Parshat Emor: Not part of the food chain

By SHMUEL RABINOWITZ
April 25, 2013 20:12

Preserving our morality, even when we are seemingly taking part in the food chain, will lead us to preserving our moral values in other areas in life.

3 minute read.



Chief Rabbi Amar at kotel

Chief Rabbi Amar at kotel. (photo credit: Deborah Danan)

In one short sentence appearing in our weekly portion, Parshat Emor, the Torah defines the appropriate relationship between man and animals, including those he uses and eats for enjoyment: “And whether it be cow or ewe, you shall not kill it and its young both in one day.” (Leviticus 22, 28) What is the meaning of this directive and what does it come to teach us? Why should the familial relationship between animals prevent us from slaughtering them on the same day? Within the animal world there is a “food chain.” There are certain animals which serve as food for others. For example, bugs are food for lizards, and lizards are food for birds of prey. Thus the world of animals is conducted in a consistent balance that we must be careful not to disturb so as not to harm the animals – and ultimately, ourselves.

Man, despite his physical similarity to animals, is essentially different. He is unique not only because of his greater intelligence, since also among animals there are varying degrees of intelligence.

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And a gap in intelligence, as great as it may be, does not make man essentially different.

The essential difference between man and other living things stems from his moral conscience. Animals act based on impulses directed by their needs. But man does not act only according to his impulses, but also according to a moral world outlook that brings him to seeing some things as appropriate and others as inappropriate.

Animals, of any kind, do not abstain from stealing, for example, unless the theft creates an imminent danger to themselves. Man, however, abstains from stealing because it is deemed inappropriate.

He recognizes that there are acts that do not endanger him and that those acts might even be convenient and rewarding, but he abstains from them because they conflict with his moral conscience.

On the other hand, this uniqueness of man can be harmed by entering the natural food chain. Man who eats the meat of animals, and knows that he can be devoured by other animals, might change his perspective and see himself as part of the world of animals that functions based only on the rules of survival.

This danger causes the Torah to lay out moral guidelines specifically regarding eating. One of those guidelines is the one quoted above: “And whether it be cow or ewe, you shall not kill it and its young both in one day.”

When you take an animal and slaughter it for your own needs, you must remember the difference between you and other animals, and here, too, your moral outlook should be guiding you and you must act morally in this situation as well.

The slaughter of a father and son, or a mother and daughter, even when animals are far from one another and are unaware of the shared fate which brought them both to slaughter on the same day, contains an element of destruction, something which etches cruelty into the heart of man and blurs his moral outlook. To kill two generations of animals in one day, one must be dispassionate – a quality dangerous to us as moral human beings.

We might, therefore, lose the sensitivity and ability to listen to the distress of another, even if he is different from us and even if he isn’t human.

Preserving our morality, even when we are seemingly taking part in the food chain, will lead us to preserving our moral values in other areas in life, and will remind us that we are not like all animals, motivated only by impulses and desires. We have within us something else, something different, due to which we have the permission to feel that we have priority over animals.

The writer is rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.


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