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Ever eat a doughnut and wonder where the hole went? This age-old question has plagued carbohydrate-saturated humanity for years. Yet the answer still evades us.
A similar question, though less popular, has been asked by great Jewish thinkers of the past: When one lights a candle in a dark room, where does the darkness go?
The answer given is that darkness has no existence of its own. It is a non-entity because it is simply the absence of light. Once a candle is lit, the darkness disappears. It doesn't go into the closet, or to the next room. It simply disappears.
When igniting a small flame in a dark room, the room immediately becomes illuminated with the light of the candle. The larger the flame, the more illuminated the room becomes. Nevertheless, even the smallest flame is enough to expel the darkness. Because darkness is nothing.
On Chanuka we light candles. On the first evening of Chanuka we light one candle. On the second night we light two, and so on, until the eighth night of Chanuka when we light all eight candles of the Chanuka Menora.
We start with one candle, enough for the initial expulsion of darkness. Each day we go a step further in brightening our lives with another candle, until the light reaches its ultimate goal: to completely dispel the darkness.
Every year on Chanuka we celebrate the great triumph of the Maccabees, led by the illustrious Judah the Maccabee, over the vast Greek armies that had invaded the Holy Land of Israel, and threatened to prevent the Jews from practicing their traditions.
The Maccabee army, small and weak as they were, prevailed, with the help of G-d, over the intruding enemy.
The victory is a symbol of a small glimmer of light being triumphant over the great darkness which seemed to be in command. With the notion that darkness is but the lack of light, the victory was easily attainable.
This is the ongoing battle we face every day.
In a world where G-dliness is, suffice it to say, not on everyone's prioritized agenda, one may feel at times that darkness is in fact prevailing. It may seem that the mundane is sometimes taking more precedence in our daily lives and directing our everyday activities. To combat the darkness which conceals the G-dly light, we must light that small candle, bring that little bit of G-dliness back into our lives.
Once we begin with that, with the tiny flame within us, the process of ridding the world of spiritual darkness will increase, until we will be able to bask in the ultimate G-dly light.
By Rabbi Eliezer Zalmanov. Rabbi Zalmanov is the director of Chabad of Northwest Indiana. To read other articles by Rabbi Zalmanov visit chabadnwind.com
At first glance, this week's Torah portion, Vayeishev, chronicles the circumstances leading to Joseph's appointment as second in command over Egypt, subordinate only to Pharaoh. Yet, upon examination, we find that Joseph's story is synonymous with the history of the Jews.
Joseph, the pride of his father, at the age of 17 is suddenly plucked from his secure environment, family, and his country. Sold into slavery and finding himself in a foreign land, he must now cope with the most adverse and cruel of circumstances. Worst of all, Joseph is not to blame, for all this has come about through no action of his own.
A lesser individual would have surely succumbed to bitterness and depression. Another might have become indifferent. But Joseph realized that he must deal with the reality which presented itself. As the servant of Potifar, he fulfilled his duties to the best of his ability. It soon became apparent even to Potifar that it was in Joseph's merit that his household enjoyed its material blessings.
This, then, is the task of every Jew: No matter how adverse the circumstances, each Jew must live up to his full potential and fulfill his duties to the best of his ability.
But how was Joseph repaid for his loyalty? He was thrown into prison! Why? Because he refused to betray his master by succumbing to the advances of the master's wife. Not only didn't Joseph's honesty and integrity bring him any positive benefits, these very qualities caused him to be incarcerated. Was Joseph discouraged? Did he reject his lifestyle and renounce his high standards? Joseph's response to adversity was to continue in the same path, acting honestly and in good faith. Eventually his behavior and virtue drew the attention of his jailers.
This is the history of the Jew as well: No matter how depraved and corrupt his surroundings, he remains undeterred from his faith in G-d and His Torah.
When Joseph noticed that two of his fellow inmates, Pharaoh's chief butler and chief baker, were distressed for some reason, he rushed to their aid, without thought of rejoicing at their misfortune or of taking revenge for the role they played in his downfall. Joseph could not bear to see people in need, and so he immediately offered his assistance. He was able to bring them relief by interpreting their respective dreams.
