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Yehudit, beautiful Yehudit, daughter of Yochanan the High Priest. Her self-sacrifice for her people knew no bounds. She could not stand by quietly as young Jewish girls were forced to spend the night before their wedding with the enemy governor. Quietly, stealthily, gracefully, Yehudit penetrated the enemy camp, endangering her own life, and brought back a prize for those who were not as brave as she--the grisly head of the Syrian General Holefernes.
Chana, brave Chana, mother of seven sons. She taught them to love G-d and the Torah--more than life itself. "Foolish woman. Tell your sons to bow down to the idol so that they may live," the soldiers told Chana. But Chana knew that her definition of life was different from that of the pagan soldier. Her sons would die in this world sanctifying G-d's name, but they would live forever in the World to Come. She whispered encouragement to each son. "Remember that the L-rd is one, there is no other." Not one son, from the oldest to the youngest, bowed to the idol. "Abraham, you were ready to sacrifice one son. But I, Chana, a simple, Jewish woman, sacrificed seven," cried out Chana as her youngest child was killed before her eyes.
Heroines now? Yes, Jewish women of today can be heroines. Heroines who, in their own way, are as brave as Yehudit and Chana. How? Like Yehudit, Jewish women can stand up to the prevalent morality that has become accepted though it is not at all acceptable. They can say, "This is immoral, not in keeping with true Jewish values. I will fight it and I won't succumb to it, even if others greater, stronger and braver don't have the courage to resist."
How else? Like Chana they can remind their children or others around them, "The way of the world is not our way. We are here to sanctify ourselves, to brings holiness into the mundane, to bear witness to the fact that G-d is one."
And, they can get in touch with their true selves, with what it means to be a Jewish woman, with what has characterized Jews in general and Jewish women in particular for millennia--we are compassionate, modest, kind, believing, giving, loving, caring.
The word "Chanuka" means dedication. What better time than the holiday of Yehudit and Chana for Jewish women the world over to rededicate themselves to exploring the ancient definition of Jewish womanhood.
Last week's Torah portion dealt with the subject of dreams--those of Joseph and Pharaoh's officers. This week, in the Torah portion of Miketz, we continue to delve into dreams, but this time, those of Pharaoh, king of Egypt.
The common denominator shared by all these dreams is that they collectively portrayed the various stages and factors which caused Jacob and his sons to go to Egypt. As a direct result, the Jewish people were exiled there.
Every word in the Torah is necessary and precise. If the subject of dreams receives so much emphasis and we are told such a wealth of detail, there must be a fundamental connection between the concept of dreams and the concept of exile. Furthermore, by understanding the significance of dreams, we will be better able to overcome the difficulties we endure during our own prolonged exile.
Chasidic philosophy explains that a most outstanding characteristic of dreams is the ability for diametrically opposed opposites to coexist, something which cannot take place in reality. The Talmud gives as an example the image of "an elephant passing through the eye of a needle," which may appear not at all out of the ordinary in a dream.
This is also true of our own exile, an unnatural and abnormal situation, but one seemingly natural and normal to us. It is of such long duration, we can no longer feel the contradictions inherent in the galut itself.
The same contradictions also apply to our spiritual galut. It is understood that self-love and the pursuit of worldly pleasures are the opposite of cultivating a love of G-d and holiness. Yet, we often perform mitzvot under the illusion that we are doing so out of love of G-d and are in close proximity to Him, all the while caring only for our own egos and self-fulfillment. We simply don't perceive the contradiction in this.
Another example of our lack of logic is found in prayer. While praying, the Jew's innate love and emotional attachment to G-d can be aroused, but as soon as he finishes, it is as if he had never experienced this arousal as he returns to his preoccupation with day-to-day life. Although he stood on such a high spiritual level while actually communing with G-d, the feelings dissipate as the individual finds himself led after the cravings of the animal soul.
Thus our very lives are lived as if we are dreaming. The spiritual exile is full of contradictions, yet we must not be discouraged and think that we perform mitzvot and pray in vain, for every positive deed leaves its mark even if its influence is not always easily felt.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
A CHANUKA MIRACLE
by Yitzchak Yehuda
Chanuka, 1989, in the American Consulate in Warsaw. Jeffrey B., a top official, lights his Chanuka menora. He isn't with his family because of an important meeting with one of Lech Walesa's top aides, Professor Jan F.
