Included in the several laws and prohibitions that Moshe delivers to Bnei Yisrael in Parashat Re’eih is the prohibition against drinking blood. Moshe commands Bnei Yisrael, “Chazak LeVilti Achol HaDam,” “be strong not to eat the blood” (Devarim 12:23). In this commandment, strength is the ability to resist the temptation of eating blood. This would seem to suggest that drinking or eating blood, unlike many other Mitzvot which do not require such an active resistance, is a difficult prohibition to resist. However, blood is not usually considered to be a difficult temptation. Why then would the prohibition against eating blood seemingly earn a more prestigious seat on the hierarchy of temptation than that of theft, violating Shabbat, or illicit sexual relations?
It seems that there are two possible ways to answer this question: either the temptation was much stronger when Moshe delivered his speech, or the amount of resistance that is required to avoid this sin does not necessarily elevate the difficulty of the Mitzvah above other Mitzvot. The former approach, adopted by Rabi Yehudah, essentially establishes eating blood as a prohibition similar to Avodah Zarah; both were once the strongest of temptations and neither are particularly alluring today.
However, using the latter approach, as adopted by Rabi Shimon Ben Azzai, we can understand this resistance differently. Eating blood is used as an example, not because it is amongst the hardest of temptations, but because it is amongst the easiest of them. The Torah is making the point that while it is understandable that many of the Mitzvot may not be easy, we are nonetheless obligated to unilaterally channel our efforts towards fulfilling them. If eating blood is an easy temptation to avoid, yet we are required to apply effort to avoid it, it goes without saying that Mitzvot with greater temptations demand extreme effort to resist. This idea highlights the value of the struggle to fulfill the Mitzvot beyond the basic requirements themselves.
The positive impact of successfully resisting temptation is highlighted by the idea that,“Yashav VeLo Avar Aveirah Notnim Lo Sechar,” “[one who] sits and does not violate a prohibition receives reward” (Kiddushin 39b). Ironically, struggling with the fulfillment of Mitzvot is an essential component in performing them successfully. The ease of resisting a temptation such as that of eating blood somehow strengthens our internal willpower, which consequently not only earns us Sechar, but also augments our ability to resist future temptations.