Reliving Chanuka | Living with the Rebbe | A Slice of Life | The Rebbe Writes
Rambam this week | A Word from the Director | Thoughts that Count | It Once Happened
When video recorders first came out, taking one along on vacation almost meant bringing a luggage carrier just to shlepp the equipment with you. Today, you can fit a camcorder or viewcam in any decent-sized briefcase or even a purse. Now it's easier than ever to capture for posterity those memories in progress, once-in-a-lifetime experiences that will be saved in your mind, your heart and your audio/video storage cabinet. Months or years later, you can watch the "home videos" and remember the good times.
Nowadays we have ways to keep memories alive. But can we actually relive an experience?
Haven't we all wished, at one time or another, that we could capture a moment and actually relive it at a future date?
"These days are remembered and experienced." A basic Jewish teaching is that not only is a holiday or holy day a commemoration of an event that took place many years ago, but the actual event is re-experienced yearly on the anniversary of its happening.
The upcoming festival of Chanuka is no exception. The same "spiritual energy" that was present at that time is in the world once again. This means that we can tap into those forces and make them "work" for us in our lives today. We can actually relive the miracles and lessons of Chanuka.
What Chanuka energy are we able to remember and experience?
One of the Chanuka miracles was that a small band of Jews who were devoted heart, body and soul to G-d and to the Torah were able to vanquish the strongest army of the day. On Chanuka we experience this same devotion and enthusiasm about Jewish life and living. We can devote ourselves heart, body and soul to a special mitzva we have long wanted to do, and we will successfully integrate that mitzva into our lives.
The second miracle of Chanuka was when a small amount of oil kept the rededicated Temple menora lit for a wondrous eight days until more oil could be pro-duced. There was, in fact, other oil readily available. However, it had been tampered with by the Greeks and though permissible to use, the Jewish victors would not accept compromises for the rededication of the Temple. They wanted no traces of corruption or decay.
We relive this Chanuka miracle when we refuse to compromise our Judaism, even under extenuating circumstances. The Maccabees' resolve to use only pure oil gives us the strength to enhance our Jewish living by being uncompromising in our performance of mitzvot, whether it's putting a few coins in a charity box daily, befriending a lonely person, affixing mezuzot to our doorposts, speaking only kindly of others, or setting aside time for Jewish learning.
As one of the Chanuka blessings states, G-d performed miracles for us "in those days at this time." On Chanuka we can expect that G-d will perform miracles for us in our days at this time, culminating in the ultimate miracle-the peace, plentitude, health and Divine wisdom for the entire world that will be experienced in the Messianic Era.
As we see from this week's Torah portion, Mikeitz, there are several essential differences between the dreams of Joseph and Pharaoh.
Joseph dreamt that he and his brothers were actively gathering sheaves of grain. Pharaoh, however, was merely a passive bystander, observing the events that transpired around him; any indication of human activity was absent.
Joseph's dreams were in the realm of holiness: G-d bestows His blessings on us as reward for our labors. A Jew has to work to be worthy of receiving them, just as Joseph was actively involved in binding the sheaves in his dream.
Joseph's dreams were characterized by an upward progression in holiness. In his first dream Joseph took individual sheaves of grain and bound them together to create a unified whole. This shows an ascent from separateness and division to a higher level of union and oneness.
The subject of Joseph's second dream also represents an ascent. After he had dreamt about earthly matters, sheaves of grain, he dreamt about the sun and moon, celestial matters.
Pharaoh's dreams, by contrast, were characterized by a downward progression. Pharaoh's first dream was about seven cows, the animal kingdom, but his second dream involved a lower category of life, ears of corn. Also, the dreams themselves were descending in nature. The seven healthy cows were followed by seven sick cows that swallowed them up; the seven robust ears of corn were followed by seven blighted ones.
Moreover, the fulfillment of Pharaoh's dreams came about in a descending order. First came the years of plenty, which were followed by a famine of such magnitude that it was as if the years of abundance had never existed. Every detail connected with Pharaoh's dreams was marked by decrease.
