Tag Archives: food

The Customs of Chanukah

and Their Meanings

Q. What Are Latkes And Why Do We Eat Them?

A. A latke is a sort of potato pancake.

One of the miracles of Chanukah occurred with olive oil. For this reason, the custom is to eat things made with oil. In America many people eat potato latkes, because that’s what most Europeans were able to make. In Israel, they eat sufganiot, donuts. I guess flour was easier for Israelis to get in the old days than potatoes.

Here’s a recipe for latkes. It’s pretty universal: Continue reading

The Reason For Shabbos

The Rabbis tell us that while we cannot know the deepest thoughts of Hashem, we can know what Hashem tells us, through the Torah, about the Commandments.

Shabbos (the Sabbath), we are told (Mechilta d’Rashbi, Parshas Yisro) was given to us for several reasons, including the following two:

  1. because Hashem created the world in six days and did no act of creation on the seventh day;
  2. because of the Exodus from Egypt.

The two reasons cited above represent the two aspects of our existence, the physical and the spiritual. Shabbos offers us those same two types of benefit, the physical and the spiritual. Both are mentioned in the Torah, because both are underlying reasons for the Commandment to refrain from certain types of creative activities on Shabbos.

The Spiritual Aspect of Shabbos

In one place, the Torah says:

Do your work during the six weekdays, but keep the seventh day as a Sabbath of Sabbaths, holy to Hashem…The Israelites shall thus keep the Sabbath, making it a day of rest for all generations, as an eternal covenant. It is a sign between Me and the Israelites that during the six weekdays Hashem made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day He ceased working and “rested.”

— Exodus 31:15-17

This highlights the spiritual aspect of Shabbos. We keep Shabbos to demonstrate our belief that Hashem created the universe, and as part of that Creation Hashem “rested” on the seventh day. Moreover, Hashem actually created “rest” at that point.

Of course, it also goes deeper. The Sefer Hachinuch (Book of Jewish Education by Rabbi Aharon HaLevi, 13th century) says that when Jews all keep Shabbos on the same day of the week, and someone asks them why, and they answer that it is because Hashem created the world in six days and “rested” on the seventh, this strengthens everyone’s faith. Keeping Shabbos is both a statement of our belief, and a way of strengthening our belief.

Strengthening our belief in Hashem empowers and increases our spirituality. It makes us holy. It is in fact our primary source of holiness. When we keep Shabbos, every Commandment of the Torah that we keep gives us additional holiness.

So the Torah says, “Do your work during the six week days, but keep the seventh day as a Sabbath of Sabbaths, holy to Hashem,” as we learned above. This points to the spiritual re-energizing we experience on Shabbos, due to the fact that Shabbos is holy. Shabbos is the primary means by which we receive holiness and spirituality (among other Commandments of the Torah). And it is our source of faith as well, since it is tied up with our belief in Hashem as Creator.

So to get it in context, let’s see what the Torah tells us in the verses just before the ones we learned above:

Hashem told Moses to speak to the Israelites and say to them: You must keep My Sabbaths. It is a sign between Me and you for all generations, to make you realize that I, Hashem, am making you holy. [Therefore] keep the Sabbath as something sacred to you. Anyone doing work [on the Sabbath] shall be cut off spiritually from his people…

— Exodus 31:12-14

In other words, the Sabbath is our spiritual connection to both Hashem, and to the rest of the Jewish People. And therefore Shabbos is for spiritual development.

And finally, Shabbos was blessed during Creation, as we find in the Torah: “G-d blessed the seventh day and made it holy…” (Genesis 2:3). Shabbos is, in fact, the SOURCE of blessing for the other six days of the week. That is, a person can have blessings at any time during the week only through the medium of Shabbos. All of the six days of the week depend on Shabbos.

Physical Rest

But the Torah also tells us,

You must remember that you were slaves in Egypt, when Hashem your G-d brought you out with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. It is for this reason that Hashem your G-d has commanded you to keep the Sabbath.

— Deuteronomy 5:15

This is rather hard to understand. What connection is there between the Exodus from Egypt and keeping Shabbos? Hashem’s taking us out of Egypt is the reason for Passover, but how can it be the reason we keep Shabbos?

