What makes it funny is that it’s true. The prohibition of “meat and milk” appears three times in the Torah, once in our parsha:
And even with Rashi’s explanation that גדי means not “a baby goat” but any baby mammal, the תורה שבעל פה goes far beyond “don’t cook a baby in its mother’s milk” to our familiar איסור בשר בחלב:
And there are more subtle questions. The entire mitzvah is out of context. In the first two cases, it is associated with ביכורים. It does not appear in the list of kosher laws in פרשת שמיני at all. And in פרשת ראה, its last appearance, it is part of the repetition of the laws of forbidden foods, but it is after the “bookends” of עם קדוש אתה. The text is explicitly taking it out of the section about kashrut.
Now, we accept that the halacha was given to Moshe at Sinai, and that eating, cooking and even having any benefit from milk and meat together is forbidden מדאורייתא. But then why does the תורה שבכתב talk about גדי and חלב אמו? Rav Yehuda Copperman looks at this question in his פשוטו של מקרא:
Rav Copperman says we need to talk about טעמי המצוות. But there are two different meanings of טעמי המצוות. In the philosophy of science, this is the distinction between “why” and “how”.
The usual way we think about טעמי המצוות is the “why” question. Why does ה׳ want us to do these things, avoid those things? Do those laws make us better people, or make the world a better place? We assume there must be some divine reason for all these laws, and commentators through the generations have tried to address this. But a fundamental halachic assumption is that we don’t know the mind of G-d, and questions of “why” the mitzvot are philosophical ones, and cannot affect halachic decisions:
But Rashi tells us that טעמי המצוות are important, inherent parts of understanding halacha:
Rav Copperman says that this refers to the other aspect of טעמי המצוות, the “how” question, analogous to the scientific question. If the תרי״ג מצוות are a coherent system, what are the underlying principles that tie them together? How can we establish a taxonomy of מצוות, to establish things like a בינן אב. This kind of analysis is central to the “Brisker method”.
Rav Copperman gives an example:
The Malbim explains that the gemara and the sifrei disagree on the “מצות האם” of the mitzvah of הענק תעניק.
So understanding where a mitzvah fits with other mitzvot can affect the practical halacha.
So how does that relate to בשר וחלב? Rav Copperman cites the Sforno:
Cooking baby animals in their mother’s milk is a magic trick, a way of forcing the gods to grant prosperity. We don’t do that. We bring בכורים to express our gratitude to הקב״ה for what we have, and He will see fit to reward us. This, says Sforno, is the explanation for the context and wording of the mitzvah. This explanation is based on the Rambam’s opinion about the “why” question of בשר וחלב:
But if the “why” of בשר וחלב is based on the prohibition of כישוף and עבודה זרה, then the “what” of בשר וחלב is part of the laws of עבודה זרה, not the laws of כשרות.
So the fact that we are so careful with our meat and milk, even having separate dishes, sinks, ovens, even placemats, is appropriate. Not eating meat and milk is part of (דברים יח:יג) תמים תהיה אם ה׳ אלוקך, and is fundamentally an expression of our faith.