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Every one likes a gift. Getting a present makes us feel special, wanted - acknowledged. And there are all types of gifts - gifts for special occasions like birthdays and weddings; gifts that signify a special relationship - flowers, for instance - or a change in status - a car or computer given to a graduate. Some gifts are a way of apologizing - flowers, again - or saying thank you.
Gifts don't even have to be a surprise. How many times do we say, "Oh, I know what this is." We're still thrilled when we're right. (And hopefully, we're also not disappointed if we're wrong.)
And what about the giver. We all know the old clich้ - it's better to give than to receive. Certainly giving and receiving engender different - though of course related - feelings. But what is the advantage of giving?
To a certain extent, perhaps, it represents an extension of the self. Or a going beyond the selfish. By giving we become bigger than we "really" are. That's pretty ironic, because giving involves a loss, a sacrifice - we have to give up our time, our money, our possessions - in effect, lose them to someone else. But in so doing, we gain more because we enter that person's life, become, in some small way, one with that person.
Of course, there's an obvious analogy here: The G-d-man relationship. G-d gives to us and we give to Him. He gives us life, He gives us blessings, He gives us existence. We give Him our prayers, we give Him our actions, we give Him our time. (And when Moshiach comes - speedily - we will give Him our sacrifices again.)
If the analogy works, it means the G-d-man gift-giving exchange results in a mutual acknowledgment, a mutual recognition, a oneness - a manifestation of the Infinite in the finite. That's the ultimate gift, of course - the gift of Moshiach, when all eyes will see and "the whole world will be filled with the knowledge of the L-rd."
But as long as we're on the subject of gifts, we should take note of a recent phenomenon. The gift bag.
It used to be that wrapping the gift was almost as much fun - and often as much work - as picking out and buying the gift. Remember how many rolls of wrapping paper got wasted because the piece was too short or too big for the gift and another had to be cut? Or the wrapping paper creased in the wrong place, giving it a crumpled, reused look? Snip, snip again. And woe to the wrapper who couldn't cut a straight line - even with a ruler as a guide! Then there's the scotch tape - never masking tape, that was tacky - which naturally curled on the fingers and got stuck on itself. Just when you got a perfect piece from the dispenser - just the right length - it climbed up your finger and had to be twisted off.
Nowadays, people don't worry about gift wrapping gifts as much. Buy a colorful bag (one with a handle), drop in the present and - in-stant delivery and instant satisfaction.
Come to think of it, maybe that too is a metaphor for the times of Moshiach. It used to be, after all, that the inner teachings of the Torah were kept "under wraps." But now, Chassidus is everywhere and you don't have to tear through a lot of packaging to get it. You're only a phone call or a mouse click from a Chabad House.
This week's Torah portion, Miketz, contains an interesting exchange between Pharaoh, King of Egypt, and our Patriarch Jacob. When Joseph brought his elderly father to Pharaoh to introduce him, Pharaoh asked, "How old are you?" Jacob responded: "The years of my travails are 130. The days of the years of my life have been few and hard, and they have not reached those of my ancestors in their journeys."
What an odd answer to Pharaoh's question! Why did Jacob find it necessary to offer all this information, when Pharaoh had only asked him his age? Furthermore, how could he have described his years as being "few"? His lifetime was already longer than the 120 years allotted to mankind after the great Flood of Noah's generation. In fact, Pharaoh had only posed the question because of Jacob's ancient appearance.
In the literal sense, it could certainly be said that Jacob had not reached the years of his ancestors, for Abraham lived till the age of 175, and Isaac until 180. Relatively speaking, Jacob was still young. Yet according to the commentator Rashi, Jacob was speaking qualitatively about his life; in contrast to his forefathers, his years were short and his lifetime was difficult.
From this perspective, since Jacob's years were "hard," fraught as they were with difficulty, they were also "few," for they were not filled with the inner spiritual service he desired. Because his life was hard, Jacob did not reach the inner spiritual fulfillment with which Abraham and Isaac had endowed their years.
Of course, this lack of fulfillment is relative to the unique level which Jacob saw as his potential. Our Sages relate that Jacob's true desire was to live to his fullest capacity, in the perfect goodness and prosperity of the Era of the Redemption. Since this potential was not realized during his lifetime, Jacob considered his life as lacking.
