Chapter Eleven

What is a Nice Jewish Serving Wench
Doing in a Place Like This?


Reading the Text by its Structure

Having now identified the overall literary form of the chapter, we must plan a strategy for reading the text according to its structure. I think that first I should explain what I mean by “reading the text according to its structure” and why I think this is a good thing to do. In Talmudic parlance we might now say “l’mah hadavar domeh,” what is a suitable analogy to help make the point. Let us say that the text is like a house. We can look at a house as an articulated pile of bricks, or as a series of living spaces. I would then argue that the normal linear reading sees our text as a pile of bricks, be they ever so well articulated. On the other hand, reading the text according to its structure will enable us to find the kitchen, open the fridge, and eat the goodies before the three bears get home. More prosaically, we want to determine what message is conveyed through the structure. At this point I think I don’t have to demonstrate that the structure is far too complex to be just a vehicle to systemize a legal code.

The Focus Within the Focus: Row 2

In chapter three we found that similar material is arranged symmetrically around line 2. This arrangement creates a framework that places the second line at the focus of Leviticus 19. In chapter one I mentioned “focal point symmetry” as one of the underlying principles of organization in the Torah and referred to two aspects of this symmetry in the text. One related to the structure of the encampment around the tabernacle as a focus. The other has Leviticus at the center of the Torah. We began the analysis of Leviticus from the center, with the text representing the ark. Now that we see that this text itself has a focus, row 2, it seems appropriate that we begin our detailed analysis there. It provides an excellent example of reading a text by its structure. Moreover, the analysis will enable us to understand why the Midrash (Rabbinic commentary) associates the “watering stone,” the source of creation, with this specific segment of the text. It is not only at the center of the Torah, it also contains within its structure the creative process.

Table 15: The Central Pericope


Olam: Objects


Nefesh: Person


Shanah: Time


You shall not let your cattle breed with a different kind


If a man lies carnally with a woman who is a slave, betrothed to another man and not yet ransomed or given her freedom, an inquiry shall be held. They shall not be put to death, because she was not free


When you come into the land and plant all kinds of trees for food, then you shall count their fruit as forbidden; three years it shall be forbidden to you, it must not be eaten


you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed


but he shall bring a guilt offering for himself to the Lord, to the door of the tent of meeting, a ram for a guilt offering.

[22] And the priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of the guilt offering before the Lord for his sin which he has committed


And in the fourth year all their fruit shall be holy, an offering of praise to the Lord


nor shall there come upon you a garment of cloth made of two kinds of stuff


and the sin which he has committed shall be forgiven him


But in the fifth year you may eat of their fruit, that they may yield more richly for you: I am the Lord your God

First Impression: Chaos

The focal row is composed of three seemingly unrelated subjects: L, mixing types, M, intercourse with a promised handmaiden, and R, first fruits. At first sight the most striking characteristic of this trio is the very fact that they are grouped together. Why have three so divergent subjects been marked by the text as a unit with a single “I am the Lord” closure? If I hadn’t worked so hard to get to this point, I might be tempted to throw in the towel and admit that I made a mistake insisting that these were supposed to be read as a piece. After all, it looks like the Torah has, as it were, violated its own prohibition against connecting dissimilar types. Here we are, according to my thesis, looking directly at the very heart of the Torah. And what do we see? Chaos! There is even more disorder here than just the appearance of three totally unrelated subjects within a single pericope.

As different as the first fruits are from the prohibited combinations, they are much more similar to each other than either of them is to the saga of the man who sins with a promised handmaiden. Both of the extremes, L and R, are connected with agriculture. Both of them consist solely of imperatives written in the second person. All of column M is in the third person, written not as laws, but almost as an anecdote. So not only do we have a problem with different “kinds” being mixed within the pericope, we also seem to have a problem with the order in which they appear. Since the agricultural commandments are much more similar to each other than either is to the promised slave incident, they should be presented one after the other. Instead, the handmaiden shows up where she has no business being.

