Contributed by: R. Ezra Mizrahi
The Torah describes the prohibition of sacrificing an animal outside the Ohel Moed:
"Any man...who will slaughter an ox, a sheep ... and he has not brought it to the entrance of the Ohel Moed to bring it as an offering to Hashem... it shall be considered as bloodshed for that man, he has shed blood and that man shall be cut off from the midst of his people" (Leviticus 17: 3-4)
The punishment for sacrificing an animal outside of Ohel Moed earns an individual the punishment of "Karet" or being cut off, specifically that the individual dies an early death, thereby being cut off from the midst of his people.
What is shocking here is that the Torah prescribes such an act as comparable to being that of a murder! "It shall be considered as bloodshed" the Torah tells us.
How could this person's transgression of killing this animal be similar to killing someone?
Our great rabbis have answered the question in several manners. Ramban writes that until the time of Noah, man was forbidden to kill animals for his own needs. After the Maboul (Great Deluge), Hashem gave permission to kill animals for food. If one where kill an animal when not permitted, such as our example here (sacrificing outside of Ohel Moed), the act of slaughter is seen as though it has occurred before Noah, making the slaughtering tantamount to actual human bloodshed.
Keli Yaqar explains that when one kills an animal without a legitimate purpose, the same bloodthirsty characteristics emerge similar to that of an actual murderer. The act is tantamount to murder because the same instincts and emotions are being used.
Still, it is difficult to understand why the Torah is compelled to compare slaughtering an animal outside the Ohel Moed to murder. Are instincts and emotions enough to call this individual a pseudo murderer?
Yes. The Hizqouni explains that sacrificing in such a manner, brings people one step closer to Avodah Zara. Once a person does not come to the Ohel Moed to sacrifice, other intentions and laws may be compromised. Ultimately, the individual may sacrifice to Avoda Zara – as is hinted a couple of verses later:
"They shall no longer slaughter their offerings of the demons after who they stray."(Leviticus 17: 7)
We can now understand the gravity placed on this act by the Torah; an act which can lead to Avoda Zara, is distanced from Bnei Yisrael through the comparison between this act and murder. Spilling blood (i.e. murder) and worshipping Avoda Zara are two of the three sins where one should perish first and not transgress. The last such sin is sexual immorality, which is also prevalent in this week's parasha.
Our message is clear – actions that we can take in life often have double meanings, and could therefore be interpreted in different ways. We must always be aware of this, and prepare for both interpretations and the consequences therein.