The first man and woman ate fruits and vegetables—not animals—in the Garden of Eden. It was only later, after the Flood during the time of Noah, that G-d allowed mankind to eat meat.
We cannot understand the exact connection between the sins of mankind and the subsequent permission to eat meat, but we do know that eating meat is a concession that G-d made. The ideal state of humanity is to be vegetarian.
One suggested reason for this concession is that humanity has an inclination for aggression and cruelty. Humans were not created cruel; they incorporated the characteristic over a period of time. And now that we are challenged with this inclination, we have to figure out how to sublimate it and eventually overcome it.
One way is through the consumption of meat. There is something cruel and vicious about eating meat; it is a way of releasing aggression. But sometimes people have a craving for it. Cravings are really our efforts to express and satisfy a need. Better we satisfy our need for aggression by eating meat than by doing something harmful to people, the Torah grants. Better we not have the urge for cruelty and aggression in the first place, but it is a reality that we now have to deal with and work to overcome.
Judaism does not advocate complete suppression of our negative urges rather it gives us outlets to sublimate them while guiding us to gradually overcome them. Therefore, when we crave, we must satisfy the craving in some way while working towards kicking the habit.
Take a drug addict, for example. There are two approaches to treating the addiction. One method is cold turkey—just stay off the stuff and go through an excruciating period of withdrawal. The other approach is measured withdrawal, which looks like hospital-sanctioned drug abuse but is really medical intelligence. To wean the addict, the doctors slowly administer, each day, decreasing amounts of the drug until the addiction is gone. If a person who did not know anything about this method walked into the hospital, from his limited perspective he would conclude that this place promotes drug abuse as an ideal.
In the same way, there are Torah laws that do not express the ideals of Judaism but exist as a way to reach those ideals. In the case of consuming meat, whether it is to satisfy a craving and sublimate the need for aggression or some other divine reason unknown to us, the Torah temporarily concedes and allows us to do it in the interest of helping us eventually overcome the urge and become vegetarians.
People who are already vegetarian should not pride themselves and think that this is a sure sign that they are more spiritually and ethically evolved than anyone else.
How Ideal is the Law?
The Talmud states: “G-d says, ‘I created the evil inclination and I created Torah as its antidote” (Babylonian Talmud, Bava Metzia 85a). The Torah is an antidote to our negative and destructive inclinations. Therefore, the Torah may sometimes appear to be sanctioning some type of amoral behavior, but in fact, it is simply employing a realistic approach in order to empower people to stop doing what they otherwise may not have had the power to overcome on their own.
Keeping this essential principle in mind, we can now explore the meaning of eating kosher and some of the seemingly odd kosher laws.
Although, as we mentioned, Torah laws do not always indicate the ideal, without a doubt they outline a way towards reaching the ideals. Therefore, incorporated within such Torah laws are windows to the future.
The laws regarding kosher slaughter are one example. Although G-d allowed humanity to eat meat, one of the “Seven Laws of the Descendants of Noah” is the prohibition against eating a limb ripped off from a live animal. G-d deemed that although humanity needed an outlet for their cruelty this is too much.
As the world evolves G-d chose the Jewish people to become a model of ethical excellence for the rest of the world. Therefore, He placed upon them even more restrictions regarding the consumption of meat.
The laws of Kashrut generate an atmosphere of discomfort to remind us that eating meat is not ideal and to preserve, as much as possible, our humanness while we sublimate our cruel urges. Therefore, we cannot feel free to eat any animal we choose, certainly not those of a wild meat-eating nature. We cannot eat meat before removing its blood. And we must cover its blood and maintain a healthy sense of embarrassment. If we are not slaughtering our own meat then we must purchase only meat that we know has been slaughtered in this most uncomfortable and humane way.
Getting out of Egypt was more than a political emancipation of the Jewish people. It was a spiritual transformation. The Jews were not only physically enslaved but also spiritually enmeshed in Egyptian culture. Egypt was the epitome of egotism and haughtiness. But in truth we all know that in actuality, a person is egotistical because he lacks true self-esteem and confidence of his self-worth. His haughty airs are really a cover-up, a guise. He is trying to compensate for his painful sense of inadequacy and insecurity.
Maimonides, the great Jewish philosopher living in the Twelfth century, explains that humanity’s lack of self worth was what led them to idolatry. He explains that the ancients were unable to fathom that G-d would personally care about them. Therefore, they sought out help from an intermediate power other than G-d. They believed that their lives were guided by the power of the stars because G-d, the Creator, does not personally care about them. They reasoned, “Of what worth are we that the Creator would have any regard for our situation?”
