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Milk vs. Honey

Wednesday, 5 June, 2019 - 6:29 pm

There is a well-known Jewish custom to partake of dairy foods on Shavuot. (Think cheesecake, blintzes, quiches and ice cream… and my Ashkenazi lactose-intolerant innards are already doing summersaults…) A number of reasons are offered as to the root of this custom. One is the verse in Song of Songs (4:11), “Milk and honey under your tongue,” which is interpreted as referring to the Torah.

It occurred to me that these two foods represent two very distinct qualities of the Torah. On one hand we have milk, a substance that is best consumed while fresh. Indeed, milk that is not fresh does not taste good and is eventually unhealthy for consumption.

We say in the Shema, “And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart.” Our sages comment on the words “this day,” that we must view the Torah as having been given to us today. In other words the Torah must always be fresh. There is a never a day-old Torah. There is only the Torah of today. This is reflected in the blessing recited before an Aliyah where we refer to G-d as “Notain HaTorah” the giver (present tense) of Torah. We must always see Torah as fresh and relevant. It should always be current and exciting for us to study the Torah and practice its teachings.

On the other hand we have honey, a substance that if stored properly can last for a very long time, even centuries long. The experts claim that honey need not have an expiration date. This represents another quality of Torah; that it is intended to be applicable at all times. There is no “best if used by” date on the Torah. In 5779 (2019) it is as applicable and pertinent as in 2448, which was 3,331 years ago.

While these two qualities seem to be opposites, in fact they complement each other. One for whom the Torah is always fresh, will also see the Torah as eternally applicable. One for whom the Torah has no expiration date, will always seek to discover fresh relevance in the Torah.

When the fresh milk of Torah paired with the long-lasting honey of Torah are “under our tongues” this is the ultimate experience of the holiday of Shavuot, when we relive the giving and the receiving of this priceless gift from Hashem.

May your milk always be fresh and your honey enduring! And by the way, the Torah has no recommended calorie limit either… so “taste and you will see that Hashem is good.”

Happy Shavuot and may we merit to receive the Torah with joy and inner meaning.

Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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