Torah’s Eternal Relevance

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

Some might think Torah contains outdated laws. But as man’s mind and psyche do not change, neither does Torah. Ever since Noah, all humans share the identical unchanging psychological, philosophical and biological design. This is supported by God’s command that Torah never be altered (Deut. 13:1). 

Others feel Torah is optional. However, Rabbi Elazar Hakapor said, 

Against  your will you were created, and against your will you were born, and against your will you live, and against your will you die, and against your will you are destined to give account and reckoning before the King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He (Ethics 4:22). 

I would add, “Against your will you need air, water and food.” What do I mean? 

If you would recognize that your physical existence and design is not your doing, but you were created where you depend on oxygen and physical nourishment, you should feel compelled to learn how God determined you will have the best psychological life: how you can be truly happy. God designed your body and created food as a perfect compliment. God also designed your mind and soul and He created Torah as their perfect compliment. In his statement above, Rabbi Elazar Hakapor shares the blatant truth that we were coerced into existence. We were also coerced to follow system which is not optional. But coercion isn’t always negative, and “freedom” from religion does not lead to happiness. One who coerces a child to drink medicine saves the child. If we follow Torah, we will find only goodness and happiness. But people who oppose a Torah lifestyle veer from what can benefit them, just as children who don’t swallow medicine will die. But it is wiser to follow the great Rabbis and God who taught that happiness is generated by following God’s Torah, just as happiness is generated by following a doctor’s advice. 

We gain deep appreciation for God’s Torah system when studying it. An intriguing form of Torah command is found in what some consider an archaic prohibition of eating blood. But as you will see, this law bears a most applicable lesson. Instead of continuing Torah’s formulation of “Don’t do this” or “Do this,”  God formulates the prohibition of eating blood, also including Himself in the command:

And if anyone of the house of Israel or of the converts who reside among them partakes of any blood, I will set My face against the person who partakes of the blood, and I will cut him off from among his kin. For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have assigned it to you for atonement for your lives upon the altar; it is the blood, as life, that effects atonement. Therefore I say to the Israelite people, “No person among you shall partake of blood, nor shall the convert who resides among you partake of blood.” And if any Israelite or any convert who resides among them hunts down an animal or a bird that may be eaten, he shall pour out its blood and cover it with earth. For the life of all flesh—its blood is its life. Therefore I say to the Israelite people, “You shall not partake of the blood of any flesh,” for the life of all flesh is its blood. Anyone who partakes of it shall be cut off. Any person, whether citizen or stranger, who eats what has died or has been torn by beasts shall wash his clothes, bathe in water, and remain unclean until evening; then he shall be clean (Lev. 17:10-15).

Repetition Provides Clues

God says, “Therefore I say to the Israelite people, ‘No person among you shall partake of blood’” (17:12).  17:14 repeats this: “Therefore I say to the Israelite people, ‘You shall not partake of the blood.’”  Unlike other commands, here, God includes Himself in the warning by adding, “I say…” Why this inclusion? God could have simply said, “Don’t eat blood,” omitting the words “I say…” .

The blood eater is punished via “karase”—cut off—i.e., he loses the afterlife (17:15). In what manner is eating blood a greater crime than eating animal flesh without slaughter?  The latter simply require bathing, but the blood eater loses his afterlife. In either case, as one simply eats animal derivative, how is blood eating more severe?

The Motivation to Eat Blood

17:14 repeats an idea:  “For the life of all flesh; its blood is its life”;  “For the life of all flesh is its blood.”  What is this relationship between blood and life, and in what capacity does this relationship relate to the prohibition? 

Loss of blood causes death. Thus, eating blood—not flesh—can be construed as granting life. But that’s mere imagination. The motivation is clear: one seeks to prolong his life by eating that which he deems is the source of life. It's no surprise that there is a word “lifeblood.” Eating blood—not flesh—is man’s attempt at immortality. However, God is truly the only One who can grant life.  

Maimonides writes:

Man thought blood was the food of the spirits: by eating it man has something in common with the spirits, which join him and tell him future events…  There were, however, people who objected to eating blood, as a thing naturally disliked by man; they killed a beast, received the blood in a vessel or in a pot, and ate of the flesh of that beast, whilst sitting round the blood. They imagined that in this manner the spirits would come to partake of the blood which was their food, whilst the idolaters were eating the flesh: that love, brotherhood, and friendship with the spirits were established, because they dined with the latter at one place and at the same time: that the spirits would appear to them in dreams, inform them of coming events, and be favorable to them” (Guide, book III, chap. xlvi). 

Clearly, man’s estimation of blood was that it contained unique properties.

