If we follow the overall structure of Sefer Vayikra from start to finish, it appears to be ‘absolutely perfect.’ The first parshiot refer to Torat Yisrael, the next to Kedushat Am Yisrael, and we end with Eretz Yisrael. And at the climax of the sefer – Parashat Bechukotai – we conclude our stay at Mount Sinai with a covenant of Berachot (blessings) and Kelalot (curses) that confirm the eternal relationship between the people of Israel and the Almighty.
Indeed, we would have totally accepted our parasha ending with Vayikra, 26:46:
These are the statutes and the judgments and the Torot, which the Lord made between Himself and the Children of Israel on Mount Sinai by the hand of Moshe.
Yet this is not the end of Sefer Vayikra! We enter a final chapter – Chapter 27 –dealing with the possibility of offering free-will gifts to the Mishkan. Here we have an explanation of exactly what the procedure is when an individual feels it necessary or simply wishes to present an object or its value to the Mishkan. The person does this in order to express his special affiliation to the Sanctuary. The Torah does not demand these endowments or gifts; they are the tangible outcome of one’s feelings and wishes.
The sefer does then conclude in Verse 34 with the words:
These are the commandments which the Lord commanded Moshe for the Children of Israel on Mount Sinai.
Although this last parasha is important, we are nevertheless intrigued by its positioning. Nothing seems more apt than to conclude the sefer with the binding covenant between the people and God as described in Chapter 26; a fitting conclusion to the entire Matan Torah process. Why is it so crucial to end with Chapter 27? Why could these free-will gifts not appear either in the middle of Sefer Vayikra or indeed elsewhere in the Torah?
The Kli Yakar says this parasha was juxtaposed to the parasha of the Kelalot in order to show that the people will often initiate extra acts of servitude in times of trouble, just like their father Ya’akov:
And Ya’akov vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and clothing to wear, so that I come back to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God: and this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God’s house: and all that you shall give me I will surely give the tenth to you. (Bereishit, 28:20-22)
Ya’akov turns to Hashem and asks for protection. He promises to show his gratitude to the Almighty if and when he returns safely from his self-imposed exile. Similarly, when Am Yisrael are under pressure and surrounded by danger, when they are perhaps faced by the realization of the Kelalot, they will turn to Hashem and vow allegiance through voluntary offerings to the Mishkan.
The Kli Yakar qualifies this. He says the par between the behavior of the people and their patriarch Ya’akov remains enormous. Yes, we do often turn to God in times of trouble, but Ya’akov did not limit his relationship with the Almighty to periods of stress and worry. He vowed and prayed even when things were going well:
So Ya’akov came to Luz, which is in the land of Cana’an – that is, Bet-El – he and all the people with him. And he built an altar there, and called the place ‘El-bet-El’ because God appeared to him there when he fled from the face of his brother.
Ya’akov knows who to turn to in times of trouble, and knows who to thank for his good fortune. Am Yisrael often knows to pray for deliverance but as soon as the danger has passed they almost invariably return to their bad ways, forgetting the Almighty’s rescue and sometimes even reserving the credit for themselves.
Achiya HaShiloni compares Am Yisrael to a reed. The reed only bends when the wind blows, but as soon as the wind calms it raises its head once again. Similarly, Am Yisrael turn to the Almighty at times of trouble, yet as soon as peace returns, they return to their regressive spiritual state.
And so this chapter is juxtaposed to the Kelalot because it describes the required response in the event of transgression and consequent punishment – initiating Avodat Hashem and giving of ourselves to the Mishkan. We also need to constantly remind ourselves that this approach is insufficient. If our relationship with Hashem is limited to floods and snowstorms, we have missed the point. We should be in dialogue with the Almighty whatever the weather.
We could possibly add another encouraging element to the Kli Yakar’s comments.
Having read Chapter 26, we may well become disheartened by the long list of dire consequences awaiting us if we fail to adhere to Derech Hashem. Chapter 27 tells us that however bad the situation, however much we may deserve the Kelalot, we will always be able to initiate reconciliation. Chapter 27 reminds us of our long-term covenant, and the sefer ends on that high note. Our brit with the Almighty is eternal and unconditional. Things may well go wrong, but we have the ability to make them right.
Rashi makes a similar comment at the beginning of Parashat Nitzavim. The previous parasha – Ki Tavo – also lists the terrible curses the sinning people will suffer for their actions. However, Nitzavim begins with the words: “You are standing here today,” i.e. despite your transgressions, your covenant with the Almighty is eternal and we should always be aware that God will never leave his people. Am Yisrael has not always been totally righteous but we still stand here today!
Rav Hirsch takes a very different approach to the Kli Yakar. He says:
It is extremely significant that this chapter, dealing with gifts for the Mikdash, is quite clearly positioned as a supplementary concluding chapter. It definitely does not belong to ‘the statutes and the judgments and the Torot’ referred to at the end of Chapter 26, which God set as the condition between Himself and the people of Israel. The fulfillment of these results in the whole abundance of blessing, and their non-fulfillment in the whole unspeakable misery depicted in the previous chapter. These laws concerning endowments and gifts to the Mishkan are strikingly distinct from them, and that tells us a significant fact.
