Photo Credit: Maggid Books

Title: Leviticus, a Parsha Companion
By: Rabbi David Fohrman
Maggid Books



For so many of us readers, the book of Vayikra poses the most difficulty of all the books in the Torah. Most of the text is detailed recounting of arcane, seemingly outdated sacrificial law. The few narratives are cryptic and the protagonists are tough to access. With the important exception of Parashat Kedoshim, which resonates much more easily with all of its mitzvot governing human relations, Vayikra’s focus on the ritual aspects of Torah often leaves the reader and shul-goer with “YEGO” phenomenon – your eyes glaze over.

Rabbi Fohrman may be best known for his innovative educational website, His most recent installment in his “hard copy” parsha series represents a welcome, user-friendly approach to making this rather impenetrable sefer accessible and meaningful. Using the exegetical tool he calls “intertextuality,” meaning, finding linguistic or thematic similarities between Leviticus and other books in the Torah, he draws parallels between the korbanot in the Beit HaMikdash and similar earlier narratives. For example, R. Fohrman suggests that three of the most common sacrifices – olah, shelamim, and chatat – each echo the story of Akedat Yitzchak, Yaakov and Lavan, and Cain and Abel, respectively. His approach invites the reader to imitate and learn from these prototypical stories to enrich and deepen his or her “awe of” Hashem.

Similarly, R. Fohrmann understands the laws of tzaraat against the backdrop of the most seminal of Jewish stories, the Exodus. Drawing careful textual analogies, complete with charts, he lays out the thesis that our freedom from Egyptian slavery although executed by G-d, is initiated by our participation in the Korban Pesach, and that the pattern of the trio of blood, wood and hyssop resonates again with the purification of the individual afflicted with metzorah. In both paradigms, there is an encounter with a certain kind of death and rebirth.

The author’s treatment of Yom Kippur is surprising. Rather than define the day in its more familiar sense, as a day of atonement, Rabbi Fohrman focuses on the language around the fact that Aharon’s sons die as a result of their sin at the beginning of the parsha. He suggests that this juxtaposition and the use of the word “kaparot” echoes the first time G-d appears to the people, at Har Sinai, and is better translated as “envelope,” that on Yom Kippur the Jewish people have the opportunity to become enveloped or covered with “an emanation of the Divine Presence.”

Regarding the interpersonal mitzvot in Parashat Kedoshim, R. Fohrman has a number of interesting observations; one, that they seem to exist in a form of a crescendo, climaxing with loving one’s neighbor as oneself; and two, that the section bears important parallels to the story of Cain and Abel. He makes a compelling argument, illustrated with examples, that the language of the mitzvot bein adam l’chavero resemble the narrative of that fraught killing and revenge.

Parashat Emor, with its summary of the Jewish holidays and an outline of their salient commandments, begins with Shabbat. Rabbi Fohrman points out in what he calls “a solar system of Sabbath-like events,” the other holidays appear to use Shabbat as their prototype and frame of reference. He is especially sensitive to repetitions and patterns of numbers, and points them out in both Parashat Emor, in connection to the holidays, and Bechukotai.

In a rather engaging and unexpected analysis, the author suggests that the process of bread-making by hand, complete with air-borne yeast, fermentation, and baking in the oven, reenacts G-d’s creation of human beings, bringing life into existence. Bread, and the domestication of wheat that enables it, corresponds with the agricultural revolution and what R. Fohrman describes as “the beginning of urban life.”

Language-oriented analysis also characterizes his treatment of the Jubilee year. He points out that the word “yovel” bears close resemblance to the three sons of Lemech, all the way back in Bereshit – Tuval-Kayin, Yuval and Yaval. Not only are the names close to one another, the brothers are the seventh generation of Cain, and their father asserts that if he will be avenged sevenfold. R. Fohrman speculates that their ancestor Cain’s murder of Abel brought this concept of vengeance into the world, and this vengeance doesn’t represent justice, but rather “an uneven…kind of equilibrium in the world, a period of calm enforced through the terror of intimidation.” Justice is meted by a judge, an ostensibly objective outsider to the details of a case, whereas vengeance is strong-arm execution of power. Cain has cast himself as a form of slave, who cannot maintain any permanent connection to land, just like the poor person who sells his land that is restored in the Yovel year.

These tools of parshanut, close reading of the text to uncover and create meaning, have characterized Chumash study since the days of midrash. Rabbi Fohrman continues the grand tradition of simply paying focused attention and seeing where the inquiry leads. “Leviticus – A Parsha Companion” challenges the reader to engage in this difficult, but authentic and rewarding perspective. I recommend it.


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Rachel Hershberg has taught at a variety of Israeli midrashot and writes on Jewish and cultural topics. She lives in Beit Shemesh with her family.