Eliezer Shemtov
Trying to make a difference

The Secret to Producing a Good Cholent


Professor Greenberg wanted to explain to his graduating class how to make the most of life. “I learned the secret of success by watching my grandmother prepare Cholent every Friday,” he said, grabbing a large pot to begin his demonstration.

“What should I put into the cholent?” he asked his students.

“Well, potatoes, meat and beans,” said one.

“Barley,” said another.

“Salt, pepper, ketchup and honey,” added another.

“Kishke!” said Jaime.

“Onions?” suggested Daniel.

“Wow!” exclaimed the professor. “I can see that you all have a great future as Cholent Chefs.”

“What else is missing?”

“Oh, yes, of course,” said Sarah. “What about the water?”

“Right! What else?”


No one could think of anything else that could be added to the already full pot.

“Gentlemen,” said the professor with a smile. “The most important thing is missing!”

The students looked back at him with a blank look in their eyes.

“The fire is missing! Without fire, without heat, the Cholent won’t work out no matter how many varied and tasty ingredients we put in…”

“So it is with life,” he said, lowering his voice to add some more drama. “For things to work out there must be passion, enthusiasm and commitment”. 

In this week’s Torah reading, Tzav [1], we read about G-d’s instructions regarding the services in the Mishkan. “The fire shall burn upon the altar always, it shall not be put out,” the verse says [2]. 

Our sages explain [3] that this apparent redundancy —”it shall burn always” and “it shall not be put out”— implies that the fire must burn even in two extreme situations: “even on Shabbat and even in conditions of ritual impurity”. 

Our sages extract from this verse many life teachings, in addition to the applicable implications regarding the physical fire on the altar in the Temple.

Following, are two lessons:

Fire represents the burning motivation of the soul. One has to make sure that this fire is always lit. Without this fire you cannot produce a very appetizing “Cholent”. One has to make sure that even though one is at a high spiritual level —”Shabbat”— one does not lose his enthusiasm and ardor. Conversely, when one feels very depressed or “impure”, one must not give up on that inner “fire”. If you feel that this fire has been extinguished, make sure to revive it. 

How do you go about fanning the fire of your soul? 

One way is by adding fuel. The “fuel” that feeds the fire of the soul is the Torah; more specifically, the “oil” aspect of the Torah, which is Chassidut. The teachings of Chassidut studied conscientiously help stoke the fire of the soul. Once it is fired up, negative ideas, feelings and attitudes disappear. That is how the Chassidic masters interpret the end of the verse —lo tichbe— “it shall not be quenched”: the fire will quench the “no”. The ardor of the soul can dissipate all negativity and darkness. 

Another method: 

In his commentary on the above-mentioned verse, Rashi explains that the fire with which the flames of the Menorah were lit every day had to come from the fire of the altar. In other words, the fire of the outer altar was the source of the fire of the Menorah.

The Menorah, situated in the inner chamber of the Temple, represents —among other things— the personal spiritual wisdom and inspiration that illuminates one’s inner life. The outer altar —upon which animal sacrifices were offered, unlike the inner altar upon which the ketoret, incense, was offered— represents the stage in one’s life when he or she needs to struggle to overcome and sublimate his or her animal instincts. The fact that the light of the candelabra comes from the fire of the exterior altar represents the idea that the way for one who is “inside” to attain personal inspiration is by making sure that the fire and ardor of the one who is in a more “exterior” place, struggling with his more animal, base instincts, is ablaze.

So, this week’s tool is: don’t be discouraged by your lack of motivation; just cheer up! Encouragement does not have to be the result of positive circumstances; it can be the motor that brings them about. You can choose to light that fire, independently of the circumstances that you find yourself in. Also: when you are down, look for someone that you can help lift up; it will usually be to your benefit as well. The fire and motivation you will see in them will be contagious; it will serve to nourish your own personal inspiration and motivation.


  1. Levítico 6:1-8:36 
  2. Ibid 6:6
  3. Talmud Yerushalmi, Yomá 4:6
About the Author
Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov, born in in Brooklyn, NY in 1961. Received Smicha From Tomchei Temimim in 1984 and shortly after was sent by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, may his merit shield us, together with his wife Rachel to establish the first Beit Chabad in Montevideo, Uruguay and direct Chabad activities in that country. He has authored many articles on Judaism that have been published internationally. Since publishing his popular book on intermarriage, "Dear Rabbi, Why Can't I Marry Her?" he has authored several books in Spanish, English and Hebrew dealing with the challenges that the contemporary Jew has to deal with.
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