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Friday, August 19, 2016

Parshat Vaeschanan 5776 -August 19th, 2016

It has been an unbelievable week at MHA!  Students returned to school to meet their new teachers.  Students in the Lower School were welcomed into redesigned classrooms that are set up to maximize the student learning experience.  We had a special Middle School program on the first day to “break the ice” and to help initiate students into their new routines and we introduced our new D’var Torah Workshop in the Middle School.  We had special programs in the CYHSB and GMSG to welcome the students back to school.

One of the most exciting aspects of the week has been the opening of our new gymnasium and kitchen.  Besides the obvious aesthetic improvements, the renovation has transformed these spaces – the gym and the kitchen – into far more functional and safe places for our children.  It is reassuring to know that the food is being prepared in a kitchen free of leaks and broken hardware and with proper refrigeration and storage space.  I am so pleased that our students will have a far better floor surface on which to exercise and play organized sports and will be able to use clean and renovated bathrooms.  Most importantly, this renovation has inspired a deeper sense of school pride in our students and families.  I am so grateful to Josh Kahane and Lee Baum for their tireless work this summer to complete this project and to the Cooper and Wruble families for their generous support for this critical endeavor.

On the first day of school, I shared with the Middle School that the day inspired me to remember an explanation of the verse from Sefer Tehilim: ze hayom asah Hashem nagila venismecha vo – this is the day that Hashem made, rejoice and be happy on it. Certainly, this verse is an apt description of our feelings on a day of inauguration – such as our feelings on this day of inaugurating the gymnasium and kitchen and on the first day of school.  However, there is an alternate and equally correct translation of the verse.  The word “vo” could relate not to the object of the sentence – the day – but instead to the subject of the sentence – Hashem.  This is the day that Hashem made, rejoice and be happy in Him.  Rejoice and be happy in Hashem.

I shared with the students that there is a difference between rejoicing and being happy on a special day – a day that Hashem made – and rejoicing and being happy “in Hashem”.  Both are appropriate.  Happiness on a special day that Hashem made represents the attitude of a person who realizes that what he or she has comes from Hashem.  This attitude of gratitude is an essential quality of human perfection.  What, then, does it mean to be happy in Hashem?  I suggested to the students that the meaning of begin happy “in Hashem” is the happiness that comes from the realization that there is a purpose for the thing that we are celebrating.  The happiness comes from the knowledge that the special day serves a greater purpose that will help my personal perfection and ultimately my relationship with Hashem.

I shared with the students that this second understanding of the verse is particularly meaningful on the first day of school with a renovated gymnasium at Margolin Hebrew Academy-Feinstone Yeshiva of the South.  The purpose of our school is to serve as a place where we can all grow and develop.  These spaces – the gymnasium and kitchen – are invaluable in enhancing the experience of each student and staff member.  Physical activity, drama, music and communal assemblies all help to engage the students in ways that help each of us grow to our potential.  Eating nutritious food helps put our students and staff in a position to grow – physically and spiritually.  On this day of inauguration, we are happy because we know that we will be better positioned to achieve our purpose at MHA – to grow and develop.

This first day of school is a very happy day for us.  We are happy and appreciative to Hashem for the experience that we are having and we are happy in the recognition that the object of our happiness will serve a purpose in our growth and development.  I welcome you to visit the school and share in our happiness.


Parshat Zimri- Speech from MHA Annual Meeting, August 2016

The following is Rabbi Owen’s speech from the MHA Annual Meeting.

This week’s parasha recounts the incident of Zimri – a leader of the tribe of Shimon – and Cosbi – the daughter of a Midianite prince.  Pinchas sees Zimri and Cosbi in flagrante delicto – in an immoral act in public – and executes them both on the spot.  For his zealotry in defense of the integrity of the Torah community, Hashem rewards Pinchas with a covenant of peace and the Priesthood.

The Torah then outlines a Mitzvah that only relates to the nation of Midian.צרור את המדינים והכיתם אותם  - be hostile to the Midianites and strike them.  Normally, the Torah demands Bnei Yisrael to offer peace to an enemy that you are about to go to war with.  Midian – no.  However, the Torah commands us here to be hostile to the Midianim.  Normally, when besieging an enemy, we are commanded to allow an escape path.  Regarding Midian – no - besiege them on all four sides and strike all of them.

Why Midian?  What did they do to deserve this hostile treatment?