Jacob felt it necessary to communicate this message, both to Pharaoh, and to his descendents. He wanted his children to know that even while they dwelt in "the finest place in the land of Egypt," and were being given "the fat of the land," they should be ever aware that their lives were not complete.
This is particularly relevant to us, the last generation of the exile and the first generation of the Redemption. We must feel that until the Redemption becomes manifest, our lives are lacking. This perception will lead to an increased desire and yearning for the Redemption, and also an increase in our performance of those activities which will bring Moshiach and usher in the Messianic Era.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
by Aliza Seigel
It was Friday afternoon on Chanuka. All of the children on the block, including our own, were yelling, "It's coming, it's coming!" They were referring to the helicopter that was about to land in the field across the street. Rabbi Shmuel Butman, director of the Lubavitch Youth Organization - sponsor of "The World's Largest Menora" in Manhattan - was arriving back in Brooklyn after lighting the menora in Manhattan before Shabbat began. With so little time and so much traffic, a helicopter is the only option.
I focused on the rabbi as he got out of the helicopter and proceeded to hand out little dreidels to all the children who had gathered around him. At that moment I was overtaken by a familiar feeling of excitement as I recalled another Chanuka over 20 years earlier, the first time I saw Lubavitchers when they walked into my Temple and into my life forever.
I remembered how I had stood there staring at these odd-looking people along with the other members of my Temple Youth group wondering to myself, "Who are they?" They sang and danced and filled the room with a joyfulness I had never before experienced. Many years later I was to learn that Chasidim follow the Torah in a truly positive way with a sense of joyfulness instead of treating it as a burden that was put upon them.
Until that very instant I had thought everything Jewish I needed and loved could be found in my Temple. I couldn't have imagined there was another kid who loved their Temple as much as I loved mine. I loved listening to the rabbi reciting the prayers and telling stories. I loved listening to the beautiful sound of the Cantor's voice. I loved being in the junior choir. I had grown up in that Temple where I was nurtured and taught to feel proud to be Jewish. I had thoughts of marrying someone from that Temple and of one day bringing my own children there so they could also grow up feeling proud to be Jewish.
And then came that moment when G-d sent those beautiful Lubavitcher rabbis into my life. Their presence revealed a whole new level of Jewishness that no one at my Temple had ever conveyed to me. During that magical Chanuka evening with those Lubavitchers, a moment occurred when from somewhere deep inside of me I felt this tremendous urge to strengthen my feelings as a Jew.
But sadly in that same moment I realized I had absolutely no idea of how I was supposed to make those kind of feelings a reality in my life. Many new thoughts began to stir inside me, thoughts that were unsettling and yet exciting. Maybe those crazy Lubavitchers knew something I didn't.
One of those Lubavitchers, Rabbi Yoseph Samuels, became friendly with my family. He was in his early twenties and already married with two children. I enjoyed talking with him but I didn't always like what he had to say. During one of our conversations I explained to him how strong my feelings were for Judaism, and how deeply committed I was to being and feeling Jewish. He stunned me by saying that having strong Jewish feelings wasn't something I could pass down to my children. He said a Jew must pass down mitzvot (commandments) such as lighting Shabbat candles and keeping kosher in order for Judaism to exist in the way G-d meant for it to exist. He further explained that it was through these very mitzvot that a Jew would ultimately develop truly strong Jewish feelings, the kind I so desperately craved. As he spoke I realized the concept of mitzvot was alien to me. I felt as if I had been cheated and I didn't even know it. And yet, I wasn't prepared to fully accept these new ideas imparted to me by Rabbi Samuels.
Sometime later, during a phone conversation with Rabbi Samuels, I asked him how he knew for sure that Jews were still supposed to do these mitzvot from the Torah, and how was it he knew the Torah really came from G-d in the first place? He answered me with such confidence, "Leslie, every single Jewish soul was at Mount Sinai when G-d gave the Torah, including yours.
"We stood together as one nation and we promised G-d that not only would we follow the Torah, but our children would always follow it as well. It was an experience that will forever remain deeply embedded in the soul of every Jew. You were there, Leslie. Remember Mount Sinai, and you will begin to understand what I am saying. As long as you continue to remember Mount Sinai and fulfill the promise we made there, your life and the lives of your children will always be on the right path."
