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Ask any nutritionist, health professional, diet expert, etc., what is the main contributor to overweight and food related disorders. They will unanimously shout, "FAT!" with as much conviction as they'll yell, "Don't ever start your day by eating a danish and drinking a cup of coffee!"
Despite kugels oozing with grease, chicken soup with fat globules on top, "gribbens and shmaltz," and potato latkas fried in oil, Jews have always known that fat is the culprit.
Every war ever waged was basically for power/money, except for one. The war which the Greeks waged against the Jews over 2,000 years ago was waged for oil. Olive oil to be exact.
It wasn't Jewish money the Greeks were after. Had they been after our wealth, they would have emptied the Holy Temple. The furnishings of the Holy Temple today would be valued in the tens of billions of dollars. But the Greeks didn't strip the Holy Temple clean. They defiled it. They offered pigs as sacrifices on the altar. They erected statues of their gods and goddesses on the Temple grounds. And they opened the little bottles of pure olive oil that were used daily to kindle the seven-branched menora.
Weren't those Greeks dumb to leave the wealth but despoil the oil? No, they weren't so stupid. The Greeks were content to let the Jewish people live. They knew from looking at our first 2,000 years of miraculous existence that we could not be destroyed. And they were wise, so they accepted this fact. What they could not accept was that there is something higher than the mind, something more sublime than human wisdom, something greater than their gods and godesses who were no better than people save their immortality.
All of this was symbolized by the purity of the olive oil. The Greeks did not totally destroy the oil for doing so would not have allowed them to realize their ultimate goal.
They defiled the oil by breaking the seals. And their message to the Jews was loud and clear: "Go ahead, use the oil now. Use the impure oil in your menora. For we don't believe that there is such a thing as purity. There is no such thing as spirituality. There is no such thing as an All-knowing, All-powerful G-d. Man is the apex, man's understanding is the utmost, man's physical prowess and power are the peak."
But the Jews refused to give in to the Greeks physically or spiritually. When the Holy Temple was recaptured by the famed Macabees, they searched for a bottle of oil that still had the High Priest's seal. Having no other option, they were allowed to use the tainted oil. But this they would not do, for then they would have won the war but lost the battle.
Just as the Greeks made a statement by defiling the oil, the Jews made just as strong of a statement by refusing to use that oil. They cried out, "We believe that there is something higher than our own intellect, we believe in the all-powerful, all-knowing G-d, we believe that eventually good will prevail and that G-d will ultimately bring the time when everything will be totally pure, forever more."
The main custom of Chanuka--lighting the menora--revolves around oil, thus commemorating the miracle of the small bottle which lasted not one but eight days. Commemorating, too, the strength of the Jewish spirit.
But oil is significant for another reason, a reason which gives us additional insight into oil's message in our lives in general and the Chanuka miracle in particular.
Oil, like wine, symbolizes the secrets of Torah, the mystical aspects of Judaism. These formerly hidden concepts are becoming more revealed as we come closer to Moshiach's imminent arrival. For the Messianic Era will be a time when all of the Torah's secrets will be revealed for everyone to understand and grasp.
Until the moment comes when Moshiach is annointed with the sacred oil, however, it is imperative that each of us learns as much of the "oil" of Torah as possible, thus preparing ourselves for Moshiach's imminent arrival.
This week's Torah portion, Miketz, contains an interesting exchange between Pharaoh, King of Egypt, and our Patriarch Jacob. When Joseph brought his elderly father to Pharaoh to introduce him, Pharaoh asked, "How old are you?" Jacob responded: "The years of my travails are 130. The days of the years of my life have been few and hard, and they have not reached those of my ancestors in their journeys."
What an odd answer to Pharaoh's question! Why did Jacob find it necessary to offer all this information, when Pharaoh had only asked him his age? Furthermore, how could he have described his years as being "few"? His lifetime was already longer than the 120 years allotted to mankind after the great Flood of Noah's generation. In fact, Pharaoh had only posed the question because of Jacob's ancient appearance.