Holiness, the realm of Joseph, is characterized by perpetual ascent: "One must always go up in matters of holiness." Holiness is eternal. Anything that is not holy, the realm of Pharaoh, does not endure, and will only deteriorate and dwindle until there is nothing left.
This contains a practical lesson for every Jew: If we want to merit G-d's blessings, we must work for them, as it states, "If someone tells you he has toiled and found what he was looking for, you may believe him." If a Jew expends the effort he will be more than amply rewarded, and in far greater measure than his actions warrant. The G-dly influence he receives will increase, in an ever-expanding manner.
If, however, a Jew wishes to benefit from G-d's blessings without effort, the influences he receives will be the same type as Pharaoh's: from a source other than holiness. But this type of influence will not last; it will continue to decrease until nothing remains of it at all.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Volume 3
by Boruch Bush
When I was a child, the holiday season always saw our family gathered in the living room, standing quietly in front of the Chanuka menora. We lit the special candles for eight days. We said the blessings each night to recall the miraculous story of the Maccabees, the Jewish "freedom fighters."
We learned in Sunday School that lighting the menora is a reminder and a celebration that right can overcome might, and light can dispel darkness. My brother and I took turns lighting the candles. A room and a family full of light and warmth. That was Chanuka for me.
All that was many years ago. As a lawyer and community worker, I had gone far afield from any connection to Jewish tradition, even modern-style. I had not lit a menora in years, nor really even thought of it. Yet, for some reason, I had begun to feel a need to explore my Jewish "roots." Maybe that was why I found myself walking toward Union Square in San Francisco one cold December night. My family was going to light a menora, and not just any menora. This one was 30 feet high.
We get there at about 4:00. The Square is empty and cold. The benches are staked out by the street people. The scene in front of me is a let-down. Then I see a flurry of movement. There's the menora! I point it out to my daughter, Sarah. As we approach it, it grows bigger in perspective until we're in front of it, looking up at its simple, elegant form. Quite in proportion to the Square after all.
The action is next to the menora. Parked in the corner of the Square is a camper with a paint job that reads "Mitzva Mobile" and "Chabad House." The Chabad House in Berkeley sponsors this menora. These Lubavitchers believe in reaching out and sharing their celebration of Jewish life with all Jews, from the very religious to the totally nonreligious. Consequently, they're here. Also consequently, I am a welcome guest, I who haven't seen, much less lit, a menora in over a decade.
In fact, I soon find myself swept up in a bear hug of a greeting by a tall young man in black hat, long coat and bright red beard. "Shalom Aleichem," he says. "Greetings, brother!" This is Yosef Langer, one of the organizers of the event.
There is still time until the lighting, so we just sit and wait. I look around and think to myself, this is an odd scene. Beyond the little circle of activity near the menora, the Square still belongs to the night and the street people.
Some of the Square-dwellers come over to check out these strange newcomers. It's not a totally comfortable interaction. One fellow is openly hostile. A tall man, long black leather coat draped over his shoulders, walks back and forth loudly proclaiming his opinions of this event-as well as of Israel, Zionists, Jews. The opinions are not flattering and my urban paranoia takes hold and a wave of fear comes and goes. It doesn't contribute much to a festive atmosphere. It's disturbing. It upsets my fantasy picture. Reality always does.
I am caught up in these different strains of fantasy, reality, warmth, hostility, celebration, resentment. I begin to wonder, What are we doing here? Celebrations like this are more of a private affair, aren't they? Like my childhood memories-home and hearth, everyone gathered in the living room. But in the middle of Union Square? My thoughts drift, and I give up trying to figure it out.
When I look up, there are many more people than I noticed just a few minutes before. The beginnings of a crowd, and quite an interesting crowd at that. Easily four generations here tonight. The little circle of 45 minutes ago has grown to fill over half the Square. Everyone is talking to his friends, or to new-found friends.
