“I do agree with a lot of the core beliefs of PETA,” I exclaimed as I cut myself another piece of succulent roast beef, pausing only to dip it in béarnaise sause before eating it with gusto. My guest looked at me with a look that I felt should be reserved for either IRS agents or marauding Vikings. “What are you talking about? You’re not a vegetarian, you eat animal flesh, you’re wearing some poor animal’s skin for your shoes, you’ve got nothing in common with PETA! You probably have a chinchilla coat in your closet!”

I waited for him to calm down, pushed back from the Shabbos table, and began to explain my PETA beliefs. “For starters, I believe that people do need to practice ethical treatment of animals. From a Jewish perspective not only are we forbidden from causing animals undue harm under a prohibition known as “Tzar Ba’alei Chaim,” but we are even required to feed any animals we have before feeding ourselves!” 

“But you are feeding that animal to yourself! How can you claim to care about animals if you eat them?” Then he threw the ultimate hippy insult at me, “You’re just a poseur, man.” 

So am I? What do you think? Can a person believe in ethical treatment of animals and still eat meat? 

Here’s my personal philosophy on meat. The views expressed below are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Partners in Torah, PETA, the Brazilian  Consulate, Comrade Putin, the Detroit Pistons, or all other left handed people of the world. 

In order for anything to exist, it needs to have some spark of G-dliness, some connection to G-d, because G-d is the source of all existence. Some creations have more spark, some less, and humans have the most. This is because of all the creatures created in the six days of creation, it was only into mankind that G-d blew a special spirit of life. something we call a neshama. Additionally, of all creatures, man is the only one that was given free will, which is why it is specifically to humans that G-d said “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. You shall choose life, so that you and your offspring will live!” (Deut., 30:19). 

It is mankind’s ability to choose right from wrong, which stems from the fact that we are created in the image of G-d who also chooses to do as He wills, that puts us at the center of all creation. The whole world was created so that G-d could give of His goodness to others, and the greatest pleasure possible is enjoying the fruits of your labor, also known as earned goodness. All of creation has no free will, and thus doesn’t experience triumph and failure, which means they can’t be rewarded for their triumph or punished for their failure. Mankind alone struggles great moral battles, and mankind alone can accomplish stunning victory, and be deserving of great reward of earned goodness. Hence, mankind is the purpose of creation. 

A house is built for humans. There are hundreds of parts and processes that go into making a house, from foundation to framing, plumbing to painting, cabinets to closets, flooring to fixtures, tile to toilets, windows to wiring. The humans move in at the way end of the whole process, even though they were the intention of the whole process, and everything in the house is there to support their life in the house. In the same way, human beings were the last to be created in the description of creation in Genesis, they were the intention of all of creation, and everything in the universe was created to be part of humanity supporting cast. 

But the greatness of mankind and its special role in the universe does not minimize the importance of the G-dliness in the rest of creation. At some level, everything out there has the same purpose as we humans, which is to bring out G-dliness in the world, or to use a much more clichéd term, “to make the world a better place.” 

Every lion in the savanna, every grizzly in the Yukon, and every neutron star in the cosmos, at some level is there to highlight G-d’s wondrous world. This is directly stated by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto the great Kabbalist, Mussarist, and author of the 18th Century, in the opening line of the 10th Step of the 3rd Gate in his masterpiece, Sha’arei Teshuva, Gates of Repentance: “All creations were created for G-d’s honor, as it says (Isaiah 43:7) “Everyone (lit. thing)  that is called by My name, and whom I created for My glory, I formed him, yea I made him.”

There is a beautiful compilation attributed to King David called Perek Shira, (lit. The Chapter of Song), in which dozens of elements of creation each have a song they sing to G-d. From the frog to the vulture, from the stars and the sun to the earth, all of creation is singing praises to Hashem. This does not mean that if you come real close to any stars or vultures, you will hear them singing songs to G-d (besides, your life insurance agent would probably prefer that you don’t get too close to stars or vultures), rather, it means that the essence of each creature is there to help us humans (the only ones with free will) see G-dliness in the world in its own unique way. 

