Vayikra (Leviticus) 1:1-5:26
First Triennial Torah Reading: Vayikra 1:1-2:16
Thoughts on Parashat Vayikra: Sacrificing in Silence
The third book of the Torah, Vayikra, Leviticus, is also known as the Priestly Manual as most of its contents relate to how sacrifices are to be offered to God – all this being done by the Kohanim who are from the tribe of Levi.
But why do the guidelines for how the Israelites are supposed to be in relationship with God not appear until the third book? Wouldn’t it make more sense for this to be the first book of the Torah?
In order for us, those reading the Torah, to have a better appreciation of this Priestly Manual, there needs to be a context for it. So we begin with how the world came to be, followed by how we as a people (Abraham) and then a nation (Israelites) came to be. We have an understanding of our covenantal relationship with God, of the closeness we encountered at Sinai. And THEN, we get the day-to-day details of how we are to be in conversation, in relationship with God.
Twelfth century, French commentator Bekhor Shor posits that the reason these instructions appear here is because it very well wouldn’t make sense to explain the sacrificial system without first having established who would be offering the sacrifices or where they were to be offered. Since the book of Shemot concludes with the completion of the Mishkan, it is only now that we can receive what should be offered and when.
So often, we want information the moment we first think about it, or we want our idea to be implemented as soon as possible. The placement of the book of Vayikra is an important reminder that timing and context are truly everything, and to remind us of the importance of being patient.
Rabbi Gail Swedroe