Vayikra (Leviticus)

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The Book of Leviticus or Sefer Vayikra is the third book of the Tanach and the third of five books of the Torah written by Moses. The name Vayikra literally means “and He called” and is taken from the first word of the Hebrew text.

When the Bible was translated into Greek in the 3rd century BCE to produce the Septuagint, the name given to this book was biblion to Levitikon, meaning “book of the Levites”. This was in line with the Septuagint use of subject themes as book names. The Latin name became Liber Leviticus, from which the English name is derived.

Sefer Vayikra contains laws and priestly rituals, but in a wider sense is about the working out of God’s covenant with the Children of Israel set out in Bereishit (Genesis) and Shemot (Exodus). This means the Torah sets out the consequences of entering into a special relationship with God. These consequences are set out in terms of community relationships and behavior.

The first 16 chapters make up the Priestly Code, with rules for ritual cleanliness, sin-offerings, and the Day of Atonement, including Chapter 12 which mandates male circumcision. Chapters 17-27 contain the Holiness Code, including the injunction in chapter 19 to “love one’s neighbor as oneself”. The book is largely concerned with “abominations”, largely dietary, prohibition of idolatry, and sexual restrictions.

The book is generally considered to be divided into two large sections, both of which contain several mitzvot (commands).

The first section – the Priestly Code – encompasses chapters 1-16. These chapters describe the details of rituals, worship, and ritual cleanliness. This section is further broken down into three subsections:

  1. Chapters 1-7 are concerned with the laws regarding the regulations for different types of sacrifice.
    Chapters 1-3 deal with the burnt offerings, meal offerings, and thanks offerings.
    Chapters 4-5 deal with the sin offerings and the trespass offerings.
    Chapters 6-7 deal with the priestly duties and rights concerning the sacrificial offerings.
  2. Chapters 8-10 are concerned with the laws regarding the practical application of the sacrificial laws – specifically within a narrative of the consecration of Aaron and his sons.
    Chapter 8 deals with Aaron’s first offering for himself and the Children of Israel.
    Chapters 9-10 deal with the incident of Nadav and Avihu who broke the laws of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and were punished with death.
  3. Chapters 11-16 are concerned with the laws of ritual purity and impurity.
    Chapter 11 deals with the laws of clean and unclean animals.
    Chapter 12 deals with the laws of ritual cleanliness after childbirth.
    Chapters 13-14 deal with the laws regarding tzara’ath of people, clothes, and houses.
    Chapter 15 deals with the laws regarding bodily discharges and purification.
    Chapter 16 deals with the laws regarding Yom Kippur.

The second section – the Holiness Code – encompasses chapters 17-27. These chapters describe the details of holiness not only for the priests but also for the Children of Israel.

This section is further broken down into eleven subsections:

  1. Chapter 17 deals with the laws regarding idolatry, slaughtering animals, deceased animals, and the consumption of blood.
  2. Chapter 18 deals with the laws concerning forbidden practices of the gentiles, forbidden relationships, and prohibition of worshiping Molech.
  3. Chapter 19 deals with the laws concerning idolatry, peace offerings, gifts to the poor, honest dealings with others, forbidden mixtures, maidservants, fruit trees, and weights and measures.
  4. Chapter 20 deals with the penalties for those who disobey the laws from chapter 18.
  5. Chapter 21 deals with the laws concerning the kohanim, the kohen gadol, and disqualifying blemishes.
  6. Chapter 22 deals with the laws concerning the sanctity of the offerings and the terumah, blemished animals, and the desecration and sanctification of God’s Name.
  7. Chapter 23 deals with the laws concerning the observation of Shabbat, Pesach, the Omer, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Shemini Atzeret.
  8. Chapter 24 deals with the laws concerning the Menorah, Show bread, blasphemers, applications of the death penalty, and restitution.
  9. Chapter 25 deals with the laws concerning shemittah, yovel, Levite cities, preventing poverty, and Jewish slaves.
  10. Chapter 26 deals with the blessings and curses that come from either obeying or disobeying God.
  11. Chapter 27 deals with the laws concerning gifts to the Mishkan (Tabernacle).

