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Vayikra (parsha)

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Vayikra, VaYikra, Va-yikra, or Vayyiqra (ויקרא — Hebrew for "and He called,” the first word in the parshah) is the 24th weekly Torah portion (parshah) in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading and the first in the book of Leviticus. It constitutes Leviticus 1:1–5:26. Jews in the Diaspora read it the 23rd or 24th Sabbath after Simchat Torah, generally in March or early April.

Sacrifice of the Old Covenant Rubens

The Sacrifice of the Old Covenant (painting by Peter Paul Rubens)


Bull Oostvaardersplassen 2
Male goat
Turtle dove

God called to Moses from the Tabernacle and told him the laws of the sacrifices (korbanot). (Lev. 1:1.)

  • Burnt offerings ('olah) could be bulls, rams or male goats, or turtle doves or pigeons, which the priest burned completely on wood on the altar. (Lev. 1:3–17.)
  • Meal offerings (minchah) were of choice flour with oil, from which priest would remove a token portion to burn on the altar, and the remainder the priests could eat. (Lev. 2:1–10.) Meal offerings could not contain leaven or honey, and had to be seasoned with salt. (Lev. 2:11–13.) Meal offerings of first fruits had to be new ears parched with fire, grits of the fresh grain. (Lev. 2:14.)
  • Sacrifices of well-being (shelamim) could be male or a female cattle, sheep, or goats, from which the priest would dash the blood on the sides of the altar and burn the fat around the entrails, the kidneys, and the protuberance on the liver on the altar. (Lev. 3:1–16.)
  • Sin offerings (chattat) for unwitting sin by the High Priest or the community required sacrificing a bull, sprinkling its blood in the Tent of Meeting, burning on the altar the fat around the entrails, the kidneys, and the protuberance on the liver, and burning the rest of the bull on an ash heap outside the camp. (Lev. 4:1–21.) Guilt offerings for unwitting sin by a chieftain required sacrificing a male goat, putting some of its blood on the horns of the altar, and burning its fat. (Lev. 4:22–26.) Guilt offerings for unwitting sin by a lay person required sacrificing a female goat, putting some of its blood on the horns of the altar, and burning its fat. (Lev. 4:27–31.)
  • Sin offerings were required for cases when a person:
    • was able to testify but did not give information,
    • touched any unclean thing,
    • touched human uncleanness, or
    • uttered an oath and forgot. (Lev. 5:1–4.)
In such cases, the person had to confess and sacrifice a female sheep or goat; or if he could not afford a sheep, two turtledoves or two pigeons; or if he could not afford the birds, choice flour without oil. (Lev. 5:5–13.)
  • Guilt offerings ('asham) were required when a person was unwittingly remiss about any sacred thing. (Lev. 5:14–15.) In such cases, the person had to sacrifice a ram and make restitution plus 20 percent to the priest. (Lev. 5:16.) Similarly, guilt offerings were required when a person dealt deceitfully in the matter of a deposit or a pledge, through robbery, by fraud, or by finding something lost and lying about it. (Lev. 5:20–22.) In such cases, the person had to sacrifice a ram and make restitution plus 20 percent to the victim. (Lev. 5:22–26.)

In classical rabbinic interpretation

Leviticus chapter 1

Rav Assi said that young children began their Torah studies with Leviticus and not with Genesis because young children are pure, and the sacrifices explained in Leviticus are pure, so the pure studied the pure. (Leviticus Rabbah 7:3.)

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai taught that, generally speaking, the Torah required a burnt offering only as expiation for sinful meditation of the heart. (Leviticus Rabbah 7:3.) And a midrash taught that if people repent, it is accounted as if they had gone up to Jerusalem, built the Temple and the altars, and offered all the sacrifices ordained in the Torah. (Leviticus Rabbah 7:2.) And Rabbi Aha said in the name of Rabbi Hanina ben Pappa that God accounts studying the sacrifices as equal to offering them. (Leviticus Rabbah 7:3.)

