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It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
As Chanukah draws to a close, we can reflect with joy on the historic issuing of the first Chanuka stamp by the United States Postal Service. No longer do Jews have to feel second class or bulk rate during the winter holiday season when all of America is festooned with the thinly disguised "secular" trappings of the holiday of the majority religion.
The revolution began with the public Chanuka menoras championed by the Rebbe several decades ago, instilling pride in tens of thousands of Jewish people as they finally encountered some recognition of their faith and traditions strolling along Union Square in S. Francisco, Central Park in New York or on Main Street, USA.
The modern day custom spread to exotic locations like the Kremlin and the Eiffel Tower, with the same message proclaimed all over: After centuries of persecution in country after country, generation after generation, finally a Jew need not hide his identity, and even more so, he can proudly publicize his faith, practice his religion freely and even shout it out on the steps of City Hall.
This message of religious freedom and the right to hold one's head high is the true meaning of the public menoras. Of course, some opposed the Rebbe's innovation, whether because they were not secure in their own Jewishness, at least in public, or because to join rather than fight would have meant an admission of defeat in their own fruitless campaign to purge American public life of the observance of the non-Jewish winter holiday.
Once the courts had found a way to cast trees and wreathes as "secular," their battle was truly lost, and nit-picking over which displays were secular and which religious, led only to a few legal victories but to no real benefit in the psyche of the young Jewish child who walked down the street in December feeling overwhelmed and ignored.
Then, in a masterful stroke of cynicism, the opponents of public menoras became the guardians of religion, arguing that Lubavitch was secularizing Chanukah.
They were caught in the legal fiction of denying the religious origins of December 25, which Christian America had used to preserve the public displays of their holiday in the face of court challenges. What they failed to understand is that a menora can at once be a religious symbol and conveyor of a secular message of history, culture, tradition and above all, freedom.
The Rebbe's solution is first-class all the way. It is both visionary and practical. Let us use the holiday which celebrates our religious freedom from Syrian-Greek oppressors to exert our own freedom to celebrate as Jews in benevolent America and restore Jewish pride to its proper place. How warm a Jewish commuter feels coming to a toll booth and seeing it adorned with a menora shouting out its message of welcome. Not only welcome to live freely, but welcome to practice your faith freely in private and in public.
So, as we tuck away a few stamps with the Chanuka gift-wrap to be used next year (when the stamps will surely be obsolete, as all Jews will be reunited in the Holy Land with Moshiach and we will be posting our Chanuka greetings from there) let's adopt the motto of the U.S. Postal Service of years gone by: Neither rain nor sleet nor dark of night... will deter us from practicing our Jewishness openly and proudly.
[For those of you who have access to the World Wide Web, you can see more information on the joint America-Israel Chanukah Stamp and order "mint series" set(s) of the stamps. See the banner ad on the home page of Chabad-Lubavitch in Cyberspace, or directly to: www.chabad.org/fol/
The beginning of this week's Torah reading, Miketz, describes Pharaoh's dreams at great length.
The Torah goes into much detail relating his first dream about the cows, then describes the second dream concerning the ears of corn. The portion then goes on to give Yosef's interpretation of these dreams, i.e., their allusion to the seven years of plenty and seven years of famine to come.
Why does the Torah provide us with all this information? Indeed, the Torah's sole intent in telling us these details is to let us know how Yosef came to be second in command over all of Egypt.
But what difference does it make how Yosef attained his post? Why does the Torah describe Pharaoh's dreams so specifically?
The answer has to with the particular lesson the Torah is teaching here, that everything that happens is because of the "tzadik (righteous person) who is the foundation of the world." In his time Yosef was this tzadik, and all of the G-dly influences and blessings that come down into the world had to pass through him.
In the previous Torah reading we learned that Yosef also had dreams, in which many G-dly secrets were revealed. Because this was the manner in which these matters were revealed the entire world followed, to the extent that even Pharaoh, the most powerful ruler in the ancient world, had to learn about the coming years of plenty and famine through the medium of dreams. Because the tzadik of the world, Yosef, had dreams in which he received G-dly knowledge, so, too, did the Egyptian king have to receive a foreknowledge of things to come in this manner.
