Parashat Ahareh-Mot: The Impact of Our Actions
The Torah in Parashat Ahareh-Mot presents the prohibition against the consumption of animals’ blood, and explains that this is forbidden because the animal’s "Nefesh" ("soul") is in its blood.
Why did the Torah need to prohibit the consumption of animal blood – which virtually all people innately find repulsive – and how are we to understand the notion that an animal’s "Nefesh" in its blood?
The Or Ha’hayim (Rav Haim Ben Attar, 1696-1743) explains by noting the difference between the human soul and the animal soul. The human soul is comprised of three parts, the lowest of which is called "Nefesh" (the other two are "Ru’ah" and "Neshama"). The "Nefesh" is what animates our mundane instincts, but it originates from the heavens, from G-d Himself. Animals, too, have a "Nefesh," which is expressed in their ingrained noble tendencies, such as dogs’’ loyalty to their masters, parents’ devotion to care for the young, and the instinct of self-preservation. However, while both humans and animals have a "Nefesh," there is a fundamental difference between them. A Jew’s "Nefesh" is connected to the upper worlds, and for this reason, our actions have a profound impact. We might draw an analogy to a long piece of string held at one end by somebody in New York, and at the other, by a person in California. If the person in New York shakes the string, eventually, after many months, the person in California will feel a vibration of some sort. Similarly, our actions here on Earth, both positive and negative, impact upon the upper worlds. This is not the case with animals. They indeed possess a "Nefesh," but there is no "string" connecting them to the upper worlds. And thus their actions do not have the same repercussions as ours.
For this reason, the Or Ha’hayim explains, the Torah strictly forbids the consumption of animals’ blood. An organism’s blood is its life source, as it sustains the entire body. A person who consumes an animal’s blood thus ingests its "Nefesh," which blends with, and thereby transforms, the person’s "Nefesh." Consuming blood has the effect of severing the soul’s connection with G-d, as his "Nefesh" is supplanted by the animal’s "Nefesh." Therefore, the Torah warns that the punishment for consuming animal’s blood is "Karet" – the eternal excision of the soul. By consuming blood, one detaches his soul from its source, and he loses his connection to the Almighty.
Incidentally, this is also the reason why Halacha strictly requires salting meat to drain all its blood before eating it. If even a small amount of blood remains in the meat, it could have far-reaching consequences for the very nature of the person’s soul.
Although none of us would ever think to ingest blood, this insight should heighten our awareness of the profound impact each and every action has. Sometimes we lazily decline a Misva opportunity, figuring that this Misva is not a "big deal," and not all that important. We must realize that even our seemingly small and minor deeds are exceedingly influential, and have a significant impact in the upper worlds, which in turn influences our world. Conversely, we sometimes allow ourselves to act inappropriately in private, where we are not seen and our deeds will not affect anybody. The Or Ha’hayim here reminds us that there is no such thing as an action which does not affect anybody; even a seemingly minor violation committed in private can yield profound and devastating repercussions, Heaven forbid.
The Talmud tells the story of the Roman general Titus, who stormed the Second Temple and entered the Kodesh Ha’kodashim (the most sacred chamber of the Mikdash) together with a prostitute. He tore down the Parochet (curtain), spread it out on the floor, and committed a sinful act on it. Rav Haim of Volozhin (1749-1821) writes that as grievous a sin as this was, a single, "minor" sin committed even in the mind of a Jew is far, far worse. Unlike Titus, we have souls that are connected to the upper worlds. Each and every action we commit – big or small – thus yields repercussions far more significant than anything Titus could ever do.
This concept involves both an exciting privilege and an enormous responsibility. We are given extraordinary power over world events, and must therefore exercise extreme care to act and speak properly at every moment, at all times, being ever mindful of the far-reaching consequences of everything we say and do.