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December 30, 2005 - 29 Kislev, 5766

901: Miketz

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The Weekly Publication For Every Jewish Person
Dedicated to the memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson N.E.

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  900: Vayeshev902: Vayigash  

The Chanuka Candles  |  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

The Chanuka Candles

Do you remember the days before Chanuka postage stamps and "designer" hand-dipped Chanuka candles? Do you remember the first time you were allowed to light the menora all by yourself, without Mom or Dad holding your hand so you wouldn't burn yourself? Do you remember when, with childish excitement, you planned out which color Chanuka candles from the blue-box-with-the-menora-on-the-front-and-maoz-tzur-on-the-back you would use on the first night? Blue for the first candle and white for the shamash, right? And on the second night it was red, white and blue, or yellow, blue and pink. Or did you prefer the primary colors?

Each night was a different pattern and the inevitable argument with siblings about who would get which color. And each night you sat near the burning candles, watching to see which one would be the last to burn out and mesmerized by their flames.

There were candy-filled dreidles, chocolate Chanuka gelt, potato latkas and the story of the Jews vanquishing the persecutors, for once.

Yet, with all that, some of our fondest Chanuka memories, and Jewish memories for that matter, revolve around the Chanuka lights. And for good reason.

The Jewish flame - the soul - is likened to a candle: "The soul of a person is the lamp of G-d."

How is the soul similar to those Chanuka lights we kindle each year? Unlike other matter, which because of the forces of gravity descends to the lowest possible place, the flame of a candle always ascends, continuously striving to unite with its elemental source. The flame does this even though by uniting with its source it would be extinguished.

The Jewish soul is an actual part of G-d. Its very nature compels it constantly to strive to unite with G-d, its Source. Though by uniting with G-d it becomes nullified, still it works toward this goal. Sometimes this takes place because of an awakening on the part of the person and sometimes it is like a "gift" from G-d, an arousal from Above that draws the soul ever closer.

Going from the esoteric to the scientific, try this little experiment: Though, as we mentioned before, the nature of the flame (and the soul) is to scintillate upward in an attempt to unite with its source, what if a larger flame is nearby, but not above, the candle? The flame of the candle, believe it or not, will actually bend in an attempt to unite with the larger fire!

This certainly attests to the power of the desire for the flame/soul to be one with its source. How, though, is this union achieved?

A flame coming from a wick remains ignited only if it has something to burn. In the analogy mentioned above, the wick is a person's body while the sparkling flame is the soul. Though the soul/flame is truly a part of G-d this in itself is not enough to allow the wick/body to burn continuously. It needs energy, and that energy is acquired through good deeds.

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 better able to overcome 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 contradiction 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 work of the Lubavitcher Rebbe

A Slice of Life

Chanuka Blackout
by Susan R. Weintrob

We were reminiscing about our Chanuka celebrations over the years, and my daughter reminded us of her favorite Chanuka during a major storm 10 years ago.

On the 7th night of Chanuka, the electricity went off in our Indiana town. Temperatures were near zero, ice hung from the wires and the night was long and dark.

As the temperature in the house went down, we lit up our fireplace, and my children, then 8 and 10, brought out the sleeping bags. I cooked a simple dinner over the fire and we lit the menora. The overwhelming darkness made our menora shine brighter than usual.

We sang songs and played games and took turns keeping the fire going. All of us, including the cat and dog, were content. The next morning, my husband and I were a bit sore from sleeping on the floor, but the kids thought it was a great adventure. The outdoors was beautiful and we enjoyed the slowness of the day. We called neighbors to make sure they were all right, but we all stayed at home.

During the late afternoon, the electricity went back on. We rushed to turn on the computer, the television, and the stove. The normal routine hummed in our house.

That evening, as we lit the menora for the last time, the oil seemed dimmer. My daughter sighed. "It was so much more fun with the electricity off."

Talking to my friends, most complained about the blackout inconveniences, including being cooped up with the children all day.

"There was NOTHING to do. We had to be with each other ALL day," everyone grumbled.

I felt just the opposite - that the inconveniences were not intensified but rather were gone - the phone calls, the shopping, the chores, the interruptions - and here was an serene island of time that serendipitously had come our way.

I recently read a book, Turbulent Souls by Stephen Dubner, who was raised as a Catholic by parents who had converted from Judaism. He rediscovered his Jewish roots and returned to Judaism.

In his interesting memoir, he writes about the Jewish family. "Judaism is a home based tradition. Unlike Catholicism, where most pious acts and reverences are performed in the church, many of our Mitzvos are done at home."

