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December 10, 2004 - 27 Kislev, 5765

848: Miketz

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

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  847: Vayeshev849: Vayigash  

Emphasizing 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

Emphasizing Oil

Everyone surely recognizes that Chanuka has received a renewed emphasis in our times. While celebrated for hundreds of years - since the times of the Maccabees, obviously - and the subject of many miraculous and inspiring stories over the centuries, the emphasis on the spiritual significance and practical observance of Chanuka - and we're not talking about the gift-giving part - is something relatively new.

Most people have had their "Chanuka-consciousness" raised by the large public menora lighting ceremonies. Hundreds and thousands around the globe gather to participate in local celebrations, celebrities feel honored to be invited, and these celebrations attract the news media (like, well, like moths to a candle).

So, why the sudden emphasis? What's the inner reason our generation has seen a manifold multiplication of "Chanuka-consciousness"?

Well, for starters, Chanuka is the holiday of oil - oil lamps, oil-rich food (latkas, sufganiyot - using oil from olives, associated especially with Israel) and the oil of Torah. Why oil? Because oil penetrates, it gets absorbed into and becomes part of other substances. Oil never remains superficial; it spreads wide and deep, soaking into layer after layer and permeating the essence.

As matza is the "symbol" - the manifestation - of Passover and the shofar is the "symbol" of Rosh Hashana, so oil is the "symbol" of Chanuka. And oil, as we just mentioned, indicates both deep penetration and wide distribution - a spreading forth that reaches the essence.

Hence its association with Chassidic philosophy, the inner teachings of the Torah. For Chassidism is like oil - reaching deep and diffusing wide.

The Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chassidism, once detailed, in a letter to his brother-in-law, a spiritual encounter with the soul of Moshiach. The Baal Shem Tov asked, when is Moshiach coming? To which came the answer, "When your wellsprings shall spread forth, outward."

And "spreading outward" is one of the primary mitzvot (commandments) of Chanuka. We are to light the menoras at the doors or windows of our house, so that the light shines outward, illuminating the streets. The light from the oil should spread forth - the constant, pure, yet small flame pushing away great darkness. The light of the oil - the physical oil of the olive and the spiritual oil of the Torah - should penetrate and disseminate, publicizing the miracle - the miracle of Chanuka, the miracle of the Jewish people, the miracle of Chassidism, the miracle of people of all nations bringing goodness to the world through small acts, like small olive-oil flames, of goodness and kindness.

The little light that pushes away great darkness is the light of Redemption and Moshiach. May the revelation of Moshiach take place, NOW!

Living with the Rebbe

Last week's Torah portion dealt with the subject of dreams - those of Joseph and Pharaoh's officers. This week, in the Torah portion of Miketz, we continue to delve into dreams, but this time, those of Pharaoh, king of Egypt.

The common denominator shared by all these dreams is that they collectively portrayed the various stages and factors which caused Jacob and his sons to go to Egypt. As a direct result, the Jewish people were exiled there.

Every word in the Torah is necessary and precise. If the subject of dreams receives so much emphasis and we are told such a wealth of detail, there must be a fundamental connection between the concept of dreams and the concept of exile. Furthermore, by understanding the significance of dreams, we will be more capable of overcoming the difficulties we endure during our own prolonged exile.

Chasidic philosophy explains that a most outstanding characteristic of dreams is the ability for diametrically opposed opposites to coexist, something which cannot take place in reality. The Talmud gives as an example the image of "an elephant passing through the eye of a needle," which may appear not at all out of the ordinary in a dream.

This is also true of our own exile, an unnatural and abnormal situation, but one seemingly natural and normal to us. It is of such long duration, we can no longer feel the contradictions inherent in the exile itself.

The same contradictions also apply to our spiritual exile. It is understood that self-love and the pursuit of worldly pleasures are the opposite of cultivating a love of G-d and holiness. Yet, we often perform mitzvot (commandments) under the illusion that we are doing so out of love of G-d and are in close proximity to Him, all the while caring only for our own egos and self-fulfillment. We simply don't perceive the contradiction in this.

