Does the Torah think that it’s murder to kill an animal for food? Anyone with any rudimentary knowledge of Judaism would confidently answer: of course not! In fact, just the opposite! The Torah commands us to worship God carnivorously. The highest expression of religious service in Vayikra is a barbecue in the Mishkan!
But actually, according to Vayikra 17, in certain circumstances, killing an animal is called murder. “It will be considered like blood for this man, he has spilled blood, and he will be cut off from his nation.” The shocking nature of this statement needs to be digested slowly. The requirement to bring all animals to the Mishkan for slaughter is understandable, and we can see that it would be sinful to ignore it. But the punishment of karet? And to call it the “spilling of blood”?! It seems to be taking things a little too far, doesn’t it?
The phrase ‘he has spilled blood’ in relation to the animal sends us back to Breishit, chapter 9. In the aftermath of the flood, God commands Noach and his sons- “He who spills the blood of man, by man will his own blood be spilled.” This commandment regarding the taking of human life contrasts the permission newly granted to take animal life. Before the flood, it seems, people were vegetarians. Spilling animal blood had been as severe as spilling human blood. Fundamentally, it still was, even after the flood. The permission to eat meat was granted reluctantly, out of God’s renewed post-flood relationship with mankind which was more accepting of human foibles. This permission came with limits, in order to maintain an element of the ideal. “However, meat, with its spirit in its blood, you cannot eat”. Eating a limb from a live animal was still forbidden.
The service of the Mishkan presented a realistic opportunity to further restrict meat consumption, and to move mankind closer to the ideal of Eden. And so, the relationship between blood and spirit was given new, more stringent legal expression, and the killing of animals outside the confines of these limitations was tantamount to murder, no less.
These limitations again were relaxed when circumstances changed, the Jews entered the land of Israel, and it became unrealistic to expect them to limit all meat consumption to the Mikdash.
Although the Torah’s ideal might be vegetarianism, it certainly doesn’t make that demand in reality. What it does do throughout, in various ways in various periods of our history, is to demand that we move ourselves in the direction of that ideal. And so the question we are left to ask ourselves is- how much closer to that ideal can we bring ourselves?
This is my own little insight about the 929 chapter of the day, in 300 words or so. I’d love to hear your comments and start a conversation
What’s 929? A near-impossible challenge of consistency. A song of Jewish unity. A beautiful project worth checking out. Learn more at 929.org.il