“לֹֽא־תְבַשֵּׁ֥ל גְּדִ֖י בַּחֲלֵ֥ב אִמּֽוֹ”
“Do not cook a kid in its mother’s milk”
The three times this famous injunction appears in the Torah are in Shemot 23:19, 34:26, and in Devarim 14:21. The first two appear in the context of the tri-annual pilgrimages to Yerushalayim during the שלוש רגלים; the latter in the context of food laws (‘kashrut’). Leaving aside the Rabbinic analysis of this pasuk (which extends the understanding beyond the specific wording of the text), what is the true significance of this prohibition from the Torah’s perspective that we are meant to appreciate when refraining from cooking a kid in its mother’s milk?
The fact the exact same words are used despite the differing contexts seems to imply that ultimately both contexts are connected in appreciating the complete meaning of this injunction.
The general Biblical prohibition, as mentioned in Devarim, does not prohibit cooking any meat with any dairy product, but rather specifically a young offspring in its mother’s milk. Why would this be something to prohibit? Much earlier in our history, at the time of the creation of humans, God commanded Adam and Chavah to “פרו ורבו ומלאו את הארץ וכבשוה”. Although most translate the word ‘כבשוה’ as ‘conquer’, Rav Hirsch uniquely understands this charge as stemming from the same root as found in the word ‘כבשן’, a kiln, which manufactures raw materials into useable vessels. So, according to this textual read, humans were therefore charged with positively advancing the natural world they were placed within; to develop ‘raw’ nature into something positive and worthwhile. It therefore would not be surprising that God charges Jews (as teachers, requiring a more stringent expression of this charge) to also not even cook a young offspring specifically in its mother’s milk. For a mother’s milk – specifically for its own young – is the vehicle of nourishment and future growth for its newly born offspring; therefore if humans cook this animal in the very milk that represents its life we would be expressing a countering of the progression of a natural system as opposed to the advancing of it! This practice, therefore, would be outwardly rejecting our Divinely commanded charge as Jewish humans and is therefore prohibited to us, always.
But why then does God also use this law specifically within the context of the unique שלוש רגלים, and why does He use a kid, as opposed to lamb or calf, for example?
The pesukim we need to analyze to answer these questions are from Shemot 34: 23-26:
כג שָׁלֹשׁ פְּעָמִים בַּשָּׁנָה יֵרָאֶה כָּל־זְכוּרְךָ אֶת־פְּנֵי הָאָדֹן ה’ אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל׃
כד כִּי־אוֹרִישׁ גּוֹיִם מִפָּנֶיךָ וְהִרְחַבְתִּי אֶת־גְּבוּלֶךָ וְלֹא־יַחְמֹד אִישׁ אֶת־אַרְצְךָ בַּעֲלֹתְךָ לֵרָאוֹת אֶת־פְּנֵי ה’ אֱלֹהֶיךָ שָׁלֹשׁ פְּעָמִים בַּשָּׁנָה׃
כה לֹא־תִשְׁחַט עַל־חָמֵץ דַּם־זִבְחִי וְלֹא־יָלִין לַבֹּקֶר זֶבַח חַג הַפָּסַח׃
כו רֵאשִׁית בִּכּוּרֵי אַדְמָתְךָ תָּבִיא בֵּית ה’ אֱלֹהֶיךָ לֹא־תְבַשֵּׁל גְּדִי בַּחֲלֵב אִמּוֹ׃
Nestled within these pesukim that describe the obligations of the שלוש רגלים, pasuk 24 reads: “When I expel the nations from before you, and extend your borders, do not worry about your brother coveting your lands when you make your journey to see the face of God three times a year”.
Why does God add a specific detail about the journey itself when traveling to see Him during the שלוש רגלים? How does specifically not coveting another’s property during one’s travels to the mishkan during the festivals play into the required consciousness of this tri-annual visit?
The lesson established within this pasuk is: Because God is the one Who expelled the native nations, and because He was the One who provided extended borders for Am Yisrael to settle within, if someone then (merely) covets someone else’s land (even without him ultimately stealing it), it would be inherently denying God’s role in providing this land to begin with! If someone feels they can be envious of another’s property and lands, they are in fact stating that they have equal right to that land, as much as any one else. This creates a consciousness of self-ownership, and self-determination – from both perspectives, of the owner and from the ‘coveter’ – when in fact God explicitly states that the only reason anyone has this land at all is because of Him! The understanding and obligatory appreciation of our dependence on God and His sustenance vs. our own feeling of self-empowered independence is a clearly established, fundamental and repeated theme throughout the שלוש רגלים. From the enforced ‘showing up’ before God, to the numerous symbolic rituals specific to each of the רגלים, three times a year God ensures that we never forget Him and the centralizing presence He needs to represent for us in order to ensure our continued national existence and success.
