In 1921 my grandfather (see photo) opened a deli in Philadelphia. So naturally, I appreciate a good deli sandwich. I didn’t know that originally, humanity was not allowed to eat animals. Later in the Torah God permitted eating meat only if specific guidelines were followed.
These guidelines are intended to spiritually elevate the material world and enhance our respect for the sanctity of life.
For example, only specific domesticated animals were permitted for consumption when ritually slaughtered in a sanctified manner, which also minimized pain and trauma to the animal.
In this week’s Torah portion of Re’eh (Deuteronomy 11:26–16:17), we derive two essential lessons.
The first states that only place sacrifices can be offered is in the Temple sanctuary, referred to as, “the place the Eternal will choose” (Deuteronomy 12:18). However, once the Jews entered the land of Israel if someone desired meat, they could slaughter it anywhere if done, “as I [God] has commanded you” (Deuteronomy 12:21.
Our sages explain that the statement, “as I have commanded you” refers to the details of ritual slaughter. Although these details were not recorded in the written Torah, we learn from this statement that God’s instructions were transmitted orally from generation to generation.
Since the destruction of the Holy Temple, we are unable to offer sacrifices. However, the Jewish prophets communicated God’s will that prayer can take the place of sacrifices.
In Hosea 14:1-3, we are instructed to “return to God because we have fallen because of our sins…take words and return to God… and offer our lips in place of the bull offerings.”
Ever before Hosea, during the dedication of the First Temple, when King Solomon prophetically foresaw the Temple’s destruction and the exile of the Jews he instructed the Jews to “pray toward the place of the Temple… and repent of their sins” (1 Kings 8:35).
These passages provide a valuable spiritual lesson. We can turn directly to God at any time and place and pray for forgiveness. An irrefutable proof that “words of prayer” can provide forgiveness appears after the sin of the golden calf when God tells Moshes, “I have forgiven you according to your words” (Numbers 14:20).
God’s compassion to accept our prayers in place of sacrifices, disproves the missionary claim that without a Temple, the only way to receive forgiveness is by accepting Jesus.
Wherever and whenever and your heart desires you have a direct connection to return to God, as it says, “return to Me, and I will return to you” (Zechariah 1:3).
May this Shabbat provide you opportunities to connect with God through prayer and meditation.
Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz