The Ambiguous Pasuk by Moshe Kollmar


Parashat Kedoshim, while discussing various Mitzvot, gives the command “Lo Tochelu Al HaDam,” literally “Do not eat on the blood.” (VaYikra 19:26) This Pasuk is difficult to understand, so many commentators explain it, all differently.

The Gemara (Sanhedrin 63a) mentions several interpretations for the meaning of this phrase.  One is that the prohibition of Eiver Min HaChai, eating from a living animal, still applies while the body is moving, even after Shechita has occurred.  Another interpretation is that one is not allowed to eat a Korban (sacrifice) before its blood is sprinkled on the Mizbeiach (altar).  Still a third is that the Seudat Havraah, the meal of mourning, and Shivah are not observed for someone killed by Beit Din (rabbinic court).  A fourth understanding is that the judges of a Beit Din must fast on the day they sentence someone to death.  Finally, the Pasuk may constitute a warning to a Ben Sorer UMoreh, a rebellious son.  The last explanation is extended by the Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah 248) to include the prohibition eating gluttonously.  Elsewhere, the Gemara (Berachot 10b) explains this Pasuk entirely differently as teaching not to eat before davening Shacharit.

Many of the Rishonim translate the phrase based on the end of the Pasuk, “Lo TeNachashu VeLo TeOneinu,” “Do not practice divination or believe in lucky times” (VaYikra 19:26).  These prohibitions include most superstitions.  Rashbam believes the beginning of the Pasuk refers to the practice of some Nochrim to eat at the grave of a murder victim, in the belief that it protected them from the dead body coming back to life and taking revenge on them for all wrongs they may have committed, no matter how minor.  “Lo Tochelu Al HaDam” thus prohibits this behavior.  The Rokeiach and the Baal HaTurim both explain that murderers used to eat on top of their victims’ bodies, believing that it protected them from the relatives of the victim.  Chizkuni cites that the Emori had a custom that relatives of a murder victim should eat a meal at his grave, lest they be harmed if they are unsuccessful in avenging his death.  The Baal HaTurim in his extended commentary and the Ramban state that sorcerers used to kill a person and pour his blood into a pit.  Then they used to eat a meal surrounding his pit, attracting demons who would then tell the future to the sorcerers.  All these could be the action prohibited by Lo Tochelu Al HaDam.

This Pasuk may be ambiguous, but it is a Mitzvah and we must be careful to observe it in its entirety.  Although some of the interpretations don’t apply now, they will apply in the future.  It is important to know what these interpretations are, so when the Beit HaMikdash is built, BeMeheira BeYameinu, we can once again follow these interpretations.

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