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Chanuka! The Festival of Lights. Most of us learned the story of the Maccabees - how the few overcame the many and the weak vanquished the strong.
Most of us learned the story of the miracle of the oil - the oil that lasted eight days. After defeating the Hellenists, when the Jews entered the Temple to rededicate it, they found one small jar of oil, enough to light the menora for one day. It would take another seven days to obtain new, pure oil. They lit the menora - and the lamps burned for eight days.
Most of us learned the story of Hannah and her seven sons.
And the story of Judith who beheaded Holofernes.
Yes, there are many stories associated with Chanuka, many miracles, many lessons.
But the lights themselves tell a story. Or rather, they have something important to say, a lesson which penetrates the darkness, the daily distractions from holiness. As the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe said, "One must listen to what the lights relate."
One of the laws of Chanuka is: "The candle of Chanuka should be placed by the opening (doorway), close to the outside ..."
The candle: What is the concept of a candle? One takes oil and a wick - physical objects, and a person kindles these physical objects until they catch fire, producing a flame that is visible to the physical eye. This tells us what we accomplish through "a mitzva (commandment) is a candle and Torah is light" (Proverbs 6:23). The "mitzva candle" produces a spiritual flame that will be visible to the physical eye in the times of Moshiach.
Of Chanuka: This alludes to the double concept of dedication and education - the double meaning of the word chinuch, from which Chanuka comes. There must be a dedication and initiation of something new in the celebration and establishment of holiness, just as occurred when the altar and Temple were dedicated - re-dedicated - in those days at this time. It also alludes to education and Torah study: the mitzva of the Chanuka candle teaches those who fulfill the commandment and instructs all within one's "circle of influence." What is this innovative teaching, this new order of Divine service? Simply that, just as we increase the light of Chanuka each night, so too we must continuously increase our learning, increase the light of Torah we bring into the world.
Should be placed: The candles are lit where they are placed. And they are set in place. Let them stand where they are, without moving them or changing their position. Similarly, one's Divine service - one's order of learning Torah, one's schedule of mitzvot - should be fixed, the routine of one's life, installed in one's soul.
By the opening: This fits with the great principle of the Torah, "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18). How should one perform the above mentioned Divine service? In an open way, a way that is seen, that enlightens (a true enlightenment - that of Torah and mitzvot), a way that influences others, those "outside" one's self. Which brings us to ...
Close to the outside: Chanuka, the menora, its message, Judaism itself must be placed near, made available to, all those who, for whatever reason, are "outside" (albeit temporarily) the concepts of Chanuka. This means, those who are yet - momentarily - "outside" Judaism in general.
And may it be the Will of the Source of life, Who with His Light, His Torah, instructs us in our daily lives - may He give His blessings to everyone, in matters internal and spiritual and matters external and public, in the most exemplary fashion.
And may we receive the ultimate blessing, in a way visible to all, the complete Redemption through Moshiach, when the Menora in the Temple will again be lit and send its message - tell its story - to all mankind.
Based on the Rebbe's Chanuka letter of 5743.
The main part of this week's Torah portion, Vayeishev, deals with the jealousy of Jacob's sons towards Joseph which caused them to sell him into slavery. In the midst of this narration, we read how Tamar, Judah's daughter-in-law, was informed that he was about to come to the town of Timna to shear his sheep. In the words of the Torah: "And it was related to Tamar, saying, `behold, your father-in-law is coming up to Timna to shear his flocks'."
The Torah does not detail the nature of a person's coming and going if not absolutely germane to the content of the narrative. Why, then, does the verse specify the ascent in the story of Tamar?
The great sage, Rashi, in an innovative interpretation of the above verse, explains that Timna was a town located on the slopes of a mountain. He states: "You ascend to it from one direction and descend to it from the other."
The expression of ascent, therefore, is pertinent in the story of Tamar. Since Timna was on the mountain-slope, and Tamar was planning to go and meet Judah, she would not know from which direction he was coming unless the direction was mentioned.
A person's spiritual service is like ascending a mountain. A mountain climber cannot stop mid-way on the steep slope, for in that position it is almost impossible to prevent himself from losing his footing and falling. He must climb steadily upward without pause. Similarly, in ascending the "mountain of G-d" (Psalms 24:3) a constant upwards movement is vital, not only for the purpose of going higher, but also to ensure that one does not fall lower. One should not be satisfied with his present spiritual level, for such complacency is the beginning of descent.