Schnorr von Carolsfeld Bibel in Bildern 1860 019

sacrifices (illustration by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld)

The Sifra cited Leviticus 1:1 along with Exodus 3:4 for the proposition that whenever God spoke to Moses, God first called out to him. (Sifra 1:1.) And the Sifra deduced from God’s calling “to him” in Leviticus 1:1 that God meant to speak to Moses alone, to the exclusion of even Aaron. Rabbi Judah ben Betera noted that God spoke to Moses and Aaron together in 13 passages, and to Moses alone in 13 passages, teaching that in these latter passages, Moses was then to inform Aaron. And Rabbi Jose the Galilean deduced from the use of “at the tent of meeting” in Leviticus 1:1 that every time that God spoke to Moses at the tent of meeting, God spoke to Moses alone, to the exclusion of Aaron. (Sifra 2:1.) Rabbi Tanchum ben Chanilai found in God’s calling to Moses alone in Leviticus 1:1 proof that a burden that is too heavy for 600,000 — hearing the voice of God (see Deut. 5:22) — can nonetheless be light for one. (Leviticus Rabbah 1:1, 4.) And the Sifra also deduced from Leviticus 1:1 that God’s voice, perhaps because it was subdued, resonated only within the tent itself. (Sifra 2:2.)

Rabbi Tanchuma said in the name of Rabbi Joshua ben Korchah that Leviticus 1:1 demonstrated that out of the 10 different names that Scripture applied to Moses, God always addressed Moses by his given name. (Leviticus Rabbah 1:3.)

The Mishnah deduced from Leviticus 1:3 that the offerer only effected atonement if the offerer brought the offering voluntarily, but if the offerer pledged to bring a burnt offering, the Mishnah taught that they compelled the offerer to state that the offering was voluntary. The Rabbis in a Baraita read the words “he shall offer it” in Leviticus 1:3 to teach that the congregation needed to compel the offerer to fulfill the offerer’s obligation. (Mishnah Arakhin 5:6; Babylonian Talmud Arakhin 21a.)

The Gemara interpreted the requirement of Leviticus 1:5 that the priest “dash the blood round about against the altar” to teach that the priest threw the blood against two opposing corners of the altar, thus hitting all four sides of the altar and satisfying the requirement to dash the altar “round about.” (Babylonian Talmud Zevachim 53b.)

The Mishnah taught that the priest’s obligation in Leviticus 1:9 to offer the fats and other sacrificial pieces persisted until dawn. (Mishnah Berakhot 1:1; Babylonian Talmud Berakhot 2a.)

The Sifra deduced from Leviticus 1:10 that God occasionally began freestanding statements to Moses so as to allow Moses a pause to collect his thoughts. The Sifra generalized from this example that it was all the more appropriate for ordinary people to speak deliberately in conversation with other people. (Sifra 1:3.)

Tractate Zevachim in the Mishnah, Tosefta, and Talmud interpreted the law of animal sacrifices in Leviticus 1–5. (Mishnah Zevachim 1:1–14:10; Tosefta Zevachim 1:1–13:20; Babylonian Talmud Zevachim 2a–120b.)

Leviticus chapter 2

Tractate Menachot in the Mishnah, Tosefta, and Talmud interpreted the law of meal offerings in Leviticus 2. (Mishnah Menachot 1:1–13:11; Tosefta Menachot 1:1–13:23; Babylonian Talmud Menachot 2a–110a.)


the altar of the tabernacle (illustration from Philip Y. Pendleton. Standard Eclectic Commentary. Cincinnati: Standard Publishing Co., 1901.)

Leviticus chapter 3

The Gemara deduced from the words “And if his offering be a sacrifice of peace-offerings” in Leviticus 3:1 that for an offering to be effective, one needed to slaughter the sacrifice for the sake of its being a peace-offering. (Babylonian Talmud Zevachim 4a.)

Rabbi Simeon interpreted the term “peace-offering” (שְׁלָמִים, shelamim) in Leviticus 3:1 and after to indicate that a person could bring the offering only when “whole” (שָׁלֵם, shalem), and thus not when one was in the first stage of mourning after the death of a close relative. (Babylonian Talmud Zevachim 99b.)

Interpreting the words “And he shall . . . kill it at the door of the tent of meeting” in Leviticus 3:2, Rab Judah deduced in the name of Samuel that the priest had to kill the sacrifice when the gate was open, not when the gate was closed, and thus that peace-offerings slain before the doors of the Temple were opened were invalid. (Babylonian Talmud Yoma 62b.)

The Mishnah taught that because the peace-offering was a sacrifice of lesser sanctity, it could be slain in any part of the Temple court. (Mishnah Zevachim 5:7.) The Rabbis taught in a Baraita that the Mishnah’s rule could be derived from the words “And he shall . . . kill it at the door of the tent of meeting” in Leviticus 3:2, “And he shall . . . kill it before the tent of meeting” in Leviticus 3:8, and “And he shall . . . kill it before the tent of meeting” in Leviticus 3:13. The three verses taken together taught that all sides of the Temple court were fit for performing sacrifices of lesser sanctity. (Babylonian Talmud Zevachim 55a.)

