Parshat Noach: Genesis 6:9-11:32; Isaiah 54:1-55-5.
What a great Torah portion for meat eaters, like me. And a great portion for those who enjoy a l’chaim at kiddush.
However, this is also a portion which warns us of some of the consequences of drinking to excess and of the importance of eating meat in a moral and ethical way.
In Bereshit, God only permitted Adam and Eve to eat from vegetables and fruit of the trees (Genesis 1:29); in Noach, God permits human beings to eat “every living thing that roams” (Genesis 9:3). This is the portion also where wine from a vineyard is introduced, and Noah certainly indulges.
Meat eaters should not get too indulgent; let us remember that we have plenty of traditions which tell us that in the Messianic era we will go back to being the vegetarians that we were before Noah and the flood. Thinking of having that extra glass of wine? Noah’s experience with wine led to embarrassment and cursing (Genesis 9:18-25) pointing out the dangers of drinking and losing control.
So should we, perhaps, see eating meat and drinking as something that is not approved of in the first instance, but is tolerated if we happen to slip up? Actually, it does not seem to be the attitude our law has toward meat and even wine: “There is no joy without meat and wine” (Tractate Pesachim 109a) — particularly if that is what one enjoys. Even when the Torah talks about how to slaughter meat, it celebrates our desires: “You will say, ‘I want to eat meat’ because you will desire it. [Well then], to your heart’s desire may you eat meat!” (Deuteronomy 12:20). If you prefer to refrain from wine and meat, that is totally fine; but if you enjoy them, the Torah and our tradition are clearly happy for you to do so.
However, the Torah needs us to understand the gravity of taking the life of a living being or drinking something that can cause us harm: Later verses tell Noah: “Eat, and enjoy, but do not eat a limb from an animal still alive” (Genesis 9:4). For Jews, the Torah limits meat even more — “slaughter the [kosher animal] … only as I have commanded … and be careful not to eat the blood …” (Deuteronomy 12:21-25). Eat meat, but with limits, with moderation, with morality. Likewise, drinking can be positive, but only within limits; after that it becomes destructive.
Meat eaters and kiddush lovers like me have to pay attention to both sides of our tradition: respecting our desires and what makes us happy while taking on the Torah’s clear message of responsibility.
The world is filled with delicacies and delights, but we must enjoy them with utmost respect, moderation and thoughtfulness.
Let us think before we take our next bite and our next sip and enjoy God’s world responsibly.
Rabbi Asher Lopatin is rabbi of Kehillat Etz Chaim in Huntington Woods and Oak Park and the executive director of the JCRC/AJC.