In my previous article, I wrote about how it became my practice to make the chulent for Shabbat in our home.
During the summer, we have the great fortune to be at Camp Dora Golding. During that time, we enjoy Chef Yosef Oldak’s delicious food, including his chulent. So, for two months, our crock pot lies in solitude, eagerly awaiting our return.
The first Thursday night after we returned, I made sure I had all the ingredients I needed and began preparing the chulent. All was well until it was time to add the potatoes. We had potatoes, of course; there can hardly be a chulentwithout them. In fact, some of our children insist on only eating the potatoes from the chulent, and so I add extra potatoes. But alas, I could not find the peeler. I called for backup. But no one was able to locate any of our elusive peelers. They seemed to have escaped during the summer.
It was quite late, and I was beginning to feel uneasy. How can we have a chulentwithout potatoes? It would be like Rosh HaShanah without honey, Chanukah without latkes, and Shavuot without cheesecake. It was simply inconceivable. It was so frustrating. The potatoes were right in front of me. But if I couldn’t peel them, no one would eat them.
Fortunately, our daughter was out with a friend who offered to lend us a peeler. Thankfully, the catastrophe was averted, and on Shabbat we had our chulent with potatoes.
Perhaps you’ve had enough hearing about my chulent, but I think there is a symbolic lesson to be gleaned from this incredibly exciting incident.
The month of Elul is a time when we focus on Hashem’s love for us – His nation. This is demonstrated by the noted acronym of Elul: “Ani l’dodi v’dodi li – I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me.”
We refer to the holiday of Sukkot as the season of our joy. Physically, we celebrate harvesting the produce of our fields; and spiritually, we bask in the repentance we have achieved on Yom Kippur. Many commentaries explain that during Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur we engage in repentance out of fear for the exacting judgment. Then, on Sukkot, we engage in deeper repentance, one that emerges from feelings of celebratory love and joy.
If Elul is a time to reflect on our loving relationship with G-d, how does it differ from Sukkos, the holiday when we celebrate our loving relationship with G-d?
Before one begins preparing anything, he needs to have a vision of the desired result. Before beginning construction, one needs to have blueprints, before writing a book one needs to have a plot in mind, before heading into a potential sale one needs to know his purported target, and before cooking/baking one needs to know the recipe. In the words of Stephen Covey, to be successful one must begin with the end in mind. Every Friday night, we express this concept eloquently when we state that the holy Shabbat was “last to be created, first in thought.” The goal of all creation was for holiness, encapsulated by the sanctity of Shabbat.
In Elul we focus on the recipe and goal. If we do teshuvah, we are assured that we will achieve a renewed relationship with our Creator. We then chart our course to achieve that renewed connection through the challenging process of teshuva.
Once we know the recipe, we “gather the ingredients.” On Rosh HaShanah, we proclaim the majesty of G-d and accept His eternal monarchy upon ourselves. It’s been said that it’s far easier to proclaim G-d as King of the entire universe, than it is to proclaim and accept Him as King over us. The main ingredient necessary for connection with G-d is accepting His monarchy over us. We then spend the days leading up to and including Yom Kippur peeling away the external peels we have allowed to amass upon our souls throughout the year. Once we have peeled away the shells and peels, we are ready to cook the dish. Sukkot is when we reap the benefits of our efforts. In Elul, we envisioned the goal and end result. At that point, we imagined how delicious the dish would taste if we followed the recipe. On Sukkot, we actually taste it. After undergoing the arduous, yet gratifying process of teshuva, on Sukkot we bask in spiritual bliss and rejoice in that opportunity.
And that, in a nutshell – or rather, in a crock pot – is a symbolic presentation of our pathway during Elul and Tishrei.
I should mention that when making the chulent that first week, my wife informed me that she had frozen onions in the freezer that I could use. I didn’t look closely enough and inadvertently added frozen mushrooms to the chulent. Believe it or not, it was quite tasty. And being that my kids wouldn’t touch it, I had it all to myself. I’m not sure what the lesson is, but I conclude by blessing us all that our efforts to do teshuva mushroom into even greater spiritual heights.
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