When God Killed the Meat-Eaters

One of the most dramatic and meaningful stories in the Bible is read this week in synagogues around the world.

It is a food-related story and it merits our attention, yet it is seldom discussed. Or depicted in movies.

The story, found in Numbers 11, describes part of the Israelites’ journey in the desert, before their thunderous encounter with God at Mount Sinai.

As you likely know, the Torah tells us that God sustained the Israelites on a diet of manna. And manna was described as similar to coriander seed. A vegan dish, to be sure.

It probably won’t shock you to learn that some of the Israelites complained about the fare and demanded meat, never mind that the manna was filling and healthy.

So who were these meat-lovers? The Torah described them, in Hebrew, as ha’asafsoof. The Jewish Publication Society translates that as “the riffraff.” Not exactly a neutral description. Just another case of the Torah expressing disdain for meat-eating.

Moses, who consulted public-opinion polls long before there was Gallup, heard the riffraff and relayed their concerns to God.

Some of the Israelites gorged on quail ...

Some of the Israelites gorged on quail …

If The Beet-Eating Heeb can be so bold as to paraphrase God Himself, His response was something like this:

They want meat, do they? I’ll give them some meat, alright … until it’s coming out of their nostrils.

Actually, that’s pretty close to a direct translation.

God then called forth a mighty wind that deposited quails – yes, quails – throughout the Israelites’ camp.

Fire up the barbecue!

In normal circumstances, the fat and cholesterol might have killed the riffraff, but not for a few years. God decided to cut to the chase. The Torah says:

“The meat was still between their teeth, not yet chewed, when the anger of the Lord blazed forth against the people and the Lord struck the people with a very severe plague. That place was named Kibroth-hattaavah.

... then died soon thereafter, and were buried in the Graves of Craving.

… then died soon thereafter, and were buried in the Graves of Craving.

Kibroth-hattaavah? That translates to, “the graves of craving.”

Did The Beet-Eating Heeb say something about the Torah expressing disdain for meat-eating?

Nothing subtle here. First, God tells us explicitly, in Genesis 1:29, that we are to eat plants and only plants. Then, as if He hadn’t made His point perfectly clear, meat-eaters are described as “riffraff” who are struck down by a plague and buried in the “graves of craving.”

Don’t get The Beet-Eating Heeb wrong. He would never refer to today’s meat-eaters as riffraff. That’s a little too harsh.

And BEH would be the first to acknowledge that there is another, albeit complementary, interpretation of this story. Some theologians say the Divine wrath was provoked simply because some Israelites were not content with God’s beneficence. They wanted more. That the “more” was “meat” is not the key to the story, per this interpretation.

However, viewed in the context of the entire Torah, the fact that meat was involved appears significant. Very significant.

Consider this: In Numbers 11:4, the Hebrew word used to describe the riffraff’s desire for meat is “ta’avah.” JPS translates that as “gluttonous craving.”

Now fast forward to Deuteronomy 12:20, when the Israelites are getting their final instructions before entering the Land of Israel. They are told that they can eat meat, if they have the urge to do so. Well, not urge, exactly. Here again, the desire for meat is described as “ta’aveh.” A gluttonous craving.

So what’s going on here? Is the Beet-Eating Heeb crazy, or does it seem that God would prefer that we not kill animals for food?

To put this in contemporary perspective, God has given us an Earth with an incredible bounty of fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains to sustain us. Yet we succumb to our “ta’avah” and kill billions of animals a year.

As we recall from the recently observed holiday of Shavuot, it’s worth noting that the Israelites were only deemed spiritually worthy of receiving the Torah after they had returned to a diet of manna, not meat.

Interesting story, eh?

About The Beet-Eating Heeb

I'm a meat-abstaining Jew who believes our religion commands us to treat our bodies with care, to treat animals with compassion, and to treat our planet like it's the only one we've got.

Posted on May 24, 2013, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 20 Comments.

