From the Pulpit: Brisket lessons for the New Year

By Rabbi Menachem Blum, Ottawa Torah Centre Chabad

I write these lines a few days before Rosh Hashanah, as Jews around the world prepare to greet the New Year. This is a period for introspection when we dedicate some time to cheshbon hanefesh (soul accounting). Taking stock of our actions of the past year to decide where we have improved and where improvement is still needed. Which unwanted habits have to be discarded and which good practices and mitzvot have to be kept and built upon.

Very much like the first step practiced in preparing a brisket for smoking. This is something I recently learned while organizing Ottawa’s first Kosher BBQ Cook-Off. Some fat has to be trimmed off the brisket and some fat has to be kept. Trimming it too much will make it too dry and trimming it too little will make it taste too fatty. The first step in preparing for the New Year is to think deeply and honestly as to what we want to keep and what we want to discard.

As with every other New Year celebration, the second step is to take on good resolutions. To add another mitzvah and good practice in the upcoming year which will add spice and flavour to our life. Every one of the seven teams who participated in the Kosher BBQ Cook-Off applied their own spices and rubs to their brisket before starting the smoking process. Each one of us can find one more mitzvah that we can add and incorporate into our lives to give it a little more meaningful flavour.

Then, there is the science of smoking the brisket that I learned about. The heat temperature has to be stable and water has to be used to help keep moisture in the smoker. This mixture of heat and water is symbolic of two elements needed to achieve success in our New Year’s endeavours. Our approach in life must have two opposing forces. Heat, which is the by-product of fire, and its polar opposite, water. On the one hand, we must be like fire, which always reaches upward, expressing our yearning to reach a higher place. We must strive to go from strength to strength and constantly rise higher. On the other hand, we must be like the calm water, which flows downward, which symbolizes the idea of being present in every moment of our lives.

Finally, I learned that after the brisket comes off the smoker, it is wrapped up to rest, so that it maintains its heat and holds its moisture. While we are excited about the New Year and our new resolutions, we all know too well that many resolutions don’t last very long. We need to wrap ourselves up with the recognition that the purpose for which we were created, is to serve our Creator and make the world a better place to live in. Maintaining this awareness through the year will ensure that even after the inspiration of the High Holidays wanes, our warm enthusiasm, passion and excitement, to make this year the best ever, will be sustained.

May you and yours be inscribed and sealed for a Happy and Sweet New Year. Shana Tova!