To the esteemed QJL readership:
Rabbi Berel Wein is noted throughout the Torah world as a seasoned speaker, noted author, and historian. But for me and thousands of others, he was, and is, our rebbe and rosh yeshivah.
I wish everyone a k’sivah va’chasimah tovah.
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I must admit that my culinary expertise is quite limited. In fact, aside from making macaroni and toast (I do make a mean toast), I’m somewhat lost in the kitchen. But the dining room is a different story. I’m quite experienced at sampling foods served to me, and I must say that I “eat very nicely” (in Mommy vernacular).
But there is one thing I do pride myself on in the kitchen, and that’s making the cholent for Shabbos each week.
In the hallowed halls of yeshivos, it’s common for different students to make cholent. The cholent may be for late Thursday night or Friday night or Shabbos.
I once heard a poignant observation: Everyone in yeshivah eats cholent three times a week, besides Shabbos morning. The unmarried yeshivah guy has cholent on Thursday night, Friday afternoon, and Friday night. The kollel guy has cholent for supper on Sunday night, Monday night, and Tuesday night.
In yeshivos, student-chefs pride themselves on their secret ingredient and secret way of making cholent to give it a distinctive taste. This ranges from hot sauce, potato chips, and even beer. I’m sure there are stranger ingredients used that I’m not aware of.
During the years when I was the general studies principal in Yeshiva Ohr Naftali, there was a variety of cholents cooking on Wednesday afternoon. Students explained to me that they didn’t make cholent on Thursday because the yeshivah’s cook made cholent for them to eat late Thursday night. Therefore, they moved their own cholent-cook up a day. It seems that the cholent-cook was a definite before Shabbos. The only question was how close to Shabbos.
A few students made cholent, and the remaining students purchased a bowl of cholent from the cholent-merchant of their choice. Late Wednesday afternoon, the large sink outside the yeshivah bathroom was filled with soaking cholent bowls, and the drain was stuffed with cholent debris (not sure what else to call it).
You can imagine that, as principal, Wednesday afternoons were my hardest days. I should’ve made a recording of myself saying, “You may not make cholent during class, and you may not bring cholent into class.” The students would offer the teacher an irresistible free bowl of cholent, thereby giving themselves justification to eat their bowls in class. They offered me cholent, as well. But there was no way I was going to eat that stuff without knowing what they had put in there. Besides, I was afraid that they would somehow deduct the cholent fee from my paycheck.
But in our home, I have been making the cholent since before I was married. Actually, that isn’t really true. Prior to our marriage I would make potato kugel for Shabbos in my parents’ home each week. In fact, when we were engaged, I would send a kugel to my kallah’s home before Shabbos. Some chasanim send flowers; I sent kugel.
But somewhere along the way, I felt that making kugel was too time-consuming, and I switched to making the cholent for Shabbos.
When I started making the kugel, I really had no clue how to do anything other than peel potatoes. My mother had to show me how to use the mixer. Actually, I think she had to start by showing me how to crack a raw egg. So why did I bother with the kugel?
A number of years ago, I heard Rabbi Mordechai Finkelman relate that one year, on the night of Erev Shavuos, he went with a couple of his children to bring flowers to Rabbi and Rebbetzin Pam. The Finkelman and Pam families shared a warm relationship, and the Finkelmans were bringing flowers as a gift for Yom Tov. When Rabbi Finkelman knocked on the front door, there was no response. He didn’t want to leave the flowers by the front door, out of fear that they might be stolen. So, he walked with his children to the back door, to leave the flowers there.
When they approached the back door, the window shutters weren’t totally drawn. They were able to see Rav Pam standing at the kitchen table with his sleeves slightly rolled up (he wouldn’t uncover his elbows) and he was busily preparing food for Yom Tov.
It reminded me of the Gemara (Kiddushin 41a) that states that Rav Safra would cook the head of an animal, and Rava would salt the fish for the Shabbos meal. These great sages would take the time to help prepare for Shabbos.
The story of Rav Pam inspired me to begin preparing something for Shabbos as well. It’s over two decades later and I have upheld that practice.
Rabbi Shimshon Pincus explains that preparing for Shabbos is essentially honoring the Divine Presence. Whatever we do for the honor of Shabbos is in actuality in honor of Hashem.
When considering how we can enhance and elevate our personal service to Hashem this year, we should consider trying to do more to prepare for Shabbos.
For those who are already maxed out preparing for Shabbos each week, perhaps this can serve to mentally enhance our efforts and remind us of how special it is to prepare for Shabbos. When we are overly fatigued, remembering this can give us a little more mental energy.
Preparing for Shabbos affords us the opportunity to serve Hashem in a unique manner, by beautifying our own homes and meals in His honor.
When preparing for Shabbos, you can have your cake/kugel/cholent, eat it too, and get a mitzvah. What a delicious way to serve Hashem.