Wednesday, February 27, 2008
DVAR TORAH S3: Vayakel (Cholenty Godness)
I am going to deliver this to the AJU Hillel this Shabbat, so please understand the esoteric nature of some of my statements... For your mouth-watering pleasure, I also present various pictures of cholent I found on the internet and a "before" picture of the first one I ever made.
This week's Torah portion is Vayakel, the penultimate Parasha in the book of Exodus. It is usually joined with the final parasha, Pekudei, but because it is a leap year (in the Hebrew calendar) we separate
Today I want to talk about cholent. If you've never had cholent, you're missing much. If you've had cholent, you probably also have high cholesterol and heartburn. You might think of cholent as the Jewish chili, they even sound alike! Cholent is tasty, cholent is meaty, cholent is a religious imperative.
Cholent older than the Kol Nidre prayer. It has roots in both Ashkenazi and Sephardi cultures (the latter's version is called Chamin, which means hot) and it has a fascinating history. Cholent was originally developed to prove you were a true blue Jew. This easy, tasty, and deadly dish made by throwing barley, beans, potatoes, beef, potatoes, beer, kishke and whatever else you happen to have lying around, like rice, hard boiled eggs or even Coca Cola into a crock pot and originated as a litmus test to your allegiance with Chazal, the sages who composed the Oral Law and that you believe in the Talmud. You put the mix into a pot in the oven or into crockpot before Shabbat, cooking it on low heat and by Shabbat lunch you have at the same time the greatest and worst food ever
At the very beginning of this week's parasha we have a law that prohibits burning a fire in the house on Shabbat. As Rabbinic Jews this is a prohibition against KINDLING a fire. In fact, one of the seven Rabbinic Mitzvot* (that are in addition to the 613 Torah mitzvot) is to light Shabbat Candles. It was created as a Is a shibbolet, a matter to prove one is not a Karaite, a sect who believe that lights are forbidden on Shabbat and will sit in the dark. It has the full status of a mitzvah to light at least candles to usher in the Sabbath, symbolizing shamor and zachor, observe, and remember, encompassing the many negative and positive commandments that go into observance of Shabbat.
We don't just require illumination, but food. On Shabbat one is commanded to feast! Unless the holiest day of Yom Kippur coincides with it, fasting is absolutely forbidden. We need to eat good food, hot food. But we can't cook on shabbat! We can reheat, however, a mark of a distinction between mainstream and Karaite Jews. We don't have the wars with Karaites anymore, but we still have these tasty leftovers in the form of Cholent. It may have lost its ulterior reasons but has become identified as the part of the ultimate shabbat meal, along with warm loaves of challah, gefilte fish, steaming bowls of chicken soup, and meat. I've had a number of good vegetarian cholents too, because it's not the meat, it's the heat! If you take a look in the B'kol Echad little blue song book we use, you will see about half of the Shabbat songs are about food. Lobby for Cholent in the Berg for Shabbat Lunch to prove you're not a Karaite. Eat cholent and you will fulfill the original mitzvah of Shabbat, because after you have this thick beef stew you will be taking what we refer to as the afternoon cholent nap, the only real way to observe the Day of Rest.
*The seven Rabbinic Mitzvot corrrespond to the Mnemonic נע בשמח"ה
- נטילת ידים Netilat Yadayim - Washing hands before eating, waking up, after using the restroom, etc...
ערוב - Eruv - Shabbat Boundaries, whether physical walls or food-relate
ברכות - Brachot - Saying blessings for various occasions (besides Birkat HaMazon which is in the Torah)
שבת-Shabbat - Lighting Shabbat Candles (the mitzvah is not literally "Shabbat" which is both negative and negative mitzvot in the Torah already)
מגילה - Megillah - Reading the Scroll of Esther on Purim
חנוכה - Chanukkah - Lighting Chanukkah Candles
הלל - Hallel - Saying certain psalms on certain festive occasions