There are some people who mistakenly think that Jews must somehow "fit" themselves into the world, conforming to the same rules of conduct and adopting the same opinions as the gentile nations. However, this path is not a correct one, for as we learn from Pharaoh's dreams, everything that happens in the world is the direct result of the Jew.
It is the Jew's behavior that determines the course of events, something he must bear in mind when he encounters inappropriate behavior. But in truth, by altering his own thoughts and conquering his own lusts, the world itself will automatically change and follow his lead.
Adapted for Maayan Chai from Likutei Sichot, vol 3
Ed.'s note: This article, reprinted from the Pittsburgh [Pennsylvania] Post Gazette, was written a week after Simchat Torah, in the midst of the Presidential campaign. The author is not Jewish. by Dennis Roddy
When Beth Shalom synagogue caught fire Tuesday, there was the usual evacuation: students from classrooms, workers from offices, visitors from the various quarters of worship and study.
Then, congregants and passersby rushed back inside, pried open locked arks, and brought out 22 heavy scrolls filled with Hebrew script.
They were saving the Torahs.
In a week when Bob Dole called President Clinton a "bozo," and Clinton called Dole's tax proposals "a scheme," at a time when words seem to have the worth and the commonalty of dirt, ordinary people ran into a burning building and saved armloads of them.
Rabbi Steven Steindel, 6 feet 2 inches, bearded, angular, younger than his 49 years, mourns the loss of two other Torahs. They were kept in the room that burned the worst. The remnants will, in accordance with Jewish custom, be treated as dead relatives and buried in the congregation's cemetery.
Of the Torahs still living, 22 of them, each penned by hand after the Holocaust, a meeting had to be held. They had been parceled out to three homes and arguments were bruited in a synagogue office over how best to get them all back in one place. It was, Rabbi Steindel later explained to me, how a teacher would try to keep a class of children intact, a father, a family.
Surely, there are other copies of the Torah. The word of G-d is plentiful, if not always heeded. But in risking limb for these long scrolls of words, Jews were paying homage not only to their truth and importance, but to the continuity of faith they bespeak, stretching back to the Creation.
In a time when violent language darkens the Internet and radio, there are still words of immutable beauty and mystery for which ordinary people on Beacon Street ran into a smoking building.
"It's not that we don't have those words on a million copies," Rabbi Steindel said. But right-thinking people understand the mystical power of words in the way a physicist looks at a falling leaf and suddenly senses the presence of G-d in the order of its descent.
Words matter. They always have. We simply forget.
Among the scrolls inside the burning synagogue was one in a glass case. It survived the Holocaust, and for the abuse it suffered, is no longer considered a kosher Torah, meaning it is no longer suitable for worship. It has smudges and smears and other defacements applied by the minions of hell. This is worth thinking about: Evil men so hated a religion they learned its rules well enough to know what it takes to kill their words.
"They destroyed houses, they destroyed people, they destroyed kitchens, and they destroyed Torahs," Rabbi Steindel said. Ordinarily, such a Torah would be buried. Instead, this was turned into a memorial of the lost of Europe.
But that Torah stayed in its case. It was the living Torahs, the ones still fit to be chanted at prayer, that passers-by braved darkness and smoke to bring out.
I doubt that Bill Clinton or Bob Dole or any of the courtiers who construct clever things for them to say will produce, at least for now, anything a stranger would inconvenience himself to protect. There are mere words and there are words in which we hear the voice of a G-d we cannot see.
For now, our civic leaders will play with words, and we will reward the one with the best sleight of hand.
Last weekend, Beth Shalom, like other Jewish congregations, observed the celebration of Simchat Torah, marking the point in the year at which it has read through the entire Torah. With the new year, the Torah has begun again.
The cycle continues. Tradition has it that two esteemed elders of the congregation are brought to the bima and named, in essence, a bride or groom of the Torah - worthy in their adherence to the truth of Scripture to be wedded to its embodiment, a large, heavy scroll.