Jeffrey was the child of a "mixed marriage." He never considered himself a Jew though his mother is Jewish. That began to change one day in college when he saw a giant Chanuka menora with students gathered around it. Something pulled him toward the menora. "I was hesitant to join in. The [Chabad] rabbi, Rabbi Chaim Capland, noticed me and asked if I was Jewish," remembers Jeffrey. "I had never considered the question before. I told him I was a little Jewish.
"The rabbi said that if my mother is Jewish then I'm Jewish. We began to argue a little and I told him I didn't see any connection between the two. The last words were his. 'Whether or not you want to be, you're a Jew. There's nothing to argue about.'"
A week later, Jeffrey was home celebrating Christmas with his family. He asked his mother, "Why didn't you ever tell me that you Jews have a holiday called Chanuka?" His mother didn't answer. "They lit candles, ate jelly donuts. I spoke a little with the rabbi and he said that if you're Jewish I'm Jewish."
Jeffrey saw tears welling up in his mother's eyes. Later, he asked his mother why she had been upset by his question. She said that her father, though not religious, lit the Chanuka menora each year. And every year, when she and her siblings gathered around the menora, he told them never to forget that they were Jews. He said that when he and his father, a rabbi, parted ways on Chanuka years ago, his father told him that looking at the Chanuka menora would remind him that he was a Jew. Before her wedding her father had said, "I would have preferred if you had married a Jew, but it doesn't really bother me. Just remember that your children will be Jews." Two years later her father died, and she dismissed his legacy.
Jeffrey tried to forget the whole incident but couldn't. When he got back to college he sporadically attended a class given by Rabbi Capland. After graduating he attended Harvard, and each year he went to the Chabad menora lighting ceremony.
After his graduation from Harvard, Jeffrey got a job with the State Department in the Eastern European division. "Through my work I connected up with some refuseniks. About five years ago I was invited to attend a Chanuka party in a small apartment in Moscow. There, I was surprised to hear a Chabad chasid saying the same things I had heard from Rabbi Capland years before. I was very moved. When I returned from Russia, I talked about my trip to a friend, an Orthodox Jew also in the State Department. He began to invite me to his home. I liked what I saw there. Little by little I found myself wearing a kipa, eating kosher, praying in the synagogue. Three years ago I got married, and my wife and I are observant.
"I have been directing the Consulate in Warsaw for two years now. Which brings us back to Chanuka of 1989. I lit my Chanuka menora and began singing Chanuka songs softly to myself."
The door opened, and Jan F. stood there. "I had met Jan previously, but before me now stood a totally different person. He seemed to be somewhere else. He leaned on the wall and tried to calm his breathing. After a few minutes he sat down in the chair, his face deathly white."
Jan F. was born in Warsaw 49 years before, in the midst of World War II. He was an only child. He remembers that his childhood years were happy, filled with attention and love from his father, a successful doctor, and his mother, a music teacher. He lacked nothing. His family was Catholic. Enlightened but religious, they took Jan to church every time they went.
Jan went to university and eventually received a doctorate in history. He became a lecturer at the University of Warsaw. And when Lech Walesa started the Solidarity movement, Jan knew from the first moment that he would be on Walesa's side.
Despite all his success, though, a little cloud hung over Jan's life. Even during his rich childhood, he somehow sensed that his parents were keeping something from him.
About ten years ago, an uncle from Czechoslovakia came to visit Jan's family. His mother and uncle reminisced as Jan sat on the side. Then Jan overheard the visitor say, "Until this very day you never told him anything?"
All the old feelings resurfaced. What was the deep, dark secret? For a week Jan cajoled his mother, but she insisted that the uncle liked to make up stories or that Jan had misunderstood.
"My mother didn't know how to lie," Jan said. "So I told her that I would never mention it again if she would look me straight in the eyes and tell me that there was no secret."
Jan's mother suddenly started crying. "It was an intense moment," recalls Jan. "It broke my heart to see her like this. But I couldn't stop her. She told me that I had been adopted."
