With one Hebrew letter Moses showed his humility. God told him to commence the third book of the Torah with the word Vayikra – “And He called”. Moses wrote the last letter of the word, an alef, smaller than the normal size.
The explanation, according to the Baal HaTurim, is that Moses wanted to leave the alef out altogether so that the word would mean, “And He happened” - God just happened to call him, but He could have appointed anyone else - but God insisted, “No; I deliberately decided upon you, and it wasn’t by chance!”
The issue with Moses was, was his appointment mere chance or a Divine call? It is part of a wider question, is history the result of blind fate or Divine design? Reflecting on modern history, Nahum Goldmann said that we seem to stumble from crisis to crisis; nothing seems planned either by God or man.
Judaism makes allowances for Moses and his modesty but is adamant that things do not merely happen. God is in charge and there is, as a philosopher of history once put it, “a plot, a rhythm, a predetermined plan”. Not that we can always immediately read the Divine mind, but when we reflect back we see that our history has never been haywire. The role appointed for the Jewish people sometimes appears to be sidelined, but in the end our survival, persistence, determination and faith endure.
But does the Holocaust not gravely undermine this theory? Some, rather too comfortably, say that the catastrophe was because sections of European Jews (the German Jews? the Zionists? the anti-Zionists? who knows?) thwarted God’s will and had to be punished. Eliezer Berkovits, the theologian, calls such arguments obscene, and he is right. No-one is entitled to impute guilt to the martyrs or whitewash the perpetrators. The fact is that the Holocaust is too vast, too frightening, too searing a tragedy to permit easy explanation.
But there is another fact. The losses were unspeakable, but the Jewish people survived. Judaism survived. Israel came into being. And all are flourishing. This cannot be chance. It has to be design. We have to “weep sore in the night” for our suffering, but we must also celebrate our survival.