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by Rabbi Simon Jacobson
If we look closely at the details of Chanuka - the menora, the history, the number of flames - they can reveal the nature of our soul.
As the sun sets and the shadows of night descend, we kindle the menora creating light in the darkness. Listen carefully to the flames and they will tell you a story, a story that will empower you to live a more profound meaningful life, enabling you to rise up toward challenge and overcome difficulty. Sit near the flames and study them quietly.
"The flame of G-d is the soul of a human being," says the Torah. As flames warm and illuminate their environment, so too you can use your soul to infuse life with warmth and light. Unlike all other physical entities that are drawn earthward, the dancing flames flicker upward defying gravity. Likewise your soul, not satisfied with mere physical comforts, aspires up toward something beyond.
Chanuka is not just about lighting up our own lives. By placing the menora in the window of your home or at your doorpost, you allow the light to radiate into the dark street, illuminating your surroundings. Chanuka reminds us of our ability and responsibility to effect the world around us and prompts us to shine light into the lives of others with daily acts of goodness and kindness. Just as a flame lights another without diminishing itself, so too by sharing yourself you become enhanced rather than diminished. Every day we must increase illumination of ourselves and our environment - each day adding another good deed, lighting an additional flame.
Chanuka tells yet a deeper story, a story that penetrates the darker shadows of our lives. The menora shines a tunnel back through time to the aftermath of a great victory in which a small band of Jews defeated the might of the Greek Empire. In amongst the debris of the desecrated Temple the Maccabees searched ceaselessly until they found a single sealed cruse of oil that miraculously burnt for eight days. When you are defiled, when your inner Temple has been desecrated and there is no oil to be found, you have the power to reach deeper inside and discover light. The soul always remains intact like a "pilot light." When you light your menora under such difficult circumstances, creating light in the darkest moment, that light can never be extinguished. The light that has dealt with challenge, that has transformed pain into growth, is a light that transcends nature and transforms darkness into light.
This power to transform darkness must come from a place beyond the conventional. We therefore light eight candles, the mystical number of transcendence and infinity, one beyond the number seven that represents the natural cycle. In order to pierce darkness with light, you can't just rely on the natural, you need to reach a deeper resource which is the eighth dimension.
These elements of Chanuka - the eight flickering flames, the miracle of the oil, the light shining into the dark street - beckon us to connect to the power of our soul. Our soul rises like a flame toward that which transcends itself, not only repelling darkness as is the nature of all light, but transforming the darkness into light.
Rabbi Jacobson is the author of Toward a Meaningful Life and founder and director of The Meaningful Life Center: www.meaningfullife.com
In the Torah portion of Mikeitz, Joseph orders his servants to hide his goblet in his brother's bags. He then sends a messenger to overtake them on the road. When the brothers learn that they are accused of stealing, they reply, "Far be it ("chalila") from your servants to do such a thing!"
One of the explanations offered by Rashi on the word "chalila," which is generally translated as "G-d forbid" or "heaven forefend," is derived from its root in the word "chulin," meaning profane or derogatory. The word also connotes common, i.e., anything that is not related to holiness. The brother's reply to Joseph's messenger thus not only denied their participation in the theft, but expressed a much deeper concept: that the very idea of their involvement in anything other than the realm of holiness was absurd. In other words, the brothers were on such a high spiritual level that relating to the mundane, physical world was somehow incongruous.
Each one of the Twelve Tribes embodied a different path in the service of G-d. And while not every individual Jew is blessed with all of their unique character attributes, there are certain general aspects of their service that we all share in common. The brothers' declaration of "chalila" thus contains a practical lesson to be applied in our daily lives.
A Jew must know that his entire being - his very essence - is holiness. The Jew and the secular realm are two entirely different worlds. The mundane level of existence does not truly pertain to the Jew, to the point that involvement in the material realm is essentially foreign to him.
This extremely high level is not only something the Jew must feel inwardly, but must also be reflected in all of its external manifestations. The nations of the world should be able to see that, to the Jew, the very notion of "mundane" is just as incongruous as the notion of stealing. Indeed, it is this concept that was proudly articulated by Joseph's brothers to the Egyptian messenger.
