Skip to main content

Behar | The Chiastic Structure of Vayikra-Shemot

Rav Menachem Leibtag
16.01.2018

Why isn't Parshat Behar in Sefer Shmot where it belongs? After all, its opening pasuk tells us that these mitzvot were given to Moshe Rabbeinu on Har Sinai! Why does Chumash 'save' it for Sefer Vayikra instead?

To complicate matters, Parshat Behar is not the only example of a 'parshia' towards the end of Sefer Vayikra that appears to belong in Sefer Shmot. Take for example the law to light the Menorah which is recorded in last chapter of Parshat Emor (see 24:1-3). Certainly that parshia belongs in Sefer Shmot for it is almost a direct quote from Parshat Tetzaveh! [Compare 24:1-3 with Shmot 27:20-21!]

To answer these questions, this week's shiur investigates the intriguing possibility of a chiastic structure that may explain what otherwise seems to be a random progression of parshiot in Sefer Vayikra.

Introduction - From Emor to Behar
In our shiur on Parshat Acharei Mot we explained how Sefer Vayikra is a book of mitzvot (in thematic order) that neatly divides into two distinct sections: the first half (chapters 1-17) focuses on mitzvot relating to the "kedusha" of the Mishkan itself, while the second half (chapters 18-27) discusses mitzvot relating to living a life of "kedusha" even outside the Mishkan.

Even though this definition neatly explained the progression of mitzvot in Parshiot Acharei Mot and Kedoshim, the mitzvot in Parshat Emor seem to contradict this definition. As the following summary shows, most of the mitzvot in Parshat Emor relate to the Mishkan itself, and hence (according to our above definition) would belong in the first half of the Sefer instead. Let's take a look, in Board #1.

Although it is possible (with a little imagination) to reconciliate these parshiot with the theme of the second half of Vayikra, they are certainly less than a 'perfect fit.'

Story Time?
To complicate matters, at the very end of Parshat Emor we find a different type of difficulty. In 24:10-23 we find a narrative - the story of an individual who cursed God's name in public and was subsequently punished. Not only is this story totally unrelated to either half of Sefer Vayikra; it is the only narrative in the entire Sefer! [The only other exception is the story of the dedication of the Mishkan found in chapters 8-10; that relates to the Mishkan itself.]

Take a minute to review these psukim and their context. Note how this story simply comes 'out of nowhere!' Nor is there any obvious reason why Sefer Vayikra records this story specifically at this point.

More Problems!
Parshat Behar (chapter 25) is no less problematic! Even though its laws of "shmita" and "yovel" fit nicely into our definition of the second half of Sefer Vayikra, its opening and closing psukim present us with two different problems.

The first pasuk of Parshat Behar (25:1) informs us that these mitzvot were given on Har Sinai, and hence suggests that this entire Parsha may really belong in Sefer Shmot!

At the very conclusion of Parshat Behar, we find three 'powerful' psukim that present yet another difficulty:

"For Bnei Yisrael are servants to Me; they are My servants whom I freed from the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God." (25:55)

 

"Do not make for yourselves any other gods..." (26:1)

"Keep My sabbath and guard My Temple; I am your God." (26:2)

Not only are the last two laws totally unrelated to the laws that precede them; all three of these psukim seem to 'echo' the first four of the Ten Commandments. Why do they conclude Parshat Behar, and why are certain Dibrot repeated specifically here in Sefer Vayikra?

Is Our Definition Incorrect?
The above questions appear to shake the very foundation of our understanding of the two halves of Sefer Vayikra. Should we conclude that Sefer Vayikra is simply a 'random' collection of mitzvot?

To answer the above questions, we must first 're-examine' each of the parshiot mentioned above that appear to be 'out of place' in order to determine where each parshia really does belong. An interesting pattern will emerge that form the basis of a chiastic structure.

[The solution that we are about to suggest is based on a rather amazing shiur that I heard from Rav Yoel Bin Nun many years ago, where he uncovers a chiastic structure that ties together Sefer Shmot and Vayikra. If you've never heard of chiastic structure before, don't worry; it will be explained as the shiur progresses.]

Where Do They All Belong?
As we re-examine each of the above mentioned 'problems' to determine where each mitzvah 'belongs,' note the pattern that emerges!

We begin once again with chapter 24, one 'parshia' at a time.

The Ner Tamid (24:1-4)
These four psukim, describing the mitzvah to light the Menorah with olive oil, constitute an almost exact repetition of the first two psukim of Parshat Tetzaveh! [See and compare with Shmot 27:20-21.] Hence, this parshia belongs in Parshat Tetzaveh. (See Board #2.)

