בס״ד

Kavanot: פרשת בחקותי תשע״ד

Thoughts on Tanach and the Davening

ספר ויקרא ends on a dramatic note:

מה וזכרתי להם ברית ראשנים; אשר הוצאתי אתם מארץ מצרים לעיני הגוים להיות להם לאלהים אני ה׳׃ מו אלה החקים והמשפטים והתורת אשר נתן ה׳ בינו ובין בני ישראל בהר סיני ביד משה׃

ויקרא פרק כו

That’s the perfect conclusion to the ספר dedicated to קדושה. It starts with קדושת מקום, continues with קדושת אדם, then קדושת זמן and through שמיטה and יובל ties it back to קדושת מקום, then the sealing of the ברית with the attendant rewards and punishments, then ends with אלה החקים והמשפטים והתורת to sum it all up.

But it doesn’t end there. There are 4 more aliyot, all boring stuff about ערכין, the valuation of donations to the מקדש. Valid halachot, to be sure, but why put them at the end of the ספר? Why not include them with all the other laws of donations?

There are two basic approaches to this question in the commentators: either this chapter is an epilogue, or an appendix. The difference is in how we see the placement of these laws: do they belong specifically here, at the end of the ספר, after the תוכחה, or does it belong outside the entire book, and it’s placed at the end because that’s the place to put “extra” material?


Appendix

Sforno notes that ערכין are voluntary, as opposed to the obligatory commandments that form the basis of the covenant. The mitzvot here are not part of that covenant:

כל המצות שנאמרו קודם שהתחיל פרשת אם בחקותי הם החוקים והמשפטים והתורות שעליהם נכרת הברית בברכות וקללות וזה הוא הברית שהזכיר כאמרו מלבד הברית אשר כרת אתם בחורב…שנדר הוא יתעלה הברכות לכשיזכו וקבלו הם האלות אם לא יזכו. אבל ערכי אדם ודיני הקדש בית ושדה ובכור וחרמים ומעשר בהמה כלם נאמרו אחר זה הברית אף על פי שנאמרו גם הם בהר סיני כאמרו.

ספורנו, ויקרא כו:מו

Rav Hirsch makes the point even stronger. The danger is that we see the donations to the Temple as essence of Judaism, ignoring the true source of קדושה:

Now follows as the concluding chapter, a chapter dealing with the possibility of free-willed gifts to the Sanctuary. It tells how the case is to be treated when somebody feels the necessity, or cherishes the wish to present an object or its value to the Sanctuary to express thereby his special interest in the Sanctuary…All such endowments or gifts are expressed as הפלאת נדר, as something not demanded by the Torah, but purely as an act directed by one’s own feelings and wishes. It is extremely significant that this chapter on gifts to the Temple is quite clearly…only to be taken as an additional supplementary concluding chapter, and definitely does not belong to the חוקים משפטים ותורות which G-d has set as the condition בינו ובין בני ישראל, the fulfillment of which results in the whole abundance of blessing…The Jewish תורת כהנים…declares the 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…

Hirsch commentary on ויקרא כז:א

Epilogue

Epilogues are for tying up loose ends. I don’t like epilogues in novels; I don’t need to know the details of how they “lived happily ever after” in a work of fiction. If the story held my attention, I can use my own imagination to see where it goes. And if it didn’t, adding a superfluous chapter won’t help. But ספר ויקרא is not a narrative. It is primarily a book of laws, and it might make sense that the discussion of the laws would end with a discussion of the consequences of those laws but there may be ramifications of those consequences that need to be mentioned.

The כלי יקר takes this as a negative comment:

סמך פר׳ זו לקללות לומר שישראל נודרים בעת צרה כיעקב שהיה נודר בעת צרה ליתן מעשר מכל, אבל לא כיעקב מכל וכל כי יעקב גם אחר שעברה הצרה לא סר מן הדרך הטוב, אבל לדורות זה דרכם כסל למו שנודרים בעת צרה ובעבור סופה צרה וצוקה הם מתחרטים ושבים לסורם. וזה כמשל הקנה שקלל בו אחיה השילוני את ישראל (מלכים א' יד.טו) כי הקנה הזה אינו נכנע כי אם בזמן שהרוח נושב בו וכנוח הרוח הוא חוזר ועומד בקומה זקופה כבראשונה, כך ישראל אינן נכנעים כי אם בזמן שהצרה משמשת וירא ישראל כי היתה הרוחה והכבד את לבו כי בסור המכריח ישובו לסורם, ומסכים לדברינו מה שפירש בעל הטורים (כז:א) שכל מספר השקלים קמ׳ג כנגד קמ׳ג קללות שבתורת כהנים ובמשנה תורה. וכי מפני שמספרם שוה נסמכו להדדי, אלא לומר לך שקמ"ג קללות שבתוכחה גורמין נדרי קמ״ג שקלים כי אין ישראל נודרים ליתן מן ממונם לשם ה׳ כי אם בשעה שהצרות מכריחין אותן.

כלי יקר,ויקרא כז:ב, ד״ה איש כי יפליא נדר וגו׳

Rabbi Leibtag notes that ויקרא starts with the laws of נדרים, which are voluntary sacrifices, and ends with ערכין, other voluntary donations. He calls these “bookends” to the dry obligations of the rest of the ספר:

One could suggest that the Torah intentionally chose parshiot dealing with the offerings of an individual, primarily the voluntary offerings, to form the ‘book-ends’ of Sefer Vayikra for the following reason.

As we have seen, Sefer Vayikra focuses on the kedusha of the mishkan and of the nation. These lofty goals of the Shchina dwelling upon an entire nation can easily lead the individual to underestimate his own importance. Furthermore, the rigid detail of the mitzvot of Vayikra may lead one to believe that there is little room for self-initiated expression in his own relationship with G-d, as our covenantal obligations could be viewed as dry and technical.

To counter these possible misconceptions, the Torah may have placed these two parshiot at the opening and concluding sections of Sefer Vayikra—to stress these two important tenets of ‘avodat Hashem’. Despite the centrality of the community, the individual cannot lose sight of the value and importance of his role as an integral part of the communal whole. Secondly, the rigidity of Halacha should not stifle personal expression. Rather, it should form the solid base from which the individual can develop an aspiring, dynamic, and personal relationship with God.

I found a very nice thought on a blog called “Consistently Under Construction”. It’s anonymous (the author describes herself as “an American born halachah observant Jewish woman living in Jerusalem”) so we have to take it solely at face value, but she brings an approach that is a synthesis of the appendix and epilogue approaches:

Yet throughout all these guidelines [in ספר ויקרא] that are supposed to make us into a holy people we are never told to meditate, to learn Torah, or to go on a journey to find ourselves. Instead, we are given a strict set of one-size-fits-most rules. There is not one word on human-rights, but there are many human-obligations.

And with this we return to erchin, to one of the most difficult truths to accept. Because erchin teaches us that even though we can create holiness—we can choose anything we want and sanctify it—once we do that, we can’t do anything we want with it. We can proclaim a donkey kadosh (holy), but we may not bring it to the Mikdash. We may only bring its worth. And we are not the ones who determine that worth. There are still rules, and we must abide by them. No matter how close we are to the Divine, we cannot substitute our judgment for G-d’s, rather we must use our judgment to understand and apply. And as difficult as this may be to swallow, it makes sense. Because first and foremost, what we learn from Vayikra is that G-d is the exclusive source of holiness, and it is only when we imitate our holy G-d that we bring holiness into this world, and we become holy.

And I think that is a valuable perspective on how we see halacha.