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The Custom of Eating Dairy on Shavuot

 

By Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Bregman 

One of the well-known Minhagim associated with the Yom Tov of Shavuot is a custom to eat dairy products on Shavuot. Many people have the practice of eating a dairy meal followed by a meat meal on the first day. Where did this custom come from?

TWO LOAVES

This Minhag is connected to a verse in Parshas Pinchas (Bamidbar 28:26) which relates that, "On the day of the first-fruits, when you offer a new meal-offering to Hashem on your Festival of Weeks (Chadasha La'Shem B'shavuoseychem), it shall be a holy convocation to you." The "new meal offering" referenced in this verse refers to the Shtei HaLechem, the two loaves of wheat bread made from the new crop and brought to the Temple on Shavuot. What does this have to do with meat and dairy meals? There is a well-known halacha that the same piece of bread cannot be served with both meat and dairy foods, because it might have been touched during the meat or dairy meal and residue might have been transferred to the bread. This is the circumstance that will require a person to have two loaves.

Now, with all of this information, one can understand the words of the Rema (Orach Chaim 494). Based on what we have said above, Rema explains that on Shavuot we first eat dairy and then meat to require ourselves to use two loaves of bread, to invoke the memory of the Shtei HaLechem brought in the Temple on Shavuot!

Now, if you're thinking that this Minhag to eat dairy on Shavuot derives from a slightly forced understanding of the "new meal-offering" of our pasuk, then one should bear in mind the following observation made by Mateh Moshe. He points out that the words of our pasuk, "Chadasha La'Shem B'shavuoseychem," which deal with the Shtei HaLechem loaves of bread, begin with the letters ח, ל, andב, which spell the word "Chalav," ie. dairy! Surely it's not a coincidence that the very words which tell us of the mitzvah of the two loaves on Shavuot, also hints to their connection to dairy. To the contrary, it is the mitzvah of the Shtei HaLechem which triggers the Minhag of the dairy products on Shavuot.

A WINNING ARUGMENT

The following is a second, little-known explanation for the custom to eat a dairy meal on Shavuot: The Gemara in Shabbos 88b tells us there was a debate between Moshe and the angels as to who should receive the Torah. Moshe ultimately won this argument. However, Midrash Shochar Tov (Tehillim 8) says that after the Chet HaEgel (sin of the Golden Calf), the angels were happy and wanted the Torah back, because we had violated the prohibition of serving other gods. In response, Hashem said to them, "Not so fast!" Referencing Bereishis 18:8, which says, "He [Avraham] took cream and milk and the calf which he had prepared, and placed these before them [the angels]; he stood over them beneath the tree and they ate," Hashem reminded the angels that they too had violated the Torah, when they ate meat and milk in Avraham's tent. [note: it is a machlokes if the angels merely appeared to eat, or actually ate. Bava Metzia 86b says they merely appeared to eat, but Tosafos there brings from Seder Eliyahu Rabba that they actually literally ate, which is the thrust of this Midrash] At any rate, the angels couldn't answer the charge, and we were able to keep the Torah. So why do we eat dairy meals on Shavuot, or dairy course followed by meat meal? Because we got to keep the Torah because we know these halachos and how to handle dairy followed by meat, and the angels did not!

INTERNAL COOKING

Chanukas HaTorah asks a question on this Midrash. The thrust of the Midrashim is that we are dealingwith Issurei D'Oraisa (Torah-level prohibitions), such as serving other gods and cooking meat together with milk. This was the substance of the debate in terms of who'd get to receive or keep the Torah. There is no evidence in the pasuk cited above to suggest that Avraham cooked meat and milk together. And that's important, because the Torah-level prohibition is that one cannot cook meat and milk together; Rabbinic law adds that one may not eat meat and milk together even if they are not cooked. So what's the objection on the angels if the meat and milk they consumed wasn't cooked together?

One answer is based on the opinion in Halacha whether cooking can take place inside someone's body. Therefore, since the Torah says that an angel is made of Eish (fire), the cooking of the meat and milk took place inside of them!


Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Bregman is Founder of the Jewish Executive Learning Network (JELN), a Lakewood-based organization that shares the beauty of Torah study with college students and young professional men in their 20's and 30's in the New York City area and beyond. His JELN classes are available at TorahAnytime.com and JRouteRadio.com (97.5 FM in Brooklyn). In addition to his communal work, Rabbi Bregman manages his own law firm, specializing in Corporate Law and Trusts & Estates. He may be contacted at bregmanlaw@aol.com.

 



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