The upcoming mitzva of the Chanuka lights lends particular emphasis to this teaching. Every night of Chanuka a new light must be added, for spiritual affairs must always be in ascendancy. If one failed to add an additional light on the fourth night of Chanuka (for example), he has not merely failed to ascend higher on that day - he has slipped down from the previous day's level. Yesterday he lit three candles, an increase from the day before; he fulfilled the mitzva with the extra devotion required; he was on the upswing, in ascendancy. Not so today. His level has fallen. To observe the mitzva today with the same devotion as yesterday, he must increase his commitment!
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Yael Yoffe helping her daughter light Shabbat candles
by Yehudis Cohen
The 3 meter tall Menora stood proud and magnificent in the center of Volgograd. Hundreds of Jews had gathered on this frigid, Russian winter evening to watch Rabbi Zalman Yoffe light the menorah. Much had changed in Volgograd since Rabbi Yoffe and his wife, Yael, had moved to this city on the Volga River as emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. And much had stayed the same.
The changes included the Ohr Avner Chabad day school with 140 students, a kindergarten with 40 children, the JCC of Volgograd that sponsors a soup kitchen, the Chesed club for the elderly, hands-on Jewish educational workshops for kids, adult education for grown-ups, gatherings for teens, seminars for college students, hospital and prison visitations for the lonely or forgotten.
And the hundred-year old synagogue that had been returned to the Jewish community a year ago. True, it is in dire need of repair and restoration. But that the City Council of Volgograd (that had been using it for local government offices) had agree to turn it back over to the Jewish community surely shows that much has changed.
What has stayed the same? In only one place in the Former Soviet Union where members of the Communist party still remain in office: Volgograd.
And the fear. Many of the elderly are still afraid to be attend Jewish functions or appear at public Jewish ceremonies. Many of the middle generation, having been raised without religion, whose only knowledge of Judaism was what was told to them amidst whispers or with fear-filled eyes, simply don't care. But the youth, they are the future. They have always been the future.
Because of everything that has changed and everything that has not changed, it should come as no surprise that when Yael Yoffe looked up at the windows of the building that faced the public Menora, her eyes were drawn to a window on the third floor that had a kindled menora in it.
The apartment building's residents are primarily pensioners of the K.G.B. Yael saw two figures in that window, peering out at the proceedings in the city's center, at the 3 meter tall Chanuka menorah, at the singing and dancing after the Menora lighting ceremony had been completed.
With her eyes and her heart Yael willed them to come down and join in the Chanuka festivities. And then, she looked away, and began speaking with the people who were gathered there, telling them about upcoming concerts and classes and parties and programs.
A few moments later Yael noticed two new faces in the crowd, an elderly woman and a young boy. She greeted them with a smile and introduced herself. "Where do you live?" she asked them.
"Over there," the boy responded, pointing to the K.G.B. pensioners building, "on the third floor," he added.
In the brief minutes between when Yael had seen the figures in the window and when she had greeted them in person at the Menorah, a mini-miracle had taken place. A young, enthusiastic little boy had convinced his grandmother to - at least momentarily - divest herself of years of fear and to overcome her apprehension at being seen in a public place that branded her as a Jew. And the miracle continues, step by tiny step.
"Throughout this past year, the grandmother has availed herself of our 'Chesed' charity organization which distributes food, clothing and household items to the needy. And she attended a concert at the center once," explains Yael.
The grandson, says Yael, attends Shabbat services at the Center periodically.
In a city where approximately 5,000 people identify themselves as Jews (though that numbers continue to grow daily as more and more mini-miracles occur) the accomplishments of the Yoffes is impressive.
According to Anna Melamed, the Yoffe's contribution to Jewish communal life is priceless. Says Anna, "During the last four years, Rabbi and Mrs. Yoffe have succeeded in bringing many people to the center who would otherwise have never been involved in the Jewish community."
But the Yoffes take no credit for all of the accomplishments that have taken place in Volgograd. "It is all because of the blessings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe," says Rabbi Yoffe.
Excitedly, he adds, "We always wondered how it is possible that our efforts here in Volgograd have been crowned with such success, literally miracles. We knew that it is because we are emissaries of the Rebbe. But a month ago we got tangible proof."