It is hard to imagine a better tribute to a person of faith. It is hard, too, to imagine that the winner for what passes for our political campaign raises a hand to G-d Almighty at swearing-in, and places the other in reverence upon a Bible that begins with the Five Books of Scripture that make up the Torah, the only words I can think of for which strangers will walk past fire.
Buy Jewish Books!
Tevet 5 (Sunday, Dec. 15 this year) is the anniversary of the return of stolen books of the Previous Rebbe to the Library of Agudas Chasidei Chabad as per the ruling of the U.S. Court.
As part of the Previous Rebbe's library still remains in Russia, the Rebbe has urged that we purchase Jewish books to spiritually energize the process of the redemption of those books as well.
"Our efforts to show regard for Jewish holy texts will have an effect on the future of the Previous Rebbe's library. By purchasing comparable texts, such as the ethical and philsophical literature of Chabad Chasidut... we can hasten the return of that library to its rightful owners. Even little children should be given books as gifts, in the hope that what is not yet fully appreciated today will be studied before long." (The eve of the 5th of Tevet, 5752)
[Write to: Kehot Publication Society - the Publishing arm of the Lubavitch Movement - email@example.com - to request a catalogue of their books in Hebrew, English, French, Spanish, Russian and other languages. They have books for children, and adults.]
A "WILD" PROJECT
7th of Tevet, 5740 
Following our brief personal meeting, I take this first personal opportunity after Chanuka to convey to you my feelings in connection with your warm response and generous contribution towards the latest Lubavitch Project in our Holy Land. I was both gratified and impressed by the spirit of your response. For, since I characterized the project as a seemingly "wild" Project, your response in fulfillment of a "wild" thought, as you described it, is truly a response in kind.
The term "wild" in this context can best be explained in terms of the teachings of Chanuka, when the project was announced.
It is significant that the Chanuka menora has eight lights, although it reflects the miracle of the oil which occurred in connection with the rekindling of the menora in the Holy Temple, which had only seven lamps.
As explained in our sacred sources, there is an inner symbolic significance in the number seven versus eight.
Seven represents the natural order, since G-d created the world in six days and rested on the seventh, thus completing the natural order in seven days and imbuing it with the holiness of Shabbat. Eight, on the other hand, represents the supra-natural, the extraordinary. Thus, the seven-lamp menora, corresponding to the seven days of the week, symbolized the natural world order, which is geared to, and must be perpetually illuminated by, the light of the Torah and mitzvot during each and all of the seven days of the week.
Chanuka, on the other hand, recalls a very extraordinary situation in Jewish history, when the Jewish people faced a crucial challenge that threatened them not with physical, but with spiritual extinction, to be engulfed by the pagan Hellenistic culture that had swept the world at that time. The danger was all the more insidious because it happened while the Jewish people were in their own land, the Holy Land, and the Beit Hamikdash [Holy Temple] was in existence; and the enemy did not aim to destroy the Beit Hamikdash nor put out the menora, but "merely" to contaminate them with their own ideas and mores.
This extraordinary situation therefore called for an extraordinary response in terms real mesirat nefesh [self-sacrifice].
Hence, Chanuka is celebrated for eight days, with the lighting of eight lights, in a manner of increasing them in number and brightness each night of Chanuka until all the eight lights of Chanuka shine brightly on the eighth night of Chanuka.
We find the same thing in other aspects of Torah and Jewish life.
For example, the dedication of the Mishkan [Sanctuary] and the Mikdash, because the idea of a House for G-d, a House for the Divine Shechina [Presence], within the confines of a measured and limited space, is most extraordinary, as King Solomon, the builder of the first Beit Hamikdosh, expressed it, "Surely the earth and all the heavens cannot contain You, yet this House will!"
This also the inner significance of Shemini Atzeret, the Eighth Day (following the seven days of Succot), which is the culmination and retention of the Divine service of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, the essence of which is Teshuva [repentance] -- that extraordinary Divine gift whereby a Jew breaks through all natural limitations, both within and without, and rises to the highest degree of spiritual achievement.
