Lecture 210: The History of the Divine Service at Altars (XX) – The History of Slaughtering Non-consecrated Animals and Eating Meat (VIII)

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy

In recent shiurim, we discusseddifferent aspects of the prohibition against eating blood. In this shiur, we willrelate to the obligation to cover the blood, as presented in the continuation of Vayikra 17:


And whatever man there be of the children of Israel or of the strangers that sojourn among you who hunts venison of any beast or bird that may be eaten, he shall even pour out its blood and cover it with dust. For the life of all flesh is its blood, on which its life depends; therefore I said to the children of Israel, you shall eat the blood of no manner of flesh, for the life of all flesh is its blood; whoever eats it shall be cut off. (Vayikra 17:13-14)


These verses relate to the obligation to cover the blood of a beast or bird that was hunted. What is the meaning of this commandment and why was it stated specifically with respect to a bird or beast, undomesticated animals (chaya), and not with respect to domesticated animals (behema)? How does the Torah's attitude toward covering the blood of a beast or bird fit with its general attitude toward animal blood, as we have studied in recent shiurim?


We will begin with an examination of the Torah and the books of the Prophets to see how they relate to the covering of blood and their attitude to blood that is not covered.


The Blood of Hevel


After Kayin killed Hevel, God turns to him and says: "What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood cries to Me from the ground" (Bereisht 4:10). Interestingly, the Torah ascribes the "crying" to the blood; the blood, as it were, can cry out. The punishment is: "And now cursed are you from the earth, which has opened her mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand; when you till the ground, it shall not henceforth yield to you her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shall you be on the earth" (ibid. v. 11).


The Ramban explains (ad loc.):


That is to say, you killed your brother and covered his blood with earth, but I decree that it shall reveal its blood, for you will be punished through it and through what you cover with it, i.e., in your sowing and planting. This is the punishment for all shedding of blood, as it is written: "For blood pollutes the land" (Bamidbar 35:33), and pollution of the land brings a curse to its produce. (Ramban, Bereishit 4:11, s.v., asher patzeta)


Blood that has been spilled cries out for and demands revenge, even when it has been swallowed up by the earth. The blood that demands revenge refuses to be swallowed up by the earth and continues to cry out, since it has not been covered with earth.


The Decision Not to Kill Yosef and Cover His Blood


When Yosef's brothers discuss what should be done with him, Yehuda say: "What profit is it if we slay our brother and conceal his blood?" (Bereishit 37:26). Rashi explains: "And conceal his death" (s.v., vekhisinu et damo).


The Ramban expands upon this: "For it is way of secret murderers to kill their victim and cover his blood with earth." The blood is covered in order to conceal the murder.


The Chizkuni writes:


Rashi explains: "And conceal (ve-na'alim)his death," as in "And the thing be hid (ve-ne'elam)" (Vayikra 4:13), which Onkelos translates as: "And the thing be covered" (mekhuseh). For we will have to conceal his death, rather than boast about it, on account of our father's distress. And it is the way of the world that when a person takes revenge against his enemy, it is not considered revenge if he cannot boast about it.


According to the Chizkuni, covering blood is an act of concealment. When blood is left unconcealed, it serves as a reminder of the murder that took place.


The Blood of the Sons of Shaul


When the Givonites demanded the hanging of the sons of Shaul, David handed over to them the two sons of Ritzpa daughter of Ayya and the five sons of Mikhal, the daughter of Shaul. They were put to death at the beginning of the barley harvest and then hanged. The Prophet describes Ritzpa's response:


And Ritzpa the daughter of Ayya took sackcloth and spread it for her upon the rock, from the beginning of harvest until water dropped upon them out of heaven, and suffered neither the birds of the air to rest on them by day, nor the beasts of the field by night. (II Shmuel 21:10)


It was Ritzpa's intention to publicize the brutality of the hanging, which was illegal, as it is forbidden to kill children for the sins of their parent and it is forbidden to let corpses hang overnight.


According to this passage, Ritzpa did not bring the bodies to burial from the beginning of the barley harvest in Nissan until the arrival of the first rain in Cheshvan – that is, for seven months. The Radak explains (ad loc.) that God wanted them to hang there until the beginning of the rainy season so that everyone should understand that the drought had been caused by the people's sins and the renewed rain was a sign that their sins had been pardoned. During this entire period, Ritzpa watched over the bodies, making sure that they were not be eaten by wild birds and animals.


