Lessons from the Dreidel | Living with the Rebbe | A Slice of Life | What's New
The Rebbe Writes | Customs | A Word from the Director | Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
by Rabbi Bentzion Milecki
The dreidel has evolved from the humble clay or wood version to the "hi-tech," multi-media version, replete with lights and musical accompaniment, that can be now be found on shop shelves and in many homes.
Even today's ultra-modern dreidels still sport those ancient Hebrew letters: Nun, Gimmel, Hay, Shin. What's the significance of these letters, and why do they specifically appear on the dreidel?
The explanation which follows will illustrate how the dreidel tells the story of both the history of the world and its ultimate purpose.
Kabalistic teachings explain that a person is comprised of three elements: Body, Soul and Intellect. In Hebrew these are Guf, Nefesh and Sechel.
These teachings further explain that the history of the world's empires can be roughly divided into four: Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome. Each of these empires attacked the Jewish people in a uniquely different way - and each time the Jewish people prevailed.
The Babylonian Empire attacked the Jewish body (Guf), massacring as they destroyed the First Temple and took the Jews as captives to Babylon.
The Persian Empire, known for its promiscuity and licentiousness attacked the Jewish People in soul (Nefesh).
The Greek Empire, which produced some of the world's greatest philosophers, attempted to demonstrate (falsely) the incompatibility of Torah with Science and Intellect (Sechel).
Finally, the Roman Empire utilized all the above three methods - attacks on the body, the soul and the intellect - in an attempt to discredit and delegitimize the Torah and Judaism. The Hebrew word for "all" is "Hakol."
These then are what the letters of the dreidel represent:
Gimmel stands for the Jewish body - Guf (Babylon); Nun stands for the Jewish soul - Nefesh (Persia); Shin stands for the Jewish intellect - Sechel (Greece);
Hay stands for all the above - HaKol (Rome).
Furthermore, in Hebrew each letter is associated with a numerical value, known as Gematria.
The Gematria of Gimmel, Nun, Shin, Hay is 358.
This is the same Gematria as "Nachash" - the serpent that seduced Adam and Eve - at the beginning of time. It is also the same Gematria as "Moshiach" - the Redeemer of the Jewish People at the end of time.
And so the dreidel represents the history of the world from its inception until the end of time. History began with the attempt by the Nachash to seduce Adam and Eve. The serpent then continued its seduction throughout history - in the guise of the Baby-lonians, Persians, Greeks and Romans. At the end, however, the Nachash will be vanquished by Moshiach.
It's important to note that Nachash and Moshiach are the same Gematria, signifying that the victory of Moshiach is not one which precludes the use of the body, soul and intellect. On the contrary, each of these has it's place in the service of G-d. We need to serve G-d with a healthy body. Our emotions and our desires, can be used for the greatest acts of holiness. And of course, intellect - especially the advances of science, technology and communication - empower us as individuals and enable the masses to reach spiritual knowledge that was until now unattainable.
As Moshiach approaches, the tools of the Nachash, body, soul and intellect - each of which might seem to be in opposition to holiness - must be trans-formed into tools to better serve G-d.
Chanuka means "rededication." Chanuka is a time to find new ways to use all the powers that make us human to achieve our ultimate fulfillment as human beings and bring us closer to G-d and the Redemption of Moshiach.
What a powerful lesson from the humble dreidel!
- (Back to text) Found in the teachings of both the Maharal of Prague and the Bnei Yissaschar
This week's Torah portion, Vayeishev, recounts the birth of Peretz and Zerach, the twin sons of Judah and Tamar. The Torah relates that when Zerach "put out his hand first," the midwife tied a red thread around it as a sign, saying, "This one came out first." But Zerach drew back his hand; Peretz "broke forth" and was the first to be born.
The Torah's stories are not merely historical accounts of our progenitors. Rather, by virtue of their inclusion, they allude to events occurring later in Jewish history and reveal teachings pertinent to us in every day and age.
Our Sages teach that, by right, Zerach should have been the firstborn of the two brothers. His birthright was forfeited, however, because of a grave sin one of his descendants would commit generations later, during the time of Joshua. The sin was so great, affecting all Jews, that the twins' birth order was switched, and Peretz was born first.
The twins' names hint to an even deeper significance. The name "Zerach" comes from the Hebrew for "shining forth," like the light of the sun which illuminates the entire world. "Peretz," literally "breaking forth," was the progenitor of King David, from whom Moshiach will descend. On a more profound level, "Zerach" and "Peretz" stand for the two types of service of G-d - the service of tzadikim (righteous), and the service of baalei teshuva (penitents).
