Rabbi Wein.com The Voice of Jewish History

Rabbi Wein’s Weekly Blog
 Printer Friendly


 Who is there amongst us that has not experienced the joy of eating leftovers? From time immemorial Jews have been eating Shabbat leftovers on Tuesday. The Talmud itself makes note of this fact by telling us the story of the Roman officer who so enjoyed a Shabbat meal on Shabbat that he had his chef prepare the same meal on Tuesday.  However, he quickly realized that the taste was not quite the same quality as on Shabbat. When he remarked about this to his rabbinic host who had fed him on Shabbat, the Rabbi told him that he was missing an ingredient in the preparation of his meal.  The Roman asked what ingredient was missing, and the rabbi replied Shabbat!

We all know from personal experience that Shabbat food does not quite taste as good at any other time of the week as it does on Shabbat. In general, I think it is safe to say that leftovers, no matter how carefully warmed again and seasoned, never taste as good as they did when originally cooked, prepared, presented and eaten. Such is the nature of things in our natural world.  Therefore, we call these foods leftovers, a word that has a slightly pejorative connotation to it. However, in Jewish life and law, leftovers are positive instruments of morality, hospitality and societal good.  The Torah’s viewpoint always reaches a higher plain of understanding and purpose than do mere human definitions and ideas.
The Halacha provides that one can cook extra food on the day of the holiday itself, extra food that will not necessarily be eaten on the holiday and should be deemed as doing unnecessary work on a holy day. The rationale for allowing such cooking is that perhaps unexpected guests will arrive, and the original extra food will now be necessary in order to feed these guests.  Implicit in this idea is the concept of hospitality and the intimacy that Jews feel about casually visiting one another, even unannounced, to share the joys of the holiday.  Naturally, this means that there will always be leftovers from holiday meals. 
But these ‘leftovers’ now represent a beneficial and important moral and societal norm – mainly the importance of hospitality and of anticipating the needs of others.  The Torah also provides for positive leftovers when the Jewish farmer harvests produce from the fields.  Every Jewish field is to contain leftovers – a corner of the field that has been left and not harvested, sheaves of grain that have fallen to the ground during the harvesting process and rows of produce that somehow were forgotten in the tumult of harvesting the field.  All these leftovers are to be left for the poor and the needy.  They are a testament not just to the goodness and charity that we are bidden to show to others, but to testify that in the end we are not the owners of the field or the exclusive proprietors of its produce.
There is an even greater lesson in the Jewish idea of ‘leftovers.’  We pray daily for the welfare of the scholars and leaders of the previous generation. Those from a different generation provide a link that can guide the new generation to a proper understanding and appreciation of Torah and Judaism.  That is implicit in the blessing that a family can have with the presence of grandparents and even great grandparents – those from a previous time and different circumstances – that are still part of the nuclear family with their influence felt upon the generations of that family. 
This is another example of the positive and holy ‘leftovers,’ a concept which the Torah treasures and reinforces.  There is an emphasis on knowing the history of one’s family, of the Jewish world generally and of all recorded human civilization as well.  In this way we do not operate in a vacuum but rather in a continuum, bringing the past back to life and imparting the tradition of what once was, even if it will never be again.  So, the next time that you are privileged to partake of warmed-over Shabbat food on Tuesday, think of it as being a blessing and not merely a method of using up extra food.
Shabbat Shalom
Berel Wein

Subscribe to our blog via email or RSS to get more posts like this one.