Another example of our lack of logic is found in prayer. While praying, the Jew's innate love and emotional attachment to G-d can be aroused, but as soon as he finishes, it is as if he had never experienced this arousal as he returns to his preoccupation with day-to-day life. Although he stood on such a high spiritual level while actually communing with G-d, the feelings dissipate as the individual finds himself led after the cravings of the animal soul.

Thus our very lives are lived as if we are dreaming. The spiritual exile is full of contradictions, yet we must not be discouraged and think that we perform mitzvot and pray in vain, for every positive deed leaves its mark even if its influence is not always easily felt.

Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe

A Slice of Life

Buttons, Thread and Fat
by Rabbi Eli Hecht

Historically Chanuka celebrates the miracle of the Jewish revolution against the Greek occupation. This took place in Israel 165 B.C.E. When the Jewish temple was reclaimed the main Menora, a seven branch candelabra, was kindled. Miraculously, the flames burnt for eight days without being replenished with oil; hence the festival became known as the Festival of Lights.

Lighting the menora has not always been easy. Let me share a story I heard from friends who were World War II Holocaust survivors.

Daily, the death train, cattle cars full of starving, frightened Jews, arrived in the death camp. There one could see the tall chimneys blowing smoke, which were filled with burning bodies of gassed victims.

One day a new group of victims came to the camp. The chief Capo, a sadistic man, infamous for his unbridled cruelty, greeted them. "Jews, it's Chanuka. The great Satan told me that you want to celebrate Chanuka. So today, instead of killing you, I send you to the nearby cabin. There you can rest." With that incredible welcome speech the Jews were herded into a cabin.

A young man stood up pointing out of the window to the burning ovens and remarked "We will soon be the Holy Chanuka lights." A religious student asked how could they celebrate Chanuka if they have no menora and oil and wicks to light? The children began to cry and were joined by the adults.

In the group was an old rabbi, Yossef. Ignoring the pandemonium all around him he spoke in a sweet holy voice. "Who needs candles, oil and wicks. In every Jew there is a Godly fire. No nation in the world can extinguish our flame. We must have faith and show no fear."

It was then that the chief Capo entered the room. "Today I'll play a game. I will put one loaf of bread down and you will have to divide it up. I know that you will fight each other trying to get a piece. That will make great Chanuka entertainment. I will also give each of you two grams of fat (margarine). And to you, old man, I give a double portion." The wicked Capo threw the fat on the floor and ordered the old rabbi to lick it up. Yossef fell to the floor but instead of licking the fat he carefully put the fat into the fold of his coat. The Capo laughed thinking that he had degraded the rabbi. Soon he and his fellow henchmen would watch how the Jews would fight over the bread.

"My brothers and sisters", said Yossef, "Today we have witnessed a miracle. The fat will be the oil for lighting a menora. My coat has plenty of threads - so we have wicks. Come join me for the lighting." Some people gave their portion of fat and soon there was enough fuel for the wicks. By ripping off the buttons from his coat and removing the cloth from the buttons, Yossef had little light containers. Presto! Here was a home made menora ready for lighting. Yossef looked like a holy angel.

"My brethren," Yossef began, "We are here in the death camp. Millions of our people have been brutally killed. Let's show our spirit. As I light the menora for this last Chanuka, let us all pray. I'm sure that our people will triumph over evil and cruelty. Come sing with me." The group of frightened people turned calm. The Chanuka light had transformed them into a peaceful trance.

The Capo seeing the flickering light couldn't understand how the Jews did it. How in the world could a starving, beaten, frightened people celebrate Chanuka in the death camp. You need a soul to understand a miracle and that was something the Capo had lost. Few survived the camp but the one who did, told the story.

So this Chanuka I will light the menora and tell my children about the menora in the death camp. I will tell them how the spirit of people can never be broken. I hope to impress them with a Chanuka message that the holiday is more than toys and games, it's a celebration of freedom.

Rabbi Eli Hecht is the Rebbe's emissary to South Bay, California, where he has been the director of Chabad there since 1973. He is also the vice-president of the Rabbincal Alliance of America.

