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Devarim Deutronomy

November 29, 2002 - 24 Kislev, 5763

746: Vayeshev

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Dedicated to the memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson N.E.

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  745: Vayishlach747: Miketz  

Potatoes and Oil  |  Living with the Rebbe  |  A Slice of Life  |  What's New
The Rebbe Writes  |  Rambam this week  |  A Word from the Director  |  Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened  |  Moshiach Matters

Potatoes and Oil

by Rabbi Yisrael Rice

I have been asked to explain the inner meaning of many Jewish observances, but eating potato latkes (pancakes) on Chanuka has never been one of them.

After all, what is there not to understand? Take a bite, chew, and swallow. Repeat this several times until you have eaten six latkes too many.

Few have ventured into the deep mystical symbolism of the latke. But let me break with tradition.

I don't want to upset Jews in Idaho, but the operative ingredient in the potato latke is not the potato; it's the oil. (Proof: Israelis eat the sufganiya - a deep fried pastry, also known as a jelly donut.)

To make a long story short, after years of Greek oppression the Jews were miraculously victorious. When we entered our Holy Temple we found that everything was defiled. The services could not be performed until ritually fit materials were procured. One jug of olive oil was still sealed by the High Priest. There was enough oil to light the menora in the Temple for only one day, but a miracle occurred and it lasted for eight days.

So, in addition to lighting the special Chanuka menora for eight days, we indulge in potato latkes dripping in oil.

Why oil? Because oil, specifically olive oil, expresses the secret of Jewish survival. Olive oil is produced by crushing the olive. Even squeezing is not sufficient; this would produce mere olive juice. When the olive is crushed, the substance that floats on top is oil.

Kabalistically, this oil is a symbol of the essence of the Jewish soul. It may not be revealed at all times, but it is always there. This internal spiritual 'oil' fuels the flame of our soul. It is our immutable connection with G-d.

There are times in our lives when the olive is crushed. We are placed under immense pressures from within and without that challenge our Jewish observance. This was the story of Chanuka. A small courageous band of Jews took on the powerful Greek army who wished to obliterate our identity.

This did not make any sense. Compromise would have seemed a more effective route. We were outnumbered by far and had an inferior war apparatus. We could have gone underground with that which offended the Greeks.

What made us think we could pull this off? Nothing! It was not a rational decision.

So often we live our lives without taking into account who we really are. When someone challenges our very existence it forces us to take a serious look at who you are, a what you are at your most essential point.

We often compromise what we do or how we express ourselves. But we can-not compromise or change our essence.

This is the oil; it hides and is almost invisible inside the fruit. But when push comes to shove, when it is broken and crushed, the essence comes out, and it floats on top of all else.

We must always take time to explore and return to our true selves. If we do not, someone else will bring us back by challenging our existence.

Preceding the Chanuka story, the Greeks instituted stifling decrees against Jewish observance. This challenge to our essence called out the core spark of the Jewish people. Present in the depth of every soul, this is known as the "Pintele Yid" - the Essential Jewish Self.

Jewish survival prevailed and we were granted a miracle of oil. The Holy Temple was eventually destroyed, the seven-branched menora is no longer lit. But the Chanuka menora of eight branches continues to illuminate the long exile until we will once again light the menora in the Third Holy Temple.

Now, finish eating that latke before it gets cold!

Living with the Rebbe

This week's Torah portion, Vayeishev, begins, "And Jacob dwelt in the land of his father's sojourning, in the land of Canaan." The Maggid of Mezeritch offers the following explanation on this verse:

"And Jacob dwelt" implies the act of settling in, an active investment of one's energies;

"In the land" alludes to the material realm, to the physical world and its affairs.

In Canaan, the Maggid explained, our Patriarch Jacob involved himself in mundane matters, utilizing simple physical objects in his service of G-d. The Hebrew word for sojourning, megurei, is related to the word agar, to hoard or to store.

Jacob's work in Canaan consisted of collecting and refining the sparks of holiness that were concealed within the physical world and obscured by its gross materiality. Through his service Jacob elevated these sparks and returned them to "his Father" - to G-d.

Divine service of this nature is derived from our acceptance of the yoke of heaven, without consideration for individual understanding.

The Jewish people is called "the Army of G-d." A soldier in the army must obey without question. He does not act at his own discretion, nor does his commander explain his reasoning when issuing an order. A soldier demonstrates pure obedience and acceptance of authority; so must every Jew in his G-dly service.

