The Chanuka Heroine | Living with the Rebbe | A Slice of Life | What's New
The Rebbe Writes | Customs | A Word from the Director | Thoughts that Count
Chanuka | It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
Of the many laws pertaining to lighting the Menora during Chanuka, one rule tends to stick out more than others. It is the law that during the entire time that the candles are burning, Jewish women may not do any chores, household or otherwise.
The little-known story behind this law is an essential part of the greater story of Chanuka. It underlines the bravery of one woman, whose heroic acts should be a model for us, as well.
During the Syrian Greeks' siege on the Land of Israel, a Greek general by the name of Holofernes demanded that before any Jewish woman marries, she must spend one night with him. One can imagine the distraught atmosphere this caused among the Jews, and the reluctance of many Jewish women to enter the covenant of marriage.
One woman, the beautiful Yehudit, daughter of Yochanan the High Priest, realizing that the continuity of the Jewish nation was in jeopardy, decided to put an end to this horrible decree. On the evening preceding her own wedding, she packed a bag with cheese and strong wine, and approached the general's campsite. She was escorted to the general's tent and told him that she has a gift for him. She produced the cheese and he began to devour it. After satisfying himself with the cheese, he became extremely thirsty. Yehudit then gave him the wine to quench his thirst. All it took was a few gulps of the strong wine and Holofernes fell into a deep stupor.
In the silence of the night, Yehudit beheaded the general with his own sword, and placed his head in her bag. She quickly left the Greek campsite and went directly to the Jewish army's camp. She excitedly recounted what had just happened, and suggested that now was the time for the Jews to attack the enemy preemptively.
When they saw what her bag contained, it boosted their morale and gave them the strength to continue battling the Greeks. The army immediately regrouped and attacked the camp that Yehudit had just come from. As the Greek soldiers saw that they were being attacked they ran to their general's tent to get instruction on warding off the attack, only to find his headless body lying on the bed. The Greeks scattered at the site of their fallen general, thus giving the Jews an easy victory. This victory, and the Jews' triumph in many other battles, eventually led to the Jews regaining control of their land.
The heroic bravery that Yehudit showed is something that we can all learn from. She did not worry for her own safety and well-being. Instead she took the initiative and saved the Jewish people from a lurking danger. Her courage, and that of many brave Jewish men and women throughout our history, is evidence of our ability to persevere and survive, even in the hardest of times.
With the faith that G-d is on our side, regardless of who the enemy may be, we will always be victorious.
By Rabbi Eliezer Zalmanov. To comment on this article visit chabadnwind.com.
When famine threatened, the nations of the ancient world converged on Egypt, center of the civilized world, to purchase grain. Thanks to the resourcefulness of Joseph, the storehouses were filled with corn in abundance. But the sons of Jacob, still in possession of some food, were in no hurry to leave Canaan. "Why do you look at one another?" asks Jacob in this week's Torah portion, Mikeitz, upon noting their reluctance to go to Egypt. "Why do you go about as if satiated before the sons of Ishmael and the sons of Esau?" elucidates Rashi, the great Torah commentator.
Jacob's words seem odd. The descendants of Ishmael and Esau lived nowhere near the area inhabited by the fledgling Jewish nation. Why did Jacob worry about arousing their jealousy, and not the jealousy of the Canaanites, in whose close proximity he and his family lived?
Odd, too, is the reluctance of Jacob's sons to go to Egypt. Why would they wait until the last grain was gone before making provisions for the future?
Jacob's sons were motivated by their absolute faith in G-d. They were sure that G-d would provide for them, either naturally or supernaturally, without their having to journey to Egypt. Jacob worried that his sons' unequivocal trust in G-d might arouse jealousy in the eyes of others. Jacob did not concern himself with the possible envy of his neighbors; indeed, the amount of food his sons still possessed was negligible and unlikely to arouse jealousy. His fear was spiritual: He worried lest the children of Ishmael and the children of Esau, both descendants of Abraham and Isaac, demand that Jacob's sons be forced to wander like their forefathers when faced with similar circumstances. Jacob therefore instructed his children to go to Egypt, to prevent this spiritual accusation from being leveled against the Jewish people.
