Milk Meat and Gratitude
…לא תבשל גדי בחלב אמו (יד:כא). “…Do not cook a kid goat in its mother’s milk” (14:21).
The prohibition of mixing milk and meat is repeated three times in the Torah. Chazal tell us that this is in order to prohibit three things: (1) cooking, (2) eating, and (3) deriving pleasure from this mixture. The Mechiltah comments that these three occurrences correspond to the three covenants which the Jews made with Hashem in acceptance of His Torah and mitzvos. The three times were: Sinai, Arvos Moav and Har Gerizim.
What’s the Connection?
This perplexing comment needs much understanding. What is the connection between accepting to follow the Torah and the prohibition of milk and meat? The two seemingly have nothing to do with each other?! To explain this we must understand the prohibition of basar b’chalav, milk and meat, more deeply. It is important to stress that this prohibition is a chok, a law whose reasoning and logic cannot be grasped by human comprehension. We adhere to it solely because Hashem commanded us to do so. However, many commentators offer partial lessons which we can learn from this chok. They are thoughts hinting to ethics, not full explanations, because it is unexplainable.
The following thought is based on my understanding of how the Ralbag explains a lesson which can be derived from this law. It is both fascinating and relevant. Imagine that you visit your dear mother and she has prepared for you your favorite chocolate cream cake! As you sit and savor a piece, she asks if you could please be so kind as to take out the garbage when you get a chance… Now imagine the following two outcomes and note which one is more disturbing.
Scenario A: You adamantly refuse to perform the requested chore and do not take out the trash. Scenario B: You refuse to take out the garbage and instead you take the remainder of her delicious cake and smash it into her face, cream first, in protest! Obviously, the first option is inappropriate, but the second response is unbelievably terrible and horrifying. You used her cake, which she lovingly made for you, against her!
Similarly, when one takes the milk of a mother cow, which she provided you with to enjoy, and one uses it to cook her little baby with, one is performing this same horrible act! Now, the Torah allows us to eat both milk or meat, separately, so what is the depth here? Here is the punch line: The Ribbono Shel Olam provides us with a body and put us on this earth to earn perfection and greatness. He gives us the ability to act and to move. Every time that we perform a sin, we are taking the exact gift of our body and life, which Hashem gave us so lovingly, and using it against Him! We are figuratively smashing a pie into His face! This is the ultimate insurgence!
These words are powerful and quite enlightening! This, says the Ralbag, is a small lesson that is partially hinted at by the prohibition of cooking milk and meat together. On a positive note: Firstly, when we sin, we certainly do not intend to spite Hashem, rather we are overcome with desire and surely Hashem understands this. One should not linger in guilt for his sins, rather, he should use this parable to inspire him to be more careful.
Secondly, we now have an answer to our original quandary as to how milk and meat relates to the three covenants of the Torah. The lesson is one of gratitude. If the person in our above scenario would have contemplated how much his mother does for him, his heart would have been filled with love and gratitude. He would have ran to assist her in any way possible. So too, when one realizes how much Hashem does for him, cares for him and provides him with, he will become inspired to follow Hashem lovingly and faithfully. He will have gratitude and appreciation and this will inspire him to renew his commitment to the will of Hashem. He will, in short, excitedly accept to follow the Torah and mitzvos! This, I believe, is the connection between the ban on milk and meat and the three covenants we made with Hashem, they signify gratitude and service!
כי פתוח תפתח את ידך לו… די מחסרו אשר יחסר לו (טו:ח).
“Open your hands…. and provide him with what he lacks” (15:8).
Hashem commands us to take care of our fellow brothers who are lacking things. However, the verse is very generous in its command. We are not told to simply provide him with food and clothes, the basic necessities. The Torah adds an entire emotional dimension to the commandment. Provide him with the objects he lacks according to his normal standards!
This is how Chazal (Kesubos 67b) explain the verse. Hillel the Elder once provided a poor man with all of his previous needs including a horse to pull him and a servant to announce his travels before him. One day, a servant was not available and so Hillel did the job himself, running and announcing for many miles! Hillel understood that this was a necessity for this man. Additionally, Chazal learn from the word, “לו, to him,” that we must also find a wife for the needy person (as it says: אעשה לו עזר כנגדו). What is the lesson being taught here?
The verse in Tehillim (41:2) states, “praiseworthy is the one that takes care of the poor with cleverness, in his own time of need, Hashem will rescue him”. What is this special and clever way that he takes care of the poor and why is it such a great merit?
The Yerushalmi Peah (37b) comments, “caring with cleverness, refers to one that deals with the someone in need with utmost sensitivity, to figure out how to provide for him in the most comfortable and dignified way”. Yerushalmi further states that when Rabbi Yonah would see someone that lost all of his money he would go over and offer him a loan to help him get back on his feet, all the while saving face of the bankrupt man by telling him, “I heard that a great inheritance is coming your way; you can pay me back when it arrives”. The man would accept the loan comfortably. When the man recovered, he would come back to repay Rabbi Yonah, who would then refuse repayment, stating that it was a gift.
