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There you are in the shower, absentmindedly singing and washing your worries away. You reach for the Neutrogena bath gel and nonchalantly look at the bottle as you pump some out. Amidst the nominal copy on the bottle you read, "Turn your shower into an enlightening experience."
You scratch your head. A shower to get clean? Yes. To relax? Yes. To be enlightened, inspired, illuminated? You scrunch up your face in bewilderment.
Maybe, just maybe, Neutrogena is on to something. Either that, or else the copy writer for Neutrogena is a Torah scholar!
Our Sages taught, "All your actions should be for the sake of Heaven."
When we think of "religion" we often relegate it to certain times, places or actions.
Judaism, we too often think, means praying, or Rosh Hashana, or the synagogue. But no thing could be further from the truth of the essence of Judaism.
The Torah neither glorifies nor denies the physical.
The Torah says, "elevate the physical." Make the mundane spiritual. Turn a shower into an enlightening experience.
How do we know this? Even without the Chasidic teachings that discuss this at length we might still come to this conclusion, as it is rather obvious from the fact that G-d invested spiritual souls into physical bodies and then placed these physical bodies into a very material world. (Don't read "materialistic"; it doesn't have to be that way. Just read what's there --material, i.e., corporeal.)
Were G-d to have wanted a totally spiritual world populated by thoroughly spiritual beings, He would have created such an entity. But He didn't. He created us people, referred to as "movers" in mystical Jewish terminology, as opposed to wholly spiritual beings (such as angels), who are referred to as "stationary." And He gave us the task of elevating the physicality of this world and using it for spiritual purposes.
Thus, when we eat -- for the sake of Heaven -- it means that we eat with the intent of using the energy from the food to do mitzvot -- like helping a little old lady carry her groceries or going to a Torah class.
When we sleep at night, it is preceded by the mitzva of saying the "Shema" prayer, and with the goal of waking up reinvigorated to do more mitzvot the next morning.
When we work, it is with the knowledge that we are fulfilling the Torah's command of "Six days you will work."
Our business practices conform to the Torah's business ethics, and a portion of our salary will go to charity.
When we buy something beautiful it is because, as our Sages have taught, beautiful things expand the mind. Our newly expanded mind is then more receptive to Torah study. (Don't use the Torah as an excuse to go overboard!)
When we shower, we remember that we are fulfilling the commandment to guard one's health and observing the Code of Jewish Law's injunction to appear presentable so as not to be a laughingstock. If it is the eve of Shabbat, our shower takes on added significance, since one of the ways we prepare for and honor Shabbat is by bathing.
It's enough to make you want to sing in the shower!
In this week's portion, Mikeitz, the Torah describes how Joseph carefully amassed a great quantity of grain during Egypt's seven years of plenty, later sustaining the entire nation during its seven years of famine.
This grain was stored in a very special way to make sure it did not spoil: "The food of the field, which was round about every city, he laid up within it," the Torah relates.
Rashi, the great Torah commentator, explains that Joseph took some earth from each place the grain was cultivated and mixed it in together with that grain, preserving it and preventing it from rotting.
"The deeds of the Forefathers are a sign for their children."
Joseph's actions comprise an eternal lesson for us, his grandchildren, to apply in our lives. For like our illustrious ancestor, every Jew must accumulate "sustenance" in order to satiate the spiritual "hunger" of his surroundings. How? With the very same admixture of earth that Joseph utilized.
The true sustenance of every Jew is the Torah; it constitutes our very lives. The Torah is called sustenance because, like food, it penetrates one's entire being and becomes an actual part of it. The duty of the Jew is to "accumulate" this vital substance by learning as much Torah as he possibly can.
To continue the analogy, we must be careful that the Torah knowledge we accumulate does not "spoil" and decay. Our Sages have said that Torah study, if not done in the proper manner, can lead to negative consequences. In order to prevent this, a Jew needs to add some "earth" to his Torah learning.
"Earth" is symbolic of humility and nullification before G-d, as it states, "May my soul be like dust to all." A truly humble person is assured that the Torah he learns will last forever.