Of course, the Torah commands that a Jew work within the framework of the physical world. "Six days shall you labor, and do all your work." But the intention is not that the Jew lower himself to the level of the profane; on the contrary, it implies the exact opposite. A Jew is required to involve himself in the world for the purpose of elevating the material plane of existence to holiness. This demonstrates that all his deeds are for the sake of heaven, and brings sanctity into the world.
Adapted from Volume 15 of Likutei Sichot
Tehilah: Our Answered Prayer
This article originally appeared in McCall's Magazine
My name-Chava-means "mother of all living" in Hebrew. As a little girl, I remember learning from my parents, both deeply religious Jews, that names are very meaningful. Quoting the Jewish sages, they told me that parents are granted a moment of prophecy when they choose their newborn's name.
I took their words to heart. Not surprisingly, children have always made me weak in the knees. The fact that a 1955 bout with polio made me very weak in the knees never deterred me from my dreams of motherhood.
At 15, I remember asking my doctors, "Will I be able to have children?" They explained that polio had no effect on the reproductive system. One doctor found my question amusing. "First, see if you can find a husband!"
By the time I was 30, I was beginning to think he was right. My social life in the Big Apple was active, but my dating life was nearly nonexistent. Then, in 1982, a miracle happened: I met a wonderful man named Michael Levy. We began dating that December, during the Chanuka season.
What a glorious Chanuka that was! We were head over heels in love, learning how many things we had in common: similar religious values, a passion for words and music and, since Michael is blind, hands-on experience with disability. Married in August, we prayed that G-d would grant us our deepest wish: to bring a child into His world.
In November 1984, when doctors informed us that-due to infertility problems unrelated to our disabilities-our chances of having a child were nearly nil, we were engulfed by anguish.
That Chanuka, still stunned by the doctor's verdict, we hardly felt like celebrating. Each night, as I lit the menora and recited the blessing, "...Who created miracles for our ancestors, in days gone by and in our own time," I could barely hold back the tears. Would the miracle we prayed for ever come?
Three months later, I was pregnant. Our jubilation knew no bounds. The doctors groped for scientific explanations, but as far as we were concerned, this was the miracle we had been hoping for.
At the end of my third month, we lost our baby. This emotional rollercoaster ride sent us reeling. We struggled with painful questions-Why did this happen to us? What did we do to deserve this agony? If we were not meant to have children, why would G-d "tease" us with such short-lived joy?-but the answers eluded us. We tried to keep our faith and trust that G-d's love, although hidden, was still with us.
Then in February of 1986, Michael and I learned that I was pregnant again. After months of mourning and attempting to make sense of our loss, I felt that all was right in the world once more. There was a G-d in the universe after all.
My optimism swelled the next day when a man and his three-year-old son passed me on the street and noticed me struggling to get myself and my motorized wheelchair into a taxi. The man brought his son over to me, placed the boy's hand in mine, and told him, "Now, hold on to this lady. I'll be right back." While he proceeded to put my wheelchair into the cab, I marveled at the feel of this child's hand in mine, the look of his lovely face. It was a sign, I remember thinking as I looked at my deformed hand holding his perfect one and noticed how he didn't pull away. This time the little one wouldn't leave me.
The next day, I started staining. My euphoria turned to dread. It took several weeks to discover that I had an ectopic pregnancy: If left unchecked, it could have killed me.
It took several months to recover from our loss, but Michael and I were soon back on the infertility circuit. By the time Chanuka of 1988 rolled around, I was overwhelmed by failure. Adoption became our goal. In mid-February, in need of a break, we decided to spend a few days in Florida. While there, I began to experience symptoms similar to those of my ectopic pregnancy. As we flew home, I said to Michael, "First thing tomorrow, I'm going for a blood test. I can't have this anxiety hanging over my head."
The next morning, I made my way across town to the lab where I'd gone so often. That afternoon, just as I was about to light the Sabbath candles, the phone rang. "Congratulations, Mrs. Levy. You're pregnant!" a cheery voice announced.
Following that extraordinary phone call, Michael and I were too stunned to speak. We sat together and, with tears in our eyes, prayed that this time the Alm-ghty would help us bring a child into His world.
