We saw last week that a drop in one’s spiritual level causes a spiritual danger even in regard to one who remains on a high level. This week’s Torah reading teaches us a lesson that goes a step further.
The Torah (Vayikra 17: 3-7) says that one who slaughters the type of animal which can be brought as a korban (sacrifice) not in that context is subject to the severe, Divine punishment of karet (being "cut off" spiritually). Throughout most of Jewish history, this prohibition applied only to mukdashim, animals which were designated for a korban. One can understand the severity of taking something that was already set aside for Divine service and "stealing it" away from Him. But according to Rabbi Yishmael (Chulin 16b; see Ramban on our p’sukim) the prohibition once applied even to regular animals. When the Mishkan was in the desert and Bnei Yisraelhad the easy opportunity to bring korbanot shelamim (the owner, altar, and kohanim split up the annimals into sections for each), they could not slaughter animals for personal consumption alone.
The apparent lesson of the prohibition, according to R. Yishmael, is that when one readily has the opportunity to do something in a manner of holiness but he opts to do it in a mundane manner, he may commit a serious sin. (Of course, not in all cases does the Torah legislate a binding prohibition.) Rabbi Akiva (ibid.), on the other hand, said that even in the desert, where Bnei Yisrael lived in the altar’s proximity, it was permitted to eat besar ta’ava (meat eaten for pleasure). One could then claim that according to him, the opportunity to bring a korban does not create restrictions on how and where to slaughter the animal, unless the animal was designated for a korban. However, the Netziv (ibid.:3) claims that even according to R. Akiva, it was forbidden to slaughter even a regular animal out of the context of a korban, because such slaughter was often associated with idol worship. Rather it was permitted only to kill the animal through the process of nechira, which was not related to idol worship. We can now understand the severe punishment for the violator, as his action is tainted by suspicions of idol worship.
Let us consider who this person is whom, according to the Netziv’s understanding of R. Akiva, the Torah encourages to bring a korban. It is someone who, if not required to bring a korban, may bring the animal for avoda zara. Who wants a korban brought under such circumstances?
If we return to our original theme, the matter is understood. The Torah refers to a normal Jew who has the potential to do the right thing, to bring his animal as a korban at the Mishkan, before eating its meat. If he does not take advantage of his opportunity, his neutral actions could, sooner or later or progressively, turn into very negative ones. It is hard to stay pareve. One who can go up spiritually but chooses not to, exposes himself to great, spiritual dangers.