On Shevuos, we have the custom of eating dairy products. One of the reasons for this custom is because the Torah is compared to milk, as it says (Shir Hashirim 4:11) “Honey and milk underneath your tongue.”
The Torah is in fact compared to several things, milk and honey being just two of them. Rashi gives us a beautiful hint that he mentions several times (Devarim 11:13; ibid. 26:16; ibid. 27:9). He cites the verse, “Every day, the Torah shall be like new in your eyes.” The word “chadashim – like new” is an acronym for the Hebrew words milk, honey, oil, wine, and water. These are the five things to which the Torah is being compared. Once again, we must ask why on Shevuos we eat only dairy, and not the other foods to which the Torah is likened.
The custom of eating dairy on Shevuos conveys a powerful message: the other food products – honey, oil, wine and water – do not spoil. They can be put away for a long time. In fact, some of them get better with time. Milk, on the other hand, must be consumed while fresh. Otherwise, it turns sour and can no longer be used. Today is Shevuos. We have just received the Torah, and we are being reminded that Torah is compared to milk. We should “consume” it immediately! Every day, the Torah shall be like new in our eyes. We should not put it away to learn some other time, but we shall savor it this very moment! This message can be seen in the verse (Shemos 19:5) “And now if you will listen…” Rashi explains: “If you will listen now it will be sweet for you from now onward.” If you listen to the Torah right now, if you do not put it away for when you will have more time to learn, it will be sweet for you like fresh milk.
Today, on Shevuos, is the yartzeit of Rabbi Chaim Avrohom Duber, known as the “Malach.” He lived in New York at the beginning of the past century. He said that if a person learns diligently during the three days before Shevuos, he can acquire a special hasmada – diligence for Torah study – for the entire year. And those who realize now, on Yom Tov, that they did not learn diligently before Yom Tov, what should they do? They should live by the verse, “And every day shall be like new in your eyes.” We can start anew every single day. Now especially, when by eating dairy we are remembering the power of “now,” we can indeed make a fresh start and renew ourselves spiritually.
Another reason for eating milk on Shevuos is because milk is a baby’s first food. Milk is the most wholesome source of nutrition for newborn infants. The other food products, honey, wine and oil, are not given to infants. Even water is not considered necessary for babies who are fed milk.
The Torah is our single source of nourishment. Every Jewish baby is born with a share in the Torah. You do not have to be an adult to benefit from the Torah’s light. Torah is our birthright, our inheritance. The angels learn Torah with every Jewish baby while still in the womb. Therefore, every Jew remains attached to the Torah forever. We can never be parted from the Torah!
On Shevuos, we have the custom of staying up all night studying Torah. Our Rabbis tell us that the Jewish people went to sleep before receiving the Torah, and they slept in late the following morning. Moshe Rabbeinu actually had to wake them up so that they should be present during Matan Torah. In order to rectify this mistake, we are up all night studying.
Why indeed did Bnei Yisroel go to sleep before receiving the Torah? How could they sleep late on such a day? Would we ever miss a sibling’s wedding by sleeping late? How could the Jewish people do this?
The Torah has four parts, the most advanced part being sod – the deep secrets hidden in the Torah. This level of Torah cannot be mastered when one is steeped in materialism and physicality. A person must first achieve a higher level of existence in order to master the secrets of the Torah. Truly great people were able to perceive many of the Torah’s secrets during their sleep. While their bodies, their physical beings, were at rest, their souls were able to climb higher and discover a deeper level of Torah.
It is known that the holy Chozeh of Lublin kept his eyes covered for seven full years. When he removed the covering, his eyesight was weak, yet he was called the Seer because of his awesome ability to see things going on all over the world. His abilities were rooted in the world of atzilus – beyond the physical.
We can assume that this was what Bnei Yisroel aspired to. They wanted to receive the Torah along with all of its secrets. They thought that in their sleep they would be able to master the deeper, mystical parts of the Torah that cannot be learned when awake.
However, the verse tells us that “Moshe went out to greet Hashem.” Moshe wanted Bnei Yisroel to accept the Torah in the physical world. Otherwise, if future generations will fall short of their ancestors’ accomplishments and no longer be able to grasp the secrets of the Torah, they will be left without the Torah, G-d forbid. It was imperative that Bnei Yisroel accept the Torah while awake, while fully rooted in the physical world.
This is hinted at in the verse, “And Hashem lowered Himself on Mount Sinai.” Hashem descended to the physical world and gave us the Torah right here, in a form that human beings can accept.
By staying up the entire night of Shevuos, we are proving that we can live in both worlds. Although we are indeed physical beings, we are studying Torah all night, putting aside our bodies’ desire for rest. True, we are not mastering the Torah’s deepest secrets during our sleep, but we are mastering the Torah’s beautiful words while awake during the wee hours of the morning!