The Gemara deduced from the words “And the priest shall make it smoke” in Leviticus 3:11 that the priest must not mix portions of one sacrifice with those of another. And the Gemara cited a Baraita to interpret the words “And the priest shall make them smoke” Leviticus 3:16 to teach that the priest had to burn all the sacrificed parts of an offering at the same time. (Babylonian Talmud Pesachim 64b.)

Leviticus chapter 4

Tractate Horayot in the Mishnah, Tosefta, Jerusalem Talmud, and Babylonian Talmud interpreted the laws of the High Priest’s bull in Leviticus 4:1–12, the bull for a communal error in Leviticus 4:13–21, the ruler’s goat in Leviticus 4:22–26, and the sin offerings in Leviticus 4:27–5:12, and 5:17–19. (Mishnah Horayot 1:1–3:8; Tosefta Horayot 1:1–2:13; Jerusalem Talmud Horayot 1a–; Babylonian Talmud Horayot 2a–14a.)

The Rabbis interpreted the words, “If any one shall sin through error,” in Leviticus 4:2 to apply to inadvertent transgressions. (Babylonian Talmud Yoma 36b.)

Leviticus chapter 5

Tractates Nedarim and Shevuot in the Mishnah, Tosefta, Jerusalem Talmud, and Babylonian Talmud interpreted the laws of vows in Exodus 20:7, Leviticus 5:1–10 and 19:12, Numbers 30:2–17, and Deuteronomy 23:24. (Mishnah Nedarim 1:1–11:12; Tosefta Nedarim 1:1–7:8; Jerusalem Talmud Nedarim 1a–; Babylonian Talmud Nedarim 2a–91b; Mishnah Shevuot 1:1–8:6; Tosefta Shevuot 1:1–6:7; Jerusalem Talmud Shevuot 1a–; Babylonian Talmud Shevuot 2a–49b.)


According to Sefer ha-Chinuch, there are 11 positive and 5 negative commandments in the parshah:

  • To carry out the procedure of the burnt offering as prescribed in the Torah (Lev. 1:3.)
  • To bring meal offerings as prescribed in the Torah (Lev. 2:1.)
  • Not to burn honey or yeast on the altar (Lev. 2:11.)
  • Not to omit the salt from sacrifices (Lev. 2:13.)
  • To salt all sacrifices (Lev. 2:13.)
  • The Sanhedrin must bring an offering when it rules in error. (Lev. 4:13.)
  • To bring a sin offering for transgression (Lev. 4:27.)
  • Anybody who knows evidence must testify in court. (Lev. 5:1.)
  • To bring an offering of greater or lesser value (if the person is wealthy, an animal; if poor, a bird or meal offering) (Lev. 5:7-11.)
  • Not to decapitate a fowl brought as a sin offering (Lev. 5:8.)
  • Not to put oil on the meal offerings of wrongdoers (Lev. 5:11.)
  • Not to put frankincense on meal offerings (Num. 5:15.)
  • One who profaned property must repay what he profaned plus a fifth and bring a sacrifice. (Lev. 5:16.)
  • To bring an offering when uncertain of guilt (Lev. 5:17-18.)
  • To return the robbed object or its value (Lev. 5:23.)
  • To bring an offering when guilt is certain (Lev. 5:25.)

(See Sefer HaHinnuch: The Book of [Mitzvah] Education. Translated by Charles Wengrov, 2:3–73. Jerusalem: Feldheim Pub., 1984. ISBN 0-87306-296-5.)



Isaiah (painting by Michelangelo)

The haftarah for the parshah is Isaiah 43:21–44:23. Both the parshah and the haftarah address sacrifices to God. Both the parshah and the haftarah address burnt offerings ('olah) (Lev. 1:3–4, 6, 9–10 13–14, 17; 3:5; 4:7, 10, 18, 24–25, 29–30, 33–34; 5:7, 10; Is. 43:23), meal offerings (minchah) (Lev. 2:3, 5–11, 13–15; 5:13; Is. 43:23), frankincense (levonah) (Lev. 2:1-2, 15–16; 5:11; Is. 43:23), and witnesses (ed or eday). (Lev. 5:1; Is. 44:8.)

