A rabbi in every kitchen (Daf Yomi Shabbos 119)

“A person does not find fault in himself.”

Today’s Daf Yomi is replete with activities associated with preparing for Shabbat:  sweeping, cooking, making beds, salting fish, cutting beets, carrying wood on one’s shoulders in and out of the house. I imagine a rabbi in every kitchen preparing his special dish for Shabbat. And whiffing through the air is the wonderful smell of dill, which conjures memories of a warm bowl of chicken soup. What is so unexpected about these domestic images, is that all this housework is being done by rabbis who I imagine push their beards out of the way while they hover over stoves with aprons tied around their waist.  And what are their wives doing? For a moment I imagined them sitting on a sofa with their feet up enjoying a quiet moment, but they are most likely sweeping after the rabbis as they make a mess in the kitchen.

When the Rabbis are finished cooking, they dress in their special clothes for Shabbat that were most likely expertly pressed by their wives. Imaging a Talmudic Rabbi ironing is more than my imagination can bear. The Talmud can be very practical at times (when it is not telling us to carry a dead body with an innocent baby upon it.) We are told that it is important to save these special garments for after all the chores are completed, so that one does not soil them.

We are told that the special meal that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Ḥananya prepared for Shabbat was spiced with dill. The smell of this dish, which must have invoked a sense of warmth and hearth, attracted attention by the Roman emperor who asked: “Why does the fragrance of a cooked Shabbat dish diffuse?”  The Rabbi revealed that his secret ingredient was dill which dispersed through the air. When the Emperor demanded a taste, he was told that it would have no special effect on someone who does not believe in Shabbat. It is the magic of Shabbat that was in essence the special spice that made the dish so inviting. (Plus, the fragrance of warming dill can evoke certain memories from deep within one’s soul.)

We all have two angels that rest upon our shoulders – a good angel who sits on one side and a bad one who sits on the other. They are the manifestation of the dialog we have within ourselves each day when we make decisions. We are told in today’s text that a good and a bad ministering angel accompany a person on Shabbat. The good angel influences the conflicted into observing Shabbat and preparing the home appropriately. The bad ministering angel whispers in one’s ear to just relax after a hard week and forget all about it.

We all make decisions based on the good and bad ministering angels we carry within us. I live in New York City where we were hit in March and April with unfathomable numbers of death from the coronavirus. We have a governor who imposed draconian measures on us in order to protect the health of the citizenry. Everything was shut down and most businesses were boarded up, except for groceries and drugstores. (I admit to giving into my need for retail therapy by browsing the shelves of Duane Reade.) We were told that wearing masks was mandatory and we lived with the constant drone of ambulances as our background soundtrack. And we are now only one of two states that are not experiencing an uptick in virus cases.

Here in New York City we listened to our good ministering angel. But the governors in other states who opened up too soon and the politicians who allow large indoor gatherings of people even now, with the numbers of infected increasing, must be overtaken by their bad angels, who encourage them to only consider their needs of the moment and not those of their community, the frontline healthcare workers who are risking their lives, the vulnerable, the aged, and increasingly, young and healthy people who are getting very sick. I can come up with no other explanation for this lack of concern for community health except to point to the whisperings of bad ministering angels.

About the Author
Penny Cagan was born in New Jersey and has lived in New York City since 1980. She has published two books of poems called “City Poems “ and “And Today I am Happy." She is employed as a risk manager and continues to write poetry. More information on Penny can be found at
Related Topics
Related Posts