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When the L‑rd your G‑d shall broaden your borders, as He has promised you, and you will say, “I shall eat meat,” for your soul shall desire to eat meat—you may eat meat to your soul’s desire.

Deuteronomy 12:20–23

“Last and first You created me” (Psalms 139:5) . . . If man is worthy, he is told: You are first among the works of creation. If he is not worthy, he is told: The flea preceded you, the earthworm preceded you.

Vayikra Rabbah 14:1

There are those who contest the morality of eating meat. What gives man the right to consume another creature’s flesh? But the same can be said of man’s consumption of vegetable life, water or oxygen. What gives man the right to devour any of G‑d’s creations simply to perpetuate his own existence?

Indeed, there is no such natural right. When man lives only to sustain and enhance his own being, there is no justification for him to tamper with any other existence to achieve this goal. As a great chassidic master put it, “When a person walks along without a thought of G‑d in his head, the very ground under his feet cries out: Boor! What makes you any better than me? By what rights do you step on me?” The fact that man is a “higher” life-form scarcely justifies the destruction of dumb or inanimate creatures. Moreover, according to the teachings of Kabbalah, the souls of animals, plants and inanimate objects are actually loftier than that of the human being. For in the great collapse of the primordial world of tohu, the higher elements fell lowest (as the highest stones in a collapsing wall fall farthest), so that the loftier sparks of divine light came to be incarnated in the so-called “lower” tiers of the physical world.

Man does have the right to consume other creatures only because, and when, he serves as the agent of their elevation.

The spiritual essence of a stone, plant or animal may be loftier than that of a human being, but it is a static spark, bereft of the capacity to advance creation’s quest to unite with its Creator. The cruelty of the cat or the industry of the ant is not a moral failing or achievement, nor is the hardness of the rock or the sweetness of the apple. The mineral, vegetable and animal cannot do good or evil—they can only follow the dictates of their inborn nature. Only man has been granted freedom of choice, and the ability to be better (or worse, G‑d forbid) than his natural state. When a person drinks a glass of water, eats an apple, or slaughters an ox and consumes its meat, these are converted into the stuff of the human body and the energy that drives it. When this person performs a G‑dly deed—a deed that transcends his natural self and brings him closer to G‑d—he elevates the elements he has incorporated into himself, reuniting the sparks of G‑dliness they embody with their source. (Also elevated are the creations which enabled the G‑dly deed—the soil that nourished the apple, the grass that fed the cow, the horse that hauled the water to town, and so on.)

Therein lies the deeper significance of the verse quoted above, “And you will say, ‘I shall eat meat,’ for your soul shall desire to eat meat.” You may express a desire for meat and be aware only of your body’s craving for the physical satisfaction it brings; in truth, however, this is the result of your soul’s desire to eat meat—your soul’s quest for the sparks of G‑dliness it has been sent to earth to redeem.


There is, however, an important difference between the consumption of meat and that of other foods. The difference involves desire and the role it plays in the elevation of creation.

The human being cannot live without the vegetable and mineral components of his diet. Thus, he is compelled to eat them by the most basic of his physical drives—the preservation of his existence. Meat, however, is not a necessity but a luxury; the desire for meat is not a desire motivated by need, but desire in its purest sense—the desire to experience pleasure.

In other words, animals are elevated—their flesh integrated into the human body, their souls made partner in a G‑dly deed—only because G‑d has instilled the desire for pleasure in human nature.

This means that the elevation of meat requires a greater spiritual sensitivity on the part of its consumer than that of other foods. When a person eats a piece of bread and then studies Torah, prays or gives charity, the bread has directly contributed to these deeds. In order to perform these deeds, the soul of man must be fused with a physical body, and the piece of bread was indispensable to this fusion. Man eats bread in order to live; if he lives to fulfill his Creator’s will, the connection is complete. But man eats meat not to live, but to savor its taste; thus, it is not enough that a person lives in order to serve his Creator for the meat he eats to be elevated. Rather, he must be a person for whom the very experience of physical pleasure is a G‑dly endeavor, something devoted solely toward a G‑dly end. A person for whom the physical satisfaction generated by a tasty meal translates into a deeper understanding of Torah, a greater fervor in prayer, and a kinder smile to accompany the coin pressed into the palm of a beggar.1