On Shabbat Rosh Chodesh

When the parshah coincides with Shabbat Rosh Chodesh (as it does in 2012 and 2015), the haftarah is Isaiah 66:1–24.

File:Gustave dore morte Agag.jpg

On Shabbat Zachor

When the parshah coincides with Shabbat Zachor (the special Sabbath immediately preceding Purim — as it does in 2016), the haftarah is:

On Shabbat Zachor, the Sabbath just before Purim, Jews read Deuteronomy 25:17–19, which instructs Jews: “Remember (zachor) what Amalek did” in attacking the Israelites. (Deut. 25:17.) The haftarah for Shabbat Zachor, 1Samuel 15:2–34 or 1–34, describes Saul’s encounter with Amalek and Saul’s and Samuel’s tretament of the Amalekite king Agag. Purim, in turn, commemorates the story of Esther and the Jewish people’s victory over Haman’s plan to kill the Jews, told in the Book of Esther. (Esther 1:1–10:3.) Esther 3:1 identifies Haman as an Agagite, and thus a descendant of Amalek. Numbers 24:7 identifies the Agagites with the Amalekites. Alternatively, a Midrash tells the story that between King Agag’s capture by Saul and his killing by Samuel, Agag fathered a child, from whom Haman in turn descended. (Seder Eliyahu Rabbah ch. 20; Targum Sheni to Esther 4:13.)

The Weekly Maqam

In the Weekly Maqam, Sephardi Jews each week base the songs of the services on the content of that week's parshah. For parshah Vayikra, Sephardi Jews apply Maqam Rast, the maqam that shows a beginning or an initiation of something. In this case it is appropriate because Jews are initiating the Book of Leviticus.

Further reading

The parshah has parallels or is discussed in these classical sources:




Early nonrabbinic



Classical rabbinic

  • Mishnah: Berakhot 1:1; Shekalim 6:6; Nedarim 1:1–11:12; Bava Kamma 9:7; Sanhedrin 4:5; Shevuot 1:1–8:6; Horayot 1:1–3:8; Zevachim 1:1–14:10; Menachot 1:1–13:11; Chullin 1:4, 7:1; Arakhin 5:6; Keritot 1:2, 2:4, 4:3, 6:6–9; Parah 1:4. Land of Israel, circa 200 C.E. Reprinted in, e.g., The Mishnah: A New Translation. Translated by Jacob Neusner, 3, 261, 406–30, 524, 591, 616, 620–39, 689–766, 779, 817, 837, 839, 845, 849–50, 1014. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988. ISBN 0-300-05022-4.
  • Tosefta: Peah 3:8; Demai 2:7; Challah 2:7; Bikkurim 2:1; Kippurim (Yoma) 1:5; Nedarim 1:1–7:8; Bava Kamma 7:5; Makkot 5:2–3; Shevuot 1:6–3:8; Horayot 1:1–2:13; Zevachim 1:1–13:20; Menachot 1:1–13:23; Chullin 9:14; Keritot 2:13–15. Land of Israel, circa 300 C.E. Reprinted in, e.g., The Tosefta: Translated from the Hebrew, with a New Introduction. Translated by Jacob Neusner, 1:65, 85, 339, 348, 542, 785–805; 2:987, 1214, 1219–44, 1295–1369, 1401–02, 1429–30, 1437, 1453, 1562–63 1563. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Pub., 2002. ISBN 1-56563-642-2.
  • Sifra 1:1–69:1. Land of Israel, 4th Century C.E. Reprinted in, e.g., Sifra: An Analytical Translation. Translated by Jacob Neusner, 1:65–345. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988. ISBN 1-55540-205-4.
  • Jerusalem Talmud: Berakhot 8a; Challah 7a, 8a, 33a; Nedarim 1a–; Shevuot 1a–; Horayot 1a–. Land of Israel, circa 400 C.E. Reprinted in, e.g., Talmud Yerushalmi. Edited by Chaim Malinowitz, Yisroel Simcha Schorr, and Mordechai Marcus, vols. 1, 11. Brooklyn: Mesorah Pubs., 2005–2009.
  • Leviticus Rabbah 1:1–7:1; 8:4; 10:3; 22:10. Land of Israel, 5th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., Midrash Rabbah: Leviticus. Translated by H. Freedman and Maurice Simon, 4:1–88, 90, 104, 124, 288. London: Soncino Press, 1939. ISBN 0-900689-38-2.
First page of the first tractate of the Talmud (Daf Beis of Maseches Brachos)


