Each week we discuss one familiar halakhic practice and try to show its beauty and meaning. The columns are based on Rabbi Meir's Meaning in Mitzvot on Kitzur Shulchan Arukh.
In our parsha eating meat seems to have a very negative image. The Torah tells us that it is specifically the "mob" who request meat; that they do so because of their base appetite (taavah), and they do so in a very impudent manner (Bamidbar 11:4). HaShem expresses anger at their demand for which they are ultimately punished (Bamidbar 11:20, 11:33). Moshe also despairs, asking "If flocks and herds were slaughtered for them, would it be enough for them?" (Bamidbar 11:22); this verse also serves as one source for the law that meat must be slaughtered in order to made permissible (Chullin 17a).
The gemara does echo this negative
view of meat, but only partially. "Rebbe says, an ignorant person is
forbidden to eat meat, as it is written 'This is the Torah of meat and fowl'
(Vayikra 11:46) only those who are occupied with Torah may eat meat and
fowl" (Pesachim 49b). Of course this fits in with our parsha where
specifically the "mob" demanded meat.
The teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslav elaborate on this message. The slaughter of the beast which makes it fit for human consumption is viewed as an analog of overcoming our own animal nature and elevating it to an appro- priately human level. This parallel extends even to the particular details of the laws. Here are some examples:
Our base urges don't go away by
them- selves. On the contrary, harnessing them in the service of holiness
requires careful attention. This is the meaning of the requirement for
slaughter; we may not eat an animal which dies by itself (neveila), or even
one which was already sick so that its demise was partially due to its
defect (treifa). (Even a non-Jew can not perform shechita; a non-Jew can
elevate the material world but not to the same level of holiness. See this
year's column on Shmini.)
Slaughtering an animal has to be
done promptly, without excessive delay (SA YD 23). But at the same time it
is forbidden to be excessively hasty; the slaughtering has to be done in a
measured fashion. (SA YD 24.)
Slaughter is only kosher in the throat of the animal (SA YD 20). We find in Scripture that the extended neck or throat is a symbol of excessive pride (Yishayahu 3:16); a critical aspect of repentance is overcoming pride and arrogance.
For these reasons, an ignorant person can't eat meat. That is, it is impossible to attain holiness without Torah. While a person can improve his personality and manners with motivation and common sense, it requires intricate wisdom to go beyond derekh eretz and ascend to holiness, and this wisdom is obtained and applied only with Torah knowledge and the guidance of Torah scholars.
(Based on Likutei Halakhot of Breslav, Laws of Shechita.)
Rabbi Meir has completed writing a monumental companion to Kitzur Shulchan Aruch which beautifully presents the meanings in our mitzvot and halacha. It will hopefully be published in the near future.
Rabbi Meir authors a popular weekly on-line Q&A column, "The Jewish Ethicist", which gives Jewish guidance on everyday ethical dilemmas in the workplace. The column is a joint project of the JCT Center for Business Ethics, Jerusalem College of Technology - Machon Lev; and Aish HaTorah. You can see the Jewish Ethicist, and submit your own questions, at www.jewishethicist.com or at www.aish.com.