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Shavuos: Transforming Judgment into Mercy

ראשית בכורי אדמתך תביא בית ה' אלקיך לא תבשל גדי בחלב אמו.

“The first-ripened fruit of your land shall be brought to the House of Hashem your G-d; you shall not cook a goat in its mother’s milk.” (Shemos 23:19)

In the times of the Bais Hamikdash, the Jews of Eretz Yisroel would bring the first fruits of their crops to the House of Hashem in Yerushalayim. What is the connection between this beautiful and joyous mitzvah, known as Bikkurim, and the prohibition against eating meat and milk together? Why are these two commandments mentioned in the same verse?

There is an interesting statement in Tikunim, where it says that Eliyahu Hanavi was told to explain the above-mentioned verse, because otherwise the people will eat meat and milk together. This statement seems rather puzzling. Why would the simple meaning of this verse cause people to eat meat and milk together, making it necessary for Eliyahu Hanavi to give a special explanation?

The Chavas Daas once met the Ateres Tzvi and the two great tzaddikim discussed various Torah topics. Among others, the Chavas Daas asked the Ateres Tzvi to explain this interesting statement in Tikunim. The Ateres Tzvi said as follows: “Eliyahu Hanavi was told to explain that although these two mitzvahs appear in the same verse, people should not mistakenly assume that just as Bikkurim is only fulfilled in Eretz Yisroel, so too the prohibition against eating meat and milk together only pertains to those living in Eretz Yisroel.” In other words, although both commandments are mentioned in the same verse, there is a distinctive difference between them, which is important to recognize and must be clearly explained so that people should not mistakenly draw the wrong conclusions.

We are still left with the question: Why are these seemingly unrelated commandments mentioned together? The Chiddushei Harim explains this by saying that this verse hints at the custom of eating dairy foods on Shevuos. Shevuos is the Yom Tov of Bikkurim; in fact, this mitzvah is one of the names of the chag. The verse is telling us that during the Yom Tov when we bring the first-ripened fruits to Jerusalem, on that very day we must be careful with the prohibition against eating meat and dairy together. In order to demonstrate that we are indeed careful with this prohibition, we eat dairy foods on this holiday. If we would just be eating meat, as we usually do on Yom Tov, this wouldn’t prove that we are careful with this commandment. By eating dairy foods on Shevuos and then waiting the necessary amount of time before consuming meat, we show our understanding that although these two commandments are mentioned together, the prohibition against eating meat with dairy applies everywhere, not just in Eretz Yisroel; it has been placed in this verse due to the custom of eating dairy on Shevuos - the “Chag Habikuurim.”

Although the Torah does not reveal the reason behind the prohibition against combining meat and dairy, our sages give various explanations about this mitzvah. One reason is that meat, with its red color, symbolizes din – judgment, while milk, with its white color, symbolizesrachamim – mercy. When the colors red and white are combined, the end result is a red-colored product. If a person combines meat and milk, he symbolically removes the rachamim– the Divine mercy, and brings harsh judgment to the world.

However, there is one situation in which “the blood is eliminated and it turns into milk.” This happens with every lactating mother, and symbolizes the ultimate Divine mercy, in which the concept of din is destroyed at its source.

Shevuos is the culmination of seven weeks of spiritual toil. For fifty days, the Jewish people prepared themselves to be worthy of receiving the Torah. When Shevuos arrives, the Jewish people have finally achieved a very high level of perfection, which is Kabbalistically termedImah Ilaha – from the root-word “mother,” indicating that Divine judgment is suspended and Hashem’s mercy envelopes us instead. We therefore eat dairy foods on Shevuos, to indicate that Hashem’s mercy has overtaken all forms of din.

The Gemara (Pesachim 68b) says: “All sages agree that on Shevuos one must also be for himself.” This means that besides for the spiritual aspect of the Yom Tov, the person must also enjoy this holy day with special foods and drinks. When Moshe ascended to Heaven in order to receive the Torah, the angels protested, saying: “What does a mortal seek here amongst us?” Moshe’s response to the angels’ challenge was that indeed, because we are mortals, the Torah is meant for us. “Do you eat and drink that you should be able to perform all of the commandments associated with eating and drinking?” Moshe countered. Indeed, because we must eat and drink, the Torah was meant for us! Although when a person eats and drinks he may bring upon himself the opposition of the heavenly angels, in this case, the fact that humans must eat and drink served as a rebuttal to the demands of the angels. Once again, we see how the din – the very source of judgment, turned into rachamim – mercy, and brought a favorable outcome in the dispute between Moshe and the angels. The fact that humans must eat was Moshe’s winning argument, and therefore all sages agree that on Shevuos we are required to eat and drink in a festive manner.

True, we are mere mortals, but if we follow the commandments of the Torah, we can transform the world and inspire Hashem’s mercy forever.

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