When I look at a beautiful sunset and marvel at G-d’s wondrous creation and thank G-d for it, I am taking the spark of G-dliness in the sun and actualizing it. If the sun could talk, it would probably be saying, “Thank you, Leiby, for allowing me to do what I was created to do, which is to inspire people to G-dliness!” 

On the other hand, Isaiah describes the sun and the moon being intensely embarrassed at the time of the Messiah because for so many years people worshipped them, “And the moon shall be ashamed and the sun shall be abashed, for the Lord of Hosts has reigned in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and before His elders will be glory.” (Isaiah, 24:23).  So while some Inca tribe was worshipping the Sun from the top of its pyramid, and offering the sun all sorts of maidens and slave boys as sacrifices, if you could get real close to the sun you would hear it’s mournful song saying, “No, no, no! Please stop that! You’re burning me up with those sacrifices! Please stop!”

With that in mind, if you could hear the essence of chickens talking, and you happen to pass by a chicken coop just around bedtime, this is what you might hear from some busy chicken putting her brood of 42 little chicks to bed:

“Listen up all of you! You need to quiet down, and climb into your beds! You know what happens to bad chicks who misbehave, don’t you? They end up as chicken wings being served at the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl! That’s right! Americans consume 1.45 BILLION chicken wings during every Super Bowl, enough that if they were linked they could wrap around the equator twice! And by the fourth quarter, everyone in America is totally stuffed; it’s illegal not to be! But they keep bringing out the chicken wings anyway, because that’s how Americans celebrate the Super Bowl. If you don’t behave, you’re going to end up being a fourth quarter chicken wing, totally unnecessary, totally useless, and washed down by flat Bud Lite!

But if you behave real well, you may just get to end up on a Shabbos table! How beautiful would that be? Someone would have made a blessing over you! Someone will use you to enhance their celebration of G-d’s creation! They might even sing some Shabbat Zmirot while you’re at the table! Ah, every one of those zmirot sound just like Pavarotti in the early 90’s! And maybe they will say a dvar Torah while you are at the table as well. What a treat for a simple chicken!  And if you are really really good, you may be at a Shabbos table where they read Rabbi Burnham’s Shabbos email… but a simple chicken can only dream so boldly! 

Now my dear chicks, you all look at me. I’m getting older. Despite dreaming for years that I would end up on the Shabbos table, I’ve been left here on the farm where I will probably just die of old age, never having been given the chance to make a big difference to the world, not even to have been given as charity to some needy family. But you, my dear chicks, you can redeem your old mother. Go out and make my song beautiful, go become a glory to G-d as we were all created to do!”

Now obviously no chicken is having that dialogue before tucking its children in, because chickens don’t tuck their children in, nor do they talk. But that is the song that the spiritual essence of the chicken is saying. Yes, you can eat chicken and love animals. 

Or to take this idea to its’ furthest extreme, if you really really love chicken, you should eat it, but only after making a blessing on it, only when you are hungry, and only when you will bless G-d after eating it, thanking Him for making such delicious food. If the purpose of all of creation was to bring G-dliness into the world, there’s no greater way to validate that chickens existence. You could put it on satin and silk and feed it fat corn kernels all its’ life, you could let it roam the range free, but it would never compare to being blessed on both before and after eating, being used as a vehicle that brings a person to a better appreciation of G-d and His world. 

So, as I took my last piece of roast beef, I loudly exclaimed “Likavod Shabbos Kodesh!” “I’m eating this amazing roast in honor of the Shabbos Queen” and chewed it slowly. And I could almost hear a tiny little sound, and it said this; 

“Moooo, Moooore, please eat one more Moooooore piece of me for your Shabbos meal. I don’t want any of me to get thrown out as leftovers on Monday moooooorning.” 