In return, Joseph did not ask for monetary payment or special treatment. He merely requested that the chief butler mention his name to Pharaoh when he was freed, which he didn't do. In his unbending faith in the goodness of man and in ultimate justice, Joseph believed that fairness would prevail if only Pharaoh was presented with the facts.
This theme has been played out time and again in Jewish history. Joseph unfortunately learned the hard way that this world is full of lies and deception. Yet when he later found himself in a position of almost unlimited power, he refused to exact revenge on those who had harmed him. This is not the way of the Jew. Joseph faithfully used his office to steer the Egyptians and the whole world from potential catastrophe during the years of famine, enacting, for the first time, the historic role the Jews have played during their exile among the nations.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
A Chanuka Gift
As told by Nechama Berenshtein
It was Chanuka and I was at the mall. I was in a hurry, though not to do last minute shopping. In truth, I'm not much of a shopper. But I had brought a group of students with me from Crown Heights, Brooklyn, to a shopping mall in New Jersey so that we could give out Chanuka menora kits. As Lubavitcher Chasidim we were shopping for opportunities to encourage our fellow Jews to kindle the candles for the Festival of Lights.
The drive out to New Jersey had taken longer than I had anticipated and we needed to head back just 45 minutes after we arrived. I had to return to Brooklyn to give a lecture. I was preoccupied with pacing the entrance of the mall to make sure that the girls would regroup on time.
As I looked up from my watch for the umpteenth time, I noticed a circle of seats in the center of the food court of the mall. There were a number of women of all ages sitting on the seats, chatting, laughing, eating their food or drinks. "This is going to be very easy," I told myself, as I sized up the situation, noting that many of the girls and women looked Jewish.
There was one young man sitting by himself in the circle of seats, but he was obviously not Jewish. It wasn't even his purple and green hair or the earrings that pierced his ears and other body parts. He just had a decidedly non-Jewish look. Keeping in mind that the Lubavitcher Rebbe always encouraged women to approach women (and men to approach men), I was relieved that I would not seem ill-mannered if I didn't attempt to hand the young man a Chanuka kit.
I went amongst the women and girls, asking them if they were Jewish and if they would like Chanuka menora kits. The Jewish women responded positively and eagerly took the kits. Some of them even asked if I had Shabbat candle lighting brochures with me, as well.
I spoke with the last of the women and turned to leave. I looked at my watch again and noted that I was at the end of the allotted 45 minutes. I quickly began walking toward the mall entrance to meet my students.
I hadn't walked more than a few steps when I heard someone say, "Nechama, go back."
Now, just as I was honest in saying that I'm not a shopper, I'll also be honest and say that I'm not the kind of person who hears voices. But there it was again, "Nechama, go back."
"Leave me alone," I told the voice. But it wouldn't.
"Nechama, go back and ask him if he's Jewish."
What can it hurt? I asked myself. So I turned around and started walking toward the young man, who was in the midst of munching on some kind of McDonalds concoction and drinking a huge soda. An order of french fries, liberally sprinkled with ketchup, was perched on his knee.
"Excuse me, are you Jewish?" I asked him.
The next thing I knew, I was covered in soda, ketchup and mustard. The young man had been so shocked by my question that he had dropped everything. After apologizing profusely, he asked, "Please tell me, why did you ask me if I'm Jewish?"
To this day, I don't know how or why these words popped into my mind, but I said quite confidently, "You look Jewish!"
And then I heard a sob erupt from what could only have been the depths of his heart. The young man began to cry, but stopped and said, "Say that again, please."
"You look Jewish," I said once more. A new torrent of tears was unleashed. But once again, he stopped himself and asked, "Please, say that again." And I did.
After calming himself down, the young man told me the following:
"My mother was Jewish but my father was not. Though my mother didn't really care about religion - they celebrated all of the non-Jewish holidays at home - she was adamant that I go to a Jewish school.
