Newsletter 79 A Land Flowing with Milk and Honey
A few Saturdays ago I took a family for a walking tour of the Old City. We started at 5 in the afternoon after the heat of the day had been blown away by the cool sea breeze that always arrives in Jerusalem in Summer round about that time.
Unfortunately historic sites controlled by the Jerusalem municipality, like the Walls Walk and the David Tower Museum are closed at this time.
At this time of the year a tour doesn't have to begin in the morning and end in the evening or late afternoon. Instead it can begin in the late afternoon, when it's cooler and the sun sheds a more gentle light, with the last rays of the sun shining on them. Sites like the Mt. of Olives, the Kidron Valley and the Western Wall get richer and deeper colors of gold and red and end in the evening when they're beautifully illuminated.
Working at this time of the day also gave me time to have lunch at "Spagettim" with Ettie and some friends who had come from Tel Aviv to visit Jerusalem.
We've just finished celebrating the festival of Shavuot. This is the second year that the family has come to our home in Jerusalem for a Shavuot meal. Ettie enjoys thrilling everyone with her brilliant cooking and baking; we had fresh, pink salmon, baked in the oven, two varieties of blintzes, sweet and salty, which Pnina, Ettie's mother made, this being her specialty, kada-if, a cheese filled stringy pastry in honey and Ettie's famous chocolate mouse.
The custom of eating cheese based dishes on Shavuot, the festival celebrating God giving the Torah to the Jewish People, is based on the comparison between the Torah and milk. Our dependence on Torah for our life is similar to the dependence of the baby on its mother's milk and our eagerness for the study of Torah should be as great as a baby's eagerness to suck the milk from its mother's nipple.
The most vivid evocation of this image is that of a baby lamb sucking milk from the mother. This is probably also the reason why the Torah prohibits cooking a lamb in its mother's milk (Deut 14:21). The scene of a lamb sucking milk from its mother is a sign of the desire which every living creature has for life while the scene of a lamb cooked in its mother's milk is a sign of death. We should seek life, and hence the need to study Torah, not death which would surely come if we didn't study Torah.
Having life we are capable then of having land and the labor of living people filled with the knowledge of Torah on the land to make it produce food is like milk flowing on the land, hence the comparison of the Promised Land as a land "flowing with milk and honey (Exodus 3:8).
The vision of the Torah is a land filled with people who are vitally alive because they are filled with the knowledge of Torah.
In such a land God will love his people and they will love Him. His love of such a nation is compared to the love song which the lover sings to her beloved praising the reason for his attraction for her; "milk and honey are under your tongue (Song of Songs 4:11).
The Torah is therefore the ultimate cause of life and hence the reason for the Shavuot celebration is the receiving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai. The Torah welds God to the Jewish People but also to any person, especially including a non Jew like Ruth the Moabitess who provides a practical demonstration of the behavior a person who is filled with the knowledge of Torah; she cleaves to her mother in law, Naomi:
"Look," said Naomi, "your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her." But Ruth replied, "Don't urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me." When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her. " (Ruth 1:15-18)
As you know the Story of Ruth is one of the main readings of the Bible on Shavuot.
The story of Ruth culminates in the marriage between Ruth and Boaz and is a simile of the marriage between God and the People of Israel which takes place when God gives them the Torah on Mt. Sinai on Shavuot.
The observance of the laws of Torah is the cause of the attraction which Boaz has for Ruth and the attraction which God has for the People of Israel.
Wishing you a great no news day