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In the "olden days," there were no electric street lights. There were kerosene lanterns on every corner whose light shined forth and made going through the streets less threatening. Lamplighters trudged from lamp to lamp with a torch, kindling its flame.
Even in the cold and the dark, these lone figures would make their way through the night, leaving a path of light behind them.
We are all lamplighters, charged with the mission of illuminating the world with the light of the Torah and its mitzvos. While this theme is always relevant, at certain times its importance resonates more forcefully than others.
Chanuka is one of those times. As we put our menoras near the doors or windows of our homes with the intent that they shine light into the darkness, we convey a message to the world: "Darkness is temporary. With a little bit of light it can be banished."
The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe would tell his chasidim, "We must listen carefully to what the Chanuka candles are saying." For the light of the Chanuka candles points us toward many important goals.
Firstly, the Chanuka lights should be kindled after sunset and must burn into the night.
The Chanuka candles teach us not to accept darkness as reality, but instead to kindle light. Moreover, we place the candles at our doorways or in our windows, indicating that we should not remain content with lighting up our own homes. Instead, we must reach out and spread light as far as we possibly can, lighting up the public domain.
Going further: On each night of Chanuka, we add to the number of candles lit on the previous night. Implied is that we can't sit still and rest on our laurels. Instead, we must increase our endeavors every day to spread light throughout the world. Though we illuminated our environment on the previous night, we cannot remain content, but instead must strive to make a further and greater contribution.
Chanuka is celebrated for eight days, a number that our Sages associate with the era of the Redemption. What is unique about eight? The natural order is structured in sets of seven: there are seven days in a week; seven years in the agricultural cycle observed in the Land of Israel. Eight represents a step above that cycle. In the motif of "eight," the transcendent oneness of G-d that surpasses nature's set of seven becomes revealed.
Though connected with oneness, eight is not one. The idea is not that infinity will be revealed in a manner that obscures entirely the material framework in which we presently live. Instead, 8 is 7+1, i.e., His oneness will permeate seven, the set of nature. We will appreciate how the truth of our own existence is G-dliness. The transcendent will be enclothed within the framework of our worldly sphere.
This message is illuminated by the light of the Chanuka candles. They recall the miraculous burning of the menora in the Temple and imbue us with the awareness that the Menora will soon be kindled again, spreading G-dly light openly throughout the world.
From Keeping In Touch by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger, published by Sichos In English
This week's Torah portion, Miketz, contains an interesting exchange between Pharaoh, King of Egypt, and our Patriarch Jacob. When Joseph brought his elderly father to Pharaoh to introduce him, Pharaoh asked, "How old are you?" Jacob responded: "The years of my travails are 130. The days of the years of my life have been few and hard, and they have not reached those of my ancestors in their journeys."
What an odd answer to Pharaoh's question! Why did Jacob find it necessary to offer all this information, when Pharaoh had only asked him his age? Furthermore, how could he have described his years as being "few"? His lifetime was already longer than the 120 years allotted to mankind after the great Flood of Noah's generation. In fact, Pharaoh had only posed the question because of Jacob's ancient appearance.
In the literal sense, it could certainly be said that Jacob had not reached the years of his ancestors, for Abraham lived till the age of 175, and Isaac until 180. Relatively speaking, Jacob was still young. Yet according to the commentator Rashi, Jacob was speaking qualitatively about his life; in contrast to his forefathers, his years were short and his lifetime was difficult.
From this perspective, since Jacob's years were "hard," fraught as they were with difficulty, they were also "few," for they were not filled with the inner spiritual service he desired. Because his life was hard, Jacob did not reach the inner spiritual fulfillment with which Abraham and Isaac had endowed their years.
Of course, this lack of fulfillment is relative to the unique level which Jacob saw as his potential. Our Sages relate that Jacob's true desire was to live to his fullest capacity, in the perfect goodness and prosperity of the Era of the Redemption. Since this potential was not realized during his lifetime, Jacob considered his life as lacking.
Jacob felt it necessary to communicate this message, both to Pharaoh, and to his descendants. He wanted his children to know that even while they dwelt in "the finest place in the land of Egypt," and were being given "the fat of the land," they should be ever aware that their lives were not complete.