The Jewish codex of priestly laws declares Temple endowments and gift vows as not being especially pious, God-pleasing acts. And it certainly does not ascribe them the slightest atonement value for leading a sinful life. The Jewish priesthood of the Mishkan does not view its task as gaining riches or possessions, but to gain souls and hearts; the lives of individuals and the nation in the fulfillment of statutes, judgments and Torot. Its members personify sanctification of morals and the life of the senses: justice, truth and correct dealings in social life; clarity of thought and ennoblement of the heart as the one and only way to join men to God and God to men.
On the one hand, Rav Hirsch accepts the generosity and nobility of endowment acts as described in Chapter 27, yet he is emphatic these acts were purposely left out of the official covenant. They do not reflect the fundamental essence that defines the eternal treaty between God and His people. They are perhaps frequently used as a convenient short-cut to Heaven but they do not represent the true relationship we are striving to develop. In the same way that gifts and endowments cannot create a solid base or the main thrust of long-term human relationships, we have to be extra careful in our service of God. We should not consider ourselves exempt from further time investment simply because we have ‘sent a check in the mail’!
Our covenant involves real time and effort in so many areas. We have to work on defining ourselves as human beings living in a world created for us (Bein Adam LeAtzmo), yet at the same time be unconditionally subservient to the Almighty (Bein Adam LeMakom) – Torat Yisrael. We have to toil in our human relationships (Bein Adam LeChaveiro) – Am Yisrael, and we have to make sacrifices in the sphere of Eretz Yisrael.
We should invest all our energies in these eternal values for they are the essence of our covenant with God. To spend the bulk of our lives in the pursuit of riches and possessions is to miss the point of life. Even if we offer large proportions of that wealth as gifts to the Mishkan. Yes, generosity is a noble value but it cannot – even for one moment – replace the true covenant we aspire to retain with the Creator of the Universe.
In conclusion, perhaps we can suggest a third possible reason for Chapter 27 being placed ‘outside of the covenant’:
A relationship is defined by many things. There are real obligations, and partners can also go above and beyond those obligations. Indeed, we are often encouraged to go that extra mile. In Parashat Kedoshim we refer to the words of the Ramban, who said we should see the Torah as a way of life and not a book of laws. Perhaps the Torah is balancing out that theme here with an important warning. It is indisputably important to go beyond the letter of the law; however, before one begins doing things they are not obliged to do, they should first be sure they are doing what they are meant to be doing properly!
Let us first ensure we are walking in the ways of God, as the Torah tells us to. Let us be sure our covenant with Hashem is being fulfilled to the hilt. Once we have established that; once Chapter 26 is confirmed, then and only then can we begin to add or initiate in our service of the Lord. Then we can proceed to Chapter 27.
How true! We are often excited and driven by a certain activity that is not a mitzvah per se, while we neglect the real mitzvot. Jews are ready to go to war over a custom, but everyone in the room is wearing the Torah-prohibited Sha’atnez!
This juxtaposition clarifies our earlier comments in Parashat Kedoshim. We are aiming to nurture our relationship with Hashem beyond simple do’s and don’ts. We are looking for a vibrant, energizing Torah-based life. Yet there has to be order in our behavior. We must first establish our covenant with Hashem – the covenant involving ‘the statutes and the judgments and the Torot,’ and only then do we add our ‘extracurricular’ activities. Our gifts and endowments are a crucial part of our service of God, but let us first do what we should be doing. If we do not appreciate this order of priorities, it reveals the true nature of our relationship with Hashem.
We live in a society of ‘chumrot’ (stringencies.) Maybe super-stringency is the surest sign of one’s dedication to God, and there is a lot to be said for being extra-careful in our Avodat Hashem. But to confuse chumrot with the 613 Mitzvot is a grave mistake.
So we come to the end of Sefer Vayikra. We are finally ready to leave Har Sinai – the world of theory – on our journey to Eretz Yisrael, the world of practice. We leave with an eternal covenant set in stone. Everything is ready. Am Yisrael has finally reached self-definition; we have Torat Hashem, a derech in life, and we even have the independence to initiate in our relationship with the Almighty, God of the Universe.
After the evolution of Am Yisrael and the acceptance of Torat Yisrael, we have one piece left in our jigsaw – Eretz Yisrael! And as we enter Sefer Bamidbar, the book of reality, we are just days away from completing our tri-fold dream – Am Yisrael al pi Torat Yisrael Be’Eretz Yisrael!
 Before leaving Eretz Yisrael for his extended exile with his uncle Lavan.
 Upon returning from his long exile, and in the aftermath of the events of Shechem. See Bereishit, 34.
 Ibid. 35:6, 7.
 It was on Shabbat morning that I was made aware of the terrible Friday night terrorist attack at a Tel Aviv disco. Over 20 teenagers were killed and hundreds wounded. Even though it is not our custom to supplicate on Shabbat, we know this restriction can be temporarily lifted in certain circumstances. I approached a well known Talmid Chacham and asked him if he thought we should say Tehillim at some stage during the Shabbat morning tefillot. His answer has remained with me ever since. Of course we could add special prayers in light of the devastation of the previous evening said the Rabbi, but saying Tehillim after a tragedy is not the ideal. The ideal is to be saying Tehillim all of the time. God is the only true address, 24/7! And from that day on, I say Tehillim every day.
 See Melachim 1, 14:15.
 See Rashi, Devarim, 29:12.