Lecture 211: The History of the Divine Service at Altars (XXI) – The History of Slaughtering Non-consecrated Animals and Eating Meat (IX)

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy

Having concluded our examination of the issue of covering blood in the Bible and in the words of Chazal, in this shiur, we will consider the various reasons that have been offered for the Torah obligation to cover the blood of a slaughtered animal.


1. To Avoid all Suspicion that the Uncovered Blood is Part of Some Idolatrous Rite


The Ibn Ezra writes:


It is possible that since He commanded that one should not eat blood and that blood should not be seen poured anywhere outside the altar, God commanded that one must cover all the blood that is not sacrificed on the altar, so that an onlooker who sees it - the blood of a deer or a gazelle or a bird - should not think that an offering had been sacrificed to an idol. (Ibn Ezra, Vayikra 17:13, s.v. o of)


Blood that is not offered on the altar must be covered in order to avoid all suspicion that the uncovered blood is part of some idolatrous rite.


2. Distancing from Idolatry


"Who hunts venison" – Because hunting grounds are for the most part desolate, and demons are to be found there - as it is stated, "And ostriches shall dwell there, and the goats shall frolic there" (Yeshaya 13:21) - [the Torah] forbids one to leave blood uncovered there and commands him to cover it with earth, so that it not be ready for demons to be found there.  (Seforno, Vayikra 17:13, s.v. ki yatzud)


According to the Seforno, since hunts are usually carried out in deserted places, where demons are likely to be found, the Torah commands that one cover the blood in order to separate the blood from the demons.


3. Prevention of Cruelty


The Sefer Ha-Chinukh writes about the mitzva to cover blood:


To cover the blood after the slaughter of an undomesticated animal or bird, as it is stated: "Who hunts venison of any beast or bird that may be eaten; he shall even pour out its blood, and cover it with dust" (Vayikra 17:13).


Among the roots of the commandment: Since life depends on blood, as we said regarding the prohibition of blood, it is therefore appropriate that we should cover the life and conceal it from the eyes of onlookers before we eat the meat, for with this as well we would acquire a small measure of cruelty, to eat the meat while the life is poured out before us. As for domesticated animals, we were not commanded about this because the blood of the animal is offered for atonement for our souls and it cannot be covered. This being the case, the Torah did not wish to distinguish between consecrated and non-consecrated animals. While there are birds that are offered on the altar, they are a minority, and the Torah never concerns itself with a minority. Therefore, the Torah obligated us to cover the blood of all birds. (Mitzva 185).


The Sefer Ha-Chinukh suggests that the Torah commands that one cover the animal's blood because it would be an act of cruelty to eat the meat of an animal while its blood, which symbolizes its life, is poured out on the ground before the eater. An animal's meat is its most material component, while its blood is its most elevated part – its living soul, its life. It is inappropriate to eat the animal's material component while its life and soul lie before the eater.


The Sefer Ha-Chinukh explains why the obligation to cover blood applies only to undomesticated animals and birds, but not to domesticated animals. The primary purpose of the blood of a domesticated animal is to be sprinkled on the altar and thereby procure atonement for the person bringing the sacrifice, and it therefore cannot be covered. Since the Torah did not want to distinguish between consecrated and non-consecrated animals, it did not command that the blood of non-consecrated domesticated animals be covered. As for birds, only a small minority of birds are offered on the altar, and the Torah did concerned itself with this minority. Therefore, the Torah commands that the blood of birds must be covered.


4. Burial


Bereishit Rabba states:


And who buried him [Hevel]? R. Elazar ben Pedat says: The birds of the air and the clean animals buried him. The Holy One, blessed is He, gave them in reward two blessings that are recited over them, one when slaughtering and one when covering the blood. (22:8)


Kaf Ha-Chayim cites this midrash and adds:


This means: Just as they buried him, and covered his blood, so too their blood requires covering, measure for measure. (Yoreh De'ah 28:1)


This midrash discussing the burial of Hevel draws a connection between his burial, which was carried out by the birds and the clean undomesticated animals, and the reward that they received in the form of two blessings - on the slaughter of the animal and on the covering of its blood. A blessing is also recited over the slaughter of a domesticated animal, and so it would seem that the novelty is the blessing recited over the covering of the animal's blood.


