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Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Recent Questions:

Kosher Travel

I travel a lot for business to small towns. I usually stay at a hotel that does not have a kitchen, so I am unable to prepare my own food. Also, these hotel rooms usually don't have a refrigerator, so I can't get kosher food from the store to keep and eat there. As for kosher restaurants – forget about it!

In fact, right now I’m in Butte, Montana. I don't think there are more than 10 Jews in the entire state, which must be close to 20 times the size of Israel. I don't know what to do and I'm starving! Maybe I'm missing something obvious since I am new to this. Do you have any advice?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

In general, eating kosher on the road may be easier than you think. Since so many national products have rabbinic supervision, most local grocery stores carry a large percentage of kosher products, even though there are no Jews within hundreds of miles.

In general, the key to kosher travel is easy-to-use, non-perishable food like peanut butter, tuna fish and salami. There are also dry kosher soup mixes that come in a Styrofoam cup – just add hot water. Also, matzah is a good substitute for bread, because it doesn't spoil.

To balance your diet, you can go into any store and buy an unlimited amount of fruits, vegetables, raw nuts and berries. Just be aware that some of the leafy vegetables – like lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli, etc. – need to be thoroughly rinsed and checked for bugs, which of course are not kosher! Most stores sell bags of fresh salad, which come with a kosher symbol to tell you they've been thoroughly washed to remove any bugs.

For cooked food, a good option is to bring a small heating element and a pot, which would enable you to cook vegetable soup, rice, or eggs – all of which are readily available in Anywhere, USA. By carrying a few utensils and plastic dishes, an electric skillet and a West Bend "Hot Pot" (a 2-quart electric pot with a temperature control), one can cook almost anything in a regular hotel room. For example, a packet of pilaf cooks up just fine in the "Hot Pot" if foil is used to seal the top. Break an egg on top the last few moments of cooking and enjoy a raw carrot, and you've got a complete meal.

Alternatively, before you leave home, pack-and-freeze your own meals. Transport them frozen in your suitcase (the altitude keeps things cold in the luggage compartment of a plane), and then stick them in your hotel fridge when you arrive. Travel guides can direct you to hotels which have rooms with kitchenettes. And if you’re traveling by car during the winter, your car's trunk makes a good freezer for prepared foods, cold cuts, etc.

A company called La Briute makes kosher self-heating meals, using a special "flameless" food heater. When the enclosed salt water packet is opened and poured onto the heating element, it produces real heat and steam right inside the box, creating a hot meal in just minutes. Also, there are many companies who allow you to order scrumptious meals, which are delivered overnight to any location.

There are many kosher Jews traveling the countryside – and no one has starved to death! It absolutely can be done. It just takes planning. I recommend using the wonderful online resource www.kosherquest.org.

Good luck, and remember that even if things get difficult, one mitzvah performed under challenging conditions is worth 100 regular mitzvahs!

Challah – Breaking Bread on Shabbat

Whenever I attend a Shabbat meal, the process of making the blessing (bracha) on the challah and cutting it seems detailed. Can you give me the rundown of how it’s done?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

There are actually quite a few details to blessing, cutting and handing out the challah on Shabbat. Here is the basic process.

(a) At each meal we recite the blessing on two whole loaves. This is reminiscent of the double portion of manna that the Jewish people in the desert received every Friday (OC 274:1, MB 1). One should use two whole loaves even if he eats an extra meal beyond the three main ones (Rema 291:4).

(b) Before beginning, the challahs should be covered above and below. (The cutting board suffices for “below”; a velvet or embroidered cloth cover is typically used above.) This is in part to enable Kiddush on the wine to be recited before the blessing on the bread, since ordinarily the blessing on bread takes precedence. It is also reminiscent of the two layers of dew above and below the manna in the desert – God's “giftwrapping” (OC 271:9, MB 41).

(c) A small scratch should be made with the knife on the challah you will cut, marking off where you plan to cut, thus minimizing the delay between the cutting and eating (MB 274:5).

(d) Before reciting the blessing, both challahs should be lifted and held, one above the other, with all 10 fingers. The challahs should not be inside of anything – such as a plastic bag, but should be directly in your hands. Some have the custom to reach under the challah cover and recite the blessing while keeping the challahs covered (OC 167:4; The Radiance of Shabbos 14:5:1; MB 271:41).

(e) On Friday night we recite the blessing on the bottom challah, while in the day meals we recite it on the top. On holidays we recite the blessing on the top challah even at night. When reciting the blessing on the lower challah, it should be edged forward, closer than the top one, so that you don’t “pass over” the top one to break the bottom. (Some have the custom to cut both challahs at all meals.) (OC 274:1, MB 4-5).

(f) If you are reciting the blessing for others, you must say the blessing loud enough that they can hear every word. Everyone should be seated when the blessing is recited and recite "amen" at its conclusion (OC 167:11).

(g) If you are blessing for others, introduce the blessing with the words “birshut rabboti” (“with the permission of my masters”) in order to get their attention (MB 274:2). Any English equivalent is fine.

(h) Some have the custom to lift the challahs slightly when they say God's name (ado-nai) and/or when they say the word lechem, emphasizing the bounty God has granted us.

(i) Cut the challah where you earlier made the scratch. Take the first piece for yourself since you should not be involved in distributing food to others with your own blessing unfulfilled (MB 167:79). After your own piece, it is typical to give challah first to your wife, and then to guests and family members in order of age or importance.

(j) There is a custom to have salt on the table for every bread meal. This is because the table of a Jewish home is compared to the altar of the Temple, and just as sacrifices were always salted, so too our bread. There is a Kabbalistic custom to dip each slice in salt three times before giving it out (Rema 167:5, MB 33).

(k) When giving out the pieces, do not put a slice of challah directly into the hands of a recipient since this is reminiscent of the meal given to a mourner (OC 167:18).

(l) When giving out the pieces, do not toss the bread around the table. It is considered disrespectful to throw bread even if no damage will occur to it as a result (OC 171:1; see also MB 167:88).

(m) When a guest receives a piece of challah, he should not be "polite" and pass it along (unless the homeowner specifically indicated he do so). The reason is because one should not pass up a mitzvah that comes before him.

(n) Every person at the table should be given (not necessarily at the time of the blessing) a piece of bread larger than an egg. This is because up to an egg’s volume of bread is considered a snack, and does not lend importance to the Shabbat meal (MB 291:2).

(o) One should first eat the challah he was given at the time of the blessing and only then take other challah, since the first piece had the blessing recited on it. One should also leave a bit of this piece till the conclusion of the meal, so that the taste of the mitzvah remains in his mouth (Rema 167:19; MB 97).

Four Cups: Verses

We are constantly made aware of the importance of the four cups of wine and the obligation to drink them at the Seder. Yet no mention is made in the Torah of the four cups, nor do we recite the verses from the Torah symbolizing these four cups in our reading of the Haggadah. Why not?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

With such a good question, you could be the Wise Son!

The four cups of wine are a rabbinical mitzvah, in commemoration of the four expressions of redemption that appear in Exodus 6:6-7: "I will take you out... I shall save you... I shall redeem you... I shall take you."

These verses refer to a promise that God made. They do not relate to the events of slavery in Egypt, nor are they verses of actual redemption. God's original promise to Abraham is spoken about in the Haggadah with "Boruch Shomer Havtachato." Thus there is no need to recite the verses of Exodus 6:6-7.

On the other hand, the Seder night mitzvot of eating matzah and telling the Exodus story have their basis in the Torah (Exodus 12:8), and are mentioned in the Haggadah.

(sources: Rashi - Pesachim 99b; Tosfot - Pesachim 108b)