The Deeper Connection Between Mother and Child
The Deeper Connection Between Mother and Child
Rabbi David Fohrman
Founder and Lead Scholar
One of the places where the prohibition not to eat meat and milk together is found is in Parshat Mishpatim. It’s location is at the end of a lengthy list of laws like property damages and personal injuries. It's hard to relate to these dry, legal lists when they're put side by side with the Torah's most epic and memorable stories.
But what if the laws aren't merely what they appear to be? What if these laws have something to tell us, a secret about one of the Torah's most familiar stories? And how can they teach us about not eating meat and milk together? Join Ami as he explores the stories hiding within these laws.
As far as Torah websites go, it would be a lot simpler if we could just declare: THE REASON FOR THIS MITZVAH IS X, OR THE REASON FOR THAT MITZVAH IS Y. But if you’ve been around the block with us at Aleph Beta, you’ll know how nuanced and complex the Torah is, how multi-layered many of its laws and stories are. For example, the Torah tells us to rest on the Sabbath because God rests on the Sabbath. And it tells us to rest on the Sabbath to remember that we were slaves in Egypt. And we rest on the Sabbath to give rest to our animals, to our servants, to the people we work hard throughout the week. And we rest on the Sabbath so that we can stop doing for one day and start being. There’s lots of reasons for keeping Sabbath, and you should check out our many many videos on Shabbat by clicking over here.
But if you’re here, it means you’re interested in some of the depth and complexity of meaning involved in the prohibition against mixing milk and meat together. And when I watched Rabbi Fohrman’s video on the topic, linked here, I thought to myself - wow. What a great video, now I know why we don’t eat milk and meat together. A few years later comes Rabbi Ami Silver who showed me an entirely new dimension of the prohibition against milk and meat, one that felt undeniable in the text.
The audio I’m about to play for you comes from an epilogue to a video Ami made for Parshat Mishpatim. In Parshat Mishpatim are a long list of laws involving slaves, people who fight and strike a pregnant woman and cause a loss of the fetus, and also, seemingly randomly, the law against eating milk and meat together. What Ami did in his parsha video and continues to do in this epilogue is present a theory for how all of those laws hang together and are related to one another. I’d recommend watching that video first and then coming back here for the audio epilogue to that video that covers the law of eating milk and meat together.
Alright, ready? Here we go:
Hi everyone, this is Ami Silver, welcome to the epilogue to the video I made on Joseph and Parshat Mishpatim. If you didn’t see it yet, take a look by clicking the link in the description section below. In the video, we explored a surprising connection between some of the laws in Mishpatim and the story of Joseph and his brothers. And, as I said at the end of that video, there are actually many more parallels in these legal sections of Mishpatim – so much so that they basically run from beginning to end. I want to share some of those other parallels with you to give you some more food for thought about what they might be telling us.
Diving Deeper into Mishpatim Laws
If we look at the very first law the parsha opens with, it says: כִּי תִקְנֶה עֶבֶד עִבְרִי. The laws of purchasing a Hebrew slave. Now, there is only one other place the Torah mentions an eved Ivri – and it’s a reference to Joseph. When Potiphar’s wife falsely accused Joseph, she told her husband: בָּא־אֵלַי הָעֶבֶד הָעִבְרִי אֲשֶׁר־הֵבֵאתָ לָּנוּ לְצַחֶק בִּי – that eved Ivri, that Hebrew slave you bought, tried to seduce me! So apart from the theoretical Hebrew slave we hear about in Mishpatim, there’s another, real life eved Ivri in the Torah – and it’s Joseph.
