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Rav Yitzchak Levi


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Lecture 207: The History of the Divine Service at Altars (XVI) – The History of Slaughtering Non-consecrated Animals and Eating Meat (IV)

In the previous shiur, we began to review the reasons for the allowance to eat meat that was granted to Noach after the flood. Thus far, we have mentioned two reasons: changed conditions that necessitated the allowance of eating meat and the spiritual ascent of man, which permitted him to feed on the lower-ranking animals.

In this shiur, we will continue to explore the possibility that the allowance to eat meat stems from man's higher status relative to animals. We will attempt to explain what happened after the flood that led to the allowance.

The Allowance to Eat Meat as Evidence of Man’s Elevated Spiritual Level
A. Reward for Noach's care for and handling of the animals in the ark
This view is cited by a number of commentators (Ramban, Rabbeinu Bachayei, Or Ha-Chayim, and Radak, who was mentioned already in an earlier shiur). They argue that were it not for Noach's efforts, none of the animals would have survived; since Noach troubled himself and saved them, he was rewarded with an allowance to eat them.
We present here the words of the Meshekh Chokhma, another commentator who adopted this approach:
Adam was not permitted to eat meat, but only Noach in reward for his caring and maintenance of the animals the entire time that he was in the ark. He also prepared an area where they could maintain their respective species. Therefore, in reward they were given to him as food. The fish in the sea that were not destroyed in the flood were also permitted to be eaten so as not to cast jealousy among the works of creation. (Bereishit 9:3)
According to this approach, Noach's rescue of the animals earned him reward in the form of an allowance to kill and eat them. His taking responsibility for the animals attests to man's superiority over animals, and it is because of his elevated level in relation to animals that man was permitted to eat meat.

B. Highlighting man's superiority over animals
R. Joseph Albo, the author of Sefer Ha-Ikkarim (III: 15) describes at length the development of the Torah's attitude toward the killing of animals, from Adam to Noach. After explaining that fundamentally it is inappropriate to kill animals because such action is considered bloodshed, and as such it fosters insensitivity in a man's heart, he continues to analyze the issue through an examination of the sacrifices brought by Kayin and Hevel:
After Kayin and Hevel were born and they saw their father Adam toiling in his working of the land, planting wheat and barley and grapes and eating and subsisting on plants, each of them thought of a way for himself, the intention of each of them being evident from his actions.

Kayin adopted for himself the vocation of working the land, for he thought that man's sole advantage over animals lay in his knowing how to work the land so that he can subsist from the choicest plants. For when he saw that Adam subsisted on plants just like the rest of the animals, he thought that they share the same spirit and both die in the same manner. He therefore brought an offering from the fruit of the earth to praise God for the advantage that He gave him over the plants; he did not bring an animal offering, because he did not think that the advantage that he had over them in working the earth is such a great advantage that it would be fitting to bring for it an animal offering. However, since he should have brought from the fruit of the trees, which is the choicest of plants, but only brought from the fruit of the earth, that is, from vegetables, he sinned, as we have explained above. But his primary sin was that he did not think that the advantage that man has over animals is significant, and he thought that since he is forbidden to kill animals, he is equal to them, seeing that they both die in the same manner. He thought that his primary purpose was to eat and drink, since he subsisted from plants, just like the animals.