The failure to bury Shaul's sons and leaving them hanging raises God's fury. Like the verses in the book of Yechezkel relating to the destruction of the First Temple: "For her blood is in the midst of her; she set it upon the bare rock; she poured it not upon the ground, to cover it with dust: that it might cause fury to come, that vengeance might be taken, for I have set blood upon the bare rock, that it should not be covered" (Yechezkel 24:7-8); and like the words of Iyov: "O earth, cover not my blood, and let my cry have no pause" (Iyov 16:18).


In this context covering the blood would have been considered like burial. Leaving the blood uncovered and failing to bury the victims "might cause fury to come, that vengeance might be taken."


The Killing of Zekharya Son of Yehoyada, the Priest and Prophet in the Temple


The killing of Zekharya son of Yehoyada is described in the II Divrei Ha-yamim. The evaluation of King Yoash is: "And Yoash did what was right in the sight of the Lord all the days of Yehoyada the priest." After Yehoyada dies, the princes of Yehuda prostrate themselves before the king and worship the asherot and idols, and anger comes upon Yehuda and Jerusalem. Prophets are sent to bring them back to God, but the people of Israel do not listen:


And the spirit of God came upon Zekharya the son of Yehoyada the priest, and he stood above the people, and said to them, “Thus says God: Why do you transgress the commandments of the Lord, though you cannot succeed? Because you have forsaken the Lord, He has also forsaken you.” And they conspired against him and stoned him with stones at the commandment of the king in the court of the house of the Lord. Thus, Yoash the king did not remember the faithful love which Yehoyada his father had shown him, but he slew his son. And when he died, he said, “May the Lord see and avenge.” (II Divrei Ha-yamim 24:20-22)


The killing of Zekharya the son of Yehoyada, the priest and the prophet, was more than just the killing of a priest and a prophet in the Temple, as is stated in the book of Eikha: "Shall priest and prophet be slain in the sanctuary of the Lord" (Eikha 2:20). It was a terrible show of ingratitude towards Yehoyada, who had saved Yoash from the hands of Atalya. This cruelty is expressed in the words of Chazal,who describe the killing of Zekharya with great severity. The gemara in Yoma states:


When Yermiya lamented over the destruction and said: "Shall the women eat their fruit, their children that are handled in the hands?" (Eikha 2:20), the holy spirit replied: "Shall the priest and the prophet be slain in the sanctuary of the Lord?" (Yoma 38b)


Chazal describe how Zekharya's blood continues to bubble and cannot be covered. We thus find in a petichta in Eikha Rabba (23):


"But it brings their iniquity to remembrance, that they may be taken" (Yechezkel 21:28) – this refers to the sin of Zekharya. This is what is written: "And the spirit of God came upon Zekharya, the son of Yehoyada, the priest, and he stood above the people" (II Divrei Ha-yamim 24:20). Was he above the heads of the people, that you say "above the people"? Rather, he viewed himself as being higher than all the other people, since he was son-in-law of the king, High Priest, prophet, and judge… When Nevuzaradan came up, the blood began to bubble. He said: What kind of blood is this? They said to him: It is the blood of the bulls, rams, and sheep that they would slaughter. He immediately sent [messengers] and they brought him sacrificial blood, but it was different from the other. He said to them: If you tell me [the truth], well and good, but if not, I will tear the flesh of these people with combs of iron. They said to him: What can we say to you? The person who was killed was a prophet who used to rebuke us in the name of God, and we rose up against him and killed him, and for many years his blood has not rested. He said to them: I will appease him. They brought before him the Sages of the Great Sanhedrin and the Small Sanhedrin, and he killed them until their blood reached the blood of Zekharya, to fulfill the verse: "And blood leads to blood" (Hoshea 4:2). But the blood still bubbled. He brought young men and women and killed them, but the blood did not rest. He brought school children and killed them, but it did not rest. He brought eighty thousand young priests and killed them, until their blood reached the blood of Zekharya, but the blood still bubbled. He said: Zekharya, I have slain the best of them. Do you want me to destroy all of them? When he said this to him, the blood immediately rested. Straightway, Nevuzaradan thought to repent, and said [to himself]: If such [is the penalty] for [slaying] one soul, this man [himself], who killed all these people, all the more so. So he ran away, sent a present to his family, and became a convert.   