And if we look a bit further on in the parsha, we find the following law: וְכִי יִפְתַּח אִישׁ בּוֹר אוֹ כִּי יִכְרֶה אִישׁ בֹּר – if a person opens up a pit or uncovers a pit – וְנָפַל שָׁמָּה שּׁוֹר אוֹ חֲמוֹר – and an ox or donkey falls into it and gets hurt. Hmm... a bor, a pit, that causes damage… that also sounds like Joseph. And in fact, the only other context the Torah speaks about a bor, is in the Joseph story. But that’s not all. Because, look at who falls into the bor in Mishpatim: a shor, an ox. Now, surprisingly, Joseph himself is referred to as an ox by both Jacob and Moshe in their blessings for him at the end of their lives. In Moshe’s blessing, he says: בְּכוֹר שׁוֹרוֹ הָדָר לוֹ – Joseph’s first born shor, his ox, will be his glory. And Jacob’s blessings have a few veiled references to this as well. When he addresses the tribes of Shimon and Levi, he says, “בִרְצֹנָם עִקְּרוּ־שׁוֹר”, they willingly uprooted the ox – which Rashi says is a reference to Joseph, based on Moshe’s blessing that we mentioned. Then, when Jacob blesses Joseph, he says בֵּן פֹּרָת יוֹסֵף בֵּן פֹּרָת עֲלֵי־עָיִן בָּנוֹת צָעֲדָה עֲלֵי שׁוּר. Now, this is Biblical poetry, and it can carry a lot of possible interpretations and meanings. But the last word of that blessing, שׁוּר, may be a reference to an ox. And some commentators even interpret the word פֹּרָת that repeats itself in this verse to refer to a wild donkey – the other animal that may fall into the pit in Mishpatim. So here, we’ve got shors falling into bors, and it’s like Joseph back in the pit all over again.
As we move on, there’s a case about someone who gives their animal to a friend to watch over, and something bad happens to it: וּמֵת אוֹ נִשְׁבַּר אוֹ נִשְׁבָּה – either the animal dies, or breaks a bone, or it’s taken captive. But – אֵין רֹאֶה – nobody was there to see it happen, there were no eyewitnesses. This also reminds us of Joseph. Because while Jacob did send Joseph to check up on his brothers, it would also make sense to assume that Jacob expected the brothers to watch over Joseph. Because Joseph was their younger brother, and Jacob sent him to meet up with his ten big brothers. So in a sense, Joseph was being placed in their care. And similar to this passage in Mishpatim, when Joseph arrived there, something bad happened. But what exactly happened is a matter of debate. Because, just like the animal in Mishpatim – אֵין רֹאֶה – nobody really saw all the events unfold.
You see, we as readers get the bird’s eye view of the sale of Joseph, but as far as the actual people in the story are concerned, no single one of them knows the entire truth of what happened out there, and they all walk away with a different version of the story. If you ask Jacob, he’d tell you that Joseph died. Which is also the first thing that may happen to the animal in Mishpatim – וּמֵת – it may die. If you ask Joseph’s brothers, they’d say Joseph was taken captive, and sold as a slave. Well, in Mishpatim, the animal may be taken captive too – נִשְׁבָּה. And Joseph? Only Joseph knows that after years of turmoil in Egypt, he would be elevated to second in command, tasked with allocating all of Egypt’s resources during the years of famine. And his job description is the mashbir, the chief food provider. Which just happens to share the same root as נִשְׁבַּר – broken; the third possible outcome that may befall this animal.
And the Torah continues with other scenarios in which an animal was placed in someone else’s care, and something goes wrong. It says: וְאִם-גָּנֹב יִגָּנֵב – the animal may be stolen – אִם-טָרֹף יִטָּרֵף – or it may be killed by a wild beast. Once again, this is all Joseph language! When Joseph tells Pharaoh’s wine servant what happened to him, he says: גֻנֹּב גֻּנַּבְתִּי מֵאֶרֶץ הָעִבְרִים – I was stolen, kidnapped from my land. The same double language we find in Mishpatim! And when the brothers present Joseph’s bloody coat to their father, Jacob cries – טָרֹף טֹרַף יוֹסֵף – a wild beast has devoured Joseph – the other thing that may happen to this animal.
