[Rabbi Chaim Vital relates:] The following are the meditations my master [the Arizal] of sainted memory taught to Rabbi Yitzchak Cohen, of blessed memory.

The Jewish people were given the commandment to slaughter animals according to specific rules before eating their meat: "You must slaughter any of your herd or flock, which G‑d has given you, as I have commanded you. Only then may you eat [of them] in your gates as much as you desire." (Deut. 12:21) Spiritualization of the physical flesh depends a great deal on the purity of thought and intentions…

In contrast to an everyday butcher, the ritual slaughterer [called a "shochet" in Hebrew] in Judaism is a position of great honor. In order to be a shochet, a person should ideally be of exemplary character, a Torah scholar, pious, and G‑d-fearing - in addition to being well-versed in the laws of ritual slaughter and expert in their performance. This is because, as we will see, the act of ritual slaughter - the first stage towards the eventual consumption of the flesh by the Jew - is an intensely spiritual act, and the spiritualization of the physical flesh depends a great deal on the purity of thought and intentions of the shochet.

As you know, regarding the mystical intentions one should have while eating, all creatures of this world need to be rectified and refined. This is in order that they reach the spiritual level of the primal matter of which they were made when the world was created.

The primordial sin, that of eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil, caused a spiritual fall in the ability of material creation to sustain spiritual consciousness. Our task in life is to refine the physical world so that it can once again be receptive to this level of divine awareness.

This [level of refinement] is similar to [that exemplified by] the donkey of Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair.

Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair was a Talmudic sage. His donkey refused to eat untithed barley. (Chulin 7a) It happens many times that human souls are reincarnated into animals…

In addition, it happens many times that human souls are reincarnated into animals. If the animal is slaughtered with the proper intentions, its helps extricate the reincarnated soul from the punishment it is undergoing. It can then re-enter a human body the next time it enters this world, as it was meant to originally.

There are thus two basic objectives of ritual slaughter: to elevate the spiritual nature of the material animal flesh, and, in sporadic instances, to help the reincarnated soul finish its process of rectification.

The mystical purpose of ritual slaughter, then, is to sweeten all the judgments.

Both the descent [i.e. de-spiritualization] of material reality and the rectification process of the reincarnated soul are manifestations of G‑d's attribute of judgment (which was invoked in the first place by the sin or wrongdoing of man). Counteracting this attribute by spiritualizing reality is called "sweetening" the judgment.

[Note: Certain Talmudic sages are also known to have known various animal languages.]

One Thursday, we were sitting before my master, and a goat came up to us and placed its two front paws on the table. My master began to converse with it in its language. He then told me to go buy this goat, and have it slaughtered for Shabbat. He then told Rabbi Moshe Sofino to slaughter it according to the [above detailed] meditations. […] When I later asked my teacher what this soul did that it had to be punished by being reincarnated into this goat, he said that this soul was a great scholar from Talmudic times who had engaged in marital relations with his wife by candlelight. May G‑d preserve us, Amen.

Marital relations are supposed to be conducted in the dark, for reasons of modesty and intimacy. The Hebrew word for "goat" ["eiz"] also reads as "brash" [in Hebrew, "az"].

Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Shaar HaMitzvot and Taamei HaMitzvot; subsequently published in "Apples From the Orchard." available at Kabbala Online Shop]

Reprinted with permission from Chabad of California. Copyright 2004 by Chabad of California, Inc. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this work or portions thereof, in any form, without permission, in writing, from Chabad of California, Inc.