Torah Defense of Vegetarianism*

One of the benefits of living a spiritual life is that the Torah and mitzvoth enable us to elevate every action – no matter how seemingly materialistic and physical – into an act of pious significance.  One prime example in which the Torah makes a mundane activity into a lofty deed is eating.  On one level, the consumption of food is sanctified by the blessings that we make before and after eating, transforming the basic human need of satiety into an act that helps us serve God.

In Parashat Re’ah, the Torah introduces the concept of shechita (ritual slaughter) or certain animals for human consumption.  The posuk states, “When HaShem your God shall enlarge your border as He has promised you, and you will say ‘I will eat meat,’ for your soul longs to eat meat, you may eat meat, whatever your soul desires. . . .” Until this command, Bnai Yisrael ate only the meat of korbanot (sacrifices).  Once they entered the land of Israel, they were permitted to eat unconsecrated meat.

Rav Kook believes that human consumption of animals is not the ideal.  It is merely a concession to human weakness.  Nechama Leibowitz seems to support Rav Kook’s argument, emphasizing we were not given absolute dominion over the animal kingdom.  Rather, we are permitted to slaughter certain kinds of animals for food, strictly following the rules of shechita that were commanded by God.  The tone of the rabbis is only reluctantly permitting: “. . . . And you will say ‘I will eat meat,’ for your soul longs to eat meat, you may eat meat . . . .” The Torah is by no means encouraging that “meat of desire” be eaten.

The language of the sages suggests that this concession to man’s nature is only temporary.  When will man be able to fight his “lust” and live at the same level of spirituality that he was held to before the time of the Flood?  Rav Kook concludes that only when peace “bain adam l’chaveiro” (“between man and his fellow man”) exists will such controls become possible.  When man does not lift up arms against his fellow man, when he can control himself to that extent, only then will the compassion that precludes the killing of animals be attainable.

* The author of this article is, alas, not a vegetarian.

Put Back Into the World!

The Gemara comments on the words, “aser t’aser” (“you shall surely tithe) by stating, “Tithe in order that you become wealthy.” If a person takes tithes from his income and distributes this part of his wealth to the poor and to additional worthy causes, he shows that he is a “reliable treasurer,” and God will entrust him with more.  Similarly, regarding Torah studies and subsequent knowledge, if someone proves that he is a reliable “custodian” of his birthright and transmits this knowledge to others, God will bestow even greater wisdom!  (Rabbi Shimon Shkop in Shaarey Yoshuv).

Just as one must give at least one-tenth of one’s income to the poor, surely one must give at least one-tenth of one’s time working with/for others.

Candle Lighting Times and Torah Portions

August 2010 – Av-Elul 5770

Friday, August 6

Light candles at 7:30 p.m.

Saturday, August 7

Torah Portion: Re’ah (Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17)

Friday, August 13

Light candles at 7:23 p.m.

Saturday, August 14

Torah Portion: Shoftim (Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9)

Friday, August 20

Light candles at 7:15 p.m.

Saturday, August 21

Torah Portion: Ki Tetze (Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19)

Friday, August 27

Light candles at 7:06 p.m.

Saturday, August 28

Torah Portion: Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8)

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