Jacob left Be'er Sheva for Canaan to begin his work of elevating the sparks of holiness. He understood that he and Esau could not live in close proximity, but he did not question why he was the one who would have to depart, uprooting himself from a life of Torah study and tranquility. Rather, he accepted G-d's command without protest, and acted with joy and enthusiasm.

For Jacob, going to Canaan represented a very great descent, for it required him to abandon the world of Torah study and involve himself in mundane matters in order to elevate them. Yet we see that Jacob's spiritual stature was not damaged by this in the least. On the contrary, by serving G-d with true acceptance of His authority, Jacob experienced a very great ascent, both in the spiritual sense and in the material wealth that he accrued.

From Jacob we can derive a lesson for every Jew: When it comes to serving G-d, it is not necessary to look for grandeous actions and methods. A Jew's task is to properly utilize even the most mundane of physical objects in his Divine service, elevating the hidden sparks of holiness they contain out of a sense of acceptance of the yoke of heaven.

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, vol 1 of the Lubavitcher Rebbe

A Slice of Life

My Father's Maoz Tzur
by Fay Kranz Greene

They say that Chanuka is a children's holiday. And certainly every Jewish child looks forward to lighting the menora, singing the traditional songs, eating latkes and getting Chanuka gelt ( not necessarily in that order.)

As adults we know better. We know that Chanuka has a wellspring of spiritual nuance and significance that can only be truly appreciated by mature, intellectual minds.

Sure... but ask any adult about their memories of Chanuka and you'll find that deep down, the images we carry of this eight day holiday are inevitably linked to our childhood.

Take mine for example. I'm of that nebulous age where I sometimes can't remember my parent's phone number, but ask me the words for "Maoz Tzur" (Rock of Ages) the way my father used to sing it, before he got sick, and I have total recall.

Now my father, he should live and be well, doesn't sing Maoz Tzur the way you and I know it. He sings the original, uncut version which is much longer than the one taught in today's Hebrew schools and sums up nearly 5,000 years of Jewish history.

My father learned this splendid melody from his father who learned it from his father who learned it from the Bluzhiver Rav, a Chasidic leader in Galicia. So we know for sure that it has come down to our family authentically and accurately from Eastern Europe, circa 1850.

My father taught the melody to his children, and it became as beloved to us as it is to him. The highlight of our Chanuka at home growing up in Brooklyn was gathering around the Menora as my father recited the blessings and then joining in as he masterfully sang "his" Maoz Tzur.

My six brothers and one sister are all blessed with good singing voices and the resulting chorus was beautiful indeed.

As the eldest in the family, I was the first to get married and move away from home. That first Chanuka in Detroit, Michigan, I was homesick for my father's Maoz Tzur. My mother, G-d bless her, came up with an idea. She said she would call me on the phone when my father was ready to light the Menora and I would listen in as he and my siblings sang.

And so a tradition was born. Every Chanuka, usually on the fifth night, I would call "home," put on the speaker-phone, and my family and I would listen in as my father, and whichever siblings were there, would sing Maoz Tzur.

As the years went by and there were, thank G-d, grandchildren and great grandchildren spending Chanuka with Zaydie and Bubbie, they too would join in the singing and the chorus continues.

During the last several years, my father's health has sadly declined and this year, when I make that phone call on the fifth night, some things will be the same and some things will have changed.

My father will have to be pushed in his wheel chair to the tall silver menora. A son or grandson will guide his hand as he lights the wick in the oil cylinder and gently prod him as he haltingly recites the blessings.

And then, when the flames have been kindled and are illuminating the room, they will say "Zeide, let's sing Maoz Tzur."

My father will look momentarily perplexed, and then he will furrow his brow in concentration and go back to a time that we know little about. Everyone will watch as he draws out the memory that is imprinted on his sub-conscience and in a low, faltering voice, he will begin to sing.

"Maoz tzur yeshuosi lecha naaeh l'shabeach..." They will let him sing alone for a few moments and then his children and grandchildren and great children will add their voices, softly at first, but growing ever louder. And when the final crescendo dies out and the last melody has been sung, there will be tears in my father's eyes... and he will smile.