Continues Rabbi Yoffe, "A woman came to us and gave us a dollar that the Rebbe had given to her 15 years earlier. She told us that in 1989 she had traveled to New York from Russia to visit relatives. Her relatives took her to the Rebbe on Sunday when the Rebbe distributed dollars to be given to charity and gave people blessings. The Rebbe gave the woman a dollar and then gave her another dollar saying, 'This is for the Jewish community in Volgograd.'
"Remember, this was 1989, right after the fall of Communism. There were no official Jewish communities, not in Volgograd, not anywhere in the Former Soviet Union. Almost all Jewish activities were still being done secretly."
Last year on Chanuka in the center of Volgograd, the light of the Menora shone through the windows of hundreds of K.G.B. pensioners and into the hearts of an elderly, frightened Jewish woman and her young, fearless grandson.
This year on Chanuka may the light of the Menora shine into all of our hearts and make miracles for each one of us.
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, Dec. 19 at 3:38 p.m., Saturday night, Dec. 20 at 8:00 p.m.; Sunday, Dec. 21 - Thursday, Dec. 25 at 5:30 p.m. and Friday, Dec. 26 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.
20th of Kislev, 5725 
Greeting and Blessing:
I received your letter, in which you write about some individuals who are trying to discourage you from the fulfillment of the Mitzvos [commandments] with Hiddur [in a beautiful manner].
Surely, with your background, it is unnecessary to emphasize to you that the reason Jews observe the Mitzvos is because G-d commanded them to do so and not, G-d forbid, to find the approval of other people.
If some difficulties arise, at one time or another, it is necessary to look at them as a challenge and a test of one's devotion and adherence to the Torah and Mitzvos, as the Torah itself forewarns us, "For G-d tests you, to know if you love G-d your G-d, with all your heart and with all your soul." It is only a pity for those who choose to act as the distracting agencies, to make it more difficult for a fellow Jew, whereas this test and agency could just as well be carried out through others, while they could, on the con-trary, serve as an encouragement, instead of a discouragement, for their fellow Jew.
It is surely also unnecessary to remind you that the first of all four parts of the Shul-chan Aruch [Code of Jewish Law] begin with the imperative, "One should not pay atten-tion to the scoffers," indicating that this is a basis for the whole of the Shulchan Aruch.
As we are soon to celebrate the days of Chanukah, it is well to remember that the events of Chanukah emphasize the self-sacrificing devotion of Jews to the Torah and Mitzvos. What they had to contend with in those days at this time was not a prohibition to study Torah in general, or to observe the Mitzvos in general, but to study Torah as G-d's Torah, and to observe the Mitzvos which are specifically beyond human reason (Chukim). This is why the text in v'al hanissim [a special prayer added during Chanukah] says l'hashkichom torosecho ["to make them forget Your Torah"] etc.
It is when the Jews were absolutely determined to adhere to G-d's Torah and Mitzvos at all costs, that the miracle of Chanukah took place. Wishing you an inspiring Chanukah,
Erev Chanukah, 5731 (1970)
Greeting and Blessing:
Thank you very much for your letter of the 16th of Kislev. I was particularly gratified to be informed that you have given instructions to the architect to prepare plans for the new building extension.
This news happily coincides with the special message which I issued at the farbrengen [Chasidic gathering] of Yud Tes [the 19th of the Jewish month of] Kislev to the effect that all those who will begin new building projects this year will benefit from a special contribution from our Yud Tes Kislev Fund, as a token personal participation on my part. No doubt you have already heard about it. As a matter of fact, I immediately received a telegraphic confirmation from Australia that they have started a new building project there. The news of your project is the second. I also received similar good news from Eretz Yisroel [the Land of Israel].
I am pleased to inform you that for your building program in London, the sum of $1000.00 has been earmarked, and it will be made available to you as soon as you will let us know that you have started implementing your construction plans.
May G-d grant that your involvement and inspiration in the activities of Lubavitch, particularly in the area of kosher chinuch [Jewish education], should stand you and all yours, as well as all your coworkers and participants, in good stead in your personal affairs as well. May this be in accordance with the teaching and spirit of Chanukah which we are about to celebrate by kindling the lights in growing numbers from day to day. So may G-d grant you a growing measure of hatzlochah [success] in spreading the light of the Torah and mitzvos , both within the home and outside. Indeed, as the Gemara meaningfully expresses it, the time of lighting the Chanukah candles is when the sun sets indicating that if the sun has set and there is darkness in the environment at large, the Jews is not frightened, but begins to light a candle the first day, and two candles the next, and so on. It is surely unnecessary to elaborate.