Hevel, on the other hand, thought that man has an advantage over animals, and he thought that this advantage is that man should have dominion over them and suppress them under him to do his work, but not that he should be permitted to kill them, for he didn't think that man has an advantage over animals for this. Therefore, the verse states: "And Hevel too brought of the firstlings of his flock" (Bereishit 4:4). That is, he "too" shared Kayin's view, thinking that man is forbidden to kill animals, if not for the sake of God to offer a sacrifice before Him, thus showing that it is He who has an advantage over both man and beast, as they will all perish and He alone will stand. But man has no advantage over animals, except that he should tend them, and govern states, and the like. Therefore, Hevel was killed, as his view was much more convincing than that of Kayin, and more likely to lead people astray so that they should be drawn after it.
The difference between Kayin and Hevel relates to their attitudes toward animals. Kayin thought that man and animals are on the same level; d man is therefore forbidden to kill animals, but he may bring an offering from plants, for in relation to plants, man has an advantage. His sin was that he brought from the fruit of the earth, rather than from the fruit of the tree. In contrast, Hevel thought that man has an advantage over animals, an advantage that does not allow him to kill them for no reason, but allows him to kill them for a sacrifice. Hevel therefore chose to become a shepherd.
R. Yosef Albo continues:
But since in Hevel's view man has an advantage over animals, and he rules over them, and he can kill them for the sake of God… and he recognized the high rank of the Master to bring from the firstlings of his flock and from their fat parts – God looked with favor on Hevel and his offering, because he was closer to perfection than was Kayin, and he did not look with favor on Kayin and his offering, because he was very far from the truth, since he thought that man does not have an advantage over animals, and he also did not recognize the high rank of the Master, since he brought from the fruit of the earth, and not from the fruit of the tree, as we have explained.

And God said to him: "Why are you angry? And why are you crestfallen? If you do well, shall you not be accepted?" In other words, the truth is as you said, for man is born as a wild ass, and he has no actual advantage over animals when he enters the world, but he has an advantage over them in his power to do well with his actions, and to actualize his potential, and to recognize the high rank of the Master, and if he does well, he will be superior to them. This is the meaning of: "If you do well, shall you not be accepted?"

God rebukes Kayin for his position and does not look with favor upon him because Kayin does not recognize the value of man, nor even the value of his Creator. Even according to his own view that man has an advantage only over the plants, he should have brought his offering from the fruit of the tree, and not from the inferior fruit of the earth.
God rebukes Kayin and suggests to him that he mend his ways, allowing his good deeds to elevate him. Kayin, however, fails to fully internalize the message, as R. Albo explains in the continuation:
For this reason, Kayin was overcome with jealousy and he killed Hevel, seeing that he was drawn after his initial view that man has no advantage over animals, and he said to himself that since God looked with favor upon Hevel and his offering, it would appear that it is permissible to kill animals, and he thought that killing Hevel is no more forbidden than killing an animal. Since Hevel's ideas were not yet entirely proper, he was not providentially rescued from the hand of injustice and inequity.

When God revealed Himself to Kayin and informed him of his punishment, he did not think because of this that the shedding of human blood is more serious than the shedding of animal blood. Rather, he thought that just as he was being punished for spilling human blood, so he would be punished for spilling animal blood, since man was not permitted to kill animals, because they share the same spirit and they die in the same manner. This defective view remained with Kayin and his descendants until the birth of Shet, who recognized man's advantage over animals, as did his father Adam. Therefore, it is said about him: "And he begot a son in His likeness, after His image" (Bereishit 5:3), because he alone was in the image of God like Adam. But the earlier ones did not recognize the superiority of the human form in them – that it is in the image of God.

Kayin, who still thought that man was equal to the animals, concluded that the acceptance of Hevel's offering attests to an allowance to kill animals, and thus also human beings, and he therefore killed Hevel. The matter was only repaired with the birth of Shet, who recognized man's superiority over animals.
And based on these three different opinions of Kayin, Hevel, and Shet, you will find that all people are divided into three classes:

  1. A class that is drawn to the opinion of Kayin and thinks that the most important thing is working the land. They are jealous of political leaders and think of killing them, just as Kayin killed Hevel.

  2. A class that is drawn to the opinion of Hevel and thinks that the most important thing is political rule. Like Hevel, they risk their lives for this, thinking that this is the essence of human perfection, as is told about some of the leaders of Rome. And the kings themselves endanger themselves because of their rule, as if it were natural to them, since Hevel was the first leader and he was killed.

  3. A class that is drawn to the opinion of Shet and thinks that the most important thing is the service of God. They abhor power and other success. Since at first Shet's opinion was not understood, only select individuals were drawn to it. But Kayin's opinion was very prevalent among his descendants, and for this reason the world was filled with violence, because they did not think that man has an advantage over animals, but rather the strong rule. And for this reason they corrupted their ways like animals. And because of this it was decreed that their names should be wiped out from the earth during the flood.

