Parshat Re’eh

In Parshat Re’eh Moshe is already focusing on how Bnei Yisrael should lead their lives when they settle in the land of Israel. In Chapter 12 Moshe commands them to destroy the altars of the previous idol worshiping nations. and how they will be able to gather to bring offerings together as a nation, to the place which Hashem will choose for them. Moshe then adds a curious  recommendation, that they should enjoy the pleasures of eating meat and says in verse 15   “However, thou may kill and eat flesh in all thy gates, as your soul desires, according to the blessing of Hashem which he has given you, the unclean and the clean may eat thereof, also of the roebuck, and the deer,” and a few sentences later “ When Hashem shall enlarge thy border, as he has promised you, and you will say, I would eat meat, as you have a desire to eat meat, and so to your heart’s desire, you can eat meat.” This is quite a refreshing interlude coming from Moshe, telling Bnei Yisrael to make sure from time to time to enjoy the pleasures of life (apologies to the vegetarians amongst you).

In the Talmud Chulin, we find that R Akiva is of the opinion, that till they arrived in Israel Bnei Yisrael were allowed to eat meat without needing shechita (ritual slaughter) but R Yishmael thinks that in the wilderness they were only allowed to eat meat as a part of the sacrificial procedure at the Tabernacle. Rashi tends toward R Yishmael’s opinion that in the desert they could only eat meat when bringing an offering, but once settled in the holy land they would be able to enjoy meat, even if unclean and not able to bring a sacrifice, and enjoy meat such as venison not used in sacrifices, and in addition because they will be spread out across the land it will not be practical to come up to Jerusalem every time they want to have a barbecue.

The Kli Yakar views this in a more spiritual sense of the focus on Jerusalem. Moshe realizes that when Bnei Yisrael are settled it will be difficult for many to travel to Jerusalem to enjoy meat and so Moshe is allowing them the pleasures of a good meal but to be aware at the back of their minds with thoughts of their spiritual home in Jerusalem. R S R Hirsch views the eating of meat as important to a sensible diet and quotes the Talmud “the Torah taught us “derech eretz” a man should eat meat to satisfy his appetite.

To be honest I am touching here on a very interesting and possibly sensitive topic. The first generations from Adam till Noah were vegetarians and only when Noah and his family left the ark after the destruction of the world, Hashem allowed them to eat meat. R S R Hirsch explains that it was necessary to allow meat after the flood as the agricultural land had been devastated and the tropical climate in the middle east would not produce enough food and so there was no more an abundance of fruit and vegetables. In addition, after the destruction of the temple the rabbis wanted to ban eating meat and drinking wine. but they realized that the it would not work in practice. So it could be that in an ideal world we will all be vegetarians but Moshe’s pronouncement here is possibly more interesting in the sense of saying to Bnei Yisrael when you get to the promised land, in addition to all the framework of Torah life I am laying out before you, you will be able to enjoy life and eat well.

Last week one of my cousins, Nico Fridman from deepest Argentina (Mendoza) came on a Taglit tour of Israel. His mother was very concerned with all the news they get about the dangers in this country, and so he was in complete wonder at our wonderful country and open society. He was particularly amazed at the freedom and safety of walking around everywhere, whereas in Argentina he is very careful not to go out alone and certainly would not carry his camera openly. He particularly enjoyed our trip to Shikun Hatikva to Shemesh one of the restaurants where we were able to fulfill Moshe’s promise to have the pleasure of eating good meat in Israel.

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