Just before the Sh’ma and Ve’Ahavta in this chapter, we’re reminded – again – of the Land flowing with milk and honey. Much has been written about this expression, which highlights its peculiarity. What is it about milk and honey?
The Babylonian sage Rami Bar Yechezkel made aliya and arrived in Bnai Brak. As described in Tractate Ketubot 111, he saw goats grazing under fig trees and possibly trying to make sense of what he heard about the Promised Land throughout his own childhood, is quoted saying, ‘Ah, says Rami Bar Yechezkel, it must be that honey from fig trees mixing with milk from the goats grazing under those trees!’ His answer, if anything, just highlights how hard he worked to make the metaphor and the reality in front of him harmonize.
Sforno, who lived in Italy centuries later, said that “Land flowing with milk and honey” means that it’s ready for those who worship God to do just that, like a giant pre-paid school cafeteria for the students who are committed to learnings, “so you’ll make a living in this Land with no sorrow and have time for contemplation, (good) deeds, and be fruitful and multiply”.
Rav Uri Sharki suggests that while we usually do not eat products of non-kosher creatures, we do so in two cases: milk and honey: Honey from bees and milk – from humans. The unique gift of the Land then is its ability to be transformative; to take something that would be normally be considered “impure”, non-kosher, not fit for eating and turn it into something “pure”, digestible, healing, sweetening and life giving.
Currently based in Israel, Michal Kohane is a scholar in residence and student at Yeshivat Maharat.
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