Furthermore, as we learn from Joseph, this "earth" must be from the very "dust of that place" -- the Jew's humility must come from the Torah learning itself. Not all humility is positive and productive. A Jew must never feel humbled in the face of the outside world, which scoffs at his beliefs and his Torah lifestyle. The Jew must take pride in his Judaism and hold his head high, never "apologizing" to those he fears might be offended by the Torah's principles and teachings.
Authentic humility, attained when the Jew studies Torah with the realization that he is partaking of G-d's eternal wisdom, is the key to preserving what he has learned. Just as G-d is infinite and eternal, so too is His Torah.
The greatest scholar's knowledge is but a drop in the vast ocean of G-d's immeasurable and endless wisdom. Pondering this truth will lead the Jew to true humility, yet instill an enduring pride that enables him to effectively spread Torah and Judaism to those who hunger for spiritual sustenance.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe Vol. XXV
Yosefa on Chanuka
by Tzvi Jacobs
"Just remember," Grandpa said to Jill as she unwrapped her Chanuka present, ballet slippers, "one day you'll make your own Jewish home. You must marry a Jewish man. Don't ever forget it!"
How could Jill ever forget? Every time she saw her grandfather, that's what he would say.
At age 18, when Jill started her freshman year at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, she signed up for a course in dance therapy. Her ballet slippers flashed in her mind, and with it her Grandpa's Chanuka "wish." Jill added a course in Judaic Studies.
The semester whirled by. Everybody was in the dorm on the last Saturday night of the semester, cramming for final exams.
Jill could still hear her grandfather's words, and then she realized: "It's the last night of Chanuka. I didn't do anything. Chanuka just passed me by."
Jill was unaware of the Chanuka activities which had taken place that week sponsored by Rabbi Chaim Adelman of the Chabad House.
Also unbeknownst to Jill, Rabbi Adelman had just received a fax. It said that the Rebbe had spoken on Shabbat about the crucial importance of Chanuka outreach even on the last night of Chanuka.
Rabbi Adelman rushed out with a bag full of menoras and a camera, and went to one of the high-rise dorms where he knew one student. He received permission to enter the dorm, gave the student a menora, and took a picture of him lighting it. Rabbi Adelman was making a photograph album of the students who participated in his Chanuka activities to send to the Rebbe.
Afterwards, he started on the top floor of the 22-story dorm and went from room to room giving out menoras to the Jewish students.
Rabbi Adelman was well received. It was around 11:00 p.m. when Jill opened her door to Rabbi Adelman. Excitedly, she set the menora on the windowsill.
"Our job is to light up the darkness of the world with the light of Torah and mitzvot," Rabbi Adelman said. "A Jew doesn't have to fight the darkness. We only have to bring out the light, and the darkness goes away automatically."
Jill said the blessings and lit the candles. She was thrilled as she watched the candles dance. No time to wait around, Rabbi Adelman whipped out his camera and took a picture of Jill standing next to her menora.
"How did he get into the building?" Jill's roommate asked when the rabbi left. "How do you know he's really a rabbi? And he has your picture."
Jill called her mother in Long Island and told her what happened. When Rabbi Adelman got home, the phone rang. "Are you the man who was in JA Dorm tonight with the Chanuka stuff?" a young woman asked.
"Yes," he answered.
"Who are you? Why do you do this?"
"I have a Chabad House on campus, and my job is reach out to the Jewish students, educate them about their Jewish heritage, and give them the opportunity to do mitzvot, such as lighting the Chanuka menora, or enjoying a Shabbat meal."
The girl asked more questions and then, convinced that he was a real rabbi, hung up.
A short while later, Jill's mother called and even threatened to call the police!
Rabbi Adelman was upset by the whole experience and tried to arrange a three-way conference call between the head emissary, himself and Jill's parents, but they weren't able to reach the parents.
Life went on and the matter was forgotten.
Rabbi Adelman kept doing his work on campus. Jill also forgot about the incident, except that the rabbi's words, "Our job is to light up the darkness," remained with her.
After her junior year, Jill went to Israel on a quest to understand her Jewish identity. She enrolled in Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and took the Judaic Studies program.
One of her courses was Jewish mysticism, taught by a Lubavitcher. Jill felt that the only people who could satisfactorily answer her questions were the Lubavitchers.
By the time Jill left Israel she was observant, and was using her Jewish name, Yosefa.