"Everyday in school, the other children used to mock me. It wasn't because we didn't celebrate the Jewish holidays at home; they didn't know that. It was because I was a carbon copy of my father. I look exactly like him. The kids in school used to say, 'Why are you here? You don't look Jewish. Why are you wearing tzitzit and a kipa, you don't look Jewish.' And it's true. I don't look Jewish at all. Day after day the children mocked me. I would return home each day in tears. My father begged my mother to let me leave the school. 'Look how miserable he is,' he would say to my mother. After a few years of mockery and torture, my mother agreed with my father and let me leave the Jewish day school and go to public school.
"To this day, I remember the mockery," the young man said, wincing in pain. "Today, I was sitting here and I was watching you go over to all of the women and girls, asking them if they are Jewish. 'G-d,' I said, 'I'm not guilty that I'm not doing anything Jewish. Look, this girl will go over to everyone else, but she won't come over to me, to ask me if I am Jewish. I don't look like a Jew!' As you neared the end of the circle, I looked up to G-d and said, 'I will even prove that I am righteous. If this girl will come over and ask me if I am Jewish, then I will give You another chance.' When you left, I said, 'Aha. You see, G-d!'
"And then, you turned around and walked back toward me. Well, now I guess I have to give G-d another chance."
I gave the young man a Chanuka menorah kit, and the phone number of his local Chabad-Lubavitch Center and we parted.
I do not know if he ever contacted the Chabad Center. But I do know that the tiny flame in each one of us, even if it is untended or G-d forbid, it is mocked, burns eternally within every Jew.
World's Largest Menora
Be part of the Chanuka celebrations at the World's Largest Chanuka Menora at Fifth Ave. and 59th St. in NYC. The menora will be lit on: Friday, Dec. 15 at 3:45 p.m., Saturday night, Dec. 16 at 8:30 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 17 - Thursday, Dec. 21 at 5:30 p.m.; Friday, Dec. 22 at 3:45 p.m On Sunday there will be live music, free not 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
Freely translated and adapted
Erev Shabbos Kodesh and Erev Chanukah 5743 (1982)
To the Sons and Daughters of Our People Israel Everywhere
G-d Bless you all
Greeting and Blessing:
As we are about to begin the celebration of Chanukah by - among other things - kindling the Chanukah Lights each night of Chanukah this is a time of reflection on the meaningful lessons of the Festival of Lights. To quote my father-in-law of saintly memory, "We should listen attentively to what the Chanukah Lights are telling us."
It would be fitting therefore to take a few minutes to reflect on some aspects of the Mitzvah (commandment) of kindling the Chanukah Lights.
To perform this Mitzvah one needs of course a candle or an oil lamp The candle or oil and wick are common material things; yet when kindled in fulfillment of the Divine precept in remembrance of the miraculous events "in those days at this time" after reciting the appropriate benedictions - "these lights (become) sacred and we are not permitted to make use of them but only to look at them in order to offer thanks and praise to Your great Name for Your miracles for Your wonders and for Your "salvations."
The Mitzvah of the Chanukah Lights symbolizes - in a tangible and visible way - all the Mitzvot of the Torah, all of which are defined in terms of light: Ner Mitzvah v'Torah Or ("A Mitzvah is a candle and the Torah is Light" - Prov. 6:23). In the case of all Mitzvot some material object and/or physical and mental activity is involved (as wool in Tzitzis, leather in Tefillin, etc.) Yet when that material thing is dedicated to a sacred purpose in fulfillment of G-d's command it becomes sacred and the performance of the Mitzvah creates a light which though invisible to the physical eye irradiates the person performing the Mitzvah as well as the surrounding material world making them more spiritual and enabling them to transcend the confines of the physical world.
The Mitzvah of Ner Chanukah (kindling the Chanukah lights) has the unique feature of being performed in a steadily increasing manner: "One candle is lit the first night; two the second and so on. This reminds us forcefully - again in a visible and concrete way - that all things connected with Torah and Mitzvot have to be on the increase. No matter how satisfactory the level of one's Torah and Mitzvot - experience may be on any given day it is not adequate for the next day; and next day's advancement - sufficient in itself - is still inadequate for the day after. Living Yiddishkeit (Judaism) requires continuous growth; there is always room for enriching one's spiritual life.