In a deeper sense food is symbolic of wisdom. Just as food is ingested and becomes the very flesh of the individual, so too is knowledge internalized and united with the person's mind. Egypt, the ancient world's source of physical sustenance, was its source of spiritual nourishment as well. The reluctance of Jacob's sons to partake of Egypt's food was indicative of their recognition that Jews have no need to consult the wisdom of the nations, for the Torah contains all wisdom.
In fact, although many sections of the Talmud discuss secular sciences - most notably in the spheres of astronomy, medicine, and the like - this is only a result of the darkness of the exile. In the Messianic Era there will be no further need for these, as the world will be "filled with G-dly knowledge as the waters of the sea cover the ocean bed."
Adapted from Talks of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, vol. 30
Chanuka Miracles Today
by Rabbi Avraham Berkowitz
Rabbi Shlomo Wilhelm is an emissary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and the chief rabbi of Zhitomir, a member community of the Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS (FJC). Eight years ago, during the festival of Chanuka, in the midst of the frigid Ukrainian winter, Rabbi Wilhelm left his comfortable office in the Jewish Community Center of Zhitomir to travel to the outlying towns and villages. The rabbi was searching for Jews who could use a helping hand, a warm smile, a Chanuka menora, a winter coat, or provisions from the local FJC food pantry.
In each town he came to, no matter how small or remote, the rabbi asked passersby if they knew of any Jews living there. In one little village, Rabbi Wilhelm asked one, two, three people. Each one assured him that there were no Jewish residents. And then the rabbi asked one more person. "Yes," recalled the villager, "there is an elderly Jewish woman who lives on the outskirts of the village."
Rabbi Wilhelm found the little house and knocked on the door. "I saw a range of emotions flash across the young woman's face when she opened the door," recalls the rabbi. "She invited me in and eagerly introduced me to her grandmother, Betya, who lay pale and weak under quilts on the sofa. I did not understand at the time why she was so excited by my visit."
The young woman, Alya, also introduced her brother and her daughter to Rabbi Wilhelm. They had traveled all the way from Siberia to be with their ailing grandmother in her last days. The rabbi spoke with them about the festival of Chanuka and its significance. He approached the grandmother and, though weak and unable to respond, saw that she was very moved when he spoke to her in Yiddish.
"I inquired about whether they had enough blankets and food and then asked for the phone number so I could be in touch to find out how the grandmother was faring. I called the next morning and they told me that minutes after I left the house, their grandmother had peacefully returned her soul to her Creator. I helped the family make proper burial arrangements and encouraged them to be in touch with their local FJC representatives when they returned home."
But Rabbi Wilhelm's story doesn't end here. Last year, at a woman's Chanuka event in Zhitomir, Mrs. Esther Wilhelm asked women to share a special moment or memory that they had of the Festival of Lights. One woman stood up and related the following:
"A number of years ago, my brother, daughter and I were visiting my elderly grandmother who lived in an isolated village near Zhitomir. My grandmother felt that her last moments were drawing close and called us over. In a weak but determined voice, she said, 'I am going to tell you a secret that I have guarded for the past 70 years. I am a Jew! All these years I have not lived as a Jew, but I want to have a Jewish burial!' My brother and I were utterly shocked and confused. Of course, we agreed to her final request, though we had no idea what it entailed. But what did this mean? Our grandmother a Jew? Were we Jews? And then, before we even had time to contemplate these questions, there was a knock on the door. It was Rabbi Shlomo Wilhelm! The rabbi thought he had come to share the joy of the holiday or offer material assistance to an elderly Jewish woman. But he had really come to enable our grandmother to spend her last moments in a Jewish atmosphere and to start us on our journey back to our Jewish identities.
"Since that time, we have found the answers to those questions and many others. Much of what I know I have learned from my daughter Irina, who since we moved to Zhitomir, is a student in the Ohr Avner Chabad school here," concluded Alya.