Jan was stunned but he was not totally shocked. Somewhere, deep inside, he had known all along. But, his mother would divulge nothing more. "Your father and I are the only ones in the world who know your true origin and that we will never tell," Jan's mother declared.
Jan went to great lengths, visiting relatives, government offices, orphanages for the information, but with no success. Convinced that he must have some deeply embedded memories from his early childhood that would untangle the mystery, Jan went to experts who can aid in reaching back into the recesses of the memory. All he came up with was a fuzzy picture he did not understand. When his parents passed away they took the secret with them to the grave.
"When I entered Jeffrey's room and saw the Chanuka menora I recognized it instantly though I didn't understand why. I was shocked. Slowly I returned to myself. I knew immediately that this was the childhood memory that had been in the recesses of my mind for so long."
Jeffrey and Jan talk until three in the morning. One thing becomes clear. His earliest years are connected to the Chanuka lights. The kindled Chanuka lights are the only memory from those days. He had never connected this one fuzzy memory with Jews, but now, having seen the lit menora he remembers it more clearly. And in this memory another detail stands out. The man lighting the menora has a long beard.
"Maybe it was my father or my grandfather," Jan adds. "I am certain that I was a Jewish child who was given up at the last minute before the rest of my family was led off to the death camps. Now it is impossible to know more."
But Jeffrey and Jan--both of whom are not yet ready to reveal their real names--are hopeful. They hope that Chanuka will continue to be a time of miracles and connections for them. "On this holiday interesting things always happen," says Jeffrey.
Translated from the Kfar Chabad Magazine
NOT TO BE FORGOTTEN
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A special Shabbaton program will take place on December 27 - 29. Hosted by the Lubavitch community in Crown Heights, participants will be treated to an enticing menu of Jewish concepts, Chasidic thought, warm home-hospitality and good Jewish cooking. The weekend is open toall Jewish singles and families, regardless of affiliation or background. For more information or reservations call (718) 953-1000
PRESERVING THE MINORITY
Excerpt from a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
To start off with a general, yet essential observation, Jews have always been a minority, and as in the case of all minorities which find themselves under the pressures of the environment, it is necessary to make a special effort to preserve the identity of the minority. This is true, especially in a country where there is freedom in every respect, inasmuch as the natural forces of assimilation are very strong, not only in regard to the young generation, but even the older ones. Therefore, even from the point of view of self-preservation, it is necessary to do everything possible to counteract these forces if the way to do this is to emphasize the good and intrinsic qualities which the minority possesses, while not exaggerating those good qualities which are common to both, especially where there is no need to do so.
Unfortunately, my observation of the attitudes and policy of many Rabbis, and spiritual and lay leaders, leads me to the conclusion that part of them generally makes the mistake of believing that they could best impress their audiences or their readers, by displaying a proficiency in non-Jewish literature and culture. This is evident from the tendency of supporting their views by quotations from non-Jewish sources in preference to Jewish sources. Even at public affairs in support of Jewish institutions, when the emphasis should be on the purity of Jewish tradition, efforts are made to have some prominent gentile as an honored guest or speaker. If taken to task, the explanation given is that such a policy is good for the mutual relationship and is in accord with the injunction of Jeremiah, "Pray for the welfare of the country wherein you live."
To be sure, the principle, "Accept the truth from whatever source it comes," is a valid one, nevertheless, in the light of what I have said earlier, I firmly believe that spiritual leaders should emphasize the greater values from our own great and sacred sources.
Another general observation, which I have emphasized in one of my public addresses, is to the effect that where a person has a special mitzva, function or duty which cannot be fulfilled by others, it is not right that that person should engage in a mitzva which can be done by others. I have in mind the propagation of those values which should properly be the topic of a spiritual leader, and he should not take up his time with general topics which are discussed by others whose functions lie in those areas.