Thus, there are three positions: Kayin maintains that what is most important is working the land and that one may kill another human being, because people are similar to animals. Hevel maintains that what is most important is political rule, and that it is worth even mortal danger. Finally, Shet maintains that what is most important is the service of God, his view being the rarest of the three.

And when they were all wiped out, and only Noach and those with him were left in the ark, God wanted to eradicate this opinion and remove it from the world. And when Noach emerged from the ark, he offered a sacrifice to God from animals, in his knowledge that man has an advantage over them, having the rational power to recognize and serve His Creator and thank God for that. Therefore, his sacrifice was accepted with favor, as it is written: "And the Lord smelled the sweet savor" (Bereishit 8:21).

And since He was afraid that if the matter is not fixed people might turn to the opinion of Hevel, and the sons of Noach might think that when God accepted their father's sacrifice, it was like when He accepted Hevel's sacrifice, and they will return to their first mistake, therefore, immediately after the sacrifice, He quickly permitted them to eat and kill animals, and He said: "Even as the green herb have I given you all things" (Bereishit 9:3). That is, just as even Kayin conceded that man has an advantage over plants which were created for the sake of man, so too all animals were created for the sake of man, and man has an advantage over them as they don't have the same spirit. He therefore prohibited the shedding of human blood, and He gave as the reason for this that man's spirit is not like that of animals, "for in the image of God made He them" (ibid. v. 6). That is, he has a rational form more distinguished than the spirit of animals. And it was fitting according to this that He should permit all animals to them, and not give an advantage to one of them over the other, and for this reason He permitted all of them in order to eradicate the earlier opinion and to wipe out its remembrance from the world.

After the flood, God explains the relative ranking of His creatures. Man's role is to serve his Creator, and therefore Noach's sacrifice was accepted; man is more important than animals, and therefore he is permitted to kill them for the sake of food; man does not parallel an animal, and therefore one is forbidden to kill a human being, even though he is permitted to kill an animal.
When the Torah was given to Israel, by which time this opinion had already been eradicated from the world, He forbade them to eat certain animals which lead to denseness and fouling of the soul, and even that which He permitted of them, He only permitted them as an accommodation to the evil inclination, in the same way that He permitted a woman taken captive in war.

Thus our Rabbis said: "'[When the Lord your God shall enlarge your border, as He has promised you, and you shall say: I will eat flesh,] because your soul desires to eat flesh.' The Torah here teaches proper conduct, that a person should not eat meat unless he has a special desire for it" (Chullin 84a). Here it is explicitly revealed that the eating of meat was only permitted out of necessity, and therefore it was forbidden at the beginning of the creation, even though it is good food, for the reason mentioned at the beginning of the chapter. This is like wine; even though it is good food and it is permitted to man, Scripture refers to the nazirite who abstains from it as one who is holy.

What is clear from all of this is that something can be permitted after it had been forbidden, and it can be forbidden after it had been permitted. If so, it is possible to say that God's Torah can contain things that are prohibited for a certain time in accordance with what is dictated by Divine wisdom, and then He will permit them in accordance with what His wisdom dictates, and there is no counter-proof in Scripture.
R. Yosef Albo's discussion revolves around the question of whether man through his actions expresses his superiority over the animals, or whether it is possible that in certain situations this becomes blurred. Kayin's position was that man has no advantage over animals other than that he knows how to work the land, and he therefore brought an offering to God from the fruit of the earth. This view is mistaken. Kayin thought that killing animals is forbidden because they are equal to him, and man enjoys no advantage over them. This ultimately led to his killing of Hevel.
In contrast, Hevel thought that killing animals is only permitted for the sake of God, as an offering to Him, but in truth man does not enjoy a significant advantage over animals. Hevel was killed because his position was close to that of Kayin on this matter.
R. Yosef Albo explains that the allowance to kill animals for the sake of food was meant to repair this distorted view and to emphasize that all animals were created for the sake of man and that man has an advantage over them, for he was created in the image of God, his rational form being more elevated than the spirit of animals. The Torah permitted the killing of animals and the eating of their meat in order to eradicate the alternative mistaken opinion and wipe out its memory from this world.
When the Torah was given to Israel, it excluded from the allowance the eating of animals that promote denseness and fouling of the soul. Even the allowance to eat meat was only granted to accommodate the evil inclination, "because your soul desires to eat flesh," as stated in the gemara (Chullin 84a) that the Torah taught proper conduct – that one should not eat meat unless he has a special desire for it.
It is clear from here that the allowance to eat meat was granted only out of necessity, and for this reason eating meat had been forbidden at the beginning of the creation.

