Friday, June 13, 2008

My Cheesecake Lesson

It was one of my greatest disappointments.

Well, as far as cheesecakes go.

My apartment was hosting a meal for the last day of Shavuos. I was thrilled. We sent the invitation out to about ten girls and everyone was signing up with something to bring. The list of salads, blintzes, quiches, fish and pasta grew daily.

Whenever my apartment hosts meals, I never really get to make anything (except for salads) because I work on Fridays and often don’t have the time. But since Erev Shavuos was on a Sunday, I was excited to announce my offer.

I wanted the honor of making everyone’s favorite Shavuos delight: the cheesecake.

Come Sunday, I was super-duper excited. I got a grand recipe (with yummy graham cracker pie crust) and was ready to go. We only needed one pie, but I insisted on making two, with the intention of bringing one to a friend.

So there I was in the kitchen, stirring the ingredients and (admittedly) tasting the batter with my fingers, all the while imagining the moment that I would present the pies and experience the joy of seeing everyone delightfully feast on my tasty creation.

I made sure to kosher our hardly-ever-used oven. The self-cleaner turned my already-boiling apartment into a sauna. But I would do anything for these cakes.

As they were baking, the entire house smelled like a cheesecake factory. Forget, Willy Wonka, this was the real thing; Mimi’s gift to the world. When I revealed them to the world, my babies looked gorgeous. Perfectly golden and smooth and…I believe they were glowing. I put them in the fridge for safekeeping. On Tuesday, we would all enjoy a taste of heaven.

Or so I thought.

I don’t remember how it happened. We were probably just talking about how excited we were for cheesecake when my roommate dropped the news that shattered my cheese-filled dreams.

“Wait, umm, I recently made meat in the oven."

But, I wasn’t worried. It was cool. Afterall, I totally cleaned and koshered it.

But it was complicated. We were concerned. The Rabbi was asked.

And the Rabbi answered.

Due to a piece of foil in the oven that was used when my roommate made chicken last week, my cheesecake was rendered unkosher.

We were on our way to our second-night meal when my my roommate told me the kosher diagnosis. There would be no cheesecake. I was silent at first. I needed to process. But what can you do? The cheesecakes just weren’t kosher.

I couldn’t believe I had made such a mistake. My poor cakes. My poor guests. I held back tears of disappointment and spoke with my equally let down roommate: “Rivky, this is so sad. I can’t believe it. I just can’t believe it.”

She was sympathetic, which helped me get through the trauma. But the next day, facing my guests wasn’t easy. I took a huge breathe and addressed my friends:

“Did you guys hear the news? There will be no cheesecake.”

Hungry gasps filled my living room.

“It’s not kosher.”

To make a not-so-long story even shorter, everyone got over it as quick as they could. Fortunately, there were enough delicious foods to get the disaster out of our heads.

Shavuos had to go on.

--- --- --- --- ---

Looking back, I can’t say that the whole cheesecake fiasco was all that pleasant. I was truly proud of my cakes and so looked forward to offering the Shavuos hallmark to our guests. And to just think that everything would have been fine had I been more careful…

I know it’s just food, but the disappointment was real.

At the same time, however, my cheesecake loss was really the ultimate Shavuos celebration.

On Shavuos, we reaccept the Torah again. We reassert our decision to fully embrace its heart, its lessons, and yes – its laws. My cheesecake experience was a unique chance to – despite myself - embrace the Torah I try to live and follow everyday. I know this all might sound rather cheesy, but I’m being honest when I say that the feeling was almost rejuvenating.

I can’t remember the last time I was forced to sever an emotional attachment because of a Torah law. Subtlety, we do it all the time - but this was on a different plane. There I was, after all the build-up, forced to confront what Torah had to say. The simple acknowledgment that G-d and his detailed laws are indeed my end-all guide is something so freeing. It was like proclaiming, “G-d, I do it for you. I don’t even want cheesecake if it’s not the way you like it. You’re the bottom line.”

I’m glad to say that this story has a happy – though certainly tasteless – ending. What I initially saw as an interruption to my Shavuos was really a sign that the Jewish people and Torah are very much alive. Yes, the attachment I had with my cheesecake offspring was momentous. But it was made insignificant by something that is even more mine: the Torah I received some three thousand years ago.


