Mysticism of Milk and Meat

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Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

We are all aware of the prohibition of eating meat and milk together. In fact, the Torah cites this law three times, including once in Parshat Mishpatim. Here it is part of an unusual pairing in one verse: “The bikurim/choicest first fruit of your land shall you bring to the House of Hashem, your God; you shall not cook a kid in its mother’s milk.” While this kashrut law is generally considered a chok, a law whose reasoning remains unexplained to man, we, as humans, still try to derive some lessons for our lives from it. To this end, our Sages gain some insight both in the wording of the law and by its pairing with the law of bikurim.

This law of kashruth is so much a bedrock of our religion that the medrash uses it as a basis for Bnei Yisroel meriting receiving the Torah. According to the medrash, when Moshe ascended Har Sinai to receive the Torah for Bnei Yisroel, the angels objected, asserting that the Torah belonged to the angels, as people are unworthy of the Torah and would desecrate its laws. In response, Hashem pointed to the angels who had visited Avraham Avinu. Avraham fed them butter and meat, and the angels ate, in desecration of this law. The Torah observes that Avraham himself stood over them, serving them, but he himself did not eat. This argument, along with others cited elsewhere in the medrash, prevailed, and we humans on earth were privileged to receive the gift of Torah.

Man, like the angels, has a godly calling. It is this idea that permeates the writings of Rav S. R. Hirsch in general and this prohibition in particular. In animals, all energy is directed toward the physical, to sustain oneself and to reproduce, symbolized by the muscle of the meat and by the milk. In animals, the two work together toward that one physical goal. Man, however, is called upon to direct his energies to a higher calling, to understand that they are not both to be dedicated only to the physical, but to make a distinction between that which is absolutely required for sustenance from the actions dedicated to a higher service. Therefore, these two are not to be cooked together. Food is about making and understanding distinctions.

In this context, Rabbi Nevenzahl discusses why the transgression of eating meat and milk together, and by extension eating non kosher food, is so stringent. While all other transgressions remain external to us, writes Rabbi Nevenzahl, food, by definition, is absorbed and becomes part of the very cells of the blood that nourishes our being. The Torah declares, “The blood is the soul.” When we eat that which is forbidden, we are absorbing the negative characteristics not only into our bodies, but also into our souls and into our character. Even Moshe Rabbenu’s soul understood this and as an infant he already refused to nurse from an “impure” woman who worshiped idols. His pure mouth, destined to speak with Hashem Himself, should not defile itself, become tamei, through touching impure milk.

What is the characteristic that we can identify with cooking a kid in its mother’s milk? Here lies the ultimate ironic cruelty. That milk which is meant to nourish the baby now becomes the means to kill it and nourish humans instead! Rabbi Bachye explains this further. Milk, the symbol of compassion, is formed from the blood that nourishes it. But the red blood itself is associated with cruelty. When man ingests the milk, through the process of digestion, it reverts back to its original state, blood, and takes on the cruel character associated with blood.

Targum translates tamei as satum/closed off. By ingesting that which is tamei, we are blocking godly light from entering our godly soul. If multiple sequential generations eat non kosher food, the result may indeed be eroded and transformed spiritual DNA. Certainly one can do teshuvah and reverse the process, but being closed off, having it in your bloodstream makes the process difficult.

Eating also has the ability to elevate a person, notes Rabbi Nevenzahl. In addition to observing the laws of kashrut, eating properly includes self control and subduing the yetzer horo. So many processes go into eating, each with its own set of laws. Starting with acceptable food choices, continuing with food preparation and finally reciting the appropriate blessing both before and after eating. Going through the process elevates a person, teaching him self control. Unlike an animal who eats instinctively whenever it is hungry, man must delay his gratification and connect with Hashem before he eats. This process brings blessing to the crops, a blessing we bear witness to when we bring the first produce of the land to Hashem’s house.

In the context of self control, Rav Revivo in Minchas Michoel explains our previous medrash. The angels, who normal do not eat or drink, were so awed by how Avraham Avinu went beyond the norm to welcome guests, that they too went beyond their norm and ate. But Avraham himself restrained himself and did not eat, proving that man deserves the Torah and is capable of observing its laws.

Just as one brings the bikurim to the Beit Hamikdosh but may bring nothing impure into the Beit Hamikdosh, so too does man bring food into his body, his personal Beit Hamikdosh. Similarly, he may not defile his personal Beit Hamikdosh with impure foods, writes Rabbi Avigdor Miller quoted in Letitcha Elyon. Unfortunately, we do not have the Beit Hamikdosh today. How can we still connect to this eternal mitzvah, asks Rabbi Gamliel Rabinowitz? By allusion, we know that Shabbat is a mini Gan Eden, and the Mikdosh was a symbolic recreation of Eden, when we enter Shabbat, we are symbolically entering the Beit Hamikdosh. Just as the farmer prepares the first fruit to bring to the Mikdosh, so can each of us prepare to buy and save special food for Shabbat. We take this special food, whether a specific treat [candy for children] or a favorite recipe, we elevate it by bringing it into the Mikdosh of our home on Shabbat. In the process, we restrain and elevate ourselves.