I know this is a bit of a hard concept to digest, the idea that to whatever degree animals have a spiritual essence, they actually would want to be used for a holy purpose instead of being left out in the field to just die and decompose. So please ruminate over it for a while. I’d love to hear your thoughts. 

Have a Delicious Shabbos!

R’ Leiby Burnham

Parsha Dvar Torah

This week’s Parsha starts with the arrival of Yisro, Moshe’s father-in-law. When Moshe came to Egypt he sent back his wife and children to Midian so as not to bring more people into a land committing atrocities against the Jews. Now, after the Jews were freed, Moshe’s father-in-law came to meet the Jews in the desert bringing with him Moshe’s wife and children. When he got there, he converted and joined the Jewish people.

The events leading up to Yisro’s arrival are described in the first verse of the parsha. Now Moses’ father in law, Yisro, the chieftain of Midian, heard all that God had done for Moses and for Israel, His people that the Lord had taken Israel out of Egypt.” (Exodus 18:1) Rashi asks what exactly Yisro heard which prompted him to come to the desert and join the Jews, instead of just sending his daughter and grandchildren. He answers that he heard about the splitting of the sea and the war that the Jews had fought with Amalek.

One part of this answer makes perfect sense, while the other seems troubling. G-d splitting a sea and allowing the Jews to walk through on dry land is something spectacular, and a good reason for someone to come and join the nation. But the fact that they had fought a war with Amalek and won doesn’t seem to be such a great reason for a person to uproot themselves from a land where he is well respected and come out to the desert and join a new nation! If Rashi told us that Yisro heard about the splitting sea and the 10 plagues or the splitting sea and the exodus from Egypt, I would understand, but what is so significant about the war with Amalek that Rashi tells us that this caused Yisro to radically change his life?

One answer I heard last night from my wonderful wife is that it was not the fact that the Jews defeated the Amaleky attack that inspired Yisro, but the fact that there was such an attack in the first place. Yisro wondered how could it be that after the splitting of the sea, a miracle of gargantuan proportions that rocked the entire world (the Sages tell us that every body of water in the world split on a smaller scale to show the world the miracle), someone dared and come attack the Jews? Egypt, the superpower of the world, was brought to its knees by ten terrible plagues, and still didn’t stop pestering the Jews. Then they followed them to the sea, and were thoroughly vanquished by the raging waters that tumbled back upon them. Wouldn’t that be enough to keep everyone away from the Jews? 

But somehow, shortly after the splitting of the sea, Amalek came with an army to attack the Jews. Yisro realized that when someone sees a huge miracle, it doesn’t necessarily change them; it just provides an impetus for change. And if one doesn’t seize the moment, it gets lost and loses all its power. This is how the nation of Amalek was able to attack. They let the miracles they saw slide right off their backs, and blithely continued with their evil plans. Yisro realized that he didn’t want this to happen to him, so he seized the moment and came to the desert to join the Jews.

Many times we experience powerful moments in our life, and we are left with a feeling of inspiration. What Amalek and Yisro teach us is that if we don’t capitalize on that moment, we can lose it forever. Let us try to be Yisros’ and not Amalekites! Carpe’ Diem!

Parsha Summary

This week’s Parsha starts with the arrival of Yisro, Moshe’s father-in-law. When Moshe came to Egypt he sent back his wife and children to Midian, so as not to bring more people into a land committing atrocities against the Jews. Now, after the Jews were freed, Moshe’s father-in-law came to meet the Jews in the desert bringing with him Moshe’s wife and children. When he got there, he converted and joined the Jewish people.

Yisro’s biggest contribution to the Jewish people was the judging system that he instituted. He noticed that Moshe would sit all day judging people, while the line to see him grew and grew. Yisro told Moshe that this system would burn out both Moshe and the people. He suggested that Moshe create a hierarchy of judges, with the most minor only responsible for 10 people, the next over 50, 100, and finally 1,000 people. The big questions and cases that couldn’t be dealt with by those judges would come to Moshe. 

