Shavuot

For the week ending 26 May 2012 / 4 Sivan 5772

Milk and Honey, Honey and Milk

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

Torah and Eretz Yisrael – what a combination!

Both are exclusive to the Jewish People and both are described in our sacred sources in similar terms.

Eretz Yisrael is described in the Torah more than once as "a land flowing with milk and honey". The Torah's sweetness is poetically described in Shir Hashirim as being "like honey and milk under your tongue (4:11)."

Why is the order of milk and honey switched when it comes to Torah?

Milk is indispensable for nutrition, especially for an infant, while honey may make life sweeter but it is expendable. When it comes to promising Jews a land of their own it is crucial to stress the abundance of life-sustaining milk. But when King Solomon wished to laud the virtues of Torah he deliberately put honey first, because one can only acquire the milk – like nourishment of Torah knowledge – if he appreciates the honey – like sweetness of learning Torah.

This is why one of the blessings that a Jew is supposed to make every morning before learning Torah is "Make pleasant for us, G-d, our L-rd, the words of Your Torah in our mouths and in the mouths of all of Your people, the House of Israel."

Learning Torah is an obligation but must be viewed as a privilege. It is hard work but it is a source of exquisite pleasure. On Shavuot, the Festival of the "Giving of the Torah", it is customary to eat milk products and honey to remind ourselves of this combination of spiritual nourishment achieved through the sweetness of challenging study.

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