In a section near the end of this week’s parasha – Parashat Ki Tisa – the Torah presents some of the mitzvot related to the chaggim – the Jewish festivals. Particular attention in the section is given to the holiday of Pesach. This section concludes with two mitzvot – all first fruits are to be brought to the Temple to be given to the Kohen and the commandment not to cook milk together with meat. At first glance, the connection between the beginning and the end of this section is not obvious. Pesach and the prohibition to mix milk and meat seem unrelated.
In a very novel and interesting approach, Rabbenu Ovadiah Seforno identifies a theme that runs through the section. Seforno explains that the mitzvot in this section are aimed to reorient a person’s concept of the true source of success. Hashem is the source of our material success and well-being. There are two moments in which a person is particularly susceptible to forgetting this idea.
Celebrating a spring festival – Pesach – is aimed at correcting the incorrect notion that the foundation of man’s success is rooted strictly in the natural order – specifically without Hashem as the source. Spring is a time of rebirth. The natural order is renewed. Precisely at this moment, when we may become confused about the true source of our success, Hashem commands us to serve Him with the holiday of Pesach.
At the end of the section, the Torah presents the prohibition of mixing milk and meat. Seforno explains that the idolaters thought that they would achieve material success through the practice of cooking a baby goat in its mother’s milk. Seforno does not explain what psychological forces are at play that underscore this practice, however, it is interesting that this idolatrous practice was tied up with the manipulation of nature at the time of birth. Seforno explains that the Torah commands us not to engage in this practice of cooking milk together with meat in order to redirect ourselves to the true idea that Hashem is the source of our success.
Birth is a miraculous event. Birth is brought about by a dizzying number of cause-effect relationships. These relationships can be viewed from a naturalistic perspective. Cell division, DNA, proteins, hormones and many, many other factors work in harmony to produce a new living being. However, when looked at in totality, the intricate system of birth begs for an explanation. Seizing upon this unique moment – the moment when a person is open to reflecting on the wonder of creation – the Torah obligates us in these special mitzvot to direct us towards appreciating Hashem as the source of our success.