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Festival of Lights. Holiday of Lights. Miracle of Lights. What can be said about Chanuka when it seems all the stories, all the insights, all the inspirational sermons have already been said?
Little tin menoras with different colored candles - the small, twisted, twenty minute candles, 44 in a box - everyone has their favorite colors, remember? The white, the blue, the pink, maybe, but that off-green - usually not too many of those. The wax oily and smooth and smelling candle-y - how else to describe it? - and reminding you, just a little, of candy.
And 44 - the exact number needed - 1 for the first night plus 2 for the second night, etc., equally 36 and 8 for the shamesh of each night. And woe to us if one should break or crack, as those so often did.
Yes, a little bit of light for Chanuka. But really, is a tin menora with cheap candles less than a potato with eight holes, some shmaltz (fat), maybe skimmed off the thin soup, and threads from the threadbare clothes - lighting the cold darkness, perhaps reflecting the snow, in Siberia or - elsewhere?
Or maybe we have a fancier menora, reflective of craftsmanship, the silversmiths and goldsmiths of the ghettoes - now glistening on Park Avenues and boulevards.
Or maybe we want something more ancient, more "authentic" - though how can Lights be more authentic than Lights? - and we use an oil lamp. Does it remind us of the Temple, then, the golden menora and the high priest and the sacrifices and the sacrifices - redoubled - and the sneaking idolatries. Do we wonder which side of the fence we might have been on?
How many of us associate Chanuka with snow, gloves, sweaters and thick coats? Yet surely the hardships endured for the first Chanuka did not include ice, snow and freezing temperatures. (And "down under" in Australia, it's summer, not to mention Florida where the sun shines year 'round.) Whatever the weather, it reflects the inner truth of Chanuka - a little light pushes away great darkness. And perhaps there's a corollary: a little warmth pushes away great coldness - of the body, the heart and the soul.
Amidst the meteorological and financial oppressions, the candles, the flames, serve as a beacon. In communities around the world, giant menoras are lit - publicizing the miracle. Hundreds and thousands gather - and the miracle grows because at these ceremonies Jews who might otherwise hide or ignore their Jewishness come together with the most observant, equally and alike fascinated by the Lights.
And more, non-Jews look up at the giant menoras in wonder and cheer as each torch or gas lamp is lit, knowing that the Miracle of Lights, the Miracle of the Oil - the tiny, almost overlooked jar - has a message for them as well - a message of tolerance, of recognition of G-d's universal sovereignty, of the power of small acts of goodness and kindness.
What indeed can still be said about Chanuka? Come light the menora, come celebrate the Festival of Lights.
The Torah portion of Vayeishev chronicles the sale of Joseph by his brothers - a sale through which he eventually found himself in Egyptian bondage. The Zohar notes that G-d brought this about in order to implement His decree that the Jews would be exiled in Egypt.
Why did G-d's plan for Joseph to be in Egypt have to be realized in such an objectionable way - to be sold by his own brothers?
Notwithstanding the less than honorable intentions of the brothers in selling Joseph, the entire episode ultimately ended in good. For, as Joseph later said to his brothers, "G-d has sent me ahead of you to insure your survival in the land and keep you alive through a great deliverance." Joseph's sale proved to be for the good when he later became viceroy of Egypt.
Ultimately, G-d brought all this about. Joseph, himself, explained to his brothers, "it is not you who sent me here, but G-d...you meant to do me harm, but G-d made the outcome good." Joseph, therefore, was not angry with his brothers, but acted toward them with kindness and abundant love, repaying the offenders with benevolence.
The children of Joseph and his brothers, the Jewish people, are expected to act with a similar intensity of love for their fellows, even when treated by them as Joseph was treated by his brothers.
This kind of love can come more readily when an individual contemplates a basic tenet of Judaism, that everything is providential; although an individual's evil dealings with another are a result of the perpetrator's free choice to act evilly, nevertheless, as regards the person harmed, this was already decreed from heaven.