Let me share with you one more Chanuka miracle:
Yelena in Dzerzhinsk, Russia, has a young daughter, Yana, who was suffering from a very painful skin disease. The day that she saw the FJC's Chanuka menora lighting in the city center was the day her Russian Orthodox mother-in-law had insisted that if the child would be baptized she would be cured. Yelena knew only two things about Judaism: that she and her daughter were Jews and that Jews don't get baptized.
Rabbi Pinchas Kliamish, the Rebbe's emissary in Dzerzhinsk and the city's chief rabbi, noticed how intensely Yelena was gazing at the Chanuka Menora in the city's central square. He asked if she would like to join the celebration. Distractedly she explained that she had a very serious problem and would like to speak with him the next day. At their meeting the extent of her daughter's suffering from the skin ailment tumbled out. The rabbi listened carefully to all of the details, asked pertinent questions, and then on the spot contacted specialists in Moscow at the FJC medical center. He arranged for the immediate shipment of the expensive creams and medications that the child needed. A miracle!
Yelena's gratitude knew no bounds. But now she had another serious problem that she hoped the rabbi could solve. She realized that all she knew about being a Jew was that Jews don't baptize. "I want to know what it means to be a Jew," Yelena told the rabbi, "and I want my daughter to know, as well." This conversation was the catalyst for opening a kindergarten under the auspices of the FJC in Dzerzhinsk and Yelena's daughter Yana was the first child enrolled!
Rabbi Berkowitz is the executive director of the Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS. The FJC is the largest Jewish organization in the former Soviet Union, providing social, cultural and educational support to 454 member communities throughout 15 countries.
The Kabala of Inner Joy!
Ever wonder why some people, no matter how many challenges they face, are always happy? What's the secret that keeps them smiling through life's inevitable ups and downs? Jewish wisdom has an answer. And it's simpler than you think. Join Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Jacobson, Chana Rachel Schusterman and a dynamic, group of men and women from the U.S. and Canada, as they explore this topic at a Shabbaton hosted by the Lubavitch community in Brooklyn. Enjoy Chabad Shabbaton Weekend's guided Shabbat morning services with singing and spirit to help you learn how to pray and gain the most from the experience... a delicious Shabbat lunch... and time to make new friends with other Shabbaton guests. For reservations or more info call 718-774-6187 or visit www.shabbaton.org
From a letter dated "Chanukah eve, 5743" (1982)
continued from last week
... the Chanukah Lights remind us that every Jew, man and woman (both are duty-bound to fulfill this Mitzvah [commandment]), has a G-d-given task to spread the light of the Torah and Mitzvot in their personal life, in their home and family and in the community at large; and to do all this in a consistently growing measure.
If this task may seem too difficult, the three benedictions recited over the Chanukah Lights should dispel all doubts:
The first is an expression of gratitude to G-d "who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to kindle the Chanukah Light." It also reminds us that since G-d has commanded every Jew to fulfill His Mitzvot it is certain that He has provided every Jew with all the capacities necessary to carry out His command. Obviously G-d would not give one a task which He knows to be beyond the individual's capacity.
But sometimes there may be external, seemingly insurmountable, hindrances in the way of living Jewishly to the fullest degree. So the second benediction - "who performed miracles for our forefathers in those days at this time" - should not let us become disheartened. No Jew has had greater difficulty to live Jewishly than our forefathers in those days under the oppression of that mad tyrant Antiochus. But when Jews - like Mattityahu and his sons and their followers - were determined to give their lives for Torah and Mitzvot - G-d performed miracles for them and "delivered the mighty into the hands of the (physically) weak, the many into the hands of the few," etc. G-d is "still" capable to perform miracles for Jews if it be necessary.
The third benediction (recited only the first time the Chanukah Light is kindled) is the familiar "Shehecheyanu - who has granted us life sustained us and enabled us to reach this occasion." It is a joyous blessing recited on joyous occasions and it tells us that G-d gives us the strength to fulfill all His Mitzvot with vitality enthusiasm and joy.
