Yom Shishi, 19 Iyyar 5779
Friday, 24 May 2019
Parashat Tzav 2012

Parashat Tzav by Rabbi Ariel J Friedlander
26 March 2012

Leviticus 6:1-8:36

This week’s Torah portion – Tsav (Command!) – develops the presentation of the laws of sacrifice in the Sanctuary that began the book of Leviticus last Shabbat. Details are added to the various offerings, and the investiture of Aaron and the priests is described. Lost within the blood and gore and guts of life and death at the altar of the Temple is the following commandment:

“And you shall not eat blood in any of your dwelling places, whether from birds or from animals. Any person who eats any blood, that soul shall be cut off from its people.” (Lev.7:26-27)

Rashi makes a point of emphasising that since this commandment is relevant to a person rather than the land, it therefore applies to all dwelling places of the Jewish people whether in the land of Israel or outside it. It may seem odd to a 21st century mindset that Rashi is highlighting the mandated Jewish aversion to consuming blood. However, when we remember that he lived in Europe at the end of the 11th century, this makes more sense. The First Crusade began in 1096, and took place in an era of intense anti-Semitism. Rashi’s community was in grave danger. Godfrey of Bouillon, a leader of that first crusade, and remembered as the conqueror of Jerusalem, declared that he intended:

““to go on this journey only after avenging the blood of the crucified one by shedding Jewish blood and completely eradicating any trace of those bearing the name 'Jew’” (Patrick J. Geary, ed. (2003). Readings in Medieval History

While the origin of the Blood Libel (the accusation that Jews murdered Christians in order to use their blood for making matzah) is not known, from the beginning of the First Crusade until the 20thcentury it becomes a regular excuse throughout Europe for attacking the Jewish community. Well-known cases in England include the deaths of William of Norwich (1144) and Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln (1255), who gets a shout-out from Geoffrey Chaucer in ‘The Prioress’s Tale’. In 17th century Poland, in order to protect his community from suspicion, Rabbi David HaLevy Siegel ruled that in lands where false accusations are made, white wine should be used at the Seder rather than red. The Jews of Damascus were accused of ritual murder in 1840.

These examples are part of history. However, accusations are still being made in the 21st century, and are still believed by many people to be true. In the week following the murders at Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse, where one who was taught to hate us has spilled Jewish blood once again, I find it hard not to be consumed by despair. Jewish reverence for human life is both well-documented and demonstrated. Post Second Temple we have replaced our animal sacrifices with prayers from the heart. Yet it is our supposed lust for blood that is the dominant excuse for attacking our people. Whether taken literally or metaphorically, too many people in this world see us as bloodthirsty and rapacious – as individuals, as a community and as a nation.

Rashi made it clear that each of us has an individual responsibility, no matter where we are. So what is it that we need to do to teach the world our love of life and peace?