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Parashat Re’eh 5779 — 08/31/2019

Parashat Re’eh 5779 — 08/31/2019

Devarim 11:26-16:17

The laws of kashrut are found in our parashah, so let’s talk about meat.

We are told that we may eat meat outside of the context of offerings (“peace offerings” or “thanksgiving offerings” which were eaten mostly by the one bringing the offering). In such a case, we are enjoined to slaughter the animal “as I have commanded you.” Nowhere in the Written Scripture is it spelled out what is acceptable slaughter, indicating that the commandments referred to must have been given orally and not included in the Written Torah. This is taken as an indication that Scripture cannot be understood without the corresponding Oral Tradition to fill in its many gaps and to provide authoritative interpretation. Jewish Law is generally based on the Oral Torah, and not so much on the Written Torah, even though the Rabbis find proof-texts for the traditional interpretations in the Written Torah. I might add that Scriptural interpretation, in the Jewish view, is not a free-for-all. Scripture is not whatever we want it to be. The Oral Tradition also comes to us from Mt. Sinai; the two form an organic whole with its own inner dynamics, and its own very defined notion of right and wrong, which does not change fundamentally over time, even as it has some flexibility to evolve in response to new situations. But I digress.

R. Goldin asks a simple question. Meat eating has been allowed since the time of Noah (after the Flood). Why does Moshe have to state that we’re now allowed to eat non-sacrificial meat?

Let us ask a more fundamental question first. Is Moshe’s statement an allowance to eat meat that is not sanctified by being offered in the Sanctuary (and later, the Temple), or is it a restriction on how meat must now be prepared? In the Mishnah, R Akiva takes the latter view, while R. Yishmael takes the former, which, indeed, is more in accord with the plain meaning of the text. R. Yishmael is taking the stance that our allowance to eat meat stems from an allowance given to Noach after the Flood, and now further allowance was given to the Jewish people to consume meat, even at times and in places where it would be almost impossible to offer the animal to Gd. R. Akiva, on the other hand, appears to be taking the position that Gd is progressively restricting the allowance to eat meat, at least for Jews, in order to move us back to the situation before the Flood.

The general view follows R. Yishmael that our parashah is legislating an additional leniency to eat unconsecrated meat (Rambam is a notable exception to this view, favoring R. Akiva’s position). In accord with this, most of these authorities view the license to eat meat as a post-Flood concession. Indeed, before the flood Adam is told, “Behold, I have given to you all grass-yielding seed… and every tree that bears seed-yielding fruit, for you shall they be for food” (Gen. 1:29). But after the Flood, Gd tells Noach, “Every moving thing that lives shall be to you for food; as the green grass I have given to you everything” (Gen 9:2-3). Why did Gd “change His Mind”?

R. Goldin brings several opinions. Ramban indicates that before the Flood animals were on a higher plane spiritually than they are now, as were human beings. However, in the generations leading up to the Flood, “all flesh” corrupted their ways – including the animals. The Midrash explains that this means the animals mated with other species, corresponding to the sexual peccadilloes of human beings. The consequent lowering of the general spiritual level caused the great Flood. Even afterwards, the spiritual level did not rebound. Animals became “dumb” as they are today, and human beings as well needed a cruder diet. Eating higher up on the food chain is a cruder way to get nourishment, as well as being less ecologically efficient. Apparently, this cruder form of nutrition was necessary now.

Incidentally, when the Israelites complain that they don’t have any meat, Moshe complains to Gd, “How can I give them meat?” Some explain that he wasn’t concerned that there weren’t enough animals – Reuven and Gad had large herds and flocks. Rather he was unable to see how he, from his refined level, could “feed” the Israelites’ cruder desires and understandings of the structure of creation. How can a meat-eating people appreciate the infinite subtlety of Torah?! In fact, the Midrash opines that only people who ate manna – the infinitely refined, celestial food that Gd gave them miraculously – could receive the Torah!

R. Yosef Albo (Spain, c. 1380-1444) pushes the admissibility of eating meat all the way back to a fundamental philosophical error on the part of Kayin (Cain), the eldest son of Adam and Eve. Kayin takes the position that people were not allowed to eat meat (originally) because there is no fundamental difference between humans and animals. Thus, he brought as an offering the “fruit of the ground,” while Hevel (Abel), his brother, brought animal offerings. When Kayin saw that Hevel’s offerings, and not his, were accepted by Gd, he concluded that indeed one was allowed to kill animals for non-food purposes, but, since humans and animals are on the same level, one should also be allowed to kill humans. Hence the first murder. After receiving his punishment (exile and wandering) Kayin comes to the conclusion that the punishment for killing an animal would be the same as he got for killing his brother.   Because man is just an animal. And lest one think this idea is dead, when the Palestinians sent a dynamite-laden donkey to blow up Israeli civilians, PETA sent a strongly-worded letter to Yassir Arafat protesting the wanton killing of the donkey. Gd permitted us to eat meat to remind us that we are better than animals, and that He put animals here to serve us.

Finally, R. Avraham Yitzchok Kook, first chief Rabbi of then Mandatory Palestine writes that it is only due to the degeneration of the moral/spiritual stature of mankind that we are allowed to eat meat. We no longer have the moral energy to refrain from slaughtering animals – in fact, we often can’t muster the moral energy to keep from slaughtering one another. Only with the coming of Mashiach, when the spiritual level of “all flesh” will be enhanced and restored to its pristine form, will the Torah’s antipathy towards meat-eating turn (back) into a real prohibition. Refined food for refined people.