The explanation behind this is that Shabbos reminds us that we are free. On Shabbos we have leisure time. On Shabbos we are not subservient to any human being, we have no work, no boss, and no To-Do list. We can rest when we wish, and we can take charge of our own lives.

In Egypt, we were slaves, and we couldn’t rest when we wanted to. We were slaves to the Egyptians, and we had to work when they told us to. We could not rest when we wanted to.

Then Hashem saved us from Egypt, and we became free. Now we can rest on the Seventh Day, the day that Hashem finished creating the world. Now we are free to rest.

Therefore, since Hashem took us out of Egypt, and gave us this freedom, He commanded us to remember that He rescued us from slavery, by actually resting on Shabbos. Hashem has given us the opportunity and ability to rest, and so to thank Hashem for this, we must indeed rest.

Concerning physical rest, the Torah says: “During the six weekdays, do what you must do, but on the seventh day you must rest, so that your donkey and ox will then be able to rest, and your maid’s son [i.e., even a non-Jewish minor in your employ] and the foreigner [i.e, a gentile employee] will be able to relax” (Exodus 23:12).

Shabbos, explains Rabbi Bachya, also offers the benefit of preventing our wear and tear and eventual break-down from constant work. Instead, we have one day a week to rest from our labors and from bodily toil. This way, at least one seventh of a person’s life is spent in peace and quiet.

In another article, we will discuss how the Torah defines «rest.»

Shabbos: A Personal Contract

There are some things that are hard to explain, because even though they may be highly intellectual, they are also very emotional experiences.

The holy day of Shabbos is one of those things. Shabbos is not merely a day of no work for us. It’s day of enjoyment, a day of delight, a day of holiness and joy. It’s our special day of close and personal relationship with Hashem.

Even though we are obligated to keep Shabbos, nevertheless it’s a joy to do so.

And moreover, it’s part of our personal and national contract with Hashem. Shabbos is the special “sign” between Hashem and His people Israel.

The Torah tells us:

God told Moses to speak to the Israelites and say to them: You must keep My Sabbaths. It is a sign between Me and you for all generations, to make you realize that I, Hashem, am
making you holy.

— Exodus 31:12-13

What does it mean that Shabbos is a sign? How can there be a sign “between” people? What does it mean when the Torah says that Shabbos is a sign between Hashem and Israel?

Imagine that you walk one morning to your favorite candy store only to find, to your chagrin, that it is closed. There’s nothing you can do, so you simply hope they will be open tomorrow, and perhaps you’ll go somewhere else for today.

But when you return the next day, it’s still closed. “Oh, well,” you think, “the owner must be on vacation. I hope he’s not sick or anything like that.”

This could go on for a while, without you ever knowing for certain what has happened. As far as you know, the store is only temporarily closed and will reopen as soon as the owner either gets back from vacation or gets better or whatever the case may be.

But once the sign above the store is removed, the sign that says CANDY STORE, the sign you’ve looked for in delightful anticipation every day as you walked towards the store — once that sign is taken down, you know that the store is closed, and that it will never reopen.

Shabbos is the sign of a Jew. A Jew might at times falter, he might slip and slide and sin from time to time, but as long as he’s keeping Shabbos, you know that person is still attached to Judaism. Once a Jew stops keeping Shabbos, the Torah says that he has, Heaven forbid, officially severed ties with true Judaism. He has removed the sign that identifies the store. He has closed the shop.

Shabbos is a sign between Hashem and His people. It is part of our special and personal relationship with Hashem. It is part of our “contract” with Him.

And Shabbos is indeed so much like a candy store.

When someone keeps Shabbos properly, his face shines on Shabbos in a way that it doesn’t shine during the week. The delight that Jews experience on Shabbos is incomparable. It begins when we hurry to complete our preparations on Erev Shabbos (the day before Shabbos, i.e., Friday), steadily increases as we near Shabbos, reaches its peak on Shabbos itself, and remains in full force until Motza Shabbos (when Shabbos departs). And when we fully immerse ourselves in the experience of Shabbos, we feel this delight and holiness to a smaller degree throughout the week as well.

Like in the allegory above, we look forward to Shabbos all week. We long for it, and can hardly wait for it. Whatever we buy, we buy for the honor of Shabbos. We plan our entire week around Shabbos.