Meat was Allowed because of the Blurring of the Difference Between Man and the Animal World
Continuing along the lines of R. Albo, R. Moshe Gorelik1 suggests that the sharing between man and beast was so great that the borders between them became blurred. Noach was granted an allowance to eat animal meat in order to emphasize the uniqueness of man:

Before the flood, man was vegetarian by force of a heavenly imperative implanted in his personality. He caused no harm to animals and did not eat of their meat. Indeed, peace reigned in all parts of creation. But here was a weakness, because man felt comfortable in the animal kingdom that surrounded him. He felt too good. He identified with his environment. Over time, this peace and harmony blurred the boundaries between humans and other creatures; between the one and only creature into whose nostrils the breath of God was breathed, and the beast, the animal, the bird, and the creeping thing that lived and breathed just like him; between the creature endowed with the power of free will and self-control that requires moral decision-making, and the beast and the animal that live and act conditioned by reflex and instinct.

Living together caused a blurring of the boundaries of man's uniqueness. It brought man to see himself at most as first among equals, but fundamentally guided in his actions, like the animal and the beast, by instincts and desires that are planted in his heart and move him.

This feeling is what led to man's deterioration before the flood. He began acting in accordance with this conception, he gave freedom to all his passions, and over the course of several generations, he dragged the whole world into the depths of the flood.

Therefore, when the foundations were being laid for a new society, a revolution in this regard was necessary. God established a clear barrier between man and beast. The separation, the enmity, and the control that was delivered into his hands demonstrated to man his basic superiority. A clear line was drawn, totally differentiating between the different realms. This was for the benefit of mankind, and – in the long run – for the good of the animal kingdom.

God, however, did not stop here: "Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you" (Bereishit 9:3). This was a real revolution. Noach was the remnant of a vegetarian world. He must get used to the fact that from now on he would be permitted to hunt animals, to kill them, and to enjoy their meat.

Was it really God's intention to plant cruelty in the new world?

The commentators teach us that this command stemmed from the first command. Its purpose was to instill man with the sense of his superiority to animals. He must know with every fiber of his being that he is totally different, despite the similarity in biological structure and bodily functions. He must know this in order to preserve his uniqueness as a human being. This revolution was necessary and unavoidable. Despite the apparent absurdity, this could only be achieved through the killing of animals.

But then come the restrictions: "But flesh with its life, which is its blood, you shall not eat" (ibid. v. 4). He forbade them to eat a limb from a living animal… (Rashi, ad loc., based on the Gemara).

The allowance to eat animal meat is liable to turn into a moral trap, together with the benefit that it brings regarding man's sense of his uniqueness. It is liable to jeopardize man's humanity, to destroy his character, and to etch lines of cruelty on his soul, the results of which no one can predict. He must remember – for all times – that the allowance to eat meat is a forced Divine step, a submission to human nature, contrary to the Torah's ideal vision of vegetarianism. This will be accomplished if he is restricted in his eating.

First, man was forbidden to eat a limb from a living animal, i.e., a limb taken from an animal before it was put to death. This ancient and universal command is one of the seven commandments incumbent upon all the descendants of Noach. God demands that it be observed by all of humanity. This was the first campaign against cruelty that finds expression in the Torah and its commands.

Second, man was forbidden to eat the blood of the living. This command is exceedingly severe and is repeated several times in the Torah. The verse "For the blood is the life" (Devarim 12:23) is one of the verses that clearly expresses the entire message.

(Translated by David Strauss)

1 In his book, Parasha Ve-Likcha, Parashat Noach, "Ha-Dam hu Ha-Nefesh."

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