Malbim explains that the answer emerges from a close reading of this and last week’s parasha.  Cosbi, princess of Midian, was caught with Zimri the Shimonite leader.  How did they get themselves into this situation?  Malbim explains that there was a context to this entire episode.  Bilam had unsuccessfully tried to curse the Jewish people.  He knew that the Jewish people could only be cursed if they strayed from Hashem.  He tried to convince Moav to entice the Jewish people to stray from Hashem.  Moav was not interested in this plan.  Bilam returned home.  On his way home he travelled through Midian and shared with them his idea of how to successfully curse the Jewish people.  With this knowledge, the king of Midian hatched a plan.  Use his daughter, Cosbi, to lure Zimri, the leader of Shimon, into an immoral act and bring down the Jewish People through the spreading of immorality.

Returning to the question:  Why Midian?  What did they do to deserve this hostile treatment?

One measure of a society is its philosophy.  At the core of America’s philosophy is the primacy of the individual and the natural rights of each human being.  The Jewish People are at a permanent state of war with Amalek because it glorifies a human-centered and violent philosophy.  Canaan and the other six nations exemplified the philosophy of idolatry.
Another measure of a society is the value that it places in its children and in the diligence that it exercises in securing their well-being.  The Torah commands us to educate our children to become Jewish adults.  In most cases, we even prioritize our children’s learning over our own learning.  We are responsible for our children like a lender is responsible to safeguard a pledged object.  

In Midian, children were possessions.  The King of Midian viewed his daughter as a pawn – an object through which to destroy the Jewish People, he offered his daughter as a tool to entrap the Jewish People.  In this type of society, all tactics will be used.  The society will even destroy its most prized possessions to beat the object of its hatred. Dealing with this type of society requires a high level of hostility.  Therefore, the Torah commands us to be hostile to Midian and to strike them.
One of the unique qualities that defines MHA-FYOS and the Memphis Jewish Community is the emphasis that we place on the welfare of our children and our children’s Jewish education. We understand that our children are not tools but are future leaders. This community emphasizes these priorities over almost all other priorities and understands that the future of this community lies in our children.  It is wonderful to live and to teach in a community that understands and lives these truths.
First and foremost, I want to thank you for supporting me through a wonderful first year and to specifically thank:
·  Mrs. Kutliroff for her dedication to the school and for her support in my transition.

   My administrative team, staff and all of our outstanding Rabbeim, Morot and instructors
· The MHA families - parents and students
· The members of the Board of Directors and Executive Committee

I owe a great debt of gratitude to Dr. Joel Siegel for his partnership in leading the school.  Joel exemplifies two qualities that do not usually coexist in one person:
· Optimism and positivity
· Dedication to excellence

I have met many people who are optimistic and positive but do not maintain high standards out of their sincere desire to spread good will.  I have also met many people who are dedicated to excellence but sincerely feel that their dedication restricts them from maintaining a positive demeanor.  Joel is unique in that he successfully weds a wonderful demeanor with an allegiance to high standards. Joel, I have grown from working with you.   

Thank you, also, to David Katz - our incoming president.  I  welcome the opportunity to work with you in the coming year.

At the beginning of the year, I outlined four areas of focus for the year. In each board report, I reviewed the most significant events from the previous month from the perspective of these areas of focus.
· Mission-driven
· Build a Community of Authentic Learning
· Engage in Effective Communication
· Striving to be Our Best Selves

One of the most significant aspect of change in the coming year will be the realignment of our 1-12 grades into two divisions 1-8 and 9-12 and the welcoming of new members of our administrative team. We have hired two individuals to lead the Elementary School - Rabbi Yosef Hauser - Torah Studies - and Mrs. Becky Nissani - General Studies. Welcome to Memphis. Additionally, I am excited that other members of our faculty will be assuming greater responsibility in the coming school year. I am looking forward to working with this team.      

Coupled with the exciting faculty hires that we have made, MHA-FYOS is in store for unbelievable changes that are happening in the gymnasium and kitchen.  We are so thankful to the Cooper Family and to the Wruble Family for their generosity and leadership in making this remodel a reality.  We are also so thankful to the Cooper Family for it pioneering matching gift towards our Capital Campaign.  

We are truly in store for an outstanding 2016-2017 school year!
  

Excerpt from Annual Banquet Dinner Speech, June 2016

An excerpt from Rabbi Owen’s remarks at last Sunday night’s Annual Banquet Dinner.

