The King of Foods

How cheese plays a role in the Kingdom of David.

Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Hirsch ,

Swiss cheese
Swiss cheese

"And Boaz said to her:' Come close and eat bread…and she ate, and she was satisfied.. and she shared with Naomi from what was left of her food, ( -משבעה literally, from her satisfaction) " (Ruth, 2; 14, 18).

"אם בחוקותי תלכו- If you walk in My statutes (Chukim)…then you will eat your bread in שובע, and dwell in security in your land".

Ruth is always read on Shavuot- it is the story of the family of King David and sovereignty in Israel. B'chukotai, the Torah section about Chukim, is read some ten days before Shavuot. Rav Matis sees the connection: a society that consumes but is not satisfied is a failed society, and will never feel happy and secure. Furthermore, in Kabbalah, sharing is the essence of Malchut (kingship), as we shall see below. Finally, in Hebrew, the very name of the holiday, Shavuot, is at root related to Sova, satisfaction.

This is no little issue. One of the main problems of modern society, so rich materially, is lack of satisfaction. Despite freedom from everyday chores (made possible by washing machines, vacuums,etc.), previously unthinkably easy transportation, and therefore free time as never in history, modern Man is not satisfied. Why? Because he will not accept the Chukim, the givens in Life. We don't know the reasons behind Chukim: why a person is born into such a family, with a given DNA, with a given intelligence, with a decree for such a personal financial level, etc. Rav Kook calls this the Har K'gigit, the mountain (of givens) that made it difficult for the Nation of Israel to accept the Torah.

Yet accept the Torah, they did- and no other nation did. Rav Tzi Y. Tau explains that this is the basis for the famous dictum that Shavuot is the one holiday that MUST be לכם, for you- for you Jews, both for personal satisfaction and for that of the nation as a whole (klal) . Other holidays may be spent solely in holy pursuits, praying and learning Torah, but not the holiday that commemorates Israel's accepting the Torah/Chukim and becoming a nation. Other nations, never satisfied with their givens, may battle their own DNA, surgically turning man into woman; they may think that holiness is found in a monk who remains celibate; but not Israel, who know how to make the physical, holy. Shavuot must be spent at least partially in the joyful company of others, eating and drinking- and the food that typifies Shavuot baking and eating, is cheesecake.

Thus, Shavuot, Chag Matan Torateinu, is the holiday of King David and cheesecake. We celebrate the giving of the Torah on Sinai and the Malchut of King David by eating dairy dishes (milchiks or chalavi). I'm not capable of giving you a prize recipe for chocolate or blueberry cheesecake (for that, email my wife), but the convergence of Torah, David HaMelech and cheesecake is no mere happenstance.

On Sinai, the Almighty gave Moses the Written Torah and oral explanations. This started the period in the desert of the unique prophecy of Moshe Rabbeinu. If Moses had a sha'aila (Halakhic question), he would turn to G-d, ask his question and receive his Divine answer. This was a Torah symbolized by Manna (given to the Jews of the desert in the merit of Moshe) and milk, both of which share a common attribute: Manna tasted like any food, and mother's milk incorporates all the foods from which the milk was produced (Talmud Yoma 75a-b). Thus, the Milchike-Torah of Moshe Rabbeinu was (Rabbi Matis Weinberg, Frameworks, pg. 96-98) "a predigested, complete, formulated" product, available to the Jews anytime, with no effort on their part.

However, with the passing of Moses, after forty years, this type of Torah came to an end. Forevermore, Israel would have to toil in the learning of Torah (Rashi says this to explain B'Chukotai, Vayikra 26; 3- see above) and reach Halakhic conclusions through the process of human reasoning, based on the Oral Torah's principles. This "meat-Torah" allowed the Torah system to move from static dogma to adaptability to all times and conditions.

On the holiday of Shavuot, we celebrate God's giving to Moses both types of Torah, written and oral. It's symbolized by a unique food, cheese, which incorporates both meat and milk and thus has a Halakhic and historic connection to Malchut David. Rabbi Matis Weinberg explains Malchut (Kingship) as the Kabbalistic answer to the existential problem of how all of Creation can be possible if G-d is all-encompassing. If He is everywhere, and unchanging, how can we exist and how can things change? The answer is found in the Kabbalistic Omer-attributes (Midot) that we are to contemplate during the seven-week Omer period.

This begins with Chesed, G-d's merciful desire to share existence with others and thus create Existence; and His Gevura, which operates through din, the principle which says dai (enough) to each created individual, setting defined limits and boundaries to each individual (prat). For all these individuals to be more than mere chaotic single organisms requires Malchut, Kingship. Malchut is the self-organizing factor that allows all the details (pratim) of any organism or structure to combine to a klal, one unit- and to function cooperatively at its most efficient, thus fully, creatively expressing (Hod) itself. An example: a benevolent king, chosen unanimously by his people, who brings out the best in all elements of society, allowing the nation to "be all it can be" and progress into the future- a King David .

