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Torah Sparks

PARASHAT NOAH
October 12, 2002 - 5763

Annual Cycle: Genesis 6:9 - 11:32 (Hertz, p. 26; Etz Hayim, p. 41)
Triennial: Year II-5763: Genesis 8:15 - 10:32 (Hertz, p. 31; Etz Hayim, p. 48)
Haftarah - Isaiah 54:1 - 55:5 (Hertz, p. 41; Etz Hayim, p. 64

Prepared by Rabbi Lee Buckman
Head of School, Jewish Academy of Metropolitan Detroit

Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations
Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Torah Portion Summary

(6:9-22) The earth's corruption moves God to tell Noah that He will destroy humankind. God commands Noah to build an ark in which he and his family and the animals and birds will survive the flood.

(7:1-9) God orders Noah and his family to enter the ark, with all the animals.

(7:10-24) The rains begin, and continue for forty days. All life on earth is blotted out by the waters.

(8:1-14) The Flood ends. Noah sends out a raven and then a dove to discover if the earth has dried. The dove returns with an olive leaf in its bill.

(8:15-22) Noah leaves the ark and offers sacrifices of thanksgiving to God.

(9:1-7) God blesses Noah and his family, permits the eating of meat, and prohibits the shedding of human blood.

(9:8-17) God places the rainbow in the sky as the sign of the covenant, the promise that He won't bring another flood upon the world.

(9:18-29) Noah's drunkenness and death. (10:1-32) The descendants of Noah's sons: Shem, Ham, and Yaphet.

(11:1-9) The story of the Tower of Babel and the dispersion of humankind.

(11:10-32) The ten generations from Noah to Abraham.

Torah Text Being Considered

Every creature that lives shall be yours to eat; as with the green grasses, I give you all these. You must not, however, eat flesh with its life-blood in it.

But for your own life-blood I will require a reckoning: I will require it of every beast; of man, too, will I require a reckoning for human life, of every an for that of his fellow man! Whoever sheds the blood of a man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in His image did God make man (Genesis 9:3-6)

Commentaries:

  1. As explicated in Leviticus 17:11, 14 and Deuteronomy 12:23, blood constituted the life-essence. Consequently, popular thought had it that one could renew or reinforce one's vitality through absorption of blood. For this reason, blood played an important role in the cults of the dead in the ancient world. In the Torah, however, precisely because blood is the symbol of life, it belongs to God alone, as does life itself. (Nachum Sarna, JPS Commentary to Genesis 9:4)
  2. We have already (Gen. 1:20 and 2:19) recognized nefesh which is related to nefets, the summit, as the highest degree of individualization in the order of succession of the creation. Nefesh is the most independent amongst the created beings. Equally so, we have recognized in dam (from domeh to be like something else, to be assimilated) the prototype of the whole body. The blood is the whole body in liquid state... Through the dam the soul rules the body. It is to this relationship that the Word of God refers with the words b'nafsho damo as long as its blood is held by its soul. The individuality... is the nefesh... The animal body is only allowed to be used for food when the blood is no longer under the control of the soul; the tissues of the animal body can become tissues of the human body for it is something entirely passive, inert, but the animal soul can never become, is never to become, the human soul. According to this, what the Torah says here is: no limb may be eaten if it comes from the animal while it was still under the sway of the animal soul. (Samson Raphael Hirsch on Genesis 9:4)

For discussion:

Even before there were Jews, the first commandment in the Torah deals with eating. (Ess, ess mein kindt) In the early chapters of Genesis a human being is told not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and evil. Humans are told to be careful about what is eaten because if we are not, we would have to leave Paradise. The fact that God's first commandment deals with food indicates that eating is understood to be much more than watching over our bodies and staying alive. Kashrut, for example, is not about hygiene (the Torah, after all, is not a medical textbook). Kashrut is not a diet for the body. It is a diet for the soul.

In our parashah, we are introduced to one of the fundamental laws of kashrut (the prohibition against consuming the blood of an animal) that illustrates this idea. What support do we find for this idea in the two commentaries above? How do these commentators see the prohibition against consuming blood actually affecting our souls?

Some points to consider:

In Sarna's comment, we see that the prohibition is meant to instill within us the sanctity of life. The context of the prohibition supports this in that we are told not to take the shedding of blood lightly. There is a difference between eating cereal and eating meat where a soul is involved. Hirsch, however, develops a different idea. He notes that according to Genesis, Chapter 1, the characteristic that distinguishes an animal from all the creatures prior to its creation is the nefesh.

The nefesh is that quality that makes an animal an animal. The blood carries the soul, i.e. the instincts of the animal. Therefore, consuming the blood of the animal is tantamount to transferring those instincts to humans which may tip the delicate balance of instincts within us and decrease the dignity of human life.

Vegetarianism anyone?


 
 
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