One of the most unique and special qualities of our community and school is our strong connection to Eretz Yisrael.  Many Memphis expats live in Eretz Yisrael.  Annually, 90% of our graduates study in Israel.  At MHA, the month of Iyyar is dedicated to programming about Israel.  Many of our students study Torah in Ivrit – particularly in the early grades.  We further teach Ivrit as a language.  We host a Kollel MiTzion in our Beit Midrash and annually host two young women from the Bat Ami program.  These are just some examples of how consciousness about Eretz Yisrael and about Am Yisrael is woven into the fabric of our school.

Time is precious – particularly in education.  For each lesson that we include in our curriculum, another is left out.  Why do we dedicate such an investment of resources to connecting our students to Israel?    
 
Our parasha – Parashat Bechukotai – outlines the berachot and kelalot – the blessings and curses for abiding or not abiding to the mitzvot.  This tochacha – rebuke – pertains to the Jewish people.  When we follow the mitzvot, G-d rewards the Jewish people in order to help us serve Him better.  When we do not follow the mitzvot, G-d rebukes us in the form of curses in order to teach us to improve our ways. 

The Torah says, “And the produce of your threshing season will last until the grape harvest; and the produce of the grape harvest will last until the planting.  And you have your fill of food.  And you will dwell securely in your land.”
On this last statement – “and you will dwell securely in your land” – our Rabbis comment in the Midrash Sifra that this blessing applies in the Land of Israel but not in the exile.

What a perplexing statement!  In other words, the mitzvot that we perform, the closeness to G-d that we achieve through learning about Him and through emulating Him and the righteousness that we exhibit – all of these are rewarded with security in the Land of Israel.  In exile, Jews are not assured security!  Even observance of the Torah does not assure protection outside of Israel!

The Chafetz Chayyim – Rabbi Yisrael Meir HaKohen – made comments which are particularly relevant to this interpretation.  These comments were translated by Rabbi Bernie Fox from a biography written by Rabbi Aharon Sorasky.  The Chafetz Chayyim often discussed the advent of the Messianic era. Towards the end of his life he delivered an informal discourse on this issue. He explained that the Messianic era is inevitable. We do not know when the Messiah will arrive. Nonetheless, we are certain that the Almighty’s plan for humanity will only be fulfilled in the Messianic era.        
   
The Chafetz Chayyim explained that we are not passive participants in the unfolding of history. Our actions and attitudes can hasten or delay coming of M
ashiach. What can we do to expedite the Messiah’s arrival? The Chafetz Chayyim explained that we must truly desire his accession. We must recognize exile as banishment. We must sincerely long for deliverance.   Conversely, apathy delays the coming of the Messiah. If we are complacent and comfortable in Galut – in exile, we fail to recognize our banishment.          

The Chafetz Chayyim offered a proof of his assertion. The Chumash, in Sefer Shemot discusses our redemption from Egypt. The Chafetz Chayyim argues that this event is a model for future redemptions. In order to understand the conditions required for the arrival of the Messiah, we must study this previous redemption.   The Torah explains that, in their suffering, B’nai Yisrael cried out to Hashem. Immediately after this appeal, the redemption began.  Our delivery from bondage was not initiated by repentance. It was set in motion by a much simpler event. The people turned to Hashem and asked for salvation.  Yetziat Mitzrayim – the exodus from Egypt – provides a model for future redemptions. In order for the Almighty to act, we must recognize that we need His salvation.

The Chafetz Chayyim concluded by asserting that many Jews of his time were complacent. They had come to accept exile. They did not regard exile as banishment. They uttered the prayers beseeching the Almighty for redemption. But they were not completely sincere. He felt that it was crucially important to change this attitude. Bnai Yisrael must acknowledge exile as a severe punishment. The people must earnestly turn to the Almighty and pray for salvation. The Chafetz Chayyim made these comments at the end of his life.  He passed away in 1933 – a short time before the beginning of the Holocaust.     

Returning to our question – why focus so much attention on Eretz Yisrael?

I believe that the words of the Chafetz Chayyim have particular relevance to our school community.  One of the most important messages that we can communicate to our children is that our people’s destiny is in the Land of Israel – the land of our forefathers and foremothers, the land where Torah can be fully realized and implemented, the future land of Messianic sovereignty. 

This message is a highly motivational.  When they internalize this message, our children become inspired to grow spiritually.  They become motivated to learn.  They deepen their commitment to their fellow Jews.  Our children create a picture of an idealized society that they want to be a part of – one guided by Talmud Torah and mitzvot.  Our children also learn that complacency about our current situation in exile would be spiritual poison.

