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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Re'eh(66)

In this week's sedra Moses stresses the evils of idol worship and the mitzvah of worshiping Hashem in His Temple. After Israel inhabits the Land of Israel and lives at a distance from the Temple they will be permitted to eat meant even it is not part of a Temple offering. But they must take care not to eat the blood of the animal, (from this prohibition is derived the need to "kasher" the meat by causing all its blood to drain out.)

This comment affords us a look at different interpretations of the Sages and of the Rishonim as well.


"Just be strong not to eat the blood , for the blood is the soul, and you shall not eat the soul with the meat"


Just be strong not to eat the blood: Rashi: From the fact that it says "be strong" you may learn that they had a predilection to blood, to eat it, therefore it was necessary to state "be strong!" This is the view of Rabbi Yehuda. Rabbi Shimon, son of Azai says the verse only comes to admonish and teach you the extent to which you must exercise will power with mitzvahs. If blood, which is easily avoided, as a man has no craving for it, yet it is necessary to strengthen you in admonishing against it; then certainly this is so for the other mitzvahs.


Rashi offers two opinions about the meaning of the word "be strong" in this verse. His staring point is the fact that it is strange to be told "be strong not to eat blood." As if we are ordinarily overwhelmed with an irresistible urge to be vampires!

Two diametrically opposed views are cited for understanding these words. Rabbi Yehuda's understanding is based on an historical perspective. He says: In those days, people did have this strange desire to drink blood; a desire, which to us today, seems quite vile and unnatural.

Rabbi Shimon differs and says, that if the Torah must strongly warn us against eating blood, an act for which man has a natural disgust, then we can learn a psychological lesson about the nature of man and his relationship to mitzvahs. Once G-d commands us not to do something, we automatically feel a desire to do it. Maybe our all-too-human need to remain independent may even create within us the unnatural urge to eat blood. Thus, Rabbi Shimon derives the idea that if we have to be strongly urged not to eat blood, then how much more so do we need to be cautious when the Torah commands us to overcome desires which are natural, like stealing or prohibited sexual acts.

It is interesting to see how two Sages view these same words, which relate to human psychology, in two opposite ways.


A new interpretation to the meaning of "just be strong" has been offered by both the Rashbam and the Bechor Shor. They point out that while we are permitted to eat meat, yet we are prohibited from eating the blood contained within it. This creates a serious technical problem - how are we to separate the blood from the meat ? This undoubtedly requires us to be very stringent when it comes to "kashering" the meat. Much diligence is necessary for us to be sure that all the blood is drained from the meat, before we are able to use it for human consumption. This is what "be strong not to eat the blood" means - be strong and scrupulous to remove all the blood, even if it requires concerted effort on your part.

This is an interpretation that can be appreciated by housewives (in the "old days" when women "kashered" their meat at home). It understands ("be strong" ) - not as a moral strength but rather as strength in determination in execution of the mitzvah.


The different approaches of Rashi as opposed to that of the Rashbam and Bechor Shor to this verse is characteristic of their different approaches to interpreting the Torah. Although Rashi proclaimed his interest in p'shat as opposed to the Sages' drash, yet he hasn't broken completely with their view of interpretation. He frequently relies on the Talmudic Sages' interpretations. In this respect, the Rashbam and Bechor Shor are much more independent of Talmudic influences in their approach to p'shat.


It is appropriate to note that the Ramban, of the same period as the Bechor Shor, often strikes a middle ground between these two positions. He will often offer quite original p'shat interpretations, but he will also add the view of the Sages in interpreting a verse. When he does, he clearly designates which is p'shat and which is an interpretation of the Sages.

On our verse as well we see the Ramban's characteristic approach. He cites the midrash of the Sages and then explains further the appropriateness of the word in the prohibition to eat blood. He says:

"It seems to me that "strength" was mentioned here due to the fact that in Egypt they had been attached to blood-rites. They had often offered sacrifices to the Seirim as it says (Leviticus 17:7)and this rite included eating the blood. This has been discussed in the Rambam's Guide to the Perplexed."

See how the Ramban strikes a middle ground. He affirms the Sages' midrash that the people desired to eat the blood, but he explained this as part of the idol worship which they had "lusted" after.

Rashi, Rashbam and Bechor Shor and the Ramban, three views of p'shat by the early Torah commentators. They showed the way to the diversity possible in Torah interpretation.

Shabbat Shalom
Avigdor Bonchek

"What's Bothering Rashi?" is a production of "The Institute for the Study of Rashi." The 5 Volume set is available at all Jewish bookstores.

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