The Approach

We are looking at one of the most fundamental problems of Biblical hermeneutics. What do you do when the text seems to be unreasonable? Do you deduce that our edition is corrupt, that some scribe along the way was careless? Alternatively, do you take for granted that the text is coherent and conclude that it is impossible for mere mortal man to fathom divine wisdom? I don’t have a simple answer for all the cases. What I can do though is demonstrate in the case before us how I deal with the problem. The method I employ has helped me crack a few hard nuts. I start with a conviction that the text has something to say and that if I listen very carefully I should be able to hear it. I also take seriously the teachings of my fathers that the text contains deep wisdom. From my own experience I have learned that a “true” reading not only integrates diverse parts, but also contains an element within it that testifies to its authenticity. I have chosen to emphasize at this point the way that structure of the text can shed light on its meaning, so I will begin my reading with a closer look at what we can expect to learn from the structure.

Second Impression: Micro-Macro

We have determined that in Leviticus 19 the pericopes defined by the “I am the Lord” closure are textual units. Our challenge now is to understand in what way or ways the central pericope is a coherent unit rather than a collection of diverse laws lacking internal order, as it appeared from our first impression. The very fact that it appears to be a collection tells us something about the way to read it. As a collection it presupposes a rule or rules according to which the members of the collection were chosen and arranged. These rules of arrangement form a super-text. It is this aspect of a “super-text” or “meta-text” that makes it possible for an author to create a text within a text. So this is the most natural place in the text to look for additional meaning.

The first rule of the pericope is that it is composed of triads of two different orders. It is a perfect micro-macro text. Each of its three sections (L, M, R) is itself divided into three parts (A, B, C). This observation immediately presents us with more information than we have in a linear reading. Instead of just the three subject triads of each column, we have four. The whole, which is itself a triad, resembles each of its tripartite divisions. This observation is consistent with our expectations concerning a super-text. The fourth triad, the set of the three columns, is itself a clear element of “super-text.” It is totally invisible in the normal linear verse-by-verse reading. It is the product of analyzing the structure and the basis for determining the rule of the pericope. The fact that there are two orders of triads presents us with a new direction for analyzing the pericope. By studying the way the three parts of each column create a unified whole within the column, we may be able to learn the rule that connects the three subjects of the pericope. With that in mind, let’s look into the organization of the triads in each of the columns.


The first column, L, is the hardest to understand. In what sense is wearing a garment of mixed fibers (LC) like the cross breeding of unlike species (LA) or sowing a field with multiple varieties (LB)? Certainly weaving is a purely human artifice, totally unconnected with reproduction. In this case there can be no doubt that the text is forcing us to deal with its concept of “mixtures”, because it uses this same Hebrew term for all three cases, keylaim, improper combinations. Three different types of actions are classified together because of a simile captured in a single word. The Torah utilizes a pure concept, a word, keylaim, to group the laws.[1] The rule of the triad as a collection is linguistic. Now that we have identified the basis for grouping the commandments together we have to determine whether or not the order is significant. The three prohibitions relate respectively to animals, plants, and clothing. A single rule can be seen in this ordering, animation. The commandments are ordered on the basis of the degree of animation in the object of each commandment. We have now identified two rules of organization within the column, the rule of the class of prohibitions, improper combinations, and the rule of internal ordering, animation.

A Caveat

Before we continue with the analysis, I want to offer a caveat. We are trying to derive information from extremely small sets of givens, triads. It is highly speculative, to say the least, to identify a class or category by way of three exemplars. While it is true that three points define a plane, literary analysis is not mathematics. We have no way of knowing whether or not our conclusions reflect the best of all possible readings. While the laws of column L are indeed organized by degree of animation, there is no way to demonstrate, at least at this point, that this information is significant. Perhaps someone else will come up with a reading in which the number of words or letters in each law is significant. I personally use two tests to determine whether the information I derive from a reading is significant. Is it interesting and does it integrate?