It's a full five minutes before the emcee on the platform can get everyone's attention. The man at the mike-black hat, black beard, and big smile-is Rabbi Chaim Drizin. When the crowd finally quiets down he speaks, giving a little introduction about the Chabad House and about Chanuka. After the introductions, Rabbi Drizin launches into a story that teaches a lesson.
The Rabbi finishes the story to a round of applause, and the nicest part of all this to me is that somehow this story has the effect of drawing the crowd closer, making the Square a more "homey" place. We all seem to be joined in a moment of shared intimacy. Almost like a family. Is it possible that this menora lighting mirrors my childhood recollection? Only the family is much bigger.
Yosef, my red-bearded friend from earlier on, plunges into the crowd carrying high a lit torch so that each of us can touch it and join in the lighting of the candles. He is moving slowly, allowing each one to join, to make contact. Children are lifted to touch the torch. There is no pushing. All are confident of being included. I lift Sarah and she puts her hand next to Yosef's for a moment.
As the torch moves on, Rabbi Drizin starts singing and urges the crowd to join him. Shema Yisrael-Hear O Israel, the L-rd our G-d, the L-rd is One. The words echo the feeling given by the passing torch-the unity and commonalty of this body of Jewish people of different ages, types, cultures, languages, in affirming their connection to each other and to their faith.
Singing along and watching the progress of the torch, I am suddenly aware that a man is pushing through the crowd toward Yosef. It is the man who, much earlier, was angrily proclaiming his anti-Jewish feelings. He approaches Yosef. I feel myself tighten. Does he want to try to stop Yosef, grab the torch? It seems crazy, but who knows...?
He is closer now, almost at Yosef's side. From the man's face, it is impossible to read his intent. Now he is next to Yosef, and he reaches up. He puts his hand on the torch, not just touching but holding it tight. Yosef stops momentarily. Here is where fantasy meets reality, I am thinking.
And-I see this very clearly-Yosef looks directly into the man's eyes, gently puts his other hand on the man's arm, and gives a kind of quiet nod. A gesture of recognition, a silent request for mutual respect. All this in just a few seconds. And then the man's hand relaxes its hold. Yosef moves on. The man recedes to the crowd's edge. Looking at him after some moments, I see that he is singing.
From this moment until the end of the evening, the quality of that interaction stays with me and begins to pull together the different feelings I've experienced here. I begin to feel that this event has a lot to do with Chanuka. Chanuka, when the tiny Maccabean band vanquished the foreign armies, when a tiny supply of oil lasted eight days. When, in an apparently magical way, light reigned and darkness was driven back, figuratively and literally.
But behind the magical moment when the light drives back the darkness, perhaps there is always a lifetime, a generation, an eon, of hard work and careful investment. That builds our knowledge and awareness and spiritual strength, until we are able to burst forth in the moment of need and make manifest the "magic," the light, the Divine spark, that is always latent within us and around us.
Completing his circuit with the torch Yosef hands it to Rabbi Drizin, who climbs into the cherrypicker and is lifted to the top of the menora. The blessings are said and the first candle is lit on this first night of Chanuka.
For the first time in 15 years there was a menora in my home after that night in Union Square. We lit it together and put it in Sarah's window. To shine light out into the darkness. We'll do it again this year, too. After all, like the Chasidic saying goes, you can't fight darkness with a stick.
Reprinted from the San Francisco Chronicle
In a 3 Teves, 5742  letter, the Rebbe addressed the Jewish community's opposition to Menora lightings in public places. After a general discussion of inter-group relations, he continues:
The Jewish community in the U.S.A. is as old as the U.S.A. itself. We know the problems it faced, and the actual discriminations it suffered, until it has won its place in this country. Yet, even in this day and age prejudice and anti-Semitism exist, not only latently, but also overtly. Under these circumstances we must not relax our alertness to any sign of erosion of our hard-won positions.
