187. Cover-Up: The obligation to cover blood

…he must spill out the blood and cover it with earth. (Leviticus 17:13)

As we discussed back in Mitzvah #148, there is a prohibition against eating blood. Here we are told that if a person slaughters a wild animal or a bird for food, he must cover the blood with dirt that is fine enough to be considered “dust.” This is only the case with an animal designated a “chaya,” such as a deer. A domestic animal, such as a cow, is called a “beheima” and this law does not apply.

The reason underlying this mitzvah is that the life-force of a creature is bound up in the blood, as we discussed in Mitzvah #148. We refrain from eating blood, because we are what we eat and to eat blood would feed the trait of cruelty. Here, we cover the blood of wild kosher animals to further distance ourselves from it.

We do not, however, cover the blood of domestic animals, as their blood was used to bring about atonement in sacrifices. It was not possible to cover the blood of animals offered as sacrifices, many of which were also eaten. The Torah did not impose two sets of rules, one for sacrificial beheimos and one for those slaughtered strictly for food.

Yes, the Torah requires us to cover the blood of birds even though some birds might be used as sacrifices. That’s because there’s an extremely limited set of birds that could be offered as such. The pigeons or doves that could be used as sacrifices represent a tiny fraction of the birds that might be eaten. Therefore, the overwhelming majority wins out over the one or two exceptions.

This mitzvah applies to both men and women in all times and places. It is discussed in the Talmud in tractate Chullin on pages 83b-88b. It is codified in the Shulchan Aruch in Yoreh Deah 28. It is #147 of the 248 positive mitzvos in the Rambam’s Sefer HaMitzvos and #49 of the 77 positive mitzvos that can be fulfilled today as listed in the Chofetz Chaim’s Sefer HaMitzvos HaKatzar.