He did. The pregnancy had its rough moments, but G-d did not abandon us. (Neither did our many friends and relatives whose prayers, good deeds and optimism helped us through months of anxiety and anticipation.) On October 17, 1989, our beautiful daughter was born. We named her Tehilah Sarah. Tehilah means many things: praise, a song, a poem to G-d. And the Bible paints a poignant picture of Sarah (a name shared by my two grandmothers), the matriarch who knew the heartbreak of childlessness but lived to build a dynasty.
Today, as I watch our little one blossom, I remember my doctor's dire prediction: "And let's not forget your arms; they're too weak to care for or carry a baby." He was half-right: I can't carry Tehilah, but I can care for her.
When Tehilah was seven months old, I discovered that I can carry her with the help of a baby carrier called Sara's Ride. I sit in my motorized scooter and, once Tehilah is secured on my lap, we roam the streets of New York unaccompanied! At day's end, we often head for Broadway and wait for Michael to emerge from the subway station. When Tehilah spots her Daddy approaching, she gurgles excitedly. Passersby smile at us as we head for home.
People often ask us if Tehilah knows yet that her parents have disabilities. The answer is yes-and no. When she was only seven months old, I discovered that Tehilah's "pick-me-up" plea is never directed to me. And one evening, Tehilah started whimpering while we were watching television. We had no idea what was wrong. Suddenly, our little girl gave me a pleading look, turned back toward Michael and then my way once more. "Michael," I said, "could it be that you're blocking her view?" Michael moved slightly and Tehilah was content once more.
So yes, Tehilah has learned that her parents have disabilities. But she has not learned that, in the eyes of most people, her parents are "different" or even "unfortunate."
Seeing a wheelchair, a Braille book, unfocused eyes or an assymetrical body is commonplace for our little girl. And Michael and I think that makes Tehilah a very fortunate person. As she gets older, she will discover society's misconceptions about disability. But, happily, those who lack Tehilah's enlightened upbringing will encounter a refreshingly bemused response from her. We pray that Tehilah will teach them all that disability need not be an obstacle to successful parenthood.
As Michael and I anticipate Chanuka, we remember past Chanukas. This year as I light the menora for my husband and daughter, I know my eyes will well up once again-this time with tears of thanksgiving. Each night as I recite the blessing, "...Who created miracles for our ancestors, in days gone by and in our own time," I will thank G-d for our miracle. And each night I will add a special prayer: May our Tehilah grow up knowing that, as her name signifies, she is a song, a poem to G-d.
Chava Willig Levy lectures around the world. Her book, Deeper by the Dozen, is soon to be published. She can be contacted at email@example.com
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7th of Teves, 5740 
Greeting and Blessing:
...I take this first opportunity after Chanukah 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 Chanukah, when the Project was announced:
It is significant that the Chanukah Menorah has eight lights, although it reflects the Miracle of the Oil which occurred in connection with the rekindling of the Menorah in the Beis Hamikdosh [Holy Temple], which had only seven lamps. As explained in our sacred sources, there is an inner symbolic significance in the numbers 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 Shabbos. Eight, on the other hand, represents the supra-natural, the extra-ordinary.
Thus, the seven-lamp Menorah, 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 Mitzvos during each and all of the seven days of the week. Chanukah, 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 Beis Hamikdosh was in existence; and the enemy did not aim to destroy the Beis Hamikdosh, nor to put out the Menorah, but "merely" to contaminate them with their own ideas and more.
This extraordinary situation therefore called for an extraordinary response in terms of real Mesiras Nefesh [self-sacrifice]. Hence Chanukah is celebrated for eight days, and the lighting of eight lights, in a manner of increasing them in number and brightness each night of Chanukah until all the eight lights of the Chanukah Menorah shine brightly on the eighth night of Chanukah.
We find the same thing in other aspects of Torah and Jewish life. For example, the dedication of the Mishkon [sanctuary] and Mikdosh [Temple] took eight days because the idea of a House of G-d for the Divine Shechinah (Presence) within the confines of a measured and limited space is most extraordinary, as King Solomon, the builder of the first Beis Hamikdosh expressed it: "Surely, the earth and all the heavens cannot contain You, yet this House will!"...