I stood there frozen, and except for my tears, there was no movement in my body. The knowledge that I had been there at Mount Sinai was penetrating every pore and overtaking me, almost paralyzing me, and yet somehow allowing a strong sense of euphoric awareness to surface in a slow but steady stream, causing me to be speechless. Rabbi Samuels' words had managed to stir my soul, creating a newfound consciousness in what had been a seemingly semiconscious state of existence for so many years. I held onto that moment for as long as I could, and I hoped that one day this astounding awareness would become so much a part of me that it would last forever.
I continued to watch silently as the helicopter took off, and then I went back into my house as it was time to light my Shabbat candles. As I waited while my daughters lit their candles first, I thanked G-d that I now understood what Rabbi Samuels had said. And more importantly, my children also understood. Because of the influence of Lubavitchers in my life, the lives of my children were thank G-d on the right path. The flames in my daughters' candles would always remind them of the eternal flame that belonged to them, to their children, and to their children's children. As I lit my Shabbat candles I was enveloped by the warmth of the flames that had fostered the strong Jewish feelings I had finally found. I stood there smiling, surrounded by the sacred security of Shabbat and a strong sense of awareness that the promise we made at Mount Sinai would live on forever.
Pleased to Meet Me
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5th Chanukah Candle, 5716 
With the impression of the Festival of Lights still fresh in everybody's mind - which, I trust, will have a lasting and practical influence in every-day life throughout the year - I wish to emphasize two or three essential points in connection with Chanukah, which have a timely lesson for all of us.
Chanukah reminds us that even so holy a place as the Holy Temple can be defiled under certain circumstances, though outwardly remaining intact.
Chanukah further teaches us that, in such a case, the cleansing and dedication of the Sanctuary can be attained only through Mesirus-Nefesh, that is, a self-sacrificing determination to resist the forces of darkness, without entering into any calculations whatsoever as to what the odds are in the struggle.
The application of these lessons to our times is clear. Our Sages say that since the destruction of the Holy Temple, G-d's Divine Presence can be felt most in the "four cubits" of Torah learning, that is wherever the Torah is studied, especially in Yeshivoth. But that in itself does not make a Yeshivah immune from defilement any more than the Holy Temple of old. In order to preserve the purity and holiness of a Yeshivah it is necessary that the study of the Torah be conducted in an atmosphere permeated with a fear and love of G-d-something that, nowadays more than ever requires Mesirus Nefesh.
1st Chanukah Candle, 5721 
Peace and Blessing:
...The gathering is taking place in the days of Chanukah, the festival which we celebrate to commemorate the self-sacrificing determination of the Jewish people to resist the efforts of the Greek oppressors to make the Jews forget and abandon the Torah and Mitzvoth (commandments). The self-sacrifice of the Jews and their devotion to the Torah and Mitzvoth brought about the miraculous victory of "the weak over the strong, and the few over the many."
While we live in a country where there is no religious oppression, G-d forbid, there is much that we can and must learn, here and now from the lesson and inspiration of Chanukah of old.
For, unfortunately the position is such that the students of Yeshivoth where they are educated in G-d Torah and in the observance of His Mitzvoth.
Eve of Chanukah, 5732 
Greeting and Blessing:
This year's Annual Dinner significantly takes place on the last night of Chanukah, when all the eight Chanukah lights are kindled.
One of the fundamental teachings of Chanukah in general, and of the eight day of Chanukah ("Zos Chanukah") in particular, is that all things of "light", as described by the words "Ner Mitzvo, v'Torah Or - A Mitzvo (commandment) is a lamp, and Torah is light," should be constantly on the increase. Even when it appears - and it may actually be true - that everything possible to brighten the daily life has been done, it is still necessary to do more the next day. This is what we learn from the Mitzvo of Ner Chanukah. For, although upon lighting one candle on the first night of Chanukah, one has fully complied with the Mitzvo of Ner (lights) Chanukah, it is nevertheless necessary to kindle two candles the following night, and so on, adding one candle each succeeding night.
Moreover, having fully complied with the Mitzvo of the Chanukah lights for seven consecutive days, thus including each of the seven days of the week, each day having its own particular significance - there must not be any slackening of the good work. On the contrary, it is yet necessary to add one more candle on the eighth night of Chanukah.
