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Planets. Meteors. Stars. Every once in a while we hear astronomers predict, and usually pretty accurately, that bodies in space will collide and crash.
Sometimes this has an effect on us earthlings, other times it has no repercussions for us whatsoever.
What happens when it's not two stars or planets, but two worlds that collide? That's exactly what happened over 2,000 years ago. The result of this collision is celebrated each year on Chanuka.
Chanuka recalls the clash of two worlds: on the one hand, the Jewish world of faith and Torah, based on pure monotheism, with its concept of holiness permeating daily life down to the minutest detail; on the other hand the Gentile Hellenistic culture, with its polytheistic and largely materialistic concept of life.
By force of arms the Greeks attempted to impose their culture on others. However, their aim was not to eradicate indigenous cultures, but rather to Hellenize and assimilate them.
Thus, the Greeks were willing to recognize the Torah, or even accept it, as a beautiful literary creation, a work of poetry, wisdom and profound philosophy, provided it was considered a human creation, something like their own mythology.
As such the Torah could be, nay, ought to be, changed and modified from time to time, so as to harmonize with the novel ideas and mores of the period, which, of course, would do away with the permanence and immutability of commandments such as Shabbat, the laws of kosher, circumcision, etc.
Thus it was not the suppression of Torah they aimed at, but its acceptance as G-d-given word, as G-d's Torah.
Similarly, they were not averse to the moral and ethical values contained therein, but they prohibited the Divine statutes - the so-called "supra-rational" precepts - which more than any others distinguish the Jewish way of life.
Moreover - and this was the greatest danger posed by the Greek penetration of the Sanctuary - they favored, and even endeavored to bring about, the rekindling of the menora (in its hallowed place in the Sanctuary, whence it should spread its light everywhere as before), except that its light should come from oil that had the Greek "touch."
The menora, which was kindled with pure and consecrated oil, was the visible symbol of the purity of the Jewish way of life; its Perpetual Light flashed this message from the Holy Temple to every Jew wherever he might be. The Greeks were resolved to change this.
Indeed, there were Jewish Hellenists who felt that a "touch" of the more "modern" and "sophisticated" Greek culture ought to be applied to Judaism and Torah.
But a handful of Hasmoneans recognized that this "touch" is the fatal blow that strikes at the inner sanctum of Jewish life.
Divine Providence saw to it that a cruse of oil, pure and uncontaminated, should be found with which to rekindle the menora, and that it should not only hold its own, but grow and spread and keep the Perpetual Light burning.
What was true in those days is true in this season, in our day and age; what is true of the Jewish people as a whole is also true for every individual Jew.
Under the assault of environmental influences, a Jew may find his "Sanctuary" - his attachment to and identification with G-d, Torah and mitzvot - invaded and contaminated by ideas and mores which are alien to the Jewish way of life, incompatible and inimical to it.
But in the inner sanctum of his soul there is always a "cruse of oil" that remains pure and holy, a spark of G-d-liness that is his Divine soul, indestruc-tible and beyond reach of defilement.
The Jew has but to kindle it; although it may seem like a tiny light at first and of brief duration, it is sufficient to light up one's whole being until it becomes a Perpetual Light.
In this week's portion, Mikeitz, the Torah describes how Joseph carefully amassed a great quantity of grain during Egypt's seven years of plenty, later sustaining the entire nation during its seven years of famine.
This grain was stored in a very special way to make sure it did not spoil: "The food of the field, which was round about every city, he laid up within it," the Torah relates.
Rashi, the great Torah commentator, explains that Joseph took some earth from each place the grain was cultivated and mixed it in together with that grain, preserving it and preventing it from rotting.
"The deeds of the Forefathers are a sign for their children."
Joseph's actions comprise an eternal lesson for us, his grandchildren, to apply in our lives. For like our illustrious ancestor, every Jew must accumulate "sustenance" in order to satiate the spiritual "hunger" of his surroundings. How? With the very same admixture of earth that Joseph utilized.
The true sustenance of every Jew is the Torah; it constitutes our very lives. The Torah is called sustenance because, like food, it penetrates one's entire being and becomes an actual part of it. The duty of the Jew is to "accumulate" this vital substance by learning as much Torah as he possibly can.