Moshe asked G-d, and with G-d’s permission, he appointed judges who met the following criteria; G-d fearing, accomplished, despises money, and men of integrity. He appointed them according to the positions mentioned above, and the new judicial system ran as smoothly as butter on a hot skillet!

The next part of the Parsha deals with the Jews’ arrival at Mount Sinai, and the revelation they experiences there. I will break the events down by days. 

Day 1: The Jews arrive at Mount Sinai with a unity that is unmatched in their entire 40 years in the desert.

Day 2: Moshe goes up the mountain to talk to G-d. G-d tells him to tell the Jews that they have seen G-d’s miracles and His affection for them, but now He is making them an offer. If they want, they can accept the Torah and become a “Treasured Nation,” but they have to remember that it comes with a lot of responsibilities. Moshe comes down and tell the people who respond with a unanimous, “Whatever G-d says we will do!” 

Day 3: Moshe goes back up, and delivers the Jews’ answer (G-d already knew it, but this teaches us that when one is sent to deliver a message they should always bring back the reply). G-d tells Moshe that He will speak from within a dark cloud to Moshe, but all the people would hear Him talking, and this would be a way for the people to know that Moshe was a true prophet. Moshe goes down and tells the people.

Day 4: Moshe ascends the mountain again and tells G-d that the people want to hear G-d talking directly to them. They said that hearing from an emissary doesn’t compare to hearing from a king! G-d tells Moshe to go back and tell the people to prepare for two days (by purifying themselves), and that on the third G-d would talk to them. He also warns them not to touch the mountain or try to climb it, as it has a special holiness. Moshe gives the message but, according to one view in the Talmud, he adds a third day of purification (this is the topic of some very deep insights, but it’s not within the scope of our Parsha Summary).

Day 5: Moshe builds an altar at the bottom of the mountain, as well as twelve pillar monuments. He brings sacrifices on the altar and eats with the people.

Day 6: On this day, according to some, the revelation took place. According to others this was the extra day of preparation that Moshe added.

Day 7: G-d reveals himself in all His glory to the people, as they hear Him talking directly to them and speaking out the first two of the Ten Commandments (which would be more appropriately translated as the Ten Statements). The event is too powerful for the mortal humans to handle, and the people ask that Moshe tell them the last 8 instead of having G-d directly speaking to them. This is the only time in all of recorded history where G-d spoke to a mass assembly. Never, ever, has any other religion even claimed this. (This is one of proofs of Judaism’s validity over all other faiths in which individuals such as J.C., Mohammed, the Buddha, or Joseph Smith claim to have had personal revelations.)

Right now, before continuing, name all ten of the Ten Commandments! Yes that’s an order! 

Not sure? OK I will help you out.

1.      I am the Lord your G-d who took you out of Egypt (belief in one G-d).

2.      You may not serve any other gods.

3.      You may not take the name of G-d in vain.

4.      Remember the Shabbos to sanctify it.

5.      Honor your mother and father.

6.      Don’t murder.

7.      Don’t commit adultery.

8.      Don’t steal.

9.      Don’t testify falsely.

10.  Don’t covet that which belongs to others.

After this momentous event, G-d commanded Moshe to tell the people that they had seen and heard G-d speak to them (one of the miracles of the revelation was that people saw sounds), and they had better not make or worship any other deities. He also commanded them to make an altar, but not to use stones hewn with iron. Iron is the material used to fashion weapons, and an altar needs to be a paradigm of peace. That’s all Folks!

Quote of the Week: There are three ingredients in the good life: Learning, Earning and Yearning. – Christopher Morley

Random Fact of the Week: Your body is creating and killing 15 million red blood cells per second.

Funny Line of the Week: A conclusion is the place where you got tired of thinking.

Have a Delicious Shabbos,

R’ Leiby Burnham

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