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Sefer Vayikra | ספר ויקרא

Sefer Vayikra’s major subject is the service of the kohanim (priests), as well as laws of tahara and tumah (ritual purity and impurity) and other matters including laws of the festivals and of Shmita (the seventh year when the soil is not worked). This means that Sefer Vayikra is largely made up of laws given by topic, rather than the narrative story of Bnei Yisrael. For this reason, Sefer Vayikra is also known as Torat Kohanim (the law of priests), which is how Chazal often refer to it. Torat Kohanim is also the title of the important halachic midrash on Vayikra, better known today as Sifra.

These laws are given over the span of approximately a month, all at Sinai. When in the narrative they are given is a matter of discussion: see Ramban’s long comment on Vayikra 25:1 on the internal chronology of Sefer Vayikra, which he understands differently from other commentators.

Table of Contents

Korbanot, a Major Subject of Sefer Vayikra

Korbanot constitute a large and important area of halacha and many details are included in the Oral Torah (Torah she-be-al Peh). It’s the subject of an entire order of the Talmud, Seder Kodashim. Korbanot are also discussed elsewhere, in particular, Pesachim, about Passover and its special Korban Pesach; Yoma, about Yom Kippur and the special Avodah of the day; and Chagigah, about the festivals, all of which are in Seder Moed, the order that deals with holidays. As a result, many discussions of the material include terminology that appears in the Mishnah and Gemara but not necessarily in the parsha.2

Explanation of Korbanot: Vayikra 1-7

  • The five basic types of korbanot: Vayikra 1:1-5:25
  • The ritual of the korbanot as performed by the kohanim: Vayikra 6:1-7:38

Inauguration of the Mishkan: Vayikra 8-10

  • Installation of the kohanim: Vayikra 8:1-36
  • Miluim, the ceremony preparing the Mishkan for service: Vayikra 9:1-24
  • Nadav and Avihu offer “strange fire” and are killed: Vayikra 10:1-20

Tahara and Tumah: Vayikra 11-15

  • Foods that are permitted for eating: Vayikra 11:1-47
  • The yoledet, a woman who has given birth, and her tahara: Vayikra 12:1-8
  • Tzaraat, a spiritual/physical skin disease that confers tumah: Vayikra 13:1-29
  • Tahara for a personal who has tzaraat: Vayikra 14:-1-57
  • Bodily discharges that confer tumah for men and for women: Vayikra 15:1-33

Purification of the Mishkan, the Paradigm for Yom Kippur: Vayikra 16

  • Resanctification after the deaths of Nadav and Avihu, including dashing the altar with two bloods and the goat of Azazel: Vayikra 16:1-34
  • All korbanot must be offered in the Mishkan: Vayikra 17:1-16

Sanctity of the People: Vayikra 18:1-22:33

  • Do not follow foreign ways: Vayikra 18:1-5
  • Inappropriate sexual conduct (arayot): Vayikra 18:6-30
  • Laws relating to proper conduct: Vayikra 19:1-37
  • No child sacrifice or ghosts/spirit worship: Vayikra 20:1-7
  • Insulting parents and more on illicit relationships: Vayikra 20:8-21
  • The relationship between observing laws and the Land of Israel: Vayikra 20:22-24
  • Tahor and tameh animals and more on spirit worship: Vayikra 20:25-27
  • Laws pertaining to kohanim: Vayikra 21:1-24
  • Misappropriation of sanctified (designated for worship) things and conduct of people who are tameh: Vayikra 22:1-16
  • Particulars of the korbanot: Vayikra 22:18-33

Festivals (in relation to the Mishkan): Vayikra 23:1-24:9

  • Shabbat: Vayikra 23:1-3
  • Pesach: Vayikra 23:4-8
  • Bikkurim (Shavuot) and Omer: Vayikra 23:9-22
  • Rosh Hashana: Vayikra 23:23-26
  • Yom Kippur: Vayikra 23:27-32
  • Sukkot: Vayikra 23:33-44
  • Oil for the Menora and the Lechem ha-Panim: Vayikra 24:1-9

Criminal Offenses: Vayikra 24:10-23

  • Blasphemy: Vayikra 24:10-16
  • Murder and other harms: Vayikra 24:17-21
  • Fair measures: Vayikra 24:22-23

Shmita (Shabbat of the Land), Yovel (Jubilee Year), and other Civil Matters: Vayikra 25:1-27:34

  • Shmita: Vayikra 25:1-7
  • Yovel: Vayikra 25:8-16
  • More on shmita and the Land: Vayikra 25:17-24
  • Moneylending and interest: Vayikra 25:25-28
  • Eved Ivri (the Hebrew slave): Vayikra 25:29-55
  • Against idolatry: Vayikra 26:1-2
  • More on the ties between appropriate behavior and the Land: Vayikra 25:3-26:46
  • Vows and consecrations: Vayikra 27:1-25
  • Redemption of firstborn animals: Vayikra 27:26-27
  • Ransoms and tithes: Vayikra 27:28-34

Major Midrashim on Sefer Vayikra

The major midrash on Sefer Vayikra is the halachic midrash Sifra, also called Torat Kohanim (which gets a tad confusing because Sefer Vayikra is itself sometimes called Torat Kohanim).

There are also aggadic midrashim on Sefer Vayikra: the Amoraic collection known as Vayikra Rabba and Midrash Tanchuma on Sefer Vayikra.

Major Mefarshim on Sefer Vayikra

Sefer Vayikra boasts the standard range of commentaries (Rashi, standard Ibn Ezra, Ramban, Seforno, Abravanel, and the moderns). One text of interest is Malbim’s Ayelet ha-Shachar, a linguistic guide focused on Sefer Vayikra which is prefaced to Malbim’s commentary on Sifra.

Parsha Guides for Sefer Vayikra

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  1. For instance, the concepts of greather and “lighter” korbanot differentiates them by degree of holiness; of those discussed here, all belong to the category of kodashei kodashim (“heavy consecrations,” or of great sanctity) except for Shelamim, which belongs to the category of kodashim kalim (“light consecrations,” of lesser sanctity).

    The Structure of Sefer Vayikra

    One of the few narrative sections of Sefer Vayikra (8:1-10:20), concerning Miluim, the lengthy consecration ceremony of the Mishkan, includes the tragic story of Nadav and Avihu, Aharon’s sons who offer an improper korban, is chronologically part of the narrative in Pekudei.1Although, see again Rambam Vayikra 25:1.