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Potato latkas. Dreidels. Judah the Maccabee. Judith the Heroine. The Chanuka menora. Blue cardboard boxes of all different colored candles. Chocolate Chanuka gelt. The song, Maoz Tzur. "I had a little dreidel..." Clay menoras made in Hebrew school.
Chanuka is made of memories and for memories. Taste the latkas and jelly donuts. See the candles burn brightly in the menora. Hear the singing of the blessings over the menora. Touch the letters engraved on the dreidle: nun, gimmel, hay, shin, "A Great Miracle Happened There."
Chanuka is a special time for family, friends and children. Chanuka is a Jewish holiday celebrating the victory of the weak (militarily) over the mighty, the few (in number) over the many.
Chanuka is a celebration of the re-dedication of the Holy Temple after it had been defiled -- but not destroyed -- by the Greeks. For the Greeks did not wish to destroy the Holy Temple nor the Torah; they wished only to defile the Mitzvot.
The Greeks attempted to lessen their holiness, their uniqueness, their impact on our Jewish lives. "We too, have wisdom," they declared. "We, too, have gods. We, too, have holidays. Know that your Temple is like our temples. The wisdom of your Divine Torah is like our man-made wisdom. There is nothing particularly holy about them."
So what do you say to a child who wants a "Chanuka bush," or who wants a photograph with Santa?
The easiest response might be: "They have their holiday and we have ours -- Chanuka."
That response might be on the verge of being P.C., but it's certainly not C. P.-- Chanuka Perfect. You see, as soon as we start comparing Chanuka with the 25th of December, or when we try to turn Chanuka into the Jewish equivalent of that day, it is as if we are handing over a victory to the "Greeks."
Celebrate Chanuka in the true spirit of the holiday -- not as a consolation or a competition -- but as an opportunity to prove in our own lives that the ancient battle and victory over the Greeks was not in vain.
Light the Chanuka menora each night of Chanuka and watch Jewish pride grow as the numbers and strength of the Chanuka lights increase.
Let the lights of the Chanuka menora -- and all of the beautiful and unforgettable Chanuka traditions, customs, mitzvot and memories -- add their pure, holy light to the world until the G-dly light is revealed in all its glory in the Third and Eternal Holy Temple.
What is the reason for the Jewish people being in exile? What purpose has been served by almost two thousand years of suffering and hardship?
The answer to this age-old question is alluded to in this week's Torah portion, Mikeitz, in Joseph's explanation of his choice of name for his son Ephraim.
"The name of the second he called Ephraim," the Torah states, "for G-d has caused me to be fruitful ("hifrani" -- from the same root as Ephraim) in the land of my affliction."
In other words, it is precisely through exile "in the land of my affliction" that Joseph became stronger. Likewise, the entire purpose of exile is to uncover the Jewish people's hidden strengths, bringing them to a higher level of perfection.
On a personal level, Joseph had attained the highest rungs of spiritual service, standing head and shoulders above his eleven brothers; in a certain sense, he was even superior to his father Jacob. Nonetheless, in order to attain the very highest levels, Joseph had to undergo exile "in the land of my affliction."
The Torah alludes to Joseph's exalted spiritual status in its statement that the brothers "recognized him not." According to Chasidic philosophy, Joseph's involvement in worldly matters was perceived by them as an obstacle to spirituality.
The brothers couldn't understand how a person could be worldly and serve G-d at the same time. Thus they deliberately pursued a life of contemplation; as shepherds, they were cut off from civilization and the demands of society. Never in their wildest dreams could they fathom how Joseph, second-in-command over all of Egypt, could remain connected to G-d and indeed surpass their level of service. The concept itself was too radical for them to grasp.
Joseph's superiority to his father is also reflected in the fact that he was punished for putting his faith in Pharaoh's butler, whereas when Jacob addressed his brother Esau as "my master," it was not considered a sin.
Jacob, despite his great spiritual attainments, was still subject to the limitations of the physical world and thus permitted to work within the natural order; Joseph, however, was above such constraints and therefore held to a much higher standard of behavior, according to which he should have placed his trust in G-d alone.
Nevertheless, we see that it was only through the experience of exile that Joseph was able to attain the very pinnacle of spirituality, paving the way and setting an example for his future descendants.
