Parshat Bechukotai -
The Conclusion of Sefer Vayikra

(To prepare for this shiur,
see the questions for self study.)

Reward and Punishment - the consequences for obeying (or not obeying) a set of laws - would certainly form a most appropriate conclusion for Sefer Vayikra. And that's exactly what the Tochacha (chapter 26) appears to be!

So why doesn't Sefer Vayikra conclude with this Tochacha? Why is chapter 27 'added on?'

In this week's shiur we attempt to explain why.

Parshat Bechukotai, the last Parsha in Sefer Vayikra, contains two distinct sections:

Considering that Sefer Vayikra is a book that contains primarily "mitzvot," the Tochacha would form an appropriate conclusion, for it outlines the reward (or punishment) for keeping (or not keeping) those mitzvot.

Furthermore, from a thematic perspective as well, the Tochacha forms an excellent conclusion to the Sefer. Recall our explanation of how Sefer Vayikra divides into two distinct sections:

Note how both sides of the Tochacha reflect this very same division, for in it we find that:

Should Bnei Yisrael obey the mitzvot, then:

"And the Land shall give its produce..." (26:4);

"And I will put My Mishkan in your midst..." (26:11);

However, should they disobey them, then:
"The Land will not give its produce..." (26:20,34-35);

"I will make your Mikdash desolate..." (26:31).

This shows how the Tochacha forms an appropriate conclusion for both halves of Sefer Vayikra!

In Part One of the following shiur, we bring additional 'textual' support to show how the Tochacha should indeed be considered as a conclusion. In Part Two we will suggest several reasons for the 'addition' of Parshat Erchin.

The Final Pasuk
Even though the final pasuk of the Tochacha is quite easy to translate, its interpretation presents us with quite a dilemma. First, we'll quote that pasuk; then we will explain its difficulty:

"These are the chukim and mishpatim, and the torot that God had given between Him and Bnei Yisrael on Har Sinai to Moshe." (26:46)
Note how this finale pasuk mentions both the chukim and mishpatim and the torot. This implies that whatever unit this pasuk summarizes must include both "chukim and mishpatim" and "torot" that were given to Moshe on Har Sinai. Yet, it is not clear at all exactly what 'unit' this pasuk is summarizing:

It cannot be simply the Tochacha, for the Tochacha itself contains neither "chukim and mishpatim" nor "torot."

Rashbam suggests that it summarizes both Parshiot Behar and Bechukotai, i.e. chapters 25 and 26 (which are included in one "dibur" that begins in 25:1, all given on Har Sinai). (See Board #2.) This is quite logical, for the laws of shmita and yovel could be considered "chukim and mishpatim." However, Rashbam does not explain which laws in this unit fit under the category of "torot," and it doesn't appear that any of them do! Ibn Ezra claims that this pasuk summarizes not only Parshat Behar, but also Parshat Mishpatim in Sefer Shmot! (See Board #3.) [Recall also that Ibn Ezra understands that the "sefer ha'brit" mentioned in Shmot 24:7 refers to Parshat Bechukotai (see Ibn Ezra on 25:1 as well).] However, it seems rather strange to find a summary pasuk for Parshat Mishpatim at the end of Sefer Vayikra! Rashi goes even further, claiming that this pasuk summarizes not only the entire 'written law,' but the entire 'oral law' as well! (See Board #4.) It is interesting to note that from among all of the commentators, only Rashi seems to deal with the problem of determining the precise meaning of "torot." Rashi solves the problem by quoting the Midrash that it refers to "torah shebichtav u'b'al peh." However, this interpretation is quite difficult for (according to simple pshat) the word "ayleh" [these] summarizes what has been written, and not what has not been written.

Seforno claims that this pasuk summarizes all of the mitzvot that were listed before Parshat Bechukotai, but it is not clear if Seforno is referring only to the mitzvot in Parshat Behar or to all of the mitzvot of Sefer Vayikra. (See Board #5.)

In our shiur, we will follow Seforno's 'lead' and show how this final pasuk may indeed summarize the entire Sefer. Our approach will be based on identifying more specifically what the phrases "chukim and mishpatim" and "torot" refer to.

