Parshat Tzav

March 25th 2016


In the middle of describing the procedures of burnt offerings, we read the following from Lev. 7:22-27: And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the Israelite people thus: You shall eat no fat of ox or sheep or goat. Fat from animals that died or were torn by beasts may be put to any use, but you must not eat it. If anyone eats the fat of animals from which offerings by fire may be made to the Lord, the person who eats it shall be cut off from his kin. And you must not consume any blood, either of bird or of animal, in any of your settlements. Anyone who eats blood shall be cut off from his kin.

While Torah describes the smell of the sacrifice as “pleasing to the Lord”, it must have tasted bland and tough. True too with the flour sacrifice, made only with oil but no leavening.

While it is true that animal flesh was approved for human consumption, it seems that God was trying to dissuade us from actually eating it; so many rules and restrictions were attached to eating animal flesh, it almost seemed not worth the trouble. Especially when the punishment for making an error was to be cut off from your people.

To me this indicates that while animal flesh was a permitted item on the Israelite menu, in practice it did not show up often. Having it there at all was an accommodation to people’s appetite for animal flesh, so as not to turn those who really desired it into criminals. But drained of blood and with fat removed, it had little resemblance to the juicy steaks of today that are easily acquired. Knowing the health concerns of eating too much meat, perhaps our ancestors knew more about diet and nutrition than we credit them. Like sugar and caffeine, just because meat is permitted does not mean we should consume it. Control over our appetite is a Torah virtue as well.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Noah