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Covering the Blood

Reasons for this Mitzvah and Lessons We Can Learn from It

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This week’s Torah portion discusses the mitzvah of covering the blood of a wild animal or a bird after it is slaughtered. As the Torah says[1] “And any man of the children of Israel or of the converts who live among them, who traps a quarry of a wild animal or bird that may be eaten, and sheds its blood, he shall cover the blood with dust.”
The commentaries offer several reasons for this mitzvah:
·        Not to be Merciless
The Sefer HaChinuch[2] writes that since the blood contains the animal’s soul[3] it would be cruel to eat the meat in the presence of the exposed blood. This reason does not apply to most domestic animals which, when sacrificed to G-d, had their blood thrown on the altar. The Torah did not wish to differentiate between domestic animals which are sacrificed and those which are not and therefore exempted all domestic animals from this mitzvah. (Since most birds cannot be sacrificed,[4] the mitzvah does apply to them.)
·        To Ensure It Is Not Consumed
The Rambam writes[5] that by covering the blood we ensure that the blood will not be eaten.[6] This wasn’t necessary for domestic animals which are usually sacrificed. Also, in the desert only consecrated animals were allowed to be eaten.[7] As explained above, most birds could not be sacrificed, and so the reason applies to them.[8])                                                                                                               
·        Not to Resemble Idol Worship
The Ibn Ezra writes that we cover the blood of the animals that cannot be sacrificed to G-d (as opposed to domestic animals that are eligible to be sacrificed) so that no one think we are sacrificing them for idol worship.
·        Reject Demon Worship
The Rambam writes[9] that the ancient Kasdians would consider blood impure, yet they would consume it to connect with the demons and have them reveal the future. The Torah wishes to repudiate this false concept and therefore forbade the consumption of blood, commanding us instead to sprinkle it on the altar. The custom of the Kasdians was that those who didn’t want to consume the blood would gather it in a hole in the ground and eat around the hole. They believed that the demons would consume the blood and that by eating in close proximity to those demons, one could connect and communicate with them. The Torah therefore instructed that we cover this blood in order to completely reject this concept. (See below as to why this was more likely for wild animals and fowl.)
·        Not To Energize Demonic Forces
The Seforno says that since wild animals and birds are usually found (and then slaughtered) in deserts and forests which are areas frequented by demons, G-d commanded that their blood be covered as the presence of revealed blood can give extra energy to the demonic forces.[10]
·        Respect for the Animals Soul
The Ohr HaChaim writes that because the soul of the animal is contained in the blood, it is proper to cover it out of respect. This is similar to the concept of burying a human body.[11]
The Lesson – Where to Put Your Energy
The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains[12] that blood represents energy and that ultimately we should be striving to put our energy into holy things. The blood of the following three types of animals represent the proper use and channeling of our energies:
1)     Blood of Sacrificial Animals
Since sacrifices are a mitzvah, their blood represents the energy that we put into doing mitzvot. This energy must be revealed for all to see and be inspired by it.
2)     Blood of Unconsecrated Domestic Animals
The animals that are of the species which are fit for sacrifice but have not been consecrated represent mundane activities which can performed for the sake of Heaven and thus elevated and sanctified. Because these activities are elevated towards holiness, it is appropriate to also perform them energetically.
3)     Blood of Wild Animals
Kosher animals belonging to species that cannot be sacrificed (i.e., wild animals and most birds) represent physical activities which, although not forbidden, can draw a person towards excessive indulgence. It is true that these activities may be necessary; nevertheless, one should not put too much energy into them. And even the energy that one must invest in them should be “buried,” (i.e., tempered) in “earth” (i.e., humility and submission to G-d).
This explains why we learn the general concept of honoring mitzvot from the mitzvah of covering the blood (see below regarding not covering the blood with one’s feet). As the Talmud says (Shabbat 22a) “the father [source] of all [of these examples of honoring mitzvot] is [the mitzvah of covering the] blood.” This alludes to the fact that a fundamental aspect (“father”) of all the mitzvot is to serve G-d energetically and enthusiastically (blood representing energy). As a result of this, one will certainly honor the mitzvot which is a way to honor G-d himself.
The Details
Although most of us do not get an opportunity to perform this mitzvah on a regular basis, I am presenting here some of the laws relating to this mitzvah so that we will know what to do when the opportunity arises such as when one does kapparot before Yom Kippur.