The matter of interest is of course totally subjective. I check to see whether there is something in it that attracts me, lights a light, turns me on. The fact that the order of the laws can be seen to demonstrate a rule of animation is fascinating. It indicates to me that the Torah is aware of natural classification. The test of integration is more objective. Does the reading enable us to link otherwise disparate facts? It is clear that the Torah classifies the three different laws as keylaim. Linguistic links of this sort are quite convincing. Still, it would seem to be of limited significance. The test will be whether this is the category that enables us to link column L to the rest of the pericope. What we do have now is a second structural similarity between the three sets.

Ordered Sets

We began by noting that the three sections of the pericope are all composed of three elements. Observing the rule of animation in L enables us to see a second similarity. All three sets are ordered internally. Column R is obviously ordered chronologically: A, the first three years; B, the fourth year; C, the fifth year. The middle column is similar to R in this respect. Its parts are also ordered in time. One action follows the other: A, sin; B, repentance; C, forgiveness. We now have a new basis for comparing the three columns: the principles of order within each of them. New doors are opening as we continue to explore the inner structure of the text. The fact that all three columns contain ordered sets is more evidence of the relationship between structure and content. Before we make a more detailed comparison of the columns, let’s look at another implication of the three columns being ordered sets.

We have already noted a formal macro-micro relationship between the whole pericope, which contains three sections, and each of the three part sections. Now that we have confirmed that each of the sections, L, M, R, is an ordered triad, we have a basis to look for a similar relationship between the sections of the pericope. The whole of the pericope is much like column L because it contains three ostensibly unrelated subjects. Since we have positively identified the existence of a linguistic link between the parts of L, we know now that the Torah does use figurative connections. This insight leads to the next step of the analysis. Each of the three columns begins with a similar act: A, “breed”; B, “lies carnally”; C, “plant.” Although these three actions are different, they share a kernel of similarity, much as the three elements of column L. This information is of the sort that I earlier described as “lights a light”, also known as the “aha” stage.


All three columns begin with an act of generation. The more closely we observe the details of the columns, the clearer the picture that appears. In LA no actual engendering takes place. It is forbidden. The next column begins with intercourse, MA. In the third column, planting is just a preliminary. The actual subject is the first fruits. The macro text of the three columns is in fact an ordered set, just like the micro text triads. At first, in L, we are presented with potential breeding and sowing of seeds. However, since the mixtures are forbidden, they exist only as potential, seeds. This is followed by actual sowing, intercourse, in M, and finally, harvesting the first fruits of planting in R. The order is “realization” or increase, L, seeds; M, sowing; R, harvesting. This reading is a major breakthrough. Now we have hard evidence that the pericope is a conceptual unit. Even more important in the larger picture, we have convincing evidence that there is indeed a super-text, one that is totally inaccessible without an understanding of the structure. It is a meta-legal text in the form of an extended simile that uses the individual laws to paint a picture. We will see that once the “big picture” is grasped, each of the laws takes on new meaning and reveals the details of the inner text. This is precisely the reason that we are examining the structure of the Torah, in order to integrate its parts in a coherent blueprint that will help us discover the function of each of the parts in creating the whole. Let’s look now at the implications of what we have learned so far.

The Conceptual Middle

Our first impression of the pericope was that it is chaotic, lacking both a unifying theme and clear order between its parts. We saw the placement of the saga of the promised handmaiden as especially problematic. It seemed more “logical” that all the laws dealing with agriculture, L and R, should come together rather than being separated by the narrative in M. Once we have seen that the three parts of the pericope form an ordered triad, we can appreciate the rhetoric of the Torah. The middle differs in kind from the extremes by its very nature. The promised handmaid seemed out of place because of our expectations, not because of an inconsistency within the Torah. I will expand on this point after we examine some more of the details of the pericope.