In all these instances (and others too numerous to mention here) the number eight is not just one more than seven, or an additional 24 hours, but it symbolizes the extraordinary, supra-natural and 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 for 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 eternal strength of Yiddishkeit [Judaism] to overcome all difficulties, and in the wholeness and inviolability of Eretz Yisroel [the Land of Israel] as the eternal inheritance of our people, and of Jerusalem, our Holy City, which belongs to all our Jewish people everywhere, with every Jew having a share in it, 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....
29 Kislev 5762
Positive mitzva 189: remembering the wicked deeds of Amalek
By this injunction we are commanded to remember what Amalek did to us in attacking us unprovoked. It is contained in the Torah's words (Deut. 25:17; 19): "Remember what Amalek did unto you" and "You shall not forget."
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
There are a number of miracles and wonders associated with the holiday of Chanuka. One miracle is that a small, ill-equipped army of Jews managed to overtake the large and well-trained Greek war machine. Another miracle is that, though only enough oil was found in the Holy Temple to kindle the menora for one day, the oil lasted for eight days until more could be prepared.
Other oil was, in fact, available in the Holy Temple. But only one small cruse of oil was found with the seal of the High Priest still intact and undefiled by the enemy.
The first miracle of the victory of the Macabees against the Greeks is commemorated in our prayers during each day of Chanuka. However, the main event for which Chanuka was instituted was the miracle of the cruse of oil which was kindled and lasted for eight days.
When the Talmud defines the essence of the Chanuka festival, the Sages declare that the crucial aspect was the miracle of the oil. It was the miracle of being able to light the menora with pure, holy oil, without any touch of uncleanliness, which gave rise to the Festival of Lights.
The oil was not required for human consumption, nor as a sacrifice on the altar, but for fuel in the menora to be burnt in the process of giving light. It was not required, according to strict letter of Jewish law, to be untouched nor undefiled. And yet, our ancestors deemed it necessary to use only pure oil to rekindle and reconsecrate the menora.
The obvious lesson is that in the realm of the spirit, of Torah and mitzvot, as symbolized by the Chanuka lights, there must be absolute purity and holiness. It is not for the human mind to reason why, and what difference it makes, etc.
To carry the analogy further, in our own personal "Holy Temples"-i.e., every Jewish home and every Jewish person, we must try to make sure that we illuminate our surroundings with the purest, holiest light possible, that which is produced through the study of Torah and the observance of mitzvot.
It came to pass at the end of two years ("shnatayim yamim") (Gen. 41:1)
It often happens that a person reaches the end of his allotted years on earth, only to discover that he was essentially "sleeping" ("shnatayim - related to the word "sheina," "sleep") through all his "yamim"-"days."
(Rabbi Meir of Premishlan)
And Pharaoh said to his servants: Can we find such a one as this, a man in whom there is the spirit of G-d (Gen. 41:38)
Why would Pharaoh think that warehousing grain before an impending famine requires "a man in whom there is the spirit of G-d?" Rather, Pharaoh understood from Joseph's words that he was not merely unusually wise, but spoke with the "spirit of G-d." Accordingly, implementing the storage and distribution of the grain could only be accomplished by such a person. How did Pharaoh come to recognize Joseph's qualities? In relating his dream to Joseph, Pharaoh had deliberately changed certain details. Joseph, however, interpreted the dream according to its true nature, rather than according to Pharaoh's slightly altered account.
(Marganita D'Vei Meir)
And Jacob saw that there was food ("shever") in Egypt (Gen. 42:1)
According to Kabalistic teachings, the world is filled with "holy sparks" that must be redeemed by the Jewish people through Torah and mitzvot. These "sparks" are the result of "shevirat hakeilim" (literally "breaking of the vessels" - the Midrashic account of the building and destruction of primordial worlds prior to this one; shevirat is similar to shever). Jacob, with his prophetic vision, recognized the unusually high number of "sparks" that had fallen to Egypt, which was the reason for the Egyptian exile.
(The Magid of Mezeritch)
And he said to them: You are spies (Gen. 42:9)
Of all the possible accusations he could level against them, why did Joseph accuse his brothers of espionage? Joseph was afraid his brothers would utilize their visit to Egypt to investigate his whereabouts. By accusing them of being spies, he prevented them from asking too many questions. For no one who is accused of espionage is likely to make too many inquiries about a head of state...