In the middle of the summer, Yosefa came to Amherst. She went to the Chabad House and found Rabbi Adelman.
"Hi. I'm coming in the fall to finish my final semester of college. May I work for the Chabad House? I'm on work/study."
Rabbi Adelman saw that she was articulate and well-poised. "Where have you been all along? We're always looking for extra help."
"I studied in Amherst my first three years, but last year I was in Israel. I took a course taught by a Lubavitcher, and started becoming more observant. The Chabad rabbi near my parents on Long Island advised me to finish college. "Great!
You've got the job," Rabbi Adelman said. "I need help even before classes start, on orientation day. Can you be here August 25?"
Jill and another student worked with him at the orientation table. They met students and told them about Chabad activities. During a lull Jill said, "I have to tell you something, Rabbi Adelman. But you have to promise not to hold it against me."
"Go ahead," Rabbi Adelman said, with a laugh.
"Do you remember about four years ago giving out Chanuka menoras in the dorm? Well, I was the girl who called you that night and whose mother called you threatening to call the police."
"That was you!" he said. "That was nothing."
Jill became very close with the Adelman family, and organized many programs for the Chabad House. She finished college and returned home to in Long Island for a few days, before leaving to learn full time in Machon Chana Women's Yeshiva in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
Give Chanuka Gelt
Traditionally a reward after being tested on their Torah studies, the distribution of Chanuka gelt (money) to children each night of Chanuka is an ancient Jewish custom.
Re-institute this unique Chanuka tradition in your family.
4 Shevat, 5723 (1963)
I would like to note, in reference to the sketch of the Chanuka menora as it appears, that it is customary for the shamash to be higher than the line of the candles.
A simple explanation of this is related to the prohibition against making use of the Chanuka lights because they are holy; the shamash is therefore placed more prominently.
A deeper Chasidic explanation is that one who sets aglow the "soul of man which is the candle of G-d" attains an extraordinary merit, on an even higher plane than the person whose soul was illuminated.
Chanuka, 5716 (1955)
Chanuka recalls the rededication of the Holy Temple which had been defiled by the heathen rulers of the Holy Land and their assimilationist collaborators.
The miracle of Chanuka was brought about by the self-sacrificing resistance begun by the Hasmoneans despite the overwhelming odds against them.
In applying the lessons of Chanuka to today, insofar as the daily life of the Jewish individual and community is concerned -- and this, after all, is the purpose of all of our festivals -- several aspects are especially noteworthy.
Firstly, that even so holy a place as the Holy Temple can be defiled under certain circumstances, though outwardly remaining intact.
Secondly, that in such a case, as the events of Chanuka clearly emphasize, cleansing and rededication of the Sanctuary can only be attained through mesirat nefesh, that is, a self-sacrificing determination to resist the forces of darkness without entering into any calculations whatsoever as to what the odds are in the struggle.
For, since there can be no compromise with an enemy bent on defiling that which is most sacred in Jewish life, the only Jewish answer can be "unconditional resistance," leaving the final outcome to the Divine Will.
Where such an attitude of mesirat nefesh exists, the outcome cannot really be in doubt, for such is the perennial lesson of Jewish history.
Furthermore, as is always the case in Jewish life, material welfare is likened to the spiritual.
Thus in the case of Chanuka, too, although the persecution started in those days with an effort "to make them forget your Torah and transgress Your statutes," it was followed by a policy of robbing the Jews also of their material wealth, and of their children.
However, when under the leadership of the handful of Hasmoneans the Jews resisted assimilation with steadfast faith, the Almighty helped them to completely vanquish the enemy, thus saving not only their souls, but also their wealth and their children.
Nowadays, as often before, Jews who want to remain loyal to the heritage of their fathers find themselves outnumbered and endangered by the forces of darkness that threaten to engulf the world, and the Jewish world in particular.
The Jewish home, yeshiva and synagogue are the Sanctuaries of G-d which are not immune from defilement, G-d forbid; it still requires the same kind of Hasmonean determination to preserve their purity and holiness.
But although the odds may seem overwhelming, the reward is more than commensurate, for with G-d's help, the outcome is certain to be miraculous and the victory complete, spiritually as well as materially, as in those days at this season.