I mentioned earlier that a “true” reading of the Torah often contains within it an element that testifies to its authenticity. Our reading of the pericope as an ordered triad painting a picture of “generation” is such a case. As soon as we see that the pericope has a conceptual middle according to the theme of generation, it becomes apparent that it contains other themes that are organized according to the same principle. The themes are themselves “threads” that tie the parts of the pericope together. One of these threads is found by considering the legal format of each of the columns. All the mixtures of the first section, L, are strictly forbidden. Planting trees, in the third column, is a positive commandment and the fruit of the fifth year is the source of the blessing of plenty. In the center, between the negative of L and the positive of R, falls the shadow, the gray area. Intercourse with the promised slave is neither condoned nor fully punishable. The middle column is a conceptual middle. It includes the sense of “forbidden” in its first element, A, like all of column L; and like column R it includes a positive commandment, the sin offering.

So we have two totally different rules of order superimposed on each other in the two threads we have seen, the theme of generation, and the legal rule of forbidden-required. One of them, the generation theme, is meta-legal. It paints a “grand picture” of generation that can lead the reader to fascinating realms of speculation, as we will see. And yet, almost as if to contain the speculative flights concerning the metaphorical aspect of the text, it is anchored by the legal framework of forbidden-required, which itself forms an ordered triad using exactly the same three columns as the generation theme. In other words, the spirit of the law, the broad reading which animates the text, is inexorably intertwined with the letter of the law, the literal details of the text.[2] What they have in common, in our example, are the characteristics of an ordered triad with a conceptual middle. It terms of generation the conceptual middle is the act that defines the line between potential and realized. In the legal reading the conceptual middle comes between forbidden and required.

Three Realms

At this point something significant has happened to our perception of the text. Rather than seeing it as a chaotic collection, we see that it contains multiple themes that integrate the parts in different ways using a single principle of organization, the conceptual middle. Let’s return now to the point where we identified the process of generation and examine more closely just how this theme leads us to new understandings. The three stages, seeds, planting, and harvest, each depend on different parts of their respective columns. Only the first two laws in L, breeding and planting, speak directly of reproduction. The last, mixing “two kinds of stuff,” does not belong to this category. Only element A in column M, “lies carnally,” has any thing to do with the generation theme. Finally, while all three elements of R do speak of fruit, they also contain another constant theme, time. In other words, describing the subject of the pericope as “generation” is only partially true. It does tie together the columns in a logical manner, but it fails to explain all the details if the pericope. The legal theme of “forbidden-required” is also only a partial description. I want to describe now a third thread that encompasses characteristics of all nine separate elements.

We can see the third thread by looking at the types of elements, A-C, in each column. In the first section there are three clearly different prohibitions against mixing varieties of (A) animals, (B) plants and (C) fabrics. The second unit contains three related interactions: (A) sin with the slave, (B) atonement through the priest, and (C) forgiveness from God. The third section distinguishes between three consecutive blocks of time: (A) the first to third years, (B) the fourth, and (C) the fifth. So the three triads point to three different realms: discrete (classes of) objects, (L); interactions, (M); and time or process, (R). Our experience with the first two threads should help us integrate these realms.

The Conceptual Middle as a Hermeneutic Tool

We noted that both our previous readings, the picture of generation and the legal ordering, contained conceptual middles. The middle integrated the opposite aspects of the extremities: potential and realized, forbidden and obligatory. These observations lead us to look for a way of reading the realms of the third thread so as to grasp the extremes as opposites. Once we do, we can test the reading by seeing whether the middle (column M) is a conceptual middle, whether it integrates the opposites. Looking again at column L we can note that the triple use of kelaim, non-mixing, serves to emphasize a concept such as separate, discrete or unique, as the conceptual basis of the column. Therefore, we can expect the subject of R to be the opposite of discrete. The subject we found in the third column, time or process, can be understood to indicate a continuum. That would make the opposites “discrete” and “continuous.”

