Lecture 209: The History of the Divine Service at Altars (XIX) – The History of Slaughtering Non-consecrated Animals and Eating Meat (VII)
In this shiur,we will discuss several remaining points regarding the prohibition to eat blood.
Fat and Blood
The Abravanel reviews the principal positions regarding the prohibition to eat blood and forbidden fats:
Why did God choose that [the animal's] fat and blood should be offered on the altar, and why did He forbid Israel to eat them? Several different explanations have been suggested:
The first is the view of the Rambam that in ancient times the idol worshipping priests would eat the blood of oxen, sheep, and goats, and in that way they would worship their abominations and join with the demons. The Torah already clarified this explanation with respect to blood, but revealed nothing regarding fat.
In addition to the view of the Rambam (which we cited in a previous shiur), the Abravanel also cites the opinion of the Ralbag:
The second reason is what the Ralbag writes that by their nature fat and blood are bad and harmful foods… But this has no basis, because blood is better food than [the animal's] meat, and all the more so is it better than its bones. How then did the Torah not prohibit them, and prohibit [instead] the blood? Moreover, this argument does not apply at all to fat.
The third reason is what the Kabbalists say: "My beloved is white and red" (Shir Ha-shirim 5:10) – red is the attribute of Justice, while white is the attribute of Mercy. Therefore, God commanded that before Him be offered that which alludes to the attribute of Mercy, namely, the [animal's] fat, and that which alludes to the attribute of Justice, namely, the [animal's] blood. This is to intimate that "God has made even the one as well as the other" (Kohelet 7:14).
Following the Kabbala, Abravanel explains that white fat symbolizes the attribute of Mercy and that red blood symbolizes the attribute of Justice, and God commanded that both of them be offered before Him.
The fourth reason is what they said that health and beauty are the causes of sin, and the cause of health is blood and the cause of beauty is fat. One whose blood boils sins – for example, young men. And so too, fat is the cause of sin, as the verse states: "But Yeshurun waxed fat and kicked" (Devarim 32:15). Therefore, God commanded that the two physical things that bring man to sin should be burned on the altar, to allude that it is fitting that a man should burn and nullify his desires and those things that bring him to sin.
The fifth reason is what the preachers say that fasting is like a sacrifice, as it causes a diminishment of blood and fat, and it is as if the person fasting sacrificed his own fat and blood. So too they said in Berakhot 17a: "When R. Sheshet kept a fast, upon concluding his prayer he added the following: Master of the Universe, You know full well that in the time when the Temple was standing, if a man sinned he used to bring a sacrifice, and though all that was offered of it was its fat and blood, atonement was made for him with it. Now I have kept a fast and my fat and blood have diminished. May it be Your will to account my fat and blood which have been diminished as if I had offered them before You on the altar, and You will favor me." This too is correct.
According to the fourth explanation, it is God's will that man should burn on the altar and nullify those passions that lead him to sin. The two major factors here are a person's health and beauty; blood represents health and fat represents beauty. According to this explanation, it is the basest thing, and not that which is most noble, that is offered on the altar. In addition, Chazal see fasting as a type of sacrifice in which the person's blood and fat are diminished, and it is as if the person who is fasting is offering his own blood and fat as a sacrifice. With this sacrifice the person can achieve atonement, as is stated in the gemara with regard to R. Sheshet. The fact that a person diminishes his fat and blood as he fasts is regarded as a type of sacrifice in our time when the Temple is no longer standing.
I see in this regard a sixth reason, that sins are likened to redness and forgiveness is likened to whiteness, as the prophet said: "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool" (Yeshaya 1:18). Therefore, God commanded that they should offer before Him the blood, thus symbolizing that they confess their sins before Him, in the manner of: "I will make confession concerning my transgressions unto the Lord" (Tehillim 32:5), and as it says: "Our guilt is grown up unto the heavens" (Ezra 9:6), and that they should also offer the fat as an allusion to forgiveness, as it says: "For with You there is forgiveness" (Tehillim 130:4). Thus, they would sacrifice the blood and the fat, as if to say that just as the sins come before Him, so too forgiveness issues forth from Him.
Sins are likened to redness and forgiveness is compared to whiteness in wake of the verse in Yeshayahu: "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool." Accordingly, offering blood on the altar expresses man's confession of his sins, and offering fat on the altar gives expression to the fact that forgiveness comes from God Himself.
