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This Study Series is being released according to the Torah Reading Schedule.

This week- Section 33

Title- בחקתי (By My Regulations) (In My statutes)
Parashah/Parsha- Vayikra 26.3-27.34
Torah Portion- Leviticus 26.3-27.34

Unless otherwise specified, all quotes are from the JPS edition of The Torah, The Five Books of Moses, A New Translation of The Holy Scriptures, according to the Masoretic Text, First Section. Copyright 1967 by the Jewish Publication Society of America, Second Edition.

This week I want to discuss Deuteronomy 12.20-25.

20When the LORD enlarges your territory, as He has promised you, and you say, “I shall eat some meat,” for you have the urge to eat meat, you may eat meat whenever you wish. 21If the place where the LORD has chosen to establish His name is too far from you, you may slaughter any of the cattle or sheep that the LORD gives you, as I have instructed you; and you may eat to your heart’s content in your settlements. 22Eat it, however, as the gazelle and the deer are eaten: the unclean may eat it together with the clean. 23But make sure that you do not partake of the blood; for the blood is the life, and you must not consume the life with the flesh. 24You must not partake of it; you must pour it out on the ground like water: 25you must not partake of it, in order that it may go well with you and with your descendants to come, for you will be doing what is right in the sight of the LORD.

– – – – –

This Essay continues my commentary on this section of Moses’ presentation to Israel, which began back with Deuteronomy 12.2. See my Year 2 Essays, beginning with Essay 26 for my comments on those verses.

In previous Essays, I have established that I interpret Moses as presenting these things to Israel from his own individual, personal, volitional perspective.

I recommend my reader to read Year 2 Essay 29, which includes some explanation of why I hold that view.

I now move into my discussion about verses 12.20-25. These verses will be discussed in two parts. This Essay is part 2 of 2. For part 1, see Year 2, Essay 32.

I discussed the phrase “When the LORD enlarges your territory, as He has promised you” in the previous Essay, which was part 1 of 2.

In this, part 2 of 2, I will discuss the remainder of this passage.

Once Moses transitioned from that phrase, Moses continued by making an interesting statement “and you say, ‘I shall eat some meat,’ for you have the urge to eat meat”.

When I read that statement, I recalled the incident with the quail (Numbers 11.31-34). For me, I am wondering if Moses is aligning Israel’s future desires for meat to be something like the craving that they could not control in the wilderness.

That seems especially probable when we recall that Moses and Israel were still eating of the manna when Moses had given these words to Israel. Why? Because Israel had not yet crossed over the Jordan in order to begin taking inhabitation of the land.

Therefore, in that light, it seems that Moses is declaring that there will be a desire within them, and it will be strong, and in that desire Israel is permitted to eat meat but they must conduct themselves in a specific way, which was initially discussed in Deuteronomy 12.15-16, but receives a follow-up beginning in Deuteronomy 12.20 with “you may eat meat whenever you wish.”

Interestingly, one commentary[1] includes this notation regarding 12.20:
Kook sees this passage as God’s reluctant compromise with the biblical ideal of vegetarianism (see Gen. 1:29…). In light of the moral decline of the human race before the Flood, God finds it necessary to emphasize that there is a difference between human beings and animals. [Through the Law of Moses, Israelites] are permitted to slaughter animals under restricted conditions, while the shedding of human blood is strenuously forbidden. [Israelites] are commanded to cover the blood of the slaughtered animal (Lev. 17:13) to inculcate in [the conscience] a sense of [ethical and moral quandary] for having taken an animal life to satisfy [dietary] appetites.

Is it possible that commentary has application?

I am going to say yes, especially when that application is compared against Israel’s attitude with the quail as recorded in Numbers.

When one examines the opening narrative of Genesis, the world is created with humanity not partaking of any animal life. Instead, humanity was commanded to eat from seed-bearing plants and seed-bearing trees (Genesis 1.29).

But by the time Noah exits the Ark after the Flood, God had permitted, although it seems reluctantly, humanity to consume animals (Genesis 9.3). But God had prohibited humanity from eating the animals’ blood (Genesis 9.4). Only later in the Torah, after Mount Sinai, do we find that the blood is to be poured out onto the ground, which seems to harken back to how Cain’s blood was spilled out onto the ground (Genesis 4.10). But it seems the blood was not simply to be poured out but that the blood also had to be covered (Leviticus 17.10-14).