After this theme is established in pasuk 24, the pesukim that then follow list specific obligatory behaviors during these רגלים which will therefore serve as vehicles to accomplish the previously demanded proper consciousness of God:
“לֹא־תִשְׁחַט עַל־חָמֵץ דַּם־זִבְחִי…” – ‘There can be no chametz when performing the korban pesach’. This of course refers to a required behavior on Pesach. The opposite of matzah, chametz is the symbol of the aforementioned dangerous feelings of independence; so fittingly God demands that the ritual behavior of this holiday (korban Pesach) be absent of that erroneous consciousness (chametz).
“רֵאשִׁית בִּכּוּרֵי אַדְמָתְךָ תָּבִיא בֵּית ה’ אֱלֹהֶיךָ” – “Bring the first fruits of your land to the house of God”. Although the mitzvah of ביכורים is never directly tied to Shavuot as the unique mitzvah of that festival, Shavuot falls out during the season when the first fruits are ripe, and therefore it is obvious that the ‘next time’ farmers are making the trip to the mishkan – on Shavuot – they would bring their first-fruits along with them. This farmer’s enforced donation to God and the accompanying declaration that the product of his endless hours of work, toil and effort are truly, ultimately “God’s” is Shavuot’s symbolic vehicle of breaking the erroneous feelings of independence.
And now our clause: “לֹא־תְבַשֵּׁל גְּדִי בַּחֲלֵב אִמּוֹ” – “do not cook a kid in its mother’s milk”. There’s only one festival that has yet to be assigned the thematic symbol of the required appreciating of our dependence on God: Sukkot! We have already learned above, from the mention of this prohibition in the context in Devarim, how this general command enforces an appreciation of our role as assistants to nature and not subverters of it. We are not given nature to establish our own independent existence but rather the purpose of our existence is to be an active, productive and supporting player in the development of the natural world; far from being autonomous rulers, we are truly servants of the greater natural world and its needs. In an agricultural society, where food is a deeply relatable, appreciated and an intensely focused-on system of a nation’s day-to-day survival, it is not surprising that the Torah employs food as a vehicle for raising/directing Bnei Yisrael’s day-to-day consciousness.
So why was this constant required reminder of our dependent role as advancers of the world also chosen to inspire a Sukkot-specific consciousness? Pesach and Shavuot already have food-related symbols to assist in conveying this necessary theme of the שלוש רגלים; Sukkot only has an obligation of where to eat (within a sukkah), but not a holiday-specific what to eat – it lacks a specific, relevant and relatable obligatory food-symbol to inspire the necessary “שלוש רגלים consciousness”.
And why is this particular animal specifically best-suited for Sukkot’s dependence appreciation? A quick search on the internet finds that goats breed between August and January, their gestation is about 5 months long, and the mother’s milk lasts about 10 months after birth. Just like the seasonal timing of the Bikurim made sense for Shavuot, so too it fits logically that God chose an animal that would be the one most commonly ‘around’ during the Sukkot period!
During the heightened time of God-awareness of the שלוש רגלים, while presenting ourselves before God, we are instructed to ensure we attain, strengthen and sustain the obligatory appreciation of our underlying dependence on God: On Pesach, it’s the absence of chametz; on Shavuot, the presentation of the seasonal first-fruits; and on Sukkot, we use the previously established prohibition against the cooking of a seasonally-present goat in its mother’s life-advancing milk.
 There is a theory that proposes that the use of the root ב.ש.ל. here connotes ‘a ripening’, not cooking. Therefore, the pasuk would be read, ‘don’t allow a kid to ripen within its mother’s milk’ – i.e. during the three-festival pilgrimages, don’t refrain from bringing an animal for your promised korbanot by letting it remain with its mother; rather, bring it ‘on time’, as promised, to the mishkan. However, I find this read difficult for two reasons: 1) Although two of the three times this injunction is mentioned is within the context of the שלוש רגלים, the third time, however, it is mentioned within the context of kashrut laws, i.e. no connection to the רגלים – and promised korbanot – at all. 2) Of the 30 times that the rootב.ש.ל. is used in TaNaKH, only twice is it used to connote an idea of ripening (of a fruit): in Breishit (40:10), in the bartender’s dream, which he relays it to Yosef, and within one of Yoel’s visions (4:13). The other 28 times, it is used in the context of cooking meat. Another theory, posited most famously by Rambam, states that cooking a kid in its mother’s milk was a festival rite practiced by the Pagans. Once again, this theory fits only with the שלוש רגלים context but would have no logical place in the kashrut context of Devarim.
 The pesukim in Shemot 23 are similar enough to this section not to warrant an analysis of both sections.
 As opposed to not stealing which seemingly is truly the ultimate ‘worry’ God seems to be addressing here.
 This is a multi-faceted, detailed and larger topic in its own right, which is beyond the scope of this dvar Torah.
 See Devarim 8:7-20, for example.
 See footnote #3
 In fact, the ‘ביכורים season’ spans from Shavuot until Chanukah.
 See footnote #3
 Other examples include: ברכת המזון, ספירת העומר, כשרות, שמיטה/יובל, קרבנות, etc.
 Interestingly, a sheep’s cycle is a bit earlier and shorter