Abarbanel on the Parsha

For the week ending 6 May 2017 / 10 Iyyar 5777

Parshat Achrei Mot - Kedoshim

by Rabbi Pinchas Kasnett
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Acharei Mot

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 original nature when eaten. Thus, some aspect of animal nature is incorporated into the consumer of the blood. Even though the animals that are permitted for our consumption are 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.


Moral Obligations

In this Torah portion (Vayikra 19:16-18) there are three apparently unconnected verses describing our obligations to our fellow Jews. Abarbanel ties these verses together and provides interesting insights into the nature of these obligations:

“You shall not be a gossipmonger among your people; you shall not stand aside while your fellow’s blood is shed — I am G-d. You shall not hate your brother in your heart; you shall reprove your fellow and do not bear a sin because of him. You shall not take revenge and you shall not bear a grudge against the members of your people; you shall love your fellow as yourself — I am G-d.”

One who spreads gossip will almost certainly create contention between his fellows. In some cases this contention may even turn violent and may result in the spilling of blood. The command to not stand idly by while blood is being shed adjures us to do our utmost to prevent such an occurrence. The Torah places the two mitzvot together to remind us of the possible dire consequences of malicious gossip. The addition of the words ‘I am G-d’ reminds us that even though the connection between slander and bloodshed is not always readily apparent, it is certainly known to G-d.

The next verse is a continuation of the subject of slander. Abarbanel explains that the Torah now tells us that when one hears that he has been slandered by another individual he should not let it fester, but should rather approach that individual in order to ascertain the truth. Reproof here means first finding out if reproof is even required. Unlike other commentators, Abarbanel explains that the expression “do not bear a sin because of him” does not refer to a transgression for not reproving someone’s behavior. Rather it refers to the individual who supposedly slandered. Perhaps there was no slander at all and he should not bear any sin due to the false reports of the spreader of gossip.

Another dimension of the commandment not to hate is based on our obligation to imitate G-d’s ways. Just as the ‘heart of G-d’ is one and has no place for hatred, only love, our hearts should be the same. The commandments not to take revenge or bear a grudge are exemplified by the following scenario: If your fellow refuses to do you a favor you cannot retaliate in kind. Likewise, if you do decide to do him a favor you cannot do so in a begrudging manner by telling him that you are doing so even though he refused to come to your assistance previously. The verse ends with the words, “You shall love your fellow as yourself — I am G-d” to point out to us that avoiding the negative behavior of taking revenge and bearing a grudge is not sufficient. We cannot say, “I will avoid taking revenge and bearing a grudge against my fellow, but I don’t have to love him as myself.” Rather, we must make every effort to create a positive connection with our fellow Jews, just as G-d has created the ultimate positive connection with his Creations.

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