Letter and Spirit

For the week ending 24 March 2018 / 8 Nisan 5778

Parshat Tzav

by Rabbi Yosef Hershman
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Animal Nature: Rejected but Represented

In a fascinating paradox, the two parts of kosher animals which are repeatedly prohibited are the parts that are given separate, prominent, and repeated mention in the realm of korbanot. We are instructed not to eat blood or chelev, a particular layer of reserve fat. But the blood of the korban is specifically placed on the altar, and the fats of the animal are often recited separately as part of the offering process. Why are these improper for consumption and proper for offering?

Blood and fat are the two poles of the animal organism: the essence of the animal is concentrated in the blood — for the blood is the nefesh; the chelev-fat is the final product of the organic life of the animal — reserves the animal prepares for its own needs. The blood, the nefesh, flows to all the other organs, and, with its rich deposits, allows each one to perform its function. Chelev, fat reserve, is one of the end-products of this process. Chelev is blood converted for selfish purposes, whereas chalav (milk)is blood converted for other-directed kindness. Both are related to the root chalaf, to change or exchange.

All of the organs, flesh, and material of the animal may be consumed by man. After assimilating them, man dominates them and harnesses them for Divine and human purposes. But the blood — the animal life force — may never become part of the human. Similarly, the chelev, the selfish animal aim, may also never become part of human nature. They are forbidden for our consumption so that we may devote ourselves to G-d, as humans, and without any selfish motives.

This reason for the prohibition of blood and chelev appears to be the reason for their exemption from the impure status accorded to dead animals. The highest form of tumah is a dead human corpse. It corresponds to the highest potential being lost. The more an animal corpse resembles a human one, the more likely it is to carry more severe forms of tumah. Dead insects, fish and birds are not subject to the same law. Similarly, even regarding a dead animal which does transfer tumah, its blood and chelev do not. This is because the blood — the animal nature, and the chelev — the selfish animal aim, have no resemblance to human nature and human aim. The Torah treats animal blood and chelev as wholly inconsistent with man, and, therefore, they do not transfer tumah.

In a korban, the blood can symbolically represent the essence, the life-blood, of the human being, and the chelev can represent human aims. But we are never to absorb or assimilate animal nature by consumption. In the korban, where the blood is merely representative, it symbolizes the life force of man, now devoted to G-d. The chelev, again, merely representative, symbolizes the surrender of all attainment to a higher purpose. In this context, both man’s means and ends are placed on G-d’s altar: man’s blood, ones’ energy, potential, and very life, along with the chelev, his goals and aspirations.

  • Sources: Commentary, Vayikra 7:23, 3:17

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