A Fitting Finale
Recall once again how Sefer Vayikra divides into two sections (see above), and how the second half of the Sefer begins in chapter 18 with a set of five psukim that form an introduction. [See 18:1-5 and our shiur on Parshat Acharei-Mot.]

As you review those psukim, note how they actually introduce an entire set of "chukim u'mishpatim." For example:

"Observe My mishpatim and keep My chukim to follow them, I am the Lord your God. Keep My chukim and mishpatim..." (18:4-5; see also 18:26-30)
Therefore, the phrase "hachukim v'hamishpatim" in our 'finale pasuk' (26:46) can be understood as the summary of the second half of Sefer Vayikra (chapters 18-25), as it refers to the numerous "chukim u'mishpatim" that are recorded in that section. (See Board #6.)

In a similar manner, the word "torot" could be considered a summary of the laws found in the first half of the Sefer. Recall how the word "torah" was used numerous times to describe the various procedures regarding korbanot. The most obvious examples would come from Parshat Tzav where the phrase "Zot torat..." introduced each category of korbanot (see 6:2,7,18, and 7:1,11) and also formed its summary (see 7:37!). This phrase was also found numerous times Parshat Tazria/Metzora as well (see 12:7, 13:59, 14:2,32,54, and 15:32).

Furthermore, even though this phrase is not mentioned by the other mitzvot in this section, most of its laws are of a procedural nature and could easily fall under this category of "torot." Hence, the word "torot" in 26:46 can be understood as a summary of the first half of Sefer Vayikra. (See Board #7.)

Thus, the final pasuk of the Tochacha (26:46) becomes an almost 'perfect ending' for the entire sefer: "chukim and mishpatim" summarizes Part II, while "torot" summarizes Part I!

The Tochacha and Sefer Shmot
Even though we have shown how this finale pasuk (26:46) forms a beautiful conclusion for Sefer Vayikra, it contains an additional phrase that suggests that it could be considered a conclusion to Sefer Shmot as well. [If so, this would help us appreciate Ibn Ezra and Ramban's pirush as well.]

Let's take a closer look at this finale pasuk, noting a special phrase:

"These are the 'chukim u'mishpatim' and the 'torot' that God had given - beino u'vein Bnei Yisrael - between Himself and Bnei Yisrael, on Har Sinai through Moshe." (26:46)
Note that the phrase "beino u'vein Bnei Yisrael" highlights the covenantal nature of the mitzvot of Sefer Vayikra. (See a similar usage in Shmot 31:16-17!). In fact, this very concept of "brit" is emphasized several times by the Tochacha itself:
"V'hakimoti et briti it'chem..." (26:9)

"L'hafr'chem et briti..." (26:15)

"V'zacharti et briti Yaakov v'af et briti Yitzhak..." (26:42)

"V'zacharti l'hem brit rishonim asher hotzeiti..." (26:45)

Once again, we see the thematic connection between Sefer Vayikra and Brit Har Sinai, and hence the function of the mitzvot of Sefer Vayikra as the fulfillment of goal of Brit Sinai - "v'atem tihyu li mamlechet kohanim v'goy kadosh" (see Shmot 19:4-6). (See Board #8.)

[This thematic connection also relates to the chiastic structure that connects Sifrei Shmot and Vayikra, as explained in our shiur on Parshat Behar.]

Therefore, when Sefer Vayikra summarizes its mitzvot, it emphasizes their nature as the fulfillment of the covenant between God and Bnei Yisrael at Har Sinai, where Am Yisrael took upon themselves to become God's special nation.

The Tochacha and Sefer Breishit
Not only does the Tochacha conclude Sefer Vayikra and relate back to Har Sinai and Sefer Shmot; it also thematically returns us to Sefer Breishit. Recall our explanation of how Gan Eden represented an ideal environment in which man was capable of developing a close relationship with God. In that environment, man's reward for obeying Hashem was continued prosperous life in Gan Eden,while his punishment for disobeying God's commandment was death - i.e. his banishment from Gan Eden.

