concept is related to the following Kabbalistic teachings: during the Creation
of the universe, the Holy Vessels (Sephirot) which were intended to contain
the Divine Light were shattered. "Sparks" of holiness (netzotzot)
fell to lower levels, ultimately becoming entrapped in material things. When done
with the proper intention (kavannah) by a pious person, mitzvot can "elevate"
these sparks back into their proper place in the universe. This process culminates
in the coming of the Messiah, and the restoration of spiritual harmony among all
Creation. Kabbalists see meat eating as part of this process, since they believe
that animals are thus elevated into their proper levels of holiness.
is also a reincarnational aspect to this teaching. According to the Kabbalists,
sometimes a human soul is reincarnated as an animal, but retains its human consciousness,
in order to atone for a specific sin. In Shivchei Ha-Ari (16th century collection
of stories about Rabbi Isaac Luria), there are several tales about the Ari communicating
with human souls in animal bodies. Similar stories are also recorded about the
early Chassidic masters. In many of these cases, the soul in the animal asks the
Rebbe to use the meat for a specific mitzvah, in order to offset the sin
and set the soul free to reincarnate as a human being once again. This, too, is
part of the process of "elevating holy sparks."
a vegetarian Chassidic rabbi from Minnesota, believes that these concepts can
be reconciled with vegetarianism. He notes that the process of raising sparks
is cumulative, not a self-perpetuating cycle for all eternity. It is also an individualized
process. Each human being is born with the mission to elevate specific sparks,
and not others. As we come closer to the time of the Messiah, the process of raising
sparks through the consumption of meat is also nearing completion. In his book,
Jewish Tales of Reincarnation, Rabbi Gershom cites the story of a Chassid
who lost his taste for meat, and was later told in a dream that this was because
he had completed the elevation of the specific sparks in meat that he was intended
to elevate. The Chassid then became a vegetarian.
Rabbi Gershom points
to the recent increase in vegetarianism as a possible indicator that many people,
like the Chassid in the story, are naturally losing their taste for meat precisely
because they have already elevated the sparks assigned to them. In addition, he
notes the very cruel treatment of animals today, which is not the way animals
were raised and slaughtered in the days when the Chassidic stories originated.
At that time, animals were treated as individuals. When the time came to butcher
the family cow, the person eating the meat had personal interaction with the animal.
Today, however this relationship no longer exists. Most of us do not take our
own cow or chicken to the shochet, nor is there much interaction between the shochet
and the animal.
After visiting a modern slaughterhouse and viewing current
methods of meat production, Rabbi Gershom asserts that the shochtim, no matter
how sincere and dedicated they may be, cannot maintain a spirit of holiness while
slaughtering hundreds of animals under the mass-production conditions of today's
slaughterhouses. In past centuries, an individual blessing was said with kavannah
(intention) before slaughtering each animal. But, in today's high-speed industry,
many shochtim can only make a single blessing for the whole day's quota of animals.
If this is the case, how can there be proper kavannah for the elevation of the
souls? Rabbi Gershom asserts that we are now left with the empty shell (klippah)
of flesh pots without holiness.
Even in cases where the slaughtering is
performed with the proper kavannah, the process does not necessarily go on forever.
Rabbi Yehuda Hirsch of Strettana, a 19th-century Chassidic Rebbe (Rabbi), had
once been a ritual slaughterer. So pure and holy was he that flocks of wild doves
came of their own accord to lie down under his knife. The Seer of Lublin, upon
seeing this miracle, urged Reb (Rabbi) Yehudah's teacher, Reb Urele of Strelisk,
to ordain his disciple as a rabbi. But Reb Urele refused, saying that there were
thousands of poor human souls reincarnated in the kosher species of animals, and
that being a shochet was the proper work for Reb Yehuda. The time came, however,
when the flocks of doves ceased to come. Reb Yehuda then gave up the butcher's
business and was ordained as a rabbi.
One is tempted to ask whether Reb
Yehuda would have been willing to participate in the kosher meat industry as it
exists today, given that he would scarcely have time to properly focus his thoughts
before slaughtering each animal. It once happened that one of Rebbe Nachman of
Breslov's followers was thinking about becoming a shochet and asked the Rebbe
for his opinion. The Rebbe responded by giving lesson #37 of Likutei Moharan,
which explains that the soul of the animal is attached to the blood and that the
shochet must have true kavannah in wielding the knife in order to raise
the sparks properly. Failure to do so affects not only the animal, but the livelihood
of the whole Jewish people because "where there is no Torah, there is no
bread" (Pirke Avot 3:17). After hearing this lesson, the disciple decided
against becoming a shochet.
Rabbi Yitzchak Luria (the Ari) felt that "only
a Torah scholar who is God-fearing and eats with proper intent can elevate the
sparks of holiness within animals." There is also a Kabbalistic concern about
the spiritual effect of meat eating on the person. The Breslover Rebbe stated
that only a person who has reached a high spiritual level can be elevated by eating
animal foods, and the opposite is also true: a person who lacks this high spiritual
level may be further debased by eating animal foods. Rabbi Chaim Kramer, a respected
contemporary Breslover scholar, notes in his commentary to Likutei Moharan
37:6 that "when a person eats the meat of an animal which lacks proper shechitah
(ritual slaughter), he also ingests the aspects of animal matter, darkness, foolishness,
judgments, forgetfulness, and death." In the cases where a sinful soul has
reincarnated as an animal, there is the additional danger that, if one is not
holy enough to elevate the soul in the meat, then that soul may attach itself
to you and, in turn, drag you down into sin. For this reason, Rabbi Moshe Cordovero,
a major 16th century Kabbalist, expressed the opinion that one should eat a minimum
of animal flesh.
Not only is the sinner debased by eating animal foods,
but the animals themselves are debased by misuse of their energy, for which the
person who ate them will have to answer in the next life. In his book, My Prayer,
Lubavitcher Chassid Rabbi Nissim Mindel notes that if one eats a chicken and then
uses its energy to cheat or steal, the chicken can demand at the Heavenly Court,
"By what right have you taken my life, and involved me in crime, which I
would never have committed otherwise?" Rabbi Gershom cites a similar story
about animal souls which accused the false Messiah, Shabbetai Zevi, before the
Heavenly Court, complaining that he had used their energy to mislead the Jews
into heresy. These teachings strongly indicate that raising sparks through eating
meat is not something to be taken lightly. This is why the talmudic sages taught,
"One who is ignorant of Torah is forbidden from eating meat." This raises
the question as to how many of us in this day and age are holy enough to eat meat
with the right consciousness to raise the sparks.
As a non-Chassid, I
would respectfully agree that it seems hard to see how sparks of holiness can
be elevated under modern conditions that involve so much cruelty to animals and
do so much harm to people and the world. Also, based on recent nutritional studies,
one would be better able to perform mitzvot and other sacred activities
through a sensible, nutritious vegetarian diet, rather than by eating meat, with
all its negative health connections.
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