Each type of service has an advantage not present in the other. The tzadik's worship of G-d - "Zerach" - is steady and dependable. Each day, the tzadik methodically ascends the spiritual ladder, attaining higher levels of holiness. The service of "Zerach," however, is that of those whose yearning toward G-d occurs only after an initial distancing. At such times, the baal teshuva's thirst for holiness is even greater than the tzadik's, and his service is even more impassioned. The service of the baal teshuva contains the power to "break forth" and overcome the harshest of limitations.
G-d desires every Jew to serve Him in righteousness; accordingly, Zerach's hand was extended first. But because the world was created in such a way as to accommodate sin, it was necessary for Peretz to be born first, indicating the value of returning to G-d after one has distanced himself.
Furthermore, the Final Redemption is dependent on the service of the baal teshuva, which is why Moshiach is a descendent of Peretz. The long Exile served to expiate the sins which led to the destruction of the Holy Temple, thus placing the Jews in the category of baalei teshuva. Indeed, Maimonides states that when the Jewish nation sincerely returns to G-d, "immediately they will be redeemed."
Adapted from Talks of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Vol. 30.
The Frozen Flames
by Aliza Silberstein
It is a frigid day. The bitter cold is about average for winter in Vladivostok, Russia, but that doesn't make it any easier to bear. The temperature is far below zero, hovering somewhere in the negative teens, and coupled with biting winds. Yet inside, (along with a strong furnace) the holiday cheer and spirit warm the hall.
Over 150 Jews are gathered together, on this third night of Chanuka, celebrating the triumph of light over darkness more than 2,000 years ago. Young and old, simple folk and public dignitaries, are united under the title "Jew." It is a heartwarming program, full of Jewish songs, food and pride. The celebration is being held in a place where Jews, until very recently, were afraid to advertise their Jewish identity.
Tonight, for the first time in Vladivostok's history, a giant menora will be lit in the center of the city. Light will once again triumph over darkness.
Night has fallen, and with it, the temperature. It has dropped to 25 below zero, the face-numbing winds biting through to one's very bones.
The menora stands, majestic, against the backdrop of the sea, and the crowd waits expectantly for light to spread over the city.
The valves of the propane gas tanks that are to serve as the Chanuka lights are opened . . . but the gas refuses to light. The gas has frozen in the tanks!
With no other choice, a human menora is formed, each man holding a propane tank. The rabbi acts as the shamash - the light from which all of the other lights will be lit - and three brave community members become the holders for the three Chanukah lights. Held in semi-frozen hands, close against their chests, the gas "melts."
The shamash is lit, and then the fierce winds extinguish it. But, darkness will not prevail. The shamash is relit, and then the first Chanuka light. Again, the flames flicker and choke in the wind.
Vladivostok's chief rabbi, Rabbi Yisrael Silberstein, tries a third time, hugging the propane gas tank even closer, shielding the delicate flame from the swirling winds. The three Chanuka lights are finally lit, and the human menora, protecting the Chanuka flames from the frigid cold and wind, stands resilient. As they cradle the flames from the winds, the lights magically stay lit. A Chanuka miracle.
And when the light does falter, another flame is quick to relight it.
The rabbi speaks, lips half numb from cold, about how we too, are flames. Each of us, as a flame, has the power to warm up even the most frozen heart, the coldest soul. And when one's friend falters, it is up to each one of us to rekindle the flickering spark.
The entire community that is gathered there that evening stand proudly watching their human menora, the living symbol of endurance, until the gas finally runs out.
The crowd heads home, hands freezing, faces numb, but hearts warmed by the eternal Jewish flame. It is true, a bit of light prevails over the greatest darkness. And three small Chanuka lights have the power to warm even the bitterest Russian night.
What is Vladivostok's Jewish history?
The year was 1860. Vladivostok, a far eastern city on the Russian port, was founded.
1902. Jews made the long journey across Russia and settled in this cold port city. A mikva (ritualarium) was built. A Jewish school opened, where community members could now educate their children. A synagogue was erected.
Years passed. Jewish life all over Russia began to precariously flicker.
1932. The hold of Communism spread over Russia, reaching even this far eastern city. The mikva was shut down; the rabbi fled for his life; the school was boarded up. Finally, in this war against religion, the synagogue was claimed and converted into a chocolate factory. All identifying Jewish symbols were destroyed. All outward traces of the Jewish life in Vladivostok were stamped out.
