By Avner Friedmann
From the time of Adam, the first man, until after the great flood, man was supposed to be strictly vegetarian, not eating the meat of animals, birds or fish, as scripture states, “Behold, I have given you every seed bearing stalk that is on the face of the whole earth and the fruit of every fruit bearing tree, and it shall be yours to eat.” Rather, it was Noach and his descendents who were first given Divine permission to eat meat, as it states: “Every living thing that moves shall be yours to eat, similar to vegetables.”
The Holy Ohr HaChaim explains that prior to the great flood; all creatures acted perversely under the negative influence of mankind and therefore, they too deserved extinction. It was solely through the merit of Noach that they survived. Moreover, in the Ark, Noach toiled for their benefit and attended to their every need. Through this he merited this right, and about him scripture states: “You shall eat the labor of your hands etc.”
The Ramban (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman) asks, “Why would a merciful G-d allow humans to slaughter animals and spill their blood for food?” His answer is that it is specifically because of His mercifulness that He permitted it, as written: “HaShem is good to all; His mercies are upon all His works.” In other words, consuming the animals is actually beneficial to them.
The Ramban explains that when we eat, the good portion in the food is digested and refined and turned into life giving blood, which the heart then distributes to all the organs. On the other hand, the dross in the food is expelled from the body as waste. Thus the good portion is absorbed by the body and becomes one with it…animal flesh becomes human flesh and animal fat becomes human fat etc. In this way the body and vitality of the animal is elevated to the human level. When a Jew then utilizes this vitality to serveHaShem, the animal attains a high level of spirituality that it could never have accomplished on its own.
This physical world consists of four levels. In ascending order they are: Mineral, vegetable, animal and human. Each level nourishes the level above it. Vegetables receive nourishment from the minerals in the earth. Vegetables provide nourishment for animals, which, in turn, provide nourishment for humans. Through this, each level is elevated to the level above it. Thus, when a human eats meat, he absorbs all three levels below him, thereby elevating the whole chain to his level.
Furthermore, animals only possess an animal soul and no G-dly soul, as does a Jew. Moreover, they do not possess a high intellect capable of conceptualization. Therefore, they are incapable of consciously recognizing G-d. This being the case, it is the inner purpose of the animal to be elevated to the human level, because only a human is capable of truly recognizing G-d.
Now, if a Jew eats solely to serve HaShem; reciting the appropriate blessings, speaking words of Torah at the table, learning Torah and doing mitzvot with the vitality he derives from the food; then he elevates and sanctifies the food he eats. It is therefore understandable that he may eat meat. However, one who is unlearned or who does not keep Torah and mitzvot, or who eats solely to satisfy his lusts; produces the opposite effect. Not only does it not bring elevation, but on the contrary, it can pull him down spiritually, bringing him closer to the animal level, G-d forbid. This is so even if the food he eats is 100% kosher!
Regarding this our sages stated “It is forbidden for Am HaAretz (a person who is ignorant of Torah) to eat meat.” Because he does not study Torah, in effect, he loses his superiority over the animals as a human being. As a result, he also loses his ability to uplift them and therefore should refrain from eating them.
The Torah expresses this with the verse, “This is the TORAH of the animal and the bird etc.” Meaning, whoever is occupied in the study and keeping of TORAH, may eat meat. However, if his sole intent is to derive physical sustenance and pleasure, he should refrain from eating meat.
In previous generations, it was the common practice of very righteous and devout people to eat meat on the holy day of Shabbat and on holidays. Though the Shulchan Aruch (The Code of Jewish Law) does not prohibit us from eating kosher meat any other day of the week, even if we do not do so for the sake of heaven, nonetheless, we should consider the tremendous opportunity HaShem has given us, to sanctify our eating experience for a higher purpose, to our eternal benefit.
When the Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem, this elevation was accomplished through bringing sacrifices on the altar. Nowadays, we can accomplish this by making our tables like an altar. May it be HaShem’s will that very soon the third and permanent Temple will be rebuilt and that we resume the sacrificial offerings. May this happen speedily with the true and complete redemption through our righteous Moshiach, Amen.
 Sanhedrin 58b and Rashi.
 Bereshit 1:29, 30.
 Bereshit 9:3.
 On this verse.
 Psalms 128:2.
 Igeret Hakodesh, Haderech Hashlishi.
 Psalms 145:9.
 Sha’arei Orah of Rabbeinu Yosef Gikatillia, See Tanya chapters 6 and 7
 Pesachim 49b.
 The Maharal in Netivot Olam.
 Vayikra 11:46.
 Shomer Emunim, 2nd Hakdama.