“Do not eat any blood…any person who eats blood shall have his soul cut off from his people” (Vayikra 7:26-27). The prohibition against eating blood, which is universally observed amongst the Jewish people, is repeated three times in the Bible, including its appearance in this week’s parsha.
This prohibition carries with it the punishment of karet, excision from the Jewish people, a penalty reserved for the most serious of religious infractions. Blood is the essence of life -“be strong, lest you eat blood since the blood is the soul” (Devarim12:23) - and while we may, under certain conditions, eat animals, we are not to eat that which sustains their life.
Blood plays a crucial role in the two most important positive mitzvoth in the Torah, the mitzvoth of brit milah and that of the korban pesach. Performance of the brit milah necessitates the spilling of blood and after slaughtering of the paschal lamb the Jews in Egypt were to “take the blood and place it on the doorposts” (Shemot 12:7).
The mitzvoth of brit milah and korban pesach are the only positive mitzvoth the non-performance of which carries the penalty of karet. Upon analysis of these mitzvoth it becomes obvious that they share much more than a common punishment. “When a proselyte joins you and wants to offer the Passover sacrifice to G-d, every male in his home must be circumcised. He may then join in the observance. But no uncircumcised man may eat it” (Shemot 12:48). Why prevent an uncircumcised male from partaking of the pesach rite, which in ancient times was the essence of the seder? Would one preclude one who does not keep kosher from hearing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah?
Apparently, the brit milah and the korban pesach are one and the same mitzvah, expressed in two ways. Regarding the paschal lamb we are told that “The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are staying” (Shemot 12:13). This notion of a “sign” is part and parcel of the mitzva of brit milah. “You shall be circumcised through the flesh of your foreskin. This shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you” (Breisheet 17:11).
Our commitment to G-d must be expressed in two ways; by personal performance of mitzvoth and a commitment to the Jewish people. Our private covenant is symbolized by the brit milah, done in the most private of places and our public covenant is symbolized by the partaking of the paschal lamb as we identify with the act that began our formation as a people. “The entire community of Israel shall then slaughter their sacrifice” (Shemot 12:6).
When a parent arranges for a brit milah for their newborn son they are affirming their acceptance of the mitzvoth of the Torah. However, mitzvah observance (what greater sign of acceptance of mitzvoth can there be) is not enough. A Jew must feel that he is part of a nation with a unique mission and must identify with Jews everywhere and thus the pain of the Jews anywhere must be our pain. We must not be so engrossed in our personal mitzvah observance that we lose site of the needs of the entire nation. And we surely must not allow personal mitzva observance to create distance between Jews.
Yet caring deeply about and for the Jewish people without a personal commitment to mitzvoth does not suffice either. Brit milah must precede korban pesach. Sacrificing the korban pesach while remaining uncircumcised renders the pesach invalid. One must first and foremost accept the yoke of mitzvoth. Only then will one be able to take their rightful place in the leadership of the Jewish people. It is no coincidence that as the Jews were about to conquer Yericho, they were ordered to perform the mitzvah of brit milah - a mitzvah that along with korban pesach was neglected in the desert. Without brit milah, without mitzvoth, establishing a Jewish state is insufficient and perhaps even unnecessary.
“And I saw you downtrodden in your blood and I said to you. Through your blood you shall live, and I said to you through your blood you shall live” (Yechezkel 16:6). It is in the merit of the great mitzvoth of milah and pesach we were redeemed from Egypt. In every generation there are those who would eat the blood of the Jewish people. Through the merit of our dedication to personal mitzvah observance and Jewish peoplehood may we come together as a people, despite the differences we may have.
It is internal peace which gives us the strength to seek external peace. May we merit such peace so that the prayer of the seder, Next year in a rebuilt Jerusalem, a city of peace and a city peace, will be fulfilled.