A further unique feature of the Mitzvah of Ner Chanukah is that while it is kindled within the home and illuminates it with the sacred light of Torah and Mitzvot it is required to be seen also "outside" The basic reason for this is to "publicize the miracle of Chanukah" But symbolically it conveys the message that everyone of us who lights Chanukah candles should not forget those of our brethren who for one reason or another are unaware of Chanukah; unaware perhaps even of their Jewish identity and heritage and are walking in darkness outside It is our duty to reach out to them and bring the light of living Yiddishkeit into their hearts and homes And these efforts too should be carried on in the spirit of Chanukah - in a growing measure.
continued in next issue
Why do we use a shamash candle in the Chanuka menora?
The entire purpose of kindling the Chanuka lights is for pirsumei nissa - publicizing the miracles of Chanuka. The candles, oil or wax, are exclusively for this purpose. We are not permitted to derive benefit from their light or use them to kindle other candles. Therefore, we use a shamash ("servant" candle) to kindle the other candles.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
According to the Talmud, the proper time to light the Chanuka menora is "when the marketplace is cleared of merchants from the city of Tarmud."
But a closer look at this peculiar definition reveals a deeper meaning, one that goes beyond merely indicating the proper hour one should kindle the Chanuka lights. In fact, the Talmud's statement alludes to the very message and purpose of the Chanuka candles themselves.
The task of every Jew is to bring the light of holiness that illuminates the Jewish home to the "doorway" - the place where the Chanuka menora is kindled - in order to allow it to light up the outside world.
Despite the fact that outside the home there are "mordim" (those who rebel against G-d, from the same Hebrew root as the name "Tarmud"), the Jew must endeavor to shine this light upon them as well, until "the marketplace is cleared of merchants from the city of Tarmud" - until all rebellion against G-d has disappeared.
Furthermore, the Talmud's use of the Aramaic term "kalya" ("has ended"), alludes to a state of "kelot hanefesh," longing and yearning for G-d, that this will bring - the exact opposite of rebellion!
Thus we see that the Chasidic interpretation of the Talmud's words sheds light on the hidden, inner meaning of the mitzva of Chanuka, and by extension, the aim of all the Torah's mitzvot: the illumination of an entire world that has been darkened by exile, and its preparation for the coming of Moshiach.
..... that every male of you be circumcised. (Gen. 34:15)
Jacob's sons advised the people of Shechem to circumcise themselves and then took revenge on them. Why did they avenge the kidnapping of their sister in such an underhanded way? If they had killed the people of Shechem while they were as yet uncircumcised, a storm of protest would have broken out in the world. However, after they were circumcised, and the world considered them to be Jews, Jacob's sons were sure that there would be not protests at all. For the murder of Jews elicits no world reaction.
(Rabbi Yehonoson Eibeshutz)
Therefore the Children of Israel are not to eat the displaced sinew - gid hanashe - the hip-bone socket, to this day, because he struck Jacob's hip-socket on the gid hanashe.
By the commandment not to eat the sinew, Israel is reminded that Jacob stood almost alone against Esau's army of 400 - yet he survived with only a minor injury. This was possible only because of one factor - G-d's help. Thus it stands as an eternal lesson not to feel hopeless in the face of Esau's power.
(Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsh)
On Chanuka it is traditional to play with the dreidel, or sevivon, a four-sided top whose sides are marked with letters spelling out the Chanuka miracle. Some, however, see the dreidel as a symbol of the Jewish people: Just as the dreidel spins, falls down, and is spun around once more, so too is the fate of the Jews during the long exile: Driven from nation to nation, the Jewish people - belittled, oppressed, and in constant danger of assimilation--always rights itself and continues spinning.
Chanuka 1944, Auschwitz
by Simon Jacobson, as heard from a Holocaust survivor, who was an 11-year-old child in the camps. Today he is 71 and living in the United States.
I will never forget the last Chanuka in the barracks. Most of us were so consumed with scraping together any morsel while avoiding the attention of the guards that we had no inkling which day in the year it was. Especially in those last weeks before the liberation, the Nazis were particularly unpredictable and cruel, and the chaos only made matters worse.