The celebration of Chanukah beginning on the 25th of Kislev commemorates the rededication of the Beis Hamikdosh (the Holy Temple), the kindling of the Ner Tomid (the Perpetual Light of the Menorah) and the resumption of the Divine service in the purified Sanctuary.
This, in summary, is also the central instruction of Chanukah for the every day life and conduct of every Jew which should be in keeping with G-d's request. Make for Me a Sanctuary that I may dwell in them (within every Jew). In other words, G-d requests of every Jew, man and woman, to build and consecrate an inner "sanctuary" on the Altar of which he and she offer to G-d of their time energy money and their personal gratification.
Doing all this and doing it with joy and enthusiasm is a continuous process of dedication and re-dedication a real "Chanukah" in its every day profoundest sense.
May G-d grant that everyone of us be truly inspired by the teachings of Chanukah and of the Chanukah Lights and translate this inspiration into actual deeds in our everyday life and conduct.
This will surely hasten the end of the dark night of the Golus (exile) and bring the bright dawn and day of the true and complete Geulo (Redemption) through our righteous Moshiach and the fulfillment of the Divine request and promise to "Raise your voice in song sound the drums the pleasant harp (Kinnor) and the lute." The Kinnor of the Beis Hamikdosh in Moshiach's times, the Kinnor with eight strings.
With prayerful wishes for a bright Chanukah and a bright always, and With blessing,
Why do we eat potato latkes on Chanuka?
It is customary to eat food fried in oil on Chanuka in remembrance of one of the Chanuka miracles; only a day's supply of pure oil for the Temple menora was found, but it lasted for eight until more oil could be prepared. In Israel, they eat sufganiyot - jelly donuts - on Chanuka.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
When the Greek armies conquered the world, they tried to spread their lifestyle and philosophy. Wherever they went they built stadiums and statues of their idols. When they entered the Land of Israel, they tried to extend their influence and attract a following. However, they didn't attempt at first to stamp out Torah and mitzvot entirely. On the contrary, the Greeks appreciated Torah's intellectual wisdom and logic. They tried to influence the Jews to incorporate Torah and mitzvot into the Hellenistic way of life. The Greeks were willing to allow the Jews to study Torah as wisdom, philosophy, or ethics.
The Greeks did not oppose ritual; they had many religious practices of their own. What aroused their opposition was the concept that Torah and mitzvot are a direct command from G-d.
Chanuka is not a story of the past. We, too, are confronted with those who would separate Judaism from G-d. Pride in our heritage, culture, philosophy and traditions are "o.k." but G-d is ignored entirely. This attitude is totally contrary to the spirit of Chanuka.
Chanuka teaches us that even when we are in exile, we can maintain our Jewish observance. It shows that even when we are given the opportunity for physical indulgence and intellectual sophistication in the non-Jewish world, we can choose a Torah lifestyle. It shows how the transcendent bond with G-d which is brought about by mitzvot is more precious than any material reward.
Suddenly, seven fat, handsome cows emerged from the Nile... Then, just as suddenly, seven other cows emerged after them, very badly formed and emaciated. (Gen. 41:18-19)
Pharoah's dream, in which he dreamt of two opposites, is like the exile. In exile we are faced with opposites all the time. One minute we pursue eternal, spiritual goals and the next minute we want things that are mundane and transitory. When the Redemption comes we will no longer feel this dichotomy. We will see how the purpose of everything in the world is purely for holiness and G-dliness.
Pharaoh sent and summoned Joseph, and they rushed him from the dungeon... And Pharaoh said to Joseph, "See, I have set you in charge over all the land of Egypt" (Gen. 41:14-41)
The Jewish people is presently in the dungeon of a harsh and bitter exile; for many years we have been bound and fettered by its shackles. But just as Joseph went directly from confinement to rulership, so, too, our whole nation will speedily leave the prison of exile and simultaneously ascend to the status of royalty with the full and Final Redemption.