23 Kislev, 5716 (1955)
The festival of Chanuka marks the victory of the forces of light -- the light of the Torah and Jewish way of life -- over the forces of darkness, represented by the Greek heathens and the would-be Greeks, the assimilationists among our own people in those days.
It was an unequal battle of the few against the many, but with G-d's help, the forces of light triumphed. The Sanctuary in Jerusalem was rededicated to the holy service of G-d in accordance with our Divine Law, and the perpetual light was rekindled there.
We Jews have always carried the torch of light, the Divine light of the Torah and mitzvot, and, in one way or another, it has been an unequal battle against the forces of darkness throughout the ages, including the present day.
Though the Sanctuary in Jerusalem has been temporarily taken from us, the Jewish home represents the real Sanctuary. The kindling of the Chanuka lights and the rededication of the Jewish home which the lights symbolize is the lifeline that not only guarantees the survival of our people, but also assures the strength and happiness of the individual Jewish home.
CHANUKA TO SOLDIERS
Once again, Chabad in Israel will be visiting Israeli soldiers at their posts throughout the length and breadth of Israel to celebrate the miraculous Chanuka victory of the few against the many.
TOYS FOR KIDS
Bringing the brightness of Chanuka to children in hospitals is one of the projects of the National Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education. Their Toys for Hospitalized Children program, already in its fourth decade, distributes over 25,000 toys to hospitalized children in the NY Tri-state Area. "The smiles on the children's faces makes it all worthwhile," says a volunteer.
As we approach the final days of the Chanuka festival, let us see what inspiring lessons we can take with us to guide us in these last moments of the darkest exile.
In the days of Matityahu, the Jews took action against the Greeks in the natural manner, but with absolute faith in G-d. Hence, they did not engage in calculations as to how great the odds were against them in terms of physical power and numbers. Rather, with faith and fortitude, they gathered the people together under the rallying cry, "Whoever is for G-d, with us."
This was the basis and raison d'etre of their battle: the glorification of G-d's name, without any thought of personal gain or glorification.
Although they were weak and few in number, the Jews of that time were spiritual giants, possessing complete and absolute faith in the Creator of the World. It was this faith that ultimately led to their military victory and the spiritual victory over the repressive decrees of the Hellenists.
Similarly, our Sages have taught that in the merit of the Jews' tremendous faith in G-d and in the coming of Moshiach we will be redeemed from this final, dark and bitter exile.
The Rebbe, the Matityahu of our generation, has sounded the clarion call, "The time of the Redemption has arrived. Moshiach is on his way."
Although in comparison to the nations of the world the Jewish people are few and weak physically, we nonetheless reach the highest spiritual heights, for we stand atop the shoulders of the spiritual giants of all generations.
Thus, for the glorification of G-d's name and G-d's name alone, let us rally as one behind the Rebbe's call to publicize the message that the Redemption is imminent, to learn more about it, to increase in mitzvot in general and acts of goodness and kindness, and to get ready to welcome Moshiach.
It came to pass at the end of two full years.... (Gen. 41:1)
Joseph's confinement in prison was only physical but not spiritual.
Even in jail he retained and guarded his spiritual heritage, the teachings absorbed from his father, and this light overcame the darkness of prison and filled him with hope.
The prison-house of Joseph is an allusion to this world (especially during the exile), into which the souls of Israel are made to descend to become vested in finite bodies in order to observe Torah and mitzvot. Yet the very idea of confinement to the Jew is alien, because Jewish life is essentially unrestricted. The present era of restraints is only temporary, and is merely a step toward the ultimate goal which will be realized with Moshiach.
(The Rebbe, Shabbat Parshat Mikeitz, 5751)
Pharaoh sent and summoned Joseph, and they rushed him from the dungeon... And Pharaoh said to Joseph, "See, I have set you in charge over all the land of Egypt" (Gen. 41:14-41)
The Jewish people is presently in the dungeon of a harsh and bitter exile; for many years we have been bound and fettered by its shackles.
But just as Joseph went directly from confinement to rulership, so, too, our whole nation will speedily leave the prison of exile and simultaneously ascend to the status of royalty with the full and Final Redemption.
(The Rebbe, 28 Kislev, 5750)
And with us there was a young man, a Hebrew... (Gen. 41:12)
The chief butler's words attest to the magnitude of Joseph's trial.