One of these positions is the annual lighting of a Chanukah Menorah in public places. As mentioned in my previous letter, such Chanukah Menorahs have been kindled in the Nation's capi-tal (in Lafayette Park, facing the White House), in Manhattan, Albany, Philadelphia, Chicago, and in many other cities of the Union. There has been no opposition to their being placed on public property from non-Jewish quarters. Regrettably, there have been some Jews who did raise objections in several places out of fear that kindling a Menorah on public property, would call attention to the fact that there are Jews living in that city; Jews who would apparently be willing to forgo the claim that the public place belongs also to them, as part of the public.
I also pointed out that in Washington. D.C. the President personally participated in the cere-mony, that in New York City the Attorney General of the State of New York personally participated in the ceremony, and elsewhere public officials and dignitaries were on hand at this public event. There is no need for any stronger evidence that the Chanukah Menorah-with its universal message, which is especially akin to the spirit of liberty and independence of this nation - has won a place not only in Jewish life, but also in the life of the American people.
In light of the above, when a Jewish community in the U.S.A. publicly raises objections to placing a Chanukah Menorah in a public place-on whatever grounds, and however well intentioned-it is thereby jeopardizing the Jewish position in general. It is also undermining its own position in the long run, as mentioned above. With all due respect to the claim that hitherto this policy has resulted in a "steady reduction of all Christological elements in public life," I doubt whether these have been eliminated completely. But granted, for the sake of argument, that this is the case, it would be most exceptional and unnatural in American life, since by and large the American people is Christian.
Some day, someone will raise the question, "Why should Teaneck be different from any other American town, and be hindered by Jews-a minority-from expressing itself in terms of religious symbols?" The answer that Jews, on their part, likewise refrained from placing a Chanukah Menorah in a public place-will hardly satisfy the majority of the Teaneck population.
Now, to come to the essential point; Why is it so important for Jews to have a Chanukah Menorah displayed publicly? The answer is that experience has shown that the Chanukah Menorah displayed publicly during the eight days of Chanukah, has been an inspiration to many, many Jews and evoked in them a spirit of identity with their Jewish people and the Jewish way of life. To many others, it has brought a sense of pride in their Yiddishkeit and the realization that there is no reason really in this free country to hide one's Jewishness, as if it were contrary or inimical to American life and culture. On the contrary, it is fully in keeping with the American national slogan "e pluribus unum" and the fact that American culture has been enriched by the thriving ethnic cultures which contributed very much, each in its own way, to American life both materially and spiritually.
Certainly, Jews are not in the proselytizing business. The Chanukah Menorah is not inten-ded to, and can in no way, bring us converts to Judaism. But it can, and does, bring many Jews back to their Jewish roots. I personally know of scores of such Jewish returnees, and I have good reason to believe that in recent years, hundreds, even thousands, of Jews experience a kindling of their inner Jewish spark by the public kindling of the Chanukah Menorah in their particular city and in the Nation's capital, etc., as publicized by the media.
In summary, Jews, either individually or communally, should not create the impression that they are ashamed to show their Jewish-ness, or that they wish to gain their neighbors' respect by covering up their Jewishness. Nor will this attitude insure their rights to which they are entitled, including the privilege of publicly lighting a Chanukah Menorah, a practice which has been sanctioned by precedent and custom, as to become a tradition.
I also must point out that I do not think that a Jewish community can disregard its responsibility to other Jewish communities in regard to an issue of this kind, which cannot remain localized, and must have its impact on other Jewish communities and community relations.
in memory of Yosef Yitzchak ben Shlomo Shneur Zalman (yblc"t)
29 Kislev 5759
Negative mitzva 299: giving misleading advice
By this prohibition we are forbidden to give misleading advice. Rather, we must offer what we consider to be the right guidance. It is contained in the words (Lev. 19:14): "You must not put a stumbling block before the blind." Also included is the prohibition against helping or causing another to commit a transgression.