To continue the analogy, we must be careful that the Torah knowledge we accumulate does not "spoil" and decay. Our Sages have said that Torah study, if not done in the proper manner, can lead to negative consequences. In order to prevent this, a Jew needs to add some "earth" to his Torah learning.
"Earth" is symbolic of humility and nullification before G-d, as it states, "May my soul be like dust to all." A truly humble person is assured that the Torah he learns will last forever.
Furthermore, as we learn from Joseph, this "earth" must be from the very "dust of that place" - the Jew's humility must come from the Torah learning itself. Not all humility is positive and productive. A Jew must never feel humbled in the face of the outside world, which scoffs at his beliefs and his Torah lifestyle. The Jew must take pride in his Judaism and hold his head high, never "apologizing" to those he fears might be offended by the Torah's principles and teachings.
Authentic humility, attained when the Jew studies Torah with the realization that he is partaking of G-d's eternal wisdom, is the key to preserving what he has learned. Just as G-d is infinite and eternal, so too is His Torah.
The greatest scholar's knowledge is but a drop in the vast ocean of G-d's immeasurable and endless wisdom. Pondering this truth will lead the Jew to true humility, yet instill an enduring pride that enables him to effectively spread Torah and Judaism to those who hunger for spiritual sustenance.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe Vol. XXV
A Chanuka Miracle
One of our readers in Montreal, Yaakov Russ, shared the following story that one of his colleagues wrote up and gave him after Chanuka last year:
Soon after his Bar Mitzva, my younger brother, decided to renounce all practice of Jewish traditions. In the years that followed, he was totally disinterested and disengaged from any customs or rituals of the Jewish holidays and his identity as a Jew was utterly non-existent.
After my brother got married, he and his family moved to the St. Dorothy, Laval, neighborhood of Montreal, a couple of streets away from my parents' home.
For a number of years, Christian missionaries had been regularly visiting my brother's home. Most of us know the importance of simply closing the door on these people the very first time they appear at our homes. Wanting to be courteous, my brother innocently gave them a listening ear each time they appeared. The missionaries' visits became frequent and regular. Eventually, they invited him to join them for an evening at their house of worship, "...for you to better understand the Word, and for your daughter to interact with other children...," they told him. My brother had every intention of accepting their personal invitation.
The same evening that my brother was receiving this invitation from the missionaries, a totally different scene was taking place in my parents' home. A Chabad rabbi, Rabbi Zalman Stiefel of the Young Israel of Chomedey, Laval, had organized a Chanuka party at the home of a family with whom he had become friendly in the St. Dorothy neighborhood. Not knowing who would attend the party, one week before Chanuka Rabbi Stiefel decided to personally visit 10 homes that had a mezuza on the front door post and invite these Jewish neighbors to the Chanuka party. One of his first stops was my parents' home, as they live directly across the street from where the Chanuka party was taking place.
My parents were delighted with the invitation and happily accepted. My mother then asked the Rabbi if he would do them a favor. "Would you mind going to our son's home? There is no mezuza on his front door. Here is the address. Can you please invite him to the Chanuka party as well? He lives a few blocks away. He is estranged from Judaism, but perhaps a personal invitation...," she ended hopefully.
Now, back to my brother's house. He was having an animated discussion with his wife, his brother-in-law, and his brother-in-law's fianc้ about the upcoming missionary event. "I married a Jew and you're staying a Jew!" my sister-in-law was telling my brother. "You're not going to this event!" she told him strongly. My brother's brother-in-law picked up the phone and jokingly threatened, "I'm going to call your father and tell him to come over here to make sure that you don't go to this event." He then picked up the phone and pretended as if he was having a conversation with my father, explaining what was going on and insisting that my father come over to prevent him from going to the missionary event.
My brother was becoming more and more upset as everyone in the house seemed to be turning on him.
My brother began to shout, "The missionaries show an interest in me. They come to my door and visit me in my home. They spend time with me. They came to personally invite me to this event. When has a rabbi ever shown an interest in me? When has a rabbi ever knocked on my door and personally invited me to any kind of event?
My brother paused for a moment from his emotional outburst and at that instant, the doorbell rang.
Half-jokingly, my brother's brother-in-law said, "It's probably your father..."
The shock and disbelief on everyone's face was apparent when they opened the door and saw a young smiling rabbi standing there. Rabbi Stiefel was holding a menora and Chanuka candles in his hand. It took a few seconds for everyone to collect themselves and think to ask the rabbi to come in out of the cold. "I'd like to invite you to a Chanuka party that is taking place a few blocks away," Rabbi Stiefel began.
