explain that this recognition is not a contradiction to humility)?

b) [Seemingly, it was unnecessary for the Alter Rebbe to elaborate] in the explanation that Moshe was not overcome by the awareness of his own greatness — in contrast to Adam who was. It would have been sufficient to say that [this came as a result of] Moshe thinking that his greatness was not earned through his own Divine service, but instead was the result of his ancestral merit and the positive qualities that he was granted from Above. Why did he go into the details of Moshe’s comparison of himself to every other person and Moshe’s thought that if the other person had been endowed with the qualities that he had been granted, that person would have been better than he?


Initially, when looking at the Alter Rebbe’s explanation, it appears that the oversized alef used with regard to Adam is an allusion to an unde­sirable quality: i.e., that he was overcome with his greatness (in contrast to the miniature alef in[Parshas] Vayikra which alludes to the humility of Moshe).

In truth, however, this cannot be said. For it is an obvious general principle that the oversized letters in the Torah surpass the average-sized letters, and certainly, the miniature letters.18 Even a child can understand that the Torah uses an oversized letter to indicate greatness and importance as judged by [the scales of] the Torah of truth.

For this reason, commentaries19 explain that the oversized alef used with regard to Adam alludes to the fact “that there was never a man as great as he... or to the profuse wisdom that he possessed [as indicated by his] naming [of the created beings].”

Furthermore, in Likkutei Torah,20 the Alter Rebbe himself discusses the difference between the miniature alef and the oversized alef with which the name Adam is written in Divrei HaYamim and explains that it indicates that Adam was greater than Moshe.

[There he explains that] the oversized alef refers to Adam as he existed “before the sin, when he was on a very high level.”21 ([On that level,] it was possible for him to receive influence from the oversized alef, i.e., “the attribute of Kesser, as it exists in its essence.”) With regard to Moshe, by contrast, the Torah states:22 “And Moshe could not enter... because the cloud had rested upon it.” The cloud reflects influence from “a very sublime and awesome level”23 (i.e., Kesser). For this reason, with regard to Moshe, Vayikra is written with a miniature alef. For calling (i.e., drawing down influence) to Moshe (from [the sublime level of] the cloud) was possible only through a tzimtzum, [a contraction which is alluded to by the miniature letter].24

Thus the Alter Rebbe’s addition — the discussion of the oversized alef used with regard to Adam — seemingly defeats his purpose. For it appears to indicate that Adam was on a higher level than Moshe. Moreover, it alludes {not to Adam’s stumbling (through the Sin of the Tree of Knowledge), but on the contrary,} to his level before the sin.


It is possible to offer the following resolution: By offering this explanation to the Tzemach Tzedek, the Alter Rebbe was not merely answering the question [the child] had asked concerning the verse. Instead, he was primarily concerned with educating the Tzemach Tzedek and explaining to him the lesson in our Divine service that can be derived from the miniature alef in Parshas Vayikra.25

{This [explains the connection between this story and] statements [the Previous] Rebbe made (at an earlier farbrengen)26 that the Alter Rebbe personally devoted himself to the education and the training of the Tzemach Tzedek. That was the reason that he took him to cheder for the first time himself.}

In order for the lesson from the miniature alef to be complete, it was necessary for him to preface [his explanation] with [the critique of] Adam’s [conduct].

By elaborating on the qualities possessed by Adam and the fact that he appreciated his own greatness, the Alter Rebbe’s intent went beyond explaining the unfavorable aspects of Adam’s conduct. For, on the contrary, [from a certain perspective,] every Jew (— due to the spark of Adam he possesses, as will be explained in sec. VII —) must emulate Adam’s conduct. To refer to the well-known adage:27 “Just as a person must recognize his own shortcomings, so, too, he must recognize his own positive qualities.”

This teaches us how we must approach “recognizing our own humility.” That awareness should not negate the recognition of one’s positive qualities.28 Instead, [the two can coexist]. For one will not be overcome by the recognition of his positive qualities, for he realizes that they were granted him [from Above]. They were not earned through his own efforts, but instead came as a result of his inherent spiritual gifts and his ancestral merit. ([The paradigm for this is] the humility of Moshe.29 [This relates to every person, for] everyone possesses a spark from [the soul of] Moshe.)30

{Furthermore, since the person recognizes his positive qualities, it is necessary that his thrust toward humility be extreme, [like Moshe who was] “exceedingly humble, more than any person,” as will be explained in sec. IX.}

Therefore there is no contradiction. The oversized alef used with regard to Adam alludes to the fact that he recognized his own greatness, together with the fact that it alludes to the [genuinely] great powers that he possessed. For the recognition of one’s own greatness is a path in Divine service as mandated by the Torah. Indeed, this is associated with the Divine service of the righteous (as will be explained in sec. VII).

