Here’s something that happens all the time:

Someone acts out of line, objectively so, and you need to discipline them. A child hits a sibling or peer, a friend plays around with addictive substances, or your spouse says something particularly nasty to you.

What do you do?

Do you let it go, opting to be the “nice guy” and avoid rocking the boat? Or do you intervene, telling off the child, giving your friend the skinny, or telling your spouse that you’ve been hurt?

Which one is the “right” path to take?


The trick is to do them in the right order.

The Time Between

Our parshah introduces the laws of kosher, with the famous and enigmatic words, “Do not boil a kid in its mother’s milk,”1 from which we learn one of the bedrock kosher laws: the prohibition to mix meat and dairy.

That the two cannot mix is relatively common knowledge. Lesser known are the laws governing the sequence in which these two food types may be eaten. A cheeseburger is a no-no; but may I down a glass of milk and immediately thereafter go for the pastrami? How about the other way around?

Halachah is clear: after one eats meat, there is a required wait-time of six hours.2 In contrast, after eating dairy products, the wait time is much shorter, varying by custom.3

What is the deeper implication of this distinction? What message is contained in the fact that meat requires a long separation before milk is introduced, but not the other way around?

Milk Represents Kindness; Meat Represents Discipline

Kabbalah teaches that every creation, every being, has an inner, spiritual dimension. Thus, a piece of steak and a glass of milk differ not merely in body, but also in spirit; their differing physical characteristics express a deeper difference in their spiritual source.

In the spiritual realm, milk and meat are sourced “opposing” G‑dly traits: kindness (chesed) and discipline (gevurah). These two characters are somewhat of a prototype in Kabbalah, two vastly different ways in which G‑d relates to this world—one with expansiveness, benevolence, and graciousness, and the other with discipline, discretion, and harshness.

The spiritual sources for milk and meat are even reflected in the natural color of the two materials: meat, which stems from gevurah, is red—a bright and harsh color, whereas milk which stems from chesed, is white—pure and soft.

The Bottom Dominates

We’re almost ready to return to the discussion regarding the wait times between milk and meat, but first we must detour and explore an important law in the world of kosher.

What happens when kosher and non-kosher foods mix? Does the latter contaminate the former, rendering it treif?

Generally speaking, the rule is that food must be hot for taste to transfer. Cold kosher and non-kosher foods that touch do not pose a problem. When they are hot, however, they exchange tastes and the non-kosher food renders the kosher food unkosher.

For example, if a slice of hot baked apple fell on a hot piece of bacon, the taste of the bacon transfers to the apple (and vice versa) due to the heat, and the apple becomes as non-kosher as the bacon.

What, then, is the rule when only one food is hot? If, for example, it was an apple from the fridge that fell on a hot piece of bacon, do we say that the hot bacon “heats up” the apple and transfers its taste? Or do we say the apple “cools down” the bacon and prevents any taste from transferring at all?

The law is that “the bottom prevails.” In other words, whichever food is on the bottom dominates. Thus, if hot food is placed (or falls) on cold food, it’s still kosher, whereas if cold food is placed (or falls) on hot food, it is now treif.4

[Note: These laws are quite complex, and practically speaking, a competent Orthodox rabbi should be consulted if such cases occur. The above is just a general guideline.]

Line Your Base with Milk

Let’s bring it all together now.

Remember: If you start with meat, you must take a significant break and then start again with milk. By contrast, if you start with milk, you can move on to meat relatively quickly.

Why? Because in life, you must always begin with kindness.

Of course, every person needs both “milk” and “meat” in their life—kindness and discipline. Not every situation calls for us to be permissive, to say yes. Sometimes we must forcefully put down our foot and say no. And sometimes, we even need to criticize.

But the laws of milk and meat teach us how to properly balance these two emotions: Inasmuch as “the bottom is dominant,” the one we establish first influences what follows.

So, if you start with kindness (“milk”), you have established kindness as your base, and it tempers any ensuing discipline. That is desirable, and is reflected in the law that when milk comes first, you need not wait very long until eating meat.

But if you start with discipline (“meat”), you have established discipline as your baseline, and it will dominate any ensuing kindness. This is not the proper path, and you must start over—reflected in the law that if meat comes first, a long wait-time ensues until you can resume with milk.

Kindness Always Wins

The message here is obvious: Always begin with kindness. Your baseline approach should always be gracious and loving. Of course, you’ll need to employ criticism and discipline here and there, but make sure to sweeten it first with love.

If you need to criticize someone, ask yourself if you want what’s best for that person, or simply want to “let ‘em have it!” If it’s the latter, think again. If it’s the former, then go ahead, but make sure you couch your constructive comments with loving words.

If you need to take action against a wayward child, or express hurt feelings to a spouse, or cut an employee’s pay, there are ways to do such things without coming across as a bull in a china shop. Take the time to look under your own hood and determine how to sweeten and soften the blow.

Whatever it is, remember to first drink a glass of milk and serve it with a cup of kindness.5