For these reasons God chose that blood should be sprinkled in the Temple and offered on the altar, and He forbade all of the people of Israel to eat it… Apart from all these reasons, you will see in Parashat Acharei Mot and in Parashat Re'eh other true reasons regarding the prohibition of blood connected to the wholeness of the soul… The prohibitions of fat and blood are mentioned here among the laws governing the sacrifices because thus far it spoke of the burnt-offerings and the meal-offerings, and it was known that whatever was not consecrated as meal-offerings the owner could eat. Now that Scripture comes to speak about the fats of peace-offerings, when it finishes its laws about what is consecrated to the altar, the verse comes and says: "It shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwellings, that you shall eat neither fat nor blood" (Vayikra 3:17), thus teaching us that fat and blood are not like the flesh of a burnt-offering or the flour of a meal-offering, so that if one did not consecrate them, he can eat them. This is not the law governing the fat and blood of a peace-offering, for whether or not the owner consecrated them, they may not be eaten. This is the path taken in Parashat Tzav, which mentions the burnt-offering, the meal-offering, the sin-offering, the guilt-offering, and a little about the peace-offering, and then immediately warns about fat and blood. In Parashat Vayikra,the Torah prohibits eating fat and blood, but does not specify that eating them is punishable by excision, and in Parashat Tzav it prohibits them again in order to impose upon them the punishment of excision. Similarly, regarding forbidden sexual relationships, in Parashat Acharei Mot, the Torah forbids them, and in Parashat Kedoshim, it reveals their punishment.
The fact that the prohibitions of fat and blood are mentioned here after completion of the laws governing the peace-offerings emphasizes that these two things are forbidden to a person even if they had had not been consecrated to God.
Eating Blood Both Attracts and Repels
Amos Goldberg, in his commentary to Parashat Re'eh, asks why eating blood is considered so bad that the Torah repeats the prohibition so many times and imposes the punishment of excision for its violation.
In my opinion the answer to this question can be found in the attraction to and repulsion from eating blood, as is described by Chazal: On the one hand, Chazal understood the natural repulsion connected to the eating of blood. R. Shimon the son of R. Yehuda Ha-Nasi expounds the verse: "Only be steadfast in not eating the blood" (Devarim 12:23): "Now, if in the case of blood for which man's soul has a loathing, anyone who refrains therefrom receives reward, how much more so in regard to robbery and incest, for which man's soul has a craving and longing shall one who refrains therefrom acquire merit for himself" (Makkot 23b).
On the other hand, the Ramban (ad loc.) brings another explanation, which is just the opposite, based on the words of Chazal on that same verse: "They had a passion for it; therefore, all these admonitions were necessary." The Ramban adds that this is "a beautiful midrash and it fits in with the wording of the text." The sensitivity of Chazal teaches that blood is repulsive and desirable at one and the same time.
This pattern of prohibition - that on the face of it we are repelled by something and can't imagine [deriving pleasure from it], while at the same time the stringency of the prohibition teaches us that that it is something exceedingly desired – is of course the pattern of the primal and most universal taboo – the prohibition of incest. As was understood by Freud, the severity of the prohibition to have relations with one's mother or father does not express fierce revulsion, but rather teaches just the opposite, about the strong and fundamental attraction to it.
It seems, therefore, that this pattern can illuminate the prohibition against eating blood. The prohibition of a son sleeping with his mother is an expression of man's inability to return to his source. A baby's love for its mother is an infinite and whole love in which the separation between subject and object does not exist and in which the delight is complete and perfect. The taboo against incest teaches about an intense yearning to return to that perfect and lost source, and at the same time it makes it forbidden and impossible. It becomes the object of primal yearnings that must undergo transformations and changes that lead man through the paths of his life.
The prohibition against eating blood is similar in nature. Blood is understood as the beginning and source of life itself. As such, it tempts one to imagine that it is possible to go back and reunite with the source – as if it were possible through swallowing, which is a most extreme act of control and identification, to reunite with and seize that primal source of life. Attraction to blood, just like attraction to the mother, involves attraction to the source of perfect and lost happiness.
This attraction to the return to primordial purity, to the source of life itself, to the place that is before the disputes of the mind and of society… to the perfect and organic place that is not rent into pieces – the attraction to blood, is an attraction of unparalleled danger. Therefore, the Torah commands that one not try to digest the blood, but rather: "You shall pour it out upon the earth like water" (Devarim 12:16).
