SALT - Yom Ha-Atzmaut - 5 Iyar 5780 - April 29, 2020

  • Rav David Silverberg
            The mitzva of kisui ha-dam, which the Torah introduces in Parashat Acharei-Mot (17:13), requires covering the blood of a bird or a chaya (non-domesticated animal) after it is slaughtered.  The Midrash Tanchuma (Bereishit, 10) traces the roots of this mitzva back to the tragic story of Kayin and Hevel.  After Kayin murdered his brother, the Midrash tells, he did not know what to do with the corpse.  God sent to Kayin two birds, one of which killed the other and then proceeded to dig a grave and bury the carcass.  Kayin thus learned what should be done with a lifeless corpse, and he then buried Hevel’s remains.  “Therefore,” the Midrash concludes, “birds earned to have their blood covered.”  The mitzva of kisui ha-dam, the Midrash comments, serves as a reward, as it were, to the bird which taught Kayin how to properly care for his murdered brother’s remains.  (Of course, this does not explain why non-domesticated animals are also included in this obligation.)
            The notion of kisui ha-dam as a type of “burial” appears in the Radbaz’s Metuzdat David (204), where he explains kisui ha-dam as a type of “burial” of the slaughtered creature.  As the Torah states in presenting this command, “…for the soul of every flesh is its blood” (17:14), and therefore, although we are permitted to partake of the meat, we are required to “bury” the blood.  The Radbaz proves this point from the requirement to place earth on the ground before slaughtering, and then to cover the blood with earth after slaughtering, such that the blood is surrounded by earth both on top and on the bottom (Chulin 83b).  In this manner, the covering of the blood constitutes a “burial” of sorts.
            What might be the significance of the Midrash’s depiction of Kayin being shown how to bury his slain brother?  Why was the creature that taught Kayin the concept of burial deemed worthy of reward?
            On the simplest level, of course, the Midrash is emphasizing the importance of burial, whereby the deceased’s dignity and honor is preserved.  But additionally, there may be particular significance to the fact that the notion of burial was first taught to a murderer, who was shown how to care for his victim’s remains.  We might have assumed that after Kayin committed such a heinous crime, nothing he did anymore mattered, and there would be no value to tending to Hevel’s body.  Having taken Hevel’s life, nothing he did for Hevel could possibly have any meaning or significance.  The Midrash here perhaps emphasizes that even after committing a grievous, sinful act, one should not simply despair, and assume there is no longer any value to his good deeds.  The fact that the birds were rewarded for showing Kayin how to care for his brother’s remains demonstrates that even if one has failed, his actions still matter, and even his seemingly small good deeds have great significance.  If so, then the Midrash here instructs that like the bird in this story, we should be willing and prepared to guide all people towards performing good deeds, regardless of their past.  Even those who have made grave mistakes – as Kayin did – should be showed and taught how to act correctly, because every good deed matters and has great value, even after failure.