2004. The synagogue, 72 years after it was confiscated, was returned to the Jewish community. It is easy enough to designate a building for a specific purpose. But to actually turn a building into something more, in this case, into a vibrant synagogue filled with Jews once again proudly celebrating their identity, is far more difficult.
The community began to join together, again observing their Judaism openly. At first, it was just the elderly, though they barely remember Jewish life as it is meant to be. Intermarriage is hovering at just above 99%. Slowly, slowly, youth began coming, as if being pulled in by the magnetism of the synagogue and all it represents. Individuals started to become closer to G-d and to follow His commandments.
Externally too, the Jewish soul began to be revealed.
2007. Part of the design of the original synagogue building was the Tablets of the Ten Commandments - a symbol of the Jews' eternal covenant with G-d. The Tablets had been etched into the exterior facade. The governments had tried to eradicate, or at least hide, this important symbol; but they had only been successful at hiding the actual letters.
Recently, while doing repair work on the building, drilling was done near the tablets. The heavy layer of cement crumbled. The Hebrew letters of the Ten Commandments that had been hidden away for over seven decades were being uncovered.
The cement was scraped away. And then the first two words of each of the commandments were able to proudly proclaim their message.
May we all be blessed with a year of flames that stay lit and of dirt that is scraped away, allowing the soul to express itself, reaching ever outwards.
Aliza Silberstein and her husband, Rabbi Yisrael Silberstein, are the Lubavitcher Rebbe's emissaries in Vladivostok, Russia.
See You There!
Be part of the Chanuka celebrations at the World's Largest Chanuka Menora at Fifth Ave. and 59th St. in NYC. Tuesday, Dec. 5 - thursday, Dec. 7 5:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 8, 3:40 p.m. Saturday night, Dec. 9, 8:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 10 - Tuesday, Dec. 12, 5:30 p.m. On Sunday there will be live music, free hot latkes and chocolate 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.
24th of Kislev, 5735 
Blessing and Greeting:
I was pleased to receive the good news that you began lighting a candle for Shabbos. No doubt you will do the same also for Yom Tov.
Although, as you mention, you have not yet reached the age of Bas-Mitzvah, you surely know that the Mitzvah of Chinuch - training in the practice of Mitzvos [commandments] - begins quite early in Jewish life. It not only prepares for Bar-Mitzvah and Bas-Mitzvah, but lays the foundation for the entire life. This is what the Wisest of All Men, King Solomon, meant, when he said, "Train (chanoch) the youngster in his right way, so that he will not depart from it also when he grows old." (Proverbs 22:6) Needless to say, though the verse speaks of a boy (na'ar), girls are included, as in many similar verses in the Torah.
A Mitzvah should, of course, be fulfilled for its own sake, because G-d commanded it, and without thought for reward. Nevertheless, each Mitzvah contains many lessons and carries with it G-d's blessings in many ways. This is especially true in the case of the Mitzvah of Ner-Shabbos [Shabbat candles], as explained by our Sages (in the Gemorah Shabbos 23b, and elsewhere), that it is connected with the verse, "Ner-Mitzvah vTorah-Or," meaning that lighting the Shabbos candles brings the light of Torah - the whole Torah! - into the home.
A further point about Ner-Shabbos has to do with the "practical" reason of lighting up the house so that no one would stumble in darkness and get hurt, G-d forbid. But in a deeper sense, the Shabbos candles light up the house and every member of the family with the light of Torah, to walk safely through the path of life which is full of dangerous pitfalls.
In addition, lighting a candle in honor of Shabbos and Yom Tov [holiday] betokens the lighting up of one's Mazal, to be blessed by G-d also in all material needs.
May G-d grant that all the great spiritual and material blessings that go with Ner-Shabbos be fulfilled in you and shared by all in your home.
It is especially gratifying to receive the good news, and to acknowledge it, in these days close to Chanukah. For Chanukah further emphasizes the significance of candle-lighting in Jewish life. One of the important details of the Chanukah lights is that they should be seen also outside, so that those who are still "outside" should also be inspired by the lesson of Chanukah.
Another important detail about the Chanukah lights is that, although the Mitzvah of the Ner-Chanukah [Chanukah candles] is fulfilled to perfection by lighting one candle the first night, we are called upon to light two candles the second night, three the following night, and so on, adding one more candle each night. This teaches us that however satisfactory our religious observance is today, we must do better tomorrow, and better still the day after, for there is no limit to goodness and holiness.