I am so proud of the loud statement of support for Jewish education and for the mission of Margolin Hebrew Academy that this evening represents.  We have such a unique and important mission.  On the night of this 66th Annual Scholarship Banquet, let us pray that our school and community continue to inspire and educate the future leaders of Am Yisrael.   


Parshat Behar 5776- May 27th, 2016

Parashat Behar introduces the institution of shemitta – the seventh year of a seven year cycle.
Shemitta touches two areas of life:
Shemitat karka – agriculture
Shemitat kesafim – loans

From an agricultural perspective, shemita demands that we allow our land to remain fallow.  No planting, no commercial harvesting, no tilling the soil.  Anyone is permitted to harvest for personal use from any other’s field.  These laws apply only to the land of Israel and are in force even today.  From a monetary perspective, shemita demands that we cancel loans.  These laws apply today even outside of the land of Israel.

What messages should one take away from experiencing a shemita?  What enduring understandings does the Torah teach through the laws of shemita?

The most obvious understanding that shemita conveys derives from its comparison to Shabbat.  In fact, the Torah calls shemita a Shabbat for the land.  Shabbat occurs every seventh day – shemita occurs every seventh year.  Shabbat is a weekly reminder that G-d created the world and that G-d sustains the world.  On Shabbat, we refrain from all creative labor.  We direct our energies to serving and learning about Hashem.  We testify to the fact that G-d created the world in six days and rested on the seventh day of creation.  We simultaneously testify to G-d’s relationship with the world.

There is a close parallel between Shabbat and shemita.  Every seventh year, we refrain from agricultural work.  Loans are cancelled.  Through performing these commandments, we review and reinforce the idea that as the Creator, G-d is the ultimate owner of the entire world.  We own and work the land only on the authority of Hashem.  We have and use money only with a permit from the Almighty.  By refraining from agricultural activities and by cancelling loans in the shemita year, we remember that G-d created the world and that G-d sustains the world.

There is another message that shemita conveys.  Not only does the Torah prohibit working the land during the shemita year.  It also permits anyone to take any wild produce from any field.  The produce does not go to waste – it sustains all who need it.  Furthermore, the benefit of canceling loans does not only accrue to the lender.  It most certainly also benefits the borrower.  The money from the loan is not wasted.  The borrower keeps the money that he borrowed, his loan is cancelled and his bottom line is better for it.  From this perspective, the laws of shemita teach the value of kindness and charity.  In the shemita year we review the enduring lesson of chesed.   

To review, shemita teaches us two enduring understandings:
G-d is the Master of the World and is the Ultimate Owner
We should use our resources to benefit ourselves and others.  In other words, we should be kind.

Are these two messages coincidental or are they directly linked?  If they are linked, what is the connection?
Hashem designed each mitzvah to help us relate to Him and to understand His ways.  Shemita helps rebalance the socio-economic order.  Shemita helps give the poorer man a leg to stand on with the support of the wealthier.  As the divide between rich and poor becomes greater and greater in a society, the level of identification and connection between the two groups subsides. 

As the rich lose their identification with the poor, they forget the tenuousness of poverty.  They forget their dependence on others for their success.  They attribute their own success to their own greatness and they attribute the poor man’s failure to his weakness.  They become cruel.  They forget about Hashem.

As the poor lose their identification with the wealthy, they lose hope.  They forget that Hashem is the source of everything.  They forget that a man’s fortunes can change instantly, particularly when we improve our ways.  They give up.  They forget about Hashem. 

Shemita helps counteract these errors in thinking.  All societies have wealthy people and poor people.  By cancelling loans and allowing all to partake of the wild fruit of the land of others, shemita helps recreate a balance between the wealthy and the poor and cement identification with all groups.  Kindness pervades the society.  This kindness helps the entire Jewish People to use the shemita year and future years to recognize and reconnect with the Almighty and to recalibrate our relationship and dependence on Him. 


Parshat Emor 5776 - May 20th, 2016

This week’s parasha, Emor, presents the well-known and oft-quoted dictum, ayin tachat ayin, an eye in place of an eye.  Taken in isolation, the literal meaning of this phrase is clear – the punishment for poking out another’s eye is the loss of the perpetrator’s eye.  We all know, however, that our mesorah teaches that the punishment for poking out another’s eye is monetary payment for the loss.  The Rambam writes that in the history of the Jewish People there has never been an authorized Jewish court that has poked out a perpetrator’s eye for damaging another’s eye.

