Bechukotai: Erchin and the Conclusion of Sefer Vayikra

This shiur provided courtesy of The Tanach Study Center In memory of Rabbi Abraham Leibtag

Considering that Sefer Vayikra is primarily a book of laws, it would certainly be appropriate to conclude those laws by explaining their reward - and that is exactly what we find in Parshat Bechukotai!  Review Vayikra chapter 26 - better known as the 'tochacha' - noting how it describes the reward (/or punishment) for keeping (/or defying) God's laws.

Hence, chapter 26 forms a fitting conclusion for the entire book.  So why does Sefer Vayikra add one additional chapter (see chapter 27 /the laws of 'erchin') immediately afterward?

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


Let's begin by clarifying our opening question.  Recall how Parshat Bechukotai (the last Parshat ha'shavua in Sefer Vayikra) contains two distinct sections:

  1. The tochacha (chapter 26): Bnei Yisrael's reward [and/or punishment] should they obey [/or disobey] God's commandments;
  2. The laws of 'erchin' (chapter 27): A set of specific laws pertaining to the monetary evaluation of people or property dedicated to God.

Considering that Sefer Vayikra is a book that contains a collection of mitzvot, a 'tochacha' would form an appropriate conclusion - for it outlines how God rewards (or punishes) Am Yisrael as a function of how they keep those mitzvot.

The first section of our shiur will explain how (and why) the tochacha should indeed be considered the conclusion of Sefer Vayikra.  Afterward, we'll attempt to explain why the Torah may have 'added on' chapter 27 to form a significant 'epilogue'.

Part One: A Perfect Finale

Recall our explanation of how Sefer Vayikra divides into two distinct sections:

A) Kedushat mishkan - chapters 1 -> 17: Focusing on laws pertaining to the mishkan, such as korbanot, tum'a & tahara, etc.

B) Kedushat ha-am ve-haaretz - chapters 18 -> 25: Focusing on a wide range of laws of 'kedusha' outside the mishkan, to make Am Yisrael an 'am kadosh'.

As you review both the 'positive' and 'negative' sides of the tochacha, note how the reward and punishment relates to both these sections, i.e. the mishkan and the Land:

  • On the positive side, should Bnei Yisrael obey the mitzvot, then:
    • B) "and I will put My mishkan in your midst..." (26:11)
    • A) "and the land shall give its produce..." (26:4).
  • On the negative side, should Bnei Yisrael disobey these laws, then:
    • A) "I will make your mikdash.." (26:31)
    • B) "the land will not give its produce..." (26:20,34-35).

This only strengthens our claim that the tochacha should have been the last chapter of Sefer Vayikra!  However, the best 'proof' is found in its 'final' pasuk.

The Final Pasuk

Let's take a look at the final pasuk of the tochacha, to show how it relates to both halves of Sefer Vayikra:

"These are the chukim & mishpatim, and the torot which God had given between Him and Bnei Yisrael on Har Sinai to Moshe" (26:46).

Clearly, this pasuk forms a summary of more than just the tochacha itself.  Let's explain why.

Note how this final pasuk mentions two categories of mitzvot that we are already familiar with:

  1. Chukim & mishpatim, and
  2. Torot.

This implies that whatever unit this pasuk does summarize - it includes both 'chukim & mishpatim' and 'torot' (that were given to Moshe on Har Sinai).  Hence, this pasuk must summarize more than the tochacha, for the tochacha itself does not contain "chukim & mishpatim", nor "torot".

Aware of this problem, many commentators attempt to identify the wider unit that is summarized in this pasuk.

For example:

  • Rashbam suggests that it summarizes both Parshiot Behar & Bechukotai, i.e. chapters 25 & 26.  This is quite logical, for the laws of shemita and yovel could be considered the  "chukim & mishpatim".  This also makes sense since both these chapters are included in the same 'dibbur' which began in 25:1.

However, Rashbam does not explain which laws in this unit fit under the category of torot.

Furthermore, recall our explanation in Parshat Tzav that a 'torah' implies a procedural type of law, e.g. 'torat ha-chatat' - how the kohen executes the chatat offering, etc.  Within chapters 25 & 26, it is difficult to pinpoint any such 'procedural' law.

  • Ibn Ezra claims that this pasuk summarizes not only Parshat Behar (i.e. Vayikra chapters 25 & 26), but also Parshat Mishpatim, i.e. Sefer Shemot chapters 21 - 23!

Ibn Ezra's interpretation is based on his understanding that the tochacha in Parshat Bechukotai is none other than the 'sefer ha-brit' mentioned in Shemot 24:7 [i.e. in the Torah's description of the ceremony at Ma'amad Har Sinai when Bnei Yisrael proclaimed 'na'aseh ve-nishma'].  (See Ibn Ezra on Vayikra 25:1 and Shemot 24:7.)

However, it seems rather strange to find a summary pasuk for Parshat Mishpatim at the end of Sefer Vayikra!

