Chosen Condiment

At the start of VaYera, this week’s Torah portion, we see the host with the most- Avraham watching vigilantly from his open tent. He is looking out for people lost in the desert. He sees three figures in the distance and jumps into action to welcome the strangers. There we read:

Looking up, he saw three men standing near him. As soon as he saw them, he ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them and, bowing to the ground, he said, “My lords, if it please you, do not go on past your servant. Let a little water be brought; bathe your feet and recline under the tree. And let me fetch a morsel of bread that you may refresh yourselves; then go on—seeing that you have come your servant’s way.” They replied, “Do as you have said.” Avraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Quick, three seahs of choice flour! Knead and make cakes!” Then Avraham ran to the herd, took a calf, tender and choice, and gave it to a servant-boy, who hastened to prepare it. ( Genesis 18:2-7)

On this Rashi comments:

There were three calves so that he might give them to eat three tongues together with mustard  (Bava Metzia 86b).

To express his desire to honor these strangers he slaughteres three whole cows to allow him to give the best part of the animal to each of them. Clearly this Gemara was an expression of the magnitude of Avraham’s hospitality. But I think that this is skipping over the chosen condiment. To honor his guests Avaham served mustard.

Image result for mustard

Jackie Mason observed that when gentiles first ate pastrami they used mayo, but after trying mustard “they become like Jews”: one look at someone wielding the white stuff and “they say, ‘Yech.’” This sense of disgust with mayo is not just a cultural thing, it is based on science. And we even have a facebook group. In an email, Mason hypothesized that the complicated relationship between Jews and mayonnaise was probably a consequence of Jews feeling “guilty over betraying mustard.” It is amazing to see our long history with mustard dating back to Babylonian Talmud let alone Avraham. Even from the begining the Chosen People has chosen mustard as our condiment of choice.


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