26 Menachem Av
Erev Shabbat Kodesh
By Rabbi Yosef Mizrachi...
One of the many Halachot (laws) discussed in this week’s Torah portion Re’eh is the Torah prohibition against the consumption of blood. The Torah writes, “But be strong, not to eat the blood…” (12:23). Rather than simply issuing the prohibition, the Torah emphasizes that we must “be strong” to avoid violating this transgression.
The obvious question arises, why does observing this law require such inner strength and conviction? Blood is naturally repulsive. No ordinary, healthy person would feel any desire to drink blood. We could understand if the Torah would urge us to “be strong” not to eat a delicacy served in a restaurant with unreliable kashrut supervision. But why must the Torah exhort us to “be strong” when it comes to the consumption of blood, for which none of us feels any desire?
The ancient Egyptians observed a pagan ritual involving sacrificial offerings to spirits. As part of these ceremonies, the participants would drink the sacrificial blood. The children of Israel spent two hundred and ten years in this pagan culture, where the consumption of blood was deemed a sacred religious act.
Inevitably, over the course of time, they became desensitized to the repugnance of such a ritual. No matter how intrinsically abhorrent and repulsive something is, prolonged exposure has the effect of dulling the senses and making that practice more acceptable. Indeed, contemporary society in 21-century America does not need to be “strengthened” with regard to the prohibition against drinking blood. We are automatically repulsed by such a notion. But a nation that spent over two centuries among ancient pagans needed this warning. Seeing people around them participate in these rituals for so many years desensitized them to the repugnance of the act and brought it dangerously close to the realm of acceptability.
We are being told that society is advancing (when really it has completely regressed) since more things have now become “acceptable” when they are really repulsive. It’s not that society has advanced, but that they had desensitized us to the complete degradation taking place all around us. We must remember that our values are dictated by the Torah, and not by the degradation of the society around us. What is acceptable for them is not necessarily acceptable for us. If we remember to keep our senses attuned to the teachings of the Torah, they will not become as dulled by the messages they pick up from the general society, and we will remain fully committed to the laws and values of our upright ancient tradition.