Rabbi Moshe Pinchuk
Former Rosh Kollel (Melbourne, 1998-2001)
Currently Head of the Beit Midrash in Netanya College
Genesis and Exodus read as a continuous story, beginning with the Creation, slowly twisting their way through the Forefathers down into Egypt and up again into redemption. Numbers and Deutoronomy pick up the thread of narrative once more, leading us through four decades of desert life and bringing us to the threshold of the Promised land. Between these two units lies Leviticus, a labyrinth of Ritual and temple legalities violently disrupting the flow of Pentatuach narrative. An explanation regarding the location of Leviticus within the Pentatuach is thus in order. The Medrash describing Leviticus as top of the list in ancient school cirriculum is yet another expression of this problem.
A solution can perhaps be offered if we ask a hypothetical question – What would have happened had the Sin of the Spies not occurred? Genesis and Exodus would have remained untouched, of Numbers only the first ten chapters would have remained, the remainder would never have occurred and of course the need for Deutoronomy would have been obviated. In this description Leviticus is no longer in the center of the Pentatuach but in its proper location as an appendix at the end of the narrative.
In a parenthetical remark it is of interest to note that Leviticus is approximately 400 verses short of the average size of the books of the Pentatuach. Appending the first ten chapters of Numbers to (the beginning of) Leviticus would have enlarged Leviticus to the average size.
The Tragedy and Sin of the Spies, however, did take place, thus adding four decades of desert life and two books to the Pentatuach. Suddenly, Leviticus is out of place, two books now follow in its wake. Leviticus now interrupts the narrative, a silent scar and remnant to the tragedy of the Spies and to what could have been.
A carefull scrutiny of Leviticus can reveal remnants of its original location as the last and final book of the Pentatuach:
This week’s portion, Behar describes the obligation of Shemitah, this is curious and out of context in relation to the prevalent subject material of Leviticus. Seforno explains its location here at the end of Leviticus:
“Moses mentions this subject (shemita) here, because he thought they were to immediately enter the land, as is demonstrated in his statement, ‘we are now traveling to the place’. He warned us regarding the Shemita in particular for its violation will be punished by expulsion from the land”.
The closing verse of Leviticus sounds like a very appropriate way to end the Pentatuach: “These are the commands that Hashem commanded Moses to the Children of Israel at Mount Sinai”. Indeed the Medrash Halacha offers commentary in this spirit:
“These are the commands” – A prophet may not add anything new to this corpus. “that Hashem commanded Moses” – the messenger is worthy of his mission. “To the children of Israel” – the messenger is worthy of his nation and the nation of the messenger.