Fortunately, one can observe a gratifying change in the attitude of the young generation of American Jews, in that they are not afraid of commitment to the truth, if the full truth be presented to them. Even though some are not yet prepared to accept all the commandments, they at least consider themselves mature enough to be given the truth about Yiddishkeit [Judaism] straight from the shoulder, and resent being treated as children who can only swallow a pill if it is sugar-coated. No doubt in your dealings with young people you have noticed this yourself. At the same time it does not mean that the approach is that of "either-or," that is to say, either he accepts all the mitzvot, or else I will have nothing to do with him. It should be explained that even if he is not yet prepared to accept all the commandments as a total commitment, he is not free from the obligation to observe and fulfill all those commandments which he can, until he will gradually reach the maximum which is incumbent upon him as a Jew, which is facilitated by the fact that "one mitzva brings another in its train." Underlying it all is the conviction, as explained at length in the Tanya [the basic work of Chabad Chasidic philosophy], that every Jew possesses a Divine soul which is truly a spark of G-d above. This Divine soul gives him the ability to overcome all obstacles in his way to fulfill his duties and obligations as a Jew, which, if he fulfills them, are the channels and vessels to receive and enjoy G-d's blessings, both materially and spiritually.
Is it a mitzva to return a lost article?
There is a mitzva from the Torah to return lost objects called HaShavat Aveida. If one finds an item and does not know the rightful owner a rabbinic authority should be consulted.
Ahead of you, behind, up or down? There is a beautiful teaching from the Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, about how to honestly view your "surroundings." He said that in material matters one should always look "down," while in spiritual matters one should always look "up."
What does this mean?
When it comes to the material aspects of our lives, we should look around at those who are not as fortunate as us, who have less than us--whether that be in health, possessions, livelihood, etc. By doing this we will realize how truly lucky we are. For, by only looking at those who have more, we remain unsatisfied and ultimately become envious.
However, this attitude of looking at those with less does not apply in the least to the spiritual realm of our lives. In spiritual matters, in refinement of our emotions and in eradicating unsatisfactory character traits, as well as in our relationship with G-d and His creatures, we must always look at those who are "higher"--those individuals who, through working on themselves--have become more refined and more in touch with G-d and His Torah.
In fact, the Previous Rebbe states unequivocally that that which is considered a good trait in material matters--being satisfied with one's lot--is actually a tremendous flaw if it is applied to the duties of the heart and soul. Therefore, when our Sages taught, "Who is rich? One who is happy with his portion," this was stated only in connection with one's portion in the physical world. In the spiritual world we should continuously be striving to improve our lot.
Rabbi Shmuel Butman
Reb Leib Sarah's, one of the greatest of the Baal Shem Tov's disciples, had long desired to live in the Holy Land. After years of struggle, of wandering, of perfecting himself to the utmost of his ability, his deepest desire was to settle in the Holy Land, there to be able to attain spiritual achievements unreachable elsewhere.
Although he was himself a person of renown, he was also a chasid, and so, he went to his rebbe, the Baal Shem Tov, to ask his permission and blessing for the trip. "Rebbe," he asked, "I request your permission to settle in the Holy Land, which is my heart's desire." But, to his surprise, the Besht's reply was negative. The next year Leib Sarah's again went to his rebbe with the same petition. But, again, the Besht denied his request, without even an explanation. This scenario repeated itself year after year for several years, and Leib Sarah's was deeply disappointed.
One year he decided that he wouldn't go to his rebbe at all; he just wouldn't ask. The desire to travel and settle in the Holy Land had become so strong within him, that he could no longer deny it. So, Leib Sarah's sat down with his wife and then with his children and discussed the question of moving to the Holy Land, there to perfect his soul in the service of his Maker. His wife and children were all agreeable, and so it was decided to go. Wasting no time, he sold all of his worldly goods save the barest necessities, and gathering all of his money, he bought tickets for himself, his wife and children for the long journey to the Land of Israel.
When everything was in order, Reb Leib Sarah's packed up his belongings and set off with his family through Russia toward Turkey, whence he would travel to Israel. It was a slow and arduous journey overland with many stops in the small towns and villages through which they had to travel. One day they came to a small town and noticed some sort of excitement in the town. Leib Sarah's inquired of the villagers, and was shocked when he heard their reply. For none other than the famous Baal Shem Tov was unexpectedly visiting the town, and the people were overwhelmed by the great honor of receiving such a personage.