We can now employ the rule of the conceptual middle to test this pair of opposites. We need only ask, in what way does the story of the promised handmaid combine the concepts “discrete” and “continuous”? The answer is found in our initial perplexity concerning the semi-narrative format of M that seemed so out of place compared with the simple imperatives of the adjacent columns. Three discrete actions, sin, repentance, and forgiveness, create a process akin to the continuum of time in column R. A single character, the sinner, moving through three different scenes, provides the continuity of the actions. The narrative style in M is inextricably connected with it being a conceptual middle. As a “story” it has chronological continuity, like column R, while dividing into three discrete “scenes” like column L. What then is the subject of the whole pericope according to the reading that emphasizes the narrative aspect of the middle? It would appear to be something like “action.”

Action has two components, the moving object, and the measure of movement, time. According to this reading column L indicates discrete objects, and R time. The middle integrates the two extremes in its narrative. This reading has the advantage of integrating other characteristics of the pericope. We noted earlier that column L is ordered according to a rule of animation. This subject fits in very well with the over-view “action.” We could even go so far as to say that this theme also explains why the generation theme exits in this pericope. Perhaps we are seeing a representation of a Freudian variation of Aristotle’s explanation of motion: objects are set in motion by a desire to generate. As I have cautioned, it is very tempting to speculate about the meaning of the pericope. In fact, I am beginning to think that the literary structure we are unraveling actually invokes the reader’s creativity. Once the reader has recognized the complex beauty of the text, it is virtually impossible for him not to invent theories about its meaning. This personal involvement serves to animate the text for the reader and turn it into a “tree of life.”

One and Many

I want to offer one more thread to use in weaving an interpretation of the pericope. It is based on the distinction between the verb forms used in columns L and R, a distinction that unfortunately is lost in the English translation. All the verbs in L are in the singular while all those in R are in the plural. The prohibitions of L are addressed to an individual while the obligations of R are addressed to a collective. This distinction between an individual and society as a whole may be another aspect of the distinction between discrete and continuous. Continuity is connected with society, not with the individual. This clarifies the introduction to RA: “When you come into the land.” It indicates an historical perspective applicable to the group rather than an individual. Reading the polarity of L and R as “individual and society” provides an excellent framework for the central column.

The narrative of column M depicts the tension between the desires of an individual and the accepted social norms. Our hero has a one-night fling with a saucy serving wench. (This is where I get in the sex for a best seller.) He cannot have any serious intentions because she is both a slave and promised to another man if and when she is released. The text goes out of its way to emphasize that this is a one-off event by the language it chooses to use. The word that we have been translating “promised,” nechrefet, appears nowhere else in the Torah. Also bikoret, translated “an inquiry” has no clear parallel in the Torah. This unique event is described in unique language. There is no crime of adultery here, since a slave cannot actually be engaged[3]. Yet even though they cannot be punished for adultery, a public hearing is held in order to make known societies disapproval. Even though this brief affair between consenting adults is not, properly speaking, a crime, it is also not socially acceptable. If the offending individual cannot achieve retribution for his offense to society through punishment, what channels are left open to him? He must turn from his private individualistic passions, to a renewed identification with social norms. He demonstrates his identification with the common weal by presenting himself at the central social institution, the Tabernacle, with his guilt offering in hand. A public official, the priest, accepts the offering and effects the sinner’s atonement before God. After he has participated in the ritual of atonement, he is forgiven and returns to the fold. The individual of column L and the group of column R have made peace.

The Middle is the Focus

We have read the pericope in several different ways and have by no means exhausted its possibilities. I want to take a break now from reading the text in order to consolidate some of the ideas that have cropped up in passing. As different as the readings are, they all have certain characteristics in common. These characteristics are part of the structure of the text, specifically, the ordered triad with its conceptual center. The order of the parts of an ordered triad differs from the order of argumentation. In conversation we would first present a pair of opposites and then the concept that unites them. In abstract terms this can be described as the “thesis, antithesis, synthesis” pattern. This is in fact the method we have just devised for reading the triads of the Torah: compare the opposites and extract them from the middle. The conceptual middle is understood last. However, the Torah is not written with the conceptual middle as the last term. As we have seen, the Torah utilizes a “thesis, synthesis, antithesis” pattern.