(Rabbi Avraham of Pshischa)
During World War II in England, many children were evacuated from the larger cities and sent to the countryside to escape the almost constant bombardment by the Germans. The following is the story of a Jewish boy during the blitzkrieg:
"I was one of the many children who had been relocated because of the bombing. Our cheder (Torah school) was in a big synagogue complex that had only recently been built. Next door to the synagogue was a smaller, older two- story building. The upper floor of the building housed the study hall, where everyone came to pray during the week, except for Shabbat and Yom Tov. On the first floor of the building were our classrooms, and in the basement was a bomb shelter. This is where we went whenever the warning siren went off.
"It was shortly before Chanuka, and we were all looking forward to the holiday. They had cautioned us about the importance of maintaining the blackout, and explained that no light must be visible from the street. It wasn't fair! Just because of the Germans, we wouldn't be allowed to put our menoras by the window. When we lit the candles and made the blessings, we prayed very hard that the Nazis should be defeated just like Antiochus!
"On the fifth night of Chanuka, the boys of the cheder had a party in the synagogue. We were about to light the candles when suddenly, as if to spite us, the air raid siren went off. Automatically we formed a line and filed across the courtyard into the study hall, where another flight of steps led down into the bomb shelter. This time, however, the explosions sounded very close. We could hear bombs falling all around us. We tried to figure out which sections of the neighborhood had likely been hit, and which were the sounds of return fire.
"After reading off all our names from a list to make sure we were all accounted for, our teacher taught us some Chanuka songs. I remember that we sang very loudly, as if the sound of our voices could somehow fight the enemy.
"'And now children,' the teacher then said, 'we will light the menora and continue our party.' It was then that we realized that in all the commotion, the menora and candles had been left behind in the synagogue. We were very upset, but what could we do? The teacher then said that he hoped G-d would accept our good intentions, and consider it as if we had fulfilled the mitzva anyway.
"The other boys accepted this, but I could not. I really wanted to light that menora! I decided to sneak across the courtyard and retrieve the menora and candles. I couldn't ask for permission, because the teacher would surely forbid me to risk my life. But I reminded myself of our Sages' saying, 'The emissary of a mitzva is not harmed,' and slipped outside when no one was looking.
"The whole sky was lit up by searchlights. It was terrifying. Running as fast as I could I made it to the synagogue and grabbed the menora and the candles. But as soon as I opened the door, a bomb hit the building next door!
"My earlier burst of courage had disappeared. Then I asked myself, What would Judah the Maccabee do in such a situation? Surely, he would not have allowed anything to stand in the way of doing a mitzva. I ran across the courtyard like a bolt of lightning - only to see a firebomb land on the roof of the synagogue!
"I stood frozen in place. Should I wait for a civil defense guard to notice the fire, or should I try to do something myself? Maybe they were too busy putting out fires elsewhere. In the meantime, the synagogue could burn down.
"I knew what to do to put out a fire, as we had all been subjected to repeated fire drills. There was no time to lose. I placed the menora and candles on the ground and grabbed a ladder that had been prepared for just such an emergency. Within seconds I was on the roof of the synagogue and could see where the firebomb was blazing away. The area around it was already starting to ignite.
"On every roof was a huge bucket of water with a foot pump and rubber hose. I put the hose in the bucket and started to pump with all my might, spraying water on and around the fire. I kept on spraying until the flames had died down.
"At that moment I looked up and saw a civil defense guard battling a fire on a nearby roof. I was sure that if he spotted me I would get into trouble, so I hastily climbed down the ladder and sprinted away.
"You should have seen the faces of my teacher and fellow students when I burst inside the bomb shelter carrying the menora and candles. It was truly a Chanuka to remember!"
When the Third Holy Temple is built, in the Sanctuary itself the seven-branched menora will be lit each day as commanded in the Torah. In addition, on Chanuka, the eight Chanuka candles will be lit in the courtyard of the Holy Temple. There is an intrinsic connection between the Chanuka lights and the Third Holy Temple. The Third Holy Temple will be an eternal structure, "the Sanctuary of G-d, established by Your hands." Similarly, there is an eternal dimension to the Chanuka candles, as our Sages declared, "The Chanuka lights will never be nullified."