BECHUKOSAI (Leviticus 26:3-27:34) — “Confessions of a Would-Be Vegetarian”

G-d has created a world for us to use.  He is the Owner, and we are the borrowers.  G-d has, in His infinite kindness, given us permission to partake of the bounty available to us in His world.

But, we do have to pay our “rent.”

If you will follow My laws and are careful to keep My commandments, I will provide you with rain at the right time, so that the land will bear its crops and the trees of the field will provide fruit…You will have your fill of food, and you will live securely in the land.  (Leviticus, 26:3, 5)

In various places throughout the Torah, we come across many commandments concerning our food.  Yes, G-d agrees to feed us.  But we must be prepared to show our appreciation by “giving back.”

When we harvest our fields, we are supposed to leave some of our crops to be gathered by the poor.  From that which we do gather, approximately 2% is given to the Priest.  From the remainder, 10% goes to the Levite (who, in turn, gives 10% of what he received to the Priest).  From the remainder, 10% is designated,  some years  to be given to the poor, and some years for the owner to bring to Jerusalem for his own consumption.  (These laws, which apply only in the Land of Israel, are in affect, to an extent, even in non-Temple times.  Israeli produce may not be eaten before tithes have been separated.)

One may not eat one’s produce before separating tithes.  The same rule applies to certain meats: 

A firstling animal which must be sacrificed as a first-born offering … whether it is an ox, sheep, or goat, it belongs to G-d… All tithes of the herds and flocks shall be given… with every tenth one being consecrated to G-d.  (Ibid. 27:26, 32)

Before we are allowed to consume foods, we must express our thanks to G-d for giving us those foods.  The way we thank G-d depends upon the food.

As mentioned above, all Israeli produce requires the separation of tithes.  All breads have to have a portion removed from the dough.  (Challah)  Wine has special rules regarding who may make it and who may handle it.  All foods require the recital of a Blessing before eating or drinking.

By far, the food with the most complex prerequisites to consumption is meat.  Before you eat it there are many steps of preparation that must be gone through.

This concept gives lie to the mistaken notion that the animals are equal partners with humans; that we may not put them to our personal use.

Noah brought two of each non-kosher animal into the Ark.  However, when it came to the Kosher animals, he brought seven pairs of each Kosher animal.  (According to some commentaries, there were a TOTAL of seven of each Kosher animal; three pairs, and one extra male, for a sacrifice.)  Noah understood why G-d had him bring extra Kosher animals.  After he left the Ark, he built an altar and brought burnt offerings from each Kosher animal.

G-d’s reaction?

G-d blessed Noah and his sons, and He said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the land…Every moving thing that lives will be food for you, like the green vegetation [i.e., just as until now, Adam and his descendants were allowed to eat vegetation, I am now extending your menu to include meat] I have given you everything…But flesh, with its soul, its blood you shall not eat.  (Genesis, 9:1, 3-4)

There, you have it.  G-d permitted the human race to kill and eat animals after the flood.  When the Torah was given to Israel, He limited our meat consumption to Kosher animals, killed in a very specific way, and subsequently inspected, and cleaned for blood removal.

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In previous messages, I have made reference to the fact that when I moved into my current home, I became the owner of a “miniature farm,” complete with a coop and seven chickens.  (See “Yerachmiel’s Ark.”)

The “girls” from the backyard

The chickens lay eggs almost every day, providing my family with a fresh and tasty alternative to what I call “plastic factory eggs” from the supermarket.

However, as chickens get older, their eggs have more of a tendency to have blood spots, which create a problem for the Kosher consumer.  Preparing an omelet is a time-consuming effort, because each egg must be checked, and the blood spots and meat spots must be removed.  For some time now, I’ve been suggesting that their days were numbered.

A few months ago, I bought some newly-hatched baby chicks.  The babies are growing rapidly, and no longer fit in their cage.  They need the larger coop, but when one of the babies found her way into the coop, the older chickens pecked her to death.  There was no choice; it was time to dispatch the oldsters to the refrigerator!

