The Special Flavor of Shabbos
The Gemara (Shabbos 119a) relates that the Roman emperor once approached Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananyah and asked, “Why is it that your food has a special scent on Shabbos?” The Rabbi replied, “I have a certain spice called ‘Shabbos’ that I put in the food, and this creates a special fragrance.” The emperor then asked Rabbi Yehoshua to give him some of this spice so that his food, too, would have this unique aroma. The Rabbi explained that the spice is effective only for those who observe Shabbos.
The Maharsha raises the question of how Rabbi Yehoshua could knowingly deceive the emperor. Was this not dishonest? How could he tell the emperor that there is such a spice, which does not actually exist? The Maharsha answers that in truth, there is a Mishnah that makes mention of a spice called shabbos. Thus, Rabbi Yehoshua was referring to an actual spice, while at the same time alluding to the fact that one also needs Shabbos observance in order to experience the special “flavor” of this day. The Ben Ish Chai, however, in his work Ben Yehoyada, explains differently. He writes that there is, in fact, a special “light” and quality of holiness that affects the food prepared in honor of Shabbos, lending it a special fragrance and flavor. Rabbi Yehoshua was not speaking dishonestly; Shabbos indeed functions as a “spice” that enhances the aroma and taste of the food prepared for this special day.
Elsewhere, in his work Benayahu, the Ben Ish Chai addresses the question of why Rabbi Yehoshua describes this quality of Shabbos as a tavlin — “spice.” Why didn’t he call it what it actually is — a “light,” or a type of kedushah? The Ben Ish Chai answers by telling of a man who once ate a Shabbos meal at his friend’s house. For whatever reason, the guest brought along his own food. As they were eating, the host observed that the guest’s food emitted a far more pleasing aroma than his own food, and he asked the guest what made his food smell so good. The guest explained that when his wife prepares for Shabbos, she says the words, lichvod Shabbos kodesh, "in the honor of the holy Sabbath," and these sweet words add a special fragrance and flavor to the food. The host’s food, by contrast, was prepared by his staff of servants, and thus it did not have this special quality.
Indeed, the Ben Ish Chai cites the Arizal as teaching that whenever one makes any sort of preparation for Shabbos, anytime during the week, he should declare that the action is taken lichvod Shabbos kodesh, and this will have a profound impact on the food. The reason, the Ben Ish Chai explains, is because speech originates from the heart, and thus has spiritual power. When a woman declares lichvod Shabbos kodesh as she prepares food for Shabbos, these words come from the heart and directly affect the food, infusing it with the special scent of Gan Eden, of the Next World. Just as Yitzchak Avinu sensed the fragrance of Gan Eden when Yaakov entered to receive his blessing, similarly, Shabbos, which is described as mei’ein Olam Haba — an experience resembling the experience in the Next World — has a special scent, which can be experienced when one says the words lichvod Shabbos kodesh as he or she prepares for Shabbos.
For this reason, the Ben Ish Chai explained, Rabbi Yehoshua described Shabbos as a תבלין, whose letters can be rearranged to form the words תני לב— “Give your heart.” The word t’ni is written in the feminine form, as it is directed toward the women who prepare the food for Shabbos. They are to invest their heart and feelings into the process, and to express this emotion by stating that the food is being prepared lichvod Shabbos kodesh. This emotion is the “spice” that gives the Shabbos food its special fragrance and flavor.
Someone recently told me that she was unable to cook for Shabbos, and people brought her food. As many people do when they bring food to people for Shabbos, those who brought food wrote on the covers of the tins what the tins contain — “rice,” “salad,” “fish,” etc. But in addition, on top of the description of the contents the words lichvod Shabbos kodesh were written. This might be one small way we can implement this message of t’ni lev, of clearly designating the food as having been prepared for the honor of Shabbos. Just as we label foods as “organic,” “vegan,” and other descriptions, perhaps we should also be labeling Shabbos food as “lichvod Shabbos kodesh” to proclaim that it was prepared by a G-d-fearing woman who put her heart into the food in honor of Shabbos, and it thus contains that special “spice” of Shabbos.
Anything we do for Shabbos at any point during the week, even Sunday, can have this effect on our enjoyment of Shabbos. Let us, then, try to invest our feelings and emotions into each and every act we perform in honor of Shabbos, so that we will be able to experience the special “fragrance” and “flavor” of this sacred day.
Reproduced from Living Shabbos by Rabbi David Sutton
ArtScroll / Mesorah Publications Ltd. Reprinted with permission.