Parshat Re'eh by Shifra Steinmetz-Silber
In this week’s Parsha, Parshat Re’eh, the Torah discusses the permissibility of eating meat once Bnai Yisrael enter the land. The Ramban explains that in the desert Bnai Yisrael were allowed to eat animals only on condition that they sacrificed a part of the animal to God. Upon entering the land, Bnai Yisrael will be too far away from the temple since the temple will have a fixed location and the nation will be spread throughout Israel. Therefore they do not need to go through the sacrificial rituals and may eat meat as they desire. However, along with the permission to do so, God gives them laws detailing the procedure of slaughtering and prohibits them from eating the blood of an animal. These laws suggest that although Bnai Yisrael are no longer required to bring an actual sacrifice, the act of eating an animal must still go hand in hand with awareness that the animal is God’s creation.
Rav Kook sheds light on this passage by comparing the fact that before the mabul humans were not permitted to eat animals, whereas after the mabul they were. Because of the immense amount of sin, after the mabul, God refocused the world on dealing with the sins between human beings, and in consequence he permitted humans to eat meat. Consumption of animals is not ideal, but God accepted certain human flaws and weaknesses to focus on other, greater sins. The schita laws are guidelines given in order for us to remember that we must still be paving a road towards ethical consumption.
The notion that God acknowledges human flaws is reminiscent of Parshat Ki Tetze when the Torah allows the taking of an eshet yafat to’ar, a captive woman who is found beautiful in a man’s eyes. Rashi claims that the Torah allows this but discourages it. He says, “Lo dibra Torah ela kineged yetzer hara,” meaning that the Torah takes into account human inclinations. Perhaps here too, when God permits animal consumption, he is not endorsing it but is acknowledging our flaws as human beings.
The permission to eat animals emphasizes a mutual relationship between God and his people because as God expands our boundaries, he in turn expands our responsibilities. The opening verse of our passage sheds light on this with its repetition, as it says, “כִּי-יַרְחִיב יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֶת-גְּבֻלְך- Because the place [temple] will be far from you ָ” and “כִּי-יִרְחַק מִמְּךָ הַמָּקוֹם “When God expands your boundaries.” The repetition within this verse suggests a dual expansion of boundaries; not only is god expanding the physical boundaries of the land, but he is also expanding the nations limitations and ethics. With the ability to make choices and decisions comes greater challenge and responsibility. By giving us the choice to eat meat as we desire, God also demands from us to be aware of the consequences of our choices and actions. Let us be continuously vigilant about rising to this challenge.