Tonight begins the holiday of Shavuot, commemorating the giving of the Torah to the Jews on Mount Sinai. This holiday is usually celebrated by the consumption of one dairy meal. The question is, why? Well, most of you probably don’t know it’s a holiday and know even less about the consumption of dairy tradition but what the heck, Froylein already graced us with an awesome cheesecake recipe so I figured I’d let you in on the reasons.
Prior to the giving of the Torah to the Jews in Sinai, the Jews were only obligated to follow the Seven Noahide Laws – you know, standards like no idolatry, murder, theft, sexual immorality, blasphemy, eating the flesh of an animal while it is still alive, and the establishment of courts. At Sinai, the Jews accepted a further 606 commandments and two of these created immediate problems. The first was the commandment to respect the Sabbath and the second was the laws of Kashrut. Why was this a problem? Well, until this point, Jews didn’t keep kosher. Now all of a sudden all the meat they had prepared, and all the utensils they used to prepare it with was not edible. On top of that, it was also the Sabbath so they couldn’t go off and slaughter some new kosher meat. The only thing they could eat was whatever dairy products they had sitting around. It being the desert and all, it’s less than likely that they had any Geffilte Fish. Thank Hashem! Geffilte Fish sucks and I think after all those years in bondage in Egypt, the Israelites had suffered enough. But I digress. So this is the most common reason for eating a dairy meal on Shavuot.
Other reasons? Hebrew letters have a numerical value and if you add the letters for milk (×—×œ×‘) together you get 40 and Moses spent 40 days on Mt Sinai before descending with the Torah. There’s also the notion that milk alone contains enough nutrients to sustain a person (think of a baby suckling from its Mother) and that the Torah contains everything necessary to nurture one’s soul. This comes from Chapter 4, verse 11 of the Song of Songs which reads: Thy lips, O my bride, drop honey-honey and milk are under thy tongue; and the smell of thy garments is like the smell of Lebanon. or in Hebrew: × Ö¹×¤Ö¶×ª ×ªÖ´Ö¼×˜Ö¹Ö¼×¤Ö°× Ö¸×” ×©Ö´×‚×¤Ö°×ª×•Ö¹×ªÖ·×™Ö´×šÖ°, ×›Ö·Ö¼×œÖ¸Ö¼×”; ×“Ö°Ö¼×‘Ö·×©× ×•Ö°×—Ö¸×œÖ¸×‘ ×ªÖ·Ö¼×—Ö·×ª ×œÖ°×©××•Ö¹× Öµ×šÖ°, ×•Ö°×¨Öµ×™×—Ö· ×©Ö·×‚×œÖ°×žÖ¹×ªÖ·×™Ö´×šÖ° ×›Ö°Ö¼×¨Öµ×™×—Ö· ×œÖ°×‘Ö¸× ×•Ö¹×Ÿ – see, the Song of Songs is treated allegorically by Rabbinic Judaism and in this case the Lover is the nation of Israel and the honey and milk under the tongue of the beloved is the Torah. Pretty hot right? But please don’t ask me to explain that “smell of Lebanon” part. Country Lebanon smells like a pine scented car deodorizer and City Lebanon smells like hummus and falafel. All of these are very compelling in their own way but not what I usually look for in a beloved. I’ll leave hummus scented lovers to fetishists like Benji Lovitt.
Are there other reasons? You betcha! Anyone who has watched Cecile B. Demille’s Ten Commandments knows that young
Charlton Heston, I mean Moses was set afloat on the Nile in order to escape a decree by Pharaoh condemning all male Jewish newborns to death. Moses was then found and adopted by Pharoh’s daughter. All indications are that Moses was a lovely child except for one thing, he wouldn’t let any of the Egyptian wet nurses feed him. Finally, Pharoh’s daughter found a Hebrew woman who Moses would allow to feed him. That woman was Yocheved, Moses’ biological mother. The day she was hired? The 6th day of the Hebrew month of Sivan. Can you guess what happens on that day? The holiday of Shavuot!
There are more reasons of course but the bottom line is, religiously sanctioned cheesecake! Now if that isn’t divine, I don’t know what is. Oh and do by all means Rabbi Yonah’s column explaining why you should also have a kegger on Shavuot. What? yeah. Divinely sanctioned Beer. How ya like that?