Reprinted from The Richmond Jewish News

What's New

World's Largest Menora

Be part of the Chanuka celebrations at the World's Largest Chanuka Menora at Fifth Ave. and 59th St. in New York City. The menora will be lit on Friday, Nov. 29 at 3:38 p.m., Saturday night, Nov. 30 at 8:00 p.m.; Sunday, Dec. 1 - Thursday, Dec. 5 at 5:30 p.m. and Friday, Dec. 6 at 3:38 p.m. On Saturday night, a Chanuka Parade of cars, vans and mobile homes topped with menoras will travel from Lubavitch World Headquarters to the lighting in NYC. On Sunday there will be live music, free latkes and Chanuka gelt. For more info call the Lubavitch Youth Organization at (212) 736-8400. For public menora lightings in your area call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center.


Take a ten-day journey into the world of Torah study this winter at Hadar HaTorah Men's Yeshiva or Machon Chana Women's Yeshiva in exotic Brooklyn, New York. "YeshivaCation," Dec. 19 - 29, offers fascinating classes on Jewish life, Talmud, Kabbalah, Jewish law and Chasidic philosophy. Ancient wisdom for modern minds is explored through lectures, discussions and hands-on workshops. For more information contact Hadar HaTorah at (718) 735-0250 ( or Machon Chana at (718) 735-0030 (

Chanuka Contest

The Chanuka Challenge is an international contest for children under the age of Bar/Bat Mitzva. The Challenge encourages children to light the Chanuka menora, eat latkes, play dreidle, and attend a Chanuka party. 101 great prizes are being raffled off. The contest can be entered at (make sure to visit the Virtual Dreidle House there) or by sending a list of activities performed with parent's signature to: Chanuka Challenge, 332 Kingston Ave., Bklyn., NY, 11213.

The Rebbe Writes

Freely translated

20 Kislev, 5738 (1967)

Greeting and Blessing:

With the bright days of Chanuka approaching, it is time to ponder the significance of Chanuka, for our people as a whole and for the individual, especially in relation to these days...

In general, as has often been emphasized, the purpose of a holiday in Jewish life is not merely to remind us of events that occurred many years and generations ago; but that the holiday and the mitzvos (commandments) connected with the holiday should evoke in us the proper inner and profound response, to the extent of reliving those events anew, as when they first took place, so that it should have an immediate impact on all aspects of the daily conduct, in thought, word and, particularly, deed.

In addition to the general content of all our festivals, all of which bear witness to the fact that G-d directs the destiny of our people with parti-cular Divine Providence to the minutest details, and that "The Guardian of Israel neither sleeps nor slumbers," - each festival has, of course, its special commandments, aspects and teachings.

Chanuka has its distinct mitzva of kindling the Chanuka lights, which demonstrate at once even to the physical eye - seen also by every passer-by outside, even a non-Jew - that the light goes on in the Jewish home even when it is dark and gloomy in the outside world, as emphasized by the fact that the Chanuka Lights have to be kindled after sunset, and "at the outside entrance of his home."

A further point, equally important, is the indication that the light comes on for Jews when they realize that although they are (to quote the prayer V'Al Hanisim) "weak" and "few" in terms of physical dimensions, they are not intimidated by those who are "mighty" and "many" in physical and material resources; and, moreover, have the courage to defy the latter whenever they pose a threat to Judaism, Torah and mitzvos, and do so with extraordinary spiritual fortitude and self-sacrifice derived from "G-d's Torah" and the "Statutes of G-d's Will."

This is how it has been throughout Jewish history - "in those days" and also "at this time." Jews have always been a "small minority among the nations" and are no match for the nations of the world in terms of physical and material power. But in the realm of the spirit it is just the reverse; the spiritual strength of the "voice of Jacob" subdues "the hands of Esau," and eventually "the older shall serve the younger"- Esau helps Jacob carry out his purpose. Furthermore, the victory of the spirit is not limited to the spiritual realm, but brings about a victory also on the battlefield in the ordinary sense, the "deliverance of the mighty into the hands of the weak, and of the many into the hands of the few," with all the consequences resulting from it.

This, then, is one of the teachings of the Chanuka Lights: They tell us that although the situation is that of "after sunset," particularly in the present bleakest darkness of the last days of exile (preceding the coming of Moshiach), a Jew must not permit himself to be overawed by the darkness outside, but must illuminate his home with the light of Torah and mitzvos (symbolized by the Chanuka Lights), and morever, not rest at that, but let the light shine forth "outside," to let the world see that the light of Torah and mitzvos irradiates the Jewish life. And since light inevitably dispels darkness, the effect is sure to be that "all the nations of the earth will see that the Name of G-d is called upon you, and they will be afraid of you" - afraid to do you any harm.

