Parshat Re'eh: To transform fast days into festivals

"As humanity continues to evolve towards true repentance, during the period of the Third Temple, there will only be meal and grain sacrifices"

Painting by Yoram Raanan (photo credit: YORAM RAANAN)
Painting by Yoram Raanan
(photo credit: YORAM RAANAN)
Painting by .
‘When God will broaden your boundary… and you will have a lust to eat meat…’ (Deut. 12:20)
‘You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk’ (Deut. 14:21)
In light of these two verses from this week’s portion of Re’eh, I would like to re-visit an issue of concern which I raised on the previous Sabbaths of Vision (Shabbat Hazon) and Comfort (Shabbat Nahamu). What precisely were we mourning over during the three weeks between Shiva Asar Betamuz and Tisha Be’av (the 17th of Tamuz and ninth of Av)? What is it that would bring us comfort for the destruction of our Temples and finally enable us to cease the discomfort which so punctuates – and impinges negatively upon – the summer months of vacation? Conventional wisdom would suggest that since we are mourning the loss of our Temple, only the rebuilding of the Third Holy Temple, replete with the resumption of the Temple sacrificial rites, would provide the necessary comfort to remove the travail of “The Three Weeks.” But this is patently not the case.
The prophet Zechariah records that in the fourth year of the reign of King Darius, a delegation from Babylon-Persia arrived in Jerusalem as the Second Temple was nearing completion with a familiar- sounding query (halachic “shayla”): “Must we still weep on the fifth month [Av], separate ourselves [from society] as we have done these many [70] years?” (Zechariah 7:3) After all, the Temple is being rebuilt! But despite the logic of abrogating the fast in light of the new reality of a Temple, the Mishna in Tractate Rosh Hashana (1:3) records that throughout the Second Temple period the Jews fasted on Tisha Be’av, a position confirmed by Maimonides (Perush Hamishna, Rosh Hashana ad loc) as well as by Josephus Flavius.
In the response of the prophet Zechariah: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, saying, ‘Judge with five judgments, commit acts of loving kindness and compassion, each person to his/her sibling; do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the stranger, or the indigent, and let no person think evil in his heart towards his sibling… (7:9, 10)… Thus says the Lord of Hosts: ‘The fast of the fourth month [17Tammuz], the fast of the fifth month [Tisha Be’av], the fast of the seventh month (Fast of Gedalia) and the fast of the 10th month [10 Tevet] will be to the House of Judah for rejoicing and for happiness and for good Festivals – but [on the condition that] you love truth and peace” (8:19).
At the very least, the Judeans must realize that the sacrifices were meant to be merely a means by which they were to achieve the desired end of serving the God of compassionate righteousness and moral justice. They, tragically were using the sacrifices as “indulgences,” as bribes to propitiate God into overlooking their immoral and unethical thievery and bloodshed (Isaiah 1). Hence God destroyed the Holy Temples and the sacrificial rituals which were being so badly misused. It will only be “by virtue of moral justice that Zion will be redeemed and of compassionate righteousness that her exiles will be returned to their homeland” (ibid 27).
Only when we have reached the goal of the endgame will we become worthy of a reconstructed Holy Temple to which all nations will flock to “learn God’s teachings and to walk in God’s pathways… Then they [the nations] will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift sword against nation and humanity will not learn war any more” (Isaiah 2:3, 4). Only then will our fast days become transformed into festivals….
And so we must recognize the sacrifices as a means to the Jewish vision of our end-game. Rav Avraham Yitzhak Hakohen Kook (1865-1935), the first chief rabbi of Israel, went one step further. He taught in his Sefer Hazon (Book of Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace) that the Bible actually “chastises us between the folds of the parchment” when the text reads “when God will broaden your boundary… and you will have a lust to eat meat…” (Deut. 12:20). All meat consumption which generally involves killing a live animal is an expression of lust, immoral physical desire; Adam and Eve were originally mandated to indulge only in vegetable consumption.
It was only a concession to the human drive to destroy – which the Creator of Life fully recognized (as it were) only after the generation of the Flood, “since the imagery of the human heart is evil from its initial stirrings” (Gen. 8:21) – that God permits meat consumption altogether (Gen. 9:3).
It is for this reason, sensitivity to animal life, that the Bible formulates the prohibition of meat and milk together (which mandates the Jewish kitchen of absolute segregation between meat and dairy products, cooking utensils, dishes and cutlery) in terms of filial human sensitivity, “You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.”
And so Rav Kook went so far as to see animal sacrifice as an obstruction to our reaching the end-game of ethical morality and world peace. He thought it inconceivable that in the Messianic Age, when Isaiah declares “There will be no evil or destruction in My Holy Mountain,” animal life would be slaughtered in the Holy Temple (Olat Ra’aya 1:292). And so he maintained that as humanity continues to evolve towards true repentance, during the period of the Third Temple, there will only be meal and grain sacrifices, but no animal destruction. Indeed, everyone will become vegetarian (Laws of Kings 12,1).
Shabbat shalom
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is founder and chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone institutions and the chief rabbi of Efrat. His latest book, The Living Tree: Studies in Modern Orthodoxy, is available from Maggid Books, a division of Koren Publishers Jerusalem.