While our interpretation of ayin tachat ayin is unequivocal, our chachamim struggle with the question of why the Torah writes “an eye in place of an eye” if, in fact, it intended monetary payment.  One suggestion offered in the Gemara in Masechet Bava Kamma is that, when interpreted literally, an “eye for an eye” would lead to inequity in punishments – perpetrators with two healthy eyes will lose an eye but blind people will suffer no punishment.  Based on the Torah principle that there is “one law for the Jewish People”, the only punishment that could be enforced equitably is monetary compensation to the victim.

Rav Mordechai Breuer offers a compelling explanation as to why ayin tachat ayin – an eye for an eye – is interpreted by our mesorah as monetary compensation.  Through the Torah, Hashem reveals both a system of law and a guide for personal perfection.  From a legal perspective, poking out another’s eye encumbers the perpetrator with an obligation to the victim – monetary compensation for the loss.  From a personal perfection perspective, poking out another’s eye represents an imperfection in the perpetrator.  This imperfection demands a punishment that fits the crime – an eye for an eye.  The perpetrator should understand the gravity of the damage that he caused.

Rav Breuer suggests that these two perspectives represent the tension between the verse – ayin tachat ayin – and the interpretation of our mesorah – monetary compensation in place of an eye.  The Written Torah focuses on the most appropriate consequence from the perspective of the perpetrator – suffering the loss of an eye.  However, the Oral Torah – the mesorah – teaches that monetary compensation in place of an eye is, in fact, the law – the victim must be made as whole as possible.  Rav Breuer explains that the respective consequences taught by the Written and Oral Torah simply reflect two frameworks – punishment for the perpetrator and compensation for the victim.

Based on this analysis, Rav Breuer explains why compensation for the victim is in fact the law.  Compensation meets both goals – punishment and compensation.  While the punishment is not exact – loss of money is never equivalent to the loss of an eye – monetary compensation does additionally serve the aim of punishing the perpetrator.  Poking out the eye of the perpetrator does nothing for the victim.  Hence, the halacha is compensation.


Parshat Kedoshim 5776 -May 13th, 2016

This week’s parasha, Kedoshim, presents many mitzvot (both positive and negative) dealing with a number of subjects, including justice, exclusive belief in Hashem and the prohibition of immorality.
After detailing a number of mitzvot, the Torah concludes, “and you will observe (shmira) all of My statutes (chukim) and all of My ordinances (mishpatim) and you will do (asiah) them; I am Hashem.”  The Italian commentator, Rabbi Ovadiah Seforno, is perplexed by the difference between observing and doing – shmira and asiah.  Observing and doing seem to be very similar!  Furthermore, this verse seems to be out of step with the well-known pronouncement of bnei yisrael at Mount Sinai – na’aseh ve’nishma – we will do and we will listen.  The commitment to “doing” precedes “listening”.  Is “doing” the cause of “listening” and “observing” or the effect?

When we consider this pronouncement more closely, we understand that “listening” cannot refer to learning about the mitzvot – how could bnei yisrael keep the mitzvot without learning about them?  “Listening” must refer to something else.

Rabbi Ovadiah Seforno explains that “listening” refers to following the command of Hashem without a motivation to receive a reward.  Hence, na’aseh ve’nishma means that b’nei yisrael committed at Mount Sinai to follow the commandments without a concern for the reward.

Returning to the verse from our parsha, what is the difference between “observing” and “doing”?  Seforno explains that the “observance” that the Torah wants from us is a recognition of the value of the commandments through analysis and study.  He explains that through observing the mitzvot in this way, we will come to do them.

Seforno’s analysis of this verse corresponds to my experience as a teacher and as a parent.  I can think of many examples in which a child has incorporated a new mitzva practice after learning about the halachot of the mitzva.  I can also think of many examples in which a child has incorporated a new mitzva practice after learning the philosophy or root ideas that the mitzva conveys.  Our children and students are usually very responsive to learning about the specifics of how to keep Shabbat or how to pray or how to make sure that food is kosher.  Our children and students – particularly older ones – are also typically very responsive to learning about the “why” of this or that mitzva.

Seforno argues that it is suboptimal to perform mitzvot for the sake of receiving a reward.  He also argues that through learning about mitzvot and analyzing mitzvot, we recognize the value of mitzvot and we are likely to keep them.  Based on his interpretation of these two verses, it seems that Seforno maintains that a person always needs a motivation to adopt a new behavior or value.  By studying mitzvot, we develop a motivation to keep the mitzvot – the recognition of their value – that will likely lead us to the ultimate motivation – the desire to do the Will of our Creator.


