We celebrate Shavuot this weekend. It is the second of the three pilgrimage festivals. Originally it was the celebration of the spring harvest. In rabbinic times, a new meaning was added to the holiday: the celebration of the Israelites receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai.
There are many customs on the holiday such as reading the Ten Commandments, staying up all night studying, reading the Book of Ruth and of course eating dairy foods. That last one, eating dairy foods is a bit of a conundrum. Where and when did the custom of eating dairy arise?
There are several reasons given for the custom. I will share just a couple.
1. When the Jewish people received the Torah they received final instructions on how to properly slaughter animals - they had not followed the laws up until that point so all of their meat and cooking utensils were not kosher. The only alternative was to eat dairy which did not require any preparation. Since revelation was on Shabbat, they could not kasher new utensils and prepare kosher meat.
2. The Torah itself is likened to milk, as the verse says, "Like honey and milk (the Torah) lies under your tongue. Just as milk has the ability to sustain the body, the Torah provides spiritual nourishment for the soul.”
3. Using Gematria (interpretation through numerology of Hebrew letters) the Hebrew word for milk, Chalav is spelled Chet- Lamed -Bet, Chet - 8, Lamed - 30 and Bet - 2 = 40. The number 40 has a lot of significance in the Torah especially in connection with the exodus from Egypt and revelation. Moses spent 40 days on Mt. Sinai getting the Torah, 40 days praying and atoning for the sin of the Golden Calf, 40 days getting the second set of tablets.
So crack out your cheesecake pans and fry up your blintzes and don’t forget your Lactaid pills.
Rabbi Bradley Tecktiel has been Midbar Kodesh Temple's spiritual leader since August 2008. Rabbi Tecktiel was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in May of 1996. He holds two Bachelor of Arts degrees, one from List College and one from Columbia University. He also holds a Masters of Arts from the Jewish Theological Seminary.
You can follow him on Twitter @RabbiMKT