(The Rebbe, 28 Kislev, 5750)
Lighting the Menora
The proper time to light the Chanuka menora is "when the sun goes down," when night begins to descend upon the earth. For a Jew is never to fear darkness, even a spiritual one, as even a little light of Torah and mitzvot dispels much gloominess.
The superiority of the "shamash"
The "shamash" candle, the one which is used to light all the others, is not part of the mitzva itself. Yet it is precisely this candle which is placed, by Jewish custom, above all the others in a position of honor. We learn from this that a person who lights the "candle" of another Jew, who shares his enthusiasm and love of Judaism with another until he, too, is touched and "ignited," elevates his own spirituality as well.
A huge group was gathered on the other side of the large table and looked in the direction of their rebbe, Rabbi Avraham Wienberg, the Slonimer Rebbe. He stood opposite the wicks in the Chanuka menora, meditating and contemplating, for an unknown reason not yet ready to kindle the Chanuka lights.
Hundreds of Chasidim stood in awe and with great respect, watching their Rebbe as he stood preparing for this mitzva (commandment). They waited with bated breath for the glorious moment when he would take the wax candle in his hand and begin reciting the words of the Chanuka blessings.
Minutes, which seemed like hours, passed and then the Rebbe began chanting the blessings. He infused each word with kabbalistic intentions, and each chasid there was able to hook into the holiness of the moment according to his own level.
"Help me, deliver me!"
The dreadful cry tore through the hearts of all those gathered there and awakened each person from his reverie. Everyone looked in the direction of the voice.
The Rebbe, his face aflame with the holiness of the moment, also turned his head in the direction of the voice toward the end of the synagogue. There stood a women with her hands outstretched toward the heavens, crying with a bitter heart.
It became clear that this woman was not one of the wives of the chasidim gathered there. In fact, she had no connection to the Rebbe or the Chasidic lifestyle. "Who was she?" some murmured.
The distraught woman lived with her family in this town. Her husband was a wealthy and well-respected businessman who had never in his life entered this Chasidic synagogue. He and his friends were among those who laughed at the Chasidic lifestyle and customs.
For many years the couple had not been blessed with children. When their son was finally born they were already much older. Their happiness knew no bounds. He was always given the best of everything, though he was not especially spoiled.
On the eve of Chanuka the young boy had fallen ill. The doctors came to his bedside and cared for him with devotion. But they could not help him. To everyone's distress, his fever rose from day to day. Tonight, his situation worsened. The boy lost consciousness and the doctors who were standing around his bed raised their hands in hopelessness.
The father of the child was pacing around the house in agony and bitterness. But his mother could not stand seeing her son's suffering any longer and left the house. Suddenly she began walking quickly. Toward what or where or whom she knew not. But her feet seemed to have a mind of their own, and before she knew it she found herself in front of the Slonimer synagogue just as the Rebbe was preparing to kindle the Chanuka lights.
"Rebbe, help me," cried the woman in a voice that echoed throughout the entire synagogue.
"Tell her not to worry," the Rebbe said quietly to someone. "She should go and return home. She should ask her husband to add to her son's name the name 'Matitiyahu' (Matithias). And in the merit of that great tzadik (righteous person) - father of the Macabbees - who gave up his life for the Jewish people and the Holy One, the sick child's life will be lengthened. And another thing, when the child is fully recovered, his father should bring a 'pidyon nefesh' (redemption for the soul) of chai - life - 18 coins which will be given to charity in the Holy Land."
The following day, at about the time when the Chanuka candles were being lit, a new face was seen in the Slonimer synagogue. It was the father of Matitiyahu, who had brought to the Rebbe 18 rubles, a pidyon nefesh for his son who was fully recovered, to the Rebbe.
In Psalms (132:17) King David writes, "I have prepared a candle for my anointed." This alludes to the fact that Chanuka is a preparation for the revelation of Moshiach; when we kindle the Chanuka lights we are treated to a semblance of the great light that we will enjoy in the Messianic Era.
(Ma'ohr Einayim of Rabbi Mordechai of Chernobyl)