Sefer Vayikra (ויקרא) is divided into the following Parshiot

Vayikra (1:1-5:26) – (And He called):
Haftorah: Isaiah 43:21-44:23 (Ashkenazi); Isaiah 43:21-44:23 (Sephardi)
1:1-9: General rules of offerings 4:3-12: The bull of the anointed Kohen
1:10-13: Burnt offerings from sheep and goats 4:13-21: The bull
1:14-17: Burnt offerings from fowl 4:22-26: He-goat of a ruler
2:1-3: Fine flour offering 4:27-35: Sin offering of an individual
2:4: Oven-baked offering 5:1: The variable offering
2:5-6: Pan-baked offering 5:2-3: Contamination of the Sanctuary and its sanctities
2:7-12: Deep-pan offering 5:4-13: A spoken oath
2:13-16: Covenant of salt 5:14-16: Guilt offering
3:1-17: Peace offering 5:17-24: Guilt offering in case of doubt
4:1-2: Sin offering 5:25-26: Guilt offering for thefts


Tzav (6:1-8:36) – (Command):
Haftorah: Jeremiah 7:21-8:3; 9:22-23 (Ashkenazi); Jeremiah 7:21-8:3; 9:22-23 (Sephardi)
6:1-4: The taking of the ash and the Altar fire 7:19-21: Eating in a state of contamination
6:5-6: The three Altar fires 7:22-27: Fat and blood
6:7-16: Meal offering, Sin offering 7:28-38: The parts and their order
6:17-19: Koshering 8:1-5: Consecration of the Kohanim
6:20-7:7: Guilt-offering 8:6-13: Aaron’s immersion, investiture and anointment
7:8-10: Miscellaneous gifts to the Kohen 8:14-21: The sin offering bull
7:11-16: Thanksgiving offering 8:22-30: The inauguration ram
7:17-18: Piggul/Rejected 8:31-36: Seven days of inauguration


Shemini (9:1-11:47) – (Eighth):
Haftorah: II Samuel 6:1-7:17 (Ashkenazi); II Samuel 6:1-19 (Sephardi)
9:1-21: The Priestly service begins 11:13-19: The forbidden birds
9:22-24: Aaron’s blessing and the Divine Presence 11:20-25: Forbidden and permissible insects
10:1-7: The death of Nadab and Abihu 11:26-28: The non-kosher creatures that transmit contamination
10:8-11: The commandments to Aaron against intoxicants 11:29-31: The small creeping animals
10:12-15: Disposition of the day’s offerings 11:32-38: Objects receiving contamination
10:16-20: The dispute between Moses and Aaron 11:39-40: Contamination of kosher animals
11:1-8: Laws of Kashurut: Land animals 11:41-43: Prohibition of eating creeping creatures
11:9-12: Fish 11:44-47: Sanctity through kashurt


Tazria (12:1-13:59) – (She Conceives):
Haftorah: II Kings 4:42-5:19 (Ashkenazi); II Kings 4:42-5:19 (Sephardi)
12:1-2: Human contamination 13:24-28: Burns
12:3-8: Childbirth and purification 13:29-39: Tzaraas of the head or face
13:1-3: The basic tzaras and the procedure for verification 13:40-44: Baldness at the front and back of the head
13:4-7: Baheres 13:45-46: The metzora’s isolation
13:8-17: S’eis 13:47-59: Afflictions of garments
13:18-23: Inflammations


Metzora (14:1-15:33) – (One Being Diseased):
Haftorah: II Kings 7:3-20 (Ashkenazi); II Kings 7:3-20 (Sephardi)
14:1-3: The first stage of the metzora’s purification 14:33-48: Tzaraas on houses
14:4-8: From arrogance to humility 14:49-57: Purification of the house
14:9: The second stage: Shaving 15:1-18: Zav and baal keri/male discharges
14:10-20: The final stage of purification: Offerings 15:19-30: Niddah and zavah/female discharges
14:21-32: The offering of the poor metzora 15:31-33: Separation from contamination


