‘Wine and Vinegar’ Parashat  Beha’alotecha 5782

When the Jewish People complain that they are hungry for something more substantial than manna, G-d agrees to meet their demands. The wind blows a vast swarm of quail into the camp and everyone has more meat than he can possibly eat. This does not stop them from trying. G-d is angered[1] and He lashes out [Bemidbar 11:33]: “The meat was still between their teeth, not yet chewed, when the anger of G-d blazed forth against the people and G-d struck the people with a very severe plague”.

The Talmud in Tractate Hullin [105a] discusses the significance of the meat being “still between their teeth”. While the Torah prohibits the consumption of meat (or any meat-based product) together with milk (or any dairy product), our Sages have widened the extent of the prohibition such that not only can meat and milk not be eaten together but that there exists a minimum period of time that one must wait after consuming meat before consuming milk. There is general disagreement as to the reason why the Sages enacted their decree. One school of thought asserts that a person feels meat in his stomach for some time after he has concluded eating and he must wait until this sensation abates before consuming milk. A dissenting view asserts that meat residue remains in the mouth after eating and time is required for the saliva to break down the residue into a condition that it can no longer be considered meat[2]. As proof for this thesis, the Talmud brings the verse quoted above, “The meat was still between their teeth”, as if to say that after the meat had been eaten, while it was between their teeth, it was still considered “meat”, precluding the consumption of milk. Upon hearing this ruling, the Talmudic sage, Mar Ukva, makes an admission: “I am, with regard to this matter, like vinegar, the son of wine, with respect to my Father. My father, if he were to eat meat at this time, would not eat cheese until tomorrow at the same time. But as for me, only at this meal during which I ate meat do I not eat cheese; but at a different meal on the same day, I will eat cheese.” If the father of Mar Ukva were to eat meat at lunchtime, he would wait twenty four hours until the next day’s lunch before he consumed milk. Mar Ukva, on the other hand, waited only until the next meal[3].

Rabbi Eliyahu Kramer, better known as the “Vilna Gaon”, who lived in Vilnius at the turn of the eighteenth century, has great difficulty with Mar Ukva’s words. Mar Ukva denigrates himself for not meeting the high standards set by his father. But what was stopping him? What was preventing him from waiting one entire day between meat and milk? The Vilna Gaon answers that the normative halacha is that a person must only wait until the next meal after consuming meat before he consumes milk. The reason that Mar Ukva’s father waited significantly longer was because he took upon himself a stringency. In order for a person to take upon himself any halachic stringency, he must possess the proper spiritual constitution. He cannot arbitrarily decide that what G-d has deemed permitted, he deems prohibited. Does he believe that he knows better than Al-mighty G-d? Nevertheless, a person of sufficiently high spiritual stature is permitted in certain cases to add rules that distance himself from sin[4]. Mar Ukva understood that he was not at his father’s spiritual level such that waiting one full day between meat and milk was not something that he was permitted to do.

This idea is illustrated in the beginning of the portion of Beha’alotecha in which G-d commands Moshe to light the candelabrum in the Tabernacle (Mishkan) [Bemidbar 8:2]: “Speak to Aaron and say to him, ‘When you light the lamps, let the seven lamps give light at the front of the lampstand.’” Aaron complies with G-d’s commandment [Bemidbar 8:3]: “Aaron did so; he mounted the lamps at the front of the lampstand, as G-d had commanded Moshe.” What does the Torah add by telling us that Aaron did “as G-d had commanded”? Rashi, the most eminent of the medieval commentators, who lived in France in the eleventh century, explains: “This is stated in order to tell the praise of Aaron – that he did not deviate [from G-d’s command]”. Excuse me? Why should we sing Aaron’s praise for doing what he was commanded to do? The answer is that Aaron did not embellish G-d’s commandment. He did not add any stringencies of his own even though he, like Mar Ukva’s father, would have been cleared to do so. The fact that Aaron did not deviate one iota from G-d’s command displayed immense humility and for this he earned G-d’s praise.

