When G-d your G-d shall broaden your borders, as He has
promised you, and you will say, I shall eat meat,
for your soul shall desire to eat meat, you may eat meat to
your souls desire.
Last and first You created me (Psalms 139:5)
... If man is worthy, he is told: You are first among the
works of creation. If he is not worthy, he is told: The flea
preceded you, the earthworm preceded you.
Midrash Rabbah, Vayikra 14:1
There are those who contest the morality of eating
meat. What gives man the right to consume another creatures
flesh? But the same can be said of mans consumption
of vegetable life, water or oxygen. What gives man the right
to devour any of G-ds creations simply to perpetuate
his own existence?
Indeed, there is no such natural right. When
man lives only to sustain and enhance his own being, there
is no justification for him to tamper with any other existence
to achieve this goal. As a great chassidic master put it,
When a person walks along without a thought of G-d in
his head, the very ground under his feet cries out: Boor!
What makes you any better than me? By what rights do you step
on me?! The fact that man is a higher life form scarcely
justifies the destruction of dumb or inanimate creatures.
Moreover, according to the teachings of kabbalah, the souls
of animals, plants and inanimate objects are actually loftier
than that of the human being; for in the great collapse of
the primordial world of Tohu
the higher elements fell lowest (as the highest stones in
a collapsing wall fall farthest), so that the loftier sparks
of divine light came to be incarnated in the lower tiers of
the physical world.
Man does have the right to consume other creatures only becauseand
whenhe serves as the agent of their elevation. The spiritual
essence of a stone, plant or animal might be loftier than
that of a man, but it is a static spark, bereft
of the capacity to advance creations quest to unite
with its Creator. The cruelty of the cat or the industry of
the ant is not a moral failing or achievement, nor is the
hardness of the rock or the sweetness of the apple. The mineral,
vegetable and animal cannot do good or evilthey can
only follow the dictates of their inborn nature. Only man
has been granted freedom of choice and the ability to be better
(or worse, G-d forbid) than his natural state. When a person
drinks a glass of water, eats an apple, or slaughters an ox
and consumes its flesh, these are converted into the stuff
of the human body and the energy that drives it. When this
person performs a G-dly deeda deed that transcends his
natural self and brings him closer to G-dhe elevates
the elements he has incorporated into himself, reuniting the
sparks of G-dliness they embody with their source. (Also elevated
are the creations that enabled the G-dly deedthe soil
that nourished the apple, the grass that fed the cow, the
horse that hauled the water to town, and so on).
Therein lies the deeper significance of the above-quoted
verse, and you will say, I shall eat meat,
for your soul shall desire to eat meat. You might express
a desire for meat and be aware only of your bodys craving
for the physical satisfaction it brings; in truth, however,
this is the result of your souls desire to eat
meatyour souls quest for the sparks of G-dliness
it has been sent to earth to redeem.
There is, however, an important difference between the consumption
of meat and that of other foods. The difference involves desire
and the role it plays in the elevation of creation.
The human being cannot live without the vegetable and mineral
components of his diet. Thus, he is compelled to eat them
by the most basic of his physical drivesthe preservation
of his existence. Meat, however, is not a necessity but a
luxury; the desire for meat is not a desire motivated by need,
but desire in its purest sensethe desire to experience
In other words, animals are elevatedtheir flesh integrated
into the human body and their souls made partner in a G-dly
deedonly because G-d has instilled the desire for pleasure
in human nature.
This means that the elevation of meat requires a greater
spiritual sensitivity on the part of its consumer than that
of other foods. When a person eats a piece of bread and then
studies Torah, prays or gives charity, the bread has directly
contributed to these deeds. In order to perform these deeds,
the soul of man must be fused with a physical body, and the
piece of bread was indispensable to this fusion. Man eats
bread in order to live; if he lives to fulfill his Creators
will, the connection is complete. But man eats meat not to
live, but to savor its taste; thus, it is not enough that
a person lives in order to serve his Creator for the meat
he eats to be elevated. Rather, he must be a person for whom
the very experience of physical pleasure is a G-dly endeavor,
something devoted solely toward a G-dly end; a person for
whom the physical satisfaction generated by a tasty meal translates
into a deeper understanding of Torah, a greater fervor in
prayer, and a kinder smile to accompany the coin pressed into
the palm of a beggar.