The family has a special place in Jewish ritual, for good reason. Time spent at home with Shabbat or Chanuka candles, cleaning the house before Passover or for building the suka forces us to spend time together. Too often, our increasingly busy schedules take precedence. Work hours, meetings, shopping and socializing fill our days. Where are the extra hours that are needed for our families?

Dubner's words apply in a special way to Chanuka, the most visible Jewish holiday in a Christian country. The acts of "reverence" he writes about are not the presents, trips or the parties. The fight to preserve Judaism parallels our own generation's fight against assimilation and increasing consumerism.

The time we spend with our children surpasses any gift or trip. After the gifts are outgrown or thrown away, the memories of childhood and family filled with hours spent with parents, siblings and extended family become the foundation for our children's own parenting style.

These hours may be spent on a luxurious trip but they may also be spent together in simple moments, cooking dinner, shoveling snow or reading. The seeming simple moments are our strength and inspiration for future days.

That Chanuka night in Indiana a decade ago, sitting with my children in the dark, illuminated only by our menora and fireplace, was one of our more memorable Chanuka nights. There were no presents, no movies - we sang songs, told stories and just enjoyed each other's company.

The Rabbis debated where the menora should be placed. Should the menora's light shine outside the home, or inside?

The conclusion was that under normal circumstances, the menora should be near a window so that all on the outside could see its light. During times of trouble, the menora was placed to shine on the inside, hidden from the outside world.

Where should we place our menora in our era? What kind of times do we live in? To paraphrase Charles Dickens, we live in the best of times and the worst of times. Today in America, we have the most freedom Jews ever had, yet we are uneasy.

Assimilation and divisiveness plague us, and we are anxious about terrorism in Israel and around the world.

Therefore, our menora should be placed so its lights shine in and shine out. The lights should shine out so the world sees our determination to continue as a people. They should also shine inside our homes, reminding us that the victory of Chanuka was less a military one than a spiritual one. The fight against values that place the Jewish family and spirituality at the bottom of our priorities is as important now as in the Maccabees' time. Our struggle is no less difficult now, but it is worth fighting.

May Chanuka shine on your family this year and for many years to come.

Susan Rubin Weintrob is a writer and educator living in Teaneck, N.J.

What's New

New Emissaries

Rabbi Zalman and Nechama Dina Tiechtel will be arriving soon in Lawrence, Kansas, where they will be establishing a new Chabad House serving the students and faculty at the University of Kansas - KU.

Rabbi Chaim Shaul and Raizel Brook are establishing a new Chabad House at California State University - Northridge.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel and Sara Goldstein moved to Honolulu, Hawaii, recently where they will be bolstering the work of the existing Chabad House there and reaching out to Jews on the various Hawaiian Islands.

Rabbi Cheski and Chava Edelman recently moved to Springfield, Massachusetts where they are serving as directors of outreach and adult education for Chabad of Greater Springfield.

The Rebbe Writes

From a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe

As has been often said before, all matters of Torah are an inexhaustible source of lessons and inspiration for our daily life, especially when they take the form of practical mitzvos [commandments], since the Torah and mitzvos are infinite, being derived from the Infinite. I mention this here apropos of the mitzva of the Chanuka lights, especially in relation to one particular aspect which, at first, appears quite puzzling.

I am referring to the fact that although Chanuka recalls many miracles and wonders, the main event for which Chanuka was instituted was the miracle of the cruse of oil, the one and only one that was found in the Beis Hamikdash (the Holy Temple), that was intact and undefiled by the enemy, which was then kindled and which lasted for eight days, until new, pure and holy oil could be prepared.

What is puzzling about it is that the oil was not required for human consumption, nor for the consumption of the Altar, but for fuel in the Menora to be burnt in the process of giving light. It would seem, at first glance, of no consequence, insofar as the light is concerned whether or not the oil had been touched and defiled, for, surely, the quality and intensity of the light could hardly be affected by the touch.

Yet, when the Talmud defined the essence of the Chanuka festival, the Sages declared that the crucial aspect was the miracle of the oil. Not that they belittled or ignored the great miracles on the battlefields, when G-d delivered the "mighty" and "many" into the hands of the "weak" and "few," for these miracles are also emphasized in the prayer of "V'al Hanissim" ["and all the miracles"].

Nevertheless, it was the miracle of being able to light the Menora with pure, holy oil, without any touch of uncleanliness, which gave rise to the Festival of Lights.

The obvious lesson is that in the realm of the spirit, of Torah and mitzvos, as symbolized by the Chanuka lights, there must be absolute purity and holiness. It is not for the human mind to reason why, and what difference it makes, etc.