Try to imagine the scene, my brother was busy trying to hold back his excited dog in one hand as he attempted to explain to the rabbi how shocked he was to have the rabbi visit his home to deliver the message of Chanuka. It took my brother this one encounter to change his mind completely.
The next week, Rabbi Zalman and Aida Stiefel and their five children, together with the party's host and family waited to see who would turn up for the party. Low and behold in a wonderful display of Divine Providence, the only family to show up at the Chanuka party was my brother together with his daughter and our parents. Together they lit the menora, sang some Chanuka songs, enjoyed potato latkes and jelly donuts, all of which created wonderful memories for everyone. A few days later my brother attended the much larger menora lighting celebration at the synagogue.
That evening, my brother attended his first Jewish celebration as an adult. More recently, he was invited with his family to join for a Shabbat meal at the Stiefel home, an invitation he graciously accepted and enjoyed.
I know that my brother and our whole family have been touched by this Chanuka miracle. G-d is great and omnipresent in our lives. I hope and pray that we all experience miracles "in these days at this time."
World's Largest Dreidel!
The largest Chanuka Dreidel in the world was once again erected in front of the Chabad Jewish Center in Basking Ridge, New Jersey. The Dreidel has become a local landmark during the holiday season, rising over 18 feet.
Chanuka at Macy's
Macy's Department Store, Herald Square location in New York city, hosted a Chanuka workshop in conjunction with Tzivos Hashem/The Jewish Children's Museum of Brooklyn. Children learned how to make olive oil and use it to help light the Chanuka menora. In addition, shoppers were also able to listen to the story of Chanuka, as well as decorate Chanuka Jewel Lights.
15 Kislev, 5738 (1977)
In connection with the forthcoming days of Chanuka, I extend to each and every one of you my heartfelt wishes for a bright and inspiring Chanuka, coupled with the fulfillment of your hearts' desires for good in every respect.
Chanuka brings a message of encouragement, in keeping with all the festivals and commemorative days in our Jewish calendar, which are meant to be observed not just for the sake of remembrance, but also for the practical lessons they provide in our daily life. One of the practical teachings of Chanuka follows:
The special Mitzvah [commandment] pertaining to Chanuka is, of course, the kindling of the Chanuka lights, which must be lit after sunset - unlike the Sabbath candles, which must be lit before sunset, and unlike the lights of the Menorah in the Holy Temple, which were kindled even earlier in the day.
This emphasis on kindling the Chanuka lights after sunset teaches that, if a person finds himself in a situation akin to "after sunset," when the light of day has given way to gloom and darkness - as was the case in those ancient days under the oppressive Greek rule - one must not, G-d forbid, despair. On the contrary, it is necessary to fortify oneself with complete trust in G-d, the Essence of Goodness, and take heart in the firm belief that the darkness is only temporary, soon to be superseded by a bright light which will be seen and felt all the more strongly by the intensity of the contrast.
This, then, is the meaning of the kindling of the Chanuka lights, done in a manner which calls for lighting an additional candle each successive day of Chanuka - demonstrating plainly to oneself and to others passing by in the street that light dispels darkness, and that even a little light dispels a great deal of darkness - how much more so a light that grows steadily in intensity! And if physical light has such power, how much more so eternal spiritual light.
All of this pertains to the Jewish people as a whole, as well as to each individual Jew, man or woman, in particular. Although the Jewish people is still in a state of Exile, and "darkness covers the earth," a time when "nations rage and people speak vain things," etc., there is no reason to be overwhelmed; we have only to strengthen our trust in G-d, the "Guardian of His people Israel, Who slumbers not, nor sleeps," and be confident that He will protect His people wherever they are, and will bless them with success in all things, and in a growing measure; and that He will hasten the coming of our Righteous Moshiach to bring us the true and complete Redemption which is fast approaching.
Similarly, in regard to individuals who find themselves in a state of personal Exile - there is no cause for discouragement and despondency. On the contrary, one must have complete trust in the Creator and Master of the Universe, that personal deliverance from distress and confinement is speedily on the way.
