I know, I know, National Braai* Day is only next month but, I have braais on the mind, and not just because we've just completed one of those boerie-marathons that they call "the school holidays". South Africans are big-time carnivores: On holiday, we braai; on Sundays, we braai; at end of year parties, we braai- we even have braai-barmis. I discovered a guy in this country who's braaied every day since 2009.
But that's not why braais are on my mind.
Nope, it's the parsha this week that has me thinking about flame-grilled steaks and chops. And it's not because this is where the Torah lists all the kosher animals. (By the way, that should make you wonder why we don't have kosher kudu braais. Apparently a couple of frummies from overseas recently arranged a kosher game feast in Botswana).
Usually the thought of a "braai" makes you feel hungry. After reading this week's parsha, it makes you feel "Oy!".
We take our carnivorous lifestyle for granted, but there's a serious moral issue around consuming meat. If you're worried that I've turned vegetarian, relax and read on, but those tofu eaters do raise a valid argument. What gives us the right to eat the flesh of another living being? To stay alive? Is that reason enough to kill another living being? Could a human justify killing another human to prevent himself dying?
Hang on- if killing an animal to feed ourselves is problematic because we're killing a living organism, why is killing a plant any different? Fruit trees live. Vegetables have souls too, according to Kabbalah. Why kill them for food? Kabbalah actually teaches that the souls of plants and animals stem from a higher source than our souls. There's some thought for food.
On the other hand, we all know that a tomato and a cow are not the same type of "living organism". We also need to be reasonable. If we deny ourselves the right to eat grain or soya, that would be suicidal. Bread is a need-to-have; braai is a nice-to have.
Seeing as we could survive without our vleis, what gives us the right to slaughter those hapless creatures just so that we could enjoy a good steak?
Which is why the parsha has me thinking about braais. It suggests that a mehadrin kosher braai could sometimes be treif. The Torah says that you may eat meat to our soul's desire. See that? You soul's desire. We braai for our body's desire. Our soul is inevitably present at the event, but it doesn't salivate over the spare ribs. Our soul knows that it lives in this world as G-d's agent to transform the place. Our soul knows that we're not just highly-developed animals, but spiritual beings with a unique skill to translate physical experiences into spiritual journeys. Our soul knows that when we just eat to enjoy, we slip down into the animalistic world of evolved mammals. Instead, our soul wants us to invite lamb and beef to join us in the human experience of serving G-d.
Licking our lips over a juicy chop doesn't justify killing an animal. Saying a brocha over a kosher steak or serving up a meat-fest to celebrate Shabbos, a simcha or to boost Jewish camaraderie turns the slaughter spiritual. Braais are kosher- when the burgers are kosher, the brochos are said and the soul feels that it has uplifted a piece of the experience.