The Kaf Ha-Chayyim explains that this is an instance of measure for measure. By virtue of their involvement in Hevel's burial and in the covering of his blood, birds and undomesticated animals merited that the Torah commanded that their blood must be covered. According to this, there is a correspondence between covering blood and burial.


The Radbaz on the Torah writes in similar fashion:


The reason for this mitzva according to the plain sense of the text… is because the blood bears the soul, and there is a mitzva to bury and conceal it, just as the soul is hidden in the body. Therefore, there must be earth under the blood and above it, similar to burial. The meat is eaten and the blood, which is the soul, is buried.


Similarly, the Ohr Ha-Chayim writes:


"Its blood is in its soul" – This means: in the place of its soul. This explains why it is necessary to cover its blood. Since the animal's blood is its soul, the ethical thing to do is to show it this respect, just as God commanded that a dead man must be buried out of respect.


When the Torah speaks of covering the blood, it means that the blood must be buried. According to the Ohr Ha-Chayim, just as a deceased person is buried out of respect, animal blood is buried out of respect for the blood, which bears the animal's soul.


The Radbaz adds that burial includes concealment, and in this respect blood is similar to the soul, which is concealed in the body. Therefore, according to the Halakha, the blood must be covered both from below and from above, similar to burial, so that the blood, which is like the soul, should be buried and concealed.


In other words, blood in itself reveals life forces. The idea is that the blood that becomes freed from the animal highlights the contrast between the blood and the slaughtered animal, which symbolizes death and annihilation.


5. Clear Distinction Between Man and Animal – the Place of Animal Blood is in the Earth


R. S.R. Hirsch considers the significance of covering the blood specifically with earth. What does this come to teach us?


The point of view from which the underlying thought behind all these laws may be found may be given in the introductory words: "And whatever man… hunts venison of any beast or bird." The animals concerned, beast and bird, are thereby designated with reference to their being animals, by their original natures, in the free state away from the power of man, animals of the open, "in the open field." But, in the slaughtered-outside laws, which preceded the associated blood laws, we have been told to regard the sphere of just these "in the open"-animals as being the one where the ideal of a free untrammeled animal life is most alluring to the sensuality of man. It is understandable that at the moment when animals of this sphere are taken to nourish human beings, the prohibition of blood and the separation of animal nature from man's nature which it presents should be given a further special mark of emphasis. The deepest difference between these two natures is, as we recognized in Bereishit 2:7, comparing that verse with 1:24, that in animals, not only the body, but the life itself, the "living soul" came from the earth, whereas in man, only the body was dust from the earth, but his life, his living soul, was a breath of God Himself, and so does not belong to the earth. (Commentary to Vayikra 17:13)


R. Hirsch's first assumption is that this law applies only to beasts and birds who live "in the open," outside the realm of human control. The Torah adds a law here that distinguishes between man and animal; with respect to animals, even the living soul comes from the earth, and not only the body (Bereishit 1:24), whereas with respect to man (Bereishit 2:7), only the body comes from the earth, while his soul is the breath of God blown into his nostrils.


When it is eaten, the animal's body becomes part of the human body, the two being similar in that both come from the earth. R. Hirsch continues to explain what happens when a person eats animal meat and the concern about mixing:


At the moment when animal body is to become a part of the human body – both related in being earth – the blood, representing the nature, the soul of this animal - is rejected from the threshold of the human being and mixed in earth, to which, in contrast to the soul of man, it belongs. (ibid.)


The blood of the animal, which represents its soul, must be kept apart the human soul, so that there should be a sharp distinction between the human soul, which is the breath of God blown into his nostrils, and the soul of the animal in its blood. Therefore:


The blood of the animal soul can never reach or become an integral part of man, but when freed from the body of the animal can only regain shape or form down in the realm of vegetable organism, it truly belongs to the earth which grows plants. Hence, the double definition: anything which comes under the conception earth and anything which grows plants is qualified to be used for covering blood.


