The Deeper Significance of Milk and Meat

The Torah prohibition of milk and meat is more stringent than other prohibitions * Our Sages added numerous “fences” to the prohibition, seeing as both milk and meat are found in the kitchen, and can be easily mixed * Meat is on a higher spiritual level, heavy, and more complex, whereas milk is simple and uncomplicated * Rabbi Natan of Breslov explains: Different levels should not be mixed – the eminent rabbis should deal with the big questions * Rabbi Kook magnanimously dealt with the issues of our generation; rabbis who opposed him dealt with trivialities and caused damage * Failure to differentiate between considerations of varying magnitudes is expressed in many areas, including Leftist organizations

In recent months, I have been fortunate to study the halakhas of milk and meat and mixtures of the two. This article shares some of the thoughts emerging from this study.

The Severity of the Prohibition of Milk and Meat and its’ Numerous “Fences”

At the outset, it is important to note that the Torah was especially strict about the prohibition of milk and meat, for not only is it forbidden to eat milk and meat that was cooked together, but it is also forbidden to cook milk and meat together for a non-Jew, or to receive benefit from such a mixture.

Our Sages went further and placed numerous ‘sayagim‘ (safeguards, literally fences) for the prohibition of milk and meat.

-The type of meat included in the Biblical prohibition consisted of the flesh of behemot (domestic animals), while our Sages extended the prohibition to also include the meat of chayot (wild animals) and poultry.

-Not only that, they forbade eating milk and meat even without their having been cooked together.

-Furthermore, they also prohibited baking bread with meat or milk products, lest one eat the dairy bread with meat, or vice versa.

-Moreover, they prohibited eating dairy food for six hours after eating meat (according to the majority of poskim).

-What’s more, they determined that when a person eats meat, he should not have dairy food on the table, and when he eats dairy, he should not have meat on the table, lest he forget and eat both of them together.

Reinforcing the Separation of Meat and Milk

Seemingly, one could ask: It is well known that our Sages did not make a gezerah (a decree) on another gezerah. Why, in the case of the prohibition of milk and meat, did they add one gezerah upon another in order to safeguard the Torah prohibition?

When it comes to the prohibition of milk and meat, our Sages were extremely concerned about potential stumbling blocks, because separately, milk and meat are both permitted and are regularly found in the kitchen, and thus, can be easily mixed together. Had our Sages not made one gezerah on top of another, the basic mitzvah would have been breached. Therefore, all the gezerah’s together are considered a single gezerah, designed to reinforce the separation of milk and meat.

The Difference between Milk and Meat

Meat is a heavy type of food with a very significant status, and our attitude towards it is complex and complicated. In order to prepare meat for eating, one must first choose a kosher animal; then one must slaughter it properly according to halakha, check that it is not treif (ritually unfit to be eaten), clean the flesh from blood, milk, and forbidden tendons, and even after the meat is declared kosher, preparing it for eating is arduous, usually involving cooking or grilling it over a fire. Even eating, chewing, and digesting meat is a demanding task.

In contrast, milk is a light and simple food. There is no need for any halakhic process in order to make it kosher for consumption, and drinking it is effortless. Even if cheese or yogurt is made from it, it is still much easier to digest than meat.

Meat is an adult food, whereas milk is for infants. Meat expresses a new stage in life, while milk expresses the growth and development from the previous stage.

Meat originates from a higher spiritual world, and therefore, receives its expression in this world in the form of an actual living animal, and its preparation requires the taking of life by slaughter. In contrast, milk emanates from a lower spiritual world, and its preparation does not involve the taking of life.

The Difference between an Eminent and an Ordinary Rabbi

Rabbi Natan, a disciple of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, in Likutei Halachot (Basar v’ Chalav 5) explains that meat is analogous to an eminent rabbi, and milk, to an ordinary rabbi. A person who goes to an ordinary rabbi in order to receive guidance in significant matters, is comparable to one who mixes milk and meat, rendering the entire mixture forbidden for eating or for benefit.

In his words: “For in truth, a person who draws close to an ordinary rabbi, even though he (the ordinary rabbi) is on a much higher level than himself, and in comparison, is considered a tzaddik (a righteous person), nevertheless, not only is the rabbi unable to cure his profound ills, seeing as someone of a lower status cannot heal the enormous ills of the soul – he even causes him great damage. All the more so when the ordinary rabbi is a ‘ba’al machloket (a person of strife), disputing the true tzaddik, who is on an exceedingly higher level… and the ordinary rabbi has no understanding of routes or pathways of drawing Divine knowledge into the world… for he himself has yet to reach even the simplest insights (in these matters), as one sees and understands from his speech and teachings, (when he talks about the big issues, he) says things that even school-children have a better understanding of…” and as a result he stumbles, and leads his followers astray.

