2 Words on Shtei Halechem
Milchigs on Shavuos
As we celebrate the greatest gift in history, receiving the holy Torah at Har Sinai, our yom tov tables are graced with dairy menus fulfilling the age-old minhag yisroel.
Various reasons are given for this custom, but we’ll focus on one of them, lesser-known, here.
The Rema (O.C. 494:3) writes that dairy is served to commemorate the korban shtei halechem brought in the Beis Hamikdash every Shavuos. Two breads, also known as the lechem habikurim, were waved in the air together with the accompanying sheep and then distributed to the kohanim for eating.
By adding a dairy course to our fleishig Shavuos meal, a separate challah is needed for each course. These two challos symbolize the korban shtei halechem.
While some fulfill this minhag as presented in the Rema, many families don’t actually serve dairy during their fleishig yom vov meal and would deem such a practice quite strange — considering the strict guidelines of meat/dairy separations.
On a technical level, the prohibition of basar b’chalav only involves eating a mixture of meat and dairy. When served separately there is no issue so long as they don’t mix. Yet chazal instructed us to wait (three to six hours) after eating meat because of the meat/dairy mixture that occurs in one’s mouth. Small strands of meat or fatty residue remain in the mouth and become mixed with the dairy that is eaten afterwards.
On Shavuos, this issue is avoided by serving the dairy course first, as milk and cheese usually don’t leave lasting residue in the mouth, followed by a fleishig menu. But a separate challah is essential, because tiny fragments of dairy which may have become attached to the challah can touch meat, thereby creating a mixture. Although negligible, this minute contact of milk with meat becomes basar b’chalav and is forbidden to eat — similar to dairy that touches the small strands of meat in the teeth. This could also apply if one touches challah with milchig residue on their hands.
Given the hustle and bustle of a typical Shabbos morning kiddush, it is difficult to expect that all pastries and utensils will remain in their proper place.
In addition to the customary two challos, the Mishna Berurah cautions one to vigilantly follow the halachos detailed by the Shulchan Aruch in Yorah Deah (88-89) regarding meat/dairy separations.
The tablecloth must be changed between courses to ensure that no bits or crumbs get mixed (M.B. note 16). To avoid forbidden mixtures in the mouth, the mouth must be cleaned after the dairy dish. This is accomplished through kinuach (cleansing) followed by hadachah (washing). Kinuach is done by chewing on a solid food (i.e., bread or cracker); taking a drink serves as hadachah (Y.D. 89:2). Another concern raised by chazal is dairy residue remaining on the hands. One must inspect their hands or wash them before the meat is served.
The gist of all these halachos are one simple principle: Avoid any contact of dairy with meat. Implementing this principle, as simple as it seems, requires mindfulness. And it is the responsibility of those participating to pay attention to these halachos.
Aside from their relevance on Shavuos, these halachos are applicable all year round. Shabbos challah that was served at the fleishig meal should be treated as fleishig and shouldn’t be served at a dairy shalosh seudos. It definitely cannot be eaten together with milchigs to make dairy french toast, or to make a cream cheese sandwich, for example.
Another year-round example where basar b’chalav comes up is dual-option kiddushim. As society seeks newer variety, it has become not uncommon for kiddushim to offer dairy pastries for the ladies alongside a full fleishig menu for the men. As mentioned, chazal demanded a heightened sensitivity to matters of basar b’chalav. The “shtei halechem” separation posed by the Rema, while working well for a private meal, won’t always succeed in a busy kiddush atmosphere. Given the hustle and shuffle of a typical Shabbos morning kiddush, it is difficult to expect that all pastries and utensils will remain in their proper place.
Other serious mistakes are likewise difficult to avoid. After a plate of yapchik, someone may innocently nibble on a dairy rugelah from the ladies’ section. Or a kid coming home from shul with pastries and sweets might present them at his Shabbos meal. A small smudge of cheesecake on the waiter’s finger may find itself in a dish of sautéed liver on the men’s side. (It is not practical to mandate that the waiters inspect or wash their hands between platters.)
For these reasons, it would be a tikkun gadol should such kiddushim be held with an adequate system following guidelines approved by the shul or one’s rav.
The importance of practicing proper fleishig/milchig separations, while obvious, demands awareness. The two challos on Shavuos, besides for commemorating the shtei halechem, serve as a reminder of much-needed vigilance.