For even in a foreign land, thrown in prison to languish among murderers and thieves, we see that Joseph maintained his identity and conducted himself as a Jew.
(Maora Shel Torah)
And all the land of Egypt was famished.... (Gen. 41:55)
Why were the Egyptians hungry if they had just experienced seven years of plenty?
So greedy were they that they had sold all their food to other nations at great profit; when famine came there was nothing left for Egypt itself.
When Joshua assumed leadership of the Jewish people, his first task was to lead them into the Promised Land. With G-d's assurance, "No man shall be able to stand up before you all the days of your life," Joshua confidently began the great task which lay ahead of him.
The key to the capture of the land was the city of Jericho.
Only one month after the death of Moses, preparations for the invasion began. The kings of the Canaanite nations were warned of the impending war. However, thirty one refused to abide by the ultimatum and decided to fight.
Joshua sent Pinchas and Calev ahead to ascertain the best way of breaching the defenses. They were, however, noticed by the Canaanite king who immediately recognized them as spies and set about to capture them .
Pinchas and Calev were staying in the inn of a local non-Jewish woman named Rachav. When word reached her that soldiers were searching for her two guests, she quickly hid them on the roof of her house. After the danger had passed, she lowered them to safety over the city wall by a rope which dangled from her window.
Before they departed she declared to them: "I know that your G-d has given this land to you and that your terror has fallen upon us, all the inhabitants of the land tremble before you. The L-rd your G-d, He is G-d in heaven above and on the earth beneath. Pray you, swear to me by the L-rd, since I have shown you kindness, that you will also show kindness to my father's house and that you will save my father, my mother, my brothers, my sisters and all that they have, and deliver our lives from death."
Because of her belief in G-d, Rachav was saved. She marked her house with a red ribbon and Rachav and her family survived the siege of the city. As an added reward, Rachav's descendants numbered amongst the greats of the Jewish people, including the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel.
Though Joshua formulated military strategy, it was not human wit, but the miracles of G-d which enabled the Jews to conquer Jericho.
Joshua explained to the Jews that G-d was with them, but if they wanted to successfully conquer the land, they must cross the river with complete unity of purpose.
The people agreed, and their crossing was as miraculous as had been their escape across the Sea of Reeds when they fled the Egyptians.
The Kohanim proceeded first, carrying the Holy Ark.
No sooner had their feet touched the waters of the Jordan than the river split into towering walls allowing the Jews to pass over the river bed.
Then, one man from each of the twelve tribes laid a stone on which the Torah was inscribed in the seventy languages of the nations, as a memorial of the great miracle they had experienced and a teaching for the surrounding peoples.
The Jews encamped in the valley between the mountains Grizim and Eyval, the Ark in the center, surrounded by the Kohanim, the Leviim circling them, and the twelve tribes standing on the surrounding mountain slopes.
The people were reminded of the blessings which would come to those who heeded the Torah and the curses which would fall upon those who disregarded the Divine teachings. Many miracles attended the Divinely-commanded conquest of the land. Those which occurred during the siege of Jericho were but the first.
When the Jews came to the fortified city of Jericho, they did not storm the walls. At the command of G-d the Kohanim, carrying the Holy Ark, encircled the city for seven days while blowing on shofars. On the seventh day, the procession circled the city seven times. Suddenly, the fortified walls crashed to the ground, and the city lay open and unprotected.
When Jericho was captured no booty was permitted to be taken.
In a great show of faith and unity, all the people except one agreed.
Everything in the city was to be consecrated to G-d and was left untouched. (The one man who succumbed to temptation later paid for his sin with his life.)
Only later were the Jews permitted to take gold and silver, which they used to mint coins commemorating their miraculous victory.
The name of Joshua and the wondrous capture of the famous walled city of Jericho became known all over the region, and fear of the Jewish conquerors was felt amongst the inhabitants of the nations who had forfeited their ownership of the holy land.
Every Jew should exemplify the teachings of the Chanuka lights in actual practice.
This will hasten the fulfillment of the Divine prophecy of "even if darkness will cover the earth and a thick cloud the nations, but on you will shine forth G-d."
As in those days, we should merit to kindle lights in the Third and Eternal Holy Temple -- with the coming of Moshiach.