The danger of the temptation of blood is connected to other dangers mentioned in our Parasha, as understood by the Ramban. Following the Rambam in his Guide (ibid.), he too connects the prohibition against eating blood with a certain type of idolatry – demon worship: "And that worship involved eating blood, because they would gather the blood for the demons, and they would eat next to it and from it, as if they had been invited by the demons to eat from the demons' table, and they fraternize with them… And they would prophesy and reveal the future. Therefore, Scripture comes and warns that if one hears something about the future from those who eat blood… he should not be tempted after his heart… because it is vanity… as the prohibited matter of false prophets." The Ramban connects the seduction of blood, as a fantasy relating to full reunification with the source, with false prophets who give signs.
Goldberg takes note here of a profound point. According to Chazal, blood, on the one hand, is considered repulsive, but on the other hand, it is highly attractive. The explanation that he offers in comparing this prohibition to that of incest involves returning to the source. It seems that we should add to this that owing to blood's vital function, it might also be that blood has vitality, great life forces that bestow life to the body and organs through which it flows. It therefore seems that in addition to the return to the source, there is also attraction to the intensity of the life forces revealed in the blood.
As we know, the heart is responsible for the movement of blood to all parts of the body. Blood contains oxygen, food, and energy to build cells in a living body. The cells' waste products pass through the blood to the organs that remove those products from the body. Even in the physiological sense, then, the life forces that are found in the blood are also uniquely powerful.
Thus, blood is life, for in comparison to the rest of the material elements of the body, it is more strongly associated with life itself. It can be seen as the most spiritual component in the body of any living creature. Its connection to the source of life is thus very great, and its prohibition is therefore very severe.
Blood as a Manifestation of Life: The Prohibitions to Eat Blood and to Shed Blood Reflect Awe and Respect for Life Itself
Professor Milgrom makes the following comment:
This prohibition is not found anywhere else in the ancient Near East… That none of Israel's neighbors possesses this absolute and universally binding prohibition means that it cannot be a vestige of a primitive taboo, but the result of a deliberate, reasoned enactment. This is clear from the rationale appended to the law: “blood is life” (Devarim 12:23).
In light of Milgrom's comment, there is room to ask: What is unique about Judaism and different from mankind in general that is reflected in the Torah's attitude toward blood?
Moshe Garelik explains that it was precisely when man was permitted to eat meat that he was forbidden to eat blood:
It was precisely when the slaughter of animals was permitted that man was taught a lesson about the sanctity of life. The purpose of this law is to bring about a vigorous change in the attitude toward bloodshed. At the time of slaughter the person is reminded that he was not granted permission to desecrate the sanctity of life itself, and that as long as an animal lives, no benefit may be derived from its blood or flesh.
This is a powerful moral mechanism. This prohibition constitutes an effective emotional barrier against feelings of cruelty that are liable to develop in the human heart, and it has the potential of developing in it feelings of compassion instead.
This understanding can explain and sharpen the connection between what was said to Noach when he emerged from the ark – "But flesh with the life, which is its blood, you shall not eat"(Bereishit 9:4), either a prohibition to eat the limb of a living animal or a prohibition to eat blood - and what is stated in the verses that follow: "And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man's brother will I require the life of man. Whoever sheds man's blood by man shall his blood be shed, for in the image of God made He man" (ibid. vv. 5-6).
Why is it specifically in this connection that the Torah forbids bloodshed for the first time? What is the significance of the timing of the command and of its relationship to the prohibition to eat the blood or the limb of a living animal?
Based on this understanding that "blood is life," the Torah comes, at the time of the renewal of the world in the aftermath of the flood and the destruction of the world in which all flesh had corrupted its way, and tries to establish the proper attitude to the idea of life in general.
With all the differences between man who was created in the image of God and an animal whose soul is revealed in its blood, in both of them the blood is the manifestation of life. The Torah wishes to create an attitude of awe toward life itself in all its manifestations. Therefore, there is an exceedingly essential connection, despite all the differences, between the prohibition to eat animal blood (even though man is permitted to kill an animal and eat its flesh) and the prohibition to shed human blood.
The Torah's explanations for these prohibitions are different in their very essence: Regarding animals, "blood is life" and therefore, "But flesh with the life, which is its blood, you shall not eat." Regarding man, "for in the image of God made He man." This notwithstanding, both come to create in man a proper attitude toward life itself and to the sanctity of life in general. Even if we are dealing with two different levels, both relate to the proper attitude toward the revelation of Divine life found in the world, in the blood of animals and in the blood of man.
Thus far, we have examined various aspects of the Torah's attitude toward the slaughter of non-consecrated animals and toward the eating of blood. In order to fully understand the matter, we began our examination with the verses relating to Noach after the flood.
Now I wish to examine additional meanings of the Torah's attitude toward blood as it appears in Vayikra 17.
