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The Chiastic Structure of Parashath Emor

May 7, 2014

Rabbi Yonatan Grossman (no known relation) notes the unusual positioning of the commandments mentioned at the end of parashath Emor. Levticus 24:1-4 reiterates, almost verbatim, the commandment to light the Sanctuary menorah given in Exodus 27:20-21, and Leviticus 24:5-9 reiterates the commandment to arrange the showbread, although in more detail than the original commandment in Exodus 25:30. His answer is beautiful, but I would like to offer my own simpler answer.

Discovering the symmetry and chiastic structures of the parashiyoth is just one of the many ways to discovery the beauty and wisdom in the Torah. While such “redundant” passages may “prove” to some that the “final editor” of the text did not do such a good job at weaving together source materials, when one takes a second look, the symmetry demonstrates the deliberateness and wisdom in the repetition. This parasha is no exception, as Emor (Leviticus 21) begins with the rules that apply uniquely to the kohanim, thus making them holier than the rest of the Israelites. Note the term repeatedly employed throughout chapter 21 to refer to the sacrifices: lehem elohaw, literally “his God’s bread,” which is usually rare. This corresponds to the commandment to arrange the showbread, which apparently was allowed to be produced by any Israelites, not just kohanim. (Israelites were allowed to perform actions related to the Sanctuary that were not specifically made the charge of the kohanim (see Laws of Entering the Temple 9)) The parasha proceeds with the laws unique to the kohen gadol, which sanctify him even more than the ordinary priests. This corresponds with the commandment to light the menorah, something which elsewhere (Exodus 27:20-21 and Numbers 8:1-3) is directly associated with Aaron’s office, and the first mention of which, in Exodus 27 mentioned above, being the first pronouncement in the Torah that Aaron and his sons were to be the priests. (According to the view that the commandment to build the Tabernacle was given before the Sin of the Golden Calf, like the text seems to indicate, one wonders how Moses reacted to the incidental and surprising notification that his brother and nephews had been chosen to serve in God’s abode.) Note also that as a matter of halacha, any Jew may light the menorah as long as it is brought out to a part of the courtyard where he is allowed to enter. (Entering the Temple, 9:7) Thus, Emor has a beautiful chiastic structure created by the inclusion of these commandments:

I. The kohanim alone are consecrated (by additional commandments) for the offering of God’s bread in the the Sanctuary.

II. The high priest is sanctified even more so by being given even more specific commandments.

III. On the Jewish holidays, all Israelites, priests and laymen alike, are bidden to make pilgrimages to the Sanctuary and offer personal sacrifices.

IV. The commandment to light the menorah, although something specifically associated with the high priest, may technically be done by any Jew.

V. The commandment to offer God’s bread, although something specifically associated with the priests, can technically be done by any Jew.


From → original, parasha

One Comment
  1. … and, noting such structure is the best way to shut document theorists up.

    After all, how could a redactor who kept a light enough hand on the text to enable teasing them out again afterward also be the editor who wove together the texts in a way that produces large-scale structure spanning multiple alleged sources texts?

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