Milk, the Metaphor

Image: An assortment of dairy products. (Photo: philippoto/Shutterstock, all rights reserved.)

For as pressing milk produces curds,
    and pressing the nose produces blood,
    so pressing anger produces strife.

Proverbs 30:33

I’ve been playing with the metaphor of milk.

When we are born, we are all like new milk. We are raw: undisturbed by life. Jewish tradition teaches us that we are born good, but that we have the yetzer harah: a selfish inclination that we can learn to balance as we age.

Very few people remain like milk. People who do remain completely innocent, and completely simple. Most of us have experiences that change us from the pure milk into something different and more complicated. We also learn and grow, acquiring a yetzer tov, a good inclination.

If we acquire learning, we might become yogurt or kefir: a cultured milk that is both nourishing and digestible.

If we have painful experiences, we might become like cottage cheese. Cottage cheese is made by putting acidic bacteria into the milk, so that curds form, and the whey is drained away.

Cheddar cheese is made differently. The acidic culture is added, which causes the curds, then those curds are put under pressure. After a while, they are made into slabs, and slammed together so that even more whey is squeezed out, and finally they are pressed into molds to age. It takes some hard knocks to make cheddar cheese.

Some cheeses (not kosher ones) are made with rennet, the curdled milk from the inside of a calf’s stomach. They are, in a way, mixed with cruelty, then they are aged, and they become brie, or camembert.

Some cheeses, like blue cheese and Stilton, have rennet and the acidic bacterial culture, and penicillium mold added before they are allowed to age. Those cheeses become stinky and moldy looking, but some people really love them.

Then there is ice cream. It is the sweetest, richest cream, mixed with sugar and perhaps eggs, and churned while it is cold. However, if a dish of ice cream sits in the sun for even a short time, it melts.

And lastly, there is the milk that simply goes bad. It sits unused and uncared-for. It gets infected with bacteria that make it poisonous and smelly. That is spoiled milk, and it will make people sick if they drink it.

All of us are born simple and pure. Our experiences and our choices turn us into the people we become as adults. When I am dealing with a difficult person, I sometimes think: what kind of dairy product have they become? Has life been hard, and beaten them into cheddar? Are they ice cream? Or yogurt? Are they dangerous, or stinky and moldy but still nutritious?

What about you?

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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

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