In the literal sense, it could certainly be said that Jacob had not reached the years of his ancestors, for Abraham lived till the age of 175, and Isaac until 180. Relatively speaking, Jacob was still young. Yet according to the commentator Rashi, Jacob was speaking qualitatively about his life; in contrast to his forefathers, his years were short and his lifetime was difficult.
From this perspective, since Jacob's years were "hard," fraught as they were with difficulty, they were also "few," for they were not filled with the inner spiritual service he desired. Because his life was hard, Jacob did not reach the inner spiritual fulfillment with which Abraham and Isaac had endowed their years.
Of course, this lack of fulfillment is relative to the unique level which Jacob saw as his potential. Our Sages relate that Jacob's true desire was to live to his fullest capacity, in the perfect goodness and prosperity of the Era of the Redemption. Since this potential was not realized during his lifetime, Jacob considered his life as lacking.
Jacob felt it necessary to communicate this message, both to Pharaoh, and to his descendents. He wanted his children to know that even while they dwelt in "the finest place in the land of Egypt," and were being given "the fat of the land," they should be ever aware that their lives were not complete.
This is particularly relevant to us, the last generation of the exile and the first generation of the Redemption. We must feel that until the Redemption becomes manifest, our lives are lacking. This perception will lead to an increased desire and yearning for the Redemption, and also an increase in our performance of those activities which will bring Moshiach and usher in the Messianic Era.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
A CHANUKA MIRACLE
Lighting the menora in the Buenaventura Mall
by Rabbi Yitzchok Sapochkinsky
He was still clutching the receiver of the telephone, his hands trembling, when I walked into the Chabad House in Westlake.
"She was so nasty," the yeshiva student told me. "She said that if we go ahead with the menora lighting she'd burn a cross next to it!"
"What did you tell her?" I questioned the young man, who was experiencing anti-semitism for the first time.
"I said, 'Be my guest.' " But from the look on his face I could tell that he was quite shaken up.
Agoura, the site of the menora in question, is the epitome of suburbia. With a 35% Jewish population, it was understandable why local shopkeepers and malls had posted "Happy Chanuka" signs alongside other holiday greetings. Yet, the woman was blaming Chabad for that, too. "Ever since you came along," she had yelled, "there's Jewish stuff all over the place."
She threatened to organize a boycott of the stores that hosted "Chanuka at the Agoura Mall" and burn a 50-foot cross. We had to come up with the perfect solution, and Chanuka was less than two weeks away.
That evening our minds were on other things, though. I was working together with some of the students from the Lubavitch yeshiva in Los Angeles who were helping us out on a special project. We were busy through the night constructing floats to lead a procession of cars welcoming a new Torah scroll to our Chabad House. At 4 a.m. we finally finished and the subject of Chanuka came up and with it a repeat of the phone conversation.
"I know what," said one of the yeshiva students. "Doesn't the Rebbe encourage us to always add to our activities, especially in the face of adversity? Instead of lighting the menora only at the Agoura Mall, let's find another city and bring the message of Chanuka there, too."
His simple yet sincere words made an impact on all of us. Choosing the city was easy. Two of the students present had scouted out the entire area the previous summer when they had gone to small Jewish communities throughout the San Fernando Valley organizing Jewish classes and activities for children and adults.
"Ventura," they declared in unison, "Lots of Jews there but not much happening Jewishly."
We trusted their judgement and the only remaining question was where in Ventura.
"That mall," one of the students, Asher, recalled. "If I could only remember its name. It's the biggest mall in Ventura." Time was of the essence and I wasn't about to let this sudden burst of enthusiasm slip away.
I dialed 4-1-1. "Hello, operator. I need the number for the mall in Ventura."
"Name of business," came the familiar reply.
"I don't know, operator. But it's the biggest mall there," I added hopefully.
"Hm, the Buenaventura Plaza?" she asked.
I said the name out loud and the boys nodded in agreement. "That's it," I told her excitedly.
