How Angelic can we be?
Taste of Talmud and Halacha
While checking on the cholent, a man dropped a piece of cheese he was holding into the cholent pot! What is the halachic status of that cholent? What if a piece of non-kosher meat fell into a pot of kosher meat? As long as the non-kosher item is recognizable it must be removed. What is the Halacha if the non-kosher item was removed from the Taaroves (mixture) and we are only concerned now with the flavor that was left behind? The Shulchan Aruch says that in both the case of the cheese and the case of the non-kosher meat the food became tainted by their flavor and may not be eaten. This is because of a principle that is derived from the laws of the Nazir called Taam K’Ikar (the flavor of a food is like the essence of the food). This is derived from the fact that not only may a Nazir not eat anything that comes from the grape vine, but he may not even eat any food product that has a trace of wine flavor in it. However, if the flavor is not discernible in the food then it is Batel (nullified) and the mixture may be eaten. For bitul to occur, it is necessary for there to be 60 times more of the acceptable food than the amount of the forbidden substance in the pot. This principle is also derived from the laws of the Nazir. When the Nazir successfully completes his purification process, he brings a ram as a Shlamim (peace offering). The Nazir must give the Zeroah (fore-leg) from this ram to a Kohein. However, the Nazir must first cook the ram together with the Zeroah and only then give the cooked Zeroah to the Kohein! The Talmud in Chulin 98a derives from here that when you have the exact ratio such as a fore-leg in relationship to the rest of the ram then the traces of flavor that are mixed in are Batel. This ratio is exactly 1/60!
What happens if the pot with forbidden flavor spills and you do not know if there was 60 times the amount of permissible food verses the amount of the prohibited substance? In Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 98:2, Rav Yosef Karo makes a distinction between the case of the cheese that fell into the cholent pot and that of the non-kosher meat. In the case of the non-kosher meat, where the two items are Min-B’Mino i.e., the two items have the same flavor, as long as the permitted food was at least the majority then what was salvaged from the spill is still permitted. This is because when the flavor is not readily discernible because the two items have the same taste, then that flavor is only prohibited through a later Rabbinic injunction rather than a Biblical prohibition. Therefore as long as you had the Biblically required majority, the mixture is permitted and you may be lenient in a case of doubt. However, if they have noticeably different flavors from each other, as in the case with the cheese, then when the pot spills the cholent is prohibited. This is because we have to be strict when it comes to a doubt in matters of Torah law and Taam K’Ikar is derived from the Torah verse by the laws of Nazir (Numbers 6:3).
Taste of Parasha
Does the Parasha of the Nazir still apply in our day? Yes and no. From the words of the Seforno (Rabbeinu Ovadia ben Yaakov 1470-1550) we can learn a number of important lessons about living in a world whose moral standards are, shall we say, not those of the Torah! A Nazir is a person who feels that the world that surrounds him runs contrary to the style of living which he desires. He wants to properly understand and live by the words of the Torah. Yet he realizes that the hedonistic culture around him and an unchecked evil inclination conspire to ruin his lofty goals. The Nazir is the quintessential Oved Hashem, one who desires to serve G-d to the best of his abilities. To this end, the Nazir takes a hiatus from two areas which are pernicious in their cunning ability to slowly drag a person away from that which is pure and holy: drinking wine and coming in contact with anything impure. In order to succeed, he needs to temporarily separate completely from anything that has even a trace of the fruit of the vine in it. In so doing, in the words of the Seforno, “Nehapach l’ish acher” he turns into a different man. He becomes a man who is able to use all of the bounty of this world with a singular drive and focus to serve G-d. This can be seen in the unique nature of his offering on the day that he becomes pure. He is the only one who, as a non-Kohein, may intentionally ingest traces of meat that have the elevated status of belonging to the Kohein. He becomes a true Eved Hashem. We too would do well to carefully scrutinize what we take in from the surrounding culture. If we are not comfortable with how it is affecting us, we should take a cue from the Nazir and eliminate those elements which are leading us astray from “the path of the just”.