Vayikra 17 – The Soul That Eats Blood
Having dealt with the various aspects of blood as they find expression in the book of Bereishit after the flood, let us now consider the attitude toward blood as it is expressed in Vayikra 17. In addition to the issue of bloodshed in connection with one who does not bring his sacrifice to the door of the Ohel Mo'ed, with which we dealt in previous shiurim, the Torah relates to blood in two other contexts:
And whatever man there be of the house of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, that eats any manner of blood, then I will set My face against that person that eats blood, and will cut him off from among his people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes an atonement for the soul. Therefore, I said to the children of Israel: None of you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger that sojourns among you eat blood. (vv. 10-12)
And whatever man there be of the children of Israel or of the strangers that sojourn among you who hunts venison of any beast or bird that may be eaten; he shall even pour its blood and cover it with dust. For the life of all flesh is its blood, on which its life depends; therefore, I said to the children of Israel, You shall eat the blood of no matter of flesh; whoever eats it shall be cut off. (vv. 13-14)
The first mention repeats the prohibition against eating blood not in connection with the offering of a sacrifice. The Torah explains that because the purpose of the blood is that it should be for you on the altar to atone for your sins, it should not be eaten, neither by the children of Israel nor by strangers that sojourn among them.
It is interesting to consider the Torah's wording: "That eats any manner of blood; then I will set My face against that person [nefesh, soul] that eats blood." God will not set His face against the man, but against the nefesh, the soul that eats the blood. Therefore, "None of you [kol nefesh mikem, no soul of you]shall eat blood." The noblest aspect of man and of an animal is the nefesh, the soul, the blood.
Vayikra 17: “I Will Set My Face Against That Person That Eats Blood”
Let us now consider the expression: "I will set My face against that person that eats blood." This expression, that God sets His face against a person, is an interesting expression that appears in the Torah in very specific contexts.
The Ramban explains:
The Torah forbade the eating of blood and chose it for purifying by way of sprinkling it, and to sprinkle it on the altar for atonement. And therefore it says: "And I will set My face against that person that eats blood," just as it says with regard to one who gives of his seed to Molech, a type of idolatry, but it does not say this with regard to any other mitzva.
The Ramban relates here to the prohibition of giving of one's seed to Molech, regarding which the Torah states:
And I will set My face against that man, and will cut him off from among his people; because he has given of his seed to Molech, to defile My sanctuary, and to profane My holy name. And if the people of the land do at all hide their eyes from that man, when he gives of his seed to Molech, and kill him not: then I will set my face against that man, and against his family, and will cut him off, and all that stray after him, going astray after Molech, from among their people. (Vayikra 20:3-5)
What is the connection between these two prohibitions, the one against eating blood and the one against giving of one's seed to Molech? The Ramban understands that the common denominator is idolatry. Even though the Ramban argues that we do not find this expression in connection with other mitzvot, we do find: "And the person that applies to mediums, and to wizards, to go astray after them, I will even set My face against that person, and will cut him off from among his people" (Vayikra 20:6). With respect to one who applies to mediums or wizards, there is "straying," just as we find with respect to the Molech, and here too God will set His face against that person and cut him off from among his people.
The connection between worship of Molech and eating blood can also be linked to the issue of life and death. As we saw, blood symbolizes life, and the worship of Molech, as is clear from the plain sense of the text and as is understood by the Ramban, involves the killing of children.
Vayikra 17: "And I Will Cut Off" With Respect to the Eating of Blood, as Opposed to "And It Will Be Cut Off" With Respect to the Eating of Fat
The Meshekh Chokhma writes as follows:
"And I will cut him off from among his people." Know and see the difference, that with respect to forbidden fat that a person eats out of desire, it says: "And the soul that eats it shall be cut off" (Vayikra 7:25), without attributing the action to God. But regarding blood, which is repulsive to man and is eaten only out of spite, it says: "And I will cut him off" – it is attributed to God, who will do it intentionally.
