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The Unusual Conclusion of Leviticus

May 25, 2015

The book of Leviticus has a strangely anticlimactic ending. Chapter 24 describes the Sabbatical and Jubilee years and the various laws connected to them, and then chapter 25 has the horrifying terms of the covenant made between God and Israel at Sinai. The ultimate punishment, exile, is mentioned as the means of rectifying the wrong of the land not having rested its sabbaths, and the entire chapter concludes with:

And yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them, neither will I abhor them, to destroy them utterly, and to break My covenant with them; for I am the Lord their God. But I will for their sakes remember the covenant of their ancestors, whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God: I am the Lord. These are the statutes and ordinances and laws, which the Lord made between Him and the children of Israel on Mount Sinai by the hand of Moses.

But then, we have another chapter, which itself seems to be a continuation of the technical-legal teachings that characterized chapter 24. Most notably, the Sabbatical and Jubilee years are again mentioned as affecting this body of laws, and the chapter itself concludes with:

These are the commandments, which the Lord commanded Moses for the children of Israel on Mount Sinai.

For now, I would like to suggest that when viewed as whole, B’har-B’huqqothai/ chapters 24-26 make up one, united chiastic body, with the tochaha being the axis, and therefore the preceding and proceeding chapters have to have similar themes. Most importantly, it highlights the difference between the Land of Israel and the People of Israel: in chapter 24, we learn that God is the ultimate owner of the land, it shall not be sold in perpetuity, and it has no objective value. It can only be leased based on how many crops it is expected to produce before the next Jubilee. Its value is entirely subjective. On the other hand, the people of Israel also belong to God, they should not be sold as slaves, certainly not for perpetuity, and they have no subjective value. They can only have a “worth,” an erech, based on their objective ages, but we do not estimate how much work or production each individual is capable of. An erech is not the market value of a slave like once was throughout the ancient world. It is a unique matter to the Temple. Scripture thus describes how land in Israel is sold in  the way one would sell a slave, according to his expected productivity, while people are valued using the objective means that would normally be used to evaluate real estate. Thus, the last chapter of Leviticus is not out of place, but actually preserves the style and flow of the rest of the Torah.

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From → original, parasha

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