The Shvilei Pinchas discusses all the kedushah/sanctity that Hashem imbued each part of the world with at their moment of creation. The world consists of four categories of matter domem/mineral, tzomeach/vegetable, chai/animal and Hamedaber/the one who speaks/Man. Through the process of creation, Hashem established an order in that each category would receive its sustenance from the category below it. We see that plants get their nourishment from the elements and minerals in the earth. Then the animals eat plants. Finally, man eats animals. At each stage of consumption in this hierarchy, the sparks of sanctity in the lower realms are ingested and digested, elevating the status of the original sparks to the status of its consumer. If, however, man does not utilize the nourishment and energy he derives from eating these foods to serve Hashem, then those sparks remain at their lower lever, never achieving the rectification and elevation of their potential.

The Shvilei Pinchas, citing the Ben Ish Chai, now discusses why we wait after eating meat before eating dairy, yet we do not wait [except minimally] in the reverse. justice dissipates, and one may consume the dairy. Milk represents Chesed, and meat represents din, strict justice. The Talmud discusses a situation wherein hot food falls on cold food, one being meat, and one being milk, which of the two dominates? We follow the position of Shemuel that the bottom one is the key factor. Hence, if one eats milk, and then meat, the one eaten first, in this case, milk, chesed, will become the dominant force. However, if one eats meat, one hast to wait until the meat is digested, to allow the ‘din’ to be totally mitigated before eating milk, chesed.

Here the Shvilei Pinchas goes back to the medrash we discussed earlier. He cites the Daas Zekainim who read the verse to say that Avraham Avinu fed the angels meat cooked in milk, thereby disqualifying them from receiving the Torah. However, the order of the verses implies that the angels ate the dairy first and then ate the meat, in accordance with our human law. What was their error?

The dispute on the halachah focused on the position of the food, what was on top and what was on bottom. We pasken that with the dairy on the bottom, we may eat meat after dairy. Here down on earth, this is the halachah. However, the angels from heaven felt that the deciding factor was what was on top. Hence, when they ate dairy first, which became the ‘bottom’ they then were not allowed to eat meat, since then the meat, din, on the top became the dominant force. That’s why they had to release the Torah to Moshe who would bring it down to Bnei Yisroel.

But we now have an additional question. Hashem Himself tempered absolute justice with compassion when He created the world. While all of “nature” was created with the name Elokhim, once Man was created, Hashem added the four lettered name, teaching us that Hashem mixes absolute justice with mercy and compassion, or the world would cease to exist. According to our Sages, Adam was meant to be a vegetarian, consuming only milk from the animal kingdom. Through the milk itself, Man would find those sparks of holiness in animals and elevate them. After Adam sinned, he could no longer elevate the sparks from the milk alone. To eat milk and meat together, would bring ‘embarrassment’ to the meat, that it needs more steps through shechita, and the other process to be able to ‘raise the sparks.’ Just the consumption of milk, achieves this same purpose, and is far less cumbersome. Eating the meat, din, is a reminder of the fall of Adam, and the need to elevate the sparks.

Thus the ultimate purpose of eating is to elevate the sparks within these other tiers. Herein lies the connection between bikurim and this puzzling law of kashrut. We are commanded to bring gifts of produe to the kohanim, and he is to lift it up and wave it. That physical lifting of the wheat and fruit is an elevation to sanctity reserved for the kohein. But the ordinary person can also elevate the mundane food by separating the meat from the milk and sanctifying the food with brachot. When we bring the first fruits to the kohein, his raising it up brings down blessings of plentiful crops to all of Bnei Yisroel, writes the Mishchat Zion. When we brought the bikurim, it was a rectification of Adam’s sin.

Rabbi Mintzberg in Ben Melech focuses on a completely different aspect of cooking a kid in its mother’s milk. Rabbi Mintzberg quotes the Rambam who suggests that this form of cooking was a hallmark of avodah zoro/idol worship, and is the antithesis of our belief. They claimed that just as the milk enables the kid to grow, it also enables the meat to be eaten. The milk and the meat are all they need. On the other hand, Bnei Yisroel knows that everything comes from Hashem. By bringing the first fruits to Hashem, we are distancing ourselves from the other nations and declaring that everything comes from Hashem. By taking the fruit of his toil and bringing it to Hashem, Bnei Yisroel is again declaring that it all comes from Hashem, adds Rabbi Roberts. Again by bringing the bikurim, we recognize that “nature” is the constant miracle of Hakododsh Boruch Hu, adds Rabbi Bernstein.

Rabbi Mintzberg notes that, “Thou shall not cook a kid in its mother’s milk,” is repeated three times in the Torah. Citing the Mechilta, he suggests that these three times are meant to parallel the three times Hashem established His covenant with Bnei Yisroel. The first time was at Sinai, when Bnei Yisroel accepted the Torah; Then on the plains of Moav; finally as Bnei Yisroel stood on the parallel mountains of Grizim and Evol, heard the blessings and the curses, and again accepted the conditions of their covenant with Hakodosh Boruch Hu.

The Chayei Moshe notes that Hashem commanded man to eat on two different occasions. He first told Adam to eat of all the trees, and later He told Noach that he could eat animals. The message of this verse is that both the vegetation and meat come from Hashem. Live your life and eat your food in a way befitting a moral human being, earn your living without becoming cruel to others you feel are blocking your success.

The Tosher Rebbe begins with a kabbalistic thought, but then adapts it so that we can use it. The kid represents the outer negative forces. Don’t let those overpower you. You can maintain your positive control with the way you begin, with your reishit, like the first fruit. When you wake up each morning, acknowledge Hashem, recite Modeh Ani with the intention that you will be dedicating this day to Hashem. But, adds Rabbi Pincus, note that you are beginning with gratitude, not with Ani/I.

Hashem has given us so many ways to connect to Him, We can garner such great lessons even from something s simple as the food we eat.