In all these instances (and others too numerous to mention here) the number eight is not just one more than seven, or an additional twenty- four hours, it symbolizes the extraordinary, the supra-natural and the infinite, as distinct from the ordinary and natural, hence limited, as symbolized by the number seven.
It is in this sense that I characterized the new project as seemingly "wild"-- not only in the ordinary sense of being wild and far-fetched from the viewpoint of practical consideration, but in the sense of being extraordinary also from the viewpoint of sacred considerations.
By this I mean that, at first glance, considering our responsibilities to the existing institutions, especially the educational institutions, struggling with deficits and having to be not only maintained but also expanded -- for what could be more vital than Chinuch [Jewish education]? -- one would think that these institutions command top priority on all our resources. Yet, I am convinced that the present world situation, and the Jewish situation in particular, is so extraordinary that ordinary means cannot cope with it, and a "wild" approach is required. Hence the said Project, as a first step.
It will reflect, emphasize and demonstrate in a concrete and tangible way our profound bitachon [faith] and trust in the strength of Yiddishkeit [Judaism] to overcome all difficulties, and in the wholeness and inviolability of Eretz Yisrael [the Land of Israel] as the Divinely given inheritance of our people, and of Jerusalem, our Holy City, which belongs to all Jewish people everywhere, as also emphasized by the fact that while the whole Land of Israel was divided among the twelve tribes, Jerusalem was not divided among the tribes, but every Jew has a share in it.
And this we proclaim not merely in words and protestations, but by concrete action, in a manner which is understood by all, namely by the fact that American Jews, especially successful businessmen, who are known for their acumen and practical know-how in business affairs, are willing and ready, and do indeed, invest substantial resources in building a Shikun [neighborhood] for Jews permeated with Yiddishkeit precisely in Jerusalem, our Holy City, in our Holy Land, thereby also involving the cooperation of governmental agencies in this "wild" project, though the government has other vital projects connected with defense, which ordinarily command top priority.
I trust, indeed I am quite confident, that this "wild" Project will bring forth G-d's blessings in a correspondingly "wild" and extraordinary measure, so that the Project will be implemented and completed much sooner than expected, and that it will serve as a living testimony to the vitality and strength of our Jewish people transcending all limitations and bounds; living testimony to Jews and non-Jews alike.
I have not yet embarked on a public campaign for the said project for various reasons, one of which being that I waited for a" Nachshon"-- like Nachshon ben Aminadav who at the crucial moment jumped into the Sea and caused it to part asunder for all the Jews to follow.
It is your great zechut [merit] to be this Nachshon, and this zechut will certainly stand you and your family in good stead in all your needs, including the fulfillment of the prayerful and confident wish that I expressed to you, that G-d should bless you and enable you to double your contribution by next year, with joy and gladness of heart, in happy circumstances of affluence both materially and spiritually.
And I do not mean "double" in the strict sense, but, as above, in the sense of the symbolic number "eight", i.e., above all ordinary calculations.
May G-d grant that -- as expressed during the farbrengen, that in the zechut of Chanuka and the lighting of the eight Chanuka lights, symbolizing the light of the Torah and mitzvot, we should all be zoche to see the Lights of Zion in the third and eternal Beit Hamikdash, at the complete and true Geula through our righteous Moshiach.
With esteem and blessing,
P.S. I trust you understand why I constrained myself from taking "public" note of your letter and enclosure when you handed it to me. I was not sure whether those present with you knew of its content, or that you wished it to be known, and thought it wiser to leave it to your own discretion.
CHABAD IN COPENHAGEN
Scandanavia's largest city now has its own Chabad House. Rabbi Yitzchok and Rochel Lowenthal recently arrived in Copenhagen, where they have already established adult education classes, an afternoon Hebrew school, a Judaica shop and, for Chanuka, a special "Dreidel House." The Jewish community, which numbers 7,000, was instrumental in bringing the Lowenthals to Denmark.
