From the very start of this week’s Parsha, the beginning of Sefer Vayikra, Dam – blood is central to the sacrificial ceremony. Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch writes, “The blood, which is present throughout the body, is the visible messenger of the soul, which is also present throughout the body and controls the body but cannot be seen. It is indeed fitting, therefore, that the blood as the visible substance representing the soul, should be used in the offerings to symbolize the elevation and devotion of the soul to G-d, and the soul’s steadfast adherence to Him.
Furthermore, the laws of Kashrus concerning Dam are more stringent than the laws pertaining to other parts of an animal. Whereas proper slaughtering of an animal renders its flesh kosher and therefore edible, it does not extend to the blood itself. The blood remains prohibited for human consumption and must be removed from the meat prior to cooking and eating.
Additionally, if the meat is from a species determined to be “Chayah – wild animal or Ohf – fowl”, the initial blood that drains from the slaughtered animal or bird must be covered with “dirt”, both above and below the blood. This law does not extend to domesticated animals such as steers, sheep, or goats, and it does not extend to birds that were offered on the Mizbeach (alter) as a sacrifice. (There is no instance when a Chayah is offered on the Mizbeach) The law of Keesuy Hadam (ancient Chinese recipe available on request) – covering the blood only applies to “wild” animals such as deer and antelope. (The law of Keesuy Hadam applies even if the “wild” animal is raised on farms for domestic use and consumption.)
(Vayikra 1:5) “…And the Kohanim should throw the blood (of the Korban) on the Mizbeach…”
(Vayikra 7:26) “Do not eat any blood…”
(Vayikra 17:13) “…If you should hunt or catch a wild animal or bird (kosher)… pour out the blood and cover it with dust.”
Why did the Torah designate blood to be used in the sacrificial process? Why is blood treated with greater deference in regards to human consumption? Why does the Torah command that the blood of a Chayah and Ohf be covered? Why doesn’t Keesuy Hadam apply to birds that are used as Korbanos (sacrifices)?
In stating the prohibition against blood consumption, the Torah states, “Because the blood is the life force.” The Chinuch explained that humans and animals share the life-force contained in blood, and it is therefore improper for the human to consume that which is the essence of his own life. The consumption blood is a level of predatory gluttony and insensitivity that is dehumanizing.
Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch writes, “The nature of blood and its close relation to the soul make it fitting that the blood of an animal should serve as the symbolic expression of the soul of a man. But precisely for this reason, the physical absorption of the blood into the human body, which is the physical aspect of the human soul, is forbidden. The purpose of this prohibition seems to be not only to counteract the pernicious illusion – which might be encouraged by the symbolism inherent in the offerings – that the animal soul is identical with the soul of human being, but also to avert physical threat to the spiritual character of man. The solemnity of the warning as well as the urgency of the admonition repeated again and again would indicate that the consumption of animal blood could so endanger a human being, or at least so corrupt his nature, that it could prevent him from attaining the moral level of the Jew’s calling as set forth in the Law of G-d.”
(In my first trip with One Israel Fund four years ago, we visited with Uri Tal (The Lone House) one of the first settlers to develop the Shomron. To date, Mr. Tal is the single largest land owner in all of Israel, having legally purchased thousands of dunim from the Arabs. Mr. Tal explained to us that he was raised with Arabs and had lived among them all his life. Attempting to explain the antithetical values of the Arabs blood thirst and culture of death in contrast with our love of life and the sanctity with which life is regarded, Mr. Tal described how Arab fathers bring their young sons to the slaughter houses and force them to wash their hands in the fresh hot blood streaming from the necks of the slaughtered animals.)
As the Chinuch and Rav Hirsch explained, the prohibition against eating blood is a symbolic statement of sensitivity and awareness to the gift and uniqueness of life. Life is not granted to us as a personal right. Life is granted to us from the Creator as a responsibility and obligation. Life is given to us to use in the best way we can to serve G-d. Doing so demands that we learn what He wants us to do and by following His laws convey purpose and meaning to everything in our lives.
