Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Re'e
To dedicate this lesson

Increasingly Carnivorous


Rabbi Yossef Carmel

Before the flood, mankind was forbidden to eat meat. Although the Torah subsequently permitted it, it was forbidden to eat beef in the desert except in the context of a korban, where the altar, the kohen, and the one who offered it partook. In our parasha, the Torah relaxed the restrictions, in preparation for the new situation that was arising.
"When Hashem will broaden your boundaries... and you will say, 'I will eat meat,' for your soul will desire to eat meat, with all your soul’s desire shall you eat meat. If the place that Hashem will choose... be distant, you shall slaughter... as I commanded you, and you shall eat... like all of your soul’s desire" (Devarim 12: 20-21).
Rashi explains that in the desert, where everyone was close to the Mishkan and could bring a korban shelamim, there was no excuse to eat the meat in another way. However, in Eretz Yisrael, where they would be spread out, making it difficult to bring a korban whenever they wanted meat, it became permitted to eat meat as chulin (mundane food). Was this permission given begrudgingly or was it a return to a normal situation, where meat can be eaten with regular, not extraordinary, restrictions?
The Kli Yakar sees the described situation as a regrettable lowering of spiritual levels to the point that people are not embarrassed to say, "I will eat meat." This happens as a result of "the place that Hashem shall choose being distant." The next pasuk says that the meat should be eaten like deer. While Rashi says that deer is a prototype non-korban animal, thus stressing the lack of regulations, the Kli Yakar highlights a different element. Deer needs to be hunted, so that one cannot eat it on a whim but is limited by the need to hunt. Whatever meat one eats, he should try to limit it to a relative minimum, says the Kli Yakar. Rashi and the Ramban seem to view the practice of eating the meat as perfectly acceptable, given that constant korbanot were becoming inapplicable.
We cannot ignore the thrice repeated reference to the soul’s desire. It is found in relation to eating meat in Bamidbar (11:4). However, there it was considered very negative, causing Moshe much frustration. How did these desires become acceptable? In Bamidbar, Hashem had arranged for the proper diet for Bnei Yisrael with miracles and clear instructions. Allowing one’s desire to cause a mini-rebellion against the Divine Will makes the desire an evil one. However, it is not the desire for meat itself that is negative, as long as it fits into the Divine design. Thus, Hashem informed Bnei Yisrael in advance that the meat would be permitted and welcomed them to channel their desires into a religiously careful preparation of the meat, making it a fully permitted, even if not direct mitzva, experience.
Hashem gives us many things that appeal to our desires. We must choose the desires that He has allowed us to partake in and do so properly.
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