What follows is a rough translation of Abarbanel's introduction to Vayikra, the foreword (four chapters follow). Forest and trees.
"Since, in the first sefer of God's Torah, the Scriptures related the Creation of the World; its renewal; the branching out of the first generations; the matters of our holy forefathers until the descent of Yaakov and his children to Egypt;
and in the second sefer the Torah related that which the Egyptians dealt poorly with them in the exile and servitude; that Hashem redeemed them via Moshe and Aharon; the miracles performed for them in Egypt, upon the Sea, and in the wilderness until they came to Har Sinai; that there all of them reached the level of prophecy and received from the Almighty the Torah and Mitzvot; that they sinned there with the golden calf; how their iniquity was atoned for; that they constructed the Mishkan in order that the Divine Shechina and Upper Providence should reside amongst them, as they saw with their eyes on the day the Mishkan was constructed, that the cloud of Hashem covered the tent and the Glory of Hashem filled the Mishkan;
[therefore] the Torah needed to write after it this third sefer in order to explain it it the service of the Mikdash and how the kohanim serve their God and gain atonement for the sins the Israelites. And that they endeavor always to delve into and know the Torah of Hashem, its statutes, commandments, and laws, in order to keep the nation straight, to teach them the path in which to go, and the actions to take, as is said [Malachi 2:7]:
|ז כִּי-שִׂפְתֵי כֹהֵן יִשְׁמְרוּ-דַעַת, וְתוֹרָה יְבַקְשׁוּ מִפִּיהוּ: כִּי מַלְאַךְ ה-צְבָאוֹת, הוּא.||7 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.|
And it is stated [Devarim 17:9]:
|ט וּבָאתָ, אֶל-הַכֹּהֲנִים הַלְוִיִּם, וְאֶל-הַשֹּׁפֵט, אֲשֶׁר יִהְיֶה בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם; וְדָרַשְׁתָּ וְהִגִּידוּ לְךָ, אֵת דְּבַר הַמִּשְׁפָּט.||9 And thou shall come unto the priests the Levites, and unto the judge that shall be in those days; and thou shalt inquire; and they shall declare unto thee the sentence of judgment.|
And it is stated [Devarim 33:10, Moshe's blessing to the tribe of Levi]:
|י יוֹרוּ מִשְׁפָּטֶיךָ לְיַעֲקֹב, וְתוֹרָתְךָ לְיִשְׂרָאֵל; יָשִׂימוּ קְטוֹרָה בְּאַפֶּךָ, וְכָלִיל עַל-מִזְבְּחֶךָ.||10 They shall teach Jacob Thine ordinances, and Israel Thy law; they shall put incense before Thee, and whole burnt-offering upon Thine altar.|
And see [??] with this to give the kohanim from the nation their necessary food and required sustenance without effort, such that they should not be distracted by this and them refrain from their task when seeking out their needs and the needs of their wife and children.
And to elevate them, He wished that they be exceptional from the rest of the nation in their dress, virtues, and intellectual level; and that they not become tamei to corpses, nor make a bald patch in their heads nor shave their beards, because of the glory of their faces; and that they should not marry any random woman they encounter, but only one who was fitting for them in purity and cleanliness; and that they stay away from wine and intoxicating beverages when they come to perform the service; and that one with a physical blemish nor an (old person) [non-kohen] should not serve at the altar; and that they should be sanctified in all their matters, just as is said [Vayikra 21:6]
|ו קְדֹשִׁים יִהְיוּ, לֵאלֹהֵיהֶם, וְלֹא יְחַלְּלוּ, שֵׁם אֱלֹהֵיהֶם: כִּי אֶת-אִשֵּׁי ה לֶחֶם אֱלֹהֵיהֶם, הֵם מַקְרִיבִם--וְהָיוּ קֹדֶשׁ.||6 They shall be holy unto their God, and not profane the name of their God; for the offerings of the LORD made by fire, the bread of their God, they do offer; therefore they shall be holy.|
|ח וְקִדַּשְׁתּוֹ--כִּי-אֶת-לֶחֶם אֱלֹהֶיךָ, הוּא מַקְרִיב; קָדֹשׁ, יִהְיֶה-לָּךְ--כִּי קָדוֹשׁ, אֲנִי ה מְקַדִּשְׁכֶם.||8 Thou shalt sanctify him therefore; for he offereth the bread of thy God; he shall be holy unto thee; for I the LORD, who sanctify you, am holy.|
-- he shall be holy to you.
And since the essence of this sefer is the study of the kohanim and their proper conduct, this sefer is called, in the words of raboteinu za'l, "Torat Kohanim".
Yet this sefer is divided into two main sections. The first deals with the sanctity of the kohanim and the details of their service, and this is from the beginning of seder [=parshat] Vayikra until כמעשה ארץ מצרים [Vayikra 18:3, towards the end of Acharei Mot], which is five and a half sedarim.
And the second section deals with the sanctity of the nation in what they do, and warns them; and this is as stated [towards the beginning of that second section, Vayikra 20:7]:
|ז וְהִתְקַדִּשְׁתֶּם--וִהְיִיתֶם, קְדֹשִׁים: כִּי אֲנִי ה, אֱלֹהֵיכֶם.||7 Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy; for I am the LORD your God.|
And in this way comes the rest of the sedarim in this sefer. Now also within this second section are mixed the commandments and warnings relating towards kohanim, such as you will see in the seder of Emor el haKohanim, since the sanctity of
the nations relates to the sanctity of the kohanim, and the sanctity of the kohanim sanctifies the nation.
And from this perspective, Chazal placed this sefer within the order of Kodshim, since it is entirely dealing with the sanctity of the kohanim, the sanctity of the service, as well as the sanctity of the nation.
And since the knowledge of the sacrifices, despite it being explained in the verses of the Torah, are hidden from us today, since it is not practices and the service has been lost with the destruction of our Temple and glory. And this is as the great Rav the Rambam wrote in the introduction to Mishnayot for the seder of Kodshim. Also because the details of the korbanot are scattered and distributed through the other sefarim of the Torah, for some of them already came in the seder of Tetzaveh, and some of them come afterwards in the seder of Naso, such as the korban Sotah and of the Nazir, and like the korban of the Princes; and some of them in the seder of Behaalotecha such as the korban of the Leviim, and of them many in the seder of Shelach. And some of them in the seder of Korach, in the gifts to the Kohanim; and some of them in the seder of Chukat, namely the Parah Aduma. And some of them in the seder of Pinchas, namely the korbanot of the Temidim and Musafim.
Therefore, I have seen fit to mention here in this place the details of all of the korbanot. I will not innovate from own mind anything, for I will not budge from that which is taught by the text of the Torah and the true kabbalah [Oral Law]. And I will go on at length in the matters according to how they were explained by the great Rav, the Rambam, whose eyes saw with dear intellect. However, I will order them and gather them from all the places they are scattered, and place them in a correct and fittings manner, and in a way of ordered division in such manner that they will not leave our mouths. And so that the matter will be known in its completeness, when its causes and beginning are known, I will explain the details of the korbanot with their causes, and will make, in this study, four chapters.
The first chapter deals with the substance [chomer] of the korbanot. [Josh: e.g. birds, cows]
The second chapter deals with the forms [tzurot] of the korbanot which distinguish them. [Josh: e.g. olah, shelamim, korban tzibbur]
The third chapter deals with the actor [poel] of the korbanot, that is to say he who brings them.
The fourth chapter deals with the purpose [tachlit] of the korbanot, that is to say the encompassing purpose in them; for the individual purposes will be explained afterwards, each one in its place."