To carry the analogy further, it is the purpose of the central Holy Temple to illuminate and bring holiness and purity into the individual "Holy Temple" - i.e., every Jewish home and every Jewish person, which is also the obligation of every Jew toward his fellow Jew, in accordance with the mitzva of "love your fellow as yourself." But special precautions are necessary that the Holy Temple itself be illuminated with the purest, sanctified oil, so that even the High Priest, if he should happen to be impure, could not enter the Holy Temple, much less kindle the Menora.

May G-d grant you success in the spirit outlined above, truly reflecting the spirit of the Chanuka lights, lighting ever more candles and increasing their glow from day to day.

With blessings,

P.S. One of the essential messages of Chanuka is the need to preserve the purity of the Torah and mitzvos, especially in the education of our children, for the miracle of Chanuka occurred with the cruse of pure and undefiled oil.

Rambam this week

5 Tevet, 5766 - January 5, 2006

Positive Mitzva 195: Giving tzedaka (charity)

This mitzva is based on the verse (Deut. 15:8) "But you shall open your hand wide" There is no exact English translation for the word tzedaka. Usually the term charity is used. But charity implies that we are being kind, doing someone a favor. The word "tzedaka" comes from the root tzedek- "justice" and "righteous." When we give tzedaka we are not being kind; we are fulfilling a just act. Everything we have is a result of G-d's generosity. Thus, it is only right and proper to support others less fortunate. Even a poor person is obligated to give tzedaka.

Prohibition 232: It is forbidden to ignore a needy person

This mitzva is based on the verse (Deut. 15:7) "Do not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother" The Torah cautions us not to ignore a needy person.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

On Chanuka we celebrate two miracles that G-d wrought for our ancestors. The first was the victory in battle of the Maccabees over the Syrian-Greeks and the second was that the oil used for kindling the menora in the Holy Temple lasted for eight days.

In the special "Al HaNissim" prayer recited on Chanuka, we privately thank G-d for our miraculous victory of the few and weak over the many and mighty.

To commemorate the second miracle, we kindle the Chanuka lights, specifically in a way that they can be seen outside, thereby publicizing the miracle.

The way in which we celebrate the two miracles emphasizes to us the importance of the material and spiritual in our lives. The victory of the Maccabees over the Greeks, though miraculous, was a material victory. And the miracle of the oil, though it was performed through physical matter, was spiritual in nature. This emphasizes to us that the spiritual aspects of our lives should command greater importance and energy than the physical, material side.

These two miracles also show us that material blessings reach their true purpose and highest potential when used to enable us to fulfill the Torah and its commandments.

May the Chanuka miracles and their lessons stand us in good steak this year, not only during the Holiday, but throughout this entire year of Wonders in Everything until the ultimate wonder, that of the arrival of Moshiach, NOW.

Thoughts that Count

They bowed before him...and he made himself strange (Gen. 42:6,7)

It was not out of malice that Joseph didn't want his brothers to recognize him immediately. On the contrary, it was because of his great love for them that he tried to postpone the moment of truth for as long as possible, for he knew his brothers would surely be humiliated to see how his dreams had been fulfilled.

(Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Bertichev)

And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt for 17 years (Gen. 47:28)

When the Rabbi Menachem Mendel, the Tzemach Tzedek, was a child, he learned a commentary on this verse stating that these 17 years were the best years of Jacob's life. The surprised boy went to his grandfather, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, to find out how it was possible that the years spent in such a spiritually corrupt land could have been Jacob's best. Rabbi Shneur Zalman replied: Before Jacob descended into Egypt, he sent an emissary to establish houses of Torah study. Wherever a Jew studies Torah, he cleaves to G-d and achieves a true and meaningful life. Furthermore, precisely because Egypt was such an abominable place, the holiness and spirituality Jacob attained there shone that much brighter against the dark and evil background of his surroundings.

May G-d make you as Ephraim and Menashe (Gen. 48:20)

In the previous verses Jacob had said, "Ephraim and Menashe shall be to me as Reuben and Shimon." Despite the fact that Ephraim and Menashe were born and educated in Egyptian exile, a land not conducive to Judaism, they were still as righteous and pure as Reuben and Shimon, who grew up in more enclosed and insular surroundings in Jacob's household. This is the power of a proper Jewish education.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)

It Once Happened

Once there lived a wealthy Jewish forester named Yosef. Yosef was very kind and generous. He understood that G-d had blessed him with great wealth so that he could help others, and he was always ready to give to the poor. Not only did he give them money, he gave them jobs. He was happy that by giving employment to his fellow Jews, he could enable them to support their families. 