With this [explanation, the Alter Rebbe] underscores how a person must take care with regard to the recognition of his positive qualities. Even one who truly possesses very great virtues — to the extent that the Torah of Truth refers to him with an oversized alef — must guard against the possibility of undesirable results stemming from the recognition of his positive qualities. For [this caused] even Adam to stumble and commit the Sin of the Tree of Knowledge, the source of all sins.


Since (even) Adam’s (body) was G‑d’s handiwork, it is self-evident that (as he was created) he had no connection to evil.31 (To cite a parallel: “From the mouth of the Sublime One, evil will not emerge”32 ). Similarly, with regard to his surrounding environment, as is well known,33 there was no intermingling of good and bad before the Sin of the Tree of Knowledge. For kelipas nogah was a separate realm, lower than the world at large.

Thus the Sin of the Tree of Knowledge brought about a descent for mankind (and for the world at large). Nevertheless, since G‑d’s handiwork is eternal, it is evident that the above-mentioned advantage possessed by Adam is of eternal relevance and remains within his [nature] (at least in a hidden manner) after the sin.

{This concept is also alluded to in the wording of the Alter Rebbe: “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....” On the surface, since the oversized alef used with regard to Adam reflects his level before the sin (as stated in sec. IV), seemingly, it would have been appropriate [for the Alter Rebbe] to have worded his statement in the opposite order: “Adam, the first man, is referred to with an oversized alef. Throughrecognizing his own greatness, he stumbled [and committed] the Sin of the Tree of Knowledge.”

By phrasing his statements as he did [— mentioning the oversized alef last — the Alter Rebbe] alludes to the fact that even after Adam committed the Sin of the Tree of Knowledge, he is [still] referred to as Adam with an oversized alef (which, as above, alludes to his level before the sin).}


The eternal dimension of Adam’s positive qualities is not only that they remained (at least in a hidden manner) after the sin, but also that they are shared with every Jew until the end of time.

As is well known,34 the Jews are referred to with the name, Adam, “man,” as it is written:35 “You are called man.” For every soul and spark within the Jewish people is a portion of the soul of Adam, the first man. Therefore, every Jew is endowed with (— at least in microcosm —) Adam’s positive qualities.

{Every Jew possesses a resemblance even to Adam’s quality of having “wisdom [that] surpasses that of the ministering angels.” [This quality] was manifest in his ability to name all the created beings by recognizing “the living soul”36 that every being possessed.37 [Simi­larly,] as explained in holy texts,38 the names that parents give their children is, in diminutive, an expression of the spirit of prophecy. They are granted from Above the inspiration tocall the child with a name that reflects the child’s “living soul.”}

Therefore, every Jew — regardless of the situation in which he is found — possesses a reflection of the level of Adam as he existed before the sin.39 The difference is that with regard to Adam, this quality was also manifest from the standpoint of his body (for his body was also G‑d’s handiwork). For all others, by contrast, [this G‑dly dimension of their being] is manifest in a revealed manner40 only from the standpoint of their souls, which are an “actual part of G‑d from Above.”41

For this reason, a soul has no connection to sin. (As the Zohar42 comments on the verse:43 “When a soul sins...,” stating: “The Torah and the Holy One, blessed be He, ask in wonderment: ‘Could a soul sin?’”44 Even when a Jew stumbles in sin, “his soul remains faithful to Him, even at the time of sin.”45

This is the inner meaning of the verse:46 “Your people are all righteous.” Since there is a dimension of Adam (as he existed before the sin) within every Jew, each person’s Divine service parallels that of the righteous, despite the fact that previously he was involved in the direct opposite of that service. When he observes the Torah and its mitzvos (from the inner dimension of his soul — the attribute of Adam within him), he is not turning to G‑d in teshuvah. He is not “one who was distant, but who was drawn close,”47 [even though in actual fact, he was distant]. Instead, his Divine service resembles that of one who was righteous48 from the outset, who never had any connection to evil and sin.

