Today’s daf continues the main discussion of chapter 16 of our tractate: what to do when a fire breaks out on Shabbat. The mishnah on 117b, which forms the basis for the discussion on today’s page, gives us a ruling for how much food one is allowed to save:
One may rescue food for three meals from a fire on Shabbat . . . If a fire ignited on Friday night before the Shabbat evening meal, one may rescue food for three meals. If a fire ignited in the morning, after the Shabbat evening meal has been eaten and before the meal of Shabbat day, one may only rescue food for two meals. If a fire ignited in the afternoon, one may rescue food for one meal. Rabbi Yosei says: One may always rescue food for three meals, which is the measure that the sages permitted without distinguishing between the times of day.
After discussing the requirement to enjoy three meals on Shabbat (in contrast to the usual two meals — breakfast and dinner — eaten by most people on weekdays in the rabbinic period), the Gemara turns to the requirements for “oneg Shabbat,” delight in the Sabbath day.
With what does one delight in the day of Shabbat? Rav Yehuda, son of Rav Shmuel bar Sheilat, said in the name of Rav: With a dish of beets, and large fish, and heads of garlic. Rav Hiyya bar Ashi said that Rav said: Even with regard to a small item and one prepared it in deference to Shabbat, it is a delight.
While some families enjoy raucous weekly Shabbat dinners with the “gantze mishpoche” (entire family), some households are made up of just two people (like mine), or even one dining solo. How wonderful that this Gemara has come along to tell us that “even with a small item prepared in deference to Shabbat” one can create a delightful experience.
Now that my spouse and I are empty nesters, we have scaled back the amount of food on the table, but not the ethos with which it is prepared. I have been baking my challah in cute little half-sized loaf pans and experimenting with different toppings (I highly recommend streusel, or you can try this coffee cake challah recipe for a decadent treat). We dress up for Shabbat, speak words of Torah and sing songs — including one about the fish discussed in this very passage. We unplug. And we delight in these small luxuries that we have only once a week, that truly make Shabbat special.