The Torah in Parashat Re’ei addresses the subject of “besar ta’ava” – meat which one decides to eat for enjoyment, and not as part of a sacrificial offering to God. Moshe tells Benei Yisrael that when they enter Eretz Yisrael, and would not live close to the Beit Ha-mikdash – the way they lived close to the Mishkan in the wilderness – they would be allowed to eat meat even outside the framework of sacrificial offerings (12:20-21). Rashi (12:20), following the view of Rabbi Yishmael (Chulin 17a), explains that in the wilderness, Benei Yisrael were forbidden from eating meat outside the framework of sacrificial offerings; the only meat that was allowed was the meat of sacrifices. Moshe now instructs that once Benei Yisrael enter the Land of Israel, they would be permitted to slaughter animals and partake of their meat even without offering sacrifices.
The Torah formulates the command by envisioning the people verbally expressing their desire for meat: “When the Lord your God expands your boundaries…and you say, ‘I shall eat meat,’ because your soul will desire meat, then you shall eat as much meat as your soul desires.” Rather than speaking simply about the time when the people wish to eat meat, the Torah speaks of the time when they will “say” that they wish to eat meat. The Midrash Tanchuma, interestingly enough, explains that the Torah refers here to a man expressing this wish to his wife. Commenting on this verse, the Midrash writes, “From here you learn that a person should not purchase [even] a litra of meat before consulting with his household.” In other words, the Midrash Tanchuma understood the verse as implying that one should first consult with his wife before deciding to purchase meat.
Rav Zalman Sorotzkin, in his Oznayim La-Torah, explains the Midrash as referring to the imposition involved in meat consumption. As meat was considered a luxury food item, and its preparation entailed a great deal of work, the Torah urged husbands not to purchase meat without first assuring that their wives were willing to put in the work necessary to prepare it.
Others, however, explained the Midrash differently, in light of the Gemara’s comments about this verse later in Masekhet Chulin. The Torah, as cited, speaks here of a time when “the Lord your God expands your boundaries” – referring, on the simple level of interpretation, to geographic expansion, which made it unfeasible to bring an animal sacrifice each time one wished to eat meat. However, the Gemara (Chulin 84a), as Rashi cites in his comments to this verse, interpreted this phrase as referring more generally to wealth and comfort. According to the Gemara, the Torah here alludes to the fact that one should not indulge in luxuries – such as meat – unless he enjoys “rachavat yadayim” – material comfort. We should exercise fiscal discipline and live within our means, rather than crave comforts which we cannot easily afford, and thus the Torah indicates that “besar ta’ava” is allowed only after God “expands your boundaries” in the sense of blessing the people with material prosperity. If, indeed, the Torah speaks of a time when people enjoy a degree of wealth and thus seek to enjoy meat, then the teaching that one must consult his or her spouse before purchasing could be understood in this light. Namely, the Gemara teaches a simple measure of derekh eretz (common courtesy), that even when money is available for luxuries, a spouse should not take the liberty to make these decisions without the other spouse. This is a decision that should be made jointly, and not imposed by one spouse over the other.