  • Ramban agrees with Ibn Ezra that this pasuk forms a summary of the mitzvot in Parshat Mishpatim as well.  However, he reaches this conclusion from a different angle.  Ramban claims that this parshia of the tochacha was actually given to Moshe Rabbeinu during his second set of forty days on Har Sinai, and serves as a 'replacement' covenant - to replace the conditions of the original na'aseh ve-nishma covenant (as described in Shemot 24:7).  As such, this summary pasuk summarizes the mitzvot in Parshat Mishpatim as well.  [See Ramban on 25:1, towards the end of his lengthy peirush to that pasuk.  This complicated (but important) Ramban is based on his approach to the chronological order of Chumash, but it is beyond the scope of this shiur.]

In any case, our above question regarding Ibn Ezra's approach would apply to Ramban's as well.

  • Rashi offers the 'widest' understanding of this summary pasuk.  He claims that this finale pasuk summarizes not only the entire 'written law' of the entire Chumash, but also the entire 'oral law' as well! It is interesting to note that from among all of the commentators, only Rashi deals with the problem of determining the precise meaning of "torot".  Rashi solves the problem by quoting the Midrash that it refers to 'Torah she-bikhtav u-ba'al peh'.  However, this interpretation is quite difficult for (according to simple pshat) the word 'eileh' [these] at the beginning of 26:46 summarizes what has been written thus far, and not what has not been written yet.
  • Seforno follows a direction similar to Rashi, but appears to be a bit more 'realistic'.  He claims that this pasuk summarizes all of the mitzvot that were mentioned in Chumash thus far, i.e. before Parshat Bechukotai.  However, Seforno is not very precise concerning exactly which mitzvot are summarized by this pasuk. In our shiur, we will follow Seforno's 'lead' and show how this final pasuk may actually form a summary pasuk for all of the mitzvot found in Sefer Vayikra!  Our approach will be based on identifying more specifically what the phrases chukim & mishpatim and torot (in 26:46) may be referring 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 pesukim that form an introduction.  [See 18:1-5 and our shiur on Parshat Acharei Mot.]

As you review those pesukim, note how these pesukim 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 & mishpatim..."  (18:4-5. See also 18:26-30!).

Therefore, the phrase chukim ve-mishpatim in our 'finale pasuk' (26:46) could 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.

Furthermore, note how often we have found this phrase in the second half of Vayikra: see 19:19 & 37, 20:8 & 22, and 25:18!

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 example would be Parshat Tzav where the phrase 'zot torat...' introduced each category of korbanot (see 6:2, 6:7, 6:18, 7:1, 7:11) and also formed its summary (see 7:37!).

However, this phrase was also found numerous times in Parshat Tazria/Metzora as well (see 12:7; 13:59; 14:2,32,45; 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.  Certainly, the seven day 'milu'im' & 'yom ha-shmini' ceremonies (chapters 8 & 9) are procedures and hence could be understood as torot, as is the yearly 'avoda' of the kohen gadol on Yom Kippur (see chapter 16).

Hence, the word torot in 26:46 can be understood as a summary of the procedural laws found in the first half of Sefer Vayikra.

Thus, the final pasuk of the tochacha (26:46) becomes an almost 'perfect ending' for the entire sefer:

"These are the chukim & mishpatim [summarizes the second half - chapters 18 thru 25] and the torot [summarizes the first half - chapters 6 thru 17] which God had given between Him and Bnei Yisrael on Har Sinai to Moshe" (26:46).

The phrase chukim & mishpatim summarizes Part Two of Sefer Vayikra, while the word torot summarizes Part One!

The Tochacha & Sefer Shemot

Even though we have shown how this finale pasuk (26:46) forms a beautiful conclusion for Sefer Vayikra, it contains an additional phrase that explains why it could be considered a conclusion for the laws in Sefer Shemot as well.  [If so, this would help us appreciate Ibn Ezra & Ramban's peirush as well, and the chiastic structure discussed in our shiur on Parshat Behar.]

Let's take a closer look at this finale pasuk, noting the second half of the pasuk:

"These are the chukim u-mishpatim, and the torot which God had given - beino u-vein Bnei Yisrael - between Himself and Bnei Yisrael, on Har Sinai through Moshe" (26:46).

This special phrase: 'beino u-vein Bnei Yisrael' may highlight the covenantal nature of the mitzvot of Sefer Vayikra.  To explain why, we need only quote a pasuk that we are all familiar with from 'shabbos davening' [our sabbath prayers].  Note how the Torah uses an almost identical phrase as it describes how Shabbat should be considered a 'brit'.:

"Ve-shameru Bnei Yisrael et ha-shabbat... - to keep it as a day of rest for all generations - brit olam - an everlasting covenant - beini u-vein Bnei Yisrael - an eternal sign..."  (see Shemot 31:16-17).

In fact, this very concept of brit is emphasized several times by the tochacha itself:

"... ve-hakimoti et briti itchem" (26:9)

"... lehafrechem et briti" (26:15)

"ve-zacharti et briti Yaakov ve-af et briti Yitzchak..." (26:42)

"ve-zacharti lahem brit rishonim asher hotzeiti..." (26:45).

