Humans are the change agents on our planet. In this, eco-liberals and religious Jews can agree – we both see the natural world as essentially cyclically static, a system that, from a scientific perspective, is in a kind of autopilot. Since the days of open miracles are behind us, the only things in this world that are capable of altering the earth in any meaningful way are the actions of mankind.
From a more mystical perspective, the Torah also sees mankind as the change agents for the world. It is through mankind, acting as G-d’s agents, that the earth can be elevated toward heaven, that the waters above and below can be unified. But connecting the mystical to the practical can be a challenge. How does day-to-day life translate into an elevation of the physical into the spiritual plane?
The Torah tells us that an animal has two parts: its flesh (bassar), and its spirit (nefesh). When we kill an animal, we are forbidden to consume its blood – because the Torah tells us that the blood of an animal is where the animal’s spirit resides. We are not supposed to take the spirit of an animal into ourselves, probably because we are not meant to compromise our human nature. Instead, we are told, no less than three times, that we must pour the blood onto the earth, just as we do with water.
Think of the imagery! The spirit of the animal goes to the earth, while its flesh is consumed and absorbed by people. And the Torah tells us that we are permitted to fulfill our desire for meat, without limit, as long as we do it in a permissible manner. But why is it both proper and good to pour blood onto the earth?
I submit that there is a symmetry in all of our acts. An act of kindness, for example, affects both the giver and the recipient. It is a variation on Newton’s Third Law: that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. When we wash our hands, the water changes us – but we also change the water. Instead of being mere water, it is now a liquid that has aided in the fulfillment of a mitzvah, for preparation to say Shema, or to eat bread. When we go to the mikvah, we are at the same time preparing ourselves for holiness, and elevating the water and earth in which we are immersed.
The permissible and kosher killing of an animal leads to a symmetry as well: the spirit of the animal enriches the earth by bringing the physical earth higher on a spiritual plane. And the meat of the animal is used to elevate mankind as well, because we consume meat in a way consistent with the laws of the Torah, with blessings and appreciation to Hashem. And I think the Torah is telling us that the pouring of blood and water are similar in this respect. The Torah tells us that we are to pour blood “like water,” but nowhere does it say that we pour water! So I would learn from this that the Torah is not telling us that we pour water, but instead that the pouring of blood onto the earth is like doing a mitzvah with water. The act of returning blood to the earth, in a kosher manner brings the earth ever-closer to uniting with the waters above, with shamayim.
This is explicit when the Torah talks about sacrifices: And you shall offer your burnt offerings, the meat and the blood, upon the altar of the Lord your God; and the blood of your sacrifices shall be poured out upon the altar of the Lord your God, and you shall eat the meat. (Deut. 12:27) The highest possible purpose for an animal is to be used as a sacrifice, and even in this case, we are commanded to eat the meat, just as we are commanded to add the blood to the altar, elevating the point of the solid rock of the earth that is closest to the spiritual plane.
Note that there is no hint of vegetarianism in the text (after Noah). The Torah is telling us that we are welcome, without constraint or limitation, to indulge our desires: you shall kill of your herd and of your flock, which the Lord has given you, as I have commanded you, and you shall eat in your gates, to your heart’s desire. (Deut. 12:21) We are to eat whatever we want! All we have to do is to eat a kosher animal, kill it in a permissible manner, and make sure that in the killing and eating, we allow the earth to be elevated by the blood as surely as we are elevated by the eating of the meat.