There is a problem with the solution proposed by the Vilna Gaon. After discussing Mar Ukva and his father, the Talmud then tells the story of another son who did not reach his father’s level: “Samuel said: ‘I am, with regard to this other matter, like vinegar, son of wine, with respect to Father. As Father would patrol his property to examine it twice daily but I patrol it only once a day.’ In this regard, Samuel conforms to his line of reasoning, as Samuel said: ‘One who patrols his property every day will find an asteira coin.’” Why did Samuel not survey his property twice daily as did his father? If, according to the Vilna Gaon, Samuel’s father was taking upon himself a stringency that Samuel was not permitted to take upon himself, why should surveying one’s field twice a day be considered a stringency?

I suggest that the answer to this question lies in understanding the message that Samuel is conveying. Samuel is not merely teaching that a person must be careful with his finances. When he promises that a person who regularly surveys his fields will find a treasure trove, he is not speaking figuratively. The Talmud follows Samuel’s statement with two stories:

  • Abaye would patrol his property each and every day. One day he encountered his sharecropper carrying a load of wood that the sharecropper intended to take for himself. Abaye said to him, “Where are you taking these logs?” He answered “To [your] house”. Abaye said to him, “The Sages already pre-empted you when they said that one should patrol his property regularly”, and they thereby prevented you from stealing my wood.
  • Rav Asi would patrol his property each and every day. He said, “Where are all these asteira coins mentioned by Shmuel?” One day he saw a water channel that overflowed, causing water to flood onto his land. He took off his cloak, wrapped it, and placed it inside the pipe to block the flow of water. He then raised his voice and people came and sealed the hole. He said, “I have just found all of Samuel’s asteira coins, as I would have suffered a great loss had I not patrolled my fields”.

In both of these stories, a person narrowly averted disaster as a direct result of his patrolling his property. Regrettably, life doesn’t usually work this way. In the real world, the relationship between economic cause and effect is murky. Real economic systems are highly nonlinear and highly unpredictable[5]. They are governed by a multitude of factors including human psychology and geopolitical intrigue. Not everyone is as lucky as Abaye and Rav Asi. Often we don’t run into the thief as he is walking away with our life’s savings. Often we don’t catch the leak, no matter how many sensors we install. To account for economic unpredictability, we must act with fiduciary responsibility. We must maximize supply chain robustness and try to mitigate risk. Only wine-people like Samuel’s father can thrive merely by surveying their fields twice a day. We “vinegarians” must live with the chaos and pray for the best.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5782

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Yechiel ben Shprintza, Geisha bat Sara, and Batya Sarah bat Hinda Leah.

[1] The reason for G-d’s anger is a topic for another essay.

[2] The amount of time required for this process to occur is anywhere between immediately and six hours.

[3] Tosafot [s.v. Lise’udta] teaches that Mar Ukva would consume milk at the next meal even if it was served immediately after the meal in which he consumed meat, similar to the custom of Dutch Jewry today.

[4] The Vilna Gaon quotes the verse in Psalms [24:3] “Who will climb the Mountain of G-d and who will rise in His most holy place?” King David answers [Psalms 24:4] “[Only] He who has clean hands and a pure heart.” Not everyone has permission to enter the inner sanctum.

[5] Try predicting the stock market for any length of time.

About the Author
Ari Sacher is a Rocket Scientist, and has worked in the design and development of missiles for over thirty years. He has briefed hundreds of US Congressmen on Israeli Missile Defense, including three briefings on Capitol Hill at the invitation of House Majority Leader. Ari is a highly requested speaker, enabling even the layman to understand the "rocket science". Ari has also been a scholar in residence in numerous synagogues in the USA, Canada, UK, South Africa, and Australia. He is a riveting speaker, using his experience in the defense industry to explain the Torah in a way that is simultaneously enlightening and entertaining. Ari came on aliya from the USA in 1982. He studied at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, and then spent seven years studying at the Technion. Since 2001 he has published a weekly parasha shiur that is read around the world. Ari lives in Moreshet in the Western Galil along with his wife and eight children.
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