That the fulfillment of this command is meant to be the representation of a thought, and not just simply an actual covering up of the blood, is quite evident from all the more precise laws governing it. For instance, one need not cover it again, that, according to the accepted halakha of R. Yehuda, it is sufficient to cover just a part of the blood, that altogether it is not actually covering but a mixture in earth which is prescribed, and that it requires earth from below and earth from above. (ibid.)


R. Hirsch emphasizes that the blood must be covered specifically with earth because the source of an animal's soul is the earth, in sharp contrast to the source of the human soul. The blood, which is the animal's soul, must be radically distanced from man.


Covering the blood with earth is the means through which the blood can reach its intended objective, and therefore it must be covered in earth, both from below and from above. The objective of the blood, the soul of the animal, is the earth, as this is the source of the animal's soul, and therefore we return the blood to its source. Therefore, the material that is fit to be used for covering the blood is anything that falls into the category of earth or that which grows plants.


It is interesting to examine R. Hirsch's reason in relation to the fundamental distinction between man and animals following the flood. In an earlier shiur,we cited conflicting opinions as to whether the change introduced after the flood was connected to man's elevated status or reflected his moral decline.


In the view of R. Hirsch, the important distinction that is reflected in the mitzva of covering the blood emphasizes the superiority of the human soul, with its Divine source, over the soul of an animal, which comes from the earth.


Not only does the Torah permit man to sacrifice animals and to eat them, but it is also interested in emphasizing man's superiority. With the help of the mitzva to cover the animal's blood, the Torah emphasizes the differences between man and animals.


6. Hiding Man's shame


R. Avraham Yitzchak Kook, in his treatise Chazon Ha-Tzimchonut Ve-Ha-Shalom, expands upon the mitzva of covering an animal's blood:


14. The mitzva of covering the blood and the slaughter. Covering the blood of the beast and bird is God's protest, as opposed to the allowance, that depends essentially on the corrupt state of man's soul. For the inclination of man's heart is evil from his youth, and this soul says: Eat meat because you long to eat meat. And it eats meat with all the longing of the soul, without any idea of internal opposition, based on a feeling of goodness and righteousness.


The Torah says: Cover the blood; conceal your shame and your lax morality. Even though man has not yet reached his fitting level, to give lofty morality like this entry into his practical life … and to understand that one must not take the life of any living and sentient creature, because of his needs and desires. The Divine actions, the mitzvot, will make their way and lay the moral groundwork, which will express itself in practice when the time comes.


18. Preparation of the covering: The covering of the blood of a beast or bird… is marked also… by preparation of earth below, in accordance with the tradition of Chazal. In other words, there is preparation that serves as a reminder of the shame even before the action is taken, when there is still time to change one's mind, to recognize that it is wrong to impair the life of a living creature, because "the Lord is good to all; and His tender mercies are upon all His works" (Tehillim 145:9).


According to R. Kook, the command to cover an animal's blood is God's protest against man. In his view, the allowance granted to man to eat animals is an expression of man's moral decline that accompanied the flood. As soon as the Torah allows man to satisfy his desire to eat meat, "Because you long to eat meat" (Devarim 12:20), without any restrictions or limitations based on justice, it commands that the animal's blood be covered, for man must conceal his shame and lax morality.


This is true even though man has not yet reached a mental and spiritual state in which he understands that one should not take the life of any living creature in order to satisfy his own needs and desires. The commandments come to educate man, to plant within him sensitivity and the proper attitude toward killing living creatures in order to satisfy his own needs.


The requirement to prepare the material to be used to cover the blood, and to prepare a sheet of earth below the blood will bring a person to shame, and in this way the mitzva works upon his soul. With this, when the time comes he will mend his ways, have mercy on animals, and not kill them merely in order to satisfy his own needs. This requirement emphasizes the fact that a person should feel that it is wrong to harm any living creature, because "the Lord is good to all; and His tender mercies are upon all His works."


(Translated by David Strauss)