Understanding the Difference

In other words, the eminent rabbi is one who understands the entire Torah, sees the big picture of the world, in the sense of ‘Olam Ha’Ba’ (the World to Come), and as a result, is able to tackle the big questions, and also instruct and educate people to find their ‘tikun’ and path in the world. In contrast, an ordinary rabbi knows how to teach Talmud, halakha and ethics, but does not understand the entire picture. His knowledge is in accordance with the limited ‘Olam Ha’zeh’ (the present world), and therefore, is unable to contend with the big questions. After learning the general path from an eminent rabbi, he can be extremely helpful in personal instruction and solving minor problems, but when he tries to solve the big questions with his limited understanding – he causes damage.

This damage is in the sense of a mixture of “milk and meat while cooking, for it is a very significant imperfection, because at that time (while cooking) the meat is intended to reach its final ‘tikun’ (perfection) which is meant to be drawn from a very high spiritual level, but when it is mixed with milk, which is in the sense of ‘life in this world’… which is in the sense of ‘mochin d’katnut d’yenika’ (literally, ‘the mind of a nursing infant’, or figuratively, narrow and immature consciousness), which is when the greatest level of evil is aroused in both of them” (ibid. 5:12).

In other words, providing small answers to big questions causes all the enormous spiritual forces contained within meat to be released in evilness, with the milk as well failing to achieve its ‘tikun’, and instead of arousing humility, gentle growth and development – what emerges is arrogance and zealousness.

Rabbi Kook and His Dissenters

This is exactly what happened to the people of Israel in the last few generations regarding the clarification of major issues that arose in recent times. Rabbis who indeed were exceedingly learned and sharp-witted, but did not attain the great knowledge of God, and the depth of the meaning of existence, attempted to solve the big problems using small ideas and caused enormous harm, in the sense of ‘cooking milk and meat’.

They caused people possessing enormous powers, in the sense of ‘meat’, to distance themselves from the path of Torah in heresy and wickedness, because they failed to find in the Torah any solutions to the major problems, since the rabbis presented them with a “small”, insignificant Torah. On the other hand, they caused those with lesser powers to become arrogant and zealous, and block the way of the true Gedolim from engaging in Torah out of greatness, and bringing perfection and healing to the world.

Our teacher and mentor, Rabbi Kook ztz”l, who was the Gadol (most eminent rabbi) in recent generations, engaged in clarifying the big questions while dealing with the essential spiritual issues, and out of this greatness, addressed topics that emerged anew, such as the value of man, society, nationalism, the Land of Israel, science and the economy. Other rabbis dealt with these questions – or some of them – out of an understanding of the magnitude of the task and the need of the generation, but none were like Rabbi Kook, who set forth a complete, profound, and lofty doctrine (the difference between them was somewhat like the difference between the Ari HaKadosh and the rest of the kabbalists in his time).

When ordinary rabbis who had not reached that level attempted to clarify the major issues with ‘mochin d’katnut’ (narrow, or constricted consciousness), while at the same time arousing dissent against Rabbi Kook, they caused immense harm.

This is exactly what happened when ordinary rabbis dealt with questions of human values, nationalism, the Land of Israel, science and parnasa (earning a living) ‘b’katnut’, or in other words, with a narrow understanding. Instead of seeing the magnitude of the Divine light revealed in these issues when dealt with through Torah instruction, they saw in them only problems.

The fundamental attitude towards these values must be determined ‘b’gadlut’ (out of greatness), whereas the practical means of achieving them requires detailed, provisional, and educational considerations.

The Sin of Failing to Differentiate between Matters of Various Proportions

In short, the prohibition of milk and meat comes to teach us that it is forbidden to mix matters of two different orders of magnitude. Every consideration is very import within its own framework, but when mixed – all of them are completely ruined.

For example, the color of one’s furniture and walls of his house are important, and for someone who is sensitive to beauty and form – it is fitting to invest time and thought as to what colors to choose. But if a person who is unemployed is offered a good, challenging, and well-paying job but refuses to accept the job offering because the walls of his intended office are painted bright green instead of light blue – then something is seriously wrong with him.

Similarly, if someone’s shirt-fringe gets torn, it is appropriate to sew it, or buy a new shirt; but if a person’s shirt-fringe gets torn while having to rush someone to the hospital, but nevertheless, he busies himself trying to fix it, or rummages around looking for another shirt – because, how could someone possibly go out with a torn shirt? – it is a sign that he lacks reasonable judgment.

Meat alone is good; milk alone is good; but mixing them together is strictly forbidden.

Leftist Positions – Mixing Matters of Different Magnitudes

In general, it can be said that the positions of the Leftists for generations have been based on comparing matters of different magnitudes, and mixing them together.

Attempting to correct economic injustices between the wealthy and the working class is important and commendable; but when coming to redress problems of minor magnitude by means of damaging substantial, ethical paradigms of a higher degree, involving an individual’s responsibility over his own livelihood and fate – they mix milk with meat, cause serious moral injustices, and cast entire nations into desperate poverty. And the very same manual laborers whom the Leftist activists sought to improve their conditions and integrity, are forced to lose ten years off their lives in shame and wretchedness.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other interesting and informative articles by Rabbi Melamed can be found at:


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