This is particularly relevant to us, the last generation of the exile and the first generation of the Redemption. We must feel that until the Redemption becomes manifest, our lives are lacking. This perception will lead to an increased desire and yearning for the Redemption, and also an increase in our performance of those activities which will bring Moshiach and usher in the Messianic Era.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
How hard could it be to find Hanukkah candles in the land of plenty?
by Julie Subrin
Granted, this was last Friday afternoon - that is to say, a few hours before the first night of Hanukkah. But I wasn't worried. I live in New York City, home to nearly a million Jews, and I work in a downtown Manhattan neighborhood that's filled with stores that cater to your every domestic need and desire. All I wanted was a box of Hanukkah candles - or so I thought.
First stop: Dean & DeLuca, a gourmet grocery shop with a kitchenwares section at the back. Feeling confident, I squeezed past the line of exhausted shoppers at the café, patiently waiting to pay too much for double espressos, chocolate-chip brownies, granola - whatever it took to fuel one more hour of frenzied gift-buying. I figured this place was likely to have something overpriced but serviceable. I was right about the first part. Their "Hanukkah candles" cost just under $20. Made of beeswax, they came in a pale earth tone - very tasteful, but to my mind they belonged on a bedside table in a country house, not in a menorah. I passed.
Next stop, Crate & Barrel, where the section dedicated to "the holidays"-barrels (of course) overflowing with Christmas tree ornaments, stacks of plates decorated with plump snowmen, wreathes made of sage with artificial beads of dew-threatened to overtake the entire store. Surely, in the midst of this holiday excess, there'd be a nod to Hanukkah. I approached a bustling, apron-clad employee.
"Do you have Hanukkah candles?"
Almost before the words were out of my mouth, they felt wrong, out of place, and I was too, amidst all the red, green, silver and gold.
"Yeah, over here," the salesperson responded eagerly, "but I think we're out of the holders."
Holders? He led me away from the hordes to an easily missed area just to the left of the store entrance. There on a display shelf were boxes of candles, and you could choose - white or blue.
That's when I first realized I had a problem. I wanted real Hanukkah candles, the ones with the spiraling ridges, in the sky-blue box imprinted with Hebrew lettering and the stylized image of a gold menorah, the candles in all sorts of colors, one sometimes bleeding into another. When my sisters and I were little, we used to argue over who got to pick the colors each night. Perhaps, at this late date, I'd settle for unridged candles in a generic box. But white or blue only? No way.
Next stop, Pier 1 Imports. I know what you're thinking: "Honey, you're barking up the wrong tree. Go back to Brooklyn." But I was starting to feel belligerent. I mean, this town is full of Jews. We spend as much cash as the next person in the big home accessory chains. Did none of the drones in corporate headquarters think to requisition us some festive-looking candles when they put in their orders for nine thousand different variations on the Christmas tree ornament? No, Hanukkah candles are not ornaments. But that doesn't mean they're meant to be blank, void of all association, de-racinated.
"Hi, do you guys sell Hanukkah candles?" I asked the Pier 1 employee, a reed-thin guy, no apron but wearing a headset.
"Yeah, hang on." He walked away, and came back a moment later with a cellophane pouch of candles in hand. White. Every single one of them.
"Just white?" I asked, in a slightly hostile tone. "No thanks." I turned abruptly and left, as if to say, "You ought to be ashamed of yourself." Of course I was the one who should have been ashamed, shopping for Hanukkah candles at Pier 1 Imports a few hours before the holiday's start.
Next, I made a quick inquiry at a Duane Reade pharmacy at the corner. I was almost relieved when the indifferent cashier gave me a flat-out "no." No token gestures of diversity here.
Last stop, just because it was there: Sur la Table, an upscale kitchen supply store. I'd already determined that this project was a failure. At this point, it seemed, the search had become a form of self-punishment.
I made my way to the back without even a cursory investigation of the large area set aside for "holiday" items. There, I found a tall, beefy sales clerk, maybe in his mid 30s, wearing, of course, the requisite apron over his white shirt and khakis.
