Chukat: Abdominal Fat

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Sleeping Bird
30 Jun 2011

Last week we explained that even among the permissible animals, there are gradations; birds and wild animals such as deer are considered at a higher spiritual level than “dumb” domesticated animals such as cows and sheep. One reason is that a free animal, or one whose wings give it a greater potential for freedom, has the property of self- reliance or more precisely direct reliance on HaShem rather than reliance on human beings for sustenance. Thus we explained, based on the writings of Rav Natan of Breslov, why only these species require covering of the blood of the shechita.

(It is worth noting that among the unkosher species there are also gradations. In particular the donkey has a higher level than other animals, as expressed in the requirement to redeem it, as we explained in a previous column (See SA YD 321). Another animal sometimes mentioned in Chasidic writings as having a somewhat higher nature than other forbidden species is the camel, which together with donkeys and kosher species formed part of Yaakov’s gift to Esav in Bereshit 32. Both camels and donkeys extensively served the Patriarchs.)

Another prominent representative of the Breslov tradition, Rav Nachman Goldstein of Tcherin known as the Tcheriner Rav, gives a parallel explanation of the prohibition of abdominal fat, which applies to domesticated animals but not to wild ones or birds. (SA YD 64:1.)

We have often explained that the blood of animals embodies their lower, purely bestial nature. The Tcheriner Rav helps us refine this insight a little more: the blood represents one aspect of bestiality, namely cruelty, whereas the abdominal fat represents another aspect: stupidity and torpor.

Scripture often uses fat to signify these qualities, as in the verse: “And Yeshurun fattened and rebelled; you have become fat and thick and covered over; he has abandoned G-d his creator, and disgraced the Rock of his salvation” (Devarim 32:15).

This quality is particularly salient in the domesticated beasts, which as we pointed out are comparatively dumb and lacking in vitality and resourcefulness. We may also add that these animals are often intentionally fattened for slaughter. But the wild animals, called in Hebrew “chaya” meaning “lively”, don’t embody this kind of stupor and idleness. Thus their abdominal fat is permissible.

Rav Goldstein adds an additional reason wild animals and birds are less representative of our lower nature than domesticated ones: we can obtain them only with difficulty, by trapping them. Thus they embody vitality not only in their own resourceful existence but also in the fact that human effort and ingenuity are required in order to obtain them.

(Based on Nachat HaShulchan Yoreh Deah 28)

Rabbi Asher Meir is the author of the book Meaning in Mitzvot, distributed by Feldheim. The book provides insights into the inner meaning of our daily practices, following the order of the 221 chapters of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.