For months now people have been asking me, “How can you eat a pet?”  I responded that chickens are not pets.  You don’t become emotionally attached to creatures that peck at your hand and at each other.  Chickens are not nice creatures.  They steal from each other and think only of themselves.  No “Lassie” here!

A friend of mine who lives in Israel trains Shochtim — animal slaughterers.  He regularly comes to the U.S., so we arranged that on his next visit, he would come by and turn my chickens into … well, chicken.

He called me the other day and said that he was in for a very brief visit and could come the next day.  Since he is a teacher, he advised me to invite whoever might be interested in watching.  I called a rabbi and a few rabbinical students and made the appointment for them to come the next morning.

Then, it began to sink in.  Do I really want to KILL my chickens?  Do I really want to EAT my chickens?  After months of watching their antics, running and wing-flapping and squawking around my back yard, making me laugh and giving me eggs, do I really want to put them in a soup pot?

I concluded, yes, I would have him slaughter the chickens.  It is, after all, a Mitzvah.  We are supposed to do Mitzvahs, even when we don’t feel totally up to it.  But I really wasn’t sure how I felt about the whole process.  In the rabbinic world, it is common for a Mohel to also be a Torah Scribe and/or a Shochet.  I already am a Mohel and a Scribe.  My friend was offering to teach me how to be a Shochet.  Till now, I had thought it was a great idea.  Now I wasn’t so sure.  I had a sneaking suspicion that by the end of the day, I would decide that the killing of Kosher animals was not to become part of my resume.  In other words, I was wimping out!

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I won’t offend the faint of heart by going through the details of the process.  But let me tell you why I changed my mind.

Rabbi Yisroel Landsman is an old friend of mine.  [ NOTE: Since the time of this writing, my friend Rabbi Landsman tragically passed away at the age of 54.] Rabbi Landsman is a full-time student of Torah.   He has, over the years, involved himself in various part-time activities to support his family while he studies.  I met him while he was doing magic and animal shows.

Yisroel owned monkeys and pigeons and snakes and all types of exotic animals.  I find it interesting that a lover of animals would now earn his keep by becoming a slayer of animals!

Yisroel is a compassionate type of guy who gives me a bear hug every time he sees me.  He is a deeply spiritual person who profoundly feels the beauty of every Mitzvah.  When he prepared to slaughter the chickens, it was clear that he was about to commence an activity that would bring him closer to G-d.

Inspecting the knife to insure that it is totally sharp and flawlessly smooth

Rabbi Landsman recited a Blessing:  “Baruch atah… You are blessed, O G-d, King of the universe, who have made us holy with Your commandments, and commanded us concerning slaughtering.”

“…made us holy with Your commandments…”   Is there anything holy about killing chickens?!

Rabbi Landsman showed his respect for the sanctity of Mitzvahs.  He also demonstrated great sensitivity by avoiding unnecessary distress of the chickens.  He instructed us to hold the chickens in a way that would prevent them from seeing their fellow chicken being slaughtered.  We even had to make sure that they wouldn’t see the knife!

In Jewish society, a Shochet is an esteemed and respected member of the community.  In order to qualify as a Shochet, one must be well-versed in all of the intricate laws.  In fact, Rabbi Landsman told us that when a potential Shochet undergoes an exam to be certified, he is expected to get 100 on the test.  A 99 is a failing grade.  When it comes to Kashrus, there is no room for error.  There is no such thing as “almost Kosher!”

The Shochet is required to review all of the laws on a monthly basis.  He also needs to be recognized as a truly honest and G-d-fearing person.  After all, a person who is less than totally honest may be tempted to cover up the fact that he made a mistake and invalidated an expensive animal.

(The story is told about the Shochet who consulted Rabbi Yisroel Salanter about the possibility of resigning his position as Shochet.  “I don’t want to do this anymore,” he said.  “I’m afraid I might make a mistake and cause people to eat non-Kosher.”