"Hi," I said half-heartedly. "Do you guys happen to sell Hanukkah candles?"
He looked at me strangely. My question, it seemed, had affected him somehow. Is he Jewish? I thought. A philo-Semite? An anti-Semite?
"Yes, you've come to the right place," he told me, his composure recovered, and led me to a menorah bearing nine white (of course) candles. I prepared myself to break it to him gently - I don't want white - but then I saw that he was looking at the shelf below, where the boxes of candles should have been. It was completely bare. "Hmmm..." he said. He seemed to be weighing something. "Hang on a sec." Hurrying off, he gestured for me to wait. I was suddenly very tired. I should just go, I thought. Instead, I aimlessly picked up and put down some brightly colored spatulas.
When he reappeared a minute later, he was holding a navy backpack. "You know, I'm embarrassed to say this, but I'm a really bad Jew." Uh oh. Where's he going with this? "I didn't have any Hanukkah candles either. But the other day, I saw those Lubavitcher guys walking down the street, you know how they do that, they go around giving out Hanukkah candles and tell you to light the candles and all that?"
"Usually I cross the street, but this time I chased after them and they gave me candles - two boxes, actually. You can have one if you want."
"Really?" Maybe it was low blood sugar - I should have joined the masses in line at Dean & DeLuca - but I almost started to cry.
He unzipped the backpack and rummaged around.
"Here you go," he said, handing me a glossy black cardboard box with a somber picture of burning (white!) candles on the front, and a red plastic dreidel. "They gave me that, too."
"Thank you so much," I said, turning over the little dreidel. "This is - I can't even tell you...." "No problem," he said. "Enjoy."
Out on the street, I took a deep breath, and then opened the box. There they were, rows of candles - red, yellow, blue, orange, white. They weren't the ones we had growing up, the pale ones in the blue box. But they weren't so dissimilar, either, and there was no denying it-they were Hanukkah candles.
- (Back to text) This year the first night of Chanuka is Tuesday evening.
The corps of emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe continues to grow. Four young couples recently accepted posts throughout the world, some establishing new centers, others bolstering the work of the Rebbe's emissaries currently in place. Rabbi Leibel and Nechamie Fajnland recently opened a new Chabad House in Herndon, Virginia, serving the Jewish community in Reston and Herndon. Rabbi Zalman and Chanie Friedman are now serving as Youth and Teen Directors of Chabad Jewish Center of Mission Viejo, California. Rabbi Shai and Chani Vaknin are the new youth directors for Chabad of Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Rabbi Osher and Mussy Litzman will be arriving soon in Seoul, South Korea, to open the first Chabad House in that country.
Chanukah, 5733 
I duly received your letter...and may G-d grant that all the matters about which you write should get ever brighter, in keeping with the spirit of Chanukah Lights increasing in number and brightness from day to day.
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 Mitzvoth [commandments], since the Torah and Mitzvoth are infinite, being derived from the Infinite [Ein Sof]. I mention this here apropos of the Mitzvah of the Ner Chanukah [Chanukah Lights], specifically in relation to one particular aspect which, at first, appears quite puzzling.
I am referring to the fact that although Chanukah recalls many miracles and wonders, the main event for which Chanukah was instituted was the miracle of the cruse of oil, the one and only that was found in the Beth Hamikdosh [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 Mizbe'ach (Altar), but for fuel in the Menorah 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 with 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." Nevertheless, it was the miracle of being able to light the Menorah 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 Mitzvoth, as symbolized by the Chanukah Lights, there must be absolute purity and holiness. It is not for the human mind to reason why, and what difference it makes, etc.
Much more could be said on the subject, but it will suffice to lend further weight to our conversation during your visit here, when the point was made how most vital it is that the right person should head the institution which Divine Providence has privileged you to establish in the Holy Land, and even holier City of Jerusalem, as a center for the dissemination of Yiddishkeit [Judaism] in its purity. The purity and holiness of the oil must be ensured.
