.The following is an essay published in R. Cardozo’s book,
‘Between Silence and Speech‘
No doubt, there is one law within the Jewish tradition that has puzzled many Jewish scholars. This is the law that prevents the Jew from mixing milk with meat. Its source is found in the Torah (Exodus 23:19; 34:26, Deuteronomy 14:21), but no clue is provided as to its meaning.
Strangely enough, it is this mysterious law that has had the greatest influence on the daily life of Jews for thousands of years, right up to this very day. It divides the Jewish kitchen into two parts, a meat and milk section, and makes it necessary to have two sets of pots, pans, forks and knives. This law hovers over much of Jewish life and has turned Judaism into something very distinctive.
What could be the reason behind this law? While it may be argued that many other Jewish dietary laws try to infuse man with a sense of human sensitivity, this can hardly be said about the law of milk and meat. It could, for example, be argued that those animals or fowls that are forbidden are forbidden because they are carnivorous, kill and are aggressive, and it is the will of the Torah that man should distance himself from such traits. But the mixture of milk and meat does not seem to accentuate any particular unwanted characteristic.
There is, however, another strange dimension to this law. It is not only forbidden to consume a mixture of milk and meat, but the very blending (in the form of cooking, baking, etc.) of these components is also forbidden, even when they are not to be consumed! (1) One is obliged to destroy this mixture. This reminds us of the law of the Passover festival, which not only forbids the consumption of leavened bread (chametz) but even forbids having it in one’s possession. (2) But, while one could still sell the leavened bread, this is not possible in the case of a mixture of milk and meat. The obligation to destroy this mixture of milk and meat seems, therefore, to indicate a most acute matter that does not allow for any compromise. Why should this be the case?
Kabbalistic tradition has it that God created the world with the specific purpose for man to sanctify it. Man is asked to infuse the world with the divine spark that is found within himself, since he was created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).
To make the creation of the universe possible, God had to “withdraw” His En Sof, His infinite spiritual light. Only in this “void” or “darkness” would physical existence become possible. This principle is called tzimtzum (self-limitation) and is one of the most difficult concepts to understand within the entire kabbalistic philosophy.
Once man was created, God told him that it was his task to make sure that this “withdrawn” light would (at least partially) return. This would be possible through the means of “sanctification.” By connecting all physical elements with the En Sof, this withdrawn light would return and the universe would be lifted from its purely physical dimensions. This was to be done through the fulfillment of the commandments and the study of Torah, which would make man see the fingerprint of God in all existence. Ultimately, everything would revert back to God, the Infinite Source. (3)
One way through which one could grasp this concept is to imagine a circle that is open on top. The open space on top is the initial point of creation. The circle itself symbolizes the way through which the world has to “journey” until it will, on completing the circle; reenter the initial open space on top of the circle — the infinity of God.
The circle has, however, another important feature as well. It also symbolizes the limits in the confines within which the world must travel to return to its original Source (symbolized by the open space on top of the circle). As long as the world moves along and within the line of the circle, it will finally be connected with the original Source. But if it would break through this circle, then it would “run wild,” no longer able to bring itself back into the confines of the circle. As such, it would not revert back to the original Source, and consequently, would fail to fulfill its purpose. This would mean devastation and chaos.
The line of the circle itself must also be seen as the symbol of the ‘dividing line” between that which is “permitted” and that which is “forbidden.” Everything inside the circle is ensured of its possibility to return to its Source and, as such, is “permissible.” There is still a connection with the Source, regardless of how far something may be removed from the original Source (symbolized by the open space on top). Consequently, the dividing line is the border between that which is “permitted” (inside) and that which is “forbidden” (outside).
For this reason, kabbalistic thought teaches that what is more material and therefore “independent” lies closer to the outside (i.e., borderline) of the circle. All that which is less “material” and more dependent on God is more to the center of the circle and, as such, less removed from its original Source.
When looking in the Creation chapter, we find that a certain evolving process took place which made the animal world appear at the end of the “six days” of the Creation, just before the appearance of man. (Genesis 1:25). This evolving process reveals a constant increase in “independence” — greater mobility and physicality. While the plants are still completely dependent on the Divine Source, having no “say” of their own, the small insects and creatures are more autonomous. this independence increases most drastically with the creation of the larger animals on the sixth day.
THE ANIMAL WORLD
As such, the superior animal must be seen as the most autonomous creature within the corporeal world. Unlike man, the animal is not blessed with a divine soul and has no part in a spiritual, moral existence. The animal is completely bound by the physical world in the sense that it cannot “rise” above the laws of nature. In this sense, it is the most developed physical creature within the world. Consequently, it is the animal that walks on the borderline of our circle.
This has far-reaching consequences. Since the animal has developed to the outermost borderline of the circle, it treads a most dangerous path: one more step and it will find itself outside the borderline. As such, it will become “overdeveloped,” “running wild,” and losing its connection with the source on top of the circle. This must be prevented at all costs, since it would lead to chaos. In other words, this animal is never, through overdevelopment, to become a “superanimal.” It is not allowed to become more physical than it already is. To emphasize the point, it could be argued that animal flesh is not to become superflesh, developing beyond the limits of the borderline of the circle.
What is milk? Milk is, no doubt, the most important nutrient for the development of the human and animal body. It is nourishment par excellence. It contains all the ingredients that enable proper physical development.
The reader may now begin to understand the “danger” of mixing milk with meat. The animal is the most advanced of all physical existence. It finds itself on the borderline of the circle. Any addition to its physicality will force it out of the circle. It will sever its connection with the Source and become “overdeveloped,” creating “superflesh.”
Since milk is the very substance by which the body develops, it would be a fatal mistake to “add” this nutrient to “fully developed” meat. The milk would continue to develop the meat beyond its proper borders. This would purport a wish to “overdevelop” the already optimally developed “flesh” of the animal. It would be as if one wanted to make the animal world break out of the circle and sever its connection with its Source. This would mean the denial of the very purpose of this world.
This explains the ruling that one is not only forbidden to consume such a mixture, but also is obliged to destroy this mixture even when one does not intend to consume it. Its very existence is a denial of the foundation of God’s plan with His creation.
1. Talmud Bavli, Chullin 115b. Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah, 87:1; Pitchei Teshuva 2.
2. Talmud Bavli, Pesachim 29a, Shemos 12:19, 13:7.
3. One may wonder why God wished to create a world that would, after all, revert back to spirituality. If God wished only spirituality to prevail, why did He create a physical universe in the first place? The kabbalists respond by saying that the division between the spiritual and the physical, originating with the creation act, allowed for the capacity of longing, the urge and drive to bring unity to that which has been divided. This, they believe, is the greatest good that god wanted to bestow. Love, the most important substance in giving man the most exalted form of joy, is, after all, the result of two components longing to become one.
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