What's New

The Secret Tunnel

This latest release from HaChai Publishing was written and illustrated by Joy Nelkin Wieder. It is an historical novel for young readers dating back to the times of King Hezekiah. Dark days lay ahead for Yonatan and the Jews of Jerusalem. The wicked King of Ashur, Sancheriv, was about to surround the city. The enemy could easily win by simply blocking off the water supply of the Jews. As the danger grew closer, Yonatan resolved to help protect his family, his city and his people. This "fun to read book" is sure to captivate young readers.

Bound Volumes of L'Chaim

A limited number of bound volumes of the previous year's issues of L'Chaim are now available. To purchase a book send $40 ($45 in Canada, $50 elsewhere) to: L'Chaim Books, 1408 President St., Bklyn, NY 11213. Call (718) 778-6000 for availability of earlier years' bound volumes.

The Rebbe Writes

Freely translated and excerpted letters of the Rebbe written before he accepted the leadership of Chabad-Lubavitch

2 Teves, 5704 [1944]

...These days of Chanuka are characterized by the theme of publicizing the miracle. In this, the scope of Chanuka extends beyond that of Purim. For with regard to Chanuka, the miracle must be publicized "at the entrance to one's house, shining outward," and "after sunset." To make this possible, it is understood that there must be a ray from a higher source, as explained at length in the Chanuka discourses.

The analogue in the human sphere is Divine service in the era of exile which is described with the analogy of night, for then G-dliness is hidden and then the light of "the sun and its shield is G-d, the L-rd" does not shine in an overt manner. The ultimate intent of the exile is not that it serve as punishment, but that it lead to the refinement and purification of the Jewish people and the world so that they are fit to receive the revelations of Moshiach. As the discourse entitled "Kol Dodi" in Torah Or states: "The ultimate purpose of the descent and the exile is that it is necessary for the great ascent when G-d's light will shine in profuse revelation in the era of Moshiach." This concept is also found in other maamarim. During the exile, we must prepare the medium for this revelation.

This concept is also reflected in the Baal Shem Tov's question of Moshiach: "When are you coming?", and in Moshiach's reply: "When the wellsprings of your teachings spread outward." For the light of the teachings of Chassidus is the medium for the revelation of Moshiach. When the medium is complete, the light will be revealed.

The condition for this is that the wellsprings spread outward, even to those concerning whom it is not evident that they sense they are in G-d's private domain.... (This parallels the Chanuka lights concerning which the commandment is that they shine outward.)

With the blessing, "Immediately to repentance, immediately to Redemption,"

Wednesday, 2 Teves, 5704 [1944]

...To conclude by mentioning a theme of the present day, the days of Chanuka: The obligation of the day is to publicize the miracle. On Chanuka, that obligation is more encompassing than on Purim, for the miracle must be publicized at night and in the public domain. Based on the explanations in the maamarim on Chanuka..., this can be interpreted as referring to the era of exile which serves as a preparation for the revelations of Moshiach and the Era of the Redemption.

As is well known, in response to the Baal Shem Tov's question: "When are you coming?" Moshiach replied: "When the wellsprings of your teachings spread outward," the emphasis being that they reach the furthest peripheries.

For this to be possible, a higher dimension of light is necessary, as implied by the addition of the Hebrew letter "vav" to G-d's name "Havayah" in the verse:"G-d will illuminate my darkness," (as explained in the discourses).

Therefore, to cite a parallel in our Divine service, our Sages ruled that even a person who dwells in a loft (-this refers to "men of ascendancy who are few," see the explanation of their level in Tanya, the conclusion of ch. 10 -) and does not have an opening (- i.e., a connection -) to the public domain is still obliged to carry out the Divine service described above. He must illuminate the public domain through a window.

The concept of a window requires explanation. It implies a greater revelation than that of a ray which comes through a curtain, or through a hole....

With the blessing, "Immediately to repentance, immediately to Redemption,

Thursday, 26 Kislev, 5707 [1947]

...To conclude with a concept relating to Chanuka: With regard to Chanuka, the Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni, I Melachim, sec. 184) relates that the Sanctuary (built by the Jews in the desert) was completed on the 25th of Kislev. Nevertheless, G-d commanded that the construction of the Sanctuary be delayed until the month of Nissan. He repaid the day about 1200 years later with the celebrations of Chanuka.

