OK, I’ll admit it. Much of the Book of Leviticus really grosses me out. There’s not a lot of water in this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Tzav. Like last week’s parsha, this week’s parsha is all about sacrifices. There’s not a lot of water, just what’s needed to wash different parts of the carcass or clean clothes or vessels. I’m fine with the Mincha (meal) offering because it’s pretty much just a flat bread eaten by the Kohanim. What I have trouble with is when the text gets into the details about the various animal sacrifices.
Chapter 7:2-5 read: “In the place where they kill the burnt-offering they shall kill the guilt-offering: and the blood thereof shall be dashed against the altar round about. And he (the Kohen) shall offer of it all the fat thereof: the fat tail, and the fat that covers the inwards, and the two kidneys, and the fat that is on them, which is by the loins, and the lobe above the liver, which he shall take away by the kidneys. And the priest shall make them smoke upon the altar for an offering made by fire unto the LORD; it is a guilt-offering.” Basically, the majority of the Parsha is a lot of killing animals, dashing blood and burning carcasses.
Yes, the priests ate much of the sacrifices which made it their primary food source, but I always questioned why God would need to smell the sweet, savory smell of the burnt offerings. I also admit that, even though I haven’t eaten meat in 36 years, I still salivate when I smell good barbecue. But I’m not God. I didn’t create the sacrificed animals. There must be something more to all of this.
What About the Blood?
One thing that is consistent throughout the parsha is the way the Kohanim treat the Blood. It’s a central theme of the sacrifices. The Blood is sprinkled on the altar. The Blood is dashed on the altar. The Blood is rubbed on the horns of the altar. Chapter 8:15 says: “And when it was slain, Moses took the blood, and put it upon the horns of the altar with his finger, and purified the altar, and poured out the remaining blood at the base of the altar, and sanctified it, to make atonement for it.” Verse 23 says: “Moses took of the blood thereof, and put it upon the tip of Aaron's right ear, and upon the thumb of his right hand, and upon the great toe of his right foot.” In verse 24, Moses did the same thing to Aaron’s sons and then dashed the blood against the altar. And finally in verse 30 it says: “Moses took of the anointing oil, and of the blood which was upon the altar, and sprinkled it upon Aaron, and upon his garments, and upon his sons, and upon his sons' garments with him, and sanctified Aaron, and his garments, and his sons, and his sons' garments with him.” Frankly, it reminds me of the last scene in the movie “Carrie” with blood all over the place.
It all sounds pretty gruesome until we look more deeply at one small section of the text 7:26 & 27: “You shall eat no manner of blood, whether it be of fowl or of beast, in any of your dwellings. Whoever eats any blood, that soul shall be cut off from his people.” To be cut off from one’s people is the worst punishment anyone could suffer.
The passage is interesting because it reads:
כָּל־נֶ֖פֶשׁ אֲשֶׁר־תֹּאכַ֣ל כָּל־דָּ֑ם וְנִכְרְתָ֛ה הַנֶּ֥פֶשׁ הַהִ֖וא מֵֽעַמֶּֽיהָ
The generally accepted translation is “whoever eats any blood, that soul shall be cut off….”
However, the word is not “whoever.” The literal word is “soul.” A more accurate translation should be “any soul that consumes any blood, that soul shall be cut off from its people.” The question then is; what is it about the blood, even from a kosher animal, that in no way can it be consumed? What is it about the blood that it has the power to purify and sanctify?
The question is addressed more fully later in the Torah (Parshat Acharei Mot, Lev. 17:10-16) but the first prohibition against eating blood goes all the way back to the story of Noah which says, people can eat any kind of meat (this is before Kashrut) but just don’t eat the blood. The text says (Gen. 9:3-4) “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; as the green herb have I given you all. Only flesh with the soul, which is the blood, shall you not eat.” If, as we have discussed, Judaism teaches that everything has a soul, and the text says the blood is the soul, perhaps a better way to understand the statement is to say that blood is the connecting point between the physical body and the noncorporeal soul. When we recognize that very few parts of a body do not have blood cells (hair, nails, tooth enamel and the Cornea), we can see that blood brings life to every part of our body. If a part of the body doesn’t receive enough blood or if the blood supply is cut off, it’s called Ischemia. When this happens the cells in the affected area begin to die, which can lead to death. So basically, from a Jewish perspective, when there is a disconnection between the body and the soul, death occurs, and the connecting point between the body and the soul is the blood.
Science Meets Spiritual
The question now is, what is the nature of blood? From a scientific perspective, blood is made up of 4 components: plasma, red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. All serve specific functions, but the point from our perspective we so often overlook is that blood is about 90% water. In fact, our entire bodily system functions as it does because of fluids such as blood, lymph, milk, semen, saliva etc. which are mostly water.
Science will tell us that the chemical reactions of life take place in aqueous solutions. Life began in water, and water sustains life. Which causes me to always return to Genesis 1:2:
ר֣וּחַ אֱלֹהִ֔ים מְרַחֶ֖פֶת עַל־פְּנֵ֥י הַמָּֽיִם
The Spirit of God is on the Water.
In its purest state, or in its biological state, water purifies, water sanctifies, water gives life, water sustains life. Water connects us to our souls and to God. It’s time we treat with the care, the respect, indeed the reverence it deserves.