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Menachem Leibtag

Mar 29, 2001, 12:38:38 AM3/29/01
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In Memory of Rabbi Abraham Leibtag
Shiurim in Chumash & Navi by Menachem Leibtag


Is Sefer Vayikra boring? It certainly appears to be,
especially the first half of the Sefer (until we arrive
at Parshat Kedoshim).
In the following shiurim, we will try to show how
Sefer Vayikra can actually be quite exciting. As usual,
our approach will entail examining the Sefer's structure
and themes, in an attempt to uncover its deeper meaning.

To appreciate what's special about Sefer Vayikra, we
must first explain how (and why) it is different from the
other "sefarim" (books) of Chumash.
In general, when we study Chumash, we encounter two
basic types of 'parshiot' [passages]. They can either
1) NARRATIVE - the ongoing 'story' of Chumash; or
2) COMMANDMENTS - 'laws' that God commands Bnei

Up until Sefer Vayikra, Chumash has essentially been
narrative, i.e. the story of how God chose the Jewish
nation, took them out of Egypt and gave them the Torah.
For example, Sefer Breishit begins with the story of
Creation and continues (in chronological order) with the
story of God's "bechira" (choice) of Avraham Avinu and
his offspring to become His nation. The few mitzvot that
we do find in Sefer Breishit (e.g. 9:1-7, 32:32) are
presented as part of that ongoing narrative.
Similarly, Sefer Shmot begins with the story of the
Exodus and Bnei Yisrael's subsequent journey to Har
Sinai. Surely, we find numerous mitzvot in Sefer Shmot;
however, each set of laws is imbedded within the ongoing
story. For example, the laws of Pesach (12:14-20) are
presented as part of the story of Yetziat Mitzraim, and
the Dibrot (& the laws of Parshat Mishpatim /see 20:1-
23:19) constitute an integral part of the story of
Ma'amad Har Sinai.
In our study, we will show how Sefer Vayikra is
radically different, as it contains primarily MITZVOT and
very little narrative. Instead of simply continuing the
narrative of Sefer Shmot, Sefer Vayikra presents
primarily a collection of passages detailing numerous
laws. Consequently, it is only logical to assume that
these passages will progress in TOPICAL (or thematic)
[This would also explain why it may be likely to find a
situation in Sefer Vayikra where the laws may not be
presented according to the chronological sequence of
when they were first given.]

For this reason, Chazal refer to Sefer Vayikra as
"Torat Kohanim" (the laws for those who officiate in the
Mikdash, see first Ramban on Vayikra).
Interestingly, Sefer Vayikra does contain two
interesting narratives:
(1) The story of the seven day dedication ceremony of
the Mishkan, followed by the special korbanot YOM
HA'SHMINI and the death of Nadav and Avihu that same
day (8:1-10:20).
(2) The brief account of the "m'kallel," who was
executed for blaspheming God (24:10-23).

However, these two narratives are an exception rather
than the norm. In our shiurim, we will explain why these
narratives are included in the sefer despite the fact
that they may actually 'belong' elsewhere.
[For example, 8:1-10:20 - the story of the dedication
of the Mishkan - belongs in the last chapter of Sefer
Shmot together with the primary story of the original
dedication of the Mishkan (see Shmot chapter 40).]

Based on this introduction, we should expect the
'parshiot' in Sefer Vayikra to follow a thematic order.
Therefore, to identify the central theme of the sefer, we
must study the progression of its 'parshiot', noting the
theme of each 'unit', and then the logic of the
progression from one unit to the next. By doing so, we
hope to be able to answer such questions as:
Why does the sefer begin with the laws of korbanot?
Why are the korbanot outlined twice (in Vayikra AND
Why does the sefer abruptly switch topics in the
middle of Acharei Mot, from the Mishkan to "arayot" [see
chapter 18]?
Why does the sefer include Parshat Kedoshim, which
has little - if anything - to do with korbanot?
Why does Vayikra conclude with the laws of "shmita"
and "yovel" [leaving the land fallow every seven years]?