For just as the Jewish people merited to receive the Torah after the "crucible" of the Egyptian exile, so too will we merit the very highest revelations of G-dliness with the ultimate Redemption.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Vol. I
The Light in the Window
by Rabbi Eli Hecht
During World War II there was a group of fighting Polish partisans who had broken out of the Nazi war camps. These partisans consisted of a few Jews and former Polish officers. They organized a resistance force that used to harass the Germans.
On one of their missions, they found an old, starving rabbi who had been left for dead by the Nazi murderers. One of the Catholic partisans took mercy on the man and nursed him back to health. The rabbi was of no real use to the partisans and was given the job of cooking and praying for the safety of the fighting men. Strangely, this group of partisans suffered no casualties for the rest of the war.
When the war was over the group broke up. Some went back to Poland; others traveled to Latvia. Others became wandering people with no homeland. As the Russian government clamped down on the people, depriving them of their freedom, the group decided to flee.
A plan was made to leave the Russian territories by night. An informant helping these escaping partisans told them, "You must cross the river in the winter when it's frozen. When you reach the other side of the river you'll be entering no-man's land. There you will find a hut. This hut is used by a Russian soldier who is in charge of preventing border crossings by all unauthorized people. His job is to shoot anything that moves. However, at one o'clock in the morning he leaves his hut and walks a few miles to the next hut, where he meets another soldier. There the soldiers exchange reports and supplies. Then he returns to his watch. The complete trip takes him approximately two hours. During that time, you can warm yourselves in his hut but you must be out of there by the time he returns."
This group of brave men consisted only of the younger people. Most of the older people had given up hope, deciding to remain behind in the Russian territories. The only old man willing to travel with them was the rabbi. A heated argument broke out: "Let's leave him," said one. "After all, he can find food in one of the towns. We really do not need to be slowed down by a frail, old man. We have done our share."
A religious Christian partisan exclaimed, "If we leave him, we are all doomed. I will not leave without him." Reluctantly, they included the rabbi.
It was a cold and miserable night. A blizzard broke out. Sure enough, the leader was correct: the old man could not keep up with the rigorous climbing and running. The blizzard increased and more than once they had to stop to carry the old rabbi. As light as he was, he was now a big burden, slowing down the entire group. More than once, they argued if they should just leave him.
It was one o'clock in the morning when they arrived at the hut which, by now, was half buried in the snow. They could smell the fire and warmth coming from the hut. They waited and waited for the soldier to leave. It seemed like forever.
It wasn't a moment too soon that the soldier left. Almost frozen to death, the fleeing group fell into the hut, each one trying to get his icy hands and frostbitten feet closer and closer to the fire.
The old rabbi moved away from the group. He opened a small bag and took out an old and rusty menora. Then he took a small piece of string, rolled it into a wick and proceeded to fill the menora with some oil from a small tin bottle that he miraculously had with him.
The very act of which was taking place put everyone into a trance. Not a word was uttered nor could a sound be heard. Spellbound, everyone watched the rabbi.
In a barely audible voice, the rabbi recited the blessings for the lighting of the menora, picked up the menora, and placed it by the window of the hut. Then he lit the menora and began to sing an old Jewish song, "Maoz Tzur-Rock of Ages," which speaks of G-d's miracles for his people.
Like an erupting volcano, the leader was jolted out of his stupor and yelled, "Put out that light! You will bring the Russian soldier back here. We will all be caught and shot."
The rabbi tried to explain that it was the first night of Chanuka and that he had kindled the light in order to keep the commandment of remembering the miracle of Chanuka. "No, " said the rabbi. He would not extinguish the flame. "It must burn for half an hour. This is according to the ancient Hebrew law."
Suddenly the door of the hut flew open. A tall soldier holding a machine gun yelled at the startled group to put their hands up into the air.
The Russian soldier approached the old rabbi, looked at the menora, and said to him in Russian, "I, too, am a Jew. I have not seen a menora in six years." He kissed the rabbi's beard and broke out into tears.
The soldier proceeded to tell the group, "After I left the hut I suddenly remembered that I had left some reports in a drawer. As I was returning I saw a light coming from the hut. I couldn't believe my eyes.