The Tochacha creates a similar environment for Am Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael. By keeping God's laws ("im bchukotai taylachu..."), Am Yisrael enjoy a prosperous and secure existence in their land. For example, contrast:

"V'achaltem lachm'chem la'sova" (25:3-6)
"B'zeyat apecha tochal lechem." (Breishit 3:17-19)
Note also how God was "mithaleych" in Gan Eden (see Breishit 3:8). Similarly, He will now be "mithaleych" in Eretz Yisrael together with His Nation:
"V'hithalachti b'tochachem, v'hayiti lachem l'Elokim, v'atem tihyu li l'am." (see Vayikra 26:12)
Should Bnei Yisrael not follow His laws ("v'im lo tishmu..."), they will be faced with a troubled existence, culminating with their expulsion from the land (26:33), parallel to man's banishment from Gan Eden. (This parallel between Gan Eden and Eretz Yisrael was already introduced at the beginning of the second half of Sefer Vayikra - see 18:24-30). (See Board #9.)

[The Midrashim that identify Gan Eden as Eretz Yisrael relate to more than its geographical location; they underscore a major biblical theme.]

Parshat "Erchin" - Why Here?
We return now to our original question. If the final pasuk of the Tochacha forms such an appropriate ending for Sefer Vayikra, why does the Torah place "parshat erchin" immediately afterward, instead of beforehand? After all, the laws of "erchin," especially those relating to yovel (27:16-25), would have fit nicely in Parshat Behar together with the other laws relating to yovel. [See Ramban 27:1.] Furthermore, the laws relating to the dedication of objects to the Temple treasury could have been included much earlier in Sefer Vayikra, possibly in Parshat Vayikra together with other laws concerning voluntary offerings.

The simplest explanation is that the Torah did not want to conclude the Sefer on a 'sour note,' i.e. with the Tochacha, preferring instead to conclude with something more positive [sort of like a 'happy ending'].

The Ibn Ezra offers an explanation based on "sod," relating to the deeper meaning of 'b'chor' and 'ma'aser' (see last Ibn Ezra in Vayikra).

However, if we return to the structure of Sefer Vayikra, we can suggest an alternative approach. Recall that Parshat Vayikra itself, the first parsha of the Sefer, is also not located where it should be (i.e. it is not recorded according to its chronological order).

[Recall that the mitzvot of Parshat Vayikra were given to Moshe from the Ohel Moed (see 1:1), and hence only after the Sh'china had returned to the Mishkan on the Yom HaShmini. Therefore, it should have been recorded only after the story of the seven day miluim and Yom HaShmini (chapters 8-10). Furthermore, the Torah states explicitly that laws in Parshat Tzav were given on Har Sinai (see 7:37-38), and hence they also should have been recorded before Parshat Vayikra.]

Special 'Bookends'
Thus, we find even though both the opening and concluding parshiot of Sefer Vayikra belong within the sefer, the Torah records them as a 'header' and 'footer' instead. Why are specifically these two parshiot chosen to serve as the 'bookends' of Sefer Vayikra?

Parshat Vayikra and parshat "erchin" share a common theme. They both deal with an individual dedicating an object to 'hekdesh.' Both begin with cases where a person offers a voluntary gift (n'dava), and they both close with obligatory offerings: Parshat Vayikra begins with olah and shlamim (voluntary) followed by chatat and asham (obligatory). Parshat "erchin" begins with the voluntary offering of the value of a person, animal or field, followed by the obligatory mitzvot of 'b'chor' and 'ma'aser.'

[Vayikra deals with korbanot actually offered on the mizbayach (kodshei mizbayach) while Erchin deals with the value of objects that cannot be offered; their value is given instead to the 'general fund' of the Temple - "kodshei bedek ha'bayit."]

One could suggest that the Torah intentionally chose parshiot dealing with the offerings of an individual, primarily the voluntary offerings, to form the 'bookends' of Sefer Vayikra for the following reason.

