Cholent 101

Cholent 101

By Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW

During the Scripps National Spelling Bee last week, 13-year-old Shiva Yeshlur of Wyoming was asked to spell the word “cholent.”

Yeshlur requested a definition from the judges. The reply: “A Jewish Sabbath-day dish of slow-baked meat and vegetables.” He then asked for the word’s language of origin, was told it was Yiddish, and then correctly spelled the word.

Although Yeshlur mastered cholent, he sadly did not move on to the Scripps National Spelling Bee finals.

Just imagine if there was a panel of Jewish judges who had to provide the definition of cholent. No doubt each judge would have provided a slightly different answer. The various ingredients people add to their cholent may include beans, barley, onions, meat, garlic, potatoes, various spices, barbecue sauce, ketchup, honey, an egg, and I have even heard of people adding beer or potato chips. There are probably a lot more ingredients that I’m not even aware of.

We take a lot of pride in our cholent. In yeshivos, there are often numerous cholents cooking, each made by a different student who takes great pride in his “secret ingredient.” There have even been contests held to sample cholents to determine which is truly the most delectable.

I once heard the following observation: In Jewish homes, everyone eats cholent three times during the week (aside for the main serving at the Shabbos day s’udah). Yeshivah bachurim eat cholent on Thursday night, Friday afternoon, and Friday night. Kollel yungeleit and baal-habatim eat cholent on Sunday night, Monday night, and Tuesday night.

A slow cooker may seem like it’s hardly doing anything, but with time, it becomes clearly apparent that the cholent was cooking to perfection

The truth is that eating cholent is not merely enjoyable, but also serves as a chizuk for our belief in the authority of our Sages. The Torah states that one may not ignite a fire on Shabbos. The Gemara explains that, although one may not light a fire on Shabbos, one is permitted to keep pre-cooked food on an existing flame on Shabbos. The Samaritans, who denied the authority of the Sages and accepted a literal reading of the Torah, would not eat any hot food on Shabbos. To demonstrate our belief and allegiance in the authority of our Sages, we purposely enjoy eating hot food, prepared according to halachic dictates, on Shabbos day.

I would like to share a few great lessons that we can learn from this most extraordinary, beloved, and uniquely Jewish food:

In our home, I prepare the cholent on Thursday night. After all the ingredients have been added to the crock-pot insert, and water has been added (very important to soak the beans), I then place it in the refrigerator overnight. Early Friday morning, I put it the insert into the crock-pot, where it slowly stews and cooks. When I finish combining the ingredients in the crock-pot on Thursday night, no one would want to taste it. At that point, it is a messy conglomeration of random foods and spices. There is only one component missing – the heat. The cholent needs to be plugged in so that the ingredients can begin to cook together and cause the taste of each disparate ingredient to combine.

Greatness is not achieved merely with talent, and top-of-the-line equipment won’t create superstars. There needs to be passion, an inner fire that drives the person to bring out the potential from within. If he’s not ready to “plug in” and light the fire beneath him, he’ll never taste the highest levels of accomplishment.

The second lesson is that a delicious cholent requires time. Good cholent cannot be microwaved! There is no way to duplicate that heavenly aroma that wafts through a Jewish home on Shabbos morning, except by allowing the cholent to slow-cook overnight.

We live in a world that values quick and easy get-rich-quick programs. The rule in life is: If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Greatness and accomplishment require time and effort. A slow cooker may seem like it’s hardly doing anything, but with time, it becomes clearly apparent that the cholent was cooking to perfection. Suddenly, those random ingredients have become a delicious cholent.

And the final lesson to be learned from cholent: There is a price to be paid for every indulgence. But some pleasures are simply worth it!


Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW, is the Rabbi of Kehillat New Hempstead, as well as a rebbe and the Guidance Counselor at Heichal HaTorah in Teaneck, New Jersey, and Principal at Mesivta Ohr Naftoli of New Windsor. Rabbi Staum is a division head at Camp Dora Golding. He also presents parenting classes based on the acclaimed Love and Logic methods. His email address is stamtorah@gmail.com. His website is www.stamtorah.info.

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