  1. A very brave piece of writing. Great for sharing – thank you.

  2. What about Deut.12:5-11 where G-D commands the children of Israel to take a lamb and to kill it and eat it? Leviticus 11 and Deut. 14:4-21 G-D gives a detail list for us to make a distinguish between the animals that may be eaten and the animals that may not be eaten. If He didn’t want us to eat any meat He wouldn’t told the children of Israel to kill and eat the lamb. If G-D didn’t want to us to eat any meat I believe He would have said so and not given a list telling us what animals were for food and what animals were not. I believe it is when we go outside of what G-D has declare as food that we get in trouble. When the children of Israel came out of Egypt G-D had given them the food He wanted them to eat at that time. Maybe their bodies needed a good cleanings from all the unclean meats that they were eating in Egypt. Nevertheless G-D does allow meat to be eaten for now and I do not believe that He will kill those that follow what He has declared as food for now. I am not against eating only vegetable, fruit, and grains etc..In fact I think its a better way of eating but that’s me.

    • Carol, Deuteronomy 12 is addressed in this post itself.

      BEH never says that Jews are prohibited from eating meat. The permission to eat meat was granted as a concession to man’s moral weakness, and even then, there are numerous restrictions imposed.

      In the Torah, God clearly, repeatedly and both directly and indirectly expresses a desire that we don’t kill animals for food.

  3. The word meat distracts our attention from the animal to whom the “meat” was attached and to whom it belonged when the animal was alive. As I understand it, God granted humans permission to eat (other) ANIMALs sadly, in disappointment: Animals were not God’s first food choice for humans. Taking a life simply to satisfy a “desire” does not invite respect and does not win points for perpetuation. God gave humans nourishing plant food and current dietary information supports God’s original menu.

    Karen Davis, PhD, President of United Poultry Concerns.

  4. Great post, BEH! But upon hearing a ‘sermon’ such as this, many would counter it by saying, but God gave permission for us to eat meat, viz., after Noah had exited the Ark, and also in the wilderness when He made a distinction between the eating of clean vs. unclean animals. But we so easily lose sight of the fact that our patriarchs since Noah actually had their life expectancy halved due to ‘ta’avah’, until they reached the limit of two score and ten in years. Is it a coincidence that we are discovering today, through science, how detrimental animal-derived ‘foods’ are in our lives? Michael Greger, M.D., of http://nutritionfacts.org/, addresses this issue in his video, ‘Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death’ (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=30gEiweaAVQ). It seems, thus, even now where we are living outside the times of the Torah, God still gives us guidance.

  5. Thank you for your post! I often touch on this ignored and misconstrued Chapter in the Bible!

    We know it was precisely because they lusted for the flesh of God’s living creatures, that God smote them – and for no other reason. God did not kill them because they yearned also for the garlic and leeks, did He? No. He killed them in anger, because they not only lusted to taste corpses upon their tongues – and we know this to be true, when we read at the end of Numbers 11, that God said they should name that place: THE PLACE WHERE PEOPLE LUSTED (FOR FLESH) – but because they shunned His Vegan (peace and sanctifying diet), the manna that was made by His angels. They thus, in addition, insulted the host/s who made the manna for them. Just imagine you were invited to eat at a Vegan’s house for lunch (not knowing they were Vegan). Once you see that there is no meat upon their table, you frown, stamp your feet, and immediately complain to the host and say, “What’s THIS? I want MEAT please. END OF STORY!” Hmmm… Point made.