Furthermore, one will draw increasing strength when this trust is expressed in a growing commitment to the fulfillment of G-d's will in daily life and conduct in accordance with His Torah and Mitzvoth - of which the Mitzvah of kindling the Chanuka lights is particularly significant in that it symbolizes the illumination of the soul, the "lamp of G-d," with the light of the Torah and Mitzvoth, "for a Mitzvah is a lamp and the Torah is light" - illuminating it in increasing measure from day to day, to bring about the fulfillment of the prophecy: "The people walking in the darkness of Exile will see a great light" - the light of the Redemption.
How do we fulfill the commandment of "Pirsumei Nisa - Publicizing the Miracle"?
According to the Talmud, an essential part of lighting the Chanuka lights is to publicize the miracle that took place "in those days at this time." Our Sages instituted that we should light the Chanuka menora in public view, outside the entrance of our homes and at a time that people are still passing by in the streets. Customs vary by community, but many fulfill this requirement at home by lighting the menora near the door or window. In recent times, public lightings of large menoras were initiated by the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Chabad-Lubavitch centers around the world sponsor such events.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
The mitzva of lighting the Chanuka menora is derived from the menora that stood in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. However, there is one important difference between that menora and the one we light in our homes: the menora in the Holy Temple consisted of seven branches, whereas the Chanuka menora has eight.
In order to understand why, let's put the miracle of Chanuka in historical context:
The miracle of Chanuka took place after an extended period of time in which the menora was not lit. It was impossible to do so, as the Greeks had issued harsh decrees forbidding the Jews to learn Torah and observe its commandments.
When G-d granted the Jewish people the strength to prevail over their enemies, it became necessary to perform an act that would bring an additional measure of light to make up for the deficit the darkness had caused. The Chanuka menora would thus consist of eight lights instead of seven.
This teaches an important point:
Above and beyond the fact that every Jew can transform his home into a "Holy Temple" by lighting the Chanuka menora in commemoration of the ancient miracle, by lighting eight candles he causes an even greater light to shine than existed in the Holy Temple!
In exile, the Jewish people is "weak" and "few in number," while the nations of the world are "strong" and "many." Yet the miracle of Chanuka shows that even in a time of great darkness it is possible to overcome all impediments - even meriting a greater measure of light than existed before.
In the merit of observing the mitzva of the Chanuka menora may we very soon see the "lights of Zion" in the Third and eternal Holy Temple, with the coming of Moshiach.
And he woke up...and behold, it was a dream (Gen. 41:7)
There are two kinds of dreamers: those who know that they are only dreaming but enjoy the dream anyway, and those who do not realize that they are dreaming and mistake it for reality. The first type of person is able to distinguish between truth and falsehood, and realizes that his dream is deceptive. But the second kind cannot make this distinction, and holds his delusion to be true.
(From a letter of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn)
And Pharaoh called Joseph's name Tzafnat Panei'ach (Gen. 41:45)
As Rashi explains, Tzafnat means "hidden things," and Panei'ach means "he reveals" - i.e., Joseph was able to explain things that were hidden. Why, then, didn't Pharaoh call Joseph Panei'ach Tzafnat, which would have been more logical? To teach us that the real reason Joseph was able to interpret dreams was as a reward for concealing his righteousness. Because Joseph conducted himself in a humble and unassuming manner, "Tzafnat," he merited the gift of "Panei'ach."
And the name of the second he called Ephraim: for G-d has caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction (Gen. 41:52)
With these words Joseph alluded to the very purpose of the exile - "the advantage of light that arises from the midst of darkness." For it was precisely through the descent into Egypt that the Jewish people attained the greatest advantage - an ascent that would have been impossible if not for their sojourn in the "land of affliction."
And he sought to weep, and he entered his room and he wept there...and he restrained himself (Gen. 43:30-31)
The soul "weeps" because it does not want to be imprisoned in a body; it abhors its fleshly confinement and longs to be reunited with G-d. Nonetheless, it "restrains" itself and overcomes its inclination, recognizing that G-d wants the body and soul to work in tandem to observe His mitzvot.
by Gershon Kranzler
The brightness of the first Chanuka lights had dwindled down, but the holy fire on the altar burned again in the Holy Temple, from morning to morning, as prescribed by the Torah. The priests were once again busily officiating in the old customary ways. Day in and day out they prepared the offerings. Order and peace seemed established.
