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Thought for the Day: Milk After Meat -- In Case of Need

It's amazing how important taste is; it's not just a "nice to have".  During much of chemotherapy I could not taste my food; my eating experience was pretty much like eating soft sand, or crunchy sand, or chewy sand, or... I could even be hungry, but it was still a struggle to get the food down.  Add to that the ulcers I had in my esophagus, so eating was actually painful, and add to that the general queasiness that is part of the process and you can start to appreciate that why I lost a lot of weight.  I used to read labels and choose whatever had the greatest calorie to volume ratio, thereby getting the number of calories per day I needed to live with the least amount of swallowing.

Even with that, things didn't always go/stay down.  I could take one bite of food and then not be able to eat more of that food, but need to switch to something different.  That can present a problem if the first food was chicken and the desired food was yogurt.  I asked R' Fuerst what to do and he said, "Can you wait an hour?"  (I could.)  I found it interesting that he asked me what I could tolerate.  I had expected to be told an amount of time to wait, not asked what I could tolerate.

It turns out that between the d'oraisa issur of cooking milk with meat and the minhag to wait six hours after meat before milk there are a lot of levels.  There is certainly a d'rabanan issur to eat milk and meat together at the same meal, but there is much machlokes about what that really means.  When there are pressures to eat dairy sooner than six hours after eating meat, one needs a competent posek to weigh the factors and come to a halachically sound solution.  Being a choleh sh'yeish bo sakana provides one sort of pressure, there are others; both less dramatic and more relevant to daily living.

How about this one: you definitely finished your cholent are precisely 12:18.  You took a nap and it is now 4:22.  Still groggy, you make a cup of coffee (sigh... with milk), make a "she'ha'kol", raise the cup to your lips, and... whoops!  You suddenly realize that it has only been four hours and four minutes since your last bite of yummy cholent.  Can you drink, or are you looking square in the face of a bracha l'vatala?

Before you jump to the conclusion that taking a sip of that milky coffee (at worst an issur d'rabanan) is surely better than adding a bracha l'vatala (potentially/probably an issur d'oraisa) to your already long list of aveiros; consider the following.  When Rosh HaShana falls on Shabbos, we don't blow shofar; that is, we choose to passively fail to fulfill a mitzvah d'oraisa (blowing shofar on RH) rather than actively violate an issur d'rabanan (don't blow shofar when RH falls on Shabbos).  There is absolutely no machlokes about that.  So here, too, maybe it's better to passively incur the bracha l'vatal (potentially d'oraisa) rather than actively violate the rabanan of waiting between meat and milk.

The poskim are split about.  One side says it is better to just live with the bracha l'vatala, but minimize the impact by saying, "Baruch Sheim Kavod Malchoso L'Olam Va'Ed".  The other side says it's better to take a small sip.  Either way you have on whom to rely, but if it's less than an hour since the meat and you haven't slept, the sense of the poskim is like the first option.

Once again, drinking coffee black keeps you out of machlokes.

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