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It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
by Rabbi Yisroel Rubin
Listen to the Chanuka lights, the Previous Rebbe used to say, for each one has its own story to tell.
On the first night of Chanuka, all eight candle holders are ready. But we light only one, leaving the rest empty.
The next night we light two candles, and eventually we light all eight. But on the first night, we light only one.
"A mitzva is compared to a candle and the Torah is light." In keeping with the above, we should aspire to increase our involvement in Judaism. If we did one good deed yesterday, let us try to increase and do more today. One step at a time, one day at a time.
At Creation, G-d made the "two great lights," the sun and the moon. The sun is constant; every day the same fiery ball appears in the sky. But the moon is always going through changes; one day it is full, then it wanes, getting smaller and smaller. Yet even after it seems to have completely disappeared, it renews itself, and grows again.
In the beginning, G-d said, "Let there be light." This reference is not to physical light. This initial statement is rather the mandate of all of Creation. The ultimate goal and purpose of creation is that the Divine Light shine throughout the world, transforming everything, even darkness itself, so that it too, will shine.
There is a Talmudic statement: "We are day workers." This means more than quitting at sundown. Metaphorically, our task is to spread light rather than to exhaust our energies in taking on the darkness directly and battling it.
Evil and darkness cannot be swept out with a broom. By creating more light, the darkness fades away.
Seeing the Light: Entering a dark room, the man was overwhelmed.
"Don't worry," said his friend. "The darkness hits only at first. Soon your eyes will grow accustomed, and you will hardly notice the darkness."
"My friend," replied the man, "that is the problem. Judaism teaches us to distinguish between light and dark. But by becoming accustomed to the situation, we begin to think of the darkness as light!"
Laser Power: Some people worry that Jewish law "restricts" and stifles their religious inspiration.
On the contrary, the Torah's confines enhance our light, for without any restriction, our initial inspiration can become diffused and dissipate. Like the concentrated laser beam, the Torah's focus restricts the light from going all over the place, intensifying it into a most powerful beam.
We light Shabbat candles before dark, inside our home. By contrast, Chanuka candles are lit only after dark, at the window facing out to the street.
Shabbat candles bring light with-in, but the Chanuka lights go further, also combating the darkness outside.
The Baal Shem Tov was very fond of light. He said: "The Hebrew word for light is 'ohr'-the numerical equivalent of 'raz' (inner secret.) Knowing the inner Torah secrets helps illuminate a person's world."
Although commemorating the rekindling of the Temple's menora which had only seven branches, our Chanuka menora has eight lights.
"Eight" represents the infinite and supernatural, in contrast to the finite and natural. Symbolically, "seven" is associated with the natural world, created in six days and completed with G-d's rest on the seventh, Shabbat.
The seven-lamp menora illuminated the natural world, but Chanuka goes even further. It is a foretaste and reflection of the era of Moshiach, a higher level that is beyond our worldly limitations.
At the end of the long dark night of exile, right before day, we are tempted to fall asleep. We must therefore strengthen ourselves to be awake and aware for the approach of daybreak of Redemption.
Rabbi Rubin is the director of Chabad of the Capital District, Albany, New York.
Towards the end of this week's Torah portion, Mikeitz, Joseph's brothers return to Egypt and are invited into Joseph's royal abode. Joseph commands his steward to prepare a special meal for the guests: "Slaughter an animal and make ready..."
The Talmud explains that when Joseph said "slaughter an animal and make ready" it meant that the meat should be slaughtered and prepared according to the kosher laws. In other words, Joseph was ordering an obviously kosher meal for his brothers.
The fact that the Torah goes out of its way to make the point that the meal was kosher is significant, as this is not the first time a meal is mentioned in the Torah. Abraham made a celebration on the day Isaac was weaned: "And Abraham made a great feast on the day the child was weaned." Similarly, "And Jacob offered a sacrifice upon the mountain, and summoned his brothers to eat bread," and there are many other examples. Yet in none of these other instances does the Torah emphasize that the meal was kosher.
The reason it does so here is two-fold: to emphasize how Joseph behaved toward his brothers and to teach us how to behave toward guests. To explain in more detail:
On the one hand, Joseph made believe he didn't know his brothers and spoke harshly to them. This was done to determine if they really regretted having sold him. On the other hand, Joseph kept dropping hints as to his own identity, so that his brothers would believe him when he revealed his secret.
