A story is told of a Roman Emperor who was wondering around the town on a Friday evening - the start of the Shabbat (Sabbath).

He was in a Jewish area, and started to smell the Friday night food, the meal to celebrate the start of the Shabbat. Challah. Chicken Soup. Roast meat. And the smell overwhelmed him so much, he decided he had to try some of this Jewish food.

He summoned the Rabbi of the Jewish community to his court, and ordered him to arrange for all the same food to be cooked in his palace. The Rabbi of course went to his wife, so she came to the palace and started cooking. The emperor then sat down to his meal.

First he was brought the Challah. He looked at it and smelt it. Tore off a small piece and tried it. And turned his nose up and pushed it away. Then he was brought the Chicken Soup. Before he even tasted it, the smell put him off so much, he pushed the bowl over.

And so it went on with the whole meal. Nothing had the same aroma or taste as what he had come across on that Friday night.

He summoned the Rabbi again and berated him and his wife for not making him the same food that they made for themselves. The Rabbi's wife, terrified, pleaded that she had used exactly the same recipe and ingredients that she used to make her own food, and couldn't understand why the emperor didn't like it.

Then the Rabbi asked if he could speak. He said "Sir, please forgive me, but I think I know the reason. There is a certain spice that was in our food, that couldn't be included". The emperor was even more furious. "How dare you! Rome is the centre of the world, we have every known spice from all over the world in our kitchens, if there was another ingredient, if you told us, it could have been included".

The Rabbi said "Sir, I'm very sorry. This spice is something that can't just be added from a pot. It is the spice of Shabbat, a special flavour that comes along with food prepared specially to celebrate Shabbat".

A story, of course. But is its meaning true? Well, there is certainly something different about a Shabbat meal, that much is for certain. And if you get the opportunity to join a Jewish family for a Shabbat meal, take it.

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