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Rabbi Clark on Parashat Be-midbar

(PIXABAY photo)

I love cheesecake. To me, any excuse to eat it is a good one, but I do find it curious that there are so many reasons for the custom of eating dairy on Shavuot.

One reason commonly given is that when the Israelites received the Torah at Mount Sinai, they realized that their pots were not kosher, so they ate uncooked dairy foods instead of whatever meal they had already prepared.

According to the glossary of the Rema in the Shulchan Arukh, we eat a dairy meal for dinner and a meat meal at another time on Shavuot in memory of the two loaves of bread, symbolizing two distinct meals, that were brought as sacrifices in the Mishkan (Tabernacle) on Shavuot.

A Jewish hipster friend of mine, whose job title was – and I am not making this up – chief goat-herder, says that herds have their most abundant milk in the spring, making it a sound husbandry practice to eat dairy at this time of year.

A frum-from-birth law school classmate who was very lactose-intolerant got sick every Shavuot. He ate dairy, knowing he would be sick, because eating dairy is what Jews do on Shavuot. For him, the custom and the history of our people overrode his stomach.

The variety of reasons available to explain this custom is not necessarily a sign of the fuzzy thinking that follows a cheesecake-induced food coma. Rather, as one of my liturgy professors from rabbinical school pointed out, it is simply what happens to any ritual that lasts for as long as this one has. If Jews did not find it meaningful to eat dairy on Shavuot, we would stop. Finding new meaning in the custom or reinvigorating old meanings keeps cheesecake current for Shavuot. I encourage you to find a good cheesecake recipe and the reason for this custom that means the most to you. B’tayavon!

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