“So who then should be our Shochtim?” responded the rabbi.  “People who are NOT afraid to cause us to eat non-Kosher?!!”)

I have seen how animals are treated when prepared for non-Kosher slaughter.  The abuse is unspeakable.  When observing human beings acting in such an inhuman fashion it is easy to understand why some people choose to become vegetarians.  If I weren’t Jewish, I don’t think I would become a vegetarian, but I might give serious thought to only buying Kosher meat.

When you compare a professional animal killer to a Shochet, you are, to a certain extent, comparing an almost-animal to a human.  You are taking a person who couldn’t care less about the suffering of G-d’s creatures, and trying to compare him to a sensitive and devout man of G-d.

We have in our hands the ability to bring sanctity to everything we do.  Cruel people mistreating animals make the world into a crueler place.  Holy people like my friend Rabbi Landsman transform mundane things like eating dinner into a sublime religious experience.

When we finished cleaning, soaking, and salting the chickens, I offered each of the participants the opportunity to take a chicken home.  I put a chicken in a pot this morning and made a soup.  I invited one of the rabbinical students to join me for lunch.  Would I be able to bring myself to eat it?

As it turns out, it was one of the most delicious bowls of soup I’ve had in a very long time.  It was fresh.  It was tasty.  It was holy!!!

Well, what about my resume?  Will Rabbi Seplowitz the Mohel and Torah Scribe be able to bring himself to becoming Rabbi Seplowitz the Shochet?

Would that I may someday be worthy of qualifying for such a lofty calling.

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

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From the Archives 

(Sometimes the Torah Portions of Behar and Bechukosai are read in the same week, and sometimes they are read in separate weeks.  To avoid confusion, both are listed here) 

From Behar, the first of this week’s two Torah Portions 

“The Palestinians are Right!” (2010)

 Israel is ours.

From time immemorial, theLandofIsraelhas been inhabited by Jews.  There is no such thing asPalestine.  The so-called “Palestinians” need to wake up to that fact, get a life, and move on.

The Palestinians, on the other hand, dismiss this notion as wishful thinking on the part of the Jews.  They continue to argue that there is no proof that the Land is ours…

Of course, as we know, the Palestinians are wrong … Right? …

THE TRUTH IS THAT … ISRAELDOES  NOT BELONG TO THE JEWS.  It never has…

Read more.

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“The Price of Tea in China” (2006)

“…  For six years you may sow your field, and for six years you may prune your vineyard, and you may gather its crop.  But the seventh year will be a complete rest for the Land…”

…  A farmer works his field for six years, trying his hardest to produce an income to support his family.  Now we tell him to take a year off.

Take a year off?!  How am I gonna eat?!

Good question…

Read more.

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“Aharon Moshe — Servant of G-d and His Children” (2005)

… It is customary among Chassidim to bring written requests to righteous people.  All of their needs are written on these “Kvittlach” — notes, and the righteous people are asked to pray to G-d for the fulfillment of these requests.  After the Second World War, there was a dearth of such holy people.

One great Rabbi, the Rebbe of Satmar, of Blessed Memory, was asked what to do.  “Now that so many of our Tzaddikim, righteous people, have been killed, to whom should we bring our requests for blessings?”

The Rebbe gave two answers…

This was not an easy article to write.  (Tears don’t show up on computer screens.)…

Read more.

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“Ask a Stupid Question…” (2004)

… CHAYIM: I can’t believe what happened to me today!

YANKEL: What happened?

CHAYIM: A guy came by the office today selling ties.  He showed me some hand-made silk ties.  He told me that they were worth $50, but he was willing to sell them for only $30.  What a bargain!  Twenty dollars off!  I bought five!

YANKEL: That’s great, Chayim!  What’s the problem?  You saved $100!  That’s wonderful!

CHAYIM: Well, not exactly.  As it turned out, they were actually made of polyester, and are available on Ebay for $3 apiece.

YANKEL: Oh…Uh, Chayim…

CHAYIM: Yes, Yankel?

