When the Lord enlarges your territory, as He has promised you, and you say, "I shall eat some meat," for you have the urge to eat meat, you may eat meat whenever you wish. (Deut.12:20, JPS)
I like meat. Unashamedly. When, for some times in my life, I was following an Atkin’s-style diet regimen, I would make a meal entirely of meat. I thoroughly enjoy eating meats (and poultry.)
Yet I am not a savage. I am entirely conscious of the fact that when I am eating meat, I am eating what was once a living creature. I am well aware that some of these animals were raised in rough, sometimes cruel conditions. (Oh, I do and try to buy meat that is free range, free of antibiotics, and other artifacts of factory-farmed animals. I cannot claim, however, to be strict about this in any sense.)
I know many vegetarians and vegans. I respect their choices. I don’t particularly expect them to accept mine, and if someone I am dining with finds it offensive for me to eat meat, I’ll happily choose a salad something else. I may like meat, but I cannot afford to and do not wish to eat it all the time and at every meal. (As a side note, though I do not, at this time in my life, follow a strictly kosher diet, I am always troubled by Jews who flaunt their non-kosher food in front of those they know to be observant. Some of my colleagues and friends who keep kosher do not mind, others do. It is also a matter of extent. There are shades of distinction between say eating some food that is permissible under kashrut laws but has not been properly kashered – like non-kosher meat – and eating a ham steak, bacon, shrimp, etc. And somewhere in the middle we have things like cheeseburgers. Where would one put a cheeseburger made with kosher meat and kosher cheese on the spectrum? Yes, in simple terms, something is kosher or it is not. But here we are talking about what an observant Jew might be comfortable observing a less observant Jew eating in their presence. I’ve encountered a wide range.)
Like all things we find in the Torah, we must ask why this verse is here. The context is what will be permissible once the Israelites have occupied and enlarged their holdings in the promised land, and created a sanctuary for sacrificial rites in a place to be designated by G"d. Ostensibly this text permits the slaughtering of animals for their meat, and not only for sacrificial rites. Why does this matter? Have the Israelites refrained from any consumption of meat that was not offered up ritually in their 40 years of wandering? Aren’t the sacrifices for G"d, and the remnants for the priests and Levites?
Our rabbis and sages have studied this text, and come to their own conclusions. I leave it to you to research their answers and explanations. You may find one explanation among them that you find satisfying. So far, I have not.
So I’m going to spend my Shabbat pondering what this verse is all about. And eating meat well, chicken for sure, other than that, who knows what the camp fare will be for Shabbat.) Of course, it has already occurred to me that this verse is once again here for that very purpose-to make me ask why, and to think about why I (and others) want to and so enjoy eating meat. So I’ll be thinking about that as well. And you?
© 2010 by Adrian A. Durlester