May G-d grant that you should have further good news to report on all above, and in the essential aspect, namely, that you and your wife should have much true Yiddish nachas [Jewish pleasure] from all your offspring.
Wishing you and yours a happy and inspiring Chanukah,
28 Kislev, 5764 - December 23, 2003
Positive Mitzva 171: Yearly Giving of the Half Shekel
This mitzva is based on the verse (Ex. 30:12) "Then shall they give every man a ransom for his soul to the L-rd" At the time of the Holy Temple, sacrifices were brought to atone for the entire nation. These sacrifices were considered "general," and the animals used were purchased from a specific account funded by the people. These funds were collected in the form of a half-Shekel per-person each year. G-d commanded every Jew to make this yearly payment. By contributing to this fund, every Jew benefits from the sacrifice presented as a "general" atonement.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
Once again this year, the Lubavitch Youth Organization will be lighting the "World's Largest Menora" on Fifth Avenue and Fifty-Ninth Street near Central Park in Manhattan. The three-story, 4000-pound steel Menora, designed by Yaacov Agam, proudly stands thirty-two-feet high.
Thirty-two feet, or 20 cubits, is the maximum height established by our Sages for a menora. They instituted this maximum height so that people who pass by would be able to lift their eyes naturally and see the Chanuka lights.
The Chanuka lights are a reminder to every Jew that G-d performed two miracles for us over 2,000 years ago in the land of Israel. The first miracle, the more "famous" of the two, was that the oil for the Temple menora lasted not one but eight days until new, pure oil could be procured. The second miracle is, perhaps, just as well known, though not always recognized as a miracle. It is the miracle of the few over the many, the success of the small Jewish army against the great Greek military machine.
When we lift up our eyes, "naturally" to see the lights of the Chanuka menora, let us remember the obvious miracle which the eight-branched candlabra symbolizes. And also, let us not forget the less publicized miracle that G-d wrought for our ancestors, a miracle He performed because of their zealousness for Him.
May we merit this year to light the Menora in the Third Holy Temple with Moshiach, NOW!
They hated him and couldn't speak peaceably with him. (Gen. 37:4)
The main part of every controversy is that the quarrelers don't speak to each other; neither one wants to listen to the other. If people really knew how to speak and listen to one another, they would come to realize that in most cases, there is nothing to fight about.
(Rabbi Yonasan Eibishytz)
His master saw that the L-rd was with him, and all that he did the L-rd made prosperous in his hand. (Gen. 39:3)
G-d's blessings are dependent on the study of Torah and observance of mitzvot, as it says: "If you will walk in My ways...I will give you rain in its season." However, we do not always see the connection between the abundance that we receive from G-d and our actions because we are in exile. But, concerning Joseph, everyone saw that his righteousness and good deeds brought down bountiful blessing and success from Above.
And he refused and said... (Gen. 39:8)
When Potifar's wife attempted to entice Joseph to sin, he first protested with all his strength. Only after doing this did he try to explain the reason for his refusal. This is how each of us must react when we are confronted with the possibility of transgressing. The first thing to do is to cry out, "No! It is forbidden!" Only afterwards may we go into the reasons why.
(The Sfat Emet)
The good news spread throughout town. Rebbe Mordechai of Chernobyl would be visiting soon to celebrate the first days of Chanuka! In addition to the usual excitement that a Chasid feels when he has the chance to see his Rebbe, there were others things to be excited about, as well.
The Rebbe would honor one of his Chasidim with hosting him for the evening tea. At this "tea party," which all of the chasidim would attend, the Rebbe would speak words of Torah that would delight the souls of his Chasidim.
For another, the Rebbe would bless the host at the end of the evening with material and spiritual bounty. Lastly, everyone knew that the 18 gold rubles that the Rebbe "charged" for the honor of hosting him would be distributed to charity. Thus, the host would give charity through the Rebbe's own holy hand.
Itche the Miser went with all of the other Chasidim to greet the Rebbe when he arrived in town. Itche's father had been a prominent businessman. Like his father, Itche was also a Chasid. Unlike his father, Itche's main focus in life was his business, his luxurious home and all of its exquisite furnishings. Also unlike his father, Itche found it hard to part with even a copper for a charitable cause.
So, one can only imagine how Itche felt when the Rebbe arrived, looked straight at him, and suggested, "Itche, would you like to host me for tea?"
