Chapter Twenty-five

 

FOOD

 


DEVOTEE:
Rabbi, what is the proper food to be eaten by a person who is on the spiritual path?
RABBI: God describes the best food for everyone, not only for those on the spiritual path: "Behold, I have given you every seed bearing plant on the face of the earth, and every tree that has seed bearing fruit. It shall be to you for food. For every beast of the field, every bird of the sky, and everything that walks the land, that has in it a living soul, all plant vegetation shall be food." [Torah, Genesis, Bereshith 1:29]
DEVOTEE: The Vedas also prescribe a vegetarian diet for every human being on the basis that it is pleasing to God. In two important verses in the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krsna describes what we can eat and why. "If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit or water, I will accept it." [Bg: 9.26] "Whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you offer or give away, and whatever austerities you perform- do that, O son of Kunti, as an offering to Me." [Bg: 9.27]
The principle is that a devotee of the Lord should not eat anything without first offering it as sacrifice for the pleasure of the Lord. But we cannot whimsically offer just anything to the Lord and expect that He will accept it. He clearly states in an abbreviated form what He will accept, and clearly it does not include any non-vegetarian food.
RABBI: If one studies the Jewish tradition carefully, it becomes clear that it was never the desire of God that His followers eat meat. He only allowed them to do so, with great restrictions, when He saw that they were unwilling to follow a strict vegetarian diet. This was an act of His mercy because if someone directly disobeys the laws of God, he will incur great sin. But, if the Lord, seeing the unwillingness of his followers to accept His orders, makes His demands easier so the people will follow, then they will not be so thoroughly condemned.
DEVOTEE: We find the same principle in the Vedas. Although the Vedas recommend and teach the highest standards for human society, which will in turn give the greatest positive result, realizing God, they also give ample means for people of all kinds to satisfy their material desires within the religious principles of the Vedas. For example, the Vedas in general condemned animal slaughter and meat eating. Still, for those who are so addicted to eating meat that they cannot control themselves, the Vedas offer a means to eat meat according to religious principles. Such people are recommended to offer a less important animal such as a goat, in sacrifice to the goddess Kälé. They must make this sacrifice only on the dark moon night of the month and they must kill the animal themselves, and hear its pitiable scream as they cut its throat. Just before killing the animal, they must say to the animal a verse saying in effect that "I am killing you in front of the goddess Käli, but in my next life I will be killed in the same way." Clearly, the purpose of this sacrifice was not to encourage animal slaughter but to persuade people to give it up.
RABBI: This is similar to the purposes of the Kosher laws. Especially regarding meat, there are many strict procedures directly aimed at removing every drop of blood before it can be eaten. It is impossible to completely remove all the blood from meat, so the final outcome is that meat cannot be eaten without sin. Ultimately, this whole troublesome procedure for eating meat is meant to persuade religious people to adopt a vegetarian diet.
In Jewish law, a person was not only supposed to be vegetarian, but he was supposed to show great compassion and care toward his animals. This rule was so much emphasized that he was permitted to break all rules of the Sabbath if necessary to save the life of an animal or to free him from pain.

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