In light of the above, I trust that you will not only go from strength to strength in all matters of Yiddishkeit [Judaism] in your personal life and daily conduct, but will also be a shining example to other girls, especially those who are not as privileged as you, and know little or nothing about the Mitzvos. A good way of helping those underprivileged girls is by starting them on candle-lighting in honor of Shabbos and Yom Tov, and gradually kindling many other "Ner-Mitzvos." For such is the beauty of light, that a little flame of a candle can ignite many candles, and the light can be shared by all who are within sight.
Wishing you a bright Chanukah.
Why the custom of giving "Chanuka gelt" (money)?
The word "Chanuka" has two meanings. It means "dedication," for on the 25th of Jewish month of Kislev the Holy Temple was rededicated, and it also means "education." Concerning the second meaning, it was customary to test children on their Torah knowledge during Chanuka and give them gelt, or money, as a reward.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This past Thursday we celebrated the auspicious day of the 19th of Kislev, the Festival of Redemption of the first Rebbe of Chabad, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi. the 19th of Kislev is known amongst Chabad-Lubavitch Chasidim as the "Rosh Hashana" of Chasidism.
Imprisoned by the Russian government on false charges of anti-governmental activities, Rabbi Shneur Zalman spent 52 days in the Petersburg Prison. The number of days providentially corresponds to the number of chapters in Rabbi Shneur Zalman's holy book upon which all Chabad Chasidic philosophy is based, Tanya.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman saw his release from prison and vindication not simply as a personal liberation, but as vindication and redemption for the entire Chasidic movement and its teachings, of which he was one of the main proponents. For the fledgling Chasidic movement, established only a few decades earlier by the Baal Shem Tov, was heavily denounced and attacked by many Jewish scholars and leaders of those times.
In a letter sent by Rabbi Shneur Zalman to his colleague Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, he writes: "G-d wrought wonders and performed great miracles within the world...sanctifying His name in public, in particular before the officers of the Czar. They were also amazed by the circumstances and recognized that, "This is from G-d; it is wondrous in our eyes."
In a private audience with Chasidim who had come to celebrate the 19th of Kislev together with him, the Lubavitcher Rebbe stated, "In the spiritual realms, the Holy Temple is already in its place. And in the very near future, it will descend to the material world in the ultimate Redemption, led by Moshiach....All the appointed times for Moshiach's coming have already passed, and all the service necessary has been completed. All that is necessary to do is open our eyes and we can see that the Redemption is already here."
May we join the redemption of the 19th of Kislev with the redemption of the upcoming Chanuka holiday together with the ultimate Redemption and greet Moshiach NOW!
And Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age (Gen. 37:3)
Why is this cited as a reason for the special bond which existed between Israel and his son Joseph? Did he not have other children who were born when he was already an old man? Issachar and Zebulon were the same age as Joseph, and Benjamin would be born even later. The phrase "son of his old age" is therefore interpreted to apply to Joseph himself; his actions were those of an old and wise individual who had already acquired a lifetime of wisdom.
We were binding sheaves in the field...and behold, your sheaves placed themselves around, and bowed down to my sheaf (Gen. 37:7)
This world, in which physical objects appear to be distinct and separate entities from G-dliness, is likened to a field. To make a sheaf, the stalks of wheat must first be uprooted and then bound together. Similarly, the task of the Jew is to take physical objects, "uproot" them from their corporeality, and utilize them in the service of G-d so that they become vessels for holiness.
And on the vine were three branches (Gen. 40:10)
According to our Sages, the Jews are likened to the vine, the fruit of which - wine - "gladdens G-d and man." For within every Jew exists this attribute of "wine" - the innate ability to delight in G-dliness, an inheritance from our forefathers. This love for G-d is hidden deep inside, much like the wine is hidden in the grape and not outwardly discernable. Likewise, just as squeezing the grape releases the treasure within, so does personal refinement and self-nullification reveal this inner love and bring it to its potential.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
The followers of Rabbi Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezritch, awaited his entrance into the synagogue for the lighting of the Chanuka menora on the first night of Chanuka. For the past few years, Reb Zushe, one of the Maggid's greatest disciples, had been honored with lighting the shamash candle. Reb Zushe would then hand it to the Maggid who lit his menora from it. But Reb Zushe was nowhere to be seen and the chasidim wondered if his absence was the reason the Maggid had not yet lit the menora.