It is known that Rashi in Menachot maintains that one is not liable for eating the cooked blood of consecrated animals. And when it says regarding consecrated animals in Parashat Acharei (Vayikra 17:11): "And I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls" – it refers to uncooked blood, which is fit to make atonement, and therefore a person finds it repulsive, and therefore "I will cut him off." But in Parashat Tzav, which refers to the blood of non-consecrated animals, it is possible that one is liable even if it is cooked and in a mixture, and therefore it is written: "And the soul that eats it shall be cut off." And similarly in the passage dealing with forbidden sexual relations, it is written: "And they shall be cut off," because a person desires them. But regarding Molech and one who turn to mediums or wizards, it is written: "And I will cut off" – the action is attributed to God Himself. Therefore, regarding blood it is written: "And I will set My face against that person that eats blood," and it says in Torat Kohanim (parasha 5, 4): "I will turn away from all My affairs and deal with him." And similarly, regarding one who gives of his seed to Molech, it is written (Vayikra 20:5): "And I will set My face." See now that regarding Yom Kippur in Parashat Emor, which deals with eating that is driven by desire, it is written: "And he shall be cut off" (Vayikra 23:29). But regarding work which is not driven by desire, but only out of spite, it is written: "I will destroy" (ibid. v. 30), the action is attributed to God. This is clear.
Now regarding forbidden fat it is written (Vayikra 7:25): "For whoever eats the fat of the beast, of which men offer an offering made by fire to the Lord, the soul that eats it shall be cut off from his people." The reason for the prohibition is that the fat is given as an offering made by fire to God. Therefore, what is forbidden is only the fat of an ox, a sheep, or a goat, species that are offered on the altar. But the prohibition of blood applies also to the beast, and to birds, and to unclean kinds, and violation of the prohibition is punishable by excision, because the reason for the prohibition is: "For the life of the flesh is in the blood" (Vayikra 17:11), and it is inappropriate for life to eat life. (Vayikra 17:11)
The Meshekh Chokhma notes an interesting difference between forbidden fat and blood. Regarding one who eats fat, the Torah states: "For whoever eats the fat of the beast, of which men offer an offering made by fire to the Lord, the soul that eats it shall be cut off from his people." The word ve-nikhreta does not attribute the act of excision directly to God. The Meshekh Chokhma explains an interesting position of Rashi in Menachot:
[If one] cooked blood – both of a non-consecrated animal and of a consecrated animal, and he ate it, he is not liable, because the Torah only imposed liability for the eating of blood that is fit to make atonement, and the blood of a consecrated animal, once it is cooked, is not fit for its task and is not considered blood. (Rashi, Menachot 21a)
According to this definition, there is an essential connection between blood that is forbidden to be eaten and blood that is fit to make atonement. Since the cooked blood of a consecrated animal is not fit to make atonement and is no longer considered blood, it is not forbidden. When the Torah says: "And I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls" (Vayikra 17:11), it refers to uncooked blood that is fit to make atonement. But since a person finds such blood repulsive, therefore it says: "And I will cut off" rather than "It will be cut off." However, in the section dealing with the prohibition to eat the blood of a non-consecrated animal, the prohibition applies even to cooked blood and to blood in a mixture, and therefore it says: "That soul shall be cut off" (Vayikra 7:27).
Based on the same principle, the verse in the section dealing with forbidden sexual relationships (Vayikra 20:18) says: "And they shall be cut off," because a person desires those forbidden relationships (see Chagiga 11b).
Also with respect to the Molech and to mediums and wizards, it says: "And I will cut off," attributing the action directly to God.
Therefore, with respect to blood, the Torah writes: "And I will set My face against that person that eats blood," and also with respect to one who gives of his seed to Molech, it says: "And I will set My face," which is explained in Torat Kohanim as follows: "I will turn away from all My affairs and deal with him."
Based on this principle, in the section dealing with Yom Kippur, which relates to eating which is done to spite God, the Torah says: "And I will destroy," attributing the active measure to God Himself.
Regarding forbidden fat, the Torah writes: "For whoever eats the fat of the beast, of which men offer an offering made by fire to the Lord, the soul that eats it shall be cut off from his people." The reason for the prohibition is that the fat is given as an offering made by fire to God. Therefore, what is forbidden is only the fat of an ox, a sheep, or a goat, species that are offered on the altar. But the prohibition of blood applies also to the beast, and to birds, and to unclean kinds, and violation of the prohibition is punishable by excision, because the reason for the prohibition is: "For the life of the flesh is in the blood," and it is inappropriate for life to eat life, as stated by the Ramban.
The Meshekh Chokhma's distinguishes between the word "ve-nikhreta" used with respect to one who eats forbidden fat, something which he does out of desire, and the word "ve-hikhrati" used with respect to one who eats blood and one who worships Molech, both of which he does out of spite. The excision of the latter is attributed directly to God, whereas the excision of the former is not. This is one of the differences between eating forbidden fat and eating blood.
With this we conclude our examination of the prohibition of eating blood. In the next shiur we will turn out attention to the related mitzva of covering blood.
(Translated by David Strauss)