The Shabbat Spice: Why Friday Night Dinner Tastes So Much Better

May 28, 2013Ellen Tilman

One day, my daughter walked into the house after attending preschool.

“What’s wrong?” she asked incredulously.

“Why?” I responded, “Is something wrong?”

“Well,” my very bright 3-year-old answered, “the house smells like Shabbat and I know that today is not Shabbat.”

After pondering her comments for a moment, I realized she was correct. The house did smell like Shabbat! I was cooking chicken in the pot for dinner that evening. I always made chicken soup for Friday night Shabbat dinner, so in my daughter’s mind, the smell of simmering chicken soup was associated with Shabbat.

Our conversation reminded me of a famous Jewish legend. An emperor was a frequent guest in the home of Rabbi Joshua, the son of Hananiah. He ate many meals in the rabbi’s house. The emperor wanted to know why the food always tasted better on the Sabbath than during the rest of the week. Rabbi Joshua responded that there was an extra “spice” added to the food. When the Emperor asked to be given this “spice,” the rabbi responded that the additional ingredient was Shabbat itself. It could not be given away; the food was enriched by the feelings and atmosphere that surround it.

Shabbat has always been special in our home. We welcome the Sabbath into our lives at sunset each Friday night. We eat dinner as a family. When my children were growing up, it was sometimes the only meal during the week when we were all together. We lit candles, ate challah, and drank wine or grape juice. The children had their own Kiddush cups, which were either received as new baby gifts or purchased on a trip to Israel. We used a rotating set of challah covers that were lovingly made in preschool. My husband blessed each child individually. As we sat around the table, we shared what each person had done during the previous week. It was our special family time, with no distractions.

As the children got older, they began to help with the Shabbat preparations. Someone would set the table; another child put the personalized Kiddush cups at the correct seats; the third would put the challah board, challah cover, and salt on the table. Once everything was prepared, we gathered to welcome Shabbat. I hate to admit it, but most weeks we ate in the kitchen, rather than the dining room. The serving and clean-up were just easier for busy parents to complete that way! (Don’t worry: When we had guests, we always used the formal dining room.)

Children learn from the experiences that we, their parents, give them. These early experiences become integral parts of their adult lives and memories of their childhood. My children are now young adults and celebrate Shabbat with their friends. I enjoy hearing about their Shabbat dinners and particularly relish when they ask me for a favorite recipe. Recently, when my husband and I visited our 27-year-old son in Los Angeles and shared Shabbat with him, I made my chicken soup while he prepared the rest of the meal. He and his friends created a warm and welcoming Shabbat atmosphere. The food was delicious, and I was a very proud mother.

Now that the children are out of the house, we bless them electronically, on the telephone. I know of families who recite Kiddush with each child in the same manner. When my children come to visit, I still make chicken soup and enjoy sharing Shabbat. We create Jewish memories for our children. When they become adults, we are able to witness and share the rewards of our actions. As parents, we bring the Shabbat spice into the lives of our family.

The Tilman family chicken soup recipe is available on Try your hand at Ellen's version of this classic!

Ellen Tilman is the Director of Library Services and Bulletin Editor at Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park, PA.

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