Parshat Ki Tisa - Shabbat Parah
So to recap our special Shabbatot:
a. Shabbat Shkalim (census)
b. Shabbat Zachor (story of Amalek)
c. Shabbat Parah (Parah Adumah)
d. Shabbat HaChodesh
Shabbat Parah recalls the ancient and mystifying practice of slaughtering the Parah Adumah (see below), a perfect, unblemished red cow, burning it and using its ashes to purify those who were impure in preparation for the Pesach offering (which is why we read it in the lead up to Pesach).
Like all ritual slaughter in Judaism the Torah states regarding the Parah Adumah:
וְשָׁחַ֥ט אֹתָ֖הּ לְפָנָֽיו
And slaughter it before his presence
From a vegetarian lens, the notion that animal sacrifice is a means to an end is disturbing. Is it really necessary to kill an animal to purify a human of sin or impurity? By extension one can ask, is it necessary or ethical to kill an animal for the needs of people as a whole?
If you have ever been unlucky to engage with a vegetarian like me you will hear that vegetarians reach their decision for two major reasons:
a. the industry
b. outright opposed to animal slaughter
We do not have an answer for (b). But let us respond to people who minimise their meat intake based on the meat industry.
The Torah instructs us to slaughter the Parah Adumah to be slaughter before his presence. Before God. The idea being to ensure that as we slaughter the animal we recognise the gravity of our actions and its implications. By sacrificing an animal before the almighty the cognitive dissonance of slaughter, both ancient and contemporary is diminished. We must realise what we are doing. It is permitted to slaughter an animal but only under this condition.
Regardless of your thoughts on vegetarianism, we must take a compulsory lesson from the Torah: animals are holy and that whilst killing them is a part (or was a part) of certain practices, it must be done with care and humility.
May we be blessed with the ability to remember the origins of our food whilst we eat.
(See above): Parah Adumah (פרה אדומה) is often translated as a Red Heifer (cow). More likely however is that rather than reading אדומה as "adumah", meaning red, it was most likey written as אדמה "adamah", meaning ground, i.e. a brown cow.
For more details on this please contact me.