As Yosef's wealth increased, so did his charitable deeds. One day, a group of Jews from a nearby village came to see him. "We've come to ask you to help a needy bride and groom," said one of the group, Yonah the shoemaker. "They are both orphans, and there is no one to help them. They're getting married on Chanuka, and they haven't any money."

"How much money do you need?" asked Yosef.

"One thousand rubles should be enough," said Yonah.

Yosef went to his desk and took out a packet of money. He counted out a thousand rubles, and handed it to Yonah with a smile. The villagers were stunned. They thought that Yosef would give part of the amount, and expected to collect the rest from others. They could not thank Yosef enough.

As they left, Yosef said, "Remember to invite me to the wedding. I want to participate in the great mitzva of rejoicing with the bride and groom."

Some weeks later, Yosef travelled to Danzig where he had to collect payment from a number of his customers. He expected to be away for at least three weeks and told his family regretfully that he did not think he would be home in time to kindle the menora with them on the first night of Chanuka.

Yosef's stay in Danzig was blessed with success. Not only did he collect over 40,000 rubles, he signed on many new customers. He finished up his business more quickly than expected and was delighted that he would be able to surprise his family and arrive home in time to light the first Chanuka candle.

Yosef purchased a ticket for the train ride home and entered a car that was not too crowded. He sat down, closed his eyes and dozed off. Suddenly, he heard voices whispering next to him. Opening his eyes, he saw two men sitting across from him, eying him suspiciously.

Yosef's heart skipped a beat as he thought, "They are planning to rob me!" Yosef quickly got up. He went from one car to the next, until he came to a car that was packed with people. He looked for an empty place, and sat down.

"Thank G-d, I managed to escape from those men just in time!" he said to himself. The car was crowded with farmers and peasants. Yosef felt much safer surrounded by people.

The train sped on its journey. Gradually it grew dark outside and all the passengers fell asleep, except for the wary Yosef. Suddenly, he noticed the two strangers standing at the doorway of the car. Yosef opened his bag and took out the gun that he always carried. He made sure the men could see that he had it. The men quickly disappeared. Yosef realized his suspicions were right.

For the remainder of the trip, Yosef stayed alert. He prayed to G-d to protect him, pledging to give charity even more generously when he returned home safely. When Yosef got off the train, he went over to a policeman, handed him several rubles, and asked him to escort him home.

When he finally arrived at home, Yosef breathed a sigh of relief. But no one was home. He realized that his family and servants were all still in the city as they had not expected him to arrive until later in the week. "What a shame," Yosef thought to himself as he began preparing the oil and wicks of the menora for the first night of Chanuka, "after all my efforts to get here, I am still alone."

Yosef placed the 40,000 rubles in his safe. Then he retraced his steps back to the family's silver menora, recited the blessings with much joy and watched the first light of Chanuka dance with delight.

All was still in the house. Yosef sat by the candles for a while, and then took out a book and began to study. The stillness was shattered by the sound of splintering wood. Yosef jumped up and saw his two "travel companions" from the train bursting though the front door.

Brandishing guns, the thieves demanded that Yosef open up his safe and empty it out for them. They then tied him up with heavy rope and threw him on the ground. Yosef prayed to G-d, knowing that his life was in grave danger.

Suddenly, sounds of voices and musical instruments could be heard from outside. The music kept getting closer and louder. The thieves turned pale, and began looking for a way to escape, but it was too late. 

From outside they heard happy shouts. "Reb Yosef. Open up. We've come to bring you to the wedding." The villagers marched through the open door. They saw Reb Yosef lying tied up on the floor and then they saw the thieves. They pounced on the villains, and easily overpowered them. 

Yonah the shoemaker untied Reb Yosef. "We came to bring you to the wedding, as you asked," he said. "And look at this!"

"You saved my life!" Yosef exclaimed. "They would have killed me!"

"Surely your mitzvot of endowering a bride, looking after orphans, and the desire to rejoice at a wedding saved you," said Yonah.

The villagers escorted Reb Yosef to the wedding with much joy. As Yosef watched the happy dancing, he thanked G-d for all the miracles, the wonders and the salvation that had just occurred for him.

Adapted from the Tzivos Hashem Newsletter

Moshiach Matters

The darkness illuminated by the Chanuka lights is representative of the darkness of exile. For the majority of our national history, our people have lived outside our native land. Nevertheless, with the coming of the Redemption, the advantage of this living situation and the spiritual work it entailed will be revealed.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, 2nd Day Of Rosh Chodesh Teves, 5752)

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