"There it was, a menora in no-man's land, in the middle of a blizzard, right in my hut."
The soldier told the group that they were safe and proceeded to take out a large bottle of vodka, giving each one a drink. He said, "It's good that I was on guard. Another guard would have killed all of you! Come. I will show you how to cross the border. Remember me, Rabbi. Pray that I have a Chanuka miracle and will be able to leave the army safely and be with my family."
The very shaken but relieved little group followed the soldier out across the border. Somehow they made their way to freedom and then they all went their separate ways. The old rabbi went to Israel. He told this story to fellow survivors who, in turn, told it to me as a small boy.
Give Chanuka Gelt:
Concerning presents at this time of year, the Jewish custom is to give Chanuka gelt (money) to the children to train them to use their money for mitzvot, specifically the mitzva of giving charity.
The Rebbe explained, "The charity given by a child is superior in a certain way to the charity given by an adult.
An adult works to earn his livelihood, and thus can always replace the money that he has given away. In contrast, a child does not earn his own money and has only what he has been given by his parents.
Nevertheless, his nature is not to stint, but rather to give generously when he sees a person in need or a worthy Torah institution."
THE CHANUKA LIGHTS
In Days of Chanuka, 5735 
The timing of this year's Annual Dinner -- taking place on the eighth night of Chanuka, the highlight of the Festival of Lights -- is particularly meaningful, and relevant to the occasion in more than one aspect.
Chanuka, meaning "dedication," recalls, first of all, the re- dedication of the Beit HaMikdash [Holy Temple], after an all-out struggle against the forces of darkness that had brought Jewish life almost to the brink of extinction.
In a deeper sense, that every Jew is a Beit HaMikdash and a Sanctuary of old, was already indicated in the Divine command regarding the establishment of the first Sanctuary, "and I will dwell within them" -- within each and every Jew.
Chanuka, as the name implies, is connected also with chinuch, Torah- education, for in our Holy Tongue "education" is synonymous with "dedication."
Indeed, the ultimate purpose of a Torah education is not merely to impart knowledge of Torah and mitzvot, but to produce knowledgeable, dedicated Jews, whose personal commitment to a total Torah-and-mitzvot life goes hand-in-hand with dedication to all fellow-Jews to get them to share in this commitment, and make every Jew a "Mikdash" for G-d's Presence.
It is with this objective in mind that the Founder of the first Lubavitcher Yeshiva characterized its students as "shining lights," whose purpose is to spread the light of Torah and mitzvot wherever they go and in whatever they do.
Of this, too, the Chanuka lights are meaningful symbols in many ways:
The Chanuka lights -- to mention one detail -- have to be seen also outside, so that a Jew who is as yet an "outsider" in terms of actual commitment to living Yiddishkeit, will look up and see the lights of Chanuka and be inspired by them.
To mention another point:
It is the custom of all Jews to be "especially meticulous" (mehadrin-min-hamehadrin) when it comes to the mitzva of Ner-Chanuka, beginning with lighting one candle the first night, and adding one more candle each subsequent night of Chanuka. The same should be when it comes to chinuch -- only the best and utmost is good enough.
Moreover, in all matters of Torah and mitzvot, however good the situation is today, it is not good enough for tomorrow, and the day after. This, too is indicated by the Chanuka lights.
For, although the mitzva of Ner-Chanuka is fulfilled to perfection by lighting one candle on the first night of Chanuka, we are called upon to light two candles the following night, and to add one more candle on each and every night following, increasing the number of candles and the measure of light from day to day; and to do this with the same enthusiasm as before, and more.
This is the kind of spirit -- of striving for ever greater achievement -- that permeates the chinuch which the students receive in the Lubavitcher Yeshivot.
All of the aforesaid brings us back to the practical aspects for the Annual Dinner of the United Lubavitcher Yeshivot. The same spirit that animates these Torah institutions and their students, which is so closely identified with the spirit of Chanuka, should animate and inspire also the friends and supporters of the Lubavitcher Yeshivot -- the spirit of dedication, of striving for ever greater achievement, the urge to do a little more today than yesterday, tomorrow -- more than today, and still more the day after.