Minutes, then hours ticked by, as the chasidim waited for their Rebbe to emerge. Finally, at about midnight, the Maggid emerged from his room and walked towards the menora. As if to himself, the Maggid said quietly, "Reb Zushe will not be with us tonight. We will light the menora now."
The Maggid honored another of his chasidim with the privilege of kindling the shamash for him, the blessings were chanted and the one, solitary wick was lit. Then all of the holy assemblage joined together in singing the traditional Chanuka hymns.
The next morning, just as the Maggid and his chasidim were finishing the services, Reb Zushe walked in. Weary from traveling, Reb Zushe shuffled over to his customary place and dropped down on the bench. His friends came over and gave him a hearty welcome. One of them reported, "The Rebbe waited a long time for you last night. What happened?"
"After we light the Chanuka menora tonight," promised Reb Zushe, "and with the Rebbe's permission, I will tell you what happened."
All of the chasidim gathered around the Maggid's menora on the second night of Chanuka. After the Maggid lit the menora they eagerly listened to Reb Zushe's story:
"As you all know, immediately after the High Holidays, it is my custom to travel throughout the small villages and hamlets near Mezritch. I go from town to town, speaking with the adults and teaching the children about the wonders of our heritage. I also speak to them about how G-d loves each and every single Jew and that they are all important to Him. I tell them about our Rebbe and explain some of the Rebbe's teachings.
"Each year, I plan my schedule so that I can return to Mezritch in time for Chanuka. Yesterday, I was on my way back to Mezritch when a terrible snowstorm started. I pushed on through the storm, though many times I felt I could not continue. Knowing that I would soon be back in Mezritch near the Rebbe was what kept me going.
"The storm worsened and I soon realized that I would have to stop and rest a bit before continuing, if I wanted to make it to Mezritch at all. And so, I stopped at the home of Yankel in a village not too far from Mezritch. By this time it was already quite late in the afternoon. I pounded and pounded on the door until finally, someone called out, 'Who is it?'
"'It is I, Reb Zushe,' I said loudly.
"Yankel's wife opened the door. She looked absolutely terrified as she bid me inside. I noticed that the children, too, looked frightened.
"The poor woman burst out, 'Yankel left the house early this morning to gather firewood. He promised he would come back early, for even then he saw we were in for a terrible storm. It is late already and still he has not returned,' she wailed.
"For a split second I hesitated. If I went into the forest now, who knew if I would come out alive? But I knew I had no choice. I put on my coat and scarf once again and set out toward the forest.
"I passed a few rows of trees when I saw the upright form of a man covered with snow. Only his face was visible in that white blur. I saw right away that it was Yankel, and I thought for sure that he had frozen to death. But when I came very close, I noticed to my surprise, that he was still breathing. I brushed Yankel off and tried to warm him up.
"Somehow I managed to drag and carry Yankel back to his house where his wife and children greeted us with cries of joy. With my last ounce of strength I deposited Yankel on the bench near the stove and fell to the floor myself. Miraculously, Yankel's wife was able to "thaw" him out. She brought us a bottle of strong mashke which we drank eagerly to warm our insides. At about midnight we felt sufficiently strong enough to stand up and light the Chanuka menora. As we said the prayer, 'who made miracles for our ancestors, in those days at this time," we knew without a doubt that G-d had made a miracle for us now, too.
"As soon as the sun rose in the morning I set out for Mezritch and arrived when you saw me this morning."
Reb Zushe finished his story. The Maggid looked deeply into Reb Zushe's face. "Know, Zushe, that in Heaven they waited - as it were - to light the Divine Chanuka menora until you lit the menora together with Yankel. In the merit of your saving a Jewish soul from death, the Heavens awaited you."
Judah and Tamar had two sons, Peretz and Zerach. Peretz is the direct ancestor of King David and Moshiach. The Midrash notes that "Before the first enslaver of Israel (Pharaoh) was born, the ultimate redeemer of Israel (Moshiach's ancestor Peretz) was already born." G-d thus brought about the cure before the affliction. This "light of Moshiach" that was created with the birth of Peretz confers upon Israel the strength and ability to succeed in their exiles, to "break through" (the meaning of the name "Peretz") all the obstacles that try to impede their service of G-d until Moshiach is revealed.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Shabbat Parshat Vayeishev, 5751)