Discovering the proper ‘taste’ of the mitzvot


The prohibition of eating blood is one of the best-known mitzvot in Parashat Acharei Mot. In his Commentary on the Torah, on Sefer Vayikra 17:10-11, the Ramban notes that many of the verses that proscribe the consumption of blood employ the word, nefesh.

This leads the Ramban to a deeply insightful analysis of this mitzvah: “If a person eats the soul of all flesh [that is, blood], and joins it with his blood, they become united in his being; this results in an obdurate nature and arrogance in the soul of man. Moreover, he will enter into a [spiritual] state that is close to the animal soul that has been eaten æ and the man’s soul will be combined with the blood of the animal. Therefore, the text states, ‘For [regarding] the soul of all flesh, its blood is in its soul’.” (Sefer Vayikra 17:14)

The Ramban’s spiritually oriented interpretation of our mitzvah focuses on several major elements: Ingesting blood results in a thickness and arrogance in the soul of a person; eating blood will cause a person to enter a spiritual state that is similar in kind to that of the animal he/she has eaten; it is untoward to mix the soul that has been cut off with the soul that continues to live.

In general, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik championed the Ramban’s interpretation of ta’amei ha mitzvot (the “taste” of the mitzvot), such as the one we have discussed, over the Rambam’s rationalistic and historical explanations, as found in the Guide for the Perplexed. The Rav based this position on “the incontrovertible fact that such [rationalistic] explanations neither edify nor inspire the religious consciousness.”

What, then, are the hallmarks of the religious consciousness? The Rav provides a poetic answer:

“Man seeks G-d out of a thirst for the freedom of life, a desire to expand and deepen the universe. The search for G-d means liberation from the burden of tyrannical nature weighing heavily upon him, release from the blind forces besetting man’s life. Weary from the travail of dull life, man flees to the region of complete liberty and conjoins with G-d. Man desires peace of mind and seeks to wipe the tears of sorrow from his face. Out of the totality of spiritual experience that flows from the inner uniqueness and independence of the creative spirit that rises ever higher, the religious experience is revealed.

May we be zocheh to come ever closer to Hashem. V’chane yihi ratzon.