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Wednesday, February 21, 2024 - 12 Adar I 5784
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A Surprising Dish
The Ben-Ari family of Safed, Israel, is renowned for its outstanding hospitality. Every Shabbat they host dozens of guests at their table, giving them an indelible taste of Judaism.

Last year, two weeks before Rosh Hashanah, a large group of female IDF officers were spending the weekend in Safed and were invited to the Ben-Aris for a Shabbat meal. In the course of the meal, as was his custom, Rabbi Ben-Ari went around the table and asked each guest to share a thought. Some of the guests chose to use the opportunity to ask questions on Judaism, while others shared inspiring experiences and memories. One officer, though, stood up and made a surprising announcement:

“Because of this Shabbat, I am going to do complete teshuvah! I am going to become a Torah-observant Jew.”

This was not a common reaction to a first-time Shabbat experience, and her colleagues, no less than the Ben-Aris themselves, looked at her in surprise. Everyone at the table fell silent, awaiting her explanation.

“I am a vegan,” she continued. “Not only do I refrain from meat and fish, I also have celiac disease, so I cannot eat any foods with gluten. Whenever I am invited out to a meal, I inform the hosts at the outset that I have these restrictions. In the army base the cook already knows to prepare special dishes for me. The truth is, my favorite food is quinoa. Whenever my friends ask me what I can eat, I tell them, ‘Make quinoa. Not only is it tasty, it’s easy to prepare as well.’”

“As I was walking towards your home, I realized that I had not made any arrangements in advance, and surely there would be no quinoa prepared for me. I was sure I’d leave the house hungry. In general, I was under the impression that Hareidi families like to eat a lot of bread and meat.

“As I walked into the house, I turned to one of my friends and said jokingly, ‘If there is quinoa in this house, that’s a sign from above that I must do teshuvah.’

“Yet, as soon as I walked in, what did I see on the table? A big platter of quinoa! I was shocked. My friend and I looked at each other. At that moment, I felt as if I had received a message directly from G-d.”

Rabbi Ben-Ari listened to her story and his own mouth dropped open in shock. He then proceeded to tell his side of the story, how the quinoa had landed on their table.

“My wife and I are married 30 years, and never have we had quinoa on our Shabbat table, or any other time for that matter. We had simply never tasted this dish or known how to prepare it.

“During the week, I travel from kibbutz to kibbutz in the negev. I visit families and teach them about Judaism. This past week, as I was making my rounds, I spent the night in the home of my friend, Rabbi Moshe Blau, an emissary of the Rebbe in the region.

“One night, I was hungry, and since I am like a member of their family, I opened the refrigerator looking for something to eat. I saw a large bowl with some kind of grain and colorful mixed vegetables. I filled a plate and found it very tasty. The next morning, Rabbi Blau explained to me that this dish is called ‘quinoa,’ and it is very healthy with many natural proteins. Since it was so delicious and healthy as well, I decided to ask my wife to prepare it this week for Shabbat.

“When I returned home to Safed, I mentioned to my wife about this special dish, but she had never heard of quinoa and did not know how to make it. She tried to convince me to forget about it, but I was insistent. This tasty and healthful dish must be on our Shabbat table.

“I called Rabbi Blau, who told me that the quinoa had actually been made by a neighbor of theirs. He put me in touch with her, and she very graciously introduced my wife to the secrets of quinoa preparation.

“I sent my young son, Yosef Yitzchak, to the store to buy the grain, and for the first time ever, my wife made quinoa for Shabbat.”

Turning to the army officer, Rabbi Ben-Ari concluded, “See, G-d was thinking about you from the beginning of the week. He knew you’d be our guest, and that you love quinoa and it is essential for your health. He arranged matters just for you, that you would have the food you need for Shabbat.

The story left a deep impression on all the Shabbat guests. Rabbi Ben-Ari pointed out that we might think that amazing stories happen only in the Bible, but we only need to open our eyes to see G-d’s intervention all around us.
In case you’re wondering, the army officer did not become a complete baalat teshuvah after all, at least not at this time. However, from that week on she resolved to light candles every Friday night in honor of Shabbat. And who knows? Once her soul is ignited there is no telling where she might end up.


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