Furthermore, since, as explained in the Talmud, all that G-d does is for the good, there is a measure of benefit involved even in the harmful act itself, just as the sale of Joseph ultimately brought about the deliverance of the Jewish people from Egypt, as explained in the Zohar. In addition, when a Jew exhibits selfless love for his fellow he can effectively minimize and sometimes even totally negate any harm done by the other.
By increasing our love for our fellow Jews to the point of loving even the undeserving, without any basis or reason, we can nullify the Exile which is a result of baseless and senseless hatred. For selfless and baseless love counteracts the tragic effects of baseless and senseless hatred. And this in turn will lead to the immediate arrival of Moshiach, speedily in our days.
From The Chassidic Dimension by Rabbi S. B. Wineberg, based on the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, published by Sichos In English.
A Menora Unlocks a Jewish Soul
by Rabbi Avraham Berkowitz
Every year Rabbi Dovid Shvedik, Chief Rabbi of Kaliningrad, Russia, and the Lubavitcher Rebbe's emissary to that city, organizes a large public menora lighting ceremony. It occurred to Rabbi Shvedik that it wasn't enough just to plan a huge public Chanuka event. "Perhaps there are Jews who are elderly or sick who can't attend," he explained. "That's why I decided to take a few youngsters from our local students' club, and make home visits during the festival of Chanuka.
So, armed with menoras, candles, latkas, and care packages of nutritious kosher food, the rabbi and some excited teenagers made rounds throughout Kaliningrad (formerly the city of Koenigsberg, is situation on the Baltic Sea coast, wedged between Lithuania and Poland).
Everywhere they went, people couldn't stop thanking them for the opportunity to light the candles, to taste the latkas, and to feel truly proud to be Jewish.
With just one menora left, the rabbi and his crew were about to head home. As they said goodbye to the elderly woman they'd been visiting, she told Rabbi Shvedik that her downstairs neighbor had broken his leg. "I don't know if he is Jewish, but I am sure that he would like to have such a lively group of visitors to lift his spirits," she encouraged Rabbi Shvedik.
That's how Rabbi Shvedik met Yuri Sukhovolsky. The elderly man was touched that the rabbi would take the time to visit him and offer him food. His face brightened when the young boys sang songs for him. Finally, the rabbi pulled out his last menora.
"Yuri, have you ever seen one of these?"
The elderly man was overcome with emotion. He reached out to touch the little menora, speechless, tears rolling down his cheeks.
"My name is Yakov," he whispered. "I was born in 1922. I grew up in a shtetl called Glubokoye. The Nazis turned our little shtetl into a ghetto. The last time I lit a menora was when I was 14 years old, in a cellar in the ghetto. That was the last Chanuka I celebrated with my family. The Nazis killed my entire family, and almost everyone else from the ghetto.
"Just like in the famous ghetto of Warsaw, our ghetto also had an uprising. I managed to escape because I had secretly hidden a grenade. I used it to blow up some Nazis and then ran away, into the forest."
As Yakov dried his tears, he continued his tale. "I became a partisan and spent the rest of the war doing whatever I could to help save my brethren and destroy the Nazis."
Yakov told Rabbi Shvedik that after the war he met and married a woman named Anna who had also survived the Glubokoye ghetto. "I locked my Jewish life away in the past. We never observed any Jewish holidays or performed any Jewish rituals. We did not raise our children with any Jewish education. I never thought I'd ever see a rabbi here in Kaliningrad. I never thought I'd light a menora again."
Trembling with emotion, Yakov placed the candles in the menora and struck a match. Then he said the blessings in perfect Hebrew! In his youth, Yakov had studied in a Jewish school. He still remembered how to read Hebrew and speaks a perfect Yiddish.
The flames flickered, then began to burn steadily. And within Yakov the dormant spark of his Jewish soul was being fanned into a small flame. A modern-day Chanuka miracle.
Today, Yakov regularly visits the Ohr Avner Chabad day school in Kaliningrad to tell stories of his past. The children always listen attentively, spellbound, for Yakov is a dramatic storyteller.