Thus the Torah says: “When the L‑rd your G‑d shall broaden your borders, as He has promised you . . . you may eat meat to your soul’s desire.” From this the Talmud derives that “originally, they were forbidden to eat ‘meat of desire’ (besar taavah); it was only after they entered the Land [of Israel] that they were permitted to eat meat of desire.”2 For the first generation of Israel’s existence as a people—from the time they received the Torah and erected the Sanctuary in the Sinai Desert until they settled in the Holy Land—the only meat they were permitted to eat was the meat of the korbanot, the animal sacrifices offered to G‑d in the Sanctuary. The consumption of this meat was a mitzvah, which meant that its elevation was achieved by the fact that eating it constituted a direct fulfillment of a divine commandment. However, they did not have the capacity to elevate “meat of desire”—meat that is eaten for the purpose of granting pleasure to its consumer. So the consumption of such meat was forbidden. Indeed, the children of Israel were rebuked and punished for expressing a desire for meat, as related in the eleventh chapter of Numbers.

It was only after G‑d broadened their borders, granting them a mandate to make “holy” an adjective of “land,” that they were enabled to sanctify this most corporeal corner of human life.

[What was the case in Jewish history was also the case in the history of mankind. Originally, man was granted license only to eat “of every seed-bearing herb on the face of the earth, and every tree on which there is fruit-bearing seed” (Genesis 1:29). It was only after the Flood, following which the world was imbued with a greater spiritual potential, that G‑d told Noah that “every moving thing that lives shall be food for you” (ibid. 9:3).]

Similarly, our sages have said that “a boor is forbidden to eat meat” (Talmud, Pesachim 49b). The license given to man to consume the creatures and creations of the world and subjugate them to serve him is not unconditional. It is contingent upon his sensitivity to the spiritual essence of G‑d’s creations, and his commitment to serve them by making them component parts of his sanctified life. It takes an individual with broad spiritual horizons to properly relish a steak.

1. See Talmud, Yoma 76b; ibid., Bava Kamma 72a; Tanya, ch. 7.
Bread and meat are employed here as prototypes of necessity and luxury; in this context, a cream pie or a yacht would be a form of “meat,” while a piece of meat eaten to keep body and soul together would fall under the category of “bread.”
2. Rabbi Yishmael in Talmud, Chullin 16b. Rabbi Akiva (ibid. 17a) interprets the verse differently, understanding the words “when the L‑rd your G‑d shall broaden your borders” not as a qualification of “you may eat meat to your soul’s desire,” but of what the Torah states immediately afterwards: “You shall slaughter of your herd and your flock which G‑d has given you, as I have commanded you.” Thus, according to Rabbi Akiva, not only was “meat of desire” permitted in the desert, it was even permitted without shechitah (the halachically prescribed manner of slaughter), while all meat eaten following Israel’s entry into the Holy Land requires shechitah.
However, the deeper significance of the law that Rabbi Akiva derives from these verses is identical to that of the law derived by Rabbi Yishmael. Shechitah means “drawing forth” (Talmud, Chullin 30b); the slaughter of an animal in accordance with the divinely mandated laws of shechitah is what enables its elevation—the drawing of the animal out from its beastly state into the domain of a life consecrated to the service of the Creator. In the desert, shechitah was limited to the animals offered in the Sanctuary, for only these could be “drawn forth” in the manner that shechitah makes possible. The only difference between the opinions of Rabbi Yishmael and Rabbi Akiva is that Rabbi Yishmael states that since the full elevation of meat of desire was not possible in the desert, its consumption was prohibited, while Rabbi Akiva holds that it was nonetheless permitted, since a lesser elevation could be achieved.
Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson; adapted by Yanki Tauber.
Originally published in Week in Review.
Republished with the permission of If you wish to republish this article in a periodical, book, or website, please email
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Discussion (53)
August 23, 2015

when I was a child in a public school (grammar school) our class was taken to the stock yards and we watched pigs and cows slaughtered. It was horrific, but it did not sink in until I was a young adult. After enduring several surgeries and being allergic to pain killers I had to learn to endure the pain. I thought about what I had seen and how painful it obviously was from the "screaming and moaning" that I felt I could not contribute to such barbaric actions against another living creature. We keep kosher at home, but being a vegan I do not eat any animal products. I don't object to the hunter who shoots and eats his kill, but I think bow hunting is not very kind. I am not aware of a animals slaughtering for food process that is humane, kosher or otherwise. Of course it is a medical fact that people that eat a lot of meat suffer heart disease and a lot of other things down the road of life.
August 20, 2015
Glatt Life
What troubles me most about eating animal products, is the horrors that go on in 99% of the industry. Kosher animal products are subjected to standard conventional industry practices, which are the same horrific as concentration camps.