In the merit of this, G-d will surely increase the brightness in your home, to be filled with the eternal light of Torah and mitzvot, and with all G-d's blessings that go with it, materially and spiritually.
WORLD'S LARGEST MENORA
Be a part of the Chanuka candle lighting at the World's Largest Menora at 59th and Fifth in Manhattan. Lighting times are Mon. - Thurs. 5:30 p.m., Fri. 3:41 pm, and Sat. night at 8 pm.
KABALA OVER COFFEE
A new class, "Kabala Over Coffee," will be given every Sunday 10:15am - 11:15am at the Chabad Center of Northwest New Jersey in White Meadow Lake (Opposite White Meadow Lake fire house).
Simultaneous classes will be held for children ages 5-13 in basic Judaism and Hebrew skills. For more info call the Chabad Center at (201) 625-1525.
The Tzivos Hashem Chanuka House will be open through Dec. 25 weekdays from 10am - 7pm, Friday 10:30am - 12:30 pm, Saturday night 7:30pm - 11:30pm. Weekends feature live entertainment. The Chanuka House is located at 645 Fifth Ave. and 51st St.
Everything is connected to Moshiach and the Redemption. In fact, the Rebbe stated clearly that it is natural for a person who is involved every day in yearning for the coming of Moshiach to look for a connection to Moshiach's coming in every event or concept which he encounters.
This also applies to Chanuka. And since we are in the days of Chanuka it is appropriate to look at the Festival of Lights with "Moshiach eyes."
Since the Chanuka miracle took place in the Holy Temple, its commemoration arouses an even greater yearning for the era when the menora will be kindled again in the Third Holy Temple.
Similarly, there is a connection between the above and this week's portion, Mikeitz.
When a Jew hears the name Mikeitz, because he is constantly yearning for Moshiach's coming, he immediately associates it with the word "keitz" which refers to the time for Moshiach's coming. And on Shabbat, when the Haftorah is read and he hears the vision for the Menora mentioned, he once again immediately associates it with the menora of the Holy Temple.
Let us all join together on Chanuka this year in the lighting of the Chanuka menoras, large and small, public and private. And as we light the menora let us envision ourselves watching the lighting of the rededicated menora in the Third and Eternal Holy Temple.
The Baal Shem Tov taught, "In the place where a person wants to be, that is where he will be found." May we all be found together in the Holy Temple this Chanuka.
It came to pass in the morning that his spirit was troubled (Gen. 41:8)
Pharaoh was not particularly perturbed by the first part of his dream involving the cows, as he understood that there would be an insufficiency of meat. The second part of the dream, however, in which he saw the "seven thin ears devouring the seven good ears" threw him into a panic, as he realized that there would be no bread as well. He therefore awoke in a troubled state.
(Rabbi Yitzchak of Volozhin)
And now, let Pharaoh seek out a man intelligent and wise (Gen. 41:33)
With this statement Joseph was alluding to Pharaoh that if famine came to the land his sovereignty over the Egyptian people was threatened. A populace with no food to eat naturally turns its anger against the government. Joseph therefore suggested that Pharaoh appoint an "intelligent and wise" assistant to fortify and ensure his continued rule.
And they cried before him "Avrech" ("Bend the knee") (Gen. 41:43)
The Hebrew word "avrech" comes from the same root word as "bracha" ("blessing"), alluding to the drawing down of G-dly light from the supernal spheres into our physical world and frame of existence.
Thus Joseph, the tzadik of the generation, was addressed as "Avrech," for his role was to draw G-d's beneficence down into our material world.
Most of the people of the shtetl of Roshvenitz were very poor, but, being Chasidim, poverty could not detract from their joy of life, as it was derived from their Rebbe, the great Rabbi Avraham Yaakov of Sadigora.
In those days, traveling to the Rebbe was not an easy undertaking. It cost far more than most of them could afford, and so they established a special fund to pay the traveling expenses of one person. Each Jewish family would contribute to the communal pot, and when a special occasion would arise, a raffle would be held. The winner would travel to the Rebbe as an emissary of the community.
