For the week ending 25 January 2020 / 28 Tevet 5780

Food Fight

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Dear Rabbi,

I would like your own point of view about this "anecdote." It's Friday, early in the afternoon, a son talks to his mother over the phone, telling her he won't be able to come to her place for Shabbat dinner, and asks her if he can come to pick up one challah (bread) for his Shabbat at his place where he lives with his wife and baby. The mother had baked two challahs, and the son only asks for one. She replies: "No, because I need two challahs in order to say the blessing (according to the rules)." So she won't give her son one because of this, and of course the son has no challahs at all for his Shabbat.

Question: Was she right? Would not it have been better in this situation to skip the "do it by the book" aspect, and to show her love to her son by giving him one challah? Thank you very much for your reply.


It's a mitzvah on Shabbat to say the blessing over two whole loaves of bread. Many use braided challah loaves, but any whole loaves (kosher, of course) will do. In our home, we sometimes use matzah. (Did you ever see braided matzah?)

Now, assuming the son had other food, it wasn't a question of his going hungry. Rather, he wanted the mitzvah of enjoying a proper Shabbat meal, and to say the blessing over one whole challah loaf, at least.

Should the mother give away her mitzvah of having two whole loaves in order that the son would be able to have the mitzvah of having at least one whole loaf?

Strictly speaking, one doesn't have to give up one's own mitzvah in order to allow the other person to do a mitzvah. But bringing peace and harmony among people, especially among family members, is a very great mitzvah, so there's a strong case to be made against the mother.

But are there any other relevant details? For example, is this the first time the son canceled out on his mother at the last minute? Does she get the feeling that he takes advantage of her goodness and love? Without hearing, first-hand, both sides of the story, it's difficult to give a definitive answer to your question.

Relationships flourish when each person focuses on his obligations to the other person. But when each person focuses on the other person's obligations to him, relationships falter.

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