Leib Sarah's was even more overwhelmed by his own dilemma. He thought of the possibility of not going to greet his rebbe, thereby avoiding any embarrassment because of his disobedience, but how could he not acknowledge the presence of his great rebbe and teacher? He sat in his wagon deliberating, when suddenly he had no choice, for the Baal Shem Tov's carriage pulled up next to his own. Reb Leib Sarah's dismounted and approached the rebbe. The Besht appeared to be surprised and asked, "What are you doing here?"
"Rebbe, please forgive me for not heeding your words, but I am now on my way to settle in the Holy Land."
The Besht replied, "Well, if your wish to go is so strong, then go. But now, where are you going to spend the Shabbat?"
"I am just now searching for a place, but it's difficult since I spent all of my money on the tickets for the journey," replied Reb Leib. The Baal Shem Tov offered to host Reb Leib and his family for the whole Shabbat. When they were in their rooms preparing for the arrival of the holy day, the Besht knocked on Reb Leib's door, asking if he had immersed in the mikva yet. "No," he replied, "I have no money remaining, so I will forego the mikva this week." To this, the Baal Shem Tov replied that he would pay the entrance fee for him, and they should go together to the mikva. Reb Leib Sarah's joy was unbounded, for he understood the profound meaning of the immersion and was relieved not to miss his usual ritual.
Upon arriving at the mikva the Besht said, "Reb Leib, you go first." But, he refused, saying, "Please, Rebbe, you go; you are my teacher, after all." The Besht was adamant, and Reb Leib immersed first. After the proscribed immersions were completed, he rose from the water, turned to his rebbe and said, "I have changed my mind. I will not go to the Holy Land. I will return to Medzibozh, to you. Let me tell you what I saw in the mikva during my immersions. As I entered the water I saw a continent. As I looked closely I saw Eretz Israel, and as I looked even more closely I saw Jerusalem. As I narrowed my focus still more, I could see all the parts of the Temple Mount, even the Holy Temple itself. Then I looked inside and saw the Holy of Holies, but though I strained my eyes as hard as I could, I couldn't see the Holy Ark, the Tablets of the Law, or the Divine Presence. In my anguish I cried out, "Where are the Tablets? Where is the Divine Presence? But a Heavenly Voice answered me, saying, 'They are found in Medzibozh.' Therefore, I am following you back to Medzibozh to fulfill my Divine Service. I now see that during the exile, the Divine Presence dwells with the leader of the generation."
And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt for 17 years (Gen. 47:28)
When the third Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel, was a child, he learned a commentary on this verse that these 17 years were the best years of Jacob's life. This surprised the boy, and he went to his grandfather, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, to find out how it was possible that the years spent in such a spiritually corrupt and abominable land could have been Jacob's best.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman replied: Before Jacob descended into Egypt, he sent an emissary to establish yeshivot and places of learning. Whenever and wherever a Jew learns Torah, he cleaves to G-d and achieves a true and meaningful life. Furthermore, precisely because Egypt was such an abominable place, the holiness and spirituality Jacob attained there shone that much brighter against the dark and evil background of his surroundings.
With you shall Israel bless...May G-d make you as Ephraim and Menashe (48:20)
In the previous verses Jacob had said, "Ephraim and Menashe shall be to me as Reuven and Shimon." Despite the fact that Ephraim and Menashe were born in exile and were educated in Egypt, a land not conducive to Torah learning and Judaism, they were still as righteous and pure as Reuven and Shimon, who grew up in more enclosed and insular surroundings in Jacob's household.
And let my name be called on them, and the name of my fathers (48:16)
Jacob blessed his grandsons, Menashe and Ephraim, by expressing his wish that they grow up to be a source of pride to the family.
When, G-d forbid, children do not follow in their parents' footsteps and stray from the proper path, the grandparents and parents are ashamed that the children bear their name. Jacob blessed his grandsons that they should be worthy of being called the descendents of Abraham and Isaac.
"I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Moshiach. Even if he delays, I will wait every day for him to come." This is the 12th of Maimonides' Thirteen Principles of Faith. This does not mean that every day we should wait for Moshiach's ultimate arrival, but that every day we should wait expectantly for Moshiach to come on that very day. The Talmud teaches that "Thinking is potent." Accordingly, the very fact that Jews around the world are intensely and persistently focusing their hearts and minds on the world's urgent need for Moshiach, will in itself surely hasten his arrival.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)