The mitzva of lighting the Chanuka menora is derived from the menora that stood in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. However, there is one important difference between that menora and the one we light in our homes: the menora in the Holy Temple consisted of seven branches, whereas the Chanuka menora has eight.
In order to understand why, let's put the miracle of Chanuka in historical context:
The miracle of Chanuka took place after an extended period of time in which the menora was not lit. It was impossible to do so, as the Greeks had issued harsh decrees forbidding the Jews to learn Torah and observe its commandments.
When G-d granted the Jewish people the strength to prevail over their enemies, it became necessary to perform an act that would bring an additional measure of light to make up for the deficit the darkness had caused. The Chanuka menora would thus consist of eight lights instead of seven.
This teaches an important point:
Above and beyond the fact that every Jew can transform his home into a "Holy Temple" by lighting the Chanuka menora in commemoration of the ancient miracle, by lighting eight candles he causes an even greater light to shine than existed in the Holy Temple!
In exile, the Jewish people is "weak" and "few in number," while the nations of the world are "strong" and "many." Yet the miracle of Chanuka shows that even in a time of great darkness it is possible to overcome all impediments - even meriting a greater measure of light than existed before.
In the merit of observing the mitzva of the Chanuka menora may we very soon see the "lights of Zion" in the Third and eternal Holy Temple, with the coming of Moshiach.
And he woke up...and behold, it was a dream (Gen. 41:7)
There are two kinds of dreamers: those who know that they are only dreaming but enjoy the dream anyway, and those who do not realize that they are dreaming and mistake it for reality. The first type of person is able to distinguish between truth and falsehood, and realizes that his dream is deceptive. But the second kind cannot make this distinction, and holds his delusion to be true. (From a letter by the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Joseph I. Schneersohn)
And they brought him hurriedly out of the dungeon (Gen: 41:14)
For 12 years Joseph languished in the dungeon without anyone lifting a finger to help him. Yet when the time came for him to be freed, he was brought out "hurriedly," in great haste. One moment he was a lowly prisoner, the next, a free man elegantly attired and brought before the king. From this we learn that when the right time comes for G-d to take us out of exile, He will not wait even a split second longer than necessary. At that precise moment Moshiach will come to redeem us. (Chofetz Chaim)
And Pharaoh said...Can we find such a one as this, a man in whom there is the spirit of G-d? (Gen. 41:38)
Joseph's suggestion that Egypt's grain be stored away for future consumption was surely a good one, but why was Pharaoh so convinced that he possessed "the spirit of G-d"? When relating his dream to Joseph, Pharaoh had deliberately changed certain details very slightly. Yet when Joseph interpreted the dream, he described the events as Pharaoh had really seen them. From this Pharaoh understood that Joseph was no ordinary wise man, and declared him in possession of "the spirit of G-d." (Marganita Dvei Meir)
And he sought to weep, and he entered his room and he wept there...and he restrained himself (Gen. 43:30-31)
The soul "weeps" because it does not want to be imprisoned in a body; it abhors its fleshly confinement and longs to be reunited with G-d. Nonetheless, it "restrains" itself and overcomes its inclination, recognizing that G-d wants the body and soul to work in tandem to observe His mitzvot. (Ohr HaTorah)
Antiochus was determined to enforce his vicious edicts upon the Jews, effectively destroying their attachment to the Torah. He forbade the observance of all religious laws; anyone found with a Torah would be executed; circumcision, kosher food, Shabbat, all vestiges of Judaism were outlawed. Phillip was appointed governor of Judea, and he set out to ruthlessly enforce the king's edicts. He decided to begin his campaign with the arrest of the notable Sage and High Priest, Elazar. Elazar thwarted Phillip's design by choosing martyrdom over submission. Soon after, Chana and her seven sons were arrested.
When the king, who was returning to Antioch, heard about the events which were taking place in Jerusalem, he decided to take an active role in enforcing his decrees. The mother and her sons were bound and brought before the king.
