Torah Insights for Shabbat
Parashat Behar/Bechukotai 5758
May 16, 1998 - Israel
May 23, 1998 - Diaspora
The Talmud offers two interpretations that describe the chronology of G-ds revelation of His Torah to the Jewish nation.
Rabbi Akiva maintains that the Torah in its entirety was revealed to Moshe at Sinai. G-d explained to Moshe not only the general principles of each mitzvah, but every minute detail of its explication. The laws of the Torah were then repeated to Moshe in the sanctuary and, in the book of Devarim, repeated once more to the people at the plains of Moav.
Rabbi Yishmael, on the other hand, maintains that only the general laws of the Torah were told to Moshe at Sinai; their details were first described to him in the sanctuary before being repeated at the plains of Moav.
The structure of the book of Vayikra is used to resolve this debate. The contents of its last two parshios, Behar and Bechukosai, do not address the Levitical code, the dominant theme in the rest of the book.
Moreover, the text clearly states that the laws until Behar were given to Moshe in the Sanctuary. Behar begins with the law given at Sinai and Bechukosai concludes with a declaration that all of these laws were given to Moshe at Sinai. Does this declaration include all the laws in the book of Vayikra or just the laws in Behar and Bechukosai?
To answer this question, Rashi quotes the Toras Kohanim which delivers the position of Rabbi Akiva: All laws--general principles and details--were given to Moshe at Sinai.
This is demonstrated by the first mitzvah listed in Parshas Behar, the laws of Shemittah, the Sabbatical year, which is specifically linked to Sinai. If only the general principle of this law was given at Sinai, its mention would be redundant, for this mitzvah was already presented in Parshas Mishpatim.
The only point to ascribing this law to Sinai would be to point out the inclusion of details omitted in its first presentation.
To strengthen this argument, Rashi makes another point. The law of the Sabbatical year is not repeated in the book of Devarim. This omission gives it unique status.
Shemittah becomes the example par excellence of a commandment clearly enunciated in the Torah where both general principle and detail are openly ascribed to Sinai.
One could argue, of course, that, on the contrary, this omission makes Shemittah the exception rather than the rule. Indeed, the Ramban does just that.
But Rashi treats this mitzvah as the standard bearer for all others.
Thus, the final verse of Vayikra is a declaration that applies to the whole book and not just the last two parshios.
Rabbi Chaaim Schertz
Rabbi Schertz is rabbi of Congregation Kesher Israel in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
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