Indeed, Chovos HaLevavos states that the true perspective of money is that Hashem endowed us with money to be the treasurer to assure that the correct address receives it.
The lesson is that when one gives, it should be done with individualized sensitivity. Firstly, one must assess what the person’s standards are and help them recover to that point. His personal needs are of utmost importance. Secondly, the Torah encourages us to calculate and plan how to give the help in a way that the one in need is not embarrassed or insulted by it. This is the ultimate sensitivity. This is what is means to be clever when giving. When one exhibits such care and sensitivity, Hashem Himself comes to his rescue in his own time of need. Just as he gave individual and sensitive attention to the need of others, so too, correspondingly, Hashem repays him with individualized care and attention.
This brings us to the theme of marriage. This concept is most relevant here as this is the entire theme of marriage, giving with care and sensitivity. The epitome of a true and deep relationship is the appreciation of the other person’s individual feelings and needs.
The Torah sets high standards for sensitivity. When we learn the lesson of care and respect, our relationships will become greatly enhanced and even more fulfilling!
The commentators discuss the interesting tense found in the opening verse of Parshas Re’eh. Hashem states that behold I have placed (in present tense) before you the choice of blessing (reward for good actions) or curses (punishment for bad actions). What is being said here?
The Vilna Goan points out that the implication is that the choice for good and evil is not a one time decision per action. Rather, at each stage one continues to have freewill. The meaning is that even if one chose to do something evil, he should never feel that it is too late to reverse that choice. One is granted the freewill to choose to change the course of his actions.
Hashem knows that we are human and at times can make the wrong choices, He therefore encourages us to rethink our path and make the adjustments which the Torah teaches us how to life by.
Everyone is looking for happiness. Billboards, advertisement, books, speeches, cereal boxes and personal goals are all filled with this quest. The Torah tells us the straight answer to this question. The Torah is the guide for achieving happiness. There is no other way.
The Two Mountains
The Jews stood by Har Gerizin and Har Eival and heard about the blessings for those that keep the Torah and the curses for those that don’t follow the law. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (1895 – 1986) reads the verse in Devarim (11:27) to state, “The blessing comes from one who listens to the Torah.” He states that it is true that many good rewards are promised as well. This all stems from listening to the Torah. The curses also express terrible punishment for those that need to be reprimanded for not following the Torah, but again, the main curse is the fact that one did not follow the Torah in itself.
The Mesillas Yesharim states that Hashem put us in this world in order that we can succeed and achieve pleasure in this world and the next. Many people mistakenly think that the main focus is on the next world. While it is true that one’s Olam HaBah is of eternal significance and lasts forever and thus requires much attention, one’s pleasure in this world is also very important. Hashem put us in a world which He created. He made it in a way that success and fulfillment can only be achieved through hard work and focus. Winning the lottery is not a ticket for a guaranteed happy life. The Torah and mitzvos express the deepest and most beautiful truth available in the world. One who delves into the depth of Torah will be electrified by its brilliance, beauty and truth. One who studies and performs the mitzvos will experience the most special and enjoyable days of Shabbos, Yom Tov and every day!
One who studies the world and strives to see Hashem’s Guiding Hand in life will be moved by the deep recognition of His Presence. He will see how Hashem takes care of his needs and brings out salivations in a most amazing way. I read a most powerful example of this in the book called A Living Mishnas Rav Aharon by Rabbi Yitzchok Dershowitz. In the summer of 1937, Rav Shneur Kotler zt”l (1918 – 1982) then 19, began to suffer from major abdominal pains. His parent, Rabbi Aharon Kotler zt”l (1891 – 1962) and his wife Chana Perel a”h rushed him to a local military doctor in their hometown of Kletzk, who diagnosed him with an appendicitis. They tried to contact doctors in local towns but to no avail. They quickly headed onto a train to take a five hour journey to Vilna where a qualified surgeon would perform the operation.
They ordered a sleeper compartment so that Shnuer could rest however when they tried to open the door it would not budge. Shnuer was unable to stand and so they simply lied him down in the next room over and went to get help to sort out the room issue. The next time that Rav Aharon tried the door it simply opened but Shneur was unable to move. Shortly thereafter, the passenger who was designated to that other room woke up. He was a famous Jewish-Polish attorney named Tchernikov. When he saw Shnuer’s ice pack and the agony he was in he asked for details. They explained the situation and he advised that they should get off at the next stop in 30 minutes in Baronovitch and get it done there as it would be dangerous to wait any longer. Rabbi Kotler informed him that they had tried to get an appointment with the surgeon in Baronovitz but were unable to. Tchernikov said that he had phone privileges when they arrive in the Baronovitz train station and he would take care of it for them. When they arrived Tchernikov made a quick call and informed the Kotler family that the doctor was waiting for them. They quickly disembarked and the surgery was successful. Rav Aharon wrote Tchernikov a letter thanking him. He wrote, “…words cannot adequately thank you for helping to save my son’s life… one thing that I wish to share with you as a reward and benefit is to point out to you that you yourself were a part of Hashgachas Hashem, the Providence of Hashem, and you had the merit to witness it with your own eyes!”