Of course, Itche said, "It would be my honor Rebbe." Inwardly, though, Itche panicked. Tea with the Rebbe and all of his Chasidim! Why, they would destroy his home! Then an idea came to him; he would stand at his front door and allow only the Rebbe in. A marvelous plan! Itche was relieved. It would cost him 18 gold rubles but at least his expensive carpets and antiques would remain intact.
Itche was sure his idea would work until the Rebbe said, "Itche, could you please personally transport me from my lodgings to your home?"
Now Itche's mind worked feverishly. If he picked up the Rebbe in his carriage and they drove quickly to Itche's home, they would arrive long before the Chasidim who were traveling on foot and he would still have time to bolt the front door so that no one else could enter. Ahhh, Itche sighed in relief once more.
Finally it was the first night of Chanuka. Itche lit the Chanuka menora with his family. He sat by the Chanuka lights for a little while. He took one last look at his beautiful home and then went to pick up the Rebbe. When Itche arrived, the Rebbe lit the Menora and recited the blessings after which the Chasidim all answered "Amen." Then they began to sing niggunim, wordless soul melodies, as the Rebbe meditated on the light of the small flame. An air of tranquility permeated the room, except in Itche's corner.
Finally, the Rebbe motioned to Itche that they would go now. Itche pressed his coachman to drive as quickly as possible, certain that with G-d's help he could put a fair distance between his carriage and the Chasidim.
But, halfway through the journey, the Rebbe ordered the carriage to stop. He turned to Itche and said, "I didn't realize your house was so far. Such a long journey was not included in my original price. If you want me to come any further you must pay me another 18 gold rubles." With the Chasidim nearly catching up, Itche had no choice but to agree. Eighteen gold rubles was still less than it would cost to replace his precious carpets and furniture!
Within a few moments, they arrived at Itche's home. The Rebbe stared intently at the 15 steps that led up to Itche's front door. "I had no idea that you had so many steps, dear Itche. That was not included in my original price. If you want me to go inside your home, you must pay me 18 gold rubles for each step!"
Itche nearly fainted. Before he had a chance to respond, the Chasidim - who had caught up - accompanied the Rebbe up the stairs and inside.
The scene that unfolded before Itche's eyes was just what he had imagined. He was not able to concentrate on even one holy word that the Rebbe taught about Chanuka. The evening finally came to an end and Itche breathed a sigh of relief. As the Rebbe was about to leave, Itche suddenly remembered to ask the Rebbe to bless his family. Surely this would make up for everything.
Quickly Itche gathered together his children and grandchildren and requested, "Rebbe, please bless my family."
"Bless your family?" the Rebbe looked at Itche in surprise. "I have no blessing for them," he said, and sadly turned away.
Itche felt as if the earth had opened beneath his feet. "Rebbe," Itche cried out, in a voice filled with desperation. The Rebbe looked at Itche long and hard. "In order for me to bless your family, you will have to sign over your entire fortune to me," the Rebbe said seriously.
How could he sign over everything to the Rebbe? He would be penniless! Itche felt like he was drowning. Moments of eternity passed. But then, he looked into the Rebbe's eyes and saw within them compassion. With his last ounce of strength he said, "If that is what I must do, then I will do it." And then he fainted.
In a haze, Itche heard the Rebbe saying, "Mazel tov, Itche, mazel tov!" The Rebbe began to bless Itche and his entire family. "May you and your family know only joy and health and prosperity from now on." For many moments, blessings flowed from the Rebbe's lips, each one greater than the previous one.
"Know, Itche, that you have just fought a great battle with your evil inclination. Until a few moments ago, you did not own your wealth, your evil inclination owned it! When you agreed to give me all of your possessions, I was able to wrest your wealth from your evil inclination. I now return it to you as Chanuka gelt (money). Use it well, dear Itche. Henceforth, use it well."
Itche thanked the Rebbe and began to take hundreds of gold rubles notes from his wallet. But the Rebbe declined. "I only accept 18 gold rubles for tea."
Henceforth, Itche was a changed man and his home was entirely different. Itche generously shared his "Chanuka gelt" throughout the entire year.
As the light of Chanuka spreads throughout the world, we become conscious that the world is G-d's dwelling place, and thereby hasten the coming of the Redemption, when we will dedicate the Third Holy Temple. May this take place in the immediate future.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Chanukah, 5747 - 1987)