To be sure, it is also necessary to take tan-gible action - exemplified by kindling a physical light, using a wick and oil or the like -; indeed, this is how the mitzva is actually carried out.

But this brings forth immediately the Infinite Light from Above both into the home and "outside" (into the outside world), so that the whole world sees it with such clear perception that the "hands of Esau" not only become impotent to harm the Jewish people, G-d forbid, but will be ready to aid them in every way possible.

Translating the above in terms of the personal everyday life it means that the Jew must not permit himself to be affected by the crass materiality of the mundane world, but, on the contrary, he must become its master and make it subservient to his higher purpose namely, serving G-d in all his affairs, in accordance with the precept, "all your actions (even in mundane affairs) should be for the sake of Heaven" and "know Him (G-d) in all your ways" until the "darkness is transformed into light."

May G-d grant that everyone should exemplify the teachings of the Chanuka Lights in actual practice, and this will hasten the fulfillment of the Divine prophecy that "even if darkness will cover the earth and a thick cloud the nations, but on you will shine forth G-d" and as in those days "they kindled lights in Thy holy courts" we should merit to kindle lights in the Third and Eternal Holy Temple, as it is also written, "And His Tent (the Holy Temple) will be in Shalem (Jerusalem)," with the coming of Moshiach, may he come very soon indeed and redeem us and lead us to our land.

With esteem and with blessings for a bright Chanuka and a bright always,

Rambam this week

24 Kislev, 5763 - November 29, 2002

Positive Mitzva 207: Loving a Convert

This mitzva (commandment) is based on the verse (Deut. 10:19) "Love the convert." A person who has converted to Judaism is regarded highly by the Torah and the Torah gives us this specific commandment, instructing us to love him.

Prohibition 302: It is forbidden to hate one another

This mitzva is based on the verse (Lev. 19:17) "You shall not hate your brother in your heart."

Prohibition 303: It is forbidden to embarrass others

This mitzva is based on the verse (Lev. 19:17) "And not bear sin because of him." We must be careful to never cause another person embarrassment.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

The kindling of the Chanuka lights teaches us a deep and inspiring lesson that serves us well throughout the year.

On the first night of Chanuka we kindle one light, on the second night we kindle two, on the third night three, and so forth, until, on the eighth night of Chanuka, we are kindling a total of eight Chanuka lights.

By kindling the Chanuka lights in ever-increasing numbers we are presented with the profound idea that the light that we bring into the world - through our study of Torah and observance of mitzvot - should be in ever-increasing quantity.

On the first night of Chanuka it was perfectly sufficient and acceptable to light one Chanuka candle. But, on the second night, if we were to light just one we would not be performing the mitzva properly.

Just as this is true with each night of Chanuka, so is it true with every day of our lives. What was sufficient and acceptable in the way of Torah and mitzvot yesterday is not necessarily acceptable today. Today is a new day, which brings its own new energy and G-dly vitality. Our task is to use today's energy appropriately and to its maximum potential.

This year on Chanuka, as we increase our mitzvot observance together with the Chanuka lights, may we merit to celebrate Chanuka in the Third Holy Temple, where we will light the seven-branched menora for all eternity.

Thoughts that Count

And his master saw that G-d was with him, and that G-d made all that he did prosper in his hand (Gen. 39:3)

Blessing and abundance from Above are directly contingent upon one's study of Torah and observance of mitzvot (commandments), as it states, "If you will go in My statutes...I will cause it to rain in the proper time." Nowadays, this cause and effect relationship is often obscured by our transgressions and by the concealment of G-dliness that characterizes the exile. For Joseph, however, there was no such concealment; it was obvious to all that his righteousness and good deeds were responsible for his success in all areas of life.

(Sefer HaMaamarim, 5672)

And Jacob dwelled in the land of his father's sojourn (Gen. 37:1)

Jacob was able to dwell in peace even when forced to contend with Esau's mighty armies. It was not until jealousy and hatred broke out among Joseph's brothers over a seemingly insignificant issue - the coat of many colors - that the period of enslavement of the Jewish people in Egypt began. We learn from this that contention and strife among brothers has the potential to cause far greater damage than even the most powerful outside enemy can inflict.


