Ach ka’asher yei’acheil es ha’tzvi v’es ha’ayal kein tochlenu ha’tamei v’hatahor yachdav yochlenu (Devarim 12:22)
The Gemara (Chullin 16b) quotes the opinion of Rav Yishmael, who maintains that after the Mishkan was built, the only meat that the Jewish People were permitted to eat for the duration of their sojourn in the wilderness was that of the sacrificial offerings, as slaughtering an animal other than for the purposes of offering it upon the Altar was punishable by spiritual excision (Vayikra 17:3–4). However, in Parashas Re’eh, Moshe informed them that after Hashem broadened their borders by bringing them into the Promised Land of Israel, if they found themselves yearning to eat meat but living far away from the Beis Hamikdash, they would be permitted to ritually slaughter their cattle and sheep in order to eat their meat. Curiously, Moshe added that they should only eat the meat in the manner in which they eat the deer and the hart. It is difficult to understand the purpose of Moshe’s comparison. What message was he attempting to convey in adjuring the Jewish people to eat their beef and lamb in the same way that they eat venison?
The following story may provide some insight.
Several years ago, a number of students in a yeshivah in Israel for post-high school American boys had a tremendous craving for food from Dougie’s, a well-known restaurant in New York. Unable to wait until they returned home at the end of the year, they hatched a creative plan to satiate their longings for spicy wings, ribs and burgers.
They realized that they didn’t all need to get to the restaurant in order to savor the succulent meat. Instead, one of them could take everybody’s orders and fly to New York to pick up the food and bring it back to the rest of the boys in Israel. If they split the cost of the plane ticket among the entire group, the cost would be quite reasonable. In order to make it clear that the sole purpose of the trip was to procure the food, they stipulated that whoever made the journey was forbidden to go home to visit his family or to make any other stops. Not surprisingly, the administration of the yeshivah was quite upset when they learned what had happened, both because of the safety concerns involved and because of the unbridled passion for meat which begat the entire incident.
In light of this episode, we can appreciate the Kli Yakar’s answer to our question. He notes that this passage begins (12:20) by emphasizing that it applies after Hashem expands their borders and they say, “I will eat meat.” This teaches us that a person is only drawn after material pleasures such as meat when he is prosperous and successful, which creates a mindset that enables him to explicitly express his desire to eat meat without feeling embarrassed by his fixation on ephemeral physical pleasure. The next verse (12:21) stresses that the underlying reason for this spiritual decline is the fact that the person no longer lives in close proximity to Hashem’s chosen dwelling place, and the physical distance from the Shechinah results in a corresponding spiritual distance from Hashem, as manifested by the desire to eat meat solely for personal enjoyment.
Under these new circumstances, Moshe informed the people that they would indeed be permitted to eat meat as long as they slaughtered their animals in accordance with Jewish law. Even so, he cautioned them that this indulgence should not become the focus of their lives, and they should do so only intermittently. He expressed this metaphorically by telling them that they should only eat the meat of their cows and sheep in the manner that they eat the deer and the hart. The Kli Yakar explains that because domesticated animals such as cows and sheep are readily available, one could easily fall into the trap of eating them regularly. Wild animals, on the other hand, are much more difficult to consume, as hunting and capturing them is not always successful, and even when it is, it requires a substantial amount of time and energy and is fraught with great risk and danger. Therefore, the Torah advises us that even now that we are permitted to eat non-sacrificial meat, we should not abuse this allowance as those yeshivah students in Israel did, but rather we should view it in the proper perspective by preserving it for appropriate occasions and maintaining spirituality as the primary focus of our lives.
Parashah Q & A
Q: The Torah prohibits (14:1) various forms of mourning the death of loved ones. Under what circumstances would there be a requirement to sit shivah to mourn the death of a person who was not a Torah scholar or national leader, and to whom one was not related?
A: The Shulchan Aruch rules that if a person dies without leaving any relatives to sit shivah and mourn his death, a quorum of 10 people must assemble and sit shivah in his house. However, the Rema comments that he never saw anybody adopt this practice, although he adds that, at the very least, a minyan of 10 men should gather in the house of the deceased for prayer services during the week of shivah.
Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.