The two patterns can be characterized as aural and visual. The aural pattern, the pattern of speech, can be processed by the mind as it is heard. The visual pattern, the one that places the middle in the middle, must be deconstructed to make it understandable. We have to compare the extreme elements and identify them as poles before we can understand the middle element as a conceptual middle. The principle of organization we are speaking about, the conceptual middle, bears an intriguing resemblance to the arrangement of the camps around the holy center, and the arrangement of the Torah around Leviticus. The conceptual middle is apparently just a specific case of a more fundamental rule. What I described as “the visual pattern” of ordered triads seems to be another aspect of focal symmetry. The symmetrical arrangement of agricultural laws around the narrative of the promised slave is no different in kind from the arrangement of the historical narrative of the Torah around the core of Tabernacle material.

If the conceptual middle is an aspect of focal symmetry, what does that imply? The most obvious implication is that the plan of the Torah is consistent. It uses the same rule of organization both on the macro level of the five books of the Pentateuch as well as on the micro level of the smallest coherent structures, a single pericope. From the perspective of the reader, it means that she must constantly be aware that the text uses visual orientation. This does not present a problem when reading historical narrative because the time line is also visual- the middle is in the middle. However, it can be critical when trying to understand the logic behind other parts of the text, as we are seeing in the laws of Leviticus 19. Another possible implication of the relationship between focal symmetry and the conceptual middle is that the middle is the focus.

In order to understand what we might gain from seeing the conceptual middle as the focus, let’s consider once again what we found in our ordered triad. We determined that the central element derived its significance from combining the adjacent elements. This relationship can be understood in two ways. We could say that we are simply describing a more or less mechanical device used to create an ordered set, or we could say that it implies a conceptual precedence between the elements. Let’s follow the latter line of reasoning. The fact that we saw the middle as a derivative of the extremes seems to imply that the extremes have primary importance and the middle only a secondary significance. This view is based on the order of reason that establishes the synthesis at the end of the process of analysis. The text, however, places the conceptual middle, the synthesis, at the center. This could imply that it is also “central,” takes precedence, conceptually. Let see how this might work in the macro structure. For example, take the triad “second part of Exodus, Leviticus, first part of Numbers.” The divine service is in Leviticus. This is the conceptual center, the point of origin. The significance of the surrounding material is a derivative of the focus. Practically speaking, if there is going to be s divine service (Leviticus), a tabernacle must be built (Exodus) and maintained (Numbers). There are two different principles intertwined here, conceptual precedence, and chronological precedence. The central element, the service, has conceptual precedence. The other elements are there to serve it. Chronological precedence exists between the extremes- the Tabernacle must be built before it needs to be maintained. How does this principle apply to the promised handmaiden?

The man who appears in column M is the focus of the whole pericope is a “real” man, subject to temptation and regret, impulsive, a man of action. As “man” he lives in a bipolar reality. It is composed of both monads and a continuum. These are categories that find expression in many different bipolar arrangements such as: individual and society, event and history, etc. Human life is defined within the tensions of these bipolar experiences. The text exemplifies this tension through the narrative of the central column and clarifies it by separating the poles into the adjacent columns. Human experience, the narrative, takes place between the poles. The extremities exist in a “pure” form outside of the narrative, as derivatives of experience. Focusing on the central element provides an existential reading of the text. We begin with the “human situation,” the tension between individual desires and social/religious expectations. The tension is enunciated in the adjacent columns, uniqueness or “selfness” in L, and the fruits of social continuity in R. And so, we have yet another reading of the pericope, an existential reading focused on human experience. The advantage of this reading is that it is consistent with the focal symmetry of the macro text. We will return to this point in the following chapters.

