Re’eh- Proper Etiquette for Eating Meat

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In this week’s Torah portion of Re’eh we learn that after Bnei Yisrael arrives in their land, animals may be slaughtered for their meat, even without bringing them as an offering. The Torah states, “When Hashem, your G-D, will broaden your boundary as He spoke to you, and you say, ‘I would eat meat’ for you desire to eat meat, to your heart’s entire desire may you eat meat” (Devarim 12:20). Rabbeinu Bachye explains that non-consecrated meat had to be permitted to them when they entered into the land, for in the desert all the meat eaten was sanctified peace offerings.

The Rabbeinu Bachye also says the Torah is teaching proper manners, derech eretz, that a person should only eat meat through wealth and expanse, and this is what the pasuk meant by “will broaden.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The Torah is teaching us a lesson in derech eretz, proper manners; that one should not eat meat unless he is rich and has plenty. But what is wrong with the average person having a hamburger or hot dog, or even splurging on a fancy steak occasionally? And why is it a lack of manners for someone not wealthy to eat meat?

America is known as the land of plenty and pretty much everyone is wealthy. Even lower income families have a place to live with electricity, plumbing and even a cell phone and internet even if it may be subsidized. This country is not known as the country of kindness for nothing, and people should recognize and give gratitude for that.

However, the lesson we learn from this pasuk and the Rabbeinu Bachye is that derech eretz, proper etiquette, isn’t just please and thank, or holding the door for somebody, or eating our food with a fork, knife and a napkin in hand. It is also knowing our status in life. There is a time and a place for everything. Even for each individual there are things which are befitting for that individual and not for others. This even applies to foods.

A person with proper derech eretz knows his place in life and lives accordingly in a respectable manner and does not overstep his boundaries.

Good Shabbos,
 Rabbi Dovid Shmuel Milder