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Depends How Far You Are

By: Rabbi Eitan Mayer

In this week’s parshah, the Torah presents what seem to be instructions (-28) for eating meat which isn’t a korban (sacrifice). We’re not surprised, perhaps, that the Torah reminds us to avoid eating the blood. We’re also not surprised, perhaps, that the Torah tells us that the animal must undergo proper shechitah (slaughter).


But at least two other things about these instructions are strange:


“When Hashem expands your borders as He said He would, and you say, ‘I’d like to eat meat’ – as you will feel a desire for meat – then you may eat meat as you desire. For the place which Hashem will choose for His name to rest there [i.e., the Mikdash] will be distant from you… you may eat in accordance with your desire” (20-21).


First, why does the Torah discuss why we’d want to eat meat? Don’t most people who want to eat meat already know why? Why does the motivation of desire need to be recorded for posterity in the Torah?


Second, the Torah makes it sound like eating meat out of desire is something new, something which will be allowed only later on – “When Hashem expands your borders,” when the Mikdash is no longer close by. That implies that for now, in the desert, when everyone’s living right next door to the Mishkan, you can’t just slaughter an animal and enjoy the meat. Is that true, and if so, what does proximity to the Mikdash have to do with permission to barbecue?


Answering both questions, the Kli Yakar points out the connection between meat and the Mikdash: When we are close to kedushah, when we live in the same neighborhood as Hashem, it’s easy for us to remain focused on the important things in life and resist the empty draw of desire. Traveling in the desert with the Mishkan, Bnei Yisrael kept their eyes and hearts on pursuits of inherent value; empty feasting did not interest them. But Hashem knew that one day, after having entered Eretz Yisrael and established homes far from spirituality’s center, His people would fall to a lower level. In that state, they would be less able to resist the animal drives which send us seeking out pleasures ever greater and more novel.


One lesson to draw from the Kli Yakar is to make sure that we always find ourselves in the presence of kedushah, that we establish ourselves in communities where Hashem’s presence is apparent. That holy presence, channeled through holy personalities, holy activities, and holy institutions, will strengthen us against the kind of distractions and temptations which seem powerful at the time but which in retrospect make us wonder what we were thinking. Staying close to Hashem helps keep us focused on what is truly important to us in the long term, even when others around us may be focusing their energies on enjoying passing pleasures or on amassing possessions they will leave behind.


As we approach Elul and the period of Cheshbon Ha-Nefesh before the Yom Ha-Din, let us take a few moments to find ways to bring ourselves closer to kedushah – to connect with personalities of kedushah; to search for experiences of kedushah through learning, davening, and mitzvot; and to choose to place ourselves in places of kedushah – so that we may see Hashem’s guiding presence in our lives and remain focused on what we truly treasure.




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