This issue is sponsored l'iluy Nishmas
Vol. 24 No. 27
Ruth bas Shlomo z"l
by her son
The Prohibition of Blood
The Ramban, quoting the Rambam, attributes the prohibition of drinking blood to the fact that the Kasdim (the ancient Babylonians) used to drink large quantities of blood in order to make contact with the demons, whose staple food was blood. They did so in spite of the fact that drinking blood is generally considered to be an objectionable practice. The purpose of making contact with the demons was, in turn to gain knowledge of the future, a power granted to the demons (the turning to whom is a form of denial of G-d's Omnipotence). That is why the Torah uses the expression "And I will turn my Face to the Soul that eats blood" - the same expression that the Torah uses with regard to someone who gives his child to Molech (another form of idolatry). Presumably, the Rambam bases his theory on the fact that, a few short Pesukim earlier, the Torah issued a prohibition against sacrificing to the demons.
The Seforno too, connects the prohibition of drinking blood with the power of the demons, and he uses that connection to explain why the mitzvah of Kisuy ha'Dam (covering the blood of shechitah) is confined to wild animals (e.g. deer) and birds, but does not apply to domesticated animals. It is, he suggests, because domesticated animals (e.g. the cow, the goat and the sheep), are generally to be found in the fields in the vicinity of the town, a location too close to habitation for the liking of the demons. Consequently, there is little likelihood of using the spilt blood of the shechted animals to make contact with them. This fear, however, is far more real in the forests and in the areas surrounding the towns, which serve jointly as the habitat of the demons and of the wild animals. Therefore, the Torah commands that, any wild animal that is shechted, must have its blood covered, to remove the temptation of calling the demons. (See Ba'al Ha'turim)
The Ramban agrees with the Rambam in principle, but, he adds, the Rambam's explanation does not go well with the simple interpretation of the pasuk, which repeatedly stresses that blood is synonymous with the Soul. He therefore explains that it is not befitting for one Soul to eat another, since the Soul of the animal, like the Soul of man, is contained in - indeed is synonymous with - the blood. The blood and the Soul of the animal, like the blood and the Soul of man, is a spiritual entity. It is therefore not for human consumption.
This is what the Ramban writes concerning this subject: "G-d created all of His creations for the benefit of man, since man is the only one of His creations who recognises and acknowledges Him. In spite of this, Hashem initially only permitted man to eat plants, not animals, as is clearly indicated in Bereishis. It was only after the flood, when all the animals were saved on No'ach's merit and after he had brought a sacrifice from them and it had been accepted, that they become permitted to man. Even then, Hashem allowed only their bodies, which He had created in the first place for man's benefit. Their Soul (i.e. the blood), was reserved as an atonement for man's sins (a Soul for a Soul) but not to eat. It is not befitting for a Soul to eat a Soul since, in all respects, the Soul of an animal is equivalent to the Soul of man (i.e. the Nefesh, not the Neshomoh). That is why it (the animal) has the common sense to flee from harm and to go for what it enjoys; it acknowledges those to whom it is accustomed and shows them much love - like the love of a dog for its master.
"It is also well-known," the Ramban continues, "that what one eats becomes an integral part of the eater. Consequently, were man to eat the Soul of an animal and it would become part of him, he would adopt the coarse, unrefined nature of its character and would become animal-like in his behaviour. That is because the blood is absorbed in its natural, unchanged state - unlike the flesh of the animal, which, due to the process of chewing, enters the human body in a changed format (the Ramban has presented a second difference between the blood and the meat of the animal). He then goes one stage further, referring to a pasuk in Koheles which draws a distinction between the spirit of a man, which goes to Heaven and that of an animal, which remains on earth. It is therefore wrong, he maintains, to combine the Soul which terminates, to that which is eternal.
The blood therefore, is used as an atonement on the Mizbei'ach, to create goodwill with G-d. This idea is clearly contained in the words of the pasuk (17:11): "for the Soul of the flesh lies in the blood; and I gave it to you on the altar to atone for your Souls, because the blood shall atone for the Soul".
* * *
Love Your Neighbour As Yourself
"Don't take revenge and don't bear a grudge against your people - and love your neighbour as yourself for I am Hashem."
Rashi, citing R. Akiva, comments:- "This is a major principle in the Torah."
The Gemoro in Shabbos (31a) tells the story of a gentile who asked first Shammai, then Hillel, to teach him the entire Torah whilst he stood on one foot. Hillel responded by quoting him Targum Yonoson's interpretation of the pasuk: "And love your neighbour as yourself." - 'Whatever you dislike, don't do to your friend'. The Kli Yokor explains that, by one leg, the gentile meant one principle which would serve as a firm basis for the whole Torah.
The Ramban writes that the Torah's statement is an exaggeration, since no person can possibly love another man to the same degree as he loves himself. And besides, he claims, R. Akiva has already taught us that if you only have sufficient water to sustain one person, and you are with a friend in the desert, then you should drink the water yourself because "your own life takes precedence." (Bovo Metziy'a 62a)
What the Torah is actually telling us, the Ramban concludes, is to care for your friend ("Ve'o'havto le'rei'acho ..."), in the same way as you care for yourself - i.e. to help him, using the same standards as you would to help yourself. Leave aside your natural jealousy, the Torah is saying, and try and help your fellow-Jew by increasing his wealth, his honour, his status, his quality of life, etc., in the same way as you would do your own.
In short, the Torah is instructing us to use yourself as a gauge as to how to treat your fellow-man, when it does not necessarily clash with your own self-interests.
The commentaries ask as to why Hillel turned the positive expression used by the Torah ("Love your neighbour etc.") into a negative one ("Whatever you dislike etc.")?
There is no doubt that not to do to one's fellow that which one would not like done to oneself is a branch of loving him, since you would surely take specific care not to hurt someone whom you loved. But why did Hillel choose that branch of the phrase, when the wording actually conveys a positive meaning?
Perhaps it is because with regard to positive preferences, everybody has his own, and it is therefore virtually impossible to use oneself as a gauge as to how to treat someone else. Whereas when it comes to negative inconveniences and dislikes, most people do not like to be insulted, hit or slandered. Consequently, it is far more feasible to gauge the other person's dislikes by one's own.
The Torah Temimah equates R. Akiva's statement (that we quoted earlier from Rashi) with that of Hillel. The reason that Hillel chose the negative connotation of the pasuk, he explains, is because the positive connotation infers the literal meaning - to love every Jew just as you love yourself. That, he concludes, is impossible, as we wrote earlier in the name of the Ramban. Therefore, he prefers to explain the pasuk like the Targum Yonoson, who was, incidently, his most outstanding talmid.
It is also worth noting that, according to Hillel's interpretation, the latter mitzvah in the pasuk (the one under discussion) will conform with the two mitzvos that precede it - in the very same pasuk - namely, not to take revenge and not to bear a grudge, both of which are negative commands.
* * *