When we pray each morning we mention the importance of Shabbos in relation to each day of the week. On Sunday, we say “Today is the first day until Shabbos…,” On Monday, we say “Today is the second day until Shabbos…” and so on. On Shabbos, we say, “Today is the holy day of Shabbos…”

Shabbos is so much a part of who and what we are as Jews. It is the very heart of Judaism. The Torah itself equates it to all the Commandments of the Torah. The Torah says:

On the seventh day, some of the people went out to gather [food], but they found nothing. Hashem told Moses [to say to the Israelites], ‘How long will you refuse to keep My
Commandments and My Laws?

— Exodus 16:27-28

The Israelites had not violated any other of the Commandments, yet the Torah asks why they refused to keep them. This is because violating the Shabbos is like violating not just the Commandment of Shabbos, but like violating all the Commandments.

This is because Shabbos is the sign of a Jew. If you remove the sign, where is the Jew?

The Midrash (Tamchuma Bereishis) says that honoring Shabbos is greater than keeping a thousand fasts.

The Talmud tells us that Hashem told Moses, “I have a good present in My treasure house, and its name is Shabbos. I want to give it to Israel. Go and tell them this” (BT, Shabbos 20b; Beitzah 16a).

Now Moses was required to teach the Children of Israel all about each and every Commandment that Hashem taught him. So why was Hashem telling him, “Go and tell them this?” What new thing is being said here?

The answer can be explained with a story told about a great Rabbi named Rabbi Shimon. A poor man came to his house to ask for charity, and he couldn’t find any money to give him. So instead he gave him a piece of jewelry, a ring that he thought might be worth a little money. “Here, take this and sell it,” he said. ”With the money you make, you can buy a little food.”

When his wife came home and found out what he had done, she got upset. “That ring was worth three hundred ruble! How could you just give it away?”

As soon as Rabbi Shimon heard this, he said, “Thank you for telling me that!”

He ran outside and chased after the man and told him, ”That ring is worth a lot of money! Make sure that you don’t get cheated!”

This is what Hashem was telling Moses. Hashem wanted Moses to explain to the Israelites what a valuable treasure Shabbos is, how special it is to Hashem, and how Hashem took it out of His treasure house especially for the Jews. This way, they would know the proper way to treat Shabbos, and how much honor to give it.

In order to know how much honor to give Shabbos, we must learn about it. We must learn how to appreciate it, and what each element of Shabbos means, and how it is to be treated.

Only then can we fulfill the words of the Prophet Isaiah, who said, “If you turn away your foot from traveling on Shabbos, and refrain from doing your affairs on My holy day, and you treat Shabbos like a delight, honoring Hashem’s holy day; if you honor it by not doing your business, attending to your affairs or speaking of weekday matters, then you will delight in Hashem. I will let you ride the heights of the earth and enjoy the inheritance of your forefather Jacob, for so has Hashem’s own mouth promised” (Isaiah 58:13-14).

In other words, if you teach yourself to experience Shabbos as a delight, you will be rewarded with the delight of Hashem Himself!

Come, give it a try.

Erev Shabbos Check-Off List

Print out and attach to your refrigerator or bulletin board.

Everything you do, say “L’kovod Shabbos Kodesh” (“For the Honor of the Holy Shabbos”).

Except for the very last itme, it doesn’t matter what order you do most of the things on this list.

Make cholent – Ashkenazi cholent must cook overnight so start it early
Bake or Defrost Challos (special bread for Shabbos)
Make or Defrost soup (you can cook enough soup for several weeks and freeze it)
Make fish
Make kugel (look for recipes for this; there are many types of kugel)
Make knaidlach (matzahballs)
Make side dishes (vegetables, rice, what-have-you)
Make soup noodles
Cook eggs (some people eat a special egg dish for the Shabbos day meal)
Set timers (for lights, samovar, etc.)
Set heat / AC (since we may not adjust these on Shabbos)
Set & Tape light switches (so you don’t accidentally flip them during Shabbos)
Hot water for coffee/tea (samovar or kettle on blech)
Set Dining Room table
Set Shabbos Lights (also leave a small piece of challah or matzah on the lights tray)
Put drinks in fridge
Turn off phone ringers (you may leave the answering machine on)
Shut down computers and other appliances you can’t use on Shabbos
Take out garbage (you can’t tie knots and you often can’t carry outside, on Shabbos)
Polish shoes
Cut fingernails
Shower at home or at the Mikvah (for men)
Dress for Shabbos (women: apply makeup now; on Shabbos it is forbidden to apply)
Make Blech (place chicken, soup, cholent, kugel, challah, side dishes – heat up first)
Light Shabbos Lights (candles or oil & wicks) — DO NOT CHECK THIS OFF!!

