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We all know that there is a custom on Shavuos to eat dairy. One of the reasons given is based on a Medrash that When Moshe Rabbenu went up to Heaven to receive the Torah the angels complained and said "How could this man of flesh and blood be worthy to take the Torah?" Hashem answered that when the Malachim (angels) came to Abraham they themselves did not keep the Torah, as they ate meat and milk together. The angels accepted this answer (among others) and hence on Shavuos we eat dairy.


With that introduction here are the questions.

  1. The Torah law only does not allow cooking milk and meat together so how were the Malachim not keeping the Torah?

  2. If it was cooked together, how was Abraham allowed to feed them this mixture? Abraham kept the whole Torah, and milk and meat are Assur Bhanah (one can't have benefit from the mixture). This prohibition applies even if one wants to feed it to a non-Jew?

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5 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Taamei Haminhagim (Jerusalem ed., p. 228-229) cites a couple of explanations.

From R' Shalom, the first Belzer Rebbe:

Moshe's argument wasn't that the angels had violated the actual technical prohibition. There is a halachic concept, "tataah gavar" - the lower item overpowers the one above it (which indeed comes up in connection with the halachos of mixing milk and meat, as in Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De'ah 91:4). Kabbalistically, this explains why milk may be eaten before ("below") meat, but not the reverse: milk represents chessed (Divine kindness), while meat represents gevurah (severity, stringency), and we want the former to "overpower" the latter. Well, then, since the angels wanted the Torah to remain Above, with them, then that meant that they held with the view that "ila'ah gavar," the higher item overpowers the lower one. "By your logic, then," Moshe was arguing, "you were wrong to eat first the milk and then the meat that Avraham served, because that causes Divine severity (represented by the meat) to be dominant."

From Gevulas Binyamin, by R' Binyamin Rappoport:

While it is true that meat may be eaten after milk, one must eat some bread between them to cleanse the mouth out (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De'ah 89:2). However, no bread was served at this meal, because Sarah became niddah and so the dough she was kneading became impure (Bava Metzia 87a). So the angels, in eating the meat after the cream and milk, violated this (Rabbinical) aspect of Torah law.

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It is not a midoraisa obligation to eat bread between milk and meat. –  Yahu May 14 '10 at 17:46
    
True, and I've edited accordingly. Nevertheless, since כל מה שתלמיד ותיק עתיד לחדש is included in the original Giving of the Torah, then their violation of this gezeirah is significant. –  Alex May 14 '10 at 19:23
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This issue has been addressed by many - some say since malachim are made of fire it actually cooked it together; others say the actual issur was of maris ayin. see relevant article here titled : maaseh avos = halacha lmaaseh

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  • First, the Torah doesn't "only ... not allow cooking meat and milk together". It prohibits cooking them together, and it also prohibits eating and benefiting from it if it has been cooked together. You know this, because you assumed it in your second point. A deleted answer mentions this inaccuracy without mentioning the details ("[Point #]1 is not true."), and the comments mistakenly refuted the answerer's objection. The comment on the deleted answer attempting to refute this stated:

"Point #1 most certainly is true. The Gemara (Chullin 108a) says "derech bishul asrah Torah" - only when meat and milk are cooked together do they become Biblically prohibited. It's miderabanan that we may not eat a cheese-and-deli sandwich, for example. This is stated as halachah in Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De'ah 87:1."

The statement above is 100% correct, however it does not successfully refute the objection or support the assertion in the original question. The question states:

The Torah law only does not allow cooking milk and meat together so how were the Malachim not keeping the Torah?

There is a difference between stating that the Torah only prohibits cooking meat and milk together, and stating that the Torah only prohibits eating meat and milk that have been cooked together. So the objection raised, that point #1 is not true, is correct.

  • Second, there is no Hanaah gained on the part of Avraham simply from feeding the food to the angels. As stated by Jeremy, הכנסת אורחים (bringing in guests, aka hospitality) is a Mitzvah, which means it is not meant for one's own benefit.

  • Third, despite the fact that the Midrash says they ate "meat with milk", it is generally assumed (see a summary of the HaShem's rebuke of the angels, provided here) that they ate the milk first, followed by the meat, as in the order of the Pasuk "ויקח חמאה וחלב ובן הבקר אשר עשה". The question has been asked before, but the question is generally the reverse - "What's this Midrash talking about? Everyone knows you can eat meat after milk if you've ended your milk meal and you clean out your mouth and wash your hands!" (I'm including all of those to fulfill all opinions, although some are even more lenient than that.) In other words, the underlying assumption is always that they specifically did not eat them together, and even if they did, they weren't cooked together, which is probably why no one seems to ever object Avraham's having served it.

  • Fourth, one answer given to the question raised in my third point (taken from the page linked above, citing the Baer Heitev) is that they weren't as scrupulous as Bnei Yisrael are - they did not separate between the milk and the meat, at least not as well as we do. I don't know if they didn't bentch, wash their "hands" or clean out their "mouths" or what - they were angels, after all. But the point made is that we, Bnei Yisrael, are more worthy than they, because of our high standards, separating milk and meat even when we aren't obligated to, MeDeOraitha, which they did not do.

Similarly, kind of combining my third and fourth points, is the Beith HaLevi on Parashath Yithro (towards the end of this page). He quotes the Midrash Tehillim on "מפי עוללים ויונקים יסדה" (ch. 8, v. 3):

אמר הקב"ה והלא אתם כשירדתם אצל אברהם אכלתם בשר בחלב שנאמר ויקח חמאה וחלב ובן הבקר אשר עשה ותינוק שלהם כשבא מבית הס(ו)פר ואמו נותנת לו פת ובשר וחלב ואומר היום לימדני רבי לא תבשל גדי בחלב אמו. הרי דבזריזות שזהירים מתערובת של בשר בחלב זכו לקבל התורה.
The Holy One Blessed Be He said (to the angels), "And when you descended to Avraham, did you not eat meat and milk, as it is said (in the Pasuk), '[Avraham] took the cream and the milk and the male cattle which he had made,' [yet] a babe of theirs (Bnei Yisrael) when he comes home from school and his mother gives him bread and meat and milk, he says, 'today my rebbi taught me, 'You shall not cook a kid in its mother's milk.'" Thus, [on account of] the scrupulousness that they are careful [to avoid even an uncooked] mixture of meat with milk, [Bnei Yisrael] merited to receive the Torah.

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Rabbi Mordechai Torczyner is publishing an article on this soon.

Wait a few days for it to appear on yutorah, and you'll get his answer.

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Add the Link when it Happens –  SimchasTorah May 12 '10 at 22:36
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And his answer is.... –  Shmuel Brin Apr 23 '12 at 15:23
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It was always my understanding that the angels did not cook or eat the milk+meat, but rather consumed it in some miraculous way. Did they receive hana'ah? unlikely, and impossible to understand on a human level. So Moshe's argument seems weak. But if they caused Avraham to receive hana'ah, then they might be liable via lifnei iver. On the other hand, mitzvot are not given for hana'ah, and hachnasas orchim is a mitzvah. On the other other hand, if Avraham kept the mitzvot before Sinai, it was on a strictly voluntary level, as opposed to an obligation, in which case he would get hana'ah, and thus be liable.

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The Steipler in his Sefer Al Hatorah Birchas Peretz says they did and if they did not get Hana'ah then the argument for Humanity getting the Torah is off. –  SimchasTorah May 12 '10 at 22:38
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