In Daf Yomi (the daily Talmud page) we’re reading Masechet Z’vachim or “Tractate Slaughtered Offerings”; 120 pages of detailed descriptions what kind of actions and intentions should there be during the mostly meat sacrifices, which makes me think about meat consumption in general, and especially back then. To the question, ‘can we have meat’? the Torah said simultaneously, yes and no, presenting a complex view. Taking the life of another living creature so that we can have “food”, or anything, was not to be taken for granted, and could be done only in the context of G-d and the Temple. One could not run over to the store, buy a few packages of frozen-something-shapeless and lifeless, and then have a b-b-q. Rather, there was a whole list of “to-do’s”, so much so that if you did it wrong, you could almost be called a murderer (Leviticus 14:4). This “to-do” expressed a nuanced idea: sure, we’ll compromise and “let you” eat meat, but we’ll create such a process that you can’t take it lightly or do it often. For the vegans among us, it’s not enough and for the carnivores it sounds dreadful, but what if nowadays we’d only eat meat once a week, a month or only during the holidays, under specific circumstances?
In the heart of the Torah we find the famous ‘love your fellow as yourself”. Rabbi Akiva taught that it’s the greatest rule in the Torah and we’re left to wonder: is this a commandment – or – a fact, a natural outcome of fulfilling these words and living sincerely with the Torah?
It’s not clear if we understand this overly quoted verse (Leviticus 19:18); we barely know the meaning of “love”, especially in the Torah or “re’a” (fellow, neighbor). Traditionally we explain “re’a” as fellow Jew to which there’s an immediate reaction; what, why not everybody? Why only (about) 13 or 15 million people??…. to paraphrase Rav Kook, it’s sort of an exercise: we’re not telling you to not love others and everybody, but why don’t you start with your immediate fellow and let’s see how’s it’s going and go from there. We all know people who “love” their “fellow” thousands of miles away but can’t get along with their next-door neighbor (well, that person is really so so aggravating!!…).
The fact that the verse ends with “I am Hashem (G-d)” indicates that loving one’s fellow appears in the context of one’s greater relationship to G-d. “Coincidentally, in Hebrew the word “ahava” (love), in gematria, has the numerical value of 13. Loving one another could be seen as 13X2 which is 26 and stands for G-d’s name and presence. That’s “all” it takes: two people that wholeheartedly care for each other.
Interestingly, the next verse also instructs us “not to let (your) cattle gender with a diverse kind; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed (“kil’ayim”) (19:19). What and why? “Kil’ayim” means not any mixing but – “materials that are mutually exclusive”. Rabbi Hirsch in his poignant dig into Hebrew roots, teaches that “kil’ayim” shares its roots with “ke’le”, jail, prison, literally meaning – “two jails”. Accordingly, this speaks to mixing things in a way that “imprisons” them, in a place where they cannot grow and develop to their fullest potential. Not all mixtures fall into this category, but as we all know from our lives, that some combinations help us grow while others – don’t.
Which brings us back to “love your neighbor”. Because of the unusual Hebrew grammar in the verse, Rabbi Hirsch concludes that we are not asked to “love” all people in the romantic sense of the word, which would be impossible and unreasonable, but, we are asked to see the other as we’d like to be seen ourselves, as an equal and separate, special human beings created in G-d’s image, whom we allow space to be just that, each unique for who he or she is. Nothing more. Nothing less.