THE LAST SIX MONTHS
It's business as usual for the Chabad House of Hong Kong, despite concern by most residents over changes that will take place six months from now when Hong Kong reverts to Chinese rule. Chabad has had a presence in Hong Kong for the past 11 years and, under the directorship of Rabbi Mordechai and Goldie Avzton boasts a day school with 110 children, minyans for the three daily prayer services in the Furma Hotel, Shabbat and holiday programs, a bi-monthly magazine, classes and other Jewish educational activities.
REJOICE FOR THE REDEMPTION
Rejoice for the Redemption: International Moshiach Congress for Women will take place this weekend, December 12-15. During Shabbat the Congress is being held in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. The Saturday evening program will be held in the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan and is open to all women, even those unable to attend the entire Congress. The Congress is being sponsored by the Million Dollar Fund of the World Moshiach Center. For more info, call the Lubavitch Women's Organization at (718) 493-1773.
Although there are many lessons that we can learn from the holiday of Chanuka, which comes to a close as Shabbat enters this week, let us consider just two ideas connected to the Chanuka lights themselves.
The Chanuka menora is lit at home. This teaches us that Jewish strength begins at home. A Jewish home is a dwelling place for G-d; it is a place, more than any other location, where Jewish continuity is assured.
The Chanuka lights are kindled when the sun sets, precisely when darkness falls outside. It is then that we are enjoined to light up our homes with the sacred Chanuka lights, symbolizing the eternal light of Torah and mitzvot.
This teaches us that it is the study of Torah and the observance of mitzvot that help bring light to the darkness outside. Especially in these days, when we see darkness everywhere, we must continue to make Torah and mitzvot our guiding light so that our lives are illuminated.
In addition, 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 also outside.
There is another important lesson to be learned from the Chanuka lights. On the first night of Chanuka we light one candle, on the second night two, on the third night three, and so on. This teaches us that however satisfactory the observance of Torah and mitzvot may be on any day, a Jew is expected to do better the next day, and still better the day after. There is always room for improvement, as witnessed by the Chanuka lights that we keep on adding to each day.
May the lessons of the Chanuka lights, and the lessons of our holy Torah, continue to inspire us until all Jews gather together in Jerusalem to light the eternal lights of the menora in the Holy Temple with Moshiach, may this be speedily in our times.
Behold, seven ears of corn came upon one stalk healthy and good, and behold seven thin ears sprung up after them (Gen. 41:5-6)
In Pharoah's dream, the seven good ears were all on the same stalk, while the seven thin ones were not. This was to show that the seven years of abundance were consecutive, but the seven years of famine were not. Yaakov arrived in Egypt during the second year of famine. He blessed Pharoah, and the Nile rose and the famine ceased temporarily. After Yaakov died seventeen years later, there were five more years of famine.
Pharoah said to his servants, "Can there be found another such person who has G-d's spirit in him?" (Gen. 41:38)
Pharoah attempted to trick Yosef to see if Yosef could interpret the dream properly. Pharoah dreamed that he was standing on the river, but he told Yosef that he was standing on the bank of the river. Yosef correctly interpreted every other detail of the dream, but told Pharoah, "G-d revealed no interpretation for your standing on the bank of the river. Possibly, this didn't appear in your dream."
If I lose, I lose. (Gen. 43:14)
Yaakov was afraid that he would lose yet another son in Egypt when his sons brought Binyamin to Egypt. The first "I lose " is for Yosef and Shimon who were still there, and the second "I lose" is for Binyamin. Yaakov was also referring to the Exile of the Jews. The first "I lose" is for the first Holy Temple that was destroyed, the second "I lose" is for the second Holy Temple that was destroyed. After the Redemption, G-d will give us a third Holy Temple that will never be destroyed.
He took Shimon and arrested him before their eyes (Gen. 42:24)
Yosef made a point of arresting Shimon in front of his brothers, but as soon as they left, Yosef took him out of prison and gave him food and drink. He had no intention of keeping Shimon in jail, as he had committed no crime. Yosef wanted his brothers to bring Binyamin to Egypt, but since he wouldn't be able to recognize Binyamin, he was afraid that his brothers would just bring any person off the street and try to pass him off as Binyamin. He kept Shimon so that Shimon would be able to correctly identify the person they brought as Binyamin.