A Sin Against God

God repeats, “I say to the Israelite people, ‘No person among you shall partake of blood.’” Meaning, eating blood is a greater sin “against God” than other sins; the sinner goes against God who “told him” not to eat blood. Inasmuch as life is God’s greatest gift and man’s greatest value, if one seeks preservation of life through any means other than God, he commits this great sin: his view of God is not the “sole provider of life.” The punishment of eternal death directly responds to man’s error: “If you think life is preserved without God, your life is worthless and you lose the afterlife,” God says in other words. God sets His face against the person who eats blood (17:10) which Rashi interprets as “I will turn away from all My affairs and concern Myself [punish] only with him.” Simply put, this matter is urgent.  Similarly, when the Jews sinned, God replied, “I, I forgive your sins” (Isaiah 43:25). Had God said, “I forgive sins,” that statement would teach that, “God forgives.” But by saying, “I, I forgive your sins,” the emphasis is on “God” being the only one who can forgive, as if saying, “I and no other forgives sin.” Here too, God says not to eat blood. In man’s vain attempt to secure life, God warns against eating  blood to prolong life, since life is granted only by God. 

God’s repetition emphasizes that blood eating is a greater denial of God than other sins. Life must be viewed as under God’s control alone. By eating blood, one rejects the One who told us not to eat blood. This Torah section concludes with eating carcasses, the remedy of which is simple bathing, whereas blood eating forfeits one’s afterlife. Eating blood is uniquely heretical, while eating carcasses is simply a lust.   

2 Great Sins

Regarding the statement “I will set My face against him” Maimonides teaches this: “There is, besides idolatry (Lev. 20:5,6) and eating blood, no other sin in reference to which these words are used” (Guide, book iii, chap. xlvi).  Meaning, these 2 sins share something severe. Blood eating drives towards life (immortality), and idolatry drives towards success. If man thinks either—life or success—is obtained other than through God, he has sinned in an ultimately harmful manner: he rejected the reality of reward and punishment (life and success are from God) and he believes in powers other than God. Such a person loses his right to life. 

We now appreciate the severity of eating blood and what it shares with idolatry. The blood eater seeks to secure his immortality with a means other than God. The idolater seeks to secure success with a means other than God. 

Why is a reason openly stated for not eating blood—“For the life of all flesh is its blood”—but no reasons are provided regarding other commands such as kosher, sending the mother bird, lulav, and many others? 

As eating blood per se is not the true motivation, with His repeating “For the life of all flesh is its blood”, God unveils the hidden connection man makes between blood and life. Abstention from blood per se is not God’s wish, rather, God desires our abstention from seeking immortality through idolatrous measures. But as shooing the mother bird or wearing tefillin are the desired acts, we have sufficient information to arrive at these, and other commands’ purposes.  Again, blood eating is not man’s goal—it is immortality. So God spells that out to help man discover his true sinful motives. 

The Purpose of the Species

The prohibitions of eating a limb from a living animal (evair min ha’chai) and eating blood teach that the appetitive drive should not override sustaining a species. On a basic level, Noahide laws prohibit treating a living creature as food. A more extensive application of this concept is that even if an animal is dead, Jews must not treat the blood as an edible object due to its direct relationship to life. So, while the Noahide must only treat animals as a species in their lives, Jews must maintain animals’ higher purpose even after they have died, by abstaining from their blood. 

Not eating a living animal for a Noahide, and the Jews’ abstention of eating blood  both target man's recognition that animals exists not primarily as food, but that in their live states they display God’s wisdom through their behaviors and design. 

Man's existence has value, provided he abides by God's laws. But once man stooped to an instinctual level, the Flood was required. Here too, both Noahide and Jew lose their existence through these sins.

At the same time we do not support animal rights, that animals have any value outside human existence. All that God created on Earth is for the purpose of the intelligent being that can draw closer to his creator by engaging thought, reason and wisdom. Animals do not have a purpose other than to assist man in his physical needs, but primarily, to help man appreciate God's design of the universe and the animal kingdom. “God brought the animals to Adam to see what he would name them” (Gen. 2:19). God designed each species with unique qualities which reveal His wisdom to man.  

The core principle of not eating a limb from a living animal or eating blood is that human appetite does not override the primary purpose of the animal kingdom: to provide man insight into God's wisdom. Originally animals were prohibited to be eaten. Post Flood generations through today were weakened physically to avert man’s invincibility and tame his ego which were responsible for man’s sins (Rabbi Israel Chait). Thus, allowing animals as nutrition was God’s concession to compensate for man’s weakness. 

Sustaining a species is more important than a person's appetitive drive because the species offer man insight into God's wisdom, whereas the appetitive drive is merely a catering to man's lusts.

Vampires, Jesus and Torah’s Eternal Relevance

John 6:53 says, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man (Jesus) and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”  Additionally, vampires are fictional characters originating in the 1700s. They subsist on blood and live eternally.  

We see from the New Testament and vampire tales that human nature has not ceased from its idolatrous leanings towards blood eating for the purpose of attaining immortality. 

God is correct that eating blood is man’s attempt to secure immortality and must not be followed, while Christianity time and again violates God’s words.

In place of seeking quick fixes for securing our life and success, God already shared how we achieve this: follow His Torah to realize how the pursuit of wisdom is more fulfilling than any other endeavor (King Solomon), and God will provide your needs here and grant you eternal life afterwards. 

Torah’s relevance is truly eternal.