Parashas Re’eh

In this week’s parashah, the Torah teaches that animal (and other) offerings can be brought only in the Mishkan/Mikdash, but allows us to slaughter animals for mundane consumption. The Torah states (Devarim 12:20): “In full accord with your heart’s desire you may eat meat.” On the surface, this verse appears to allow us to feast on meat without restraint, which seems an odd position for the Torah to take. The Maggid, analyzing the verse more closely, shows that in fact its message is just the opposite.
The Maggid homes in on the phrase b’chol avas, which I rendered above as “in full accord.” Noting that the prefix on the word chol is a beis rather than a chaf, the Maggid says that the phrase should be read not as “to the full extent of your heart’s desire” but rather “whenever your heart desires.” The Torah is telling us, says the Maggid, that we should not make a habit of partaking of delicacies such as meat; rather, we should partake of such delicacies only when our hearts are struck with desire – that is, when we feel an unsually strong desire. If we limit our indulgence in delicacies, then the occasions when we do partake will bring us real enjoyment. But if we indulge all the time, then eventually the delicacies lose their charm. We take them for granted, viewing them as an essential part of normal, everyday life.
A person who seeks to satiate himself with material bounty is never satiated. Once he gets used to a given level of bounty, he begins chasing the next higher level. As our Sages put it (Koheles Rabbah 3:12): “No person leaves the world with [even] half his desires satisfied. If a person has one hundred, he wants to make it two hundred. And if a person has two hundred, he wants to make it four hundred.”
The Maggid elaborates on this cycle in Sefer HaMiddos, Shaar Ha-Ahavah, ch. 4. He links it to the following verse (Tehillim 101:5): “One with raised eyes and an expansive heart, him I cannot bear.” A person with an expansive drive raises his eyes, so to speak, to see what lies ahead on the road of material delight. As he looks ahead from where he currently stands, he feels that if he can reach the last station his eyes can see, he will have “made it.” But once he reaches that station, he finds it unimpressive, for he keeps looking ahead, and sees an even more dazzling station in the distance. If a person is driven to keep striding onward until he sees no better delights ahead, he is on a never-ending trek.
The Torah prescribes a balanced approach to material indulgence. Hashem knows that (except for the extremely pious) a regimen of strict asceticism is not appropriate for us. He therefore allows us to indulge occasionally, when we feel an unusually strong desire. At the same time, He warns us not to let the pursuit of material delight play an ongoing pivotal role in our everyday lives, for to do so is to strive in vain.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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