The Fear of Heaven in Private and in Public
One mitzvah given to us in Parsha Mishpatim (which is filled with mitzvot) is the prohibition against mixing meat and milk. The Torah states, “You shall not seethe a kid in its mother’s milk” (Exodus 23:19). This mitzvah is given three times in the Torah, from which the Sages derived that “one is a prohibition against eating, one a prohibition against benefit [in general], and one a prohibition against seething” (Kiddushin 57b).
We may therefore ask the question: Why did the Holy One, blessed be He, forbid the Children of Israel from eating meat with milk? What is the reason behind this prohibition? What does meat represent, and what does milk represent, such that it is forbidden for them to come into contact with one another?
The Sages recount that the nations of the world will approach Hashem in the future and ask for a reward (Avodah Zarah 2a). He will say to them, “Let us consider the happenings of old…there are seven commandments which you did accept. Did you observe them?” (ibid. 2b). The nations will reply, “Offer us the Torah anew and we shall obey it” (ibid. 3a). What will Hashem do? He will give them the mitzvah of Sukkah, but at the same time “the Holy One, blessed be He, will cause the sun to blaze forth over them as at the summer solstice, and each of them will trample down his sukkah and go away” (ibid.). This is difficult to understand. If Hashem Himself will prevent them from accomplishing the mitzvah of Sukkah, how can they be blamed?
As we know, the mitzvah of Sukkah is one in which a person must participate with his entire body, meaning that he cannot perform it partially. He must carry it out with his entire body. This teaches us a lesson for all the mitzvot, namely that a person must perform them with all his 248 members and 365 sinews. Furthermore, he must accomplish the mitzvot even when they are difficult, when he has many reasons to think that he is exempt.
It is in this way that Hashem will put the nations of the world to the test. He will give them the mitzvah of Sukkah, which seems easy to perform, but at the same time He will stir up difficulties for them. He will bring the sun out of its sheath and see if the nations of the world will, despite such difficulty, accomplish the mitzvah by entering the Sukkah with their entire bodies. Non-Jews will thus immediately demonstrate that this mitzvah (along with all the rest) does not belong to them. They will not be able to overcome the test, for they will not be able to fulfill a mitzvah when a small thing “goes wrong.” In this way Hashem will prove to them that the mitzvot belong solely to the Jewish people, both the mitzvot and their reward.
To what does this apply? Every Jew experiences numerous difficulties in life, trials that attempt to disrupt his performance of the mitzvot. However Hashem wants to teach us not to act as non-Jews, not to reject the mitzvot when they are difficult to perform. We are always to carry them out – despite difficulties and trials – because the greater the difficulty, the greater the reward. To our great regret, today there are many people who perform mitzvot only when it is convenient for them, refraining from observing them otherwise. For example, there are many people who are “Tzaddikim” outside their homes. They are careful to accomplish both easy and difficult mitzvot, and we may think that we can learn how to serve Hashem from them. However in their homes – where no one sees them – these very same people behave exactly like non-Jews. They conduct themselves with absolutely no modesty, holiness, or purity, not even performing a single mitzvah.
Concerning the Tzaddik and Kabbalist Rabbi Haim Pinto (may his merit protect us), it is said that he arrived in a town where a man was involved in a dispute with the local rav. Rabbi Haim reprimanded the man for his behavior, yet he was obstinate and even mocked what Rabbi Haim said to him. Rabbi Haim then called him to an isolated room and said, “Is it true that you are suffering from a headache?” The man was quite frightened by this question, and he responded: “How do you know this?” Rabbi Haim replied, “I will tell you how. During the Fast of Esther you were very hungry, and so you took some food and went to an isolated room. Since your wife couldn’t see you there, you ate the food without saying a blessing beforehand or afterwards. You’ve been suffering from a headache ever since.” The man was completely stunned, and from that point on he corrected his behavior.
This is truly amazing. Can a person really act like a Tzaddik outside his home, while inside he does whatever comes to mind? The Gemara states, “Whatever the Sages prohibited for appearances’ sake [marit ha’ayin], it is prohibited even in one's innermost chambers” (Shabbat 64b). Let us think about the number of things that people do in their homes, things that they would be ashamed of doing in front of people. It is simply because they are afraid of what “others will say,” not about what Hashem will say. G-d will demand an accounting from us on the day of judgment, yet what will we say? What answer will we be able to give on the day of rebuke?
The Torah therefore prohibits us from mixing meat with milk, meaning that Hashem commands everyone to make a distinction between meat and milk in their homes. What is the objective of this? As we all know, meat is red, which alludes to impurity (forbidden things, which are red), to transgressions. Milk, however, is white, alluding to purity (mitzvot), to permitted and legitimate things. By this Hashem asks everyone to make a distinction between holiness and impurity in their homes. If such is the case with this mitzvah, we must act in the same way for all the mitzvot. We must not mix things up. We must always act with holiness and purity, even inside the home, not just outside of it. We should have a fear of Heaven both in private and in public, even when it is difficult and even when we encounter trials. It is only in this way that we will merit all the good that is reserved for the Tzaddikim, Hashem’s great reward.