To carry the analogy further, it is the purpose of the central Beth Hamikdosh to illuminate and bring holiness and purity into the individual "Beth Hamikdosh" - i.e. every Jewish home and every Jewish person, which is also the obligation of every Jew towards his fellow Jew, in accordance with the Mitzvah of "v'ohavto lre'acho komoicho [love your fellow as yourself]." But special precautions are necessary that the Beth Hamikdosh itself be illuminated with the purest, sanctified oil, so that even the Kohen Godol [High Priest], if he should happen to be tomeh [impure] could not enter the Beth Hamikdosh, much less kindle the Menorah.
May G-d grant you Hatzlocho [success] in establishing the set institution in fullest accord with G-d's will, in the spirit outlined above, truly reflecting the spirit of the Chanukah lights, lighting ever more candles and increasing their glow from day to day.
With prayerful wishes for the utmost Hatzlocho in all above, and
P.S.... Inasmuch as we are now in the auspicious days of Chanukah, I want to send you and yours my greetings and good wishes for a growing measure of brightness in all your affairs, including, above all, your participation in the cause of Chinuch Al Taharas Hakodesh [a pure Jewish education]. One of the essential messages of Chanukah is the need to preserve the purity of the Torah and Mitzvoth, especially in the education of our children, for the miracle of Chanukah occurred with the cruse of pure and undefiled oil.
Why is it customary to eat dairy foods on Chanuka?
Eating dairy foods reminds us of the miracles performed through Yehudit, daughter of Yochanan the High Priest. After serving the Syrian General Holefernes salty cheese, she plied him with wine. when we was in a drunken stupor she killed him, smuggled his head out of the enermy camp and into the city where it was hung on the wall. When the Syrian army saw this they fled.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
During these days of Chanuka we emphasize the miracles that G-d wrought for our ancestors, "In those days, in our times." The first miracle was the victory of the small Jewish army over the vastly superior and more numerous Greek army. The second miracle, and this is the miracle which we symbolically celebrate each time we kindle the Chanuka menora, is the miracle of the one small cruse of pure olive oil which lasted for eight days rather than the one day for which it was intended.
That G-d was and is willing to perform miracles for His people shows His tremendous love for us. But, G-d's expression of love for us depends on our expression of love for each other. Thus, in addition to the love we should show a fellow Jew because he is our brother, we must show him additional love because G-d loves him. The importance of loving our fellow Jews is emphasized by the fact that this course of conduct will enable each person, his family, and the entire Jewish people, and ultimately the whole world, to leave the exile in the immediate future.
The Chanuka lights that we kindle in our home on each night of Chanuka are a symbol of G-d's love for the Jewish people. They have their source in G-d's light, in the light of the miracle of Chanuka, a miraculous light. As we kindle the Chanuka lights on the remaining nights of Chanuka, let us remember the miracles they represent, the Source of the miracles, and why G-d performed those miracles for us. And let these thoughts spur us on toward greater love of our fellow Jew, especially including, of course, those closest to us.
May we merit not only the lights of Chanuka this year, but also the Great Light of the Final Redemption, through the revelation of Moshiach, NOW.
And Pharoah called Joseph, Tzafnat Paneiach (Genesis 41:45)
Pharoah changed Joseph's name because he didn't want his viceroy to have a Jewish sounding name. However, he continued to be called by the name Josef, as it is written in the next verse: "And Josef went out from Pharoah's presence."
Joseph recognized his brothers, but they recognized him not (Gen. 42:8)
Joseph's brothers never expected that a man as involved in worldly affairs as the viceroy of Egypt could be their brother. In their world view, the only way to serve G-d properly was to divorce oneself from worldly matters and pursue a life of spiritual contemplation, much as they were able to do in their chosen profession of shepherding. Joseph, however, was on a higher level of spirituality, able to maintain his attachment to G-d even while involved in the day-to-day affairs of state.
When Joseph's brothers came under his power he recognized them as his brothers - he acted compassionately as a brother should. But when Joseph fell into their hands they did not recognize their brotherly obligations, and they sold him.
Your G-d, and the G-d of your fathers, has given you a treasure...and he brought Shimon out to them (Gen. 43:32)
This verse alludes to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who would one day reveal the treasures hidden within the Torah in his holy book, the Zohar.
