Emor: A Mother Cow and Her Calf

A simple law that tells us a lot about God, Torah and ourselves.

Compassionate eating is not just a virtue, it’s a commandment.

Table for Five: Emor

 Edited by Salvador Litvak, the Accidental Talmudist

An ox or a sheep, you shall not slaughter it and its offspring on the same day.

-Lev. 22:28

Rabbi Shlomo Seidenfeld, Scholar in Residence, Aish/JMI

There are numerous mitzvot, commandments, that many Jews don’t connect to or even worse, find troubling. The mitzvot pertaining to animal sacrifices are especially unsettling. To the untrained ear, they feel primitive and utterly antithetical to the elevated behavior that Judaism trumpets.

A rabbi once said that he couldn’t respect a G-d that he fully understood. By definition, belief in G-d implies a faith in a wisdom that is beyond our full capacity to grasp. It posits that there is a subliminal and moral rationale that accompanies every mitzvah and that our inability to grasp this unseen truth does not undermine it. So I could take the easy route and hide behind that statement. However, Jews don’t only believe, we question, we probe and we endeavor to extract light from even the most challenging texts.

So what’s to be learned and intuited from the sacrificial service and our verse?

Perhaps, that man is both an animal and a soul. That we have animalistic impulses that can reduce us to cruel, selfish and shallow beings and at the same time have the capacity to embody the most sublime, elevated and maternal kindness. Perhaps one of the sacred purposes of the sacrificial service was to remind us of these two sides and these two capacities and to beckon us to care about the pain of all living things. In a world where primitive savagery still bubbles beneath the surface, it’s a lesson that is far from archaic. Shabbat Shalom.

Eva Robbins, Co-Rabbi and Cantor, N’vay Shalom

In a midrash we learn Jacob first spoke these words, even before Moses writes them, as his brother Esau approaches after their tumultuous separation. In his fear of retribution Jacob says, “I fear…he will strike me and the mother ‘with the children.’” He calls upon God, quoting Torah, “didn’t you say…’You shall not kill the mother and her young in one day,’” reflecting a value, compassion, that’s the very foundation of existence. Familial love is a basic tenet, even for the animals, and our forefathers/foremothers knew this foundational wisdom.

At the very core of creation is compassion. Without it the world could not continue. The sages teach if God rules only on the basis of din, judgment, then we would certainly find ourselves drowning in guilt and inordinate punishment. Rachamim, Hebrew for compassion, comes from the root, rechem, which means womb, teaching that compassion is rooted in the mother/child interconnection and sets a precedent that one must open their heart before blindly acting.

How appropriate in a time when we see so many rush to judgment and action, without an inkling of heart or compassion. If they would see each person as a son or daughter, they would understand the repercussions of not only taking a life, but that they also destroy the soul of another, the parent. This law is not only to prevent the suffering of our creatures, it is to sensitize us to the suffering of another, embracing human dignity and compassion.

Mrs. Shaindy Jacobson, Director, Rosh Chodesh Society (JL)

Targum Yonatan explains that this verse comes to teach us the sacrosanct concept of mercy, “My nation Israel, just as your Father is merciful in heaven so shall you be merciful on earth…”

The holy Zohar hones in on the words Yom Echad (one/the same day) and delivers us into a very powerful hands-on lesson for DAILY life: an incredible message of morals and mercy in real time.

Every day that we are here on earth is reflected in its mirrored day in the upper world. Every action we take on that day is planted and accounted for in the corresponding day above, becoming a positive resource and benevolent guardian, ready for us to call upon.

If one’s deeds are cruel, inhumane, or merciless, the opposite side of the coin rings true as well.

The message of this telling verse is clear: on Yom Echad – on this day, EVERY day – we must, both as individuals and as a people, remove ourselves from cruelty in every possible manner, ensuring that not even a hint of negativity is planted and stored in our upper-world gardens, thus safeguarding our compassionate existence.

“An ox or a sheep, you shall not slaughter it and its offspring on “one” (the same) day.” If I may venture to say, the expression famously shared by Jeff Bezos, “It will always be Day One at Amazon”, has a deeply meaningful directive.

In the life of an upstanding Jew, it is always Day One. Arise each morning with a merciful mindset.

Rabbi Chaim Singer-Frankes, Chaplain, Kaiser Panorama City

What does it mean to halt during a frenzied act? Like the prohibitions around taking eggs when the mother bird is present and seething a kid in her mother’s milk, the Torah grasps at codes of compassion. But why employ an animal to define mercy? We must eat and make sacrifices to God. Therefore so long as an animal is permissible (kosher) why pause? Doesn’t a beast possess an uncomplicated sentience? Are beasts of the herd created in God’s image? If not, why does the Torah decree this prohibition? Do animals understand or care?

Midrash Tanhuma invokes Proverbs 12:10, “The righteous (man) knows the soul of his beast.” It may not matter whether or not animals care or apprehend tragedy in the same way as a human parent. Proverbs implies we view this as a means for modeling human behavior. The negative mitzvah contained in our verse may be yet another place where the Torah entreats us to think before we act with impulse, particularly when we are passionate, hungry. Laws forbidding gossip and the laws of kosher eating ask us to consider every thing that passes through our lips. If we must regard the feelings of the animal – a “lower” life form – then how much more does empathy pertain to the realm of human action?

What does it mean to place the brakes on being ravenous? What does it mean to consecrate tenderness of heart when slaughtering to sate either God or our own starving family? Where does this principled stance end? Would it govern behavior in warfare?

Hillary Chorny, Cantor, Temple Beth Am

I am certain that my love as a parent for my children defies and transcends logic. My heart aches for my kids even and especially when they are impossibly challenging. Maimonides understands this love to be a kind of bestial, primordial adoration in the best possible sense. It connects us to non-human creatures of the animal kingdom. This, he explains, is why we understand the cruelty of bringing a baby calf or ox to slaughter in front if its mother. There is something achingly base and tragic about that paradigm. And this becomes the source for yet one more thoughtful boundary our tradition sets around the consumption of meat. We are conscientious eaters, then, aware of how we may model healthy habits for those with whom we’re in healthy relationship.

With thanks to Rabbi Shlomo Seidenfeld, Eva Robbins, Mrs. Shaindy Jacobson, Rabbi Chaim Singer-Frankes and Hillary Chorny

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