To illustrate: When Joseph had Shimon detained, it was only "before their [the brothers'] eyes." As Rashi notes, "As soon as they left, Joseph took him out of prison and gave him food and drink." Surely later, Shimon told his brothers that he had been freed by Joseph. And that Shimon had been wined and dined by him suggested that Joseph was no stranger.
Later, at the banquet, Joseph continued to deliberately act in a manner that would arouse suspicion, seating the brothers in the correct order of their ages, till "they marveled at one another."
Interpreted in this light, when Joseph said "And slaughter an animal and make ready," his intention was to convey that he was aware of the laws of kashrut. This was yet another hint designed to make it easier for his brothers to accept the truth.
This story also contains a lesson in how a Jew should observe the mitzva of hospitality: Although Joseph was not sure that his brothers would even partake of the meal, he nonetheless spared no effort or expense. A host must always try to accommodate his guests in every way, even if it involves a substantial investment. Indeed, demonstrating extra love for our fellow Jew will nullify the reason for the exile, and will bring about the Final Redemption with Moshiach.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot, vol. 35 pg. 181
The experience of Mike Neulander as written by Debra B. Darvick
Dog tags. When you get right down to it, the military's dog tag classification forced me to reclaim my Judaism. In the fall of 1990 things were heating up in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. I'd been an Army Captain and a helicopter maintenance test pilot for a decade and received notice that I'd be transferred to the First Cavalry Division which was on alert for the Gulf War. Consequently, I also caught wind of the Department of Defense "dog tag dilemma" vis a vis Jewish personnel.
Then as now, Jews were forbidden by Saudi law to enter the country. But our Department of Defense flat out told the King of Saudi Arabia, "We have Jews in our military. They've trained with their units and they're going. Blink and look the other way." With Kuwait occupied and the Iraqis at his border, King Fah"d did the practical thing and blinked. We shipped out, but there was still the issue of the dog tag classification.
Normally, the dog tags of Jewish servicemen are imprinted with the word "Jewish." But the Department of Defense, fearing that maintaining this customary marking for Jewish soldiers would put them at further risk should they be captured on Iraqi soil, substituted the classification "Protestant-B" on the tags, "B" being a secret code for Jew. I didn't like the whole idea of reclassifying Jews as Protestant anything and decided to leave my dog tag alone. I figured if I were captured, it was in G-d's hands. Changing my tags was tantamount to denying my religion and I couldn't swallow that. In September 1990 I went off to defend a country I was prohibited from entering. The "Jewish" classification on my dog tag remained, clear and unmistakable as the American star painted on the hood of every Army truck.
A few days after my arrival, the Baptist battalion chaplain approached me. "I just got a secret message through channels," he said. "There's going to be a Jewish gathering. Simkatoro or something like that. You want to go?"
"Simkatoro" turned out to be Simchat Torah, a holiday that hadn't registered on my religious radar screen in eons. But it registered then and there. Services were held in absolute secrecy in a windowless room in a cinderblock building in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Rabbi Romer, the chaplain who helped keep us together during the war, led a swift and simple service. We couldn't risk singing or dancing, but the rabbi had managed to smuggle in a bottle of Manischewitz. Normally I can't stand the stuff, but that night the wine tasted of Shabbat and family and seders long gone. My soul was warmed by the alcohol and by the memories swirling around me and my fellow soldiers.
Soon after that service, things began coming to a head; the next time I was able to do anything remotely Jewish was Chanuka. Maybe it was coincidence, or maybe it was G-d's hand that placed a Jewish Colonel in charge of our Division's intelligence unit. Colonel Schneider's presence enabled him to get messages of Jewish gatherings to us immediately. When notice of the Chanuka party was decoded, we knew about it right away.
The first thing we saw when we entered the tent were care packages from the States, cookies, latkes, sour cream and applesauce, and cans and cans of gefilte fish. The wind was blowing dry across the tent but inside there was this incredible feeling of celebration. As Rabbi Romer talked about the theme of Chanuka and the rag tag bunch of Macabee soldiers fighting off Jewry's oppressors thousands of years ago, it wasn't hard to make the connection to what lay ahead of us. There in the middle of the desert, we felt like we were the Macabees ourselves. If we had to go down, we were going to go down fighting.
We blessed the candles acknowledging the King of the Universe Who commanded us to kindle the Chanuka lights. We said the second prayer praising G-d for the miracles He performed "in those days and now." And since it was the first night of Chanuka, we also sang the third blessing, the "Shehechiyanu," thanking G-d for keeping us in life and for enabling us to reach this season.
We knew war was imminent. All week we'd received reports of mass destruction, projections of the chemical weapons likely to be unleashed. Intelligence estimates put the first rounds of casualties at 12,500 soldiers. I heard those numbers and thought, "That's my entire division."