Despite all the above, the Jews are praised for the eagerness which they showed by completing their donations to the Sanctuary in two days: the eleventh and twelfth of Tishrei.

On the surface, one might ask: Of what value was their haste since there was no hurry at all to set up the Sanctuary? We can learn from this two things:

the extent to which the eagerness to fulfill a mitzva is cherished; that every exertion on the part of a Jew for the sake of a mitzva bears fruit even though it is not immediately apparent.

With the blessing "Immediately to repentance, immediately to Redemption,"

Translated by Rabbi E. Touger, published in "I Will Write It In Their Hearts" by Sichos in English

Rambam this week

27 Kislev, 5765 - December 10, 2004

Prohibition 355: It is forbidden to take a woman as a wife without marriage

This mitzva is based on the verse (Deut. 23:18) "There shall be no indecent women among the daughters of Israel" A Jewish marriage must be held according to the law of the Torah. This includes the entire wedding ceremony with all its details and procedures and the signing of the marriage contract. A person is forbidden to take a woman as a wife without fulfilling these requirements.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This Friday evening we will be lighting both Chanuka and Shabbat candles. These are two types of lights which play a significant part in Jewish life. A third type of light that has played an important part in Jewish life was the seven-branched menora which was lit daily in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

It would be interesting to compare the differences between these three types of lights:

The Shabbat candles sit proudly on the Shabbat table. The Temple menora's place was also inside, in the inner sanctuary of the Temple. But the Chanuka lights are kindled in a place where their light can be seen from outside.

The Shabbat candles must be lit before sunset. The Temple menora was lit even earlier. But the Chanuka lights are lit after sunset (except on Fridays when they must be kindled before the Shabbat lights so as not to desecrate the Shabbat).

Finally, of all three types of lights, it is only the Chanuka lights that increase each day.

The lesson of the Chanuka lights is manyfold but clear. It is not enough to light up one's home (like the Shabbat candles), or even the synagogue (like the Temple menora) with Judaism. Every Jew has the responsibility to be a shining light to the outside, as well.

In addition, it is especially when it is already dark outside - after sunset - when conditions are not as favorable, that we must kindle the lights of Judaism. At that time, in times like ours, it is not sufficient to kindle the same number of lights each time, as with the Temple menora or Shabbat lights. We must increase our light, as with the Chanuka candles. This is accomplished through the ever-steady increase of Torah and mitzvot.

Thoughts that Count

It happened at the end of two years (Gen. 41:1)

Sometimes a person comes to "the end" of his years, the conclusion of his life, and, from the proper perspective, he finds that he only lived two years - he was asleep the rest of the time.

(Rabbi Meir of Premishlan)

And he was rushed from the dungeon (Gen. 41:14)

For 12 years Joseph was imprisoned in the dungeon. No one took notice of him or concerned themselves with him. However, when the time came that G-d had ordained for Joseph to be freed, "he was rushed from the dungeon." He was not subjected to that place for even one extra minute. The same will be true when the time arrives for the final redemption. G-d

will not wait even a split second longer than necessary. He will rush to redeem us and bring Moshiach, it should be speedily in our days.

(The Chafetz Chaim)

The Torah portion Miketz and Chanuka

The Torah portion, Miketz, is always read during Chanuka, a holiday on which it is customary to give "Chanuka gelt" to children. Interestingly enough, money is discussed numerous times in this week's portion: When the famine struck, people from all over brought money to Egypt to buy grain; Joseph secretly put back the brothers' money to their sacks; when the brothers returned to Egypt for more grain, they took with them double the original sum of money; after Joseph revealed to his brothers who he was, he gave them gifts and money.

(Likutei Levi Yitzchak)

It Once Happened

by Menachem Zeigelbaum

A small wooden house stood on the side of the steep mountain as though hiding in its shadow. As far as the eye could see, were the majestic Carpathian Mountains. The Divine creation was visible in all its glory.

A young couple lived in this house. They had married only a few months before, and now they were building their lives quietly and peacefully.

The wife was called Rachel and the husband was called Yisrael. When he became the Rebbe of the Jewish people, he was called Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov. Despite his youth, his appearance and demeanor reflected profound wisdom and understanding. His eyes always radiated joy, and his face bespoke a deep tranquility.

