This week’s Torah parasha informs us that, when “God broadens the boundary” of our land God will permit us to “eat meat.” (Deut. 12:20) There’s a debate over what this refers to.
One side suggests that in the Sinai wilderness, with everyone crowded around theTabernacle, our ancestors ate only sacrificial meat. In the Land of Israel, with enlarged borders, some of us will end up living at a considerable distance from the Temple. Restricting our diets to sacrificial meat would become impractical. Therefore, we will be accommodated by being allowed to eat non-sacrificial meat as well.
The other side suggests it is not the case that our ancestors refrained from eating non-sacrificial meat during the time in the desert. In fact, outside of the occasions for partaking of a sacrifice, meat from animals not even ritually slaughtered was at that time acceptable. Once in the land, distant from the Temple, we would be restricted from eating meat unless it was at least properly ritually slaughtered. According to this view, the Torah means that we will still be permitted to eat meat, but we will have to go to the additional bother of making sure it is kosher slaughtered.
The first view suggests that when practicing our faith becomes challenging (the Temple was so far away), we may expect to be accommodated. Life in the Sinai wilderness was sustained by God’s miracles. Life in the land, fending for ourselves, is much harder, why not at least make religious observance a little easier? The second view takes the opposite approach. Life in the desert was infused with the Divine Presence. Life in the land, with its distractions of fending for ourselves, requires extra effort so that we stay connected, and do not forget.
Rabbi Mitch Levine