It's a warm August afternoon and an e-mail pops up from a friend in Vegas requesting my cholent recipe. Cholent? You've got to be kidding. Had the desert heat suddenly driven her crazy? You could probably fry an egg on the sizzling hot streets there. Tourists dripping with sweat were scrambling for the refreshing relief of air conditioning — and she was willing to turn her oven on for at least eight hours to make cholent for Shabbat this week. Something was definitely up.

My pal absolutely adored her late mother's cholentInitial greetings included the customary regards as well as her concern and good wishes regarding my upcoming surgery. The cholent request was, at first glance, innocent padding at the end of the message, yet somehow it seemed hesitant and cautious - "I just need something that I can throw in the oven for Shabbat if you don't mind sharing your cholent recipe with me." My pal then confided that she absolutely adored her late mother's cholent, regretfully admitting that she never paid close enough attention to learn her secrets. The significance of the carefully worded yet veiled communication was palpable. Sometimes, conversations contain layers of emotion which need to be peeled away, ever so gently.

An immediate response was clearly required, as her urgency was begging to be released from its uncomfortable position between the lines. The unexpressed feelings beckoned to me as vividly as if she would have reached out her hand from the computer screen.

"I'm mourning the loss of my mother. I need to smell, to feel, to taste her presence because I miss her terribly." That's what I heard.

And, in fact, when I opened the door to further discussion, she confessed that she had been experiencing nightmares and was thinking about her mother (who had passed away over a year ago). The requested ingredients were not only for the cholent, for that incredible, deep aroma that lifts one up and carries us away to our youth, to the memories of what cholent represents to each one of us who has experienced its addictive warmth and satisfying flavor. No, it was so much more that that.

The healing qualities of cholent would assist my friend in traveling back to a time when her mother was young and able, looking after her family's needs to the tiniest detail and effortlessly scurrying about the kitchen preparing for the Shabbat, when the light in her eyes was as bright as the fire cooking that delicious, slow roasting concoction.

I wanted to hug the young girl crying out from the soul of this woman, to hold her and reassure her that she would, one day, feel better again, that the pain would not always be as sharp, that her happier memories would resurface above the wave of tears and sorrow, eventually easing her heartache like the warm caress of her mother's touch. Her grief was at a different stage now, a quieter time of reflection and the realization that her beloved mother was not coming back. And I was thousands of miles away; the cholent was the only way I had to help right there and then, reaching across ocean and desert to bring her comfort.

Cholent was the only way I had to help right there and thenThe soothing quality of cholent is no surprise, for it has been a part of Jewish history and remains a staple today for many practicing Jews throughout the world. It's simple preparation and complexity of flavor and texture is a welcome addition to any Sabbath meal. Today, innovations such as crock pots and timers replace the family trek to the village baker where the delectable cholent would cook slowly overnight.

Recipes for cholent are as diverse and individual as the cook who prepares it. They range from pareve (without meat or dairy products) to chocolate (yes, chocolate!) varieties. Cookbooks as well as the Internet abound with thousands of techniques to entice the creative novice cook, and most can be modified to adapt to specific health and dietary requirements.

It's nice to know that with all of our technology and easy access to fast food restaurants many individuals still crave the old fashioned heartiness of this basic old standard.

As for my dear friend… she didn't make cholent that week. It was too hot, she said. She'll be preparing it as soon as the weather cools down a bit. The magic of cholent had worked its wonders once again, this time without any preparation whatsoever.