Parshas Vayikra-Midrashim & Mefarshim


Outline of Parsha

1. Number of Mitzvos:

There are a total of fifteen Mitzvos in Parshas Vayikra; Eleven positive commands and Five negative commands. The following are the commands in the chronological order that they are brought in the Parsha.


A. Positive:

  1. Positive 48: Following the detailed laws of the Olah sacrifice.
  2. Positive 49: Following the detailed laws of the Mincha offering.
  3. Positive 50: To salt all the offerings.
  4. Positive 51: For the Beis Din to bring a Karban Chatas in case of a mistaken ruling.
  5. Positive 52: For an individual to bring a Karban Chatas in case of a mistaken transgression involving Kareis.
  6. Positive 53: To testify in court on behalf of another Jew if one has information that can be of his benefit.
  7. Positive 54: To bring a Karban Olah Veyoreid for swearing falsely; Shavuos Haeidus; Entering the Temple while impure.
  8. Positive 55: For one who performed Meilah to Hekdish to give an additional 1/5th to the Temple, aside for the base worth of the object.
  9. Positive 56: To bring an Asaham Taluy in a case of an act of questionable transgression that involves a negative command that contains Kareis.
  10. Positive 57: To return a stolen object to its rightful owner.
  11. Positive 58: To bring a Karban Asham for stealing and sinfully swearing; Meila; and other sins.


B. Negative:

  1. Negative 68: Not to offer honey or Chameitz onto the altar.
  2. Negative 69: Not to bring offerings without salt.
  3. Negative 70: Not to separate [behead[1]] the bird Chatas offering.
  4. Negative 71: Not to place oil on the Mincha sin offering.
  5. Negative 72: Not to place frankincense on the Mincha sin offering.


2. Rishon:

Hashem called to Moshe from the Ohel Moed and related to him the laws involving the sacrifices. These laws relate to the following topics:

  • The type of animal to bring as a sacrifice.
  • The amount of that may share an offering.
  • The detailed laws of the Olah offering.
  • Performing Semicha to the animal.
  • The area in which the animal is to be slaughtered.
  • Offering the blood of the animal to the altar.
  • Skinning and dismembering the animal.
  • Lighting the altar.
  • Arranging the limbs on the altar.
  • Washing and offering the limbs.
  • The laws of the sheep, and goat offering.
    • Where is one to slaughter it.
    • Offering the blood.
    • Dismembering it.
    • Arranging the limbs on the altar.
    • Washing the innards.




The book of Vayikra-Toras Kohanim:

The Sefer of Vayikra is also referred to as Toras Kohanim[2], or Toras Kohanim Vehaleviim.[3] The Midrash of the Sifra on Sefer Vayikrais is also called Toras Kohanim. The reason why Vayikra is called by this name is because the Sefer of Vayikra contains all the instructions for the Kohanim and Leviim in their Temple service.


The purpose of Karbanos:

The Karbanos have various affects, as explained in the Mefarshim:

  • The Karbanos draw down the Shechina.[4]
  • The Karbanos serve as an atonement for the sins of the Jewish people, and hence prevent the Shechina from ascending to heaven as result of sin.[5]
  • To distance man from idolatry and prevent the Jewish people from brining Karbanos towards idols.[6]
  • To elevate all the world energy.[7]


The significance of a sacrifice and how it causes the light of the Or Ein Sof and Soveiv Kol Almin to be drawn below to one’s soul:

In the previous paragraph, it was explained that this world receives from the infinite light of G-d called Soveiv Kol Almin, and this is what gives a Jew the ability to do Teshuvah and turn evil to good. It is the Torah and Mitzvos that draw this level of Soveiv G-dliness into the world. Nevertheless, this does not suffice. One is also required to draw the Soveiv level of G-dliness into his actual soul. How is this accomplished? Through the action of Karbanos. [The Karbanos draw the Or Ein Sof into one’s actual soul and bring him to an open and revealed experience of G-dliness and elevation. It was customary, when bringing a Karban, to make that day into a Holiday. This is the custom even today, in the month of Nissan, when all Jewry are accustomed to omit Tachanun during these days as a result of the sacrifices brought by our tribal leaders thousands of years ago. The revelation they brought about remains and can be imbued into our souls even today, as is evident from the prayer we recite after reading the Nassi.] The reason why the Karban has the ability to draw the Or Ein Sof into the soul is because an animal derives from the Yesod of fire, as the four levels of creation, inanimate, vegetation, animal and human, correspond to the four foundations of earth, water, fire, and air, with the animal kingdom corresponding to fire. This is because the root of the animal kingdom in Heaven is the ox on the chariot. The level called “ox” contains a fiery appearance, and from it evolve the souls of all the animals. When the animal is sacrificed and offered on the altar, its soul is elevated above, back to its source in the face of the ox on the chariot, which is also the foundation of fire. This then causes a fire to descend from above to below and consume the sacrifice. Thus, the Karban represents an elevation of an animal soul above and a consequential descent of G-dliness below. This animal soul that is elevated is considered the spiritual food of the world. Just like when we eat meat, it gives us strength and energy and strengthens the attachment of our soul to our body, similarly “the eating of the Karban below” represents the “food” of the upper worlds, which causes an “attachment” [revelation] of G-dliness below. Although all Mitzvos cause G-dliness to be drawn below, as explained above, nevertheless this is only revealed in this world through the actual Karban, being that the Karban comes from the Yesod of fire. [In the next Mamar, the Alter Rebbe explains a different advantage of a Karban, saying that the entire purpose of Mitzvos is to subjugate the “Yeish”, the feeling of self-existence. This was primarily accomplished through the Karban, as there is no greater subjugation of existence then the sacrifice and elevation of the actual soul to G-d.]