"Please hold for the number."
"Wait, operator," I said, realizing that a phone number wouldn't do me much good at 5 a.m. "Do you by any chance know how to get there?"
I'm not sure if all operators are especially nice at that time of the day, or if G-d was simply on my side, but she knew the exact location and gave us directions. I hopped into my car for the 30-minute trip to Ventura. Arriving on the scene, I found a one-storey indoor mall decorated from head to toe with green and red. "Ah," I swelled, "the perfect place for a menora!"
Back home, the sun was beginning to rise as we put the finishing touches to a flyer and the public relations material. Asher reminded us that in our excitement, we had forgotten to ask the mall management for permission.
"Right," I agreed. "It wouldn't sit too well with them if they read about it in the papers before we asked them," I chuckled.
Chanuka at the Agoura Mall went ahead as planned. No disturbances as had been threatened. But it was the seventh night of Chanuka that stands out as one of the most memorable experiences of my life. Close to 300 people jammed into a small area between Thom McAn Shoes and The Pretzel Factory in the Buenaventura Mall. An employee from Radio Shack came out and offered to lend us a PA system.
An old man in a wheel chair was crying while clutching his grandson's hand tightly. "Not in Ventura. I never would have believed it," he sobbed.
"This is really a miracle."
Another women joined in, "This must have taken you months to organize."
Six months later, Rabbi Yaacov and Sarah Latowicz were officially welcomed as the Chabad emissaries to the new Chabad House of Ventura. Today, some five years later, Ventura boasts a Hebrew School, minyan, classes, day camp, and a full array of Jewish programs and activities.
And all because an irate woman threatened to extinguish the light of the Chanuka menora!
Rabbi Sapochkinsky and his wife, Brocha are the Chabad emissaries in Westlake Village, California.
Reprinted from The N'Shei Chabad Newsletter.
The Rebbe, shlita, this past month as he received the "shluchim" in private audience
The climax of this year's International Shluchim Convention--attended by over 1000 Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries--was when the Rebbe received each of the emissaries in a private audience as the convention drew to a close. The emphasis of the 5-day long gathering was on how to most effectively relay the Rebbe's message that the time for the Redemption has arrived and that everyone must do everything possible to prepare himself and the world for Moshiach.
The "Living with the Times" logo was changed as of issue #245 at the request of The New York Times who said that it caused confusion and was an infringement of their registered trademark.
INCREASING THE LIGHT
From a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Chanuka commemorates the miraculous victory of our people over the forces of darkness and assimilation that had threatened to extinguish the light of the Torah and mitzvot. It also reminds us that this victory was achieved through the efforts of a few, totally dedicated Jews, and that the victory was celebrated by kindling lights in the Sanctuary in Jerusalem with pure, undefiled oil, which gave us the meaningful mitzva of the Chanuka lights.
About the Chanuka lights our Sages of blessed memory declared: "These lights shall endure and shine forever." Unlike the seven-branched menora, the lighting of which had to be discontinued when the Sanctuary was destroyed nearly 2,000 years ago, the lighting of the eight-branched Chanuka lamp, which was inaugurated some 200 years prior to the Destruction has continued uninterrupted ever since. It continues to be lit not only in the Holy Land, but also in the Diaspora, and not only in the Sanctuary, but in every Jewish home.
What are some of the eternal messages of these eternal lights of Chanuka?
One basic truth is that the destiny of the Jewish people is not determined by material and physical criteria, but by its spiritual strength derived from our G-d- given Torah and mitzvot. The victory of the greatly outnumbered and physically disadvantaged Jews over the many and mighty forces of the enemy clearly demonstrated that it is our spiritual strength that really counts--even in areas where physical superiority is usually decisive.
