by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman
Native Americans honor the spirit of the hunted animal by drinking its blood. They recognize the spiritual nature intrinsic to the blood, and seek thereby to identify with its spiritual essence. The Torah, on the other hand, also recognizes the spiritual essence of life being in the blood, but at the same time forbids us from drinking it.
In parshat Re'ei we are explicitly enjoined to not "eat" the blood of the sacrificial offering. Also in this week's Torah portion we learn that we do not eat the blood because the blood is the soul of the animal:
"ki haDam hu haNefesh (Deut 12:23)." Native Americans understood this but in its opposite application. They drank the blood of their prey so as to honor its spirit.
But we may rightly ask, in this post sacrificial age, what possible moral lessons can we derive from this teaching? Aside from the practicalities associated with the ritual slaughter that is performed for food, even in this day and age, what can we learn from these verses?
"RAK ET DAMO LO TOCHEL AL HA'ARETZ TISHP'CHENU KAMAYIM(Deut. 15: 23):
Do not eat its blood, but spill it on the ground likewater."
"RAK HADAM LO TOCHELU AL HA'ARETZ TISHP'CHENU KAMAYIM(Deut. 12:16):
The only thing you must not eat is the blood, which you must spill on the ground like water."
Two related questions arise when we examine the similarities and differences in the wording between these respective verses.
The first question is why does the Torah compare this spillage to water, even repeating it for emphasis? Why not use another liquid- say milk or wine - two other commonly used liquids of the day?
The other question is why the grammatical shift?
Why in chapter 15 is the directive addressed in the singular, whereas in chapter 12 it is addressed in the plural? The possible answer is that in chapter 12 the directive is being addressed to all of Israel in the context of satisfying their lust for meat. Note that in verse 15 above, it states "RAK B'CHAWL AVAT NAFSHECHA-only to satisfy your own wants..." This is the generic prescription.
Whereas vegetarianism may be the Edenic ideal, the concession to allow meat is preconditioned on the awareness of the spiritual lives of animals. (Deut.12:23:....KI HADAM HU HANEFESH .....because the blood is (associated with) the spiritual nature."However, the question as to the grammatical shift still remains. To whom is this being addressed?And what is the context of this directive? In chapter 15 (verse 23) the narrative context relates to consecration of the first born animals. On the p'shat level, or the plain meaning of the text, this refers to the first born. Since only one animal per womb can be the first born, it makes plain sense therefore that the verse states " ITS blood," in the singular, and not blood in general.
But on a deeper level, this may possibly refer also to Kain. "Damo" can mean "ITS blood," or it can also mean "HIS blood." When he killed his brother Abel, the Torah teaches, "his BLOOD cried out from the GROUND (Genesis4:10)". Both narratives refer in the same sentence to blood and ground. And just like the Deuteronomic reference of our parsha from Chapter 15, Kain was also the firstborn! So this verse may subtley yet pointedly be suggesting that we indeed need to spill the blood on the ground, albeit ceremonially/ritually, to remind ourselves of our own ingrained potential for fratricide.
But why "like WATER?" Water leaves no trace. It evaporates and no clue is left that it ever passed through. Similarly, when we pass through life, we should be careful not to leave behind any stains, stains which would besmirch our reputation. Both milk and wine leave stains. Milk leaves behind a residue when it dries. Wine is especially difficult to clean. It's as if the verse is teaching that sometimes when we make compromises in life, when we make concessions to the ideals which we strive to live by, we should be careful to leave as few stains as possible. Ideally
we should leave no stains at all, but we are not all Tzaddikim (perfect righteous beings).
Compromising to get along is good. Compromising on our ideals is not so good, but life is not black and white. It is mostly grey, and for some of us, it is even in technicolor. Here the Torah may be suggesting that while the ideal is not to take a life in order to eat, even if we concede on that point, we must therefore be careful to still recognize the spiritual dimension of all sentient animal beings, especially including man.
And perhaps the act of ritually encountering blood shocks the senses and sensitizes one to life more dearly, ironically deepening one's appreciation for life, even as life is taken, albeit in a small dose. This is akin to the principle of homeopathic medicine, where a near microscopic tincture of the poison is "ritually" administered, in a most diluted ratio, so as to counteract and draw out the poisonous humor itself. It is as if man has proven himself by nature to have violent tendencies and so we need the ritual encounter on the micro level so as to mitigate our propensity for violence on the macro level. But having said that, for the animal itself, it is always on the macro level, isn't it? Minor surgery is always on other people. When YOU are having surgery it is always major!
Also, in Hebrew the word for water- mayim, is a pallandrome. That is, it reads the same in both directions. It cuts both ways. And in the context of taking a life, it may be suggesting then that if we take FROM "life," then we had better be prepared to put back INTO "life." If we are so ready to take the life of another creature with which we share the planet in order to live, then by the WAY we live we should make our lives worth living.
Like water, we should pass through life without leaving behind any stains. When we hike through beautiful lands we should not leave any litter behind. We should silently do our deep thing like the still waters. But water actually does leave something behind. It nourishes and waters all living things- both plants as well as animals. So let us always remember to pass through life like water- leaving behind only the traces of the lives we've touched and the evanescent memories of those for whom we've made a difference.
Shabbat Shalom. Good Shabbos.
© 2000 - 2007 by Rabbi Baruch Melman.
This Torah learning is written in the memory of my beloved father, Israel J. Melman, z"l. Yisrael Yehoshua benHarav Yaaqov Hakohen Melman.
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