Achrei Mot

[Based on a dvar torah written by R’ David Silverberg on the VBM]

Parshat Acharei-Mot introduces the obligation of kisui ha-dam – covering the blood that spills out of birds or non-domesticated animals, when slaughtering them for consumption:

“And if any Israelite…who hunts down an animal or a bird that may be eaten, he shall pour out its blood and cover it with earth” (17:13).

A few approaches and explanations offered, with regard to the practice of kisui ha-dam:

1. The Rambam, in his Moreh Nevuchim (3:46), consistent with his general approach to mitzvot as intended to negate the pagan practices and beliefs of the ancients, explains the obligation of kisui ha-dam on the basis of the blood rituals reportedly practiced by the ancient pagans. The pagans considered blood to be food of the spirits, and therefore some sects would collect the blood of a slaughtered animal in a receptacle and eat the animal’s meat while sitting around the blood. By doing this, the pagans believed they were forging some sort of camaraderie with the “spirits,” because both the idolaters and the spirits would be feasting at the same time, on the animal and the animal’s blood, respectively.

The prevalence of this practice, according to the Rambam, gave rise to the Torah prohibition against eating blood, as well as to the prominent role of blood-sprinkling in the sacrificial process, which precluded the possibility of ritual gatherings around animal blood. The blood of birds and non-domesticated beasts, which, by and large, were not offered as sacrifices, had to be covered, so as to prevent ceremonial “spirit assemblies” near the site of spilt blood.

2. The Sefer Ha-chinukh (187) explains this obligation as aimed at preserving the refined character of the people. Should one grow accustomed to slaughtering animals and immediately proceed to partake of its meat as the blood remained exposed in a pool on the ground, he may develop a violent, heartless tendencies. Therefore, the Torah required covering the blood as a measure of self-respect and dignity.

3. Rav Shimshon Refael Hirsch similarly follows his general approach of viewing mitzvoth as symbols of the general values and ideals the Torah seeks to promote. Covering animals’ blood, represents the need to distance the animalistic essence from the human being. When we kill an animal for food, there is a risk of blurring the lines between humans and animals. After all, animals kill other animals to eat and survive, and human beings do the same thing. If we begin to think in this way, human beings are relegated into little more than a sophisticated animal participating in the ongoing struggle for survival.In order to reinforce the qualitative difference between man and carnivorous animals, the Torah required refraining from ingesting the blood, and required man to even go a step further and conceal the slaughtered animal’s blood. The Torah writes in this context, “For the life of all flesh – its blood is its life. Therefore I say to the Israelite people: You shall not partake of the blood of any flesh” (17:14).Rav Hirsch explains that in animals, the blood signifies the “life” – the essential component of the organism’s being. Regarding the creation of the human being, by contrast, we are told that Hashem“blew into his nostrils the breath of life” (Bereishit 2:7). Obviously, human beings need blood coursing through our veins to be able to sustain life, but the essence of a human being is his neshama, infused within him at the time of creation. As such, it stands fundamentally apart from the essence of all other living creatures.
Hashem therefore mandated that when the animal body becomes “part of” the human body – when a human being ingests the meat the animal – the “life” of the animal, represented by the blood, be distanced from the “life” – the internal soul – of the human being. The blood is mixed with earth, symbolic of its belonging to the same class as the earth, namely the source of the physical component of man (“The Lord G-d formed man from the dust of the earth” – B’reishit 2:7). The human being is thus reminded that the animal’s essence ranks together with the human’s external, physical existence, for only the human being possesses a unique divine strength and inspiration that elevates him above the rest of creation.

In trying to connect this to the upcoming Pesach holiday and a nice idea for the Seder, I was reminded of an idea I heard from Rav Moshe Taragin –
The Korban Pesach was a blend of being a Korban for Hashem, as well as food for us to consume on the night of Yetziat Mitzrayim.

What is the significance of the blood of the lamb that was to be applied to the doorpost? The simple reading is that it was a sign for Hashem to identify the Jewish homes.
The Gemara in Psachim mentions another purpose, and says blood on the doorpost was zrikas hadam. According to the general laws of karbanot, since a lamb is a domesticated animal, its blood is not covered, rather it is elevated by being sprinkled on the Mizbeach. The Korban Pesach was the first korban of an entire nation, but we didn’t have a Mizbeach! How could there be a sacrifice with no Mizbeach?? He answers that the first Mizbeach was the doorposts — the home. So the home is a specifically a place for serving Hashem. We don’t only serve Hashem in a synagogue or Beis Medrash, rather we also serve Him with family in the home. Clearly, the home and the family unit (immediate and communal) are key elements of Leil HaSeder.

At the moment of the Jewish people becoming the Jewish nation, we highlight the importance of our difference from the animal kingdom – and the ideal of being controlled by our neshamot, rather than our physical, animalistic composition – and we elevate our homes into a Mikdash Me’at and a place ofavodas Hashem. In trying to mimic that first Seder night, we hopefully turn our own homes on Pesach (as a model for the rest of the year) into a place for family gathering, divrei torah, avodas Hashem andsimchas yomtov.

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