A further lesson is that Jewish strength begins at home. A Jewish home is an abode for the Divine Presence, very much as the Holy Temple in Jerusalem was in a collective sense. Both are included in the Divine command, "Make Me a Sanctuary that I may dwell within each one of you." This, too, is reflected in the Chanuka lights, for they must be lit in every Jewish home. The time and location of the Chanuka lights are also significant: "The lights are kindled when the sun sets--when "darkness" falls outside. It is then high time to light up our homes with the sacred Chanuka lights which symbolize the eternal lights of Torah and mitzvot. The location--to be visible also outside--further indicates that the Torah and mitzvot must not be confined within the walls of the home, but must shine forth outside as well.
Yet another important lesson must be mentioned here: namely, that however satisfactory the observance of Torah and mitzvot may be on any given day, a Jew is expected to do better the next day, and still better the day after. There is always room for improvement in matters of goodness and holiness, which are infinite, being derived from the Infinite. This, too, is underscored by the Chanuka lights. For although all that is required to fulfill the mitzva of candle-lighting on the first night of Chanuka is to light one candle, yet the next night of Chanuka it is required to light two candles. And when another day passes, even the higher standard of the previous day is no longer adequate, and an additional light is called for, and so on, increasing the light from day to day.
Why are we not permitted to make use of or benefit from the light of the Chanuka menora?
The Chanuka lights are a remembrance of the lights which burned in the Holy Temple whose light, also, was not to be used for any personal pleasure.
During these days of Chanuka we emphasize the miracles that G-d wrought for our ancestors, "In those days, in our times." The first miracle was the victory of the small Jewish army over the vastly superior and more numerous Greek army. The second miracle, and this is the miracle which we symbolically celebrate each time we kindle the Chanuka menora, is the miracle of the one small cruse of pure olive oil which lasted for eight days rather than the one day for which it was intended.
That G-d was and is willing to perform miracles for His people shows His tremendous love for us. But, G-d's expression of love for us depends on our expression of love for each other. Thus, in addition to the love we should show a fellow Jew because he is our brother, we must show him additional love because G-d loves him. The importance of loving our fellow Jews is emphasized by the fact that this course of conduct will enable each person, his family, and the entire Jewish people, and ultimately the whole world, to leave the exile in the immediate future.
The Chanuka lights that we kindle in our home on each night of Chanuka are a symbol of G-d's love for the Jewish people. They have their source in G-d's light, in the light of the miracle of Chanuka, a miraculous light. As we kindle the Chanuka lights on the remaining nights of Chanuka, let us remember the miracles they represent, the Source of the miracles, and why G-d performed those miracles for us. And let these thoughts spur us on toward greater love of our fellow Jew, especially including, of course, those closest to us.
May we merit not only the lights of Chanuka this year, but also the Great Light of the Final Redemption, through the revelation of Moshiach, NOW.
A huge group was gathered on the other side of the large table and looked in the direction of their rebbe, Rabbi Avraham Wienberg, the Slonimer Rebbe. He stood opposite the wicks in the Chanuka menora, meditating and contemplating, for an unknown reason not yet ready to kindle the Chanuka lights.
Hundreds of Chasidim stood in awe and with great respect, watching their Rebbe as he stood preparing for this mitzva. They waited with bated breath for the glorious moment when he would take the wax candle in his hand and begin reciting the words of the Chanuka blessings.
Minutes, which seemed like hours, passed and then the Rebbe began chanting the blessings. He infused each word with kabbalistic intentions, and each chasid there was able to hook into the holiness of the moment according to his own level.
"Help me, deliver me!"
The dreadful cry tore through the hearts of all those gathered there and awakened each person from his reverie. Everyone looked in the direction of the voice.
The Rebbe, his face aflame with the holiness of the moment, also turned his head in the direction of the voice toward the end of the synagogue. There stood a women with her hands outstretched toward the heavens, crying with a bitter heart.
It became clear that this woman was not one of the wives of the chasidim gathered there. In fact, she had no connection to the Rebbe or the Chasidic lifestyle. "Who was she?" some murmured.
The distraught woman lived with her family in this town. Her husband was a wealthy and well-respected businessman who had never in his life entered this Chasidishe synagogue. He and his friends were among those who laughed at the Chasidic lifestyle and customs.