·        Which Animals?[13]
As mentioned above, this mitzvah only applies to (kosher) wild animals and fowl.
When slaughtering an animal that is the offspring of both a wild and domestic animal, one should cover the blood without a blessing. (An ibex, which is a kosher wild animal, can mate with a goat and produce viable offspring.)
According to the Rama, when slaughtering a buffalo, one should cover the blood without reciting a blessing while Rabbi Yosef Karro rules that one need not cover its blood. Presumably the same would apply to bison.
·        Earth Below[14]
In order to fulfill this mitzvah properly, one must ensure that one slaughters over loose earth so that the blood will fall on it and one will be able to cover it with the earth.[15] It is proper to verbally designate the loose earth onto which one is slaughtering for the purpose. This is derived from the verse which says “vechisahu be’afar – and cover it in earth,” i.e., that it should be encased in earth and not merely covered by it.
·        The Blessing[16]
Before covering one must say the blessing of, “Baruch… Asher Kideshanu… Al Kisuy Dam Be’afar – Blessed be G-d… who has commanded us… to cover the blood in earth.” The reason we say “in earth,” unlike other blessings on mitzvot when we don’t explicitly mention the details of the mitzvah, is to emphasize that the blessing includes both the covering with earth and the slaughtering over loose earth as mentioned above.
·        By Hand[17]
One must use one’s hand or a utensil (such as the handle of the knife) to cover the blood. It is forbidden to use one’s foot as this is considered disgraceful to the mitzvah. The Talmud[18] derives this from the proximity of the words “veshochat” and “vechisahu” (“slaughter” and “cover it”). This teaches us that one must do the act of covering with one’s hand (or a knife) just as he used those for the act of slaughtering.
Honoring G-d
When stating this law, the Rambam adds an explanation as to why one may not disrespect mitzvot. In his words,[19]
“When a person covers the blood, he should not cover it with his feet, but instead with his hands, a knife, or a utensil, so that he will not treat it with disdain and regard the mitzvot with scorn. The honor is not due to the mitzvot themselves. Rather, the honor is due to Him, blessed be He, who commanded us to observe them and thus saved us from groping in darkness and granted us a lamp to straighten crooked paths and a light to illumine the upright ways. As such, the verse[20] states, ‘Your words are a lamp to my feet and a light for my ways.’”
Mitzvot as G-d’s Emissaries
The concept of honoring the mitzvot is explained in the Midrash Tanchuma (Vayigash, 6). “Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai said, ‘One should honor the mitzvot because they are G-d’s emissaries, and an emissary is like the one who sent him. If you honor them, it is as if you honored G-d. If you disgrace them, it is as if G-d is being disgraced (Heaven forfend).’”
Why Might One Want to Use One’s Feet?
The Chatam Sofer (in his commentary on Chullin) explains that, according to the Rambam (quoted above), the reason for covering the blood was to reject the ancient practice of eating near the blood to communicate with demons. One might think it would be proper to cover the blood with one’s foot to show how one is “disrespecting” and rejecting demonic worship. The Rambam therefore explains that we do not honor the mitzvot for themselves; rather, we honor them in order to honor G-d Himself.
Since this is a lengthy topic, we will continue discussing it another time with G-d’s help.
May we Merit to Observe and Honor all of G-d’s Mitzvot!
[1] Levit. 17:13
[2] Mitzvah 187
[3] See Levit. 17:11 and 14
[4] I.e., the turtledove and the pigeon
[5] As explained in the Biur on the Ramban in the Chumash of Oz VeHadar
[6] This is why the prohibition against consuming blood is placed in verse 12, immediately preceding the mitzvah of covering the blood.
[7] This follows the opinion of Rabbi Yishma’el in Chullin 16b.
[8] The Kli Yakar says that the Torah didn’t need to protect against consuming the blood of domestic animals since it can be sprinkled on the altar when the animal is a sacrifice. This alerts people to the fact that it contains the life-force of the animal and they therefore understand that it may not be consumed.
[9] Guide for the Perplexed (vol. 3 chapter 46), quoted in part by the Ramban on these verses.
[10] This view is supported by the Torah’s mentioning of the trapping of these animals: “If any man will trap an animal or a bird… and he should cover the blood with earth.”
[11] The verse alludes to this by writing (in the very next verse): “Because the soul of all flesh is in the blood.”
[12] Likutei Sichot, 37, pgs. 52-54
[13] Y.D. 28:1-4
[14] Se’if 5 and Taz 6
[15] Please note that sand is also acceptable to use for covering the blood. The details of this will, G-d willing, be discussed at a later date.
[16] Se’if 2 and Taz 2
[17] Se’if 6
[18] Chullin 87a see Shabbat 2a
[19] End of the Laws of Shechita
[20] Tehillim 119:105
ׂWishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach and a Chodesh Tov!

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