So there is a moralistic sense that the Torah does bring forth regarding the life of animals. And that moralistic sense is to be considered when an animal is slaughtered for dietary consumption.

In part, that helps substantiate why I have made the play on the word ‘sacrifice’.

Why?

Because whether the animal had its life’s blood drained so Jehovah could consume the animal, or the animal had its life’s blood drained so a human could consume the animal, the animal was slaughtered for sacrifice.

Therefore, the only difference made was the purpose of the animal’s slaughter.

In one slaughter, the animal is for Jehovah. In the other, the animal is for a human.

Therefore, a distinction is being made between the two types of slaughters. Israel is permitted to eat meat, but Israel must realize that they are not Jehovah.

Therefore, one sacrifice is sacred while the other sacrifice is not sacred. The sacrifice for human consumption is not sacred, but the sacrifice for Jehovah’s consumption is sacred.

That is why, when a human consumes the non-sacred sacrifice, both the unclean and clean are permitted to partake of the animal. As such, what is demonstrated is that there is absolutely no sacredness to human consumption of the animal.

How is that confirmed? Only the clean were permitted to participate in Jehovah’s consumption of the sacred slaughter.

Yet, even though human consumption was not sacred, humans were still required to consider the blood of the animal a ‘sacred’ sacrifice for the ability to consume the meat thereof.

That is why the blood was to be pour out, because the life of the animal was sacrificed, that is known because without blood there is no life in the animal.

Therefore what is seen is that human consumption is not consuming life, but consuming death, for the meat does not have any life in it once the animal’s blood is drained.

As such, humanity is placed in a type of moral quandary, in order to consume the animal, the animal itself must be slaughtered, sacrificed in a non-sacred way, and is thus killed, solely for the purpose of human consumption.

With that then, it can be seen why there is a strict prohibition for consuming the animals blood. Israel is being reminded that they are not consuming life, but death.

As for Moses’ statement: “If the place where the LORD has chosen to establish His name is too far from you, you may slaughter any of the cattle or sheep that the LORD gives you, as I have instructed you”, I can see why some interpret this passage as consolidating multiple sacrificial locations into one specific location.

However, I am still not convinced that Jehovah permitted Israel during their 40 years in the wilderness to sacrifice to Jehovah in multiple locations. Such seems incongruent with Jehovah’s emphatic emphasis on Israel following specific worship instructions.

Since Jehovah prohibited idols, it seems proper that it follows that once God has given the instructions for the Tabernacle and the Tabernacle had been built, then that Tabernacle was where sacrifices to Jehovah were to be conducted. No other conclusion seems reasonable.

Therefore, when Moses stated: “If the place where the LORD has chosen to establish His name is too far from you, you may slaughter any of the cattle or sheep that the LORD gives you, as I have instructed you”, then Moses is conveying something not easily seen in the text itself.

Taking into account the concept that life (blood) is sacred, and that Israel was to consider all life (blood) sacred, then it seems plausible, and reasonable, that Israel would see that they would take that sacred life (blood) to the Tabernacle, offering to Jehovah the life (blood) of the animal then consuming the animal for themselves.

With that in mind, it makes sense that Moses stated “If the place where the LORD has chosen to establish His name is too far from you, you may slaughter any of the cattle or sheep that the LORD gives you, as I have instructed you”.

Through that statement, Moses is acknowledging that Israel understands the sacred life (blood) of the animal, but that sacred life (blood) does not have to be brought to Jehovah at the Tabernacle. Instead, Jehovah recognizes that sacred life (blood) of the animal, but permits the Israelites to slaughter the animal in all locations, when the purpose of the slaughter (life blood sacrifice) is for dietary consumption, which stands in contrast to what Moses states in Deuteronomy 12.26-27.

 
Footnotes:
[1] Deuteronomy 12.20 commentary, Etz Hayim, Torah and Commentary, p.1066, ISBN: 0-8276-0804-7.

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