Rabbi Chaim Jachter has stressed in his Shiurim at TABC on Sefer Melachim that a good strategy to determine the theme of a Sefer of Tanach is to compare its beginning and end. Sefer VaYikra begins with a series of Korbanot that a person can offer to Hashem. A Korban should be viewed not as an animal that Hashem desires, but as a sacrifice of a person’s possessions to Hashem. This idea is stressed by Rashi (VaYikra 1:2 s.v. Adam), who explains that the Torah uses the word “Adam” in introducing Korbanot to hint that just as Adam did not bring Korbanot that he stole (since he owned everything), a person should not bring Korbanot that he or she stole. This idea is important to stress when introducing Korbanot, because stealing an animal to give to Hashem would defeat the purpose of the Korban: a person bringing a stolen Korban would not be sacrificing any of his or her possessions to Hashem. The idea of sacrifice is developed by other commentators, including the Talelei Orot, who explains that the Torah’s usage of the phrase, “Adam Ki Yakriv MiKem,” “A person who will bring from among you” (1:2), in introducing Korbanot, implies that a person must sacrifice from within himself when bringing a Korban. This is a reference to the famous idea articulated by the Ramban that a person must feel that he, not his animal, is being sacrificed on the Mizbeiach. Thus, Sefer VaYikra’s beginning stresses a person’s donation of his possessions and himself to Hashem. This is the exact theme of Sefer VaYikra’s ending (Perek 27), which describes a person’s ability to donate the value of himself, his animal, his house, or his field to the Beit HaMikdash. In fact, the very last topic in Sefer VaYikra is a Korban (27:32-33 – Ma’aseir Beheimah), paralleling Sefer VaYikra’s beginning with Korbanot.
Therefore, by comparing the beginning of VaYikra with its end, we see that the overall theme of Sefer VaYikra is a person’s ability to elevate himself and his possessions to a Godly purpose. In a word, this concept is known as Kedushah.
As a whole, Sefer VaYikra describes a progression in Kedushah. It begins with a person donating his possessions to Hashem as Korbanot (1:1-7:38). In order to make this possible, the Torah describes the inauguration of a national center of Kedushah, the Mishkan (8:1-10:20). The Torah then moves from the Kedushah of an individual’s possessions to the Kedushah of the individual himself. Sefer VaYikra describes several negative manifestations of Kedushah within an individual, including Kashrut (11:1-28), Tum’at Sheretz and Tum’at Neveilah (11:29-47), Tum’at Leidah (12:1-8), Tum’at Tzara’at (13:1-14:57), and Tum’at Zivah (15:1-33). The Torah then moves on to restrictions upon individuals which fall under the general heading of “Kedoshim Tihyu,” “You shall be holy” (19:2), including Arayot (Perakim 18 and 20) and the plethora of prohibitions in Perek 19. Having described the guidelines for the Kedushah of ordinary Jews, the Torah then sets guidelines for the Kedushah of the elite, specifically, the Kohanim (21:1-22:16). The Torah then moves from an individual to a communal level of Kedushah, i.e. national Kedushah. Hashem sets the guidelines for the national calendar (23:1-44) and the national economy (25:1-55), and describes the consequences of the Jewish society’s embracing Kedushah (26:3-13) or, Chas VeShalom, rejecting it (26:14-45).
However, this progression seems to move backward as Sefer VaYikra nears its close. Perek 27 opens with a person’s ability to donate his or her own value to the Beit HaMikdash. This is seemingly a regression from a societal Kedushah to an individual’s Kedushah. The Torah then describes a person’s ability to donate the value or his or her possessions to the Beit HaMikdash, a further regression in Kedushah. Why does Sefer VaYikra’s progression begin to move backward at this point?
To explain the juxtaposition of the Tochachah and Perek 27, Toledot Yitzchak (VaYikra 27:1-2,9-10,16,32-33) writes, “Any Jewish man who finds himself in distress (such as is described in the Tochachah) should repent, fast, pray, and promise donations to Hashem (such as is described in Perek 27)…especially when Bnei Yisrael are exiled in a land of enemies, each Jew should say, ‘I am redeeming myself – I am donating my value to the Beit HaMikdash.’” Toledot Yitzchak thus explains that donating the value of oneself to the Beit HaMikdash is appropriate after the events of the Tochachah take place.
Thus, while most of Sefer VaYikra describes a progression from a Kedushah of one’s possessions to a national Kedushah, the Tochachah describes the downfall of the society of Kedushah. The story, however, does not end there. Perek 27 teaches us that even after the lofty goals of Sefer VaYikra have disappeared and seem unattainable, we should not be discouraged. Rather, we should maintain whatever low levels of Kedushah we can, and start again by working on the Kedushah of our possessions and ourselves.
The ending of Perek 27 emphasizes exactly how we should start rebuilding our Kedushah. The Mitzvot discussed include Bechor (27:26-27), Ma’aseir Sheini (27:30-31), and Ma’aseir Beheimah (27:32-33). All of these Mitzvot describe the Kedushah of one select part of a whole – Kedushat Bechor applies to one animal in every family, while Kedushat Ma’aseir applies to one-tenth of one’s produce or animals. The Torah is highlighting that we should not strive to restore societal Kedushah all at once; rather, we should concentrate on small parts in order to eventually attain the whole. Furthermore, it is noteworthy that the Mishnah (Bechorot 9:7) disqualifies Ma’aseir Beheimah which is separated from the flock by simply choosing one-tenth of the animals. The Mishnah requires the farmer to count his sheep individually and designate every tenth as Ma’aseir. Thus, the ending Mitzvah of Sefer VaYikra emphasizes that building Kedushah must take place in a slow, methodical, step-by-step fashion, and we see that the path to perfection is not always as conveniently quick as we would like.