[The Rebbe points out that the second day of Shavuos seems irrelevant because we counted the exact days leading up to it – surely there’s no confusion about which day to observe Yom Tov! We really should only have one day! But in his usual revealing and clarifying way, the Rebbe points out that the second day, then, is to acknowledge the Oral Law, everything that came after the giving of the torah – yes, the “second day.” So my cheesecake letdown is all the more relevant. It was a recognition of Torah, yes, but even more so the specific laws that keep the Torah alive today…the laws that say, “Mimi, we only eat kosher cheesecake.” :)]


Chana said...

I know this all might sound rather cheesy


Mottel said...

I was about to point out the same thing -you can't use the word cheesy when speaking about Shavuos cheesecake . . . it's worse then saying that jokes about kitnius on Pesach are corny.

It's interesting to note that your note about the Oral Torah fits even more closely with the exact case -chicken and cheese is of Rabbinic origin.

Mimi said...

Hmph! Thanks guys. I thought I could do it. Come on, the whole entire thing had a non-hilltopian tone, weird humor - no?

Yea, Mottel. Cool, ah? Thats what I was trying to point out there.

Itzhak Schier said...

:) great piece - but a mere cheesecake or two is nothing compared to my sacrifice of twenty-two bottles of mashke, including some single malts, because of improper sale before Pesach 5766, or this year when a gallon of leftover vodka from Purim had to go into the Dnepr River via my sink for the same reason.

And of course when we compare these inconveniences with what people had to sacrifice for Torah even as recently as 20 years ago, we can take them very lightheartedly.

Even 22 bottles of mashke is absolutely nothing compared to the 17 years in gulag which an elderly acquaintance of mine spent for teaching and preserving Torah during Soviet times.

So, in the zechus of all of our sacrifices, whether small and inconvenient or very real, let Moshiach come NOW - and when he does, I'll let you use some of the Benedictine or Drambuie from the 22 bottle consignment of good stuff plus a gallon of cheap Ukrainian vodka which is reserved for me on the "yom shekuloi mashke" to flavour your cheesecake! :) :) :). And what's more you won't have to give me so much as a slice because lechaim and dairy don't mix!

ML said...

The two cakes could also allude to the two luchos given to Moshe on Shavuos and then broken for the sake of the Jewish people . . .
The piece does have a different feel, very

Mimi said...

Okay ML, now you're really taking this far!

Ya, funny you should say - I actually sent it in. Its been a while since I had something on ('cept for news).

Nemo said...

A piece of foil? You sure?

ML said...

I wouldn't have drawn the connection in the first place, but once it's done :P

Ashirah said...

this is such a powerful concept. especially when living in a frum enviroment, we get used to everything being kosher, being accessible, being okay.
but it isn't always. and sometimes it's hard when it isn't. and that's part of what being jewish is all about!
and in my opinon - mimi, giving up your cheesecake (which i'm sure would have been INCREDIBLY delicious) is just as treasured a sacrifice as any other.

Superguitargrl said...

aww.. poor you...

chanahp said...

wow Mimi! one of the most well known reasons for eating dairy on Shavuos is to commemorate the Jews' initial acceptance of the mitzva of Kashrus!
imagine, they come back from the mountain, open their fridges, and see a whole bunch of steaks thay they hae to proceed to discard. oh well, just bagels and cream cheese for dinner.
that's so very close to what you experienced.
when i had cheesecake, i had to scratch my head for a second and say, hey, why i am doing this again? but yours was meaningful.
and you're a little slimmer than the rest of us coming from Shavuos.

Anonymous said...

what did you do with the cheesecakes? I seriously hope you didn't throw them out. Did you give them to a friend who doesn't keep kosher? Or maybe to a homeless shelter?

Itzhak Schier said...


Unfortunately those cheesecakes may well fall under the classification of taaroives, a mixture of meat and milk, which we are forbidden to benefit from in any way (same with my mishandled liquor which became "chometz sheovor olov haPesach" and also is forbidden for ANY use whatsoever). That includes giving it away or even feeding it to an animal.

And we cannot give non kosher food to Jews who do not keep kosher; all Jews are obligated in the mitzvos and we cannot assist a fellow Jew in breaking any one of them.

However, we are even permitted to sell plain non kosher food to non-Jews as a business, let alone giving away a quantity that we inadvertently purchased.

OK Mimi does this halacha shiur get me one more post before I (supposedly) go away on Sunday?

Anonymous said...

but surely there has to be some sort of law against wasting food when there are plenty of people who are going hungry?

Cousin Mendy said...

i hope it dint go to waist, but rather given to a neighbor AKA: Shabbos Goy) so someone can enjoy the hard labor & it wouldn't be a total waist......