Rabbi Yehoshua Weber

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Some of us eat fleishig meals on Shavuos. Some of us eat milchig meals on Shavuos. And some of us – oddly enough – eat both milchig and fleishig at the very same meal.

We eat milchig at the beginning of the meal. We then clean the table. When the table is cleansed of all milchig and all  milchig residue, we move on to conclude the meal with fleishig.[1]

This meal – with its efforts to ensure that we don’t eat mixtures of milk and meat – is a statement about the care that we exercise in not putting forbidden foodstuffs into our mouths.

And isn’t it appropriate that this statement about purity of mouth be made on Shavuos? It is on Shavuos that we accept the Torah. It is on Shavuos that our mouths begin caressing and wrapping themselves around the Torah’s transcendental words.

It is, therefore, on Shavuos that we make a statement about a purity of mouth that readies our mouths for the Torah’s transcendental words.

Consuming such mixtures of milk and meat may involve two Torah prohibitions. More often, though, consuming such milk and meat mixtures involves rabbinic rather than Torah prohibitions. Eating a mixture of milk and chicken is, for example, never a Torah prohibition.[2] Neither, for that matter, is eating a mixture of milk and meat that was not cooked together.[3]

The fact that consuming certain mixtures of milk and meat is not a Torah prohibition does not lessen that prohibition’s gravity. We treat these rabbinic prohibitions just like Torah prohibitions, which is why we cleanse all milk residue so carefully before  eating meat, even though the concern about milk residue being carried into the meat part of the meal is not a Torah prohibition.

Especially on Shavuos, when we ready ourselves to absorb Torah, we dare not sully ourselves with forbidden foods.

Mixtures of milk and meat are, of course, not the only way – or the worst way – of sullying our mouths. Words of lashon hara also sully our mouths. And that sullying is far worse than the sullying caused by mixtures of meat and milk. Unlike eating a mixture of meat and milk, speaking lashon hara is always a violation of at least eight Torah prohibitions.[4] And unlike eating a mixture of meat and milk, speaking lashon hara violates our relationships with both Hashem and with the people around us.

We should, therefore, be exceptionally concerned about achieving a purity of mouth in regards to lashon hara. And that concern should be especially pronounced on Shavuos, when we ready our mouths for the Torah’s transcendental words.

That does not seem to be the case, though. All too many frum people are quite lax about lashon hara. Some people will occasionally slip into speaking lashon hara. And some people will do more than just slip. Some ostensibly frum people will spend their Shabbos and Yom Tov meals discussing who is getting divorced, who wore something unflattering and who said something unwise.

How do we change this terrible reality?

Allow me to share an idea that I shared with my mispallelim many times. It is an idea that is appropriate for Shavuos, when we interface with both milchigs and fleishigs. I suggested that – at least notionally – just on Shavuos, we mix milk and meat.

I suggested that at a meat meal, we should add milk to menu. We should take milchig place mats, set them in the middle of the table and then place cheese on them.[5] At a milk meal, let us do the opposite by placing meat on a placemat. Let that offending cheese or meat remain on the table throughout the meal.

As by so many meals, at one point the conversation may veer towards lashon hara. Unlike by so many other meals, this meal has cheese that we don’t eat – because we have enough self-control to protect our mouths from mixtures of milk and meat. This cheese – and this statement about self-control – may help us address this lashon hara issue. The cheese that reminds us that we are strong enough to control what foods enter our mouths may also remind us that we are strong enough to control what words exit our mouths.

That little piece of uneaten cheese may end up being the most important part of our Shavuos meal.

Rabbi Weber is rav and founder of Ohr Tzvi Montebello-Monsey. He gives local and zoom shiurim, is a rav to the young men and women at Yeshivas Kochvei Ohr and Ateres Bais Yaakov and is Rabbi Emeritus of Toronto’s Clanton Park Synagogue. Please visit his website, ohrtzvi.org, to sign up for his weekly email message or for information on his live or zoom shiurim.

[1] Rema, Orach Chaim 594:3

[2] Mishne, Chullin 8:4

[3] Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah, 87:1

[4] Chafetz Chaim, Hilchos Lashon Hara, Pesicha

[5] As per Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah, 88:2