Nine reasons for the custom to eat milchigs on the yom tov of Shavuos:

by Rabbi Nachum Scheiner

On the yom tov of Shavuos there is a well-known custom to eat milchigs. Whether you fulfill this custom with a small milchig kiddush or a five-course dairy meal, it is universally accepted to partake in some dairy on this yom tov. As is often the case with minhagei yisroel, there are various ways of fulfilling this minhag. Some have the custom to eat the milchig meal at night and some partake of milchigs during the day. Some do it one day and some do both days. In addition, depending on the reason, it may suffice to fulfill this custom with a small kiddush or it may be proper to have a full meal. There are many reasons given for this minhag and I would like to share some of the reasons that the poskim mention:

  1. The Rama (495:3) suggests that just as we have two cooked foods on the seder plate to commemorate the korban pesach and korban chagigah, similarly on Shavuos we commemorate the sh’tei halechem, the 2 breads that were offered in the beis hamikdash. This is accomplished by having a dairy meal followed by meat, which requires one to remove the bread that was used with dairy and bring another loaf of bread for the meat meal. Consequently, one will need to have 2 different breads.

  2. Since the torah is compared to the sweet taste of milk and honey (as the pasuk says, d’vash v’chalav tachas l’shoneich), we serve milchigs and sweet foods to instill in us this concept that the torah is sweet. (Mishna Berura 495:12)

  3. The pasuk in the reading of Shavuos says, וּבְיוֹם הַבִּכּוּרִים בְּהַקְרִיבְכֶם מִנְחָה חֲדָשָׁה לַהֹ בְּשָׁבֻעֹתֵיכֶם, the first letter of the last 3 words reads חלב – milk. (Sidur Yaavetz)

  4. Another reason is given by the Ba’eir Heitev. The Midrash tells us that the angels were not willing to let go of the torah; they wanted to keep it in heaven. However, one of the reasons that they were deemed unworthy of having the torah is because they ate meat and milk in Avraham Avinu’s house. Hence, the custom to eat milchigs and then fleishigs – in a way sanctioned by the torah – to demonstrate why we merited receiving the torah.

  5. The numerical value of the word cholov (חלב) is 40; corresponding to the 40 days that Moshe was in heaven to receive the torah. (Neziras Shimshon) This also has a deeper meaning. In contrast to the physical world that was created in 6 days, the Torah and the spiritual world were “created” in 40 days. (Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky, quoting the Alter of Slobodka)

  6. The Mishna Berura (495:12) quotes another reason. Before the yidden received the torah they were permitted to partake of meat that did not have a proper shechita. Once they received the torah they had to implement all of the laws of shechita (i.e., using a kosher knife etc.), and keep all of the other rules and regulations of kashrus properly (e.g., salting, removing fats, etc.) before being able to eat fleishigs. In addition, all of their utensils were now treif and unfit for use. In the interim they had to subside with eating dairy and we commemorate this by eating milchigs.  

  7. The Chidushei HaRim (the first Gerrer Rebbe) mentions yet another reason. It is well known that there are 365 negative commands in the Torah which correspond to the 365 days of the year. The mitzva of refraining from meat and milk together is corresponding to the day of Shavuos. Hence, on this very day, we eat milk and then meat, in accordance with the rules and regulations of this mitzvah.

  8. The milchig meal is a siyum, celebrating the completion of the 7-week mitzvah of sefiras ha’omer. We do not have the conventional meat meal in order to emphasize that it is not just another yom tov meal. (Midrash Pinchas)

  9. Moshe Rabeinu was born on 7 of Adar and was placed in the Nile River 3 months later, on 6 Sivan – the very day that was to become the day of Kabalas Hatorah. On that day he was taken out by Basya and taken to his mother to be nursed. We, therefore, partake of milchigs to commemorate the miracle of Moshe Rabeinu’s survival.