When she gave birth there were twins... he called his name Peretz, and afterwards his brother...and he called his name Zerach (Gen. 38:27-30)

Peretz is the direct ancestor of King David and Moshiach. The Midrash notes that "Before the first enslaver of Israel (Pharaoh) was born, the ultimate redeemer of Israel (Moshiach, descended from Peretz) was already born." G-d thus brought about the cure before the affliction. The "light of Moshiach" that was created with the birth of Peretz confers upon the Jewish people the strength to "break through" (the meaning of the name "Peretz") all the obstacles that try to impede their service of G-d until Moshiach is revealed.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Parshat Vayeishev, 5751)

Our Sages compare Zerach to the sun and Peretz to the moon. The sun continuously shines in an unchanging manner; thus it symbolizes the stabililty with which the righteous serve G-d. The moon's appearance keeps changing; it continually waxes and wanes. The moon thus symbolizes ba'alei teshuva (penitents), who stray and then return, thereby regaining their spiritual stature. The royal house of David, the very source of Moshiach, is precisely from Peretz (the moon), because Moshiach will bring even the righteous to return to an even higher level of connection with their Divine source.

(Likutei Sichot Vol. XXX)

It Once Happened

Private, W. was with the United States Army as it marched through Europe at the end of World War II. His unit was assigned to a village with the orders to secure the town and search for any hidden Nazis. While there, they were to help the villagers in any way they could.

The private was on patrol one night when he saw a young boy running through a field just outside the village. "Halt or I'll shoot," he shouted. The boy ducked behind a tree. The private waited patiently.

Eventually the boy came out. Figuring that the soldier was no longer nearby, the boy went to a spot near a large tree and started to dig. Private W. waited patiently again, this time until the boy had finished digging and was on the move once more. He stepped out and shouted, "Halt or I'll shoot!" The boy ran but Private W. decided not to shoot. Instead, he began pursuing the furtive figure. He caught up with the boy and tackled him to the ground.

In the scuffle that ensued, the boy dropped an ornate Chanuka menora that he had been holding tightly against his chest. Private W. picked up the menora. The boy tried to grab it back shouting, "Give it to me. It's mine!"

Private W. looked deeply into the frightened youth's eyes and assured him that he was among friends. "I myself am Jewish," he told the youngster.

The boy, who had survived the concentration camp, was mistrustful of all men in uniforms. He had been forced to watch the shooting of his father. He had no idea what had become of his mother.

In the weeks that followed, Private W. took an interest in the young boy's welfare. The boy, David, became closer and closer with the American soldier. Private W.'s heart went out to the boy. He offered to bring David with him to the United States, to New York City where he lived. David accepted and Private W. went through all the necessary paperwork to officially adopted David.

Private W., now Mr. W. and back in the private sector, was active in the New York Jewish community. An acquaintance of his, a curator of the Jewish Museum in New York City, saw the menora. He told David it was very valuable, a relic of European Jewry, and should be shared with the entire Jewish Community. He offered David $50,000 for the menora.

David refused the generous offer, saying the menora had been in his family for over 200 years and that no amount of money would ever make him part with it.

When Chanuka came, David and the Mr. W. lit the menora in the window of their home in New York City. David went to his room to study and Mr. W. stayed in the room with the menora.

The quiet stillness of the house was interrupted by a knock on the door. Mr. W. went to answer the door. A woman speaking with a strong German accent stood before him. She seemed flustered and excused herself for intruding. She had been walking down the street when she looked up and saw the menora in the window.

"We once had a menora just like that in our family," she said in broken English. She had never seen any other like it. Could she come and take a closer look?

Mr. W. invited her in to look at the menora. He said that the menora belonged to his son who could perhaps tell her more about it. Mr. W. called David from his room to tell the woman more about the menora's history.

In the mystic glow of the ancient Chanuka menora, David was reunited with his mother.

Moshiach Matters

Chanuka, being a holiday of eight days, is associated with the Redemption. For, whereas seven alludes to what is timebound, eight is always an allusion to eternity, to what is timeless. In addition, our Sages have said, "Even if all the other festivals will be annulled [in the Messianic Era], Chanuka and Purim will not be annulled." For Chanuka and Purim were given to Israel by the merit of their own deeds.

(Book of Our Heritage)

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