I sat back in my chair. There we were in the desert about to go to war, singing songs of praise to G-d Who had saved my ancestors in battle. The feeling of unity was as pervasive as our apprehension, as real as the sand that found its way into everything from our socks to our toothbrushes. I felt more Jewish there on that lonely Saudi plain, our tanks and guns at the ready, than I'd ever felt with talit, prayer book and yarmulke in shul.
That Chanuka in the desert solidified for me the urge to reconnect with my Judaism. I felt religion welling up inside of me. Any soldier will tell you there are no atheists in a foxhole and I know a good deal of my feelings were tied to the looming war and my desire to get with G-d before the unknown descended in the cloud of battle. It sounds corny but as we downed the latkes and cookies and wiped the last of the applesauce from our plates, everyone grew quiet, keenly aware of the link with history, thinking of what we were about to do and what had been done by soldiers like us so long ago.
The trooper beside me stared ahead at nothing, absent-mindedly fingering his dog tag.
"How'd you classify?" I asked, nodding to the tag. Silently he withdrew the metal rectangle and its beaded chain from beneath his shirt and held it out for me to read. Like mine, his read "Jewish."
Somewhere in a military supply depot I'm sure there are boxes and boxes of dog tags, still in their wrappers, all marked Protestant "B."
Ms. Darvick is a freelance writer from Birmingham, MI. This story is an excerpt from her book in progress: A Jewish Life: Fifty-Two Stories of Joy, Meaning, and Connection. To learn more go to www.jewishstories.com. Mr. Neulander is now a Judaica silversmith in Newport News, VA.
From Union Square in S. Francisco to Union Square in New York City and all points in between, across Europe, South America, the former C.I.S. and beyond, and in over 200 locations in Israel, Chabad-Lubavitch Centers are lighting public menoras and the spark of Judaism within Jews world-wide. Throughout the eight days of Chanuka, public menora lightings, giant "Dreidle Houses," fun-filled Chanuka parties and extravaganzas, and free menora kits on college campuses kindle Jewish pride and remind us that miracles happen today, just like in the days of the Macabees. To find out about a Chanuka activity near you, call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center.
3rd day of Chanukah, 5719 
I received your letter of December 4th with the enclosure, for which receipt is enclosed. I was pleased to read in your letter that you had a pleasant vacation in Florida.
As we are at present celebrating Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, which are kindled in increasing numbers every night of Chanukah, symbolizing the growing illumination of the Light of the Torah and Mitzvos, may these auspicious days bring increased light and happiness in your life.
In the light of the above, I trust that your daily routine will not remain "quite content," as you write, but will be improving daily in all matters which we discussed when you were here.
4th of Teveth, 5722 
I received your letter of December 4th, in which you write, all too skimpily, about the Yud Tes [19th of] Kislev Farbrengen [gathering]. I was glad to receive indirect reports, however, that it was a considerable success, and that it was largely due to your efforts, not only in the preparation for it, but also as the Chairman of the affair.
Inasmuch as you wrote your letter during Chanukah, when the lights of Chanukah are kindled in increasing numbers, thus illuminating the home as well as the "outside" in a growing measure, may this be so also in your case. Our Sages say that G-d does not deal despotically with His creatures, and He wants to send His blessings in a growing measure, but at the same time He expects the Jew to provide the channels and vessels to receive His blessings, namely, all matters of Torah and Mitzvos, which He also expects in a growing measure.
I am certain that the last observation is superfluous in your case, since you are aware of it, but I made it as an extra point of encouragement, since there may be some people who like to tease and minimize the importance of the Torah and Mitzvos and the activities in behalf of this cause. That is why the Shulchan Aruch [Code of Jewish Law]begins with the admonition not to be discouraged by the scoffers, who may be particularly stung by the vitality and enthusiasm with which a Jew dedicates himself to the Torah and Mitzvos.
May G-d grant that you will have good news to report in regard to your communal activities as well as your personal affairs, and that you will do so with true joy, and in a growing measure.
Erev Chanukah, 5736 
I duly received your pamphlets through Mr. B. S. Lakein, which I noted with interest. I have requested the office to send you some material on the same subject, which you will receive.
I am confident that you are continuing good work in disseminating all matters of goodness and holiness, Torah and Mitzvos, in a steadily growing measure, in accordance with the principle that all things of holiness should be on the ascendancy. This is particularly pertinent in these days of Chanukah, when we light the candles in growing numbers, reminding us about the need to spread the light of the Torah and Mitzvos in a growing measure from day to day.