Seeing the Tree in the Seed

Let’s step back a bit now to have a better view of the picture. We are looking into the very heart of the Torah. We have achieved this privileged position by following an intricate series of textual clues that opened invisible doors with magical keys. At the same time we avoided the stumbling blocks placed in the text for the incautious. Here at the core we find an exquisite miniature. The overall theme of this mini-text is reproduction, or the life force, or creation. The central character is an individual torn between his appetites and his desire to live at peace with his community. At absolute center point of the central unit of text, in MB, we find: “he shall bring a guilt offering for himself to the Lord, to the door of the tent of meeting, a ram for a guilt offering. And the priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of the guilt offering before the Lord for his sin which he has committed.” Exactly at the focal point of Leviticus, without any apparent connection to the immediate surrounding material, we see an individual bring a sacrifice to a priest at the Tabernacle. Isn’t this awfully reminiscent of Blake’s “see the universe in a grain of sand”? The absolutely indivisible, atomic, center point of Leviticus contains the image of the whole! Within the heart of the pericope that presents a picture of generation lies the seed that grows into the book. This is the link to the Rabbi’s “watering stone,” the central point from which all flows out.

A Mystical Link

It is not impossible that the secrets of the esoteric text were seen as the secrets of creation itself. This theory can be supported by evidence in what is generally accepted as the oldest extent work of Jewish mysticism, Sefer Yitzirah, “A Handbook of Creation.” The third chapter of Sefer Yitzirah describes a tripartite division of reality. Its terms are Shanah, time; Nefesh, spirit; and Olam, space, or the physical world. This is similar to the picture of creation divided between heaven (time) and earth (the physical world) with man (spirit) in the middle bridging the gap between heaven and earth.[4] We have no problem identifying the central column of our pericope with Nefesh. The text of Sefer Yitzirah specifically refers to Nefesh as “male and female.” This, in fact, explains a difficulty we spotted in the text earlier. The central column seemed out of place referring to human reproduction while the left and right columns had only non-human elements. This then is consistent with Sefer Yitzerah’s categories, having Nefesh (spirit) in the middle between the realms of time or process (Shanah) and physical objects, Olam. Within our text, the word “year,” mentioned in the context of the first fruits, is precisely the Hebrew term used by Sefer Yitzerah, Shanah. We thus have two of Yitzerah’s categories absolutely identified with two parts of our triad. The third realm, Olam, is the world of physical objects. It seems appropriate to identify the section on inappropriate mixtures with Olam, the world of separate individualized objects. And so the text at the very heart of the Torah is consistent with Sefer Yitzerah’s tripartite reality. Our text, again like Yitzerah, links the three realms in a single process, reproduction. In Sefer Yitzerah the unifying process is divine creation.[5] The esoteric Torah focuses on the process of creation, the life force. Column L signifies potential and R realization. Man, in the center, is the agent for the realization of the potential in creation. The esoteric rhetoric of the Torah places man, M, at the center of the process of creation, at the crux between the One (uniqueness in L) and the many (the blessing of plenty in R.) Man stands between the trees of life on the left and knowledge on the right[6].

Addendum 1: A Useful Tool

There is a simple figure to be derived from the textual triad that will prove extremely useful in visualizing the esoteric structure of the Torah, especially Leviticus. We noted an apparent inconsistency in the three-part process of reproduction that has agriculture to the right and left of human intercourse. It seemed to create a mixed metaphor. We can see a similar mixed figure in the three-part structure of our chapter. Rows 1 and 3 are inextricably linked and similar to each other. The triad of row 2 separates them. Going beyond the limits of our chapter, we can note the same figure connecting chapters 18-20. The primary subject of both chapters 18 and 20 is forbidden intercourse. Chapter 19 separates them, just as row two within chapter 19 separates rows 1 and 3, and human intercourse in the center of row 2 separates agricultural elements. If we take the central element of row two, the promised slave, and view its triad also as having a “focus,” we come up with the following focal structure for chapters 18-20.   