Reiach Nichoach LaHashem”:

Through the above, it is understood why specifically the Karban is called “a pleasant scent before G-d”, as the soul of the animal that comes from the Yesod of fire is considered the “food” of the spiritual worlds. Likewise, it is understood why specifically with the Karban, Hashem states that it gives Him satisfaction that His will was performed, as it is specifically the Karban that draws G-dliness into the world in such a revealed fashion and hence fulfills His will of creating a Dirah Betachtonim.  

It sounds unfair and even cruel that the way to bring the Or Ein Sof down into one’s soul is specifically by slaughtering another creature and sacrificing its blood. If a person wants to be closer to G-d, shouldn’t he do an act of self-sacrifice rather than sacrifice another creature?

The answer to this question deserves a full article in its own right. But the points towards this answer are as follows:

From the person’s perspective, there is self-sacrifice involved in bringing a Karban as: 1) When one brings an animal as a sacrifice he is “sacrificing” a great deal of money [the cost of the animal] for the sake of G-d, and it is no different than the Mitzvah of Tzedaka. 2) When bringing the Karban, one is required to feel as if he were sacrificing his own soul to G-d, which causes him to do a full accounting and betterment of his ways. 3) The Karban revealed a great revelation of G-dliness in his soul and enhanced his service of G-d. Thus the ritual of Karbanos is certainly not, “let us kill an animal to exonerate our sins and continue in our evil ways”. It caused a complete change in the person!

From the animal’s perspective: 1) G-d created everything with a purpose. This is the purpose of the animal. The entire point of its being in existence until the time of its slaughter was only for this purpose. Thus it is certainly justified to allow their slaughter for G-d. This is similar to any parent that decides to have children and give them life, despite the fact that he knows that these children will eventually suffer the pains of death at the end of their days. Life experience until death overweighs the suffering of death. Thinking that doing so is unfair is due to a lack of belief in the Creator of the animal and its purpose. 2) The animal itself receives benefit by being elevated above, back to its source, similar to a soul in Heaven.[8]


Children begin with Vayikra:[9]

The Midrash[10] states that the children begin their learning of Chumash with Sefer Vayikra. The reason for this is because just as the Karbanos are pure so too the children are pure. Meaning, that just as the Karbanos erase sin from the soul of the offeror, so too a child is pure without sin.


Why did Hashem command about the Karbanos prior to the other Mitzvos [written in Sefer Vayikra]?[11]

As it is specifically the Karbanos which have the ability to draw the Shechina below. Particularly, the Karban Olah draw the Shechina below to this world, and so it was that when the Karban Olah was nullified in the times of the Temple, the Shechina returned to heaven.   



Hashem called to Moshe:[12]

Hashem called to Moshe from the Ohel Moed and related to him the laws involving the sacrifices.



Q&A on the calling

Why did Hashem call Moshe prior to telling him the commands?

Prior to all the commands Hashem stated an introductory greeting to Moshe. This was done in order to prevent startling Moshe with a spontaneous conversation.[13] From here we learn that a person should not startle someone into a conversation and is rather to greet him first to give him time for preparation. On this it says in the Talmud[14] “Hashem hates those that enter into their friend’s house suddenly”.[15] Alternatively, specifically prior to this command which came from the Ohel Moed was Moshe required to first be called, as Moshe feared to enter into the Ohel Moed without permission.[16]


Why was the term “Vayikra” specifically used?[17]

The specific term of Vayikra is a term used amongst the angels, and is a term of affection. However to the prophets of the gentile nations Hashem called them using the term Vayikar, which represents a momentary calling of impurity.


Why is the Alef of “Vayikra” small?