This is also very much apropos of the Candle Lighting Campaign, which has taken on such widespread dimensions, and continues to be enthusiastically received and implemented in parts of the world, beginning in the Holy Land and throughout the dispersion. This also adds a psychological factor in that the success of it stimulates even greater ambition to keep spreading it, which is also very much in accord with the saying of our Sages that one Mitzvah leads to another Mitzvah.
Indeed, the lighting of the candles on Erev Shabbos brought into many homes the light of other Mitzvos, and the enthusiasm of the little girls has been reflected also in the parents, including the Mitzvah of Chaloh [separating a piece of dough before baking bread]. No doubt you know that the text of the Berocho [blessing], according to Chabad (Alter Rebbe), is asher kidshonu b'mitzvosov v'tzivonu l'hafrish chaloh [...Who .has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to separate chaloh].
With blessing for Hatzlocho and good tidings in all the above, and wishing you and yours a bright and inspiring Chanukah,
1 Tevet, 5760
Positive mitzva 236: penalty for inflicting injury
By this injunction we are commanded concerning the law of one who wounds his fellow man. It is contained in the words (Ex. 21:18): "If men contend, and one smites the other, etc." The principle is that a person must pay the money equivalent of the harm he has inflicted.
This Tuesday, the fifth of Tevet, Lubavitcher Chasidim will celebrate a victory that occurred only 13 years ago. Although the events happened in our times, they closely echo a similar incident that took place in the days of the Alter Rebbe, the founder of Chabad.
At stake was the ownership of the library of Agudat Chasidei Chabad, which had been established in Russia by the Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, and brought to the United States at great self-sacrifice. The charge leveled was that these books were not being used to "disseminate the wellsprings of Chasidut outward" and did not belong in the library. This allegation was disproved on the fifth of Tevet, when the court issued its emphatic ruling that the library was the communal property of the international Chabad movement. Chabad Chasidim literally danced in the streets when they heard the news. "Didan Natzach! - Victory is Ours!" quickly became the slogan of the day.
Similarly, the Alter Rebbe was imprisoned because of his efforts to teach Chasidut. Indeed, the entire future of Chasidut hung in the balance. The Alter Rebbe's redemption from prison was, in effect, the redemption of Chasidut, and caused a very great increase in the "dissemination of the wellsprings."
So is it in our generation: The victory of the fifth of Tevet came about so that Chasidut can be spread even further throughout the world. As the Rebbe explained in several public addresses at the time, the fact that the victory involved holy Jewish books demonstrates that an increase in Torah study (in a manner which leads to the actual performance of mitzvot) will serve to reveal the ultimate victory of them all: the coming of Moshiach and the Final Redemption, speedily and very soon.
May it happen at once.
Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they brought him hastily out of the dungeon (Gen. 41:14)
As our Sages note, Joseph was freed from prison on Rosh Hashana. Similarly, every Jew possesses an aspect of "Joseph the righteous," an inner core that can never be sullied or tarnished. Unfortunately, for most of the year this essence is "imprisoned" within the body's corporeal nature. But on Rosh Hashana, when a Jew accepts the yoke of G-d's kingship, his inner essence is liberated and revealed. (Der Torah Kval)
And Joseph was the governor over the land, it was he who sold corn to all people of the land (Gen. 42:6)
According to the Midrash, throughout the years of famine, Joseph refused to eat any bread until the end of the day, when the last buyer had received his allotment of food. (Tochen Alilot)
And they did not recognize him (Gen. 42:8)
The Talmud explains (Chagiga 16a) that there are three things that cause a person's eyesight to dim if he looks at them, one of which is a "Nasi," a prince. Concerning a Nasi, the Torah states (Num. 27:20), "And You shall put some of Your greatness upon him." As Joseph was the Nasi and leader of Egypt, his brothers refrained from looking directly at his face, and therefore failed to recognized him. (Sichot Kodesh 5727)
What shall we say to my lord, what shall we speak, or how shall we justify ourselves? (Gen. 44:16)
There are several ways to win an argument. A person can try to convince another with pleasant words; this is "what shall we say." He can resort to insolence and harsh speech; this is "what shall we speak." Or, he can bring the other party to a court of law; this is "how shall we justify ourselves." Judah used all three expressions to show that there was nothing the brothers could do or say to exonerate themselves. (Maora Shel Torah)
For the Chasidim of Rabbi Mordechai of Chernobyl, Chanuka was a special time. Regardless of the distance, thousands would come from all over the country for the privilege of watching the Rebbe kindle the menora.