  1. Chapter 18: forbidden relations

    1. Row 1 chapter19

                                                               i.      2L Forbidden mixtures

1.      2MA Sin

a.       2MB Repentance

2.      2MC Forgiveness

                                                             ii.      2R First fruit

    1. Row 3 chapter 19

  1. Chapter 20: punishments for forbidden relations


Essentially, this format is identical to the “focal point symmetry” of chapter one, where we compared the structure of the camp to the structure of the book. We began the analysis from the outside in, from the overall structure of the Torah, to the structure of its central book. We are now looking from the inside out, from the focal point to what is positioned before and after it. On the micro level we have seen that the center point is conceptually balanced. Repentance stands between sin and forgiveness. We have also seen that the whole triad of 2M collapses into a conceptual middle between 2L and 2R. That is to say, not only is 2M made up of a symmetrically constructed conceptual triad, but taken as a whole, it is the middle of a higher level triad of identical construction. This arrangement could be termed “hermeneutic Russian dolls.” It immediately leads us to look for the next doll: is line 2 a conceptual middle between lines 1 and 3? On the next level, is chapter 19 a conceptual middle between 18 and 20? How many dolls are there? How many levels of order can we describe with the same figure?

Addendum 2: Theoretical Implications

The pericope has three levels of order. The first level is made up of the nine individual “atomic” laws or events, the units marked A-C in the columns. The second level consists of the three triads of the columns. The third level is the triad of triads, the pericope read as a whole. The third level and the second level share at least one characteristic. They are both composed of ordered sets, specifically, ordered triads. It would appear that the text is trying to tell us something about ordered triads. It has shown us five examples: the three columns, the triad of triads, and the three levels of order. The last example, the levels of order, can even be represented mathematically: “the individual element (1) stands in the same ratio to the column (3) as the column (3) stands to the whole (9).” By examining this last statement we can see one of the essential characteristics if the ordered triad. While the numbers 1 and 9 appear only once, the number 3 appears twice. That is to say, the middle element of the triad differs significantly from the extremes in that it is a compound and they are simple. The middle has two characteristics vis-à-vis the other elements, while the extremes have but one. Taking column R as an example, we can see how this principle works in a chronologically ordered triad. The first block of time, A, comes before the other two. The last block, C, comes after the previous two. The middle, B, combines these aspects of A and C. It comes after A and before C. So B actually differs in kind from A and C because, as a middle element, it is complex, combining characteristics of the extremes, “beforeness” from A and “afterness” from C.


[1] Three similar activities are prohibited in Deuteronomy 22:9-12. The key word “keylaim” appears only once there.

[2] I am aware that I am using “spirit of the law” in a new sense. I am using it to refer to the inner meaning of the text that we are just beginning to discover, the meaning derived by integrating the diverse laws. Just as we speak of the human spirit within the physical body, so too can we speak of the spirit of the Torah within the law, the conceptual framework that animates the law.

[3] The Torah considers an engaged woman as similar to a married woman for the laws of adultery.

[4] Trinitarians might read “Heaven” as the aspect of the creator, the “World” as the aspect of the creature and “Spirit” as the means of communication between them.

[5] It would appear that the traditional argument between kabbalists regarding the relationship between His substance and attributes might lie at the source of the divergence between Jew and Trinitarian.

[6] At this point the fact that English and Hebrew are written in different directions becomes significant. According to the kabalistic senses of right and left, the tree of life is on the right and the tree of knowledge on the left. In the Hebrew table there is a correspondence the kabalistic senses of right and left and the position of the text. In Left to right languages it is reversed- the left is on the right and the right is on the left. I don’t think that this is connected to the French revolution.