One last tin menora in the hands of a rabbi who was concerned that every Jew in his city would celebrate the festival of light and hope. One Jewish soul that had been locked in the past but has now returned home to inspire a new generation of Jewish youth. "A great miracle happened there."
Rabbi Berkowitz is the executive director of the Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS. The Jewish Community Center of Kaliningrad is a member of the FJC. The FJC is the largest Jewish organization in the former Soviet Union, providing social, cultural and educational support to 430 member communities throughout 15 countries.
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 Tuesday Dec. 7 - Thursday Dec. 9 at 5:30 p.m., Friday, Dec. 10 at 3:45 p.m., Saturday night, Dec. 11 at 8:00 p.m.; Sunday, Dec. 12 - Tues. Dec. 14 at 5:30 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 latkas and Chanuka gelt. For more info call the Lubavitch Youth Organization at (718) 778-6000. For public menora lightings in your area call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center.
Grand Opening of Museum
The long-awaited Grand Opening of the Jewish Children's Museum will take place on the first night of Chanuka. Located at 792 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, the museum has unique, state-of-the-art, interactive exhibits. A special ceremony dedicating the museum to the memory of Ari Halberstam and a Public Menora lighting will take place at 4:00 p.m. followed by a dinner at 5:00 p.m. by reservation only. For reservations and more info call (718) 467-0600.
20 Kislev, 5708 
...The Greeks made all the oil in the Sanctuary impure. The explanation of this is that the peripheral wisdom became overwhelmingly powerful, as is well known with regard to the sect of Hellenists that existed among the Jewish people at that time.
In our Divine service within our souls, this refers to the intellect of the animal soul, i.e., ordinary mortal intellect, that becomes so overwhelmingly powerful that it defiles the powers of Chabad [the intellectual powers] within the soul. A person cannot comprehend or feel a G-dly matter or idea, although when deliberating about a material matter, he conceives, comprehends, and grasps it thoroughly. Ultimately, however, a single cruse of oil with the seal of the High Priest is found. With this oil, the Menora - and "the lamp of G-d, the soul of man" - is kindled.
On the surface, it is difficult to understand, after such a great descent in which all the oil in one's soul was defiled, with what and who can elevate him from this deep descent. [In reply,] our Sages tell us that the hand of the High Priest is involved.
The High Priest's distinguishing quality is, that as stated in Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Klei HaMikdash 5:7: "His glory and his honor is to sit in the [Beis Ha]Mikdash the entire day. His home shall be in Jerusalem - "complete fear" - and he shall not depart from there." In every person, and particularly, in the High Priest, this represents the essential point of Jewish identity within him, the yechidah of the soul for which no parallel exists within the forces of evil. Therefore it is always entirely intact. It is, however, possible that it will be on the level of sleep before coming to a challenge with regard to faith, as stated in Tanya, ch. 19.
The awakening from sleep before coming to a challenge experienced by every individual comes through connection with the High Priest, i.e., the leader of the thousands of the Jewish people, who "sits in the Holy Temple the entire day and never departs from Jerusalem," i.e., complete fear. He grants all of those who connect with him the cruse of oil from which he can illuminate the lamp of his soul, even though, at the outset, "all the oils were defiled."
These days must be set aside not only for giving thanks - this refers to the power of faith and acknowledgment alone - but also for giving praise (Shabbos 21b), i.e., comprehending and understanding G-dliness: "Know the G-d of your fathers." This concept is manifest through the teachings of Chassidus Chabad. These teachings draw down the light of the inner dimensions of our Torah. It is, however, necessary that they shine within the inner dimensions of our souls.
With wishes for everlasting good in all matters,
20 Kislev, 5708 
...In one of his talks, my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe Shlita, said that drawing close the estranged must be carried out in a manner that elevates them to you and not that you descend (from your level in the observance of the Torah, its mitzvos and prayer) to them.
