Shabbat Parashat Kedoshim| 5764
Different Perspectives on “On”
Our parasha contains a phrase, made up of simple words, that is hard to even translate: “Do not eat on (“al”) the blood” (Vayikra 19:26). Rashi mentions some of the extrapolations from the pasuk that are found in Sanhedrin 63a. One is not to eat from the meat of korbanot (sacrifices) before their blood is thrown at the altar. Another is not to eat the blood of any animal before it fully dies.
According to these two explanations the word al doesn’t mean “on” but rather “before.” You cannot eat the meat before this or that is done to the blood. The apparent source of this approach is the proximity to the Torah’s prohibition of orlah (see Ibn Ezra). The laws of orlah tell us that one cannot eat fruit before three years have passed or before he has brought the fourth year’s produce to the Beit Hamikdash.
The weak point of this explanation is that al does not mean “before.” Rav Sa’adya Gaon, thus, takes a different approach, saying that al means “with.” This translation has ample precedent in Tanach. One example is as follows. The banner of the camp of Ephraim … and with (alav) it the tribe of Menashe (Bamidbar 2:18-20). Additional corroboration can be found in Bereishit 14:6; ibid. 18:2; Shemot 16:3; ibid. 35:22; Yeshaya 6:2; ibid. 7:2; Nechemia 3:2; and more.
These explanations do not take into account the end of our pasuk, “Lo t’nachashu v’lo t’oneinu” (do not be involved in various forms of sorcery). The Ramban indeed uses this proximity as the basis of his explanation. He says that there was a practice of witchcraft, which included pouring blood over a pit and eating at that place, and this is what is forbidden. The shortcoming of this approach is that, while it takes into account the proximity to witchcraft, it does not explain the connection to orlah.
The Rambam (Moreh Nevuchim) has an approach that takes both elements into account. There were people who engaged in witchcraft to try to hasten the agricultural growth process. Most trees take a few years until they start yielding significant fruit. The Jewish approach was, instead of using illegitimate means to try to hasten the process, to tell the person that he must anyway wait. In the fourth year, instead of partaking in the type of idolatrous feast that the Torah prohibits, we are to bring the fruit before Hashem and give thanks to Him.
Even within our “rational world,” there are people who stream to all different forms of mysticism. It is important for us all to remember to be pure in our behavior before Hashem (Devarim 18:13), which includes not looking for signs about the future. Rather, “all that happens to you accept without question, and then you will belong to Him and to His portion” (Rashi, ad loc.).
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