I have been wondering how it's so acceptable across the board. There are individuals who voice opposition, but it appears like pretty much everyone else is OK with all the horrors going on.

Glatt slaughter is sadly the most humane part of the life of the animal in today's cruel animal industry.
August 19, 2015
I guess I left one thing out in my original comment below about being a vegan and also a person who saved birds for many years. For me each meal, as a vegan, is a celebration of life. When the guys start kidding me about my eating habits I will wait until they are stuffing the burger and fries in their face and say, "Don't forget, that burger had a mother and a father." 95% of the time when I say that for the first time to one of my carnivorous friends they momentarily pause, look at the burger and look at me. I don't ever expect them to stop eating the burger and none of them ever have, but almost every one of them is overweight and sick with some avoidable malady that continues to haunt them. .
August 19, 2015
Could we construct a similar argument to justify slavery - By serving us an inferior race could aspire to a higher spiritual level.
Carpinteria, CA
August 18, 2015
Vegan diets are most consistent with basic Jewish values
I hope that people will recognize that vegan diets are the most consistent with Jewish mandates to preserve our health, treat animals with compassion, protect the environment, conserve natural resources, and help hungry people.

 Also, animal-based diets are contributing significantly to an epidemic of killer diseases and to climate change and other environmental threats to humanity.
Richard Schwartz
Staten Island
August 14, 2015
One must eat meat to eat the Passover lamb. A vegetarian in Egypt during the exodus was not an option.
John Shepanski
August 14, 2015
So therefore HaShem created animals for only Jews to eat them thus elevating their neshamot by the mitzvot we do? I'm pretty sure that factory farming does not meet the standards set by Torah of how we as Jews should treat animals (or our food, or the earth) so I'm not sure that eating animals in modernity is actually, instrinsically kosher. Suffice to say, seems like a lot of explanation when it's pretty clear what HaShem intended our natural diet to be (see Bereshit) and was even confirmed by the author who points out that the human body could not survive without plant food and meat is a luxury.. Is it really kosher to go through all of the waste, pain and destruction caused by modern animal agriculture for the sake of a luxury? Is that Jewish? We've gotta step it up if we want to bring Moshiac now.
August 14, 2015
Who sees a connection between vegan and parve, middle/moderation/center/balance?
What makes meat and milk so different? Isn't milk liquid meat? Is it possible that meat might symbolize red bloody slaughter, whereas milk white pure innocent baby suckling nurture, two ends of the spectrum, end and beginning of life... like nuclear meltdown should never be mixed... where does Parve come in this picture? At the center? Neutral, neither milk nor meat? Vegan is the lifestyle that also includes dietary considerations but not limited, no exploitation of animals in all aspects of what we do, "feeling" for the tortured commodity rather than reverance for its life and protection from abuse/mistreatment, to avoid pain and suffering from sentient being, Hashem's creations... inmates in prison have been shown to change, violence gone when becoming vegan. Middle-of-the-road is thought of as a more peaceful balanced position, and veganism could be parve!
August 13, 2015
eating meat
I became a vegan vegetarian in 1985. My wife and I were licensed to save sick and injured birds. I decided I could not save them and eat them. I never tell others to do what I do. For me it is very personal and I feel each meal is a celebration of life. I do not consider that right for anyone, but myself. I do it because I want no other living creature to suffer pain for my benefit. i am former Marine Corps infantry sergeant. I believe that there is nothing more important than being kind to one another. Anyone can become strong through conditioning, but so few can become kind. Not eating meat brings me joy, but that is just for me.
August 13, 2015
We can eat meat...
Bereishit 9:1...
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