A connection to the above can be made to the days of Chanuka which are nigh approaching. Although the fundamental dimension of the miracle was the victory in battle, our Sages made the primary commemoration of the miracle dependent on the miracle of the oil.
With regard to oil, we find several opposite characteristics:
It is made by pressing and crushing the olives (Shmos Rabbah, the beginning of Parshas Tetzaveh; see also Menachos 8:4). This alludes to humility.
It permeates through all entities. This reflects its connection to all entities.
Conversely, Oil does not become mixed with other liquids (Shmos Rabbah, loc. cit.) which points to its discreteness.
It rises above all other liquids (Shmos Rabbah, loc. cit.) which indicates elevation.
This same pattern of service should be followed when the time comes to shine light in the court-yards and the public domain until the feet of the Tarmudites disappear. Tarmud shares the same letters as the word moredes , "one who rebels.".
The beginning of one's Divine service must be characterized by kabbalas ol; "my soul will be as dust to all."
Afterwards, one must "love one's neighbor." If he sees that his neighbor is not like oil (i.e., his body does not ascend and become consumed in the light of his soul which is "the lamp of G-d"), he must extend himself and permeate through to him.
He himself does not descend and become intermingled [with undesirable qualities] through this service. On the contrary, he ascends to great heights until ultimately...
He reaches a lofty and elevated rung. For on his own account he is nothing, but with regard to his work, he is the agent of the King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He. Hence, who can compare with him? For a person's agent is comparable to the person himself. And in that vein, our Sages say (Bava Basra 75b): "In the ultimate Future, the righteous will be called in the name of the Holy One, blessed be He."
With wishes for everlasting good in all matters,
Translated by Rabbi E. Touger, published in "I Will Write It In Their Hearts" by Sichos in English
21 Kislev, 5765 - December 4, 2004
Positive Mitzva 59: Blowing the trumpets in the Sanctuary
This mitzva is based on the verse (Num. 10:10) "Also on the day of your gladness... you shall blow with your trumpets" In the Holy Temple while certain sacrifices are offered, we are commanded to sound trumpets. The sound arouses a stir in the hearts of all the people who were present in the Temple. Each one will concentrate and resolve to strengthen his bond of closeness with G-d.Similarly, we are commanded to blow the shofar in times of need and despair, calling for G-d's attention and requesting His help.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
In this week's Torah portion, 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. And it was related to Tamar, saying, 'Behold, your father-in-law is coming up to Timna to shear his flocks'."
The great commentator, Rashi, 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 second 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 one candle, 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!
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 Yonatan Eibshytz)
G-d was with Joseph and he was a successful man (Gen. 39:2)
Joseph was close to G-d when things were good for him, even when he was a "successful man."
(Rabbi Simcha Bunim)
There are some versions of the blessing made for the new month in which we ask, for "lives in which we will have the fear of Heaven and the fear of sin...lives in which we will have the love of Torah and the fear of Heaven." Why do we ask for fear of Heaven twice? Perhaps it is because in between the first and second request for the fear of Heaven we have requested "lives of wealth and honor." When riches and prestige enter the picture, sometimes the original fear of Heaven disappears and we must again ask Him for the fear of Heaven.
(The Chafetz Chaim)
His master saw that the L-rd was with him, and all that he did G-d made prosperous in his hand (Gen. 39:3)
G-d's blessings are dependent on the study of Torah and observance of commandments, 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 Josef, everyone saw that his righteousness and good deeds brought down bountiful blessing and success from Above.
The followers of Rabbi Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezritch, awaited his entrance into the synagogue for the lighting of the Chanuka menora on the first night of Chanuka. For the past few years, Reb Zushe, one of the Maggid's greatest disciples, had been honored with lighting the shamash candle. Reb Zushe would then hand it to the Maggid who lit his menora from it. But Reb Zushe was nowhere to be seen and the chasidim wondered if his absence was the reason the Maggid had not yet lit the menora.
