Kosher: Meat and Milk

Dear Rabbi Fried,

I have always had trouble understanding the prohibition of consuming meat together with milk. I can understand if there are certain animals that their consumption has a negative effect on a person. But if an animal is kosher by itself, and the milk is kosher, why should they be forbidden if they’re together?


Dear Joseph,

The early Sages agreed with you! Because both meat and milk are permitted on their own and are forbidden when cooked together, they referred to the prohibition of meat and milk a “novelty.”

The prohibition of meat and milk is a unique one in the Torah for other reasons as well. Most forbidden foods are only prohibited to consume through eating, but one may derive benefit from them. If a Jew owned a pig, he would be allowed to sell the meat to a non-Jew and benefit from the leather to make a baseball mitt, a belt and the like. 

Meat and milk are different; if they are cooked together, one can’t even derive benefit from the mixture by selling it or even giving it away — instead it must be destroyed. Furthermore, the Torah doesn’t even allow us to cook the mixture, even with no intent to eat it. There’s no prohibition for a Jew to cook pork for a Gentile. 

Adding these questions to your question, we then ask, mah nishtanah?! Why are meat and milk different from other prohibitions?

The answer lies in a profound Kabbalistic concept. The Almighty expresses Himself in the world in two major ways: through loving kindness, and, at times, through strict judgment. These are two middos, or Divine traits, that normally are not mixed, but each one has its proper time to be expressed. Abraham was the pillar of loving kindness in the world, and his son Isaac was the manifestation of strict judgment. Jacob was the synthesis and harmony of those two opposites into the trait of Tiferes, or Glory, manifest by mercy.

The altercation between Cain and Abel was actually a clash between these two traits. Cain brought his offering of flax, which linen is made from. This was because flax stalks grow separately one from the next. It also doesn’t receive color or dye well, representing being in control — the trait of judgment. 

Abel brought wool which grows together with other strands of wool, and receives color well, representing the trait of kindness. 

Each one wanted that his trait should be the dominant trait expressed in the world, to the exclusion of the trait of his brother. 

Cain, who lived by strict judgment, took his judgment too far and killed his brother for expressing his trait of kindness. For the same reason the Torah forbids wearing clothing containing linen and wool sewn or woven together, as these express two opposing spiritual forces which cannot be joined without wreaking spiritual havoc. Much like mixing vinegar and baking soda can cause an explosion, mixing these garments causes a type of spiritual explosion.

The Kabbalists compare the mixing of linen and wool to the prohibition of mixing meat and milk. Let’s try to understand this comparison.

The color red in Judaism signifies strict judgment, as this is the color of blood. White, however, signifies the trait of loving kindness and togetherness, like white light which contains in it all the colors which blend together as one. The manna was white, representing one of G-d’s greatest bestowal of kindness of all time. White milk represents the loving kindness of a mother to her baby; red meat signifies strict judgment. 

Although each one separately is kosher, the very mixture of red meat with white milk unleashes a type of spiritual explosion – even without eating it. The Torah reveals to us that this is one situation where we don’t have permission to mix together kindness and judgment. And even after the fact – that they have already been mixed, we can derive no benefit from this mixture and certainly not ingest it into our bodies, so as not to unleash a spiritual explosion into our system.


Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried

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