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A Fitting End to Sefer Vayikra
By: SFW Students & Alumna
Special thanks to those who contributed to this week’s dvar torah, including: Alexis Levy, Tzippora Leah Shapiro, and Malkie Ziegler.
Compiled by Adena Muskin.
Parshat Bechukotai opens with perek 26 wherein we find the tochacha, rebuke, given to the Jewish People. The perek concludes with an uplifting set of pesukim where Hashem defines the covenant, the brit, made between Himself and His nation, Am Yisrael, on Har Sinai.
“I will remember the covenant of their ancestors, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of all the nations, that I might be their God; I am the Lord. These are the statutes and ordinances and laws, which the Lord made between Himself and the children of Israel in Mt. Sinai by the hand of Moses.” (Vayikra 26:45-46)
These psukim seem like a proper finale to Sefer Vayikra. After commanding Bnei Yisrael how to serve Him properly, God outlines the terms of the covenant and seals it with the Jewish People. We would expect to find the continuation of the story in the Midbar here. Instead we find another perek, seemingly out of place in the Sefer. Perek 27, the final perek, discusses the arachin (values of objects to be donated to the Mikdash).
“And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the Children of Israel, and tell them: If a man articulates a vow to God regarding the valuation of living beings...” (Vayikra 27:1-2)
Why are the arachin found here after the tochacha as the anti-climactic conclusion to Sefer Vayikra?
The Ramban answers that the arachin are connected to perakim 25 and 26, for they were all commanded on Har Sinai. “These are the commandments, which the Lord commanded Moses for the Children of Israel in Mt. Sinai.” (Vayikra 27:34) This perek should follow perek 25, which commands shemitta and yovel, because the Torah discusses land donations in perek 27. But because the tochacha is a direct response to the halachot of shemitta and yovel, it must follow directly afterward. The arachin are therefore written after the tochacha so as not to disrupt the flow of the cause an effect.
Sforno claims that the arachin of perek 27 were also commanded on Har Sinai, but after the brit of perakim 25 and 26 was already sealed. Therefore, the arachin are included in the section of the mitzvot commanded on Har Sinai, but after the tochacha so as to differentiate between the mitzvot of the brit and other mitzvot.
One may question this answer. The Torah could have written about the arachin before commanding shemitta and yovel and still excluded it from the brit, thereby ending with perek 26’s closing pesukim.
Baal Haturim writes that the total sum of the arachin in perek 27 equals 143, the same number that the curses in perek 26 and in Parshat Ki Tavo add up to (45 in Bechukotai and 98 in Ki Tavo). The arachin follows the tochacha to teach us that tzedaka (charity) saves one from death, and the highest form of charity is donating to Hashem through the Mikdash. The Baal Haturim explains that Bnei Yisrael only gave donations during times of trials and tribulations. During these hard times that the Jewish People would be forced to go through if they deserved the punishments outlined in the tochacha, they would vow to make donations to the Mikdash. Therefore, perek 27 must follow perek 26 because the former is a direct result of the latter.
The Kli Yakar bases his answer off the Baal Haturim, saying that during times of suffering the Jewish People would make vows, just like their forefather Yaakov did when he vowed to give ma’aser. We, however, are not as perfect as our ancestors. When Yaakov vowed he remained good and faithful to God. When Bnei Yisrael experienced times of suffering they would vow to end their suffering. Once they were living peacefully, however, they would stray from the proper path, bringing more suffering upon themselves, in a constant cycle of sin and repentance. Based on this, one can say that perek 27 follows the tochacha because it is also a rebuke. God admonishes the Jewish People for their insincerity that they only donate during hard times and with ulterior motives.
Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch suggests that the voluntary donations described in perek 27 are a fitting supplement to the mandatory mitzvot commanded in the rest of the Sefer. Perek 27 seems to belong in the earlier perakim of Sefer Vayikra, where the Torah deals with offerings to the Mikdash. By writing the perek here, the Torah implies that voluntary gifts are not the essential performance of mitzvot. No Jew may believe that one’s voluntary contributions atone for one’s negligence of the mitzvot themselves.
Rav Dovid Tzvi Hoffman suggests that perek 27 is an extension of the halachot of kedusha, holiness, regarding all that comes in contact with the Mikdash. These halachot were first commanded in perek 19 with the command of “Kedoshim Tihiyu.” The kedusha of man outlined in perek 19 combined with the kedusha of space (i.e. the Land of Israel) and the kedusha of time (i.e. the Chagim, Shemitta, and Yovel). Donations to the Mikdash, however, relate to the beginning of the Sefer, which discusses the avodat haMikdash. Thus, the arachin described in perek 27 appropriately conclude Sefer Vayikra by combining the two main themes of the Sefer: the kedusha caused by the Shechina’s constant presence in the Mikdash, and the kedusha found in every aspect of a Jew’s life – the sanctity of man, space, and time. When one donates something physical to the Mikdash, one narrows the gap between the physical world and the spiritual world, bringing kedusha to all aspects of life.
1: Parshat Shavua