When Hashem your G-d will broaden your boundary, as He spoke to you, and you say, “I will eat meat,” for you will have a desire to eat meat, to your heart’s desire you may eat meat. (Devarim 12: 20)
The Torah often contrasts the differences between man and beast. Parashat Re’eh opens with one of the major differences — the ability of man to choose between good and bad. We are commanded to keep the Torah’s commandments, which are all good, and to avoid the negatives, which are all bad. The result of adherence will be blessing and the outcome of transgression will be unpleasant heaven-sent disciplines.
The command to abstain from drinking blood appears not once but twice in close succession. The Torah says, “But you shall not eat blood; you shall pour it onto the earth like water” (Devarim 12:16). Several verses later, Moshe says, “Only be strong not to eat the blood — for the blood is the soul — and you shall not eat the soul with the meat” (Devarim 12:23). Why would a person have to be warned to strengthen oneself to overcome a desire to drink blood? Isn’t consuming blood against a person’s inclination?
Rashi cites a dispute. Rebbi Yehudah says we learn from here that in those days, people “were steeped in blood, to eat it” [i.e., eating blood was a common practice]; therefore, the warning was necessary. Rebbi Shimon ben Azzai said: “The verse came only to warn you and to teach you to what extent you must exert yourself regarding observing the commandments. If regarding blood, of which it is easy to guard against eating, for a person does not desire it, the passuk needed to encourage one to strengthen oneself — how much more so regarding other commandments which touch upon strong human desires.”
It seems that we humans have the power to control our desires by exerting ourselves against their pull. The general rule for Torah, therefore, would be to hold down desires for things of this world.
However, in verse 20, the Torah says, “When Hashem your G-d will broaden your boundary as He spoke to you, and you say, ‘I will eat meat,’ for you will have a desire to eat meat, to your heart’s desire you may eat meat.” This sounds like a permit to give in to desire to full satisfaction. Are we expected to exert control or are we permitted to give in to the pull of our desires?
The Maggid MiDuvno explains that the verse is directing us to avoid the natural result of indulgence — the loss of pleasure and desire. When a person experiences something pleasurable for the first time, the excitement is great; however, regularity breeds boredom. One may even indulge out of habit, which also yields very little pleasure and is not motivated by desire. Hashem, in His kindness, created a world full of pleasures for the enjoyment of His creations. He wants us to enjoy! But for one to maintain desire, one must limit consumption. If you like ice cream, for example, a reasonable amount from time to time is not only acceptable — it is desirable. This limited dose will leave you with a built-in desire that will occasionally rise to the surface in the form of a craving for ice cream. At that point, Hashem wants you to have some ice cream. But you should not overindulge, which will bring you to lose your taste for the cold, sweet treat.
Shlomo Hamelech said: “The righteous one eats to satisfy his soul; but the belly of the wicked suffers want” (Mishlei 13:25). The proper approach to the pleasures of this world will provide one with continued desire and satisfying pleasure. Shlomo categorizes such a person as a righteous one. May we all be so described.