by Sarah Cohen
Timothy McVeigh is finally gone. And what a saga his final days turned out to be. The sight of a hapless Louis Freeh admitting FBI incompetence in withholding documents, McVeigh's retrial request and his execution were the final chapters in an epic that seems destined for American immortality - or at least a miniseries.
His very name became a national Rorschach blot, eliciting seething passions on the thorny issue of the death penalty. A story this portentous was bound to prompt serious debate, as well as the appearance of the inevitable lunatic fringes.
For me, though, the nuttiest development to come down the McVeigh pike surfaced in a March 21 press release:
"Now that the Federal Prison system offers a vegetarian meal plan, Timothy McVeigh should not be allowed to take even one more life," wrote PETA's Vegan Campaign coordinator Bruce Friedrich. "Make Timothy McVeigh's final meals meatless... Wiping meat off of all inmates' plates could help killers lose their taste for blood. This would send a powerful message... Feeding inmates bean burritos rather than baby back ribs might just help break the cycle of violence."
PETA, for all you carnivores looking forward to the summer barbecuing season in blessed ignorance, stands for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Founder Ingrid Newkirk articulates its credo: "A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy. There is no rational basis for saying that a human being has special rights."
The movement's moral vacuity is frightening, if entirely consistent with the contemporary desire to ignore the divine. In a world without G-d to decree a hierarchy in which all creatures exist to serve man, who in turn is created to serve his Creator, there is indeed "no rational basis" for granting humanity special status. "We're not the only species on the planet," reads one bumper sticker. "We only act like it."
A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy.
If PETA doesn't pull its punches, neither does G-d. In the book of Genesis, He lays out the order of Creation quite clearly. "Let us make man... and he will rule over the animals, and all living creatures of the earth."
And when G-d brings the Flood, he destroys all life, "from man to beast to crawling creatures."
Why destroy innocent animals when the sinners were the free-willed humans alone? Explains Rashi, the primary Torah commentator: "All was created for man; and since he is being destroyed, what need is there for [other living things]?"
The Torah's perspective is that animals do not have rights; humans, rather, have responsibilities toward them. The Torah prohibits cruelty to animals. Jewish law dictates even that your pets must be fed before you eat; and the Talmud tells a memorable tale about Rabbi Judah receiving terrible punishment for having failed to feel compassion for a calf frightened by a slaughterer's knife.
But the Torah's philosophy goes deeper. When a blessing is said before eating meat, spiritual "sparks" of holiness embedded in the animal it came from, a creature formed by G-d, are released, helping "repair" the world. And in a subtle, sublime way, the animal itself is thereby elevated beyond the parameters of animal existence.
In the end, Timothy McVeigh's final meal consisted of ice cream.
But even he was not a rat or a pig. He was something far higher on the scale of Creation, and thus something with infinitely more potential for good, and for evil. He was a human being who, tragically, chose to destroy other human beings - all of whom had been created, as he had been himself, in the image of G-d.
AM ECHAD RESOURCES
Sarah Cohen, part of Am Echad Resources' writing pool, is a teacher and writer in New York.