The Passover story teaches us that this despairing attitude is false. A verse in the Torah reads, “Don’t make intermediate gods, guard the Festival of the Matza.” The Sages explain this odd juxtaposition: “This is to teach us that anyone who disgraces the Festival is as if performs idolatry.” In other words, celebrating Passover affirms our belief that G-d loves us and personally takes care of us; there is no need for any intermediaries between us. To think otherwise is the beginning of idolatry.
Judaism teaches that G-d’s love and care for us is unconditional. Therefore, in the times when the Temple stood in Jerusalem we were obligated to come there and, so to speak, greet G-d face to face. Of-course the presence of G-d fills the earth and we are in His presence wherever. However, in Jerusalem that truth is more readily experienced. On the holiday of Passover even a simpleton with no preparation could experience a sudden quantum leap in his spiritual level and feel worthy to enjoy a personal loving relation with G-d. Each and every one of us is befitting to bask in G-d’s loving presence.
The Torah refers to a Festival as a Moed, which literally means “to meet.” The portable sanctuary that the Jews carried with them in the desert was called the Ohel Moed—the Meeting Tent. It was a place to meet G-d. The Festivals, however, are a time to meet G-d. The Torah also refers to a festival as a Mikra Kodesh a “Calling of Holiness,” because it calls forth from each of us our innate holiness and godliness. Therefore, to deny yourself the celebration of a Moed—a direct meeting with G-d — is as if to accept the claim of idolatry; that G-d doesn’t love and care about you because you are insignificant and, therefore, unworthy of His personal attention.
In truth, we are always connected to and loved by G-d. However, three times a year on the holidays of Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot we are able to readily feel that truth without preparation.
Did you ever wonder why the Holiday of Passover is called “Passover”? Rabbi David Aaron explores the spiritual meaning behind the name of this holiday, and finds that the deepest theme is surprisingly, love.
There are different opinions regarding the actual meaning of the animal sacrifices. Maimonides (1135-1204) understood the sacrifices as a divine concession. G-d recognized that when the Israelites left Egypt they were steeped in a religious culture that brought sacrificial offerings to their gods. G-d decided, so to speak, to allow the Israelites to express their religious passion in a somewhat similar way that they were accustomed to with some limitations which were meant to help wean them off this approach towards the eventually annulment of animal sacrifices.
Thus Maimonides writes:
Many precepts in our Law are the result of a similar course adopted by the Supreme Being [i.e. gradual evolution]. It is impossible to go suddenly from one extreme to the other; it is therefore, according to the nature of man, impossible for him suddenly to discontinue everything to which has been accustomed . . . The custom which was in those days widespread among all people, and the general mode of worship in which Israelites were brought up, consisted in sacrificing animals in temples which contained certain images, to bow down to those images and to burn incense before them . . . For this reason, G-d allowed these kinds of service to continue. He transferred to His service that which had formerly served as a worship of created beings [i.e. idolatry] . . . By this Divine plan it was effected that the traces of idolatry were blotted out, and the truly great principle of our faith — the existence and unity of G-d — was firmly established. This was achieved without deterring or confusing the minds of the people by the abolition of the service to which they were accustomed and which alone was familiar to them.
In other words, although G-d was not at all interested in sacrifices G-d conceded to the needs of the people understanding where they were at. However, this concession is nonetheless with an eye towards the future when the ideal Temple worship will be prayer.
Over time the Temple services will evolve and ultimately animal sacrifices will be nullified. Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935) elaborates that when the Temple is reinstated, there will be a period of time when we will no longer be slaughtering animals for consumption or pleasure, and eventually we will only bring meal offerings. But even the meal offering will be nullified until finally the Temple will be strictly a house of prayer.
In other words, when we reach the point when we no longer need the sacrificial service, we will be on a high enough spiritual level to experience “giving ourselves completely to G-d” through prayer alone. We will put our entire souls into our words of prayer – recite them soulfully — and thus no longer need sacrifices to experience our connection G-d.
Through Rav Kook’s exposition of a piece in the Passover Hagadah, Rabbi Aaron explores the differences between the redemption from Egypt and the upcoming Final Redemption. He also touches on the significance of the hurried Exodus, and gives us kabbalistic and personal growth insights into the steps of the Seder.