The midrash relates to the verses in Yechezkel and asserts that the people did not even treat Zekharya's blood as they would to treat the blood of a gazelle and a deer, about which the Torah said: "He shall even pour out its blood, and cover it with dust." Here, the blood was not covered.


As stated above, blood that is not covered tends to "cause fury to come, that vengeance might be taken." Owing to the terrible cruelty of the act, Zekharya's blood continued to bubble for two hundred and fifty years, from the last year of Yoash to the end of the reign of Tzidkiyahu, and it refused to be covered with earth. The bubbling blood continued to cry out to heaven.


In the parallel sources (e.g., Midrash Eikha Rabbati 23; Yerushalmi Ta'anit 4:5; and Kohelet Rabba 3:16), the story has a different ending:


Straightway, the Holy One, blessed is He, filled with mercy and said: If this wicked man, son of a cruel and wicked man, who came up to destroy My house, filled with mercy – I, about whom it is written: "The Lord, mighty, merciful and gracious," all the more so. He immediately signaled to the blood and it was swallowed up in its place.


Zekharya's blood continued to bubble until Nevuzaradan arrived in Jerusalem and cast many casualties upon it, so that it rested. The price of the killing of Zekharya and leaving his blood uncovered was terrible bloodshed.


The Shedding of Innocent Blood in Jerusalem Just Before the Destruction of the Temple


Another expression of leaving blood uncovered is found in the words of Iyov: "O earth, cover not my blood, and let my cry have no pause" (Iyov 16:18) – if blood is left uncovered, it cries out for revenge.


A clear expression of this idea is found in the book of Yechezkel in a most severe prophecy of doom: "Woe to the city of blood, to the pot in which there is filth" (24:6). The "pot" is the city of blood which will burn as part of the process of destruction. Jerusalem is the city of blood, the city from which the filth has not been removed, the city in which the blood that had been shed there cries out for revenge. If the blood is poured on bare rocks, it is not swallowed up, unless it is covered with earth. The prophet says as follows:


For her blood is in the midst of her; she set it upon the bare rock; she poured it not upon the ground, to cover it with dust: that it might cause fury to come, that vengeance might be taken, for I have set blood upon the bare rock, that it should not be covered. (Yechezkel 24:7-8) 


In other words, after the terrible bloodshed in Jerusalem, they did not even bother to deal with the blood in the manner that they are bound to deal with the blood of beasts and birds after they are slaughtered – they did not cover the blood with earth - and God will punish them measure for measure.


The blood will remain on the bare rocks and will not be covered by dust or removed by rain. Leaving the blood uncovered means that their wicked deeds will always remain before God and He will take revenge for their actions.


The Radak explains the verses and the significance of not covering the blood:


"For her blood" – Why all this punishment? "For her blood is in the midst of her," because the blood that was spilled in it in vain is uncovered, and it stirs up punishment and judgment. According to the midrash (Gittin 57b), this refers to the blood of Zekharya, which the mass murderer saw bubbling, and killed thousands and ten thousands on its account. This is what it says: "That it might cause fury to come" (v. 8).

"She set it upon the bare rock" – It is as if she set it upon a rock ledge, in a high place, where it cannot be covered. The meaning is: So much innocent blood was shed, to the point that it could not be forgiven with the sin disappearing from before God, but rather it stands before Him that vengeance might be taken…

"It might cause fury to come" – They openly shed so much blood, so that it caused My fury to come, so that vengeance might be taken from them.

"For I have set blood" – It says: "she set it" (v. 7), and it says: "I have set." She set so much blood, so that it remains uncovered, as if "she set it on bare rock," and I too set it so that it would be visible before Me.

"That it should not be covered" – because I did not want to forgive, because her sin was too great for pardon.



            In this shiur, we related to several instances where the Torah, the Prophets, and Chazal describe the severity of shedding blood and not covering it. These descriptions constitute an introduction to our examination of the mitzvato cover the blood following the slaughter of beasts and birds, which we will begin in the next shiur.