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The "New Order" and Shedding Blood

Rav Zvi Shimon

  We will be examining six verses, coming after the conclusion of the flood.  We are going to try to understand three things:

1) the connection of these verses to Noah;

2) the connections of the verses to each other;

3) the meaning of the verses themselves.


Genesis 9:1-6

            1.  And God blessed Noah and his sons, and He said to          them: "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.  2.          And your fear and your dread shall be upon all the beasts      of the earth and upon all the fowl of the heaven; upon         everything that creeps upon the ground and upon all the         fish of the sea, [for] they have been given into your       hand[s].  3.  Every moving thing that lives shall be      yours to eat; like the green vegetation, I have given you    everything.  4.  But flesh with its soul, its blood, you shall not eat.  5.  But your blood, of your souls I will       demand [an account]; from the hand of every beast I will       demand it, and from the hand of man, from the hand of      each man, his brother, I will demand the soul of man.  6.       Whoever sheds the blood of man - through man shall his           blood be shed, for in the image of God He made man.


            These verses, addressed not just to Jews but to all of mankind (Noah and his children) are considered by the Sages to be laws, mitzvot, part of what is called the seven mitzvot of the descendants of Noah (see glossary at end).  The flood is over, Man returns to the world, and the relationship, in terms of rights and prohibitions, is defined.  These verses refer to the relationship with other living things.

            The post-deluge world experienced a drastic change in the status of man and the rules governing his relations with the other species.  Man is from now on to be feared by all the creatures of the earth.  Unlike pre-deluge man who was forbidden from slaughtering animals for food, Noah is now permitted to kill animals for his consumption.  What is the cause of this change in man's status?  The Radak (Rabbi David Kimchi, Provence, 1160-1235) explains that man's right to kill and eat animals is an outcome of Noah's having toiled, during the flood, to feed and preserve the animals in the ark.  It is only by virtue of Noah that the animals were preserved from extinction and he is therefore granted extended rights over the animal kingdom (Radak on Genesis 9:5).

            The granting of the right to eat animals (verse 3) is followed by two verses, both of which begin with the word "akh" - "but," and come to restrict the rights granted in verse 3.  Verse 4 - "But flesh with its soul, its blood, you shall not eat" - establishes limitations on the eating of animals.  The commentators differed as to the content of these limitations.  Chazal (a Hebrew acronym for the Sages of the Talmudic period), as cited in Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzchak, France, 1040-1105), explained the verse as the prohibition of "ever min ha-chai" - the eating of a limb cut from a living animal.  Man may slaughter and eat an animal, but he may not cut a limb off of a living animal and eat it.  The Radak explains that this was forbidden because it is cruel and barbarous behavior.  The Rasag (Rabbi Sa'adia Gaon, Persia, 892-942) and the Ibn Ezra (Rabbi Avraham ben Ezra, Spain, 1092-1167) have a different understanding of the prohibition.  According to them, the verse does not prohibit the eating of a limb from a living animal, but rather forbids the eating of the blood of an animal.  It thus parallels the later prohibition in the Torah which forbids the Jew from eating blood. 

            The different explanations of the prohibition are rooted in the differing interpretations of the Hebrew letter "bet" in the word "be-nafsho" (translated "with its soul").  Rashi, citing Chazal, understands the "bet" to be a specification of time as in "BE-tzeit yisrael mi-mitzrayim" - "WHEN Israel went out of Egypt" (Psalm 114).  He interprets "basar be-nafsho" to mean the flesh [of the animal] WHILE it is alive [is forbidden].  The Rasag and the Ibn Ezra interpret the "bet" to mean "with" as in Bereishit 15:14 "BI-rekhush gadol" - WITH great possessions.  "Basar be-nafsho damo," according to them, means the flesh WITH its soul, its blood [is forbidden].  We have here an example of exegesis which differs from that of Chazal.  While the Rasag and the Ibn Ezra totally accept the "halakhic" (legal) outcome of the interpretation of Chazal, they nevertheless assume the existence of an independent peshat (simple meaning) different from that of Chazal.

            As evidenced by the word "akh" ("but"), verse 5, "But your blood of your souls I will demand [an account]...," like verse 4, also comes to limit the right to eat animals granted in verse 3.  Verse 4, which restricts the right of eating animals, is a natural continuation of the preceding verse.  However, verse 5 deals with the spilling of HUMAN blood.  Why does this follow the permission to eat meat?  Rashi and the Ibn Ezra explain the appearance of the warning against murder in our portion as a response to the potential danger which could sprout from the permission to kill animals.  The Torah was concerned that the killing of animals might eventually lead to the depreciation of the value of life in general and to the eventual spilling of human blood.

            Verse 5 is composed of three major segments each of which includes the verb "darash" - "to demand" [an account of]:

1) "But your blood I will demand"

2) "From the hand of every beast I will demand it"

3) "and from the hand of man, from the hand of each man, his brother, I will demand the soul of man."

