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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- Chapter 17 deals with the laws regarding idolatry, slaughtering animals, deceased animals, and the consumption of blood.
- Chapter 18 deals with the laws concerning forbidden practices of the gentiles, forbidden relationships, and prohibition of worshiping Molech.
- 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.
- Chapter 20 deals with the penalties for those who disobey the laws from chapter 18.
- Chapter 21 deals with the laws concerning the kohanim, the kohen gadol, and disqualifying blemishes.
- 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.
- Chapter 23 deals with the laws concerning the observation of Shabbat, Pesach, the Omer, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Shemini Atzeret.
- Chapter 24 deals with the laws concerning the Menorah, Show bread, blasphemers, applications of the death penalty, and restitution.
- Chapter 25 deals with the laws concerning shemittah, yovel, Levite cities, preventing poverty, and Jewish slaves.
- Chapter 26 deals with the blessings and curses that come from either obeying or disobeying God.
- 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|
|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|
|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|