Minutes, then hours ticked by, as the chasidim waited for their Rebbe to emerge. Finally, at about midnight, the Maggid emerged from his room and walked towards the menora. As if to himself, the Maggid said quietly, "Reb Zushe will not be with us tonight. We will light the menora now."
The Maggid honored another of his chasidim with the privilege of kindling the shamash for him, the blessings were chanted and the one, solitary wick was lit. Then all of the holy assemblage joined together in singing the traditional Chanuka hymns.
The next morning, just as the Maggid and his chasidim were finishing the services, Reb Zushe walked in. Weary from traveling, Reb Zushe shuffled over to his customary place and dropped down on the bench. His friends came over and gave him a hearty welcome. One of them reported, "The Rebbe waited a long time for you last night. What happened?"
"After we light the Chanuka menora tonight," promised Reb Zushe, "and with the Rebbe's permission, I will tell you what happened."
All of the chasidim gathered around the Maggid's menora on the second night of Chanuka. After the Maggid lit the menora they eagerly listened to Reb Zushe's story:
"As you all know, immediately after the High Holidays, it is my custom to travel throughout the small villages and hamlets near Mezritch. I go from town to town, speaking with the adults and teaching the children about the wonders of our heritage. I also speak to them about how G-d loves each and every single Jew and that they are all important to Him. I tell them about our Rebbe and explain some of the Rebbe's teachings.
"Each year, I plan my schedule so that I can return to Mezritch in time for Chanuka. Yesterday, I was on my way back to Mezritch when a terrible snowstorm started. I pushed on through the storm, though many times I felt I could not continue. Knowing that I would soon be back in Mezritch near the Rebbe was what kept me going.
"The storm worsened and I soon realized that I would have to stop and rest a bit before continuing, if I wanted to make it to Mezritch at all. And so, I stopped at the home of Yankel in a village not too far from Mezritch. By this time it was already quite late in the afternoon. I pounded and pounded on the door until finally, someone called out, 'Who is it?'
"'It is I, Reb Zushe,' I said loudly.
"Yankel's wife opened the door. She looked absolutely terrified as she bid me inside. I noticed that the children, too, looked frightened.
"The poor woman burst out, 'Yankel left the house early this morning to gather firewood. He promised he would come back early, for even then he saw we were in for a terrible storm. It is late already and still he has not returned,' she wailed.
"For a split second I hesitated. If I went into the forest now, who knew if I would come out alive? But I knew I had no choice. I put on my coat and scarf once again and set out toward the forest.
"I passed a few rows of trees when I saw the upright form of a man covered with snow. Only his face was visible in that white blur. I saw right away that it was Yankel, and I thought for sure that he had frozen to death. But when I came very close, I noticed to my surprise, that he was still breathing. I brushed Yankel off and tried to warm him up.
"Somehow I managed to drag and carry Yankel back to his house where his wife and children greeted us with cries of joy. With my last ounce of strength I deposited Yankel on the bench near the stove and fell to the floor myself. Miraculously, Yankel's wife was able to "thaw" him out. She brought us a bottle of strong vodka which we drank eagerly to warm our insides. At about midnight we felt sufficiently strong enough to stand up and light the Chanuka menora. As we said the prayer, 'who made miracles for our ancestors, in those days at this time," we knew without a doubt that G-d had made a miracle for us now, too.
"As soon as the sun rose in the morning I set out for Mezritch and arrived when you saw me this morning."
Reb Zushe finished his story. The Maggid looked deeply into Reb Zushe's face. "Know, Zushe, that in Heaven they waited-as it were-to light the Divine Chanuka menora until you lit the menora together with Yankel. In the merit of your saving a Jewish soul from death, the Heavens awaited you."
During the eight days of Chanuka, we kindle a total of 36 lights (excluding the "shamash" candles). These lights allude to the first 36 hours of Adam's existence: the eve of Shabbat and Shabbat, and the unique, holy spiritual light that shown during those 36 hours. G-d hid that light, promising to reveal it with the ultimate Redemption.
(Rabbi Eliezer of Germiza, 12th century)