His young wife Rochel was content, and this was despite the fact that she hardly ever saw her husband. Throughout the week, Yisrael left home and walked through the forests that covered the Carpathian mountains. He would leave Sunday morning and return Friday afternoon, before Shabbat. Rochel was happy because she knew her husband was an outstanding tzadik, a holy man. Most people didn't know this. She knew, though her husband hid it from others. The time for his greatness to be revealed to the world had not yet arrived.

It was the height of winter and snow fell and covered all in its white blanket. It was almost Chanuka, the holiday of light, joy, and warmth.

On Sunday Yisrael went out as he usually did. Before leaving, he said to Rachel, "With G-d's help, I hope to return with nightfall of the first night of Chanuka in order to light the menora. But if, G-d forbid, I tarry and don't come till night, don't wait for me. Light the menora yourself so as not to delay this great mitzva (commandment)."

The days passed quickly. In a few minutes it would be nightfall and the first Chanuka light would be lit in all Jewish homes. Yisrael had set out to return home much earlier but his progress home had been slow. Though dusk was approaching, the light of the joy of a mitzva illuminated his visage.

Yisrael's high boots sank deeply into the snow. The thick stick cleared the path before him. A fur hat, like the peasant farmers wore, was on his head. The bitter cold and the piercing mountain winds whipped his face.

The forest paths disappeared and the tangle of branches became ever thicker. Yisrael found himself walking in circles, but he maintained his trust in G-d.

The hour grew late and the time for lighting the menora had long since passed. Yisrael so wanted to light the menora at the proper time. He knew that each year, at the time that the menora is lit, the "hidden light," the light of Moshiach, is revealed. But something, some force, seemed to block Yisrael's way.

A strange heaviness took hold of Yisrael. He found it difficult to continue walking against the howling wind. He finally sat down on a rock that stood among the trees. Yisrael sat there, exhausted. Another two minutes went by and he fell asleep. The shrieking wind and the sound of the trees branches moving above awoke him from his slumber. To his surprise it seemed to him that he could see a figure approaching.

Yisrael saw a figure in white, holding a large candle, walking towards him. The figure came closer and he could see a tall, distinguished looking Jew with a white beard framing his shining face.

"Who are you?" asked Yisrael.

The man smiled and said, "I am Matityahu the Priest from Modiin, a Hasmonean."

Yisrael blinked his eyes and the man was no longer nearby but far, far ahead. He quickly got up in order to follow the man with the candle. The flame danced on, the winds powerless to extinguish it. Yisrael walking without knowing how much time had elapsed, until he finally began to recognize his surroundings. He noticed some familiar signs, roads that he had frequented. In another few minutes, he identified the paths that led to his house.

From a distance, he could see a tiny flame in the window of his house. A pure flame that had been kindled by his wife. Despite the severe cold, she stood in the doorway, outside the house, wrapped in her heavy coat and fur hat. She was relieved and overjoyed to see her husband finally approaching. It was long past midnight and she had been worried.

Yisrael looked right and left, but there was no trace of the man who had led him home.

A few minutes later, the Baal Shem Tov was standing in front of his tin menora. He prepared the wicks, poured the oil, and with lofty, mystical intentions, he recited the blessings. When he finished reciting the poetic songs that follow the lighting, dawn began to break over the snowy Carpathian Mountains.

Reprinted from Beis Moshiach Magazine

Moshiach Matters

The letters on the dreidel allude to the totality of human capabilities: Guf=physical; Seichel=intellectual; Nefesh=emotional; Hakol=everything/ totality of human aptitudes. On Chanuka, when the flame/light of our Messianic hope begins to shine forth in the darkness of our exile, the four sides of the dreidel become the symbol of the four kingdoms that dominated us as a result of the deterioration of these four human elements within us. At the same time, we reflect upon the other meaning of these letters, for they are the same numerical equivalent as Moshiach. As the dreidel spins, we are reminded that all human history "rotates" around the axis of Moshiach and that everything will one day lead to Moshiach. May he come speedily in our days!

(By Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum based on the writings of Rabbi Zvi Elimelech Spira)

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