Abarbanel’s introduction to Leviticus based on Abravanel’s World of Torah by Zev Bar Eitan
“And God called unto Moses, and spoke unto him out of the Tent of
Meeting. Speak unto the Children of Israel, and say unto them: When
any man of you brings an offering unto God, you shall bring your offering
of the cattle, even of the herd or of the flock.”
In the Book of Leviticus (Vayikra), Abravanel lays out his lengthiest introduction of any of the Torah’s five Books
of Moses. (Interestingly, some books have no prefatory remarks whatsoever.) Naturally, this presents a
blogger, who is intent to keep blogs short, with a pickle. Our solution is to present below a sampling or
taste of this important prolegomenon.
Genesis (Bereshit) of the divine Torah tells about the creation of the world ex nihilo. Readers also learn
about the roots of mankind and the first generations. We also read about the lives of the saintly Jewish
patriarchs, culminating with Jacob and his family descending into Egypt.
In the Book of Exodus (Shemot) the Torah conveys how Egyptians manhandled the Hebrews, against a
backdrop of exile and enslavement. Centuries of misery concluded with God’s redemption of His chosen
ones, Moses and Aaron playing lead roles. Miracles a many accompanied the Jews in Egypt and at the
Red Sea. The desert trek, too, played a venue to wonders.
And then came Sinai. There the entire nation experienced full-blown prophecy. From the mouth of the
Maker, they received the Torah and commandments. Folly followed; the people sinned egregiously
when they fashioned a calf of gold. How was catharsis achieved?
When the Hebrews built the Tabernacle, to house the mystical Shechinah(the presence of God) and spread divine providence
in their midst, Heaven’s cloud swathed the encampment. Specifically, the cloud covered the Tent; God’s
glory permeated the Tabernacle.
This brings us to the Torah’s third book – the Book of Leviticus (Vayikra). It explains the service of the
Tabernacle. We learn how the priests or Kohanim served the Creator, service that helped the Holy
People achieve atonement for their sins. For the Kohanim’s part, they dedicated their lives to plumb the
depths of the Torah, Jewish Law, and the divine six hundred and thirteen commandments. Moreover,
the Kohanim taught their brethren good conduct. These pious mentors showed the Jews to walk in
God’s ways, the path to upright character and deed, per the verse: “For the priest’s lips should keep
knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts.” On
topic, Scripture records: “And you shall come unto the priests the Levites, and unto the judge that shall
be in those days. And you shall inquire, and they shall declare unto you the sentence of judgment.” Here
is another description of the role of the priests: “They shall teach Jacob Your ordinances, and Israel Your
Now we turn to another topic in the introduction to Leviticus: sacrifices (korbonot). The Torah is
explicit regarding animal sacrifices in the Tabernacle. However, for modern readers, sacrifices have
become a closed book. Too many centuries of non-performance of the holy service have taken their toll.
With the destruction of the holy Temples in Jerusalem, the Hebrews’ glory and magnificence has faded.
The Rambam, a classic Biblical and Oral Law expositor, writes as much.
Further contributing to why we have a spotty understanding of sacrifices has to do with the Torah’s
treatment of the multifaceted subject. In a word, it is all over the place. For instance, one aspect is
mentioned in Exodus. Another source may be traced to Numbers, where more than ten separate
sections on sacrifices are interspersed. And, of course, sacrifices will be spoken about in Leviticus.
Hence, the need for our prolegomenon. We will not introduce novel ideas. Instead, our steady course
will follow the Scripture’s treatment of the subject, as well as the authentic Oral Law. The Rambam’s far-
reaching eye, too, will be our guide. Our task, then, will be to gather disparate sources, and properly
As stated, we provide only a thumbnail sketch of the original version of Abravanel’s introduction.
Interested readers are encouraged to read the full introduction in Vayikra volume I: The Meat of the
Matter. In it, readers shall gain a solid grasp on animal sacrifices, an important Biblical topic that has
become, tragically, arcane.