The Lechem HaPanim (24:5-9)
This 'parshia' describes how to offer the Lechem HaPanim [show bread] on the Shulchan [the special Table located in the Sanctuary]. Here we find the more precise details of a mitzvah that was first mentioned in Parshat Trumah (see Shmot 25:30) in God's commandment to Moshe Rabbeinu concerning how to build the Shulchan. Hence, this parshia belongs in Parshat Trumah. (See Board #3.)

The M'kallel (Blasphemer) (24:10-23)
Note how this lone narrative of the second half of Sefer Vayikra leads into a small set of civil laws ("bein adam l'chaveiro") relating to capital punishment. Read 24:17-22 and carefully compare these psukim to Shmot 21:12,23-25 in Parshat Mishpatim, noting how these laws are almost identical. For example, Shmot 21:24 is identical to Vayikra 24:20 - "ayin tachat ayin, shayn tachat shayn..." ["an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth..."] Hence, this parshia belongs in Parshat Mishpatim. (See Board #4.)

Parshat Behar - The Laws of Shmita and Yovel (25:1-54)
As we explained above, the opening pasuk of this Parsha states that these mitzvot concerning shmita and yovel were given at Har Sinai. In fact, the most basic law of "shmita" was first stated in Sefer Shmot: "Six years you shall sow your Land and gather your produce and the seventh year..." (Shmot 23:10-11).

Therefore, this entire unit belongs in Sefer Shmot, together with all of the other mitzvot that are given to Moshe at Har Sinai, either in Parshat Mishpatim or in Parshat Yitro. (See Board #5.)

The 'Mini-Dibrot' (25:55-26:2)
As we explained above, these three psukim at the very end of Parshat Behar reflect and echo the first four of the Ten Commandments. Clearly, these psukim belong in Parshat Yitro (see Shmot 20:1-10). (See Board #6.)

A Backward 'Back to Shmot'
In case you did not notice yet, not only do all of these mitzvot belong in Sefer Shmot, they progress in backward order, from Tetzaveh, to Trumah, to Mishpatim, to Yitro! Even though at first this order may seem to be simply coincidental, when we examine several other surrounding parshiot there is enough 'circumstantial evidence' to suggest that this pattern may be intentional!

To show how, let's continue by taking a quick glance at the tochacha in chapter 26 to find where that 'parshia' belongs. From that point we will work out way backwards, using the letters of the alphabet for future reference.

A) The Tochacha (26:3-46)
The "tochacha" (chapter 26) explains the reward (or punishment) that Bnei Yisrael receive should they obey (or disobey) God's laws. This "tochacha" constitutes an integral part of the covenant ("brit") between God and Bnei Yisrael which was agreed upon at Har Sinai (see Devarim 28:69!). Even though this covenant is detailed in Parshat Bechukotai, its basic principles were first recorded in Parshat Yitro in the Torah's account of the events that took place at Ma'amad Har Sinai:

"And now, if you shall listen to me and keep my covenant faithfully, then..." (Shmot 19:5-6)
[Compare carefully with Vayikra 26:3,12,23!]

Therefore, even though this parshia is thematically consistent with the theme of the second half of Sefer Vayikra (compare chapter 26 with 18:25-29), nonetheless, it was given to Bnei Yisrael on Har Sinai. Hence, it could easily have been included in Parshat Yitro, most probably in chapter 19 (prior to the Ten Commandments). (See Board #7.)

[Note also that the "dibur" that began in 25:1 includes chapter 26 and is summarized by the final pasuk of the "tochacha" (26:46). See also Chizkuni on Shmot 24:7! See also Ibn Ezra on Vayikra 25:1.]

Working backward now, as we explained above, we find:

B) The 'Mini-Dibrot' (25:55-26:2)

C) The Laws of Shmita and Yovel (25:1-54)

D) Parshat HaM'kallel (24:10-23)

E) The Menorah and Shulchan (24:1-9)

(See Board #8.) In fact, we can continue on back into Parshat Emor!

F) Parshat HaMo'adim - The Holidays (23:1-44)
As we explained in last week's shiur, the Torah presents the mo'adim together with the laws of Shabbat. Thematically, these laws may relate to the theme of kedusha in the second half of Vayikra. Nonetheless, they also relate to the laws of Shabbat that conclude the parshiot concerning the Mishkan. [See Shmot 31:12-17 and 35:2-3.]

Note the obvious textual similarities:

"Sheyshet yamim tay'aseh m'lacha, u'va'yom ha'shvi'i..." (Vayikra 23:3; compare with Shmot 35:2!)

 

"Ach et shabbtotei tishmoru... ki ani Hashem m'kadishchem" (See Shmot 31:13; compare with 23:3,39.)

Therefore, "parshat ha'mo'adim" (chapter 23) in Sefer Vayikra could be recorded in Parshat Ki-Tisa. (See Board #9.)