For many years the couple had not been blessed with children. When their son was finally born they were already much older. Their happiness knew no bounds. He was always given the best of everything, though he was not especially spoiled.
On the eve of Chanuka the young boy fell ill. The doctors came to his bedside and cared for him with devotion. But they could not help him. To everyone's horror his fever rose from day to day. Tonight, his situation worsened. The boy lost consciousness and the doctors who were standing around his bed raised their hands in hopelessness.
The father of the child was pacing around the house in agony and bitterness. But his mother could not stand seeing her son's suffering any longer and left the house. Suddenly she began walking quickly. Toward what or where or whom she knew not. But her feet seemed to have a mind of their own, and before she knew it she found herself in front of the Slonimer synagogue just as the Rebbe was preparing to kindle the Chanuka lights.
"Rebbe, help me," cried the woman in a voice that echoed throughout the entire synagogue.
"Tell her not to worry," the Rebbe said quietly to someone. "She should go and return home. She should ask her husband to add to her son's name the name 'Matitiyahu' [Matithias]. And in the merit of that great tzadik--father of the Macabbees--who gave up his life for the Jewish people and the Holy One, the sick child's life will be lengthened. And another thing, when the child is fully recovered, his father should bring a 'pidyon nefesh' of chai--life--18 coins which will be given to charity in the Holy Land."
The following day, at about the time when the Chanuka candles were being lit, a new face was seen in the Slonimer synagogue. It was the father of Matitiyahu, who had brought to the Rebbe 18 rubles, a pidyon nefesh for his son who was fully recovered, to the Rebbe.
And behold, seven other cows...I never saw any like these (Gen. 41:19)
"A person is only shown the innermost thoughts of his heart," our Sages explain. Our nighttime dreams are a reflection of the thoughts we have during waking hours.
Pharaoh was therefore surprised by his dream, for he had never seen, in real life, cows with such an emaciated appearance.
(Reb Yitzchak of Volozhin)
And when they had eaten them up, it could not be known that they had eaten them (Gen. 41:21)
Evil exists in the world only by virtue of the small spark of G-dliness hidden deep within. "It could not be known that they had eaten them" -- this spark is so deeply embedded that it is impossible, on the surface, to discern it at all.
"Suddenly, seven fat, handsome cows emerged from the Nile... Then, just as suddenly, seven other cows emerged after them, very badly formed and emaciated." (Gen. 41:18-19)
Pharoah's dream, in which he dreamt of two opposites, is like the exile.
In exile we are faced with opposites all the time. One minute we pursue eternal, spiritual goals and the next minute we want things that are mundane and transitory. When the Redemption comes we will no longer feel this dichotomy. We will see how the purpose of everything in the world is purely for holiness and G-dliness.
(Lubavitcher Rebbe, shlita)
And he asked them after their welfare (Gen. 43:27)
Some people only show an interest in their fellow man until they assume a position of power, whereupon it becomes beneath them to inquire about another. Joseph, on the other hand, despite being second in command over all of Egypt, approached his fellow man with the same humility as before his ascent to power.
Chanuka--The superiority of the "shamash"
The "shamash" candle, the one which is used to light all the others, is not part of the mitzva itself. Yet it is precisely this candle which is placed, by Jewish custom, above all the others in a position of honor.
We learn from this that a person who lights the "candle" of another Jew, who shares his enthusiasm and love of Judaism with another until he, too, is touched and "ignited," elevates his own spirituality as well.
(Lubavitcher Rebbe, shlita)
Looking out of his window one day, Rabbi Shneur Zalman (1745-1812) observed the street being cleaned: the garbage was swept together into a little pile, and then a number of piles were swept together into a big mound. Rabbi Shneur Zalman commented to his family, "This is how things will look before Moshiach comes. Today, wealth is in the hands of many people. But before Moshiach comes, money will be concentrated either in the hands of a few private individuals or in the hands of the government.
(From From Exile to Redemption)