Rabbi Weinberg explains that Malchut is an "emergent phenomenon," emerging from the harmonious (Tiferet, Yesod) interaction of the parts (pratim) of the system. (An emergent phenomenon always emerges from the pratim, details, but it itself is not found within those parts. Thus a Melech, king, is not a prat, an individual, and thus has "nothing of his own" - Zohar, Parshat Vayishlach, 168, in reference to King David.) To illustrate this, Rabbi Weinberg mentions the famous Midrash which says that David HaMelech did not even have a lifespan of his own, and Adam HaRishon gave David seventy years of his own lifetime, in an act of Chesed, kindness (Chesed always being the Kabbalistic attribute motivating creation of existence).

That emergent phenomena are different than the pratim from which they emerge is illustrated by two examples: in a human being, character, identity and self-hood are emergent phenomena, coming from the brain. Now if you cut up a brain and examine its neurons, you will not find consciousness and identity. This is similar to the paradox of modern physics: focus an intellectual microscope on Newtonian physics and you won't be able to explain what happens at the subatomic level- and build up from quantum mechanics, and you won't be able to explain what happens in the big, macro world that our eyes can see. That's because the world that we are familiar with is an emergent phenomenon, emerging from a nanophysical-chemical world in which things don't behave the same as they do on the macroscopic level.

What does all this have to do with cheesecake? Well, cheese is the closest analogy that we have in the realm of food to an emergent phenomenon, and specifically to Malchut. Chop up a solid cheese down to the finest microscopic pieces, and you won't find the milk from which the cheese was created (unless the milk had an admixture of milk from a non-kosher animal; in that case, the Halakha says that since non-kosher milk won't congeal into cheese, droplets of non-kosher milk can be found in holes in the cheese). Cheese emerges from the milk because of the "interaction and cooperative inter-relationship of the details" of the milk with the enzyme pepsin, which coagulates the milk into the new, emergent entity of solid cheese. Also, another common aspect is shared by King David and the King of Foods, cheese: both kings have a "blemish" which can only be explained away by Torah Sheba'al Peh (the Oral Torah), the Torah of meat.

We all know that David HaMelech was descended from Ruth the Moabitess. The people in David's time were well aware of the written Torah's injunction: "An Amonite and a Moabite may not enter the congregation of the Lord." (Devarim 23:4) It required the teachings of the Oral Torah to show that King David really had no Halakhic blemish, for the rabbis had a tradition that a "Moabite, but not a Moabitess" is excluded from Israel, "for they did not greet you with bread and water" (Devarim 23:5) when Israel wandered in the desert. Thus, the harmonious (Tiferet in Omer-Kabbalah terms) interaction (Yesod) of the Oral Torah of Meat with the Written Torah of Milk allows the emergence of Malchut, b'heiter (with Halakhic permissibility).

Our King of Foods, cheese, also has a skeleton in its closet: a seeming Halakhic forbidden comingling of meat and milk, basar v'chalav. Yet here again, the rabbis of the Oral Torah come to the rescue and explain that cheese too has no blemish. The Rama (Yoreh Deah 87; 10) says that in making cheese, the meat component, the rennet/pepsin (the coagulating enzyme from animal stomachs) is present in the milk in a less-than-sixtieth, and hence allowable, proportion. Halakhically, the meat as meat (a prat) is simply not there anymore in the cheese. This factor coupled with the fact that cheese is not cooked, but rather pickled or salted (Shach, Yoreh Deah 87; 30) allows us to eat the emergent cheese, which has no blemish of issur (prohibition). Finally, the Pri Megadim says that modern rennet is a chemical derivative, a powder, that doesn't physically look like the animal stomach from which it came; moreover, very often the enzyme today comes from plant, not animal, sources. Again, the harmonious inter-relationship of factors (pratim), some of which seem contradictory, allows the emergence of the King (of Foods).

This may all sound contrived, but the proof "emerges" from the life of King David himself. Shmuel HaNavi anointed David as king in the presence of David's father and brothers (Samuel, chapter 16). In the next chapter, David performs his first kingly act: in the presence of the entire army of Israel. David "comes in the name of the Lord of Hosts, the G-d of the battalions of Israel" (Samuel 17:44) and slays the giant Goliath. When they went out to the war, David's brothers had pointedly left him behind at home. Father Yishai, however, had sent David to the front with a gift of food for the commander. In a total reversal of the Moabite blemish, David greeted the army of Israel with the gift of food. What food? Charitzei chalav (charitzim of milk; Samuel 17:17). Now what is charitzei, which is a rather uncommon Hebrew word?

Say the rabbis, the elders of the "Torah of Meat": charitzei is cheese.

Thus, Yishai announced the "emergence" of King David with gifts of cheese. May we merit the coming of David's descendant, the Melech HaMoshiach, speedily in our time. Y'Chi HaMelech David!