Why Eat Kugel on Shabbat? - The Jewish Voice
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Why Eat Kugel on Shabbat?

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The reason we celebrate Shabbat with various foods is because the scriptures tell us to “call the Shabbat a day of delight

Question:

At first I thought it was just a coincidence, but I see now that almost every home that I’m invited to for a Shabbat meal serves of some form of kugel: potato kugel, zucchini kugel, noodle kugel, even challah kugel.

I’m a bit of a picky eater, and not a big fan of certain varieties of kugel. So, I’d like to know: is there a deeper reason for me to be eating kugel on Shabbat?

Answer:

Before getting into the specifics of kugel consumption, it’s important to note that the reason we celebrate Shabbat with various foods is because the scriptures tell us to “call the Shabbat a day of delight.” The sages of the Talmud explain that special foods and drinks are a major component of this “delight.” So if you do not find a specific Shabbat food “delightful,” don’t eat it, since it would defeat the whole purpose.1

Now let’s dig into the kugel a bit.

Classic Reason for Kugel

As early as Talmudic times, reference is made to a kugel-like food that early commentators call pashtida.2 It consisted of two layers of dough with a filling (usually of meat).

Rabbi Yaakov ben Moshe (Moelin) ha-Levi, known as the Maharil (1365–1427), explains that pashtida is a Shabbat classic because it resembles the manna, which fell from heaven to nourish the Jews during their 40-year sojourn in the desert. The pashtida crust that encases the filling symbolizes the dew that fell before and after the manna, creating a sandwich of dew with a filling of manna.3

What is the connection between manna and Shabbat?

We read in Exodus that the manna fell every day of the week besides Shabbat. Every Friday an extra portion would descend, heralding the coming of the holy day of Shabbat. Additionally, on Shabbat the manna would be especially flavorful. In other words, it was through the manna that Saturday was sanctified as Shabbat.4

While contemporary kugels no longer have those two layers of dough, it is explained that the kugel’s well-done, crusty outer layer does the trick.5

More Reasons

A Unique Jewish Food

When Moses blessed the tribe of Zebulun before his passing, he stated, “They will call peoples to the mountain; there they will offer up righteous sacrifices…”6 The Midrash explains that through Zebulun’s commerce, gentile merchants would come to Zebulun’s land. Once there, the merchants would say, “Since we have taken so much trouble to reach here, let us go to Jerusalem and see what the G d of this nation is like and what they do.” In Jerusalem, the merchants would see all of Israel worshipping one G d and eating one kind of food.7

Although the common understanding of this Midrash is that the “one kind of food” refers to the kosher dietary laws, some see it as a hint to the importance of eating uniquely Jewish cuisine, such as kugel.8

Names and Numbers

In Jewish numerology, gematria (where each letter of the alphabet corresponds to a number), there is a method of counting called mispar katan, which literally means “small count.” In mispar katan, a letter’s value is calculated disregarding the zeros. For example, in regular gematria, the letter aleph is 1 and the letter kuf is 100; but in mispar katan, both are reckoned as 1.

When we look at many of the traditional foods of Shabbat, the seventh day of the week, we find that they all equal the number seven. For example, the Hebrew word for “fish” (דג) is 4 + 3 = 7. “Meat” (בשר) is 2 + 3{00} + 2{00} = 7. “Soup” (מרק) is 4{00} + 2{00} + 1{00} = 7. “Wine” (יין) is 5{0} + 1{0} + 1{0} = 7.

On this note, if we just use the audible letters, without the vowels, the word “kugel,” קגל, also equals seven: 1{00} + 3 + 3{0} = 7.

Taking this track, there is also deeper significance to the word pashtida. In the mispar katan method, פשטידא equals 26 (8{0} + 3{00} + 9 + 1{0} + 4 + 1 = 26), which is the numerical value of G d’s name.

Manna in the Messianic Era

Our sages tells us that Shabbat is “a taste of the world to come.” Just as the six-day workweek culminates in Shabbat, so too will the six millennia of our work to make the world a home for G d culminate in the messianic era —“the day that is wholly Shabbat and tranquility, for life everlasting.”9 It is for this reason that some of the things done on Shabbat are less about the past and more about the future. Accordingly, our Shabbat kugel is a foretaste of the manna that we will once again have in the messianic era.10

Shabbat contains and bridges our past and future. Thus, we have two remembrances of the manna during the Shabbat meal. One is the two loaves of challah that correspond to the double portion of manna we received on Fridays during our sojourn in the desert, and the other is the kugel, which corresponds to the manna we will eat after Moshiach comes.11 May it be speedily in our days!            (Chabad.org)

Footnotes

1. See Shulchan Aruch ha-Rav, Orach Chaim 242:1–2. For more on this, see Do I Have to Eat Meat on Shabbat?

2. Talmud, Pesachim 74b and Rashi ad loc.

3. Minhagei Maharil, Shabbat 6, cited by Rabbi Moses Isserles (Rema), glosses to Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 242:1.

4. See Tosafot on Talmud, Pesachim 100b.

5. See Sefer Minhagei Yisrael Torah 274, citing Nimukei Orach Chaim 274:2. Sefer Minhagei Yisrael Torah furthermore cites others who explain that the resemblance of pashtida to the manna is that it is round, just like the manna. (In fact, the word “kugel” in Hebrew can be read as ke-igul, which means “circle” or “round”).

6. Deuteronomy 33:19.

7. Sifri, Deuteronomy 33:19.

8. Shulchan ha-Tahor, Orach Chaim 242.

9. Talmud, Berachot 57b; Nachmanides, Genesis 1.

10. See Mishnah Berurah, Beur Halachah, s.v. Zecher, Orach Chaim 242.

11. See Ha-Maor, vol. 55 (5762), no. 4.

Yehuda Shurpin

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