Leadership With Heart
Perhaps the biggest mystery of the week is: what’s in the cholent?
Every Shabbat, after synagogue services at the kiddush, there is a big pot of cholent waiting downstairs at the end of the table of delicacies for the people who just finished davening (praying).
Almost like a pot of gold, the cholent actually sits on its own separate table, horizontally, from the other tables of food that sit vertically in line with the door to the banquet hall.
The other long tables have the challah, the salad and dressing, an array of appetizers, some starches, and of course, the fish, chicken, and meat—the choice is really yours!
But it doesn’t end there, because then there is an air gap of a few feet and a hop, skip, or jump to the other table at the head of the room. On that table, in the middle, sits the big, overflowing pot of cholent. And there are a couple of huge soup ladles for people to dig in and take their weekly allotment.
But what happens? Every single time, without fail, when the people come up to the cholent, there is a whole procession of inspection and selection of your cholent. On one side, you can find Moshe with the ladle on the right side of the pot, and on the other side, Chaim has taken control of the ladle on the left side of the pot. Both are staring intently into the cholent.
My G-d, what are they staring at?
Is it the beans? The barley? Or maybe the potatoes? The hardboiled eggs? The beef bones? Is there something in there that I just don’t even know about but that makes it a magical, spicy Shabbat recipe, and no one will divulge the secret ingredients?
Yet, what’s funny is that it’s literally the same, or very close to it, cholent, from week to week. Who knows? Some weeks, it may actually be the same cholent—leftovers—served up again!
In the meantime, the line starts to back up as Moshe and Chaim holding the ladles finish eyeing the cholent and now move to the absolutely necessary step of digging the big spoon in and churning it over and over and over again. Digging past the top layer, the middle layer, and all the way to the bottom, what’s in there? To me, it just looks like more cholent!
Maybe they found a slice of kishka (stuffed derma) or one of the precious pieces of fatty beef flanken short ribs that had sunk to the bottom of the pot. Or did they scoop off the burnt-on cholent from the steel sides, or even better, from the base, where the stew had simmered for hours until it became yummy, greasy, burnt-fried mush?
Now they seem satisfied. No, it’s more than that; they are smiling ear-to-ear with true Shabbat joy. But nothing to feel bad about. They got some secret magic parts of the cholent from deep down, hidden and buried in the sacred Shabbat cholent pot. And it’s theirs, all theirs.
What about everyone else? Who cares? There’ll be another cholent next week!
Anyway, for all of you who have had the experience, I am sure that you will agree that it’s truly not a Shabbat meal without a big pot of cholent (or, should I say, dafina, as my Sephardic friends say). And it’s not a bowl of cholent that you want to eat unless you’ve hand-picked every single scoop of it yourself, even if you don’t quite know what it is you’re looking for to begin with.