In this week's parshah, G‑d gives us permission to eat meat.

When the L‑rd, your G‑d, expands your boundary, as He has spoken to you, and you say, "I will eat meat," because your soul desires to eat meat, you may eat meat, according to every desire of your soul.1

Rashi adds:

In the desert, however, the meat of a non-consecrated animal was forbidden to them, unless one first consecrated it and offered it up as a peace offering.2

This follows the tradition of Rabbi Yishmael in the Talmud,3 who says that once the Jews entered Israel they were permitted to eat meat for pleasure, whereas in the desert they could only eat meat from the peace offerings they brought in the Tabernacle.

Halacha, however, follows Rabbi Akiva,4 who interprets the verse to mean that in the desert they were permitted to eat meat from strangers, even though it wasn't slaughtered according to the kosher laws, but when they entered Israel that was no longer allowed.

The debate centers around the terminology, "expands your boundary." According to Rabbi Akiva, it refers to an expansion in wealth. i.e. when they become wealthy and can afford it, they may eat meat. Rabbi Yishmael, however, maintains that it refers to expansion in property. When they received the land, they would be permitted to eat meat for pleasure.

Rashi, when explaining the words, "expands your boundary," cites Rabbi Akiva:

The Torah teaches proper conduct, that one should not desire to eat meat unless [one lives] in abundance and wealth.5

It makes sense that Rashi cites Rabbi Yishmael (even though the halacha is not in accordance with his view), because in his commentary on the Torah he gives us the simple meaning, not the halachic ruling. And considering that, "These and these are the words of the Living G‑d,"6 it is his right to use the words of Rabbi Yishmael.

But how can he cite both opinions when they seem to be completely opposed? We must conclude that at their essence, they are based on the same reasoning.7

We also have to ask, why would Rashi encumber us Rabbi Yishmael's view, when halacha follows Rabbi Akiva?

To understand, we have to delve into the deeper meaning of their debate.

The purpose of doing mitzvot, with physical objects, in a physical place, and at a physical time (as time is also a creation that only exists in the physical world), is to refine the physical and infuse it with G‑dliness, making it into a home for the Creator.8 But when did this start?

According to Rabbi Yishmael, the Jews weren't able to refine the physical in the desert. They could only deal with holiness, so they were only permitted to eat meat from the peace offerings, which were holy. The holy service in the desert strengthened them, preparing them for the essential work of refining the physical, which they were able to do once they entered Israel.

Per Rabbi Akiva, the work of refining the physical began in the desert, albeit in a limited way, because you can't truly infuse non kosher meat with G‑dliness. The only thing they were able to do, is the mitzvah of not eating blood, which is the life force of the animal, and represents the enthusiasm and passionate desire for the meat. Once they entered the land, they were no longer permitted to eat non-kosher meat, because they were stronger, and able to do the work of refining the physical, so if they wanted to have meat, it had to be kosher.

Now we can understand why Rashi brings both opinions. In essence, they are the same.

As for why Rashi cites Rabbi Yishmael even though halacha follows Rabbi Akiva, Rashi is talking to us, and our G‑dly service has to follow the path of Rabbi Yishmael. First, we must shun everything that is not holy. But as we become stronger, we must work with the physical and refine it. This is an endless process, through which we become stronger and stronger. What we refined yesterday, is not enough today, because now we can refine a deeper level of the physical world.

This can be applied to our daily lives. In the morning, we have to shun the physical and envelope ourselves in prayer and Torah study. Only then do we eat a proper meal and go to work, where we deal with the most physical things.9

The week follows the same pattern. "Shabbat blesses the days (that follow)."10 Shabbat is like the desert, where we bask in holiness, and it is Shabbat that prepares us, and blesses the rest of week when we do the main physical service.

The same applies to the year. The holidays are holy interludes that prepare us for our work the rest of the year. And the month of Elul is like the desert, the preparation for the holidays. This week’s parshah is read the Shabbat before the month of Elul, when we bless the new month, or on Rosh Chodesh Elul itself.

Since we will be celebrating my son’s bar mitzvah this coming week, I will connect this with the idea of a bar mitzvah.

The first years of life until bar or bat mitzvah are like the desert, the preparation for being a Jew, which is why we insulate our children from anything unholy in those years. From bar or bat mitzvah begins the preparation for life, and marriage, when the young man or woman will go out into the physical world, building a home and entering the workforce. This is a critical time to learn what is important and what is not important, skills for life, principles to live by. This is the time that one acquires the main skills in Torah study, basking in the holiness and light of yeshiva. This is the most important skill, because this is the foundation, the source. It is the meaning, the purpose, and the reason. It is everything.

Through following this path in our service to Hashem, we will have good days, good weeks, good months, and a happy and sweet new year.

May we merit nachas from all of our children and grandchildren.

Dedicated By Dr. Ezra and Lauren Kest, in honor of our children who teach us how to love, listen and be heard. May they be blessed to find, see and recognize their zivugim at the right time and always listen well, be heard, and feel listened to.