  • Babylonian Talmud: Berakhot 2a, 5a, 31b, 37b; Shabbat 2a–3a, 15a, 25a, 26b, 38a, 68b–69a, 70a, 71b, 103a, 108a; Eruvin 2a, 30b, 57a, 104a; Pesachim 16b, 32b–33a, 36a, 40a, 43b, 57b, 59a, 62a, 63b, 64b–65b, 66b, 73a, 77b, 83a, 89a, 96b; Yoma 4b–5a, 15b, 20a, 21b, 24a–b, 25b, 26b–27a, 36a–37a, 41a, 44a, 45a, 47a–48a, 50a, 53a, 56b–57b, 58b–59a, 62b, 67b–68b, 73a, 74a, 80a, 85b; Sukkah 30a, 48b, 49b, 56a; Beitzah 20a, 25a, 39a; Rosh Hashanah 5b–6a, 28a, 33a; Taanit 22b; Megillah 8a, 9b, 16a, 20b; Moed Katan 17b; Chagigah 2a, 6a–b, 7b, 10a–11a, 16b, 23b; Yevamot 8b–9a, 32b, 34a, 35b, 83b, 87b, 90a, 100a, 101b, 106a; Ketubot 5b, 30b, 42a–b, 45a, 60a, 106a; Nedarim 2a–91b; Nazir 9b, 23a, 24a, 25a, 27b–28a, 29a, 35a, 36a, 38a, 45a, 47b, 62b; Sotah 14a–15a, 23a, 32a, 33a, 37b, 44b, 46b; Gittin 28b, 71a, 74a; Kiddushin 14a, 24b, 36a–b, 37b, 44a, 50a, 52b–53a, 54b–55a, 57b, 81b; Bava Kamma 2a, 3b, 4b, 9b, 12b–13a, 20b, 40b, 56a, 63b, 65a–67a, 71a, 79b, 86b, 91b, 93a, 94b, 98a–b, 101a, 103a–06b, 108a–b, 110b–11a, 112a, 117b; Bava Metzia 3b, 36a, 43a–b, 48a, 54b–55b, 58a, 104a, 111a–b; Bava Batra 26b, 74b, 79a, 88b, 120b, 123b; Sanhedrin 2a, 3b–4b, 13b–14a, 18b, 30a, 34b, 37b, 42b, 47a, 52a, 61b–62a, 83a, 84a, 87a, 101a, 107a; Makkot 13a, 16a, 17a–19a; Shevuot 2a–49b; Avodah Zarah 24b, 29b, 42b, 44a; Horayot 2a–14a; Zevachim 2a–120b; Menachot 2a–110a; Chullin 2b, 5a–b, 11a, 13a–b, 17a, 19b–22b, 27a–b, 30b, 37a, 49a, 61a, 70b–71a, 85a, 90a, 93a, 117a, 123b, 132b, 133b; Bekhorot 15b, 41a–42a, 43b, 53b, 61a; Arakhin 2a, 4a, 17b–18a, 20b–21a; Temurah 2a–3b, 6a, 8a, 15a–b, 17b–18b, 19b–20a, 22a, 23b, 28a–29a, 32b; Keritot 2a, 3a, 4a–5a, 7a–b, 9a, 10b, 11b–12b, 18b–19b, 22a–b, 23b, 24b, 25b–28b; Meilah 2b, 8a–b, 9b–10a, 15a, 18a–b, 19b–20a; Tamid 28b, 29b, 31b; Niddah 28b, 41a, 70b. Babylonia, 6th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., Talmud Bavli. Edited by Yisroel Simcha Schorr, Chaim Malinowitz, and Mordechai Marcus, 72 vols. Brooklyn: Mesorah Pubs., 2006.
Rashi woodcut



  • Rashi. Commentary. Leviticus 1–5. Troyes, France, late 11th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., Rashi. The Torah: With Rashi’s Commentary Translated, Annotated, and Elucidated. Translated and annotated by Yisrael Isser Zvi Herczeg, 3:1–57. Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 1994. ISBN 0-89906-028-5.
  • Judah Halevi. Kuzari. 3:60. Toledo, Spain, 1130–1140. Reprinted in, e.g., Jehuda Halevi. Kuzari: An Argument for the Faith of Israel. Intro. by Henry Slonimsky, 184. New York: Schocken, 1964. ISBN 0-8052-0075-4.
  • Zohar 3:2a–26a. Spain, late 13th Century.
Thomas Hobbes (portrait)



External links

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