The Jewish farmer longed to return to his land after two years of hardship, privation and danger in the victorious Jewish army led by the Maccabees. It was high time to break the ground and to till the soil, if the barley was to grow and ripen in time for the "omer offering" on Passover. The Jewish farmers had left their ploughs to rally about the heroic Hasmoneans. The first victories had drawn even the hesitant into the ranks of the enthusiastic Jewish rebels, led by the sons of Matathias. Farmers had forsaken their land, and merchants and tradesmen their stores and shops. Torah students had emerged from the four walls of the yeshiva to join the fight against the oppressors.
But the songs of victory which had filled the reclaimed Holy Temple with praise and gratitude to the merciful G-d had ceased. The goal of the battle seemed to have been attained, and Torah was again supreme in Israel.
One man, though, realized that the time for the return to normal living had not yet come. Israel could not yet afford to relax; it would have to stand ready and prepare to carry on the fight against the overwhelming odds of the enemy. This man was Judah Maccabee, a man whose name was upon everyone's lips and in every Jewish heart. He was admired as a hero, as a man with the heart of a lion and the simple piety of a child; as the one whose mighty armies fought and conquered, yet who never failed to pray to G-d, the Master of all battles, before he entered the fray.
It was not the spirited warrior's joy that made Judah Maccabee stay in camp. His heart, too, longed to return to his former peaceful life, to Modiin, the quiet town of priests, which held the grave of his adored father. Bloodshed and battle were a hard and unwanted profession for the men of Judea, who preferred peace to strife. Yet this was no time to relent. Not only must he stay, he must also convince his comrades at arms to do so as well, with all the persuasion of his magnetic personality. Only the first phase of this war of liberation had passed; hard and desperate times were yet to come. Clever enemies could seize an extended lull to prepare new assaults with more troops and better equipment. And there was no shortage of enemies all around Judea, besides the defeated Syrians. The Idumeans, the Ammonites, the Philistines and Phoenicians all revived their ancient jealousies.
Messengers arrived from Gilead. The pagan peoples had joined forces to destroy Judea. From Galilee came the bad news of similar evil intentions and active preparations for war in Ptolomais, Tyre and Sidon. The messengers found Judah Maccabee already at work. Fortifications had to be built around Zion. Towers, walls, battlements and moats had to be constructed opposite the fort still held by their worst enemies, the Hellenist Jews, under the leadership of Menelaos, the false priest. These Jews hated everything Jewish, and lived hoping for the return of the Syrian masters. Judah Maccabee prepared Jerusalem for imminent assault by the troops of Antiochus. Under his supervision, the Jewish people worked feverishly to refill their arsenals and transform the whole country into a stronghold.
Once this most important task was accomplished, Judah Maccabee led his freshly trained troops to the aid of the regions and villages harassed by the spiteful neighbors of Judea. He drove the Idumeans from Hebron, which they had annexed, and punished those people who had acted hostilely towards the Jewish settlers. Then he led his army across the Jordan River against the Ammonites. Their capital fell before the furious onslaught of the Jewish troops, and so did their fortress Yaeser. Judah's brother Simon led an army north to help the beleaguered Jews of Galilee. He defeated the enemy and cleared the Jewish land. At his urging, a great many of the Jewish settlers who had fled to Jerusalem returned to rebuild in safety what had been destroyed during the years of turmoil. Judah Maccabee and Jonathan joined forces and marched against Gilead, where they were met with the toughest resistance. By Shavuot their campaign was successfully concluded.
Judea was again free, and all parts of the land captured by the neighboring nations was recovered. Celebrations and festivities transformed Jerusalem and the Holy Temple, barely half a year after the victory over the Syrian armies celebrated each year on Chanuka. The Jewish people expressed their joy and gratitude in the form of alms and offerings, for G-d had once again restored glory and liberty to the Jewish land.
From The Jewish Companion, Kehot Publication Society.
The fifth night of Chanuka never occurs on the Sabbath; it always occurs on a week night. This gives the fifth candle the unique status of shedding light on a night that is intrinsically dark as it is never illuminated by the light of Shabbat. The concept of light coming from the depths of darkness is the same as Moshiach appearing at the end of our long exile. The fifth - "chamishi" - light is especially connected to Moshiach, as they both contain the same letters.
(Chanuka Selections by Tzvi Akiva Fleisher)