Rabbi Lisa Kingston
Tree of Life Service – Rosh Hashanah Morning 5777
October 3, 2016

The Rosh Hashanah Brisket

Adapted from The Lethal Latkes from A Chanukah Present by Mark Binder


The villagers of Chelm dreaded Rosh Hashanah. It wasn’t the holiday itself. In fact, they loved everything about Rosh Hashanah. They loved baking round challah (braiding was very hard after all!) They loved dipping apple slices into sticky honey and they especially loved hearing the call of the shofar.

But every year, all the townspeople of Chelm would be invited to Rosh Hashanah dinner at the synagogue. And every year, Mrs. Chafetz would cater the brisket. And Mrs. Chafetz’s brisket was not good. It was really not good. 

It wasn’t that it was too fatty (which it was). It wasn’t that it was burnt (which it sometimes was). Or even that it was too salty (which it always was). It was the smell.  There was something sickening about the smell of Mrs. Chafetz’s Rosh Hashanah brisket. The smell was something like a dirty barn, mixed with trash that has been left in the bin too long. Really, really not good.

Unfortunately, because Mrs. Chafetz owned the only kosher restaurant in Chelm, no one dared to bring up the subject of her brisket. You didn’t want to get on her bad side anyway. Once, a traveler from Smyrna had mentioned that her noodle kugel was dry and he had been chased from her restaurant with a frying pan!

But now that Mrs. Chafetz had married Rabbi Kibbitz last year (she kept her own name), some of the villagers of Chelm decided that perhaps it was time to broach the subject.

It was a week before Rosh Hashanah when the rabbi heard a knock on the door of his study. He looked up from his sermon writing and saw four of Chelm’s finest citizens standing nervously with their hats in their hands. There was Mr. Gould, the cobbler; Mr Kimmelman, the tailor; Mr. Cantor the merchant; and Mr. Stein, the baker. Rabbi Kibbitz welcomed them in.

They presented Rabbi Kibbitz with their issue. As much as they loved Mrs. Chafetz, Mr. Stein said, her brisket made everyone sick. On Passover her matzah balls were as heavy as lead, but everyone still thought they were delicious! And On Chanukah, her latkes were greasy, but tasty. Her hamantashen were sweet and buttery, as long as you liked prune. But no one looked forward to Rosh Hashanah, because it meant eating her brisket.

You don’t want to offend her by not eating . . . but when you wake up the next day, even after brushing your teeth, the taste of brisket still hasn’t left your mouth!

The rabbi nodded his head wisely. He knew exactly what they were talking about. When he was still dating Mrs. Chafetz he had developed a trick of spitting his brisket into a napkin, sliding the napkin into his pockets, and then slipping out of the back door to feed the brisket to the goats, who then left it for the squirrels.

But now, he shrugged? “What do you suggest?”

“Well”, said Mr. Kimmelman, “now that you're married to her, perhaps you could bring it up?”

“Tactfully” Mr. Gould added, “of course.”

You’re right the rabbi agreed, shaking their hands, there is nothing that a loving husband and wife should not be able to discuss . . .

He was wrong. Very wrong!

That evening, Rabbi Kibbitz tactfully brought up the subject and Mrs. Chafetz slammed the door in his face. Literally. She locked him out of the bedroom and he had to spend the night curled up underneath the kitchen table, shivering with cold.

“Oh what have I done?” The rabbi moaned that night, and for the next six nights. “Is my marriage ruined? Who can the rabbi go to talk to when he has problems?!!”

Erev Rosh Hashanah finally arrived. The synagogue was filled with all the people of Chelm and the rabbi, although stiff and exhausted from sleeping in the kitchen, lead the congregation in beautiful prayers. After the shofar blew it was time for dinner.

The rabbi decided to take a long walk instead of going to dinner. He thought about going home and napping in his warm bed before Mrs. Chafetz came back from temple. Still, he was the rabbi and he knew he should be with his congregation on Rosh Hashanah.

He headed back to the synagogue, stood in front of the doors to the social hall, and braced himself for the ordeal that was to come. He also braced himself for the vile smell of brisket. He took a deep inhale, holding his breath for as long as possible, (Breath) and pushed the doors open.

As he walked in, at last he gasped for air, but he didn’t feel sick. He breathed again, more deeply, and his nose twitched like a bunny. Something actually smelled good. Not revolting or disgusting, but rich, and sweet, and delicious. He walked into the kitchen and much to his surprise he saw Mrs. Rosen, their neighbor, and her daughters laughing and roasting brisket as if they had been doing so forever. There was a line for the brisket, and the rabbi noticed that as soon as the villagers got their plates filled, they scurried to the back of the line again for seconds, and thirds!

“Great work!” Mr. Gould said and patted the rabbi on the back. But he wasn’t talking about his service.

“Best brisket ever” Mr. Stein agreed and winked

“Come,” said Mr. Kimmelman and Mr. Cantor taking the rabbi by the arms and leading him to the front of the line. You deserve a hot piece of brisket.

The Rosen women piled the Rabbi’s plate high with the juiciest slice of brisket he had ever seen. Not fatty, not salty, with a glimmer of sauce and side of sweet stewed carrots. Everyone watched as he cut into his brisket, and lifted the fork towards his mouth. From this close, it smelled even sweeter . . .

But just as Rabbi Kibbitz was about to close his mouth he saw his wife watching him from across the room. Her face was frozen, without expression.

The rabbi bit into the brisket. It melted in his mouth. He chewed it slowly and thoughtfully. At last he swallowed, sipped some water and spoke.

“Very good.” He smiled. Mrs. Rosen hugged her daughters and the people cheered.

“Still, he continued, “I like my wife’s recipe better.”

There was a moment of astonished silence, then all at once the social hall filled with laughter at the rabbi’s wonderful joke.

With everybody eating, no one noticed when Rabbi Kibbitz set his plate down unfinished and walked home. He crawled into bed for a nap. He awoke when he heard Mrs. Chafetz at the front door, and he gathered his pillow and blanket to head for the kitchen.

“Stay.” Mrs. Chafetz said, putting her hand on her husband’s arm. Mrs. Rosen’s brisket is better than mine. She’s going to show me her recipe tomorrow. But it was sweet of you to say you liked mine the best.

“But I do,” said the rabbi.

And as he said this he realized it was true. Even though his wife’s brisket tasted awful and smelled worse, it had always been made with love. Her love. And, for him, that was the most delicious flavor in the world.

This Rosh Hashanah, may you all find ways to share your love for the people you care about, and may your offerings of love be accepted by all.

Wishing you a sweet new year, Shanah tova.