One year, on the eve of the first night of Chanuka, the Rebbe's shamash announced that there would be a small deviation from tradition. Instead of kindling the Chanuka lights in the menora he had inherited from his saintly father, Rabbi Nachum, the Rebbe would be using a different one. He offered no reason. "All I know is that the Rebbe told me to take it out of storage and get it ready," the shamash said. "I don't know where it is from, only that it is exceptionally beautiful."
That evening, when the sun went down, Rabbi Mordechai strode into the huge synagogue to fulfill the mitzva. Everyone was already waiting in eager anticipation. Thousands of eyes followed the tzadik's every movement.
Indeed, the menora that had been set up was not the Rebbe's usual candelabrum. And although the shamash had described it as "exceptionally beautiful," this was truly an understatement. The Rebbe recited the blessing and lit the wick, then stared into the tiny flame for a long time. It was obvious that the Rebbe's thoughts were far away, even though he was physically present.
A few minutes later the Rebbe shook his head slightly, as if returning to the world around him. Then, without even looking up, he started speaking:
"Many years ago I visited the village of Cherbin," the Rebbe began. "The Chasidim there greeted me very warmly, and I was invited to stay in the home of a certain Reb Meir. This Reb Meir, who had once been a follower of my late father, was the wealthiest man in town. He was a true Chasid in all of his 248 limbs and 365 sinews. His love for the Torah and his desire to perform mitzvot in the most beautiful manner possible knew no bounds.
"Towards the end of my stay in Cherbin Reb Meir led me into his treasury to show me his riches. There, in one corner of the room, was the most extraordinary silver menora I had ever seen. Reb Meir told me that he had paid a fortune for it, and planned on using it the very next Chanuka. I picked it up to admire its workmanship and artistry.
"'Reb Meir,' I said to him suddenly, looking him in the eye. 'Would you give me this menora as a gift?' My question momentarily startled him, and he was silent for a minute. But after considering my request he immediately agreed. 'Yes,' he said. 'I would give all my wealth to the Rebbe.'
"When I got back to Chernobyl I instructed my family to put the menora in storage. When Chanuka arrived I did not ask for it, but continued to use the menora I had inherited from my father. My family was somewhat surprised by this, for why had I brought the other one if I wasn't planning on using it? But as time passed, everyone forgot that the other one even existed.
"This year, however, I decided to change my custom, and now I will tell you why:
"A few days ago, Reb Meir of Cherbin passed away. When he ascended to the heavenly court, it seemed obvious that his rightful place was in Gan Eden [the Garden of Eden]. Thousands of angels testifed to all the good deeds Reb Meir had performed throughout his life. One after the other they described his love of Torah and his exceptional performance of mitzvot.
"Reb Meir was about to pass through the gates of Gan Eden when all of a sudden, an angel without any eyes stood up and cried out, 'I object!' Pandemonium broke out. The blind angel was given permission to speak, and proceeded to tell the story of the silver menora Reb Meir had once purchased at great expense.
"'What you don't know,' the angel explained, 'was that this menora was bought from a poor Jew in Cherbin who was forced to sell it because his wife and children were starving. This menora had been in his family for 13 generations, and was almost as dear to him as his life. For years he refused to sell it. Reb Meir was well aware of the poor man's circumstances. The otherwise generous and charitable Reb Meir had such an intense desire to own the beautiful menora that he deliberately exploited the poor man and offered financial assistance only through the purchase of the menora.'
"The heavenly court decided to review the case. In the end it was ruled that Reb Meir should go to Gan Eden, but not directly. To atone for the anguish he had caused, he would first have to wander around through the celestial spheres accompanied by the blind angel.
"Many years ago, when I visited Reb Meir's house and he showed me the menora, I knew what was going to happen. I took it from him so that when the proper time came, I would be able to help him make amends. Tonight, when I lit the first candle of Chanuka in that menora, it corrected Reb Meir's spiritual defect and allowed him to enter Gan Eden. It also restored the gift of sight to the blind angel..."
During Chanuka, which also means education, a combined total of 36 lights are kindled. This is meant to educate and prepare us for the Ultimate Redemption, when the "hidden light" which was prevalent during the first 36 hours of Adam's creation will again be revealed in its full glory. It was this very light, the hidden light of Torah ("for a mitzva is a lamp and the Torah is light" [Proverbs 6:23]) that the Greeks sought to extinguish. (Rabbi Eliezer of Germiza, 12th century)