(Ma'ayana Shel Torah)
Pesachya could never get used to it. Every year, he would go to the shelf, take down the family Menora, and place it carefully in his suitcase. Then, with a bitter sigh, he would say to his wife,"So I won't be with you and the children for Chanuka once again this year. What can I do. I must be in the forests to supervise the wood-cutting."
"Maybe this year will be different," his wife had said, for this past summer Pesachya had received a special blessing. It had been quite unexpected. Pesachya was paying his yearly visit to Rabbi Sholom Dov Ber of Lubavitch.
"Pesachya," the Rebbe had said quietly, "no doubt it is hard for you to be away from home at Chanuka time.
"This year, be sure to take along a supply of big candles. May the Al-mighty bless you with a bright Chanuka, and give you much success in the business too." Pesachya was astonished, speechless. It was as if the Rebbe had looked into the hidden areas of his heart to discover that old pain.
The Rebbe had spoken very naturally, but his words were puzzling. As Pesachya dutifully went to purchase "the big candles," he wondered what the Rebbe really had in mind.
When Chanuka came, Pesachya remembered the Rebbe's instructions. Every morning he rose early to study and pray. Then, before leaving the cabin, he would check to make sure that he had the right number of candles with him to light that evening.
One morning, Pesachya awoke a little later than usual. Hurriedly he bundled himself up, and ran down the forest path. Suddenly he realized that he had forgotten the Chanuka candles. Another delay, he thought. Maybe he should leave them until later. No. Better go back and get them after all.
Despite the late start, the day turned out well. Finally, as it grew dark, Pesachya dismissed his workers and began to trudge toward his lonely cabin.
"Stop Jew!" said a gruff voice, sending a chill of fear down his spine. Pesachya looked up, as a rough band of woodsmen laid hold of him, the tallest brandishing a large axe.
"Robbers! Help!" he cried, but no one heard a sound. One grabbed him from behind. Another stunned him with a blow. "Don't fight or we'll kill you!" they said.
Roughly they search him, taking his jacket and his money belt. Then with a shove, they threw him down on the icy dark road.
Pesachya's head pounded as he heard a voice say, "Hold him steady. Let's get it over with."
"Wait, wait!" cried Pesachya desperately. "Don't kill me, Please. Spare my life. I beg you. I have a wife, children. Mercy!"
"Quiet!" a voice growled. "You can forget about them."
"Master of the World," said Pesachya to himself, and cried out the Shema Yisrael prayer.
Suddenly he remembered the candles. "Wait, listen," he begged. "If these are my last minutes, let me at least light the candles for the holiday of Chanuka."
"All right, if that's your last wish. But make it quick," the robbers said.
With trembling fingers, Pesachya took out the candles and stuck them in a mound of snow by the roadside. With tears streaming down his face, he recited the blessings, and kindled the tall candles.
As he watched them he thought of his family, his poor children, so many miles away. The he remembered the way the Rebbe had looked at him that last summer, and his mind was full of the vision of his holy face.
Suddenly he heard a shout. "Stop where you are, all of you." The forest was bristling with armed men. "You're all under arrest."
The Duke's private soldiers rushed forward, grabbing the robbers, and holding them at gunpoint.
"At last we'll make these woods safe," said a man dressed in warm furs, whom Pesachya recognized as the wealthy Duke, owner of the forest.
"You...you saved my life," cried Pesachya. "How did you find me?"
"Why, your candles," said the Duke. "We noticed them from the main road as we rode by. They led us right to you.
"They're for your holiday, aren't they?" the Duke said curiously. "It just shows, a bit of religion never hurts, does it?"
Pesachya smiled gratefully. "I..I can never thank you enough."
And as he spoke, his eyes filled with a look of wonder, as he realized at last what the Rebbe had meant.
Reprinted from The Moshiach Times magazine.
King David writes in Psalms (132:17): "I have kindled a light for My anointed - Orachti ner liMshichi." This refers to the kindling of the Chanuka lights, which is a preparation for the revelation of Moshiach.
(Rabbi Nochum of Tchernobel in Me'or Einayim)