As we read on, we find the following law: כִּי תִפְגַּע שׁוֹר אֹיִבְךָ אוֹ חֲמֹרוֹ – if you happen upon your enemy’s ox or donkey – our favorite animals once again – תֹּעֶה – and the animal has lost its way – הָשֵׁב תְּשִׁיבֶנּוּ לוֹ – return the animal to its owner, even though he’s your enemy. Now, we’ve already said that Joseph may be compared to an ox or a donkey. But that word תֹּעֶה also applies to him. When Joseph heads out to find his brothers on that fateful day, the verse says: וַיִּמְצָאֵהוּ אִישׁ וְהִנֵּה תֹעֶה בַּשָּׂדֶה – a man found him, and he was תֹעֶה – Joseph was lost, wandering in the fields. The same word used with these animals in Mishpatim. And the law is, even if the owner is your enemy, you have a responsibility to return the animal. Now, Jacob was certainly not the brothers’ enemy, he was their father. But as we pointed out in the previous video, the brothers were rightfully angry at Jacob for favoring Joseph. And here, they find Jacob’s beloved son, and rather than making sure he gets home safe and sound, they use this as an opportunity to get rid of Joseph once and for all.
Extending the Connections to Mishpatim Laws
I want to leave you with just one more set of associations to ponder here. Towards the very end of this whole section of laws, that spans three chapters, we find laws about the annual festivals. God commands that three time a year, we celebrate the festivals and bring the appropriate offerings to the Holy Temple. It says: וְלֹא יֵרָאוּ פָנַי רֵיקָם – you shall not see My face empty-handed. Now interestingly, when Judah was imploring Jacob to send Benjamin with them to Egypt, he told him that that man – who was really Joseph in disguise – he told the brothers: לֹא-תִרְאוּ פָנַי בִּלְתִּי אֲחִיכֶם אִתְּכֶם – you shall not see my face, if your brother isn’t with you. Now, it’s strange to compare this to God’s command about bringing offerings to the Temple, but the language is very similar: Don’t see My face empty-handed, don’t see my face if Benjamin isn’t with you.
And it gets more pointed. At the end of these laws about the festivals – which is also the end of the entire legal section in Mishpatim – the final verse says: רֵאשִׁית בִּכּוּרֵי אַדְמָתְךָ תָּבִיא בֵּית ה’ אֱלֹקיךָ – bring the first fruits of your harvest to the house of God. In other words, when you appear before God on the holidays, and you bring your offerings, make sure it’s – בִּכּוּרֵי אַדְמָתְךָ – literally, the first-born fruits. In a sense, the whole struggle between Joseph the brothers revolved around the issue of bechor, of the first-born. Because even though Joseph was the younger one, Jacob favored him as if he were the firstborn. He propped him up, gave him special gifts and treated him as a leader among his brothers.
Then, the verse ends: לֹא תְבַשֵּׁל גְּדִי בַּחֲלֵב אִמּוֹ – do not cook a kid in its mother’s milk. This is the Torah’s command to not mix meat and milk, and it also appears two other times in the Torah. But if we read these words in the context that we’ve been discussing - I wonder if they may carry another layer of meaning. In the Mishpatim video, we focused on the backstory of the struggle between Joseph and his brothers. That the deep problem had to do with Jacob’s love for Rachel, that trickled down into playing favorites among his children. The sale of Joseph was caused in part by a failure to recognize the real root of the issue. That Joseph was not the real cause of the brothers’ hatred, he was just the person who absorbed this larger issue between Jacob and the mothers of his children.
So now listen to those words again: don’t cook a kid in its mother’s milk. Could it be touching on a similar idea? To cook a kid in its own mother’s milk, is to ignore the link between mother and child. It’s taking the milk that is a physical manifestation of the mother’s connection with her child, and using it for your own consumption. That milk that was meant to give food and life to the child was distorted and taken as just another thing for me to use for my own needs. In this mitzvah, the Torah is commanding us to acknowledge the link between a mother goat and her kid. Even if we end up using these animals for our own purposes, we need to honor the relationship between mother and child and not violate it or ignore it. This is, in a sense, where the brothers went wrong. They failed to recognize the connection between child and mother, between Joseph and Rachel, and Jacob’s love for her that was the real cause of their jealousy. And being blind to the source of this issue, they ignored the connection to mother, and directed all their rage to Joseph, which caused devastating pain in their family.
Thanks for listening! Personally, I was blown away by finding these connections and I hope they struck a chord with you too. As always, I’d love to hear your responses in the comments section below!