In the shiurim to follow, we will attempt to answer
these questions.
In closing, one general remark concerning the
relationship between Sefer Vayikra and our study of
Chumash thus far.
In Sefer Breishit we saw how God entered into a
covenant with Avraham Avinu in order that his offspring
["zera"] would become a nation dedicated to the
representation of God's Name. Towards that purpose, God
set aside a special Land ["aretz"]. In Sefer Shmot, God
began to fulfill that covenant by redeeming Avraham's
descendants from Egypt, and then He gave them the Torah -
containing those laws that would help establish this
special nation. Unfortunately, the events at "chet
ha'egel" created a predicament that questioned the very
possibility if this special relationship could continue.
After God declared his attributes of mercy, Bnei Yisrael
undertook their collective effort to construct of the
Mishkan. The return of God's "shechina" to Mishkan at
the conclusion of Sefer Shmot indicated that this
relationship could indeed be maintained.
It is at this point where Sefer Vayikra begins. Now
that the SHECHINA has returned, Bnei Yisrael can continue
on their journey towards Eretz Canaan (as will be
discussed in Sefer Bamidbar). However, before they embark
on that journey, they must receive an additional set of
mitzvot that will not only guide how to use the Mishkan,
but will also facilitate their becoming God's special
nation - a "mamlechet kohanim v'goy kadosh" (see Shmot
In this sense, Sefer Vayikra constitutes more than
simply a technical list of the various rituals performed
in the Mishkan. As we will show, the laws of Sefer
Vayikra will focus the very nature of Am Yisrael's
relationship with God, at both the individual and
national level.
Part Two of this week's shiur will focus on Parshat
Vayikra itself and the manner by which it presents the
laws of various "korbanot". Till then,

shabbat shalom, &


Despite our observation that Sefer Vayikra is
basically a book of MITZVOT, it is important to note that
a brief narrative introduces each set of mitzvot.
For example, most mitzvot begin with the classic
"And God spoke to Moshe saying..."
["va'y'daber Hashem el Moshe lay'mor.."]
[see 4:1; 5:14,20; 6:12 etc.]
Sometimes, God directs His "dibur" to Aharon, as
"And God spoke to Moshe AND Aharon saying" (see 11:1,

In some occasions, the opening phrase may even tell
us WHERE these mitzvot were given to Moshe. Two classic
1) In the Ohel Moed -
"And God called to Moshe and spoke to him from the OHEL
MOED saying: speak to Bnei Yisrael..." Vayikra (1:1);
2) At Har Sinai -
"And God spoke to Moshe at HAR SINAI saying..."
[the first pasuk of Parshat B'har/ see also
7:37-38, 16:1, 26:46, and 27:34.]

Therefore, 'technically speaking,' one could still
consider Sefer Vayikra 'narrative-based,' and perhaps
even a continuation of Sefer Shmot. In other words,
Parshat Vayikra opens with the FIRST "dibur" that Moshe
received from the Ohel Moed, once the Mishkan was
completed (see shiur on Parshat Pekudei); and then
records the mitzvot Hashem issues from that point onward.
[This is more or less Ramban's shita, who maintains
"yeish mukdam u'meuchar ba'torah." See the lengthy Ramban
on Vayikra 25:1 (till the end)!]

In truth, however, the two examples mentioned above
could demonstrate quite the opposite, i.e. that the
mitzvot in Sefer Vayikra are not presented in
chronological order. According to 1:1, the first set of
mitzvot is transmitted from the OHEL MOED, and thus this
"dibur" must have occurred only AFTER the Mishkan was
built. However, the mitzvot in chapter 25 were given on
HAR SINAI (see 25:1), and therefore must have been given
BEFORE the OHEL MOED (1:1) was built! [See also 26:46 &
Further proof may be drawn from Parshat Tzav.
Although, as mentioned, the first set of mitzvot in Sefer
Vayikra was given from the OHEL MOED (chapters 1->5, see
1:1), the Torah tells us that God taught Moshe the next
set of mitzvot (chapter 6->7 /Parshat Tzav) on HAR SINAI
(see 7:37-38) - BEFORE the Mishkan was built!
Nevertheless, Sefer Vayikra juxtaposes them, evidently
because of their THEMATIC connection (i.e. they both
discuss the laws of korbanot).
[Note that Ramban on 7:38 seems to disagree. Iy"h,
his "shita" will be discussed in greater detail in our
shiur on Parshat Tzav.]

As noted above, a brief header introduces each set of
mitzvot. In most cases, these introductions make no
mention of WHERE these mitzvot were given to Moshe, only
that "God spoke to Moshe saying..." When the Torah does
offer this information, the commentators will always find
significance latent within the Torah's specification in
this regard. (For example, see 25:1 - Rashi, Ramban, &
Similarly, certain parshiot in the middle of the
sefer, such as the laws of Yom Kippur (16:1/ "acharei
mot..."), were given in the wake of a certain event.
These laws must have been given to Moshe only AFTER the
Mishkan was constructed, while other laws may have
actually been given earlier, on Har Sinai, but recorded
only later on in Sefer Vayikra.

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