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Potato latkas. Dreidels. Judah the Maccabee. Judith the Heroine. The Chanuka menora. Blue cardboard boxes of all different colored candles. (As a kid did you try to create an interesting pattern each night?) Chocolate Chanuka coins. The song, Maoz Tzur. "I had a little dreidel..." Clay menoras made in Hebrew school.
Chanuka is made of memories and for memories. Taste the latkas and jelly donuts. See the candles burn brightly in the menora. Hear the singing of the blessings over the menora. Touch the letters engraved on the dreidle: nun, gimmel, hay, shin - "A Great Miracle Happened There."
Chanuka is a special time for family, friends and children. Chanuka is a Jewish holiday celebrating the victory of the weak (militarily) over the mighty, the few (in number) over the many.
Chanuka is a celebration of the re-dedication of the Holy Temple after it had been defiled - but not destroyed - by the Greeks. For the Greeks did not wish to destroy the Holy Temple nor the Torah; they wished only to defile the mitzvot (commandments).
The Greeks attempted to lessen their holiness, their uniqueness, their impact on our Jewish lives. "We too, have wisdom," they declared. "We, too, have gods. We, too, have holidays. Know that your Temple is like our temples. The wisdom of your Divine Torah is like our man-made wisdom. There is nothing particularly holy about them."
So what do you say to a child who wants a "Chanuka bush," or who wants a photograph with Santa? What do you do about the pressure of giving Chanuka presents instead of the Jewish custom of giving Chanuka gelt (money).
The easiest response might be: "They have their holiday and we have ours - Chanuka."
That response might be on the verge of being P.C., but it's certainly not C. P.- Chanuka Perfect. You see, as soon as we start comparing Chanuka with the 25th of December, or when we try to turn Chanuka into the Jewish equivalent of that day, it is as if we are handing over a victory to the "Greeks."
Celebrate Chanuka in the true spirit of the holiday - not as a consolation or a competition - but as an opportunity to prove in our own lives that the ancient battle and victory over the Greeks was not in vain.
Explore the themes of Chanuka, including the idea of dedication (the actual meaning of the Hebrew word Chanuka) and Jewish education (or "chinuch" in Hebrew, from the same word as Chanuka).
Light the Chanuka menora each night of Chanuka and watch Jewish pride grow as the numbers and strength of the Chanuka lights increase.
Let the lights of the Chanuka menora - and all of the beautiful and unforgettable Chanuka traditions, customs, mitzvot and memories - add their pure, holy light to the world until the G-dly light is revealed in all its glory in the Third and Eternal Holy Temple.
As related in this week's Torah portion, Vayeishev, when Joseph went at his father's behest to check on his brothers in Shechem he met a man "wandering in the field," who was actually the angel Gabriel. In response to Joseph's question if he knew where they might be, the man replied, "They have departed, for I heard them say, 'Let us go to Dotan.' "
Rashi, the foremost Torah commentator, explains that with these words the angel was trying to warn Joseph to keep away from his brothers, who were intending to harm him. "They have departed" suggested "they have removed themselves from brotherhood," and "let us go to Dotan" meant they were looking for a legal way ("datot") to kill him. Nonetheless, Joseph ignored these veiled warnings and continued on his way.
Thus we see that in his desire to fulfill his father's request Joseph demonstrated true self-sacrifice, to the point that he was willing to endanger his life. Yet this in itself raises several questions: Jacob had asked Joseph to "go see the welfare of your brothers and the welfare of the flock, and bring me back word." If Joseph were to be killed by his brothers, he would obviously not be able to report back to Jacob.
Furthermore, what justification did Joseph have for endangering his life in order to fulfill the commandment of honoring one's parents, when it is not one of the three mitzvot (commandments) a Jew is permitted to give up his life rather than transgress: idolatry, illicit relations and murder?
The great codifier of Jewish law, Moses Maimonides, explains that in certain circumstances it is indeed permissible to demonstrate this extreme level of self-sacrifice, even when it isn't "necessary": "If the person is tremendously great, pious and G-d-fearing, and sees that the generation is reckless [in observing that particular mