Blood

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Reasonable minds might well wonder if there is a major blood-focus in Judaism.  In fact there is, and noting the fact is timely, for the bloodletting is on Passover, or Pesach.

I don’t mean the spilling this time of year of Jewish blood, of which there was indeed much over centuries in Christian Europe (another echo of Christian blood-fixation – Jews drinking Christian blood was a common slander in the Middle Ages, so much so that halachic sources actually suggest using white, not red, wine for the “four cups” in places where such libels are common).   No, not human blood but rather animal.

Specifically, the blood of the Pesach-sacrifice, which, in the times of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, was slaughtered the on afternoon before the onset of the holiday.  The meat of the lamb or goat comprised the final course of the Seder (the original “afikoman”), and some of its blood was placed on the Temple altar.

We don’t have a clear comprehension of the Jewish laws of sacrifices; somehow, the ritual dispatching of animals results in our own greater closeness to G-d (“korban,” the Hebrew word for sacrifice, means “that which makes close”).  But the spiritual mechanics, as is the case with so many of the Torah’s commandments, are ultimately beyond mortal minds.

The Pesach sacrifice, though, seems clearly to hearken back to the first Pesach, when the blood of the sheep or goat our ancestors were commanded to slaughter in Egypt, in preparation for their exodus from that land, was placed on “the doorposts and lintel” of each Jewish home.

In rabbinic literature, houses are symbols of the feminine, and so it has been suggested that the blood on the doors of the Jewish homes in ancient Egypt may represent the blood of birth.  From those homes in ancient Egypt, in other words, a new collective entity came forth into the world.  A Jewish nation was born.

As the Shem MiShmuel, a classic Chassidic text, explains, before the exodus the Jews were all related to one another (as descendants of Jacob) but they were not a nation.  Any individual was still able to reject his or her connection to the others and the rejection had an effect.  Indeed, our tradition teaches that many in fact did so, and did not merit to leave Egypt at all, dying instead during the plague of darkness.

Once the people were forged into a nation-entity, though, on their very last night in Egypt, things changed radically.  With blood on their doorways and satchels filled with matzoh, they readily followed Moses into the frightening desert on G-d’s orders, knowing not what awaited them.  As the prophet Jeremiah described it, in G-d’s words: “I remember for you the kindness of your youth… your following Me in the desert, a land where nothing is planted.”  And thus the Jews became a living nation, an entity whose members, and descendants throughout history, are part of an organic whole, no matter what any of them may choose to do.

Which is why, in the words of the Talmud, “A Jew who sins is still a Jew,” in every way.  There is no longer any option of “opting out.”

And so, blood in Judaism is a symbol not of suffering, not of torture, not even of death, but of its very opposites: birth, life, meaning.

The words of another Jewish prophet, Ezekiel – words recited in the Haggadah and traditionally understood as a reference to the Pesach sacrifice – well reflect that fact.

Referring to “the day you were born,” G-d tells His people: “And I passed by you wallowing in your blood, and I said to you, ‘in your blood, live.’  And I said to you, ‘in your blood, live’.”

© 2004 AM ECHAD RESOURCES