By: Rabbi Shlomo Rosenfeld
In middle of this week’s פרשה we get a series of פסוקים that are focused all about blood, specifically about the נפש of the animal flowing through the blood. Because the blood contains the נפש, we can’t eat blood and after we slaughter an animal, we need to cover the blood. And these לאווין seem to have an aspect of seriousness to them that we don’t necessarily see in many other places. The punishment is כרת, Hashem says He will put His face towards someone who eats blood and cut them off, very intense language.
Right after that series of פסוקים we hear all the לאווין of the עריות. Here also the punishment is כרת for anyone that is intimate with one of the relatives that the Torah lists here. The words used here are לא תקרבו לגלות ערוה, literally translated as do not come close to uncovering nakedness.
There is one other place in the Torah where there is a section of פסוקים that repeatedly drills this point about blood being the soul of a being, and the soul being in the blood, and as it happens, that פרשה is also followed by a story regarding עריות, and specifically with the root word of לגלות. Think back, way back, to almost the beginning, and in many ways, the new beginning. Did you guess it?
It’s the new world after the Deluge. Noach and his family exit the תיבה, Noach brings קרבנות to Hashem and then Hashem says to Adam I gave only vegetation to eat, but to you and your children I am giving the flesh of animals to eat like the grass of the ground. And then there are 3 פסוקים that say repeatedly how the נפשis in the blood, the blood is the נפש. And after that Noach famously gets drunk, he is ויתגל בתוך אהלו uncovered in his tent, which is the same language as לא תקרבו לגלות ערוה, do not uncover nakedness.
I think the Torah is definitely paralleling these two פרשיות, but what is the meaning of this? Firstly, how and why would these be connected? What does ספר ויקראwith the story of Aharon’s sons dying and him being instructed on how to properly approach God have to do with Noach leaving the תיבה after a flood? And secondly, why specifically through the obsession of blood being the soul, followed by a story of ערוה?
To understand this, we’ll need to get into exactly what the מבול was. As the מדרש תנחומא in פרשת נשא says אמר רבי שמואל בר נחמן בשעה שברא הקב”ה את העולם נתאוה שיהא לו דירה בתחתונים כמו שיש בעליונים, the purpose of creation was so that Hashem could dwell with us and have a relationship with us. Adam ate from the עץ הדעת which shattered that relationship, but Hashem was still willing to keep mankind and the world around for the sake of the relationship. There was no more גן עדן but the rest of planet earth was given to man to live and be with God. Ten generations later, the world had deteriorated to a point where this relationship was not possible.
But the purpose of the world had not been fulfilled so Hashem needed to start over. Hashem brings a flood, and Noach and his family hibernate in the תיבה for a year, then they exit into a new world. But listen closely to the verbiage of that episode.
1- Hashem sends a רוח to pass over the water to have the water begin to recede, and in the beginning, there was also a רוח אלקים hovering over water.
2- The water from below ceased to rise and the water from above ceased to fall so that the sky could be seen, exactly the way the waters split to allow for the רקיע to be seen on day 2 of creation.
3- Then as the water recedes further, they can see the tips of the mountains, same as יקוו המים אל מקום אחד ותראה היבשה.
4- What follows is vegetation (the olive branch) coming into vision, animals being entered into the world (the dove), and finally people reentering into the world, which is the exact order that the original creation happened.
5- Noach is then told פרו ורבו and is blessed, just as Adam was told פרו ורבו and was blessed.
What is evident from all this is that the מבול was an undoing of the creation and on some level the world was recreated. When Noach exited the תיבה he didn’t see the world that he had left behind, it was an entirely new planet. The closeness that Hashem had hoped for had been brutally violated and for humankind to keep existing the relationship needed to be less delicate and more durable to be able to handle the wickedness of man. As Hashem says after the מבול, לא אוסיף לקלל … כי יצר לב האדם רע מנעוריו. Hashem was willing to tolerate more wickedness but that meant that man would have to be kept at a distance that wasn’t originally necessary.
This caused the rules of nature to change as well. Pre-flood man and animal had been on a more leveled field and therefore man had no right to murder animals simply for his own survival, but post-flood man had more dominion over the rest of the world and now eating meat was allowed. The world itself had been “recreated” at a lower level, the ground, the animals, and the people that occupied it were all cruder than they had been before. But because man could still connect to God, the drops in stature were not in ratio, so now man had more dominion over animals than they had at the beginning of the world.
This brings us back to the פסוקים we are discussing. Hashem tells Noach, you can eat animals, but be very careful. Don’t eat a living animal and stay away from blood. The life of a being is in its blood and to consume that would be to overstep a boundary, even for you on your level. You can eat something that had once been living but you can’t eat something that is life itself.
Fast forward 10 more generations, mankind failed again, but Hashem had already sworn not to destroy the world again. So instead of further minimizing the sensitivity of the relationship, He minimized the number of people that would be involved in that relationship, namely, down to the family of Avraham, the Jewish nation. Avraham had the sensitivity needed to keep that closeness, and now it is obvious why our place in the world is ארץ ישראל, the only place, as the מדרשsays, not affected by the waters of the מבול. We are meant to bring Hashem into this world and to shine that original light onto the world by showing what a true relationship with God looks like.
So, 793 years after the world got destroyed, when the chosen people have finally built the משכן, where Hashem will dwell in our world with mankind, as was the original plan, there is a second set of rules that we need to be given. Just as Noach, the one who had been chosen to carry out God’s purpose needed to be warned of the sensitivity to life, we too, as the new chosen ones, needed to be reminded of this sensitivity. Yes, we are supposed to bring animals as קרבנות to Hashem in place of offering ourselves up on the מזבח, but don’t get cocky with that closeness and ability. Realize that you need to bring those קרבנות to the אהל מועד specifically, to connect to Hashem at the place where He dwells. And you can’t eat blood, since blood is the נפש, it is life itself, and to enjoy a relationship with the Source of Life, you need to be ultra-sensitive to life. Hashem says, כי נפש הבשר בדם היא ואני נתתיו לכם על המזבח לכפר על נפשתיכם כי הדם הוא בנפש יכפר. The life and soul of all living flesh is in their blood, and I [only] gave you rights to that blood to use it [specifically] on the altar, and it is through the realization that you are sacrificing a living thing [and keeping the understanding of the importance of life] that you will be atoned.
What follows for us is the פרשה of עריות which is considered one of the most serious transgressions that one can do. Noach’s downfall was the fact that he planted a vineyard and got drunk, there are many explanations to what went wrong there, whether he got involved in wine too soon, or the fact that he didn’t realize that the world was different and that he wouldn’t be able to handle the same amount of alcohol that he had been able to pre-flood. But regardless of the specific problem, there is a danger to getting overly happy with being chosen, and to then distort that closeness and chosen-ness to be some sort of supremacy. ערוה is the quintessential example of a distorted relationship, and Hashem is warning us, keep the understanding of the holiness of all life close to you, and use that to be careful not to distort your closeness to Me. You are special only because your forefathers kept that sensitivity when the rest of the world lost it, if you lose that sensitivity you are just like all those who drowned in the flood.
This whole פרשה is about not distorting our relationship with Hashem, which we can be specifically in danger of because we are the chosen people.