At the Rebbe's court, the representative was given a private interview with the Rebbe who would question him about the state of his Chassidim in the little village. But that wasn't all. When the emissary set off, the Rebbe always presented him with a pure, silver coin. These coins became the property of the community and were its prized treasure.
It was a month before Chanuka and a special meeting was called. The villagers twittered with anticipation of this unexpected event. Finally the caretaker of the shul began to speak: "My dear brethren, we have called you here tonight to discuss the matter of the holy coins of our beloved Rebbe. We have merited to amass many coins, and we have decided to give them all to a G-d-fearing silversmith who will make from them a most beautiful menora."
Excitement rose as the congregants murmured their approval to one another. "The beautiful menora, we will put in our study hall, and each Chanuka we will sell the honor of lighting it to the highest bidder. This money will help pay for the many needs of our community- - food and medicine for the sick and poor, dowries for needy brides, salaries for the teachers." The congregants were all very excited, and each of them dreamed about the beautiful silver menora made from the Rebbe's holy coins.
The first night of Chanuka arrived and every corner of the shul was packed tight. At the southern wall stood the Chanuka menora, a masterpiece of the silversmith's art -- intricate in design, glowing, and sparkling in the lamplight.
The bidding began, and then rose quickly. It wasn't long before the poor and average homeowners were outbid, leaving only the wealthy to continue the contest. In the end, Reb Lipa, a wealthy wood merchant won the honor. With great emotion he approached the menora. He recited the three blessings, and ignited the wick.
This scene was repeated each night of Chanuka. The same bidding, the same enthusiasm, and in end, the same result: one of the wealthy congregants always emerged the winner.
The poor people of the shtetl realized that the coveted honor would never fall to one of them. They had to content themselves with watching the lighting and answering "amen" to the blessings.
One of them, however, couldn't accept the situation. Reb Baruch, the blacksmith, was a Chasid to the core of his soul. His love for his Rebbe filled his entire being, and he was heartbroken that he couldn't light the menora even once. Chanuka passed and once again life's dreary sameness returned to the inhabitants of the little shtetl.
But for Baruch the blacksmith life was different. He had a mission which filled his nights and days. He began to work a little extra every day, and he hoarded every penny he managed to scrape together -- all this for his much longed-for Chanuka lighting. Months went by and he managed to amass a tidy sum.
A month before Chanuka his wife took ill. When all the old remedies failed to cure her, a doctor was summoned from the big city. The doctor's fee was tremendous and the medications very costly. When G-d blessed his wife with a complete recovery, Reb Baruch's entire hard- earned savings were gone.
Chanuka arrived and Reb Baruch was inconsolable. He had come so close to attaining his heart's desire, and now it was lost.
As the nights of Chanuka passed by, Reb Baruch watched the successive lightings with a pained heart. Finally, the eighth and final night came. The bidding was frenzied, and the poor looked on as their wealthy brethren bid astronomical sums for the honor. Reb Baruch felt that his heart would break.
Suddenly all was still. All eyes focused on the figure ascending the bima. Could it be Reb Baruch, the blacksmith!? With tears running down his face, he turned to the crowd: "My dear friends, this is the second year that I have yearned with my whole soul to kindle the holy menora. All year I saved, but then my wife became ill. G-d has granted her a complete recovery, but my savings are gone. Believe me, my brothers, I cannot continue; my soul is expiring from longing. So, I am making you a proposition. My house is very small-- worth about 300 crowns. I am giving it to the community. I will continue to live in it, but as a tenant of the community. Accept my plea and restore the soul of a poor blacksmith."
Reb Baruch's heartfelt words touched everyone. Tears flowed freely, and a great roar came up from the crowd. "Reb Baruch has won the bidding!" was heard from every corner. When he rose to kindle the silver menora, there was not one heart which did not tremble at the sight of the flame that burst forth and rose up from the soul of Reb Baruch, the blacksmith.
Chanuka, being a holiday of eight days, is associated with the Redemption. For, whereas seven alludes to what is timebound, eight is always an allusion to eternity, to what is timeless.
In addition, our Sages have said, "Even if all the other festivals will be annulled Chanuka and Purim will not be annulled. For Chanuka and Purim were given to Israel by the merit of their own deeds.
(Book of Our Heritage)