  6. In Deuteronomy 12:20, cited by the Beet Eater, God says that the people will desire meat and can eat meat to their full desire. God is very specific in noting that you may slaughter from your cattle and flocks, as I commanded you, but warns only that we should be strong to not eat the blood. The Beet Eater draws on the word ta’avah (desire) translated by the JPS as “gluttonous desire,” which is it’s meaning in the context of the Graves of Lust when the riffraff ate meat with unholy, gluttonous lust. But ta’avah can also mean simply desire, wish, or longings, as well lust or gluttonous appetite. In the context of Deuteronomy 12:20 it doesn’t mean this. The phrase “ki ta’avah nafeshcha”, is sometimes translated as “according to your heart’s desire”, but more literally means “according to your soul’s desire.” What this tells us is that God understands and accepts the human desire to eat meat, BUT only if it is eaten according to the soul’s desire: that is, if it’s eaten by following not the gluttonous appetite of that led to the Graves of Lust, but with a sense of holiness and God consciousness. Not eating the blood symbolizes this distinction between improper and holy eating. The Talmud teaches that a boor should not eat meat because his or her coarse personality would not allow such elevated eating. But this passage from Deuteronomy and many others throughout the Bible make it clear that God permits eating meat after the Flood and when we leave the desert to enter the Holy Land of Israel.

  7. Fascinating, and personally I would agree with the interpretation completely, but then being vegan I am biased towards evolving back to ‘Eden’.

    • millicent Anyango

      Meat should not be eaten by human beings as God had suggested in Gen 1;29
      The Lord’s diet was strictly vegetables and grains for man but because of too much desires HE mentioned the type of animals to be eaten by man which He is not happy with.Those who eat flesh do get angry quickly and most of them behave like animals.

      • Please don’t use the term, “they act like animals.” In this short but VERY important interview with author Jeff Masson, he speaks to using this epithet and how wrong it is as animals do not display the behaviors humans associate them with. http://www.vegsource.com/news/2014/03/jeff-masson—domesticating-animals-caused-addition-to-violence-video.html
        If we are trying to help elevate animals in the minds of humans, using the over used and wrong minded phrase in a derogatory manner, serves to continue the human notion that our own acts of violence and abuses of power are modeled after animals. It is our language that is based on speciesism so I feel it is critical to be aware of the language we use.
        I hear it every day when someone says, “beef up security,” or “making sausage,” to point out working all day at something, or, “kettle of fish,” or “kill two birds with one stone.” On and on, our mind set has manifest a language and that language a behavior . Let’s only use animal language in holy and positive ways.

  8. A very enlightening and encouraging account. Thank you for your analysis. I will certainly make good use of it!

    Karen Davis, President of United Poultry Concerns, promoting compassion and respect for domestic fowl and all creatures. http://www.upc-online.org

  9. I’m totally with you. But just one small quibble. The complainers were riffraff and the complainers wanted meat. This suggests that being a meat eater was NECESSARY for being in the riffraff, not (as you seem to suggest with the words “meat-eaters are described as “riffraff” who are struck down”) SUFFICIENT for being in the riffraff. That is, certainly SOME meat eaters were the riffraff, not necessarily all.

    • millicent Anyango

      God created every living creature to worship HIM and to give HIM glory and now that man ordered for meat,He gave them and those who ate the meat died even before swallowing the meat meaning man rejected God’s plans concerning the human diet.Man has gone as far as eating/drinking living creatures’ blood and we are being told that blood is life in the bible.

  10. “Graves of Lust.” Appears the entire planet is stuck there!! Just wish all Jews everywhere who claim to be “observant,” but are still complicit in heinous animal torture, would SEE the consequence. The animal rights movement is the equivalent of modern day Moses. The plagues are coming in the form of chronic diseases because of what is being consumed, infectious anti biotic resistant bacteria’s from animal agriculture, and environmental warnings from climate change, largely a result of the biggest contributor of C02 and Methane, farmed animals.

    The species claiming to be highest in intelligence, can’t even see what is smacking them in the face…. Special education and “health care” costs skyrocketing ???Why? What goes in, manifests out.

  11. Thank you for this interesting and well written analysis.

    • You are so right – there wasn’t much to this, but I sure enjoyed it and prtety much ate the entire salad by myself! I haven’t had beets in years, but I think they will become a regular addition to our table now.

  12. Great post!

  13. Awesome post. it is all right there, in the Parshat level. So clear. thanks for making what is so clear even clearer!

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