YANKEL:  You, my dear friend, are a jerk.  A naive, stupid fool!  You should be ashamed of yourself!  What’s the matter with you?!  How could you allow yourself to be ripped off like that?!  Boy, that con man must be laughing at you now!

We have just observed two violations of Torah Law…

Read more.

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“Free as a Bird” (2002)

We’re all familiar with the famous words on the Liberty Bell: “Proclaim Liberty throughout the land…” Many people are not aware that it is actually a quote from the Torah. (Leviticus, 25:10)

…”Proclaim ‘D’ROR’ throughout the land.”

You’ll notice that I left the word “D’ROR” untranslated. Most commentaries give comparable translations… synonymous with the bell-maker’s translation – “Liberty.”

… Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra presents an interesting insight into the word “D’ROR.” … the Dror is a very independent bird. As long as it is in its own nest, it sings to its heart’s content. However, once it is taken into captivity it silently refuses to eat and eventually starves. (“Give me liberty or give me death!”)…

Read more.

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From Bechukosai, the second of this week’s two Torah Portions 

“Don’t Just STAND There…” (2009)

We strive to be holy.  It is not an easy task.  The Torah was not given to angels; it was given to human beings with human weaknesses.  Yet, we make the effort.

In our daily prayers, we make reference to the angels in Heaven and the divine symphony of praise that they offer to G-d every day…

The Heavens ring forth with holiness that we mortals cannot even begin to imagine, much less, understand.  Yet we try:

We shall sanctify Your Name in this world, just as they sanctify it in Heaven above, as it is written by Your prophet, “they call one another and say:  ‘Holy, holy, holy..’

The above prayer is recited standing, with our feet together as if they are one foot, just like the angels, about whom it is written, and their legs are one straight leg” (Ezekiel 1:7) and who are referred to as “Standers.” (Zechariah, 3:7)

All this, of course, begs the question: whom are we trying to kid??!

We are simple, mortal human beings.  How can we even contemplate a serious attempt at being like the angels?  Their level of holiness is so far beyond ours that it seems pointless to even make the comparison…

Read more.

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“Confessions of a Would-Be Vegetarian” (2005)

… it began to sink in.  Do I really want to KILL my chickens?  Do I really want to EAT my chickens?  After months of watching their antics, running and wing-flapping and squawking around my back yard, making me laugh and giving me eggs, do I really want to put them in a soup pot?…

Read more.

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“Your Money or your Wife!” (2003)

How much is a person worth?  What is the dollars-and-cents cash value of a human being? … The Book of Judges tells us the heartbreaking story of Yiftach, whose poor judgment led to a tragedy … Yiftach was praying for success in battle … “If You deliver Ammon into my hands, the first thing that comes out of my house to greet me, I will offer as a sacrifice.” (Judges,11:31).

The Talmud says that Yiftach had made an irresponsible vow.  Not every animal is acceptable as an offering.  If the family cow or his pet lamb had ambled out the door to meet him, either one would have served as a fine Thanksgiving offer on the Altar.  But what would he do if he were greeted by Fido or his daughter’s pet iguana?!

Actually, the scenario was even worse…

Read more.

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“Labor Gains” (2001)

Jewish life is all about choices.  We are given the option of choosing the path that G-d wants us to follow, or a path that goes the other way.  Either way, says the Torah, there are consequences to our choices….

We are, of course, proud to be Jewish.  We fulfill Mitzvahs and we recite prayers.  But do we LABOR IN TORAH?  Do we toil and struggle to make Torah the be-all, end-all emphasis of our lives?  Is Torah our lifeblood?  Or is it little more than a cultural appendage, a potpourri of chicken soup, matzah balls and gefilte fish?… There are two types of people who subscribe to my weekly messages…

Read more.

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This is the weekly message at www.torahtalk.org.   Copyright © 2000-2011 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (www.Brisrabbi.com) and chaplain inMonsey,New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on May 17, 2005 at 5:18 am  Leave a Comment  

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