G) Animals That Cannot Be Korbanot (22:17-33)
In this parshia we find the prohibition of offering an animal with a blemish, or an animal less than eight days old.

Surely, this mitzvah could have been recorded just as well in Parshat Vayikra, for it discusses the various types of animals that one can bring for a korban (see 1:2). (See Board #10.)

H) Kedushat Kohanim (21:1-22:16)
Parshat Emor opens with laws which explain when a kohen can and cannot become "tamey" (ritually impure by coming into contact with a dead person). Even though these laws thematically relate to the second half of Vayikra (for they govern the daily life of the kohanim outside the Mishkan), nonetheless the mitzvot that follow (21:16-22:16) should have been recorded in Parshat Tzav, for they concern who can and cannot eat the meat of the korbanot. (See Board #11.)

In summary, even though each of the above parshiot may be thematically related in one form or other to the theme of the second half of Vayikra, nonetheless each parshia could also have been recorded either in the second half of Sefer Shmot or early in Sefer Vayikra as well! Using the letters noted above, Board #11 summarizes these special parshiot, noting where each 'misplaced parsha' really belongs!

Study this table carefully and note the correlation between where these parshiot 'belong' and the order of the Parshiot in Sefer Shmot [and the beginning of Vayikra].

The Chiastic Structure of Shmot and Vayikra
This literary style is known as a chiastic structure (A-B-C-B-A), a literary tool that emphasizes unity of theme and accentuates a central point (C).

To uncover the significance of a chiastic structure, it is usually critical to identify its central point. To do so in our case, we must first summarize the basic units of mitzvot (in Sefer Shmot) that Bnei Yisrael receive from the time of their arrival at Har Sinai; this is done in Board #12. [Why we skip Chet Ha'Egel (Shmot 32-34), is explained in the Further Iyun section.]

Now, look at Board #13, and note how each of these units corresponds in reverse order with the problematic concluding parshiot of Sefer Vayikra (which were discussed above)!

Note how the chart identifies a chiastic structure (symbolized by ABCDEFGH-I-HGFEDCBA) that connects together all the mitzvot given to Bnei Yisrael in Midbar Sinai from the time of their arrival at Har Sinai. At the center of this structure - Step (I) - lies the dual theme of Sefer Vayikra, (i.e., its two sections):

1) The Sh'china dwelling on the Mishkan and
2) Its subsequent effect on the nation.

As we explained in the previous shiurim, this model reflects the impact of the intense level of the kedusha in the Mishkan on the spiritual character of the entire Nation in all realms of daily life.

Furthermore, this 'central point' ties back to the basic theme of Ma'amad Har Sinai in Sefer Shmot, as explained in the opening 'bookend' of the chiastic structure - Brit Har Sinai - Step (A). Recall that when Bnei Yisrael first arrive at Har Sinai, God proposes a covenant:

"And if you listen to Me and keep my covenant... you shall be for Me, a mamlechet Kohanim v'goy kadosh - a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." (See Shmot 19:5-6)

Brit Sinai and Kedoshim Tihyu
The covenant of Har Sinai, the climax of Sefer Shmot, is fulfilled when Bnei Yisrael follow the mitzvot of Sefer Vayikra! By keeping the mitzvot of both halves of Sefer Vayikra, we become a "mamlechet Kohanim v'goy kadosh" (Shmot 19:6) - the ultimate goal and purpose of Brit Har Sinai.

The thematic significance of this chiastic structure is strengthened by its closing 'book-end' as well (A-A). Just as Brit Sinai - the covenant at Har Sinai - is the opening parsha, the details of that covenant - the "tochacha" of Bechukotai - constitutes its closing parsha. Recall that a covenant is a 'two-sided' deal. The Promised Land serves as God's agent to reward Bnei Yisrael should they keep His covenant, and punish them should they disobey Him.

Back to Behar
Based on the above analysis, one could suggest an additional answer to our opening question concerning Parshat Behar: It is not by chance that Sefer Vayikra concludes with mitzvot that were given "b'Har Sinai." The mitzvot are presented in a chiastic structure, in which the mitzvot given on Har Sinai 'surround' the mitzvot given from the Ohel Mo'ed/Mishkan. Recall that the entire purpose of the Mishkan and its location at the center of the camp was to serve as a vehicle through which Bnei Yisrael can translate the fundamentals of Har Sinai into the norms of daily life. This common theme to Sifrei Shmot and Vayikra remains as the eternal goal of the Jewish nation.

This website is constantly being improved. We would appreciate hearing from you. Questions and comments on the classes are welcome, as is help in tagging, categorizing, and creating brief summaries of the classes. Thank you for being part of the Torat Har Etzion community!