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The Names of Sefer Vayikra
By: SFW Students & Alumna
Special thanks to those who contributed to this week’s dvar torah, including: Naamah Jacobs, Alexis Levy, Reba Rosen, Dassi Shulman, Tzipora Leah Shapiro, Lauren Sherman, Becky Weiss, and Malkie Ziegler.
This week’s dvar Torah is dedicated in hope of the recovery of the victims of the terrorist attack in Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav last Thursday night along with the rest of the ill of Am Yisrael.
Sefer Vayikra, which we begin to read this week, is called Torat HaKohanim by Chazal and many parshanim. A closer look at the sefer reveals that the majority of the mitzvot mentioned are not exclusively applicable to the Kohanim. Furhermore, the Sefer opens with the mitzvoth for a Yisrael coming to the Beit Hamikdash.
"Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: When any man of you bring an offering to the Lord, you shall bring your offering of the cattle, even of the herd or of the flock." (Vayikra 1:2)
Why, then, does Sefer Vayikra merit the name “Torat HaKohanim”?
The Ramban claims that all of Sefer Vayikra does indeed relate to the Kohanim themselves, whether in a clearly direct or an indirect manner. For it is the role of the Kohanim to guard the Mishkan and ensure that it remains pure. When this is done properly, the korbanot the Kohanim offer to Hashem on a daily basis continue to act as a kaparah for the Jewish People so that the Shechina is not removed from the machine again. Thus, every mitzvah in Sefer Vayikra is designed to help the Kohanim accomplish this goal. A further proof the Ramban offers is that most of the Parshiyot in the sefer are directed at the Kohanim, as demonstrated in Vayikra 6:2 “Command Aaron and his sons, saying…” The Ramban connects every topic and mitzvah in Sefer Vayikra to the Kohanim, thus proving that the sefer is truly “Torat HaKohanim.”
Rav David Tzvi Hoffman commenting on the Abarbanel, who titles Sefer Vayikra the “Sefer Hakedusha,” says that Sefer Vayikra can be divided into two sections. The first deals with the Kedushat HaMishkan, while the second describes the kedusha of the nation and the land (as manifested through the sanctification of man, the sanctification of time, and the sanctification of the land – Eretz Yisrael). The Kedushat Hamishkan is between man and his creator. It is the role of the Kohanim to help man become closer to his creator through the avodat haMishkan and bringing korbanot. After all, the word korban stems from the word karov, lit. close. The pinnacle of this section is, of course, Yom Kippur, for this is the day that the Kohen Gadol strengthens the tie between Hashem and His people to the fullest. The kedusha of the nation and the land describes how a person becomes holy, how he must act to achieve the status of kedusha like that of the Kohanim. This occurs, not through the avodat haMishkan, which is the domain of the Kohanim, but through sanctifying everyday life.
Rav Yonatan Grossman of Yeshivat Har Etzion asserts that the very structure of Sefer Vayikra describes the Jew’s connection with the world of kedusha. The kohanim seem to play a more dominant role in the sefer, for it is their tafkid (job) to create and facilitate a closeness between Hashem and the Jewish People. For this very reason Sefer Vayikra opens with the mitzvot pertaining to a non-Kohen who brings a korban and closes with a description of how Bnei Yisrael achieve kedusha outside of the Mishkan/Mikdash and without the assistance of a Kohen. These descriptions surround the mitzvot that direct the Kohen to effectively help the nation connect with Hashem. Rav Grossman points out that this is the exact opposite practice as those found in many Ancient Near Eastern religions. In the ancient world, the priests were considered above the nation. They kept the religious rituals hidden from the commoners, so that the people would be forced to regard the religious world with complete admiration for the priests who governed it. The priests were an elite group chosen to serve the gods; no commoner would ever be able to serve the gods. In Judaism, however, the Kohen serves merely as an intermediary between Hashem and the people. The Kohen’s actions are well-known to the people, for they are taught the laws and they can see what occurs in the Mishkan. There is no misunderstanding that the Kohen is greater than any other Jew. The Kohen and the avodah he performs is merely a vehicle to achieve deveikut (closeness) with Hashem. Therefore, Sefer Vayikra, while still focusing on the Kohanim, begins with a clear declaration of intent by specifically writing in the perspective of the person bringing the korban.
The Kohanim do not only serving as a vehicle between Hashem and the people inside of the Mishkan/Mikdash. Part of the job of the Kohanim is to teach the nation, as stated in Devarim 33:10 “They shall teach Jacob Your ordinances, and Israel Your law.” The korban isn’t everything. It is only a means to become closer to God. Thus, the very person who helps one become closer to God in the Mikdash must also be the one to help the one become closer to Him through Talmud Torah, the ultimate way to achieve deveikut.
Another possibility is that the term Kohanim does not only apply to the Bnei Aharon. Perhaps it applies to all of Am Yisrael. After all, aren’t Bnei Yisrael told that they will be a “Mamlechet Kohanim v’Goy Kadosh”? And aren’t the commanded later on “Kedoshim Tehiyu”? Thus, Torat HaKohanim does not necessarily refer to the Kohanim themselves, but to all Bnei Yisrael. A Mamlechet Kohanim can do only achieve its fullest potential of kedusha through the Mishkan/Mikdash. Therefore the sefer which describes the avodah must be the sefer which instructs how to become a Mamlechet Kohanim. How fitting that this sefer is referred to as Torat HaKohanim!
Compiled by Adena Muskin (SFW )
1: Parshat Shavua