Parshat Acharei Mos -May 6th, 2016

This past Tuesday, we initiated the Memphis Jewish Community Beis Midrash program held at the Cooper Yeshiva High School.  The hour-long program (8:30 to 9:30) for men – which concluded with Ma’ariv at 9:30 – was attended by community rabbis, members and students.  Four people deserve particular acknowledgement for their contribution – Rabbi Joel Finkelstein, Rabbi Yedidya Shifrowich, David Katz and David Schlesinger – each of whom led a chabura (learning group).  Our next program will be held on Tuesday, May 10 at 8:30 pm.  The message below was inspired by the learning David Katz, Yoni Freiden and I did at last Tuesday’s program. 

In this week’s parasha, Achare Mot, the Torah says, “And any man of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among them, that takes in hunting any beast or fowl that may be eaten; he will pour out the blood of it, and cover it with dust.”  These pesukim present the mitzvah of kisui hadam - covering the blood of chayyot/wild animals (such as deer) and ofot/birds.  Domesticated animals do not require kisui hadam.  Interestingly, the commentator Or HaChayyim interprets from the verse that the Torah is carving out an exception to a general prohibition – Jews are permitted to hunt wild animals that may be eaten because they are kosher, but no other species may be hunted.

The author of the Sefer HaChinuch lists the mitzvah of kisui hadam as one of the mitzvot learned from this week’s perasha.  He explains that the mitzvah aims to help limit cruelty and callousness.  To eat the animal in front of the spilled blood would be to act cruelly and callously.  Covering the blood of such an animal avoids cruelty. 

In what way is eating in front of the spilled blood of an animal considered cruel behavior?  Cruelty is generally associated with causing pain.  Killing the animal for food is not considered cruel.  Where is the cruelty in this case of not covering the blood?
To more fully understand this idea, we need to look at the following verse.  The Torah says, “For as to the life of all flesh, the blood of it is all one with the life of it; therefore I said unto the children of Israel: You will eat the blood of no manner of flesh; for the life of all flesh is its blood; whoever eats it shall be cut off.”

To summarize: 
The blood represents the life/soul of the animal
There is a prohibition to eat the blood of an animal. 

An animal is a living thing.  It is a sentient being.  It has a nefesh – a life force.  In reality, killing an animal is killing a living thing.  It is an act of aggression. 

Before the time of Noach, humans did not need to eat meat and meat was prohibited.  After the flood, it seems that human constitution changed.  Humanity generally needed meat after the flood.  Therefore, after the time of Noach, G-d permitted humans to eat meat.  However, this permit only exists because of man’s needs. 

The Torah prohibits a callous treatment of the animal.  The Torah prohibits a demonstration of superfluous aggression towards the animal.  The Torah demands that we cover the blood and not eat in front of it like a lion would eat its prey.  Demonstrating any unnecessary aggression towards an animal would contravene the philosophy of the Torah. 

When we think of animal cruelty, we usually think of inflicting unnecessary pain on an animal.  While this type of cruelty is also prohibited, it is not the type of cruelty that the Sefer HaChinuch is referring to.  The Sefer HaChinuch is discussing the proper attitude towards all living things. 

Each and every one of us has an aggressive part to our personality – some more and some less.  This aggression can be very beneficial.  It helps us to defend ourselves when necessary and to cope with adversity. 

It can also be a tool of destruction.  Cruelty begins with viewing other living things as an appropriate object of our aggression.  The Torah recognizes that the quality of cruelty can begin innocuously and morph into something far more destructive.  Paroh’s Egypt and Hitler’s Germany are just two of many examples in history in which a nation begins by legalizing minor displays of aggression only to subsequently become a nation in which the most sadistic behavior is sanctioned and considered praise-worthy.  The Torah recognizes that an individual’s metamorphosis can take a similar arc. 

This Mitzvah of kisui hadam – covering the blood – represents a proper Torah outlook.  G-d designed the world for man’s benefit.  When we use the world properly, man produces wonderful results.  Harm comes when we use the world as a tool for us to express our most basic instincts.  G-d allowed us to use the animal world for our benefit – when the benefit serves a real need.  This mitzvah demonstrates that our use of the animal world should not include using it as an outlet for our aggression.