It is well known that the Yom Tov Chanukah is connected with the dedication ("Chanukah") of the Holy Temple, as we say in the special Chanukah prayer: "... and then Your children came to the oracle of Your House... and kindled lights... and instituted these eight days of Chanukah" etc.
We have already had occasion to emphasize that each and every Jewish home must serve as a "sanctuary," a "home" for the Divine Presence, a bright home, illuminated with the light of the Torah and Mitzvoth.
2 Tevet, 5763 - December 7, 2002
Positive Mitzva 73: Confessing a sin
Leviticus 5:5 "And he shall confess that he has sinned"
This Positive Mitzva requires us to actually state and say what we have done wrong. This is the main step of doing Teshuvah.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
An important part of most Jewish holidays is the holiday meal, a time when it is a mitzva (com-mandment) to eat and drink. Chanuka, however, is primarily celebrated by saying special prayers and lighting the Chanuka menora. This is how we commemorate the miraculous victory of the small Jewish army overpowering the mighty Greek war machine and the jar of pure oil miraculously keeping the Temple candleabra lit for eight days.
Our Chanuka observances are more "spiritual" because the victory of Chanuka was a victory of the spirit. The Greeks wanted to make the Jewish people forget the Torah and transgress the Divine commandments. Thus, it is fitting to celebrate the holiday with less emphasis on mundane food and more emphasis on spiritual activities.
The difference between other holidays and Chanuka can be better understood by comparing water, bread, and wine, foods served at holiday meals with oil, which is used for the Chanuka lights.
Water, bread, wine and oil are all metaphors for the Torah. Water and bread are the staples of our everyday existence. In contrast, wine is not a daily necessity, it is used to contribute an element of pleasure to our existence. Oil is not required for our day-to-day existence and is never served as a food in its own right. Rather, it is used in minute quantities to add flavor to other foods. Thus, it too, is associated with the quality of pleasure.
Water and bread are metaphors for the concepts of Torah that are necessary in order to know how to observe the mitzvot properly. Like bread and water, this knowledge is necessary for our very existence.
In contrast, wine and oil are metaphors for the inner dimensions of Torah (such as Chasidism), for like these two substances, the study of the inner dimension of the Torah adds pleasure and vitality to our observance of the Torah and mitzvot.
Taking this a step further, there is a difference between oil and wine. Wine is drunk as a beverage in its own right, while oil it not. In regard to the symbolic meaning of the two, wine refers to those dimensions of the Torah's secrets that can be perceived by a sensitive eye. In contrast, oil refers to the deepest secrets of the Torah, those that transcend revelation. And Chanuka is associated with these deepest levels of Torah.
"Suddenly, seven fat, handsome cows emerged from the Nile... Then, just as suddenly, seven other cows emerged after them, very badly formed and emaciated." (Gen. 41:18-19)
Pharoah's dream, in which he dreamt of two opposites, is like the exile. In exile we are faced with opposites all the time. One minute we pursue eternal, spiritual goals and the next minute we want things that are mundane and transitory. When the Redemption comes we will no longer feel this dichotomy. We will see how the purpose of everything in the world is purely for holiness and G-dliness.
And he asked them after their welfare (Gen. 43:27)
Some people only show an interest in their fellow man until they assume a position of power, whereupon it becomes beneath them to inquire about another. Joseph, on the other hand, despite being second in command over all of Egypt, approached his fellow man with the same humility as before his ascent to power.
If I lose, I lose. (Gen. 43:14)
Jacob was afraid that he would lose yet another son when his sons brought Benjamin to Egypt. "I lose" the first time was for Joseph and Shimon who were still there, and the second "I lose" was for Benjamin. Jacob was also referring to the exiles of the Jewish people. "I lose" the first time is for the first Holy Temple that was destroyed, the second "I lose" is for the second Holy Temple that was destroyed. After the Redemption, G-d will give us a third Holy Temple that will never be destroyed.
Chanuka - The superiority of the "shamash"
The "shamash" candle, the one which is used to light all the others, is not part of the mitzva itself. Yet it is precisely this candle which is placed, by Jewish custom, above all the others in a position of honor. We learn from this that a person who lights the "candle" of another Jew, who shares his enthusiasm and love of Judaism with another until he, too, is touched and "ignited," elevates his own spirituality as well.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
Once, after the long and joyous prayers of Rosh Hashana, Reb Yehuda Tzvi made a mysterious comment to his Chasidim: "During the lighting of the fifth Chanuka candle, if you will remind me at that moment, I will prepare a banquet for everyone!"