Antiochus tried to convince the eldest boy to abandon the Torah. The youth responded with great confidence, "Why do you bother with this long speech, trying to inflict your abominable religion upon us? We are ready to welcome death for the sake of our holy Torah. Go ahead and kill us!"
The king was furious and ordered the boy's tongue, hands and feet severed and placed in a fire. The soldiers proceeded to torture the boy, forcing his mother and six brothers to watch his excruciating pain. Antiochus was sure that this sight would intimidate his prisoners into unquestioning submission.
Instead, the martyrdom spurred the family to a deep resolve to accept their fate and to sanctify G-d's name. When the second brother was brought to the king, even the members of the king's retinue begged the boy to obey the king. The boy, however, replied, "Do what you will with me. I am no less than my brother in devotion to G-d." The second son's torture was as bitter as his brother's had been. As he died he told the king, "Woe to you, pitiless tyrant! Our souls go to G-d. And when G-d will awaken the dead and His martyred servants, we will live. But you-your soul will dwell in a place of eternal abhorrence!"
To the amazement of all, the third brother unflinchingly suffered the same fate. The fourth brother echoed his brothers' exhortations, and faced his brutal death with firm resolve. Before he was killed, the fifth brother turned to Antiochus and said: "Don't suppose that G-d has handed us over to you to exalt you or because He hates us. It is because He loves us and has granted us this honor. G-d will take His vengeance upon you and your progeny."
The blood-lust of the king was not assuaged, and the sixth brother was brought to the same end as his brothers who proceeded him. His words bespoke his deep faith that G-d would ultimately requite the suffering of His servants.
Throughout this horrible sequence Chana stood by her sons, giving them strength and encouragement. Now, only the youngest child remained to face the king. When they brought the boy, the king offered him gold and silver if he would do his will. The seven-year-old boy displayed the same courage as his brothers and taunted the king to carry out his threats.
The king couldn't believe such words coming from a mere child, and he called for Chana to be brought to him. Chana stood before the murderer of her children and listened to his words. "Woman, have compassion upon this child. Persuade him to do my will so that you will have at least one surviving child and you too will live." She pretended to agree and asked to speak with her son.
When they stood together, Chana kissed the boy, then said, "My son, I carried you in my body for nine months, I nursed you for two years and I have fed you until today. I have taught you to fear G-d and uphold His Torah. See the heaven and the earth, the sea and the land, fire, water, wind and every other creation. Know that they were all created by G-d's word. He created man to serve Him and He will reward man for his deeds. The king knows he is condemned before G-d. He thinks that if he convinces you, G-d will have mercy on him. G-d controls your life's breath and can take your soul whenever He desires. If only I could see the greatness of your glorious place where we would be illuminated with G-d's light and rejoice and exult together."
Chana returned to the king, saying, "I was unable to prevail upon him."
The exasperated king again addressed the child who answered him, "Who are you seeking to overpower with your words and enticements? I laugh at your foolishness. I believe in the Torah and in G-d Whom you blaspheme. You will remain an abomination upon all mankind, loathsome and far from G-d."
The king was enraged. According to the Talmud, Antiochus gave the boy a chance to save himself by bowing down to retrieve his signet ring, but the boy refused. As they removed him, Chana begged to kiss him one last time. As if speaking to all seven children, Chana said, "My children, tell your ancestor Abraham, 'You bound only one son upon an altar, but I bound seven." Then Antiochus ordered that the child be tortured even more than his brothers.
Chana was left surrounded by the mutilated bodies of her sons, a prayer exalting G-d on her lips. Then the distraught woman threw herself from a roof and rested beside her martyred sons.
The Chanuka menora has eight branches as compared to the menora in the Holy Temple which had only seven. Seven represents the natural cycle, i.e., the seven days of the week and the seven-year agricultural cycle, while eight symbolizes higher than nature-the supernatural level of Moshiach.