From Vedibarta Bam by Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky
It is known among Jews, from time immemorial, that in times of personal or national crisis, Elijah the Prophet is given permission from Above to appear in the form of a human being and to bring salvation to the Jews in need.
Once, in a tiny village near the town of Moglinza, there was a certain Jew, named Joseph who made a living by leasing the milk cows of a local squire. This particular year Joseph had settled on the sum of eight kopeks per liter of milk produced, a price that was neither too high, nor too low.
It so happened, though, that this year, the cows produced milk in unusual abundance. When Joseph took the milk to market, he was unable to sell it at his price, and in fact, milk could be bought for almost nothing due to great supply.
Joseph went home and thought about his situation. He had made an agreement with the squire to pay him eight kopeks a liter, but if he did, he would most certainly lose every kopek he had. On the other hand, if he reneged on his deal, the squire could imprison him, even kill him. What could he do? Perhaps, the tzadik, Rabbi Chaim Meir, could give him a blessing.
That very day, Joseph went to the tzadik and related the whole story to him, explaining that he couldn't possibly pay the squire the amount they had agreed on. Rabbi Chaim's calm words soothed the distraught man. "Stay until after the Shabbat," the tzadik said, "and then we will see."
The prospect of being near the holy tzadik over the Shabbt was like balm to Joseph's troubled spirit and he readily agreed. The festive Shabbat table laden with delicacies, the soul stirring melodies and the holy words of Torah which the tzadik spoke over the Sabbath lifted Joseph's spirits, so that he hardly remembered why he had come. But then, the Shabbat ended and Joseph's soul again filled with dread.
Soon after the holy day passed, the attendant of the tzadik came to Joseph, "My master, Rabbi Chaim, has summoned you to him." Joseph hurried expectantly. What advice would the sage have to help him out of his dilemma?
When Joseph stood before Rabbi Chaim, the tzadik addressed him saying, "I would like a smoke. Would you be so kind as to fetch a piece of paper from the stove to light my pipe."
Joseph was quick to oblige, but by the time he brought the paper to Rabbi Chaim, the fire went out. He tried a second time, but the same thing happened, and the paper burned up without his having lit the pipe. This time Rabbi Chaim raised his voice and shouted, "This time, bring me a proper piece of paper that will light my pipe!" Joseph kindled a large piece, and with it, he finally succeeded in lighting the tzadik's pipe.
"Ah, that is good," said Rabbi Chaim. "Now, everything is all right, and you may return to your home in peace."
Joseph, who had great faith in the words of the tzadik, made his way home in a happy frame of mind, sure that somehow, the tzadik's words would be fulfilled for the good, and that his troubles would be over. His faith was soon borne out when, as he approached his village, he was met by one of the local peasants who gave him the news that all the squire's cows had been lost in a fire which suddenly broke out in the barn.
Joseph was startled by this shocking news, and he thought to himself, "True, the squire's cows have all perished, but my own small herd of ten cows was also in the barn. Have I lost them as well?!"
He rushed to his house, where his wife met him at the door.
"Husband, there was a terrible fire in the squire's barn. All his cows perished! But as the flames were just being seen, a gentile peasant came to our door leading our ten cows behind him, and so, our cows were saved. I looked for him, for I wanted to give him some reward for his trouble, but he was nowhere to be found. Finally I gave up searching for him."
When Joseph heard his wife's account of the fire and how their ten cows had been saved by a mysterious peasant, he turned on his heels and went back to the tzadik, Rabbi Chaim, to tell him of the miracle they had merited. Rabbi Chaim, however, was not surprised. "Your cows were saved by the Prophet Elijah, who was sent by Heaven to rescue you from your troubles," he said.
May G-d grant that every one of us should take along the teachings of the Chanuka candles into each and all the days ahead, from this Chanuka to the next, and this will hasten the true and complete Redemption, when G-d "will put an end to the darkness" of this Exile and send us our true Redeemer, Moshiach Tzidkeinu.
(The Rebbe, 7th day of Chanuka, 5738)