Following the Mabul (great flood), humans were granted permission to eat other living animals. However, the Torah was concerned that because humans and animals share blood as the essential life-force, allowing humans to eat animals could taint the human soul with insensitivity to the preciousness of human life. Therefore, the Torah prohibited the consumption of blood as a statement of sensitivity and awareness of the preciousness of human life. Additionally, it focuses us on realizing that consuming animal flesh demands purpose and meaning which can only be attained through the restrictions of kashrus. Restrictions equal controls and controls equal sanctification, purpose and meaning.
Regarding the Mitzvah (commandment) to cover the blood of a Chayah or Ohf, Rav Hirsch explains the added concern which demands the extra restriction and control. The animals concerned are designated with reference to their natural existence in the free state away from the power of Man as animals of the open…
We have been told that the wild animal and the bird represent the ideal of a free untrammeled animal life, a life that is most alluring to the sensuality of Man. It is understandable, that at the moment when animals of this sphere are consumed by human beings, the prohibition of blood and the intended separation of animal nature from Man’s nature which it presents, should be given a further special mark of emphasis.
Fundamental to human nature, especially in males, is the desire for freedom. We do not want to be restricted and we do not want to be told what to do. Rather than embrace the Talmud’s adage, “The freest of all is the one who is engaged in Torah,” we imagine that true freedom is the absence of all responsibility and obligation. Just like the wild animal in the field is free of all mastery except the inherent limitations of its physical being so too the human should be free of all mastery other than those imposed by physical limitations.
The falsehood of the illusion is obvious to the discerning mind. As humans we assume that our inherently physical abilities are unrelated to our essential spirituality. Furthermore, we assume that our intelligence is unique to the physical construction of our beings rather than a reflection and consequence of our free will. As such, living like an animal without the obligation to convey meaning and purpose denies the essence of who we are and why we were created. We were not created to simply be another species of animal. Had we been so created we would not have been endowed with the unique ability to think and choose. Without our free will and the intellectual capacity that accompanies it we would have been the sorriest of all G-d’s creations. Smaller, slower, weaker, and more vulnerable than the dumbest of all animals we would have been food and fodder for every beast in the forest. The freedom we envision is that of the beast but the beast is not the human. The beast is inherently limited because it can never become more than its physical reality. Had the human been another beast he too would not have the capacity to be more than his physical reality. Only the free willed human is gifted with the ability to become far greater than his or her physical being.
The wild animal and bird represent the primal urge of every human to be an animal and run masterless across the fields unburdened by obligations and restrictions. Therefore, specifically in regards to the Chayah and the Ohf, the Torah added the obligation of “covering the blood.” It demands that we show our understanding and respect for the uniqueness of being human rather than animal. It demands that we express our appreciation for the freedom of intellectual and spiritual attainment that transports us beyond who we are.
Regarding why the Mitzvah of Keesuy Hadam does not apply to birds offered on the Mizbeach, the Chinuch explains as follows. “Because the soul is found in the blood it is proper to cover the “soul” and hide it from sight prior to consuming the flesh. Otherwise, the consumption of flesh in the presence of the soul – blood will adversely affect and dehumanize our souls. However, this law does not apply to animals that are offered on the Mizbeach because the blood is essential to the process of atonement and cannot be used if covered with dirt. Once the Torah did not demand Keesuy Hadam in the Temple He did not demand it in any instance. The Temple became the rule and there was no reason to make any exceptions.
Regarding birds that are also offered on the Mizbeach, yet G-d demands Keesuy Hadam for the consumption of a non-sacrificial Ohf, the reason is that only a very limited number of birds are acceptable as offerings. The vast majority of Kosher birds are not permitted as Korbanos. Therefore, the Torah viewed the bird offerings as exceptions to the rule rather than the rule.
The author is the Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, Valley Village, CA, and Assistant Principal of YULA.