This week’s Torah portion, Tzav (Lev. 6:1 – 8:36) continues the details of the various sacrifices and ends with the order of the consecration of the priests. Towards the end of the section on sacrifices, God instructs Moses to tell the Israelite people, “And you must not eat blood, either of bird or of animal, in any of your settlements. Anyone who eats blood shall be cut off from his kin” (Lev. 7:26-27).
This is not the first time in the Torah that we are told that it is off-limits to eat blood. When God makes a covenant with Noah after the flood, it is the first time God gives permission for humans to eat the flesh of animals, but, “You must not, however, eat flesh with its life-blood in it” (Gen. 9:4). Immediately following this instruction is the prohibition of shedding human blood. A line is drawn between humans and other animals. However, it is reiterated that the blood of the sacrificed animals is to be drained before being eaten. Blood is not to be ingested.
Why this prohibition? The propensity towards violence appears throughout human history. Many Torah commentators believe that God permitted the limited consumption of meat, and animal sacrifices in the Tabernacle as a substitute for human sacrifice, and for shedding human blood. Predatory animals eat indiscriminately of their prey; skin, blood, organs and all. The detailed instructions given in this Torah portion remind us that we are created in the image of God, with the ability to choose to control our animal instincts.