Where does that leave us? There are a couple of principles I think we want to bear in mind. First, we don’t want to be more pious than the Torah. We have permission to eat meat, and I don’t think we want to hold ourselves out as being so much more refined than everyone else that we can’t rely on this permission. We also don’t want to make a mood of being on a level that we really haven’t attained yet. This can actually cause a great deal of strain and be more damaging to life than the “crude” behavior we are avoiding. On the other hand, we can let our bodies be our guide – if meat doesn’t sit well with us, then for our health, better to avoid it. And of course, if one is keeping kosher, just having dairy in the house makes things a whole lot easier!


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Re’eh

“Re’eh” means “See!” or “Behold!”.

This is not ordinary seeing. This means “see deeply”, see into the level of life in which Gd’s commandments exist as One with Gd, not just the level at which we might hear them spoken or read them in a text.

This “See!” resonates with the last part of the parshah, in which Moses says that three times a year (at Passover, Shavuot, and Succot, our ancestors should appear before the Lrd – be seen by the Lord – in the place which he has chosen — appear in the Temple of the particular tribe to which we belong, so we may bring offerings and be seen there.

And what is to be seen? The blessing if we harken to the commandments of the Lord and the curse if we disobey them. When we harken, we see deeply, we are naturally in tune with Gd, Gd’s Torah, Gd’s commandments and we naturally act in the Glow, Joy and Love of the Blessing.

Imagine Moses speaking with the Voice of Gd to our ancestors: how much the Blessing must have filled them and how unappetizing must have been the curse.

This was a good preparation for Moses to give our ancestors as they were about to enter into Canaan, the Promised Land. It is a good level of Being that we should innocently seek to experience before beginning our day, any day, every day. It is a good level of Being that we should innocently tune in to every moment of every day. Innocently. Innocently, meaning, “naturally, spontaneously, effortlessly.”

Temple where Gd chooses to put his Name [big mystery].

Maimonides writes: “The location of the Altar [in the Holy Temple] is very exactly defined… It is a commonly-held tradition that the place where David and Solomon built the Altar on the threshing floor of Arona (sic: Arauna), is the very place where Abraham built an altar and bound Isaac upon it; this is where Noah built [an altar] when he came out from the Ark; this is where Cain and Abel brought their offerings; this is where Adam the First Man offered a korban when he was created — and it is from [the earth of] this place that he was created….” from

But why Adam was created from earth on this spot?

There is a tradition that Torah is Gd’s name, the primordial vibration of Gd, Omnipresent, All-Pervading: All places are Holy.

Why did Gd choose to especially emphasize the power of His Name in a particular place, and why Jerusalem? I’ve looked for answers on the Internet and could not find any.

Perhaps it is a “chok,” a decree of Gd’s that passes understanding. But even so, we can have the fun of attempting to understand and getting closer to Gd through our attempt.

There is Gd’s statement, “Man is made in Gd’s Image” and from this standpoint perhaps our planet is also made in Gd’s image, whatever that may mean, and Jerusalem might correspond to the heart or the brain or the navel of the physiology of our planet.

Perhaps “His Name” means the Name by which we may call on Him to thank Him, to pray to Him, to ask for forgiveness from Him.

Just as the Mishkan, the Ark in the Wilderness, and the Temples were places where it was easier for people to perceive His Presence, even though His Presence is everywhere, so also the physical location of the Temple was a place where people could most easily call on Him, not only perceive Him, but communicate with Him: to speak and also to listen!

Not only to speak but to hear and to listen, to see, to Behold!

As always, I invite all readers to share with me any thoughts or facts they have.

But also, just as “Man (humanity) is made in Gd’s image”, so also we are made in Jerusalem’s image and we can find Jerusalem within ourselves: our mind, our feelings, our physiology, our soul. And thus we can perceive Gd’s Name, Presence, Totality and restore to ourselves and to the world the reality that all is the Primordial Oneness, within which the duality of Gd and us is experienced as the Play of One. This is healing! Holiness! Fulfillment!

Re’eh also warns to beware of false prophets or any others who entice idolatry — this would certainly bring the curse! “Idolatry” means not just worshiping statues of deities but worshiping fragments of Wholeness. Every action we do must be oriented naturally, spontaneously, effortlessly to increase the experience of Wholeness in our life and in all lives. Otherwise, it is oriented to a splinter of reality, a fragment and it is idolatry.

On the blessing side, Tithing, Charity, the Sabbatical Year in which all loans are forgiven, all slaves freed, indicate that even on the ordinary level of life, no matter what place on Earth we are, by being good human beings, we can attune ourselves to Gd and inherit the Blessing.

Similarly, Moses told our ancestors, at the time of the Three Pilgrimage Festivals: Passover, Shavuot, Sukkot: Go to Temple to appear with offerings before the Lord.

This would certainly be good but we can also find Jerusalem in our heart and make special offerings with our open heart at these special times of year.

Re’eh begins with See! and concludes with: Appear so that you may be seen.

In every generation, especially ours today, we need to live our lives so that every moment we Behold! and every moment we Appear! with offerings, offerings to give back the blessings we receive and restore ourselves to Full Awareness: One and Only One!

Baruch HaShem!