Plant-Based Torah – Parashat Tsav: Lifesource & Sensitivity

April 2nd, 2020


Parashat Tsav is one of the quintessential parshiyot of the book of Leviticus – continuing parashat Vayikra’s meticulous descriptions of various sacrificial procedures, and concluding with the ordination of Aaron and his sons as the priests of the Israelites. However, between these two main ideas of the parsha are five fascinating verses as follows:

“And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the Israelite people thus: You shall eat no fat of ox or sheep or goat. Fat from animals that died or were torn by beasts may be put to any use, but you must not eat it. If anyone eats the fat of animals from which offerings by fire may be made to the LORD, the person who eats it shall be cut off from his kin. And you must not consume any blood, either of bird or of animal, in any of your settlements. Anyone who eats blood shall be cut off from his kin” (Leviticus 7:22-27).

In the very middle of a portion filled with gruesome details about the sprinkling of animal blood and the washing of entrails, a clear boundary is outlined – no one may consume the fat or blood of an animal. The Rabbis of the Talmud (BT, Keriot 20b) understand these verses expansively to include anything that has blood, including eggs, insects, and fish. Blood is essential for life to all sentient beings, and the Torah is clear about it being emblematic of life. Upon Abel’s murder at his brother’s hands, God notes that Abel’s blood itself cried out in distress (Genesis 4:10). The Jewish laws of shchitah, kosher slaughter, require numerous interactions with the blood of the animal in order for it to be consumed, including draining and burying the blood, to make the slaughterer abundantly aware of the consequences of the actions that lead to meat being able to be consumed. And yet, most of the Kosher meat producers raise and slaughter their animals hundreds if not thousands of miles away from larger Jewish populations – out of sight, out of mind. 

This very disconnect between the rituals to recognize the consequences of a slaughter and the product itself is a part of a greater, troubling phenomenon of animal products simply being foodstuffs, rather than a transparent association between the animal products and the beings that suffered and/or died in order to be rendered edible. The connection between the eater and eaten has been disrupted when the slaughter and other aspects of production are not visible to the consumer. This is what leads to the cognitive dissonance that allows for folks to be outraged when footage of animal cruelty is displayed on social media, and yet they will happily eat a bacon cheeseburger and a milkshake.

The Jewish Mystical tradition understands that all of creation has Divine roots, regardless of what surrounds that Core. Just as the Divine source flows through all things, blood, the great life-source, flows through all animals. Witnessing it causes empathy and sensitivity – hence why so many have a severe phobia of anyone’s blood, as it makes them abundantly aware of their own mortality. Consuming that life-source is literally bloodthirstiness, an impulse that the Torah seeks for us to reject. Just as we shall not “stand idly by the blood of our neighbor” (Leviticus 19:16), mandating a sense of compassion towards other people, we shall not benefit from the consumption of the blood of other living beings, mandating a sense of compassion towards animals.

The mitzvot are intended to teach us how to walk in God’s ways of compassion and justice, and rejecting the consumption of other living, sentient beings is certainly an effective step in the path of righteousness.

Wishing you all safety, health, and comfort in these trying times. Shabbat Shalom.

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