Thus the Torah says: When G-d your G-d shall broaden
your borders, as He has promised you... you may eat meat to
your souls desire. From this the Talmud derives
that, originally, they were forbidden to eat meat
by desire (bassar taavah); it was only after
they entered the Land [of Israel] that they were permitted
to eat meat by desire. For the first generation of Israels existence as a nationfrom
the time they received the Torah and erected the Sanctuary
in the Sinai Desert until they settled in the Holy Landthe
only meat they were permitted to eat was the meat of the korbonot,
the animal sacrifices offered to G-d in the Sanctuary. The
consumption of this meat was a mitzvah, which meant that its
elevation was achieved by the fact that eating it constitutes
a direct fulfillment of a divine commandment. However, they
did not have the capacity to elevate meat of desiremeat
that is eaten for the purpose of granting pleasure to its
consumer. So the consumption of such meat was forbidden.
It was only after G-d broadened their borders,
granting them a mandate to make holy an adjective
of land, that they were enabled to sanctify this
most corporeal corner of human life.
Similarly, our sages have said that a boor is forbidden
to eat meat. The license given to man to partake of the world
and subjugate it to serve him is not unconditional. It is
contingent upon his sensitivity to the spiritual essence of
G-ds creatures, and his commitment to serve them
by making them component parts of his sanctified life. It
takes an individual with broad spiritual horizons to properly
relish a steak.
Based on the Rebbes talks, Shabbat Parshat Reeh,
5719 (August 29, 1959) and Cheshvan 10, 5711 (October 21,
. Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn (1880-1950), the
previous Lubavitcher Rebbe (quoted in Hayom Yom, 7 Adar
. See A Visitor From the World of Tohu (WIR,
vol. VI, no. 36) and The Father of the Bride (ibid.,
vol. VII, no. 43) and sources cited there.
. See Talmud, Yoma 76b; ibid., Bava Kama 72a; Tanya,
Bread and meat are employed
here as prototypes of necessity and luxury; in this context,
a cream pie or a yacht would be a form of meat,
while a piece of meat eaten to keep body and soul together
would fall under the category of bread.
. Rabbi Yishmael, cited by the Talmud in Chulin 16b.
Rabbi Akiva (ibid., 17a) interprets the verse differently,
understanding the words when G-d your G-d shall broaden
your borders not as a qualification of you may
eat meat to your souls desire but of what the
Torah states immediately afterwards, You shall slaughter
of your herd and your flock which G-d has given you, as
I have commanded you. Thus, according to Rabbi Akiva,
not only was meat by desire permitted in the
desert, it was even permitted without shechitah (the
halachically prescribed manner of slaughter), while
all meat eaten following Israels entry into the Holy
Land requires shechitah.
However, the deeper significance of the law that Rabbi
Akiva derives from these verses is identical to that of
the law derived by Rabbi Yishmael. Shechitah
means drawing forth (Talmud, Kiddushin 82a);
the slaughter of an animal in accordance with the divinely-mandated
laws of shechitah is what enables its elevationthe
drawing of the animal out from its beastly state into the
domain of a life consecrated to the service of the Creator.
In the desert, shechitah was limited to the animals
offered in the Sanctuary, for only these could be drawn
forth in the manner that shechitah makes possible.
The only difference in the opinions of Rabbi Yishmael and
Rabbi Akiva is that Rabbi Yishmael states that since the
full elevation of meat of desire was not possible
in the desert, its consumption was prohibited, while Rabbi
Akiva holds that it was nonetheless permitted, since a lesser
elevation could be achieved.
. Indeed, they were rebuked and punished for expressing
a desire for meat (see Numbers ch. 11 and Rashi on Exodus
. What was the case in Jewish history was also the
case in the history of mankind. Originally, man was granted
license only to eat from every seed-bearing herb on
the face of the earth, and every tree on which there is
fruit-bearing seed (Genesis 1:29). It was only after
the Flood, following which the world was imbued with a greater
spiritual potential, that G-d told Noah that every
moving thing that lives shall be food for you.
. Talmud, Pesachim 49b.
. Likkutei Sichot, vol. IV, pp. 1108-1114; Hitvaaduyot
5711, vol. I, pp. 70-71.