The Chasidim looked at their Rebbe and thought to themselves, "What is the connection between Rosh Hashana and Chanuka?" Others wondered, "Why a banquet on the fifth night? Why not every night!?"
The fifth night of Chanuka came and the Chasidim reminded their Rebbe of his promise. He immediately ordered a banquet prepared for all the guests. After many l'chaims someone stood up courageously and asked, "Rebbe, what is the occasion of the banquet?"
Rabbi Yehuda Tzvi explained, "I saw during the sacred prayers of Rosh Hashana that a tzadik (a righteous person) of our generation would be appointed one of the judges of the heavenly court. I knew there were three possibilities. Either myself, the Rebbe of Butzchatch or Rebbe Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov. I prayed with all my heart to the Creator that I wasn't worthy to be a judge of the heavenly court. It wasn't clear to me what the heavenly decision would be until this moment. For as you all know Chanuka is the final seal of whatever happened on Rosh Hashana. Now I know that I wasn't chosen. That is why I have made this banquet."
Soon thereafter the news spread that the Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov had been chosen to be a judge of the heavenly court.
Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov was on his way to visit his Rebbe, the Chozeh (Seer) of Lublin. During the journey he began to wonder from which of the Twelve Tribes he descended.
"Why is it," he thought to himself, "that as soon as Chanuka nears, I always experience a special spiritual delight? I cannot be descended from the Hasmoneans, for I am not of the priestly family. So where does this special feeling come from?"
Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech decided that when he was in Lublin, he would ask his Rebbe. Upon arriving at the Chozeh's court, before he even managed to say a word, the Chozeh said: "You are descended from the Tribe of Yissachar. As to why you experience what you do on Chanuka, it is because in the time of the Holy Temple you were a member of the Rabbinical Court of the Hasmoneans" for the Tribe of Yissachar traditionally supplied the scholars who manned the Rabbinal Court in Temple times.
That is why Reb Tzvi Elemelech entitled his learned book on the festivals, Bnei Yissachar - the Sons of Yissachar.
In the household of Reb David of Tolna, the lighting of the Chanuka menora was a major event. The menora itself was of gold, and altogether an intricate piece of artistic craftsmanship. His Chasidim would assemble in his house and the air was soon filled with beautiful melodies.
On the first night of Chanuka one year, when Reb David was ready to kindle the menora, he turned to one of his Chasidim and said, "You wife is short, isn't she? When you want to speak to her, what do you do? Do you bend over towards her, or does she raise herself up to your height?"
Without waiting for an answer, Reb David recited the blessings and kindled the menora. The Chasid was as baffled as everyone else present.
At the time, Reb David's great-nephew, Reb Mordechai Dov of Hornisteipl, was staying with Reb David. When he saw how puzzled the Chasidim were, he said: "I will explain to you what my saintly great-uncle said.
"As you know, the Talmud states, 'The Divine Presence has never descended lower than ten handbreadths (tefachim) from the ground.' An exception to this rule is the menora on Chanuka, whose place is ideally required to be less than ten handbreadths from the ground. The Divine Presence on this occasion does descend lower than ten. And in Kabalistic writings it is written that this is the mystical concept that lies at the root of the Talmudic dictum: 'If your wife is short, bend over and whisper to her.' This was what my uncle wanted to make mention of."
The next evening at the time of lighting the Chanuka menora, Reb David again made some puzzling comment to one of his Chasidim. Immediately afterward, though he had not been told of the previous night's explanation by his nephew, he turned to his nephew and said; "This time you will not perceive as you did yesterday!"
The letters on the dreidel or s'vivon (Chanuka top) used outside of the Land of Israel are nun, gimmel, hei, shin, standing for "A great miracle happened there." In the Torah portion Vayigash, that is generally read in close proximity to Chanuka, we find that Jacob "sent Judah before him... to Goshen." The word "to Goshen-Goshena" is comprised of the same letters found on the dreidel. The numerical value of these letters is 358. This is the same numerical value as the word "Moshiach" (Messiah), who will be a descendant of Judah.