On Shavuot, one of the most celebrated and well known Minhagim is that of eating dairy products on the Chag. Less known are the reasons behind this practice.
The Ramah explains that it is a custom to eat dairy on Shavuot, as the Mishnah Berurah cites the famed explanation that Bnei Yisrael did not have the time to Kasher their utensils and prepare meat according to Halacha, and therefore they ate dairy.
However, the concept of Simchat Yom Tov is also key to the discussion of milk or meat on Yom Tov. The Meshech Chochmah goes as far as to say that a Jewish Holiday without explicit Simchah on it is like learning Torah without intent to apply it. Furthermore, meat is noted in several sources, most prominently by the Alshich, as being a direct correlation to this Simchah. A question that then arises is, how can we have a concept of dairy on Shavuot when we are told that meat is a food for facilitating Simchat Yom Tov?
The most noted source for this concept of meat on Yom Tov is found in the Gemara (Pesachim 109a), where Rabi Yehuda ben Beteira comments that in the time of the Beit HaMikdash, there was no Simcha without meat, but that in today’s time, we are forced to use wine. This source supports the concept of dairy meals, as meat is seen to be optional for our current unfortunate circumstance.
The Yam Shel Shlomoh agrees with this, commenting that while meat is still the preferred method for Simcha, meat was obligatory on Yom Tov only during the time of the Beit HaMikdash, where not only did we have meat but also Korbanot to Hashem. Furthermore, he explains that unlike in today’s time, there was no wine at the meals, and therefore our drinking of wine replaces the mandate of meat. This too supports our practice of eating dairy.
However, the Torah Temimah offers an alternate interpretation of the Gemara noted above. He states that based on the wording of the Gemara, which uses the word Basar, meat in general, and not specifically Shelamim, meat of a Korban, the Gemara’s intent is to include all meat, even Chullin, in a time in which one is unable to give Korbanot, such as today.
Considering this, our original question still stands. However, the Beit HaLevi offers a compromise that would solve this dilemma. He explains that on Shavuot, one should make sure to have a meal of dairy as well as one of meat. He explains that according to the Midrash, when Hashem gave Bnei Yisrael the Torah, the Malachim complained about giving such an epitome of holiness to mankind. Hashem responded to them that Bnei Yisrael were indeed worthy of the Torah over the Malachim, citing the Malachims’ visit to Avraham, where they ate milk and meat together - a practice from which Bnei Yisrael are stringent in abstaining - and are therefore deserving of the Torah. Therefore, on Shavuot, we eat both milk and meat to fulfill the Zeicher aspects of milk, the Simcha of meat, and the bridging of the two through the impetus of Matan Torah.
May we all be able to learn from this lesson and commemorate this Simcha of Yom Tov and the receiving of the Torah this Shavuot and all Yamim Tovim to come.