            The Ibn Ezra understands the structure of the verse to be a "klal u-prat" - a general principle followed by specific examples.  The first segment is a general warning against the spilling of human blood.  The second segment which relates to the spilling of human blood by an animal and the third which relates to the killing of a human by a fellow human are specific examples of the general principle.  Chazal (cited by Rashi), in contrast to the Ibn Ezra, interpret the first segment not as a general principle but rather a specific exhortation: "But your blood of your souls I will demand" - from he who commits suicide.  Their source is the possessive form - "your blood."  The Ibn Ezra apparently understood the possessive form to be referring to human blood, to the exclusion of animal blood.  Chazal interpret "your blood" literally to mean your own personal blood.  Human life is not the property of the individual but rather the property of the Creator.  Just as a murderer has stolen a life which belonged to God, so too he who commits suicide has stolen a life.

            The middle segment "from the hand of every beast I will demand" seems to imply, oddly enough, that there is divine retribution for the beast which devours a human being.  The Ramban (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, Spain, 1194-1274) queries as to how a beast which has no reason with which to distinguish between good and evil, could possibly be punished or rewarded.  Alluding to the law of the goring ox (Shemot 21:28), the Ramban suggests that the culpability of animals is restricted solely to the spilling of human blood.  He adds that it might be inherently contrary to animal nature, as created by God, to attack humans and thus the animal which attacks is deserving of punishment.  A second explanation offered by the Ramban is that it is not that God judges the animal but rather He judges man BY the animal.  God avenges the spilt blood by sending the beast against the murderer.  God, as it were, will demand of the beast to carry out justice.  (Compare this with Rabbi Ovadia Sforno's slightly different explanation.)

            The Rambam (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, Egypt, 1138-1204), grappling with the same question, has a completely different interpretation of our verse.  He quotes it in his Code of Law (Mishneh Torah) as the source for the culpability, in God's eyes, of the man who kills another through the use of an animal.  Likewise, the last clause of verse 5, "and from the hand of man ... I will demand," is the source for the culpability of the man who hires another person to murder (Hilkhot Rotze'ach 2:3).  God does not punish animals.  He punishes the human who uses an animal or another human being to commit a murder. Since the sender did not personally commit the murder, he is not held responsible in court.  However, God will nevertheless demand an account of the spilled blood and will punish the sender.

            Verse 6, by contrast, relates to the execution of justice by man himself - "whoever sheds man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed."  The Rasag understands this verse to describe the accomplishment of God's "accounting" described in verse 5.  God demands of man that he judge the murderer and bring him to justice.  The judge is the messenger of God in punishing the murderer.  Rashi, however, distinguishes between the two verses.  Verse 5 relates to a murder which was not witnessed and therefore cannot be judged by man, but will be judged by God.  Verse 6 relates to a witnessed murder which is to be judged in court.

            The end of verse 6, "for in the image of God, He made man" is the justification for the right of man to execute capital punishment.  The commentators disagree as to the identity of the "man" referred to here.  The Radak raises several possibilities. 

1.  One possibility is that the man is the murderer himself, and the verse explains why the murderer has lost his right to live.  Man was created in the image of God but the murderer, after having committed such an abominable act, has lost this image, and with it, the right to exist. 

2.  The second possibility raised by the Radak is that the man at the end of verse 6 is the murdered victim.  The clause "for in the image of God He made man" is the explanation for the difference between the killing of a man and the killing of an animal.  The severity of the crime of killing a human being is due to his having been created in the image of God; it is as if one is attacking God Himself, so to speak.  As opposed to the killing of animals which is permitted, the willful killing of man, the greatest creation of God, is punishable by death. 

3.  A third possibility, raised by the Chizkuni (Rabbi Chizkiya ben Manoach, France, mid-thirteenth century), is that the man at the end of our verse is the judge.  "For in the image of God He made man" is the explanation of man's right to judge his fellow man.  God, the judge of all, created man in his own image and thus bestowed upon him the capacity, the right, and the responsibility to judge and punish, even by capital punishment, the crimes of his fellow man.


THE 7 MITZVOT OF THE DESCENDANTS OF NOAH - While Jews are required to keep 613 commandments which were given at Mount Sinai, all of humanity, the descendants of Noah, are obliged to keep 7 commandments.  These include prohibitions against idolatry, incest, bloodshed, blasphemy, theft, and cruelty to animals, and a positive commandment to set up a judicial system to enforce these laws (and civil law, according to some). For more details on the 7 commandments, see the Rambam, Mishneh Torah, The Laws of Kings, chapter 9.

THE PROHIBITION OF EATING BLOOD - It is prohibited for a Jew to eat the blood of any beast or fowl, as it is written: "You shall eat no manner of blood, whether of bird or of beast in any of your dwellings.  Whoever it be that eats any manner of blood, that soul shall be cut off from his people" (Leviticus 7:26-27).  The blood of fish, however, is not prohibited.

[This shiur is based, in part, on the analysis of Nechama Leibowitz.]


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