Cooking for Shabbat is something else. Laws of nature don’t work as they’re supposed to. I really feel it – every week. It’s not just that there never seems enough time to get there before having to light the candles (and one has to, because there’s no cooking after that) and somehow, in the nick of time, we always make it. It’s more than that. Cooking itself has its own rules,which are quite supernatural. Food just tastes different on Shabbat. We call it The Spice of Shabbat.
We haven’t made up this term ourselves. It’s quite old. Ancient,really. It appears already in Midrash Raba for Genesis (chap. 11).
There it is told, how Rabi Yehuda Hanasi, one of the greatest and latest of our sages in the time of the Mishnah had a gentile friend, who was no other than Antoninus of Rome (a VERY IMPORTANT Roman figure – according to some versions – the emperor himself).
Their road together goes way back to when they were just babies, and their mothers swapped them, because of Rome’s persecution against circumcision– Rabbi Yehuda (or as he is usually called just – “Rebbi“) who was circumcised against the law, was put under cover as a fake son to Antoninus’ mother, and the authorities were shown uncircumcised Antoninus – as Rebbi. Rebbi was saved in the end, but in the meantime Antoninus sucked Jewish milk from Rebbi’s mother’s breasts, a thing which apparently brought him close to Judaism and the Jews.
When they grew up, Antoninus and Rebbi became best friends, and Antoninus actually learned Torah secretly with Rebbi in a secret cave, and tried his best to do good to the Jews.
The Midrash tells us that one time Antoninus was invited to Rebbi’s house for a Shabbat meal. He was brought some cool Shabbat dish to eat – at those days keeping food warm on Shabbat, when lighting fire is prohibited, was not an easy task. They didn’t have a”Shabbat plate” like the one I’m advertising on the sidebar here (wink wink), and sometimes one had to just settle with cold servings. However, Antoninus JUST LIKED IT and everybody was happy. Another day, Antoninus was invited on a normal weekday, and was served with the same dish – this time adequately warmed. He didn’t like it. Asking Rebbi how come the same exact dish, in better conditions, tasted less delicious? Rebbi said:”Ah!!! But one spice is lacking here!” Antoninus couldn’t believe his ears.”I’m an emperor, and food brought before me lack sufficient spicing???”Rebbi said: “The spice which you miss here is called – Shabbat!”
Matter is the same, the recipe is the same, but without the spirit of Shabbat – nothing tastes nearly as well!
We feel that too,in our cooking for Shabbat, and we even had a try at serving our traditional Shabbat dinner Sea Crusted Trout on a normal weekday: NOT THE SAME AT ALL! So, for us , this Midrash is a proven reality…
May The Spice of Shabbat be with you…!
Myriam & Eran S.
Pictures courtesy of