Yet there were a few who always knew the exact dates. They would tell the rest of us that today is Shabbos, Pesach and other significant days. On this particular day a man would tell me that it was Chanuka.
That morning I went to the infirmary to try smuggling out some balm - anything to help relieve my father's open sores. His disease - I am not sure what it was - was eating his body away, and whenever I could sneak over to see him I would see him silently struggling for some relief. As a child I was completely overcome by the sight of my suffering father.
That particular day, when I finally snuck over to my father's bunk, he was no longer there. I became frantic.
An older gentleman, whom I did not know but I had often seen talking to my father, came over to console me. He too did not know when my father was taken, to this day I don't know if it was the disease or a Nazi bullet that took my father to heaven, but his was a calming presence.
He told me that today was Chanuka and we celebrate the victory of the few weak over the many powerful oppressors. We light the candles to demonstrate that our light is stronger than any darkness. "Your father would be very proud to know that you carry on his light despite the blackness around us," he said.
I was so moved by his words - and all the memories it brought back from my earlier years in Lodz - that I suggested to him enthusiastically that we should light the menora tonight. He sort of smiled to me, the child - a smile hardly concealing his deep anguish - and said that it would be too dangerous to try. I insisted and made off to get some machine oil from the factory.
I was so excited. And for this brief moment I was able to put aside my grief. I slowly made my way back, so not to be noticed, to the barrack with my treasured bit of oil. Meanwhile the strange gentleman had put together some wicks, apparently from clothing or some other material.
Now we needed fire to light our makeshift menora. I noticed at the end of one building smoldering cinders. We agreed that we would wait till dusk and at an opportune moment we would light our Chanuka lights
Wait we did. As we were walking over to the cinders a guard noticed us and grabbed away the oil and wicks we were concealing. He began cursing and frothing at us. A miracle seemed to happen when his superior barked a command that apparently needed his participation, and he ran off with our precious fuel. The miracle however was short-lived. The animal yelled back at us that he would soon return to "take care of us."
I was terrified. The gentleman was absolutely serene. And then he said to me words that are etched into my every fiber until this very day:
"Tonight we have lit a flame more powerful than the Chanuka lights. The miracle of Chanuka consisted of finding one crucible of oil, which miraculously burned for eight days. Tonight we performed an even greater miracle: We lit the ninth invisible candle even when we had no oil...
"Make no mistake. We did light the Menora tonight. We did everything in our power to kindle the flames, and every effort is recognized by G-d. He knows that we were deprived by forces that were not in our control, so in some deeper way we lit the Menora. We have lit the ninth flame - the most powerful one of all, so powerful that you can't even see it."
The man then promised me: "You will get out of here alive. And when you do, take this ninth invisible flame with you. Tell G-d that we lit a candle even when we had no oil.
"Tell the world of the light that has emerged even from the darkest of darkness. We had no physical oil and no spiritual oil. We were wretched creatures, treated worse than animals. Yet, in some miraculous way, we found a 'crucible' where none existed - in the hell fires of Auschwitz.
"So there was no oil. Not even defiled oil. No oil, period. Yet we still lit a flame - a flame fueled by the pits of darkness. We never gave up. Let the world know that our ninth flame is alive and shining. Tell every person in despair that the flame never goes out."
As he finished these last words, the Nazi beast returned and viciously led him away behind one of the barracks.
I made my escape. A few weeks later the Russians arrived and we were liberated. Here I am today to tell you the story of the ninth flame.
Rabbi Simon Jacobson is the author of the best-selling Toward a Meaningful Life which has been translated into Hebrew, French, Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese, Italian, Russian and Japanese. He is the director of the Meaningful Life Center. © 2006 TheMeaningful Life Center. All rights reserved. www.meaningfullife.com.
"So says G-d, 'Behold I am bringing my servant Mashiach.. and he will uncover the cornerstone resounding the voice of graciousness.'"
(From the Haftorah of Shabbat Chanukah, Zecharia, ch. 2)