By Rabbi Alex Freedman.
The number ten is having its moment. In a few days, synagogues around the world will chant the Ten Commandments in honor of Shavuot.
What follows are ten reasons why Jews go for cheesecake and other dairy goodies on Shavuot, the holiday when we received the Torah on Mt. Sinai.
10. Torah is compared to milk in Song of Songs 4:11. Just like milk sustains the body, Torah nourishes the soul.
9. The Torah recounts Israel’s journey from the bitterness of Egypt to the sweetness of Israel, the “land flowing with milk and honey.” On Shavuot we recall not just the pause at Sinai but the final destination of Israel.
8. The numerical value of “milk – Halav – חלב” is 40. This is an allusion to the 40 days Moses spent on Mt. Sinai downloading the Torah.
7. The numerical value of “cheese – Gevinah – גבינה” is 70, which corresponds to the “70 faces of Torah,” the multitude of possible interpretations.
6. The four Hebrew words in Numbers 28:26, which describe the Shavuot offering, are “Mincha Hadashah La’Doshem B’Shavuoteichem – an offering of new grain to Hashem on your Festival of Weeks.” The initials of these four words are מחלב. This means “from milk.”
5. At Mt. Sinai, the Israelites were considered to be as innocent as newborns, whose food is milk.
4. Scholars note that ethnic spring harvest festivals – not just Jewish – often feature dairy dishes, perhaps because this was the season for producing cheese.
3. When the Jews received the laws of Kosher slaughter and cooking on Mt. Sinai, they didn’t have the tools to immediately prepare for a meat meal. So they went dairy.
2. Mt. Sinai is also called Har Gavnunim הר גבנונים, “the mountain of majestic peaks” in Psalms 68:16. The similar Hebrew word Gevinah גבינה means “cheese.”
1. This is not necessarily the best, but it is original, though it builds on #10. Milk symbolizes life. It’s a product that flows from a living animal and sustains another living animal. By contrast, meat is a product that comes from a dead animal. Torah, like milk, emerges from life, and our experiences and Torah nourish the living. Like milk, Torah symbolizes life. L’Chaim.
One thing that impresses me about the Jewish tradition is the range of possible answers to any given question, like this one. Just as cheesecake is enhanced by its broad range of flavors, the Torah is richer when it yields multiple interpretations. It’s a prism that refracts a rainbow of light onto our world.