If this interpretation is correct, then we have found an additional thematic connection between the laws of kedusha in Sefer Vayikra and the purpose of Matan Torah as described at brit Har Sinai.  As we have explained, the mitzvot of Sefer Vayikra function as a vehicle thru which the goal of brit Sinai - "ve-atem tiheyu li mamlechet kohanim ve-goy kadosh" - can be achieved.  (See Shemot 19:4-6.)

[Once again, note how this thematic connection can also explain the chiastic structure that connected the laws in Sefer Shemot & Sefer Vayikra, as explained in our shiur on Parshat Behar.]

Hence, the phrase 'beino u-vein Bnei Yisrael' in this summary pasuk may emphasize how the mitzvot of Sefer Vayikra strengthen the covenant between God and Bnei Yisrael, as forged at Har Sinai, where Am Yisrael took upon themselves to become God's special nation.

The Tochacha & Sefer Bereshit

Thus far, we have shown how the tochacha forms a fitting conclusion for Sefer Vayikra, and thematically relates back to covenant at Har Sinai as described in Sefer Shemot.  One could suggest that it may contain a certain element that thematically returns us to Sefer Bereshit as well.

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 God was a prosperous life in Gan Eden; while his punishment for disobeying God's commandment was death - i.e. his banishment from Gan Eden.

The two sides of the tochacha describe a similar environment for Am Yisrael living in Eretz Yisrael.  Should they keep God's laws, Am Yisrael can enjoy a prosperous and secure existence in their land.

For example, 'im be-chukotai teilechu...', i.e. should you follow God's laws,  then 've-achaltem le-sova be-artzechem'  -you will enjoy prosperity in your land (see 25:3-6).   - This would be in contrast to man's punishment when he was expelled from Gan Eden with the curse of 'be-ze'at apcha tochal lechem' (see Bereshit 3:17-19).

Recall as well how God was 'mithalech' in Gan Eden (see Br.3:8).  Similarly, He will now 'mithalech' in Eretz Yisrael together with His Nation: 'v'e-ithalachti betochachem, ve-hayiti lachem l-Elokim, ve-atem tihiyu li le-am' (see Vayikra 25:12).

On the other hand, should Bnei Yisrael not follow God's laws ('ve-im lo tishme'u..'), 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).

[In this manner, the Midrashim that identify Gan Eden as Eretz Yisrael relate to more than its geographical location; rather 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 in Sefer Vayikra)?  After all, the laws of erchin, especially those relating to yovel (see 27:16-25), would have fit nicely within Parshat Behar, together with the other laws relating to yovel.  [See Ramban on 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 adding on a 'happy ending' by selecting a 'parshia' that could have been recorded earlier, and saving it for the conclusion.]

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

Seforno differentiates between these mitzvot (in chapter 27) that are voluntary, and the mandatory mitzvot summarized in 26:46.  Because those mitzvot constituted the essence of the brit, they were summarized separately.  Once those mitzvot were completed in chapter 26, chapter 27 records the mitzvot of Har Sinai that were not part of that covenant.  (See Seforno 26:46.)

One could suggest an alternative approach, by considering once again the overall structure of Sefer Vayikra.

Recall from our study of Parshat Vayikra that the first five chapters (i.e. the laws of 'korban yachid') were given to Moshe Rabbeinu from the ohel mo'ed (see 1:1), while the next two chapters (the torot of the korbanot in chapter 6-7) we given from Har Sinai (see 7:37-38).  Furthermore, since the laws of Parshat Vayikra were given from the ohel mo'ed, they must have been given only after the shechina had returned to the mishkan on the yom ha-shemini, and hence after the story of the seven day 'miluim" & "yom hashmini' - as recorded in Vayikra chapters 8-10.

Therefore, it appears as though the laws in Parshat Vayikra were placed intentionally at the beginning of Sefer Vayikra, even though they chronologically belong in the middle of the Sefer.

Thus, we conclude that even though both the opening and concluding units of Sefer Vayikra belong within the sefer, the Torah records them as a 'header' and 'footer' instead.

The following chart reviews this structure:

1->5 the laws of korban yachid (mitzvot)
 I. TOROT of: [first section]
 6->7  how to bring korbanot
 8->10  how the milu'im were offered
11->15  yoledet, metzora, zav, zava
16->17  how to enter kodesh kodashim
II. CHUKIM U-MISHPATIM [second section]
18->20 kedushat ha-am
21->22 kedushat kohanim
23->25 kedushat zman u-makom
26 TOCHACHA ( & summary pasuk/ 26:46)
27 the laws of erchin (mitzvot)

Now we must explain why specifically these two parshiot were chosen to serve as the 'book-ends' of Sefer Vayikra?

Special 'Bookends'

Parshat Vayikra and the parshia of erchin share a common theme.  They both deal with an individual dedicating an object to 'hekdesh'.  Both also begin with cases where a person offers a voluntary gift (nedava): Parshat Vayikra begins with ola & shlamim while parshat erchin begins with the voluntary offering of the value of a person, animal, or field.

[Vayikra deals with korbanot actually offered on the mizbeiach (kodshei mizbeiach) while erchin deals with the value of objects which 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 Shchina 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 concluding sections of Sefer Vayikra - to stress these two important tenets of 'avodat Hashem'.  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.  Secondly, 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.