Abarbanel on the Parsha

For the week ending 12 April 2014 / 12 Nisan 5774

Parshat Achrei Mot

by Rabbi Pinchas Kasnett
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Prohibition against Eating Blood

The prohibition against eating an animal’s blood is explained by Abarbanel in the context of the subtle differences in the relevant verses in the Torah:

  1. Parshat Noach 9:4: “But flesh, with its nefesh (soul or life essence) — its blood — you shall not eat.”
  2. Parshat Acharei Mot 17:11: “For the nefesh of the flesh is in the blood…”
  3. Parshat Acharei Mot 17:11: “…for it is the blood in the nefesh that will atone.”
  4. Acharei Mot 17:14: “You shall not consume the blood of any creature, for the nefesh of any creature is its blood.”
  5. Parshat Re’eh 12:23: “For the blood, it is the nefesh, and you shall not eat the nefesh with the meat.”

Abarbanel begins by explaining that this prohibition is based on the principle that we are enjoined to strive to maintain the spiritual purity of the nefesh, or life essence, of every individual. For this reason the Torah in this Parsha states (Acharei Mot 17:12) “Any nefesh among you may not consume blood”. Normally the Torah would have stated, “Any person among you….” Clearly the Torah is telling us that blood has a direct negative effect on our very spiritual essence.

Beginning from the juxtaposition of the relationship between blood and nefesh in the above verses, the Torah is telling us that an animal’s blood, although it is obviously technically a physical entity, is synonymous on a very real level with the non-physical life essence of the animal itself, unlike the other parts of the animal’s body. Abarbanel explains that when someone ingests the other parts of an animal, those parts are broken down and completely transformed by the digestive process. Blood, on the other hand, is essentially already “digested” and retains its originalnature when eaten. Thus, some aspect of animal nature is incorporatedinto the consumer of the blood. Even though the animals that are permitted forour consumptionare not violent, cunning, or predatory, their spiritual essence is far below that of man, who is the unique pinnacle of G-d’s creation. From the verses above we see that the blood is in the nefesh, the nefesh is in the blood and finally, the blood is the nefesh.

Because of the severity of this prohibition the Torah emphasizes that it applies to converts as well, an emphasis which is generally not found in regard to other mitzvot. Even though in regard to certain situations a convert is considered on a slightly different halachic plane (such as for marriage eligibility), here we are specifically told that every Jew must be vigilant.

The significance of animal blood also explains its importance in the procedures of the sacrificial offerings. An offering expresses man’s desire to give himself over completely to G-d. The animal takes the place of the individual, since human sacrifice is obviously prohibited. Since we want to dedicate our very essence to the service of G-d, the blood of the animal, which is its very essence, becomes an essential component of the service.

Based on this analysis, Abarbanel offers a final unique perspective on the rationale for the prohibition. He compares eating an animal’s blood to eating the limb of a live animal, a prohibition which applies not only to Jews, but to all of Mankind as well, as one of the seven Noachide Laws. Since blood retains the life force and essence of the animal at all times, it is no different than actually eating any other portion of the live animal itself.

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