Since every Jew possesses this positive quality, the possibility exists for every Jew to recognize his own positive virtues. [For we are not speaking about a person with an ego-centered outlook.] On the contrary, a righteous man does not have a self-oriented identity. Instead, he is identified with holiness that does not allow evil a foothold. (In contrast, a baal teshuvah, even after he turns to G‑d, must be continually on guard lest he return to his previous conduct.49 )

[A person need not worry when making the awareness of this potential a fundamental element of his Divine service.] On the contrary, a person must know his positive qualities. At times, this is the way (— through “lifting up his heart in the paths of G‑d”50 —) to overcome the hiddenness and concealment [of G‑d] in this world. For this [infuses] one’s Divine service with the power of holiness in a manner similar to the Divine service of the righteous.


For this reason, precaution is necessary. The awareness of one’s positive qualities must be coupled with an awareness of one’s fundamental humility. Otherwise, the recognition of one’s positive qualities can cause one to descend and stumble.

It is obvious that a person who is not righteous, whose evil is “in its power and strength,”51 must be careful with regard to recognizing his own positive qualities. Otherwise, it is possible for him to fall prey to the elemental yeshus (self-concern) that stems from the yetzer hara.

The Alter Rebbe, however, was endeavoring to educate the Tzemach Tzedek, who was [inherently] righteous52 and would grow up to be a nasi (leader)53 among the Jewish people. Accordingly, he felt that even greater caution was necessary. For Adam was a righteous man and G‑d’s handiwork, and seemingly he had no connection to sin, nor was there even a foothold for the powers of evil. Nevertheless, even with regard to him, the awareness of his own positive qualities caused him to blunder and commit the Sin of the Tree of Knowledge. Certainly, every [other] righteous man must take precautions with regard to the recognition of his positive qualities.54


On this basis, we can also understand why the Alter Rebbe elaborated in explanation of Moshe’s humility. ([Not only did he explain that] he was humble because he thought that his positive qualities had been endowed to him [from Above],) [the Alter Rebbe also emphasized that Moshe compared himself to others]. He thought that if that other person had been granted these positive qualities, he would have been better than he.

[This is necessary, because] a person must take precautions. Since he adopts a stance that reflects the power within holiness and involves the recognition of his positive qualities, it is possible that self-centeredness will arise. [Hence,] the ordinary recognition of his own humility is not sufficient. Instead, he must go to the opposite extreme55 of pride and [manifest] absolute humility and bittul.

Genuine humility is not demonstrated by emphasizing one’s own negative qualities, but instead, seeking to highlight the positive qualities that another person possesses.

We see this in our own lives. There are people who are able to bring about bittul within themselves. Moreover, they can even bear [criticism] and [listen when] another person reduces their self-image to nothingness. Even so, [this does not necessarily obliterate their ego entirely]. They [may] think: “It’s true that I’m nothing, but the other person is more of a nothing than I am.”

Bringing oneself to the level that he thinks about himself as nothing and looks at the other person as something requires a very different approach to Divine service and demands a higher level of bittul.

In this, we can see the great humility of Moshe who was able to make amends for the Sin of the Tree of Knowledge. {As is well known, when “Moshe received the Torah at Sinai,”56 the contamination from the Sin of the Tree of Knowledge ceased.57 } Not only was Moshe humble, he was the direct opposite of self-concern; “exceedingly humble, more than any person on the face of the earth.”58 He compared himself with every Jew, [and by doing so, came to respect every one of them,] thinking that “had that person been given his positive qualities, he would certainly have achieved more than he.”


This leads to one of the practical directives that we can derive from this story. On one hand, every Jew must realize that he possesses a heritage of awesome potentials and he must recognize his own posi­tive qualities. [And that is extremely important lest he shy away] when a mitzvah presents itself. For he knows his own spiritual level and will protest: “How can a person like me undertake this holy project?” He must realize that he possesses within himself an attribute that [re­flects] Adam as he existed before the sin. Accordingly, regardless of what he had done until now, at this moment, he must [— and he has the potential to —] conduct himself as if he is utterly above any con­nection to sin.

On the other hand, he must realize that all of these positive qualities are endowed to him from Above. Were they to have been given another person, that person would certainly have done better. Therefore, the recognition of his own positive qualities will not cause him to feel self-important. On the contrary, it will cause him to be humble in his own eyes.

This bittul will then enable him to reach true greatness, as it is said:59 “He who is small is great.” And this will lead to G‑d calling to Moshe — to the attribute of Moshe one possesses in his soul — with a solicitation of endearment.60 This in turn makes possible the Divine service of bringing sacrifices, [rising upward from level to level] until the consummate expression [of this phase of Divine service] in the Third Beis HaMikdash where “We will offer before You the sacrifices that we are obligated... in accordance with the command of Your will.”61 May this take place in the near future.

(Adapted from Sichos 13 Nissan, 5726)