After Lighting Shabbos Lights, it is forbidden to perform any of the 39 Melachos — specific types of creative activities.

Note: Many of the details on this list assume Ashkenazi Customs and food. Customs vary.

Anything you don’t understand, please check and see if there is an article about it on the web site.
If not, please-mail and ask me about. See link below.

Sholosh Seudos

On the Sabbath we are supposed to eat three meals. The third meal is begun in the late afternoon as the sun is setting, or just before the sun sets, and continues until the stars are visible in the sky. Grammatically speaking, the name of that meal would be “Seudah Shlishis” (or Seudah Shlishit), “the third meal.”

No kiddush is recited before this meal.

As with all the Three Meals of the Sabbath, before we begin eating we must wash our hands.

We make the Hamotzie blessing over two loaves of challah, just as we do for all the Sabbath Meals.

You fulfill the obligation by eating a few medium-sized bites of challah. However, one should really eat at least a little bit of fish as well.

And of course, we sing zemirot, the festive songs specially for Shabbat.

This is Sholosh Seudos.

Technically, the name “Sholosh Seudos” means “three meals.” It would be more grammatically correct to call it Seudah Shlishis. There is a Kabbalistic reason, however, for calling it “Sholosh Seudos.” (Grammar is not always a concern of Kabbalah, except in prayer. At most other times, the deeper reasons behind things are paramount.)

Kabbalistically, the Third Shabbos Meal has elements of both the other meals. It embodies all three meals at once. We therefore call it “Sholosh Seudos,” the “Three Meals,” all in one.

What are those concepts? Well, its complicated, but I’ll see if I can give you at least a small taste of the issue, with Hashem’s help.

In a nutshell, Friday night all Jews are in a state of receiving the holiness of the Sabbath from Hashem. It is up to each of us to make ourselves a fitting and proper receptacle for that holiness.

During the day of Shabbos, we are each in the state of influencing the rest of the world, spreading around that holiness. We must each raise ourselves to a spiritual level at which we deliberately calculate all our actions to spiritually benefit the universe.

The time of Sholosh Seudos is a time that combines both. Even though that time of day (just before sundown) during the week is considered a time of “din,” judgment, on Shabbos that time is a time of “ra’avah,” Hashem’s willingness. (Actually, it is referred to in the Zohar as ra’avah dra’avah, the very willingness of willingness. Or “willingness squared,” if you will.)

At the time of Sholosh Seudas one can achieve many great spiritual things. Sholosh Seudos is thus referred to by many as a very “mystical” time, for good reason.

Shabbos is also when we lay in a store of holiness on which to thrive the entire week. Sholosh Seudos is the time that begins the “binding” of the holiness, in the sense that we tie it to ourselves, and create a permanent connection between ourselves and the Shabbos, so that it is never lost to us, even during the week.

When I speak of raising ourselves to these high levels, I am speaking of the very purpose of the Torah, and of course, of Shabbos. We can raise ourselves on Shabbos by doing only holy things on Shabbos such as studying Torah, singing Shabbos songs of praise and Torah, removing ourselves completely from this mundane world. (That’s one reason that I feel that using Gentile songs for Sabbath hymns is inappropriate.) Holy nigunim, Jewish tunes, are one of the best ways to achieve the proper focus on the proper emotion for the time. Nigunim are therefore a very proper element of the Shabbos meals.

So, yes, many people call the third meal “Seudah Shlishis” (or “Shlishit,” in the Modern-Hebrew pronunciation that many people mistakenly think is the original pronunciation), and that is grammatically correct. But there is a better reason to call it Sholosh Seudos. (Of course, nowadays many people simply pronounce it “shalashudis,” and that has become the standard.)

Since Shalashudis is the time that includes all of Shabbat, since it combines and brings together the aspects of several times, it is in a sense multiple. Therefore, we call it “shalashudis,” that is, “sholosh seudos” — “three meals” — for it includes all three meals in one.