By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
May 24, 2003
The climax of the book of Vayikra is reached at the Torah’s
admonitions (Tochechah,Vayikra 26:3-45). Here, we are taught the brit
(covenant) between Hashem and the nation: if we follow Hashem’s will, there
will be prosperity and peace, but if we disobey there will be war, destruction
and expulsion from the Land of Israel. When these admonitions are concluded,
the Torah, summarizes:
These are the statutes, and the laws, and the teachings that Hashem gave,
between Him and the Children of Israel, at Mount Sinai, by the hand of Moshe
If the book of Vayikra had concluded at this point, it would have been apt.
And yet, the Torah adds an entire chapter of commandments before closing the
book of Vayikra, with a verse that seems redundant:
These are the commandments which Hashem commanded Moshe for the Children of
Israel on Mount Sinai (27:34).
The twelve mitzvot in the final chapter deal with subjects that, as Abarvanel
points out, could have been appropriately included in the body of the book of
Vayikra, yet they are set off, almost as an afterthought. These mitzvot break
down into six topics:
1. Arachin (verses 1-8) - dedicating the value of a person to the Temple. If a
person vows to donate his, or another’s, value (erech) to Hashem, there is a
scale of values set up by the Torah for him to donate, which is based only on
the gender and the age of the evaluated person; the money goes for repairs to
2. Terumah (verses 9-10) - the prohibition against changing the status of an
animal that has been sanctified as a sacrifice. One may not exchange it for a
new animal, whether it is better or worse than the original. If he attempts to
do so, his desires are thwarted: he is punished with lashes, and both animals
3. Hakdashah (verses 11-25) - consecrating objects to the maintenance of the
Temple. If one wishes to sanctify an animal that could not be sacrificed, or a
house (property), then the kohen evaluates it. If the owner wishes to redeem
it, he must add a “fifth” (25%) to its value. Fields could also be consecrated
and evaluated, according to a scale set by the Torah.
4. Bechor (verses 26-27) - the first born of animals cannot be consecrated,
because their holiness has already been determined at birth. The “owner”
cannot donate them as sacrifices or for Temple maintenance, because they are
not really his to donate. The Rabbis further derived from this, that once an
animal has been consecrated as one type of sacrifice, it must not be changed
into another type, but rather left as is.
5. Cherem (verses 28-29) - items declared banned. Any articles declared
banned, i.e. forbidden for use by their owner must be given to Hashem ( if
unspecified they are given to the Kohanim on duty), and not redeemed.
6. Ma’aser Sheni/ Ma’aser behemah (verses 30-33) - tithes of produce and of
animals. The second tithes taken from grain, wine, oil and animals are
consecrated to Hashem. They are brought to Jerusalem and consumed there.
Animal tithes are taken by passing the flock through a narrow opening in the
pen and counting them off under the shepherd’s staff; every tenth animal, no
matter what its condition, is marked with red paint and becomes ma’aser.
Why is this chapter of mitzvot placed after the brit and the Tochechah, as a
Sforno, says that these mitzvot, although certainly taught at Sinai, were not
included in the brit, but were taught afterwards. However, he does not explain
why they were excluded from the brit. Moreover, he does not explain their
place in the book Vayikra: after all, they could just as well have been placed
in the book of Bamidbar (perhaps in the first six chapters). Finally, he does
not explain what these 12 mitzvot have in common such, that they be added as a
codicil to Vayikra.
Hirsch suggests that the Torah
“declares Temple endowments and vows of gifts as being not such specially
pious G-d pleasing acts, and least of all does it ascribe to them the
slightest value as atonement for leading a sinful life.”
It is for this reason, says Hirsch, that the voluntary gifts to the Sanctuary
are taught as supplemental to, but not a part of, the themes of the book of
Vayikra. However, he cannot say this of the tithes, which are obligatory. His
explanation of the tithes placed at the end of the book – that they teach that
“the happy enjoyment of life, kept within moral limits, is itself elevated to
an act which is near to G-d, in which every home becomes a Temple” –
while a crucial goal of the Torah, could frankly have been applied to many
Perhaps a solution may be found by turning to comments of the Sefer HaChinuch
on the subject of cherem (commandment #357):
“The Israelites are the people that G-d chose above all other peoples…they are
under the rule of the Holy One, blessed be He, without the mediating agency of
any angel or constellation… Therefore, if an Israelite loses his temper and
utters a curse and ban on his property and lands, which are under the
blessing, the Text has informed him that it is impossible for him to transfer
it from the realm of the blessed to another domain [i.e., utter destruction,
although this is his intention]. For whatever belongs to Israelites, who are
the portion of Hashem, belongs to him. …then let it return to the possession
of his Master, and be consecrated.”
On the other hand, if the people of Israel pronounce a cherem on their
enemies, who are not included in this blessing, then they are destroyed (this
is in accordance with Rambam’s reading of Vayikra 27:29).
The theme that unites all the mitzvot of chapter 27, therefore, is the power
of each Jew to affect a permanent change in the physical world. His
declarations of dedication take on the force of reality; his consecration of
sacrifices is irreversible; even his taboos are absolute. When he pronounces
something holy, it is so.
This concept holds true, as well, for ma’aser behemah, which is qualitatively
different from any other obligatory donations, such as terumah, or the other
ma’aserot. As Hirsch emphasizes, when it comes to these other donations, the
percentage to be separated exists in the entity, even before the separation
occurs. However, ma’aser behemah is not so much “a tenth one,” but is
determined solely by the counting off done by the shepherd: “the tenth one
shall be holy to Hashem” (verse 32). This holiness, too, becomes irreversible.
The entire book of Vayikra is devoted to the pursuit of
You shall be holy, for I Hashem your G-d am holy (19:2).
This process is achieved through a combination of means: self-discipline, a
discernment between the sacred and the profane, as well as differentiating the
hierarchy of sanctity. The book of Vayikra has created realms of sanctity also:
holy times, holy places, holy people. Throughout, the source of sanctity is
The final chapter of the book of Vayikra, however, shows that, in a carefully
prescribed manner, the people of Israel can also create. We can emulate Hashem
by declaring objects irrevocably transformed, whether to dedication, to
destruction, or to consecration. Therefore, these 12 mitzvot serve as a crown to
the entire book of Vayikra. But, they are set off from the rest of the book, to
show that our power to create, through great, is limited.
As Jews, we are endowed by Hashem with the power to transform the world. The
questions remain: Does every Jew know this? And, do we know how to use this