As we have seen, Sefer Vayikra focuses on the kedusha of the Mishkan and of the nation. These lofty goals of the Sh'china's dwelling upon an entire nation can easily lead the individual to underestimate his own importance. Furthermore, the rigid detail of the mitzvot of Vayikra may lead one to believe that there is little room for self-initiated expression in his own relationship with God, as our covenantal obligations could be viewed as dry and technical.

To counter these possible misconceptions, the Torah may have placed these two parshiot at the opening and conclusion of Sefer Vayikra in order to stress two important tenets of "avodat Hashem." First, that despite the centrality of the community, the individual cannot lose sight of the value and importance of his role as an integral part of the communal whole. Second, the rigidity of "halacha" should not stifle personal expression. Rather, it should form the solid base from which the individual can develop an aspiring, dynamic and personal relationship with God.

Virtual ClassRoom enhancements by Reuven Weiser.

For Further Iyun
A. When were the mitzvot of Sefer Vayikra given?
In our shiur, we explained that the "torot" mentioned in Parshat Tzav were given on Har Sinai. How about the 'torot' in Tazria/Metzora, or basically, how about the rest of the mitzvot of Sefer Vayikra? Were they given from the Ohel Moed or earlier when Moshe was on Har Sinai? The psukim do not tell us.

Based on the above shiur, we can suggest that almost all of the mitzvot in Vayikra were actually given on Har Sinai, but are recorded in Sefer Vayikra for simply thematic reasons (i.e. to form "torat kohanim"). Surely, Parshat Tzav states explicitly that its 'torot' were given to Moshe on Har Sinai (7:37-38). Therefore one could also assume that all of the 'torot' mentioned in the Sefer were given on Har Sinai. In fact, this can explain Shmot 24:12 which states that Moshe went up to Har Sinai to receive the torah and mitzvah; one could suggest that the mitzvah refers to the laws of the Mishkan that Moshe is about to receive that are recorded in the remainder of Sefer Shmot (see Shmot 25:1-4!). If so, then torah may refer to the torot (that relate to the Mishkan). However, most of these torot are recorded in Sefer Vayikra and not in Sefer Shmot.

["Ha'torah" may also refer to the mitzvot of Sefer Devarim, but that is a topic for a different shiur; note Devarim 1:5 and the word "torah" throughout that Sefer].

In a similar manner one could understand that the "chukim u'mishpatim" recorded in Sefer Vayikra may also have been given to Moshe on Har Sinai. To support this, see Devarim 5:28 and its context, as well as Shmot 24:1-4.

Therefore the mention of Har Sinai in this final pasuk does not limit its interpretation to referring only to Behar/Bechukotai; rather it strengthens its interpretation as a summary of the entire Sefer. It is also likely that certain other mitzvot that were given in reaction to events that occurred after 'hakamat haMishkan,' (e.g., after Nadav and Avihu died, etc.) may have been given from the Ohel Moed, but there is no reason why we cannot understand that all the other mitzvot recorded in the sefer were first given to Moshe during his 40 days on Har Sinai, except of course for those mitzvot that were given directly to Aharon, which indicate that they were given from the Ohel Moed, and the mitzvot that were given in response to a question that Moshe did not have the answer for.

B. Relate the theme of chapters 25 and 26 to Vayikra chapter 18, and to the theme of the second half of Vayikra (as discussed in the shiur on Parshat Acharei-Mot). [Be sure to relate to 18:25-28.]

C. In the above shiur, we have noted a connection between the opening and closing parshiot of Sefer Vayikra. This suggests a possibility of a chiastic structure within Sefer Vayikra itself.

See if you can find this structure, noting how chapters 18 and 20 'surround' chapter 19, the connections between chapter 21 and chapter 16 in relation to the Kohen Gadol, chapters 22 and 11-15 in relation to tum'ah and tahara, chapters 9-10 to chapter 23 in relation to cycles of 7 and 8, chapter 24 and chapter 8 in relation to the keilim of the Mishkan, and chapters 6-7 and chapters 25-26 in relations to mitzvot given at Har Sinai (see finale psukim of both sections), "v'akmal"! (See Board #10.)

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