Acharei (16:1-18:30) – (After The Death):
Haftorah: Amos 9:7-15 (Ashkenazi); Ezekiel 22:1-16 (Sephardi)
16:1-5: The death of Aaron’s sons and the Yom Kippur service 17:10-12: Prohibition against eating blood
16:6-11: The lots 17:13-16: Covering blood
16:12-19: The incense service 18:1-5: Forbidden practices and traditions
16:20-22: The he-goat to Azazel 18:6-20: Forbidden relationships
16:23: Removal of the shovel and ladle 18:21: Molech
16:24-28: Conclusion of the service 18:22-23: Sodomy and bestiality
16:29-34: The eternal commandment of Yom Kippur 18:24-30: The holiness of the land
17:1-9: Service outside the Tabernacle


Kedoshim (19:1-20:27) – (Holy Ones):
Haftorah: Ezekiel 22:1-16 (Ashkenazi); Ezekiel 20:2-20 (Sephardi)
19:1-4: Holiness 19:23-34: Fruit trees
19:5-8: Piggul/Rejected offerings 19:35-37: Weights and measures
19:9-10: Gifts to the poor 20:1-2: Punishments
19:11-15: Honest dealings with others 20:3-9: Molech
19:16-18: Love your fellow 20:10-21: Penalties for forbidden relationships
19:19: Kil’ayim/Forbidden mixtures 20:22-24: The land and immortality
19:20-22: Shifchah charufah/Designated maidservant 20:25-27: Holiness and kashrus


Emor (21:1-24:23) – (Speak):
Haftorah: Ezekiel 44:15-31 (Ashkenazi); Ezekiel 44:15-31 (Sephardi)
21:1-9: Laws of a Kohen 23:9-14: The Omer
21:10-15: Laws of the Kohen Gadol 23:15-22: The Omer count and Shavuot
21:16-24: Disqualifying blemishes 23:23-25: Rosh Hashanah
22:1-9: Safeguarding the sanctity of offerings and terumah 23:26-32: Yom Kippur
22:10-16: Terumah 23:33-44: Succot and Shemini Atzeret
22:17-30: Blemished animals 24:1-4: The Menorah
22:31-33: Desecration and sanctification of G-d’s Name 24:5-9: Showbread
23:1-3: Festivals 24:10-23: The blasphemer
23:4-8: Pesach


Behar (25:1-26:2) – (On The Mount):
Haftorah: Jeremiah 32:6-27 (Ashkenazi); Jeremiah 32:6-22 (Sephardi)
25:1-7: Shemittah/Sabbatical Year 25:35-38: Preventing poverty
25:8-13: Yovel/Jubilee Year 25:39-46: A Jew’s Jewish “slave”
25:14-22: Sequence of the passages 25:47-55: Jewish slave of an idolater
25:23-31: Redemption of land 26:1-2: Command against making idols
25:32-34: Levite cities


Bechukotai (26:3-27:34) – (By My Decrees):
Haftorah: Jeremiah 16:19-17:14 (Ashkenazi); Jeremiah 16:19-17:14 (Sephardi)
26:3-13: Miracles of blessing and curse 26:43-46: The conclusion of the Admonition
26:14-15: The Tochachah/Admonition 27:1-8: Gifts to the Temple Valuations
26:16-17: The first series of punishments 27:9-15: Sanctification and redemption of animals
26:18-20: The second series of punishments 27:16-27: Redemption of houses and fields
26:21-22: The third series of punishments 27:28-29: Cherem/Segregated property
26:23-26: The fourth series of punishments 27:30-31: The second title
26:27-42: The fifth series of punishments 27:32-34: The tithe of animals