Several explanations are given behind the small letter Alef found in the opening word of Vayikra:

  • As Moshe was humble and desired to write the word Vayikar, without the Alef, which implies that Hashem only comes to him on occasion and in a nocturnal vision, similar to the prophecy of Bilaam. Hashem however commanded Moshe to write the word Vayikra with an Alef. Moshe responded that he will write the Alef smaller than the other Alef’s written in the Torah.[18]
  • Hashem desired to compare the prophecy of Moshe to the prophecy of Bilaam, as both prophets had visions which were above their level of preparation. This also teaches us that Moshe’s prophecy was all in merit of the Jewish people, and not due to his own level.[19]
  • The small Alef, which is the first letter and comes from the term “Aelfecha/learning”, hints to us that a child is to begin his learning with Vayikra.[20]
  • The small Alef teaches us that one’s Torah learning can only last within a person that humbles himself.[21]
  • After the sin of the Egel Moshe was demoted from his G-dly lights that he experienced and only 1000 small lights remained. This is why the Alef is small to hint to a weakened revelation of these 1000 lights.[22]


Did anyone else hear the calling to Moshe?[23]

No. Only Moshe’s ears contained the sensitivity to hear the calling of Hashem. Even Ahron did not hear the commands.


Did the voice of Hashem extend past the Ohel Moed?[24]

No. The voice of Hashem could only be heard [by Moshe] in the Ohel. Once it reached the external courtyard of the Mishkan, the voice would stop and could no longer be heard. This is despite the fact that the sound of Hashem was powerful and strong.



From where in the Ohel did Hashem’s voice come from?

Hashem’s voice came from the Aron, from the Kapores, and specifically from between the Keruvim sitting on the Kapores.[25] Alternatively, it came from the cloud that was on top of the Ohel Moed.[26]


When did this calling take place?

Some[27] explain that Hashem called to Moshe on the first day of the seven days of Miluim, which was on the 23rd of Adar of the first year after leaving Egypt. At this time Moshe was commanded all the laws of the Karbanos which are written from Parshas Vayikra until Parshas Shemini. Others[28] however explain that this calling took place after the end of the 8th day of Miluim, after the first of Nissan.


Did Moshe enter into the Ohel Moed and Kodesh Hakodashim in order to hear the commands?[29]

Yes. Moshe was allowed to enter into the Kodesh Hakodashim whenever he needed. When Hashem called Moshe in the above statement, Moshe entered into the Holy of Holies to receive the commands from Hashem. Alternatively, some[30] explain that Moshe would stand outside of the Paroches within the Ohel Moed.


The recesses given between the commands:[31]
Hashem would give Moshe a recess between the sets of commands in order to give him time to contemplate between the Parshiyos and different topics. Certainly, upon teaching a student one is to give him breaks of time to digest the material that he learned prior to teaching him the new material.




[1] Rambam Maaseh Hakarbanos 7/6

[2] Menachos 45a

[3] Ramban introduction of Vayikra

[4] Even Ezra Vayikra 1/1

[5] Ramban Vayikra 1/1

[6] Moreh Nevuchim; See Meshech Chochamh Vayikra 1/1

[7] Ramban

[8] There are some later Gaonim who have learned that animals receive compensation for their suffering in the next world [and seemingly this should apply as well to the inanimate and vegetation in accordance to their opinion]. Nonetheless, this is not the approach of classic Judaism [as explained in Rambam, and places in Chassidus, that reward and punishment are only given to those which have freedom of choice.] However, the spark of holiness that is in every creation does receive reward and elevation for their service and suffering. [See Likkutei Torah Rei 56; Iggros Hakodesh 1 letter on Hashgacha Pratis.]

[9] Keli Yakra Vayikra 1/1

[10] Yalkut Shimoni

[11] Even Ezra 1/1

[12] Vayikra 1:1

[13] Toras Kohanim 1/1-7; Rashi ibid; Ramban ibid in Pirush of Chazal

[14] Nida 16b

[15] Torah Temima 1/1

[16] Ramban ibid in personal explanation; Chizkuni ibid; Daas Zekeinim ibid

[17] Rashi ibid; Toras Kohanim 1/1-7

[18] Maharam Vayikra 1/1; Baal Haturim ibid

[19] Keli Yakar ibid

[20] Keli Yakra 1/1

[21] Keli Yakra 1/1

[22] Migaleh Aukos 1/1

[23] Rashi ibid; Toras Kohanim 1/1-7 and 2/1

[24] Rashi ibid; Toras Kohanim 2/10-11

[25] Rashi ibid; Toras Kohanim 2/12 following the opinion of Rebbe Akiva

[26] Seforno ibid

[27] Ramban Pekudei 40b

[28] Chazal, as brought in Ramban ibid; Seforno ibid

[29] Toras Kohanim Acharei 1/6; Ramban ibid; Even Ezra ibid

[30] Seforno ibid

[31] Rashi ibid

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