Several months ago I was in a local bookstore and was surprised to discover that while the Judaism and the Spirituality sections seemed to be shrinking, the largest book section by far was the one dedicated to Paranormal Romance novels. Spawned by the phenomenal success of the Twilight series, teen vampire love has apparently become its own literary genre. This leaves me feeling scandalized on so many levels. First I mourn the apparent evaporation of the contemporary adolescent mind. I know middle age people have been saying this since Moby Dick was a minnow, but somehow the dating habits of uber-hot gel headed vampires feels like a new low. Secondly, these stories all seem to present these hormonal para-humans as a misunderstood persecuted minority. As a member of a bonafide, misrepresented and misunderstood minority I want to scream foul and lobby for our own Messianic Jewish romance novel series. And lastly, THEY’RE VAMPIRES!! Am I the last person on the planet who has a problem with drinking blood! As a civilized people we should be scandalized by the idea of any ritual or lifestyle that appears even slightly invested of cannibalism. This should be so because we are given our general mores from Torah, which of course abhors such behavior.
In this week’s parasha Hashem’s attitude concerning the consumption of blood is unambiguous. “If any person of the Household of Israel or those who reside with them consume blood; I will focus my attention on them and cut them off from his or her people.” (Vayikra 17:10) I think it is noteworthy that this command is not only incumbent upon the native but also upon the stranger, those who do not have a con-sanguine relationship to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In fact in many ways this command has its roots in God’s relationship with Noah and His highest values for all people. Following the flood God permits the eating of animals. But this allowance is best understood as a concession to the innately evil character that humankind has taken on. So God restates the command he gave to the first people “Be fertile and increase, and fill the earth (Gen. 9:1),” but now it is followed by the sober evaluation of the relational disharmony that since developed with the rest of creation due to human sin.
The fear and the dread of you shall be upon all the beasts of the earth and upon all the birds of the sky—everything with which the earth is astir—and upon all the fish of the sea; they are given into your hand. Every creature that lives shall be yours to eat; as with the green grasses, I give you all these. (Gen.9: 2-3).
Recognizing its ineradicably evil disposition, God acknowledges that rather than a benevolent ruler who serves creation; humanity has become a predatory dictator, a rather distorted image of the Creator. So along with the permission to eat animals though, comes an immediate set of prohibitions against eating animal blood and shedding human blood
You must not, however, eat flesh with its life-blood in it. But for your own life-blood I will require a reckoning: I will require it of every beast; of man, too, will I require a reckoning for human life, of every man for that of his fellow man! Whoever sheds the blood of man, By man shall his blood be shed; For in His image Did God make man. (Gen.9: 5-6)
It is almost as though God expects that when man kills animals, the taking of human life is a near and soon probability. It is no wonder then that the placing of blood upon the altar is essential for atonement, since it is the life giving force for all animals. When people are made to recognize the sanctity of life, every life, and recognize their own blood lust, they are liberated to rededicate their own lives to the service of Hashem.
So it is that clear, the consumption of blood is clearly forbidden by Torah. Then why does Yeshua make this outlandish proclamation? “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me, and I live in him.” (Yochanon 6:56) He clearly confused much of the crowd that had assembled around him and even many of his own talmidim deserted him as a result of this apparently offensive statement, which seems so antithetical to Torah (v.66). So what did Yeshua mean? Truly he is ahead of his time, but is he really promoting vampire-ish behavior?
Perhaps the Apocryphal book, The Wisdom of Ben Sirach can shed some light on these questions. Written early in the second century CE, Sirach is a collection of proverbial wisdom similar to the Book of Proverbs. On some occasions the narrative voice of Sirach though is Hocham or wisdom itself. It is not rare in the Jewish mystical tradition for wisdom to be personified and in fact to be identified as a Sefirot, an emanation from the Creator Himself. It is also not uncommon for Hocham to be spoken of in parallel to the Torah and the Memra, the Divine spoken word upon which all of creation was founded. This only becomes pertinent when we examine the voice of Wisdom as it exhorts the virtues of consuming its body.
Come unto me, all that be desirous of me, and fill yourselves with my fruits. For my memorial is sweeter than honey, and mine inheritance than the honeycomb. They that eat me shall yet be hungry, and they that drink me shall yet be thirsty. He that obeys me shall never be confounded, and they that work by me shall not do amiss. (Wisdom of Ben Sirach 24:19-22)
Here Hocham, the Divine Wisdom that emanates directly from the Creator makes virtually the same claims and promises that Yeshua makes to those who heard him by K’far-Nachum. Yeshua is not suggesting that anyone actually drink his blood, rather that we literally internalize his life force. The life is in the blood! Animal blood on the altar allowed us to recognize the sanctity of life; Yeshua’s blood, which was poured out upon the altar, allows us to recognize the sanctity of our own lives and to rededicate ourselves to the purposes of Hashem.
“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me, and I live in him.” When we take Yeshua upon ourselves we consume the living Torah. Many religious systems will lead us in the direction of a more virtuous life. But only by taking on the person of Yeshua do we become one with Hashem. Yeshua offers us more than flesh and blood; he is truly offering Heavenly Bread and Living Water.
Some statements can be so over used that they begin to sound like platitudes. Having a personal relationship with God is one of those statements. Yet that is precisely what Yeshua is offering us. He is living water that quenches even the insatiable thirst, the bread from heaven that ends the greatest of hunger. His body and blood is the life force that makes us one with him and one with the Father. He is the true food that gives eternal life.