I study the Torah every year using the teaching tools of Scripture. (Why?)
Today is the 23rd Sabbath of the annual Torah cycle: parashah (Torah portion) Vayikra / And he called, Lev 1:1-6:7. Read Lev 1:1-6:7 at Bible Gateway.
(The chapter and verse numberings can sometimes be different in Hebrew Bibles than in the English translations commonly available in book stores, which most of us use. In the Hebrew Bible, the parashah ends with Lev 5:26. In English Bibles, Lev 5 ends with verse 19, and the content of the Hebrew Lev 5:20-26 is contained in Lev 6:1-7. So I have adjusted the chapter and verse numbers accordingly.)
Here is my outline for this week’s parashah:
Lev 1:1-13 p The Law of the whole burnt offering (olah) of the herd or flock
Lev 1:1-9 s The law of the whole burnt offering (olah) of the herd
Lev 1:10-13 p The law of the whole burnt offering (olah) of the flock
Lev 1:14-2:16 p The law of the whole burnt offering (olah) of the birds + law of the grain offering (minchah)
Lev 1:14-17 s The law of the whole burnt offering (olah) of the birds
Lev 2:1-3 s The law of the grain offering (minchah) of flour
Lev 2:4 s The law of the grain offering (minchah) of unleavened cakes
Lev 2:5-6 s The law of the grain offering (minchah) of unleavened bread
Lev 2:7-13 s The law of the grain offering (minchah) of unleavened porridge
Lev 2:14-16 p The law of the grain offering (minchah) of firstfruits
Lev 3:1-5 p The law of the peace offering (shelem) of the herd
Lev 3:6-11 p The law of the peace offering (shelem) of the flock
Lev 3:12-17 p The law of the peace offering (shelem) of the goats
Lev 4:1-12 p The law of the sin offering (chattath) of the herd, when the priest sins unintentionally
Lev 4:13-21 p The law of the sin offering (chattath) of the herd, when the congregation sins unintentionally
Lev 4:22-26 p The law of the sin offering (chattath) of the goats, a male without blemish, when a ruler sins unintentionally
Lev 4:27-31 p The law of the sin offering (chattath) of the goats, a female without blemish, when a common person sins unintentionally
Lev 4:32-35 p The law of the sin offering (chattath) of the lambs, a female without blemish, when a common person sins unintentionally
Lev 5:1-16 p The law of the trespass offering (asham) re: ignorance
Lev 5:1-10 s The law of the trespass offering (asham) of blood
Lev 5:11-13 s The law of the trespass offering (asham) of grain
Lev 5:14-16 p The law of the trespass offering (asham) of the ram re: holy things
Lev 5:17-19 p The law of the trespass offering (asham) of the ram re: ignorance reiterated
Lev 6:1-7 p The law of the trespass offering (asham) of the ram re: knowledge
Study the Further Reading section for more on the different types of offerings introduced in this parashah, and their purposes. This parashah does form a chiastic structure, but in order to see it, we have to solve a puzzle first. Here is the puzzle:
Going through the outline, and noticing the strong and weak paragraph divisions, we first see that there are a greater number of strong paragraphs than we are used to seeing in a parashah. In fact, every different type of offering not only concludes with a strong paragraph division, but some of the different types of offerings are divided into multiple strong paragraphs (for example, the Law of the Sin Offering is made up of no less than five strong paragraphs together).
But there is a break in this pattern. Breaks in pattern are a teaching tool of Scripture! The break occurs in Lev 1:14-2:16. The paragraph begins with a weak paragraph describing the Law of the Whole Burnt Offering of Birds. Then following it are several weak paragraphs describing the Law of the Grain Offering. Then, the strong paragraph concludes with the strong paragraph from Lev 2:14-16, the final paragraph in the Law of the Grain Offering.
The paragraph divisions are forcing the Law of the Whole Burnt Offering of Birds to be coupled with the Law of the Grain Offering, for some reason. This is my theory as to why this is so:
The Whole Burnt Offering is a voluntary offering offered by the worshiper who is in right relationship with God. In other words, there is not a sin or a trespass standing between them, separating them. The Law of the Whole Burnt Offering does not end with the end of the first strong paragraph of Lev 1:1-13, however, because in the next paragraph (Lev 1:14-17) the law continues with the explanation of the Law of the Whole Burnt Offering for birds. Why is this separate from the Law in Lev 1:1-13?
Because, usually it was the well off who had flocks and herds. What was a poor man to do? He might be in right relationship, and he might also want to draw near to God by bringing an offering, but what if he did not possess flocks or herds from which to bring an offering? He was not excluded. He could bring a whole burnt offering of birds.
But what if he was too poor, even for birds? He was not excluded, he could bring a grain offering. Now we humans tend to look at the monetary value of something offered to the Lord, and be impressed. So if a man brought a bull for a whole burnt offering, we would think, “Wow, there goes a righteous and upright man.” And feel all warm and fuzzy inside with admiration for him.
But the Lord doesn’t think like us, aren’t you glad? Over and over again, the Torah says that the grain offering is the most holy of the offerings made by fire to Him. We tend to look down on a man, when the best he can do is a grain offering. But the Lord considers it most holy, and so should we.
Jesus put it this way:
Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury. And many who were rich put in much. Then one poor widow came and threw in two mites,which make a quadrans. So He called His disciples to Himself and said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood.” Mar 12:41-44
So I believe that the Law of the Grain Offering is coupled with the Law of the Whole Burnt Offering of Birds, because it is meant to be in the same class as the voluntary burnt offerings, only they are the offerings which the poor and very poor would bring, whereas the offerings described in Lev 1:1-13 are the offerings the well to do would bring. So, the chiastic structure:
1a) Lev 1:1-2:16, The law of the voluntary burnt offering;
1b) Lev 3:1-16a, The law of the voluntary peace offering;
central axis) Lev 3:16b-17, You shall eat neither fat nor blood;
2b) Lev 4:1-35, The law of the mandatory sin offering;
2a) Lev 5:1-6:7, The law of the mandatory trespass offering.
The central axis is the prohibition against eating fat or blood: animal fat as found in meat; not animal fat found in dairy. (Bunny trail: besides the obvious creepiness of vampires, the central axis lets us know that the whole teen obsession with them is demonic and to be shunned: vampires eat blood).
For further reading:
lev 1-2, qorban: offering which gathers home
lev 3-4, olah, minchah, shelem, and chattath: burnt, grain, peace, and sin offerings
lev 5-6, asham: trespass offering