Well, obviously nothing can compare to one’s mother’s cooking, but even now, the same food prepared mid-week just doesn’t taste like that prepared for, and served up on, Shabbat.
Almost two thousand years ago, the Roman emperor was wandering in disguise through the Jewish quarter in Rome on a Friday evening. He peeked into the houses and saw the Jews enjoying their Sabbath evening meal, with such evident relish that he decided he must find find out what it was they were eating that gave them such pleasure. Accordingly, he summoned the great rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya, who enjoyed favour at the imperial court, and expressed a wish to savour some Jewish cooking. Accordingly, the Rabbi invited the Emperor to dine with him at his own home the following Friday evening. The Emperor came with his retinue and was royally feasted by the Rabbi. The Emperor enjoyed the meal, but still could not understand why it would induce such seeming ecstasy in the Jewish guests and therefore demanded of the Rabbi the recipes for each and every one of the dishes he had tasted. The Imperial cooks were summoned and the Rabbi’s wife carefully explained how each dish was prepared, giving detailed instructions, while the imperial cooks diligently noted down every word and went back to the palace to prepare an identical meal for the Emperor.
The following day, the imperial cooks prepared a banquet for their master in accordance with the instructions they had received from the Rabbi and his wife, but after a few mouthfuls, the Emperor rose from his couch in anger and ordered that his cooks be brought before him. "Why did you not follow the instructions you were given?" he demanded.
"But indeed we did, mighty Caesar," they protested, trembling. "Down to the last pinch of salt."
"Then the Rabbi must have lied to you and kept something back," replied the Emperor.
A few hours later, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya was summoned urgently to the palace where he was brought before an extremely angry Emperor.
"Why did you and your wife lie to me?" demanded the Emperor. "The meal which my cooks prepared tastes nothing like the banquet I had at your house. You cannot have given them full instructions. Something is missing."
"Something is indeed missing," replied the Rabbi. "A very special spice."
"What spice is that?" asked the Emperor, curiously. "I must have that spice. I order you to give it to me."
"That spice is called Shabbat (the Sabbath)," replied the Rabbi. "It cannot be given, nor can it be bought. It comes of itself to those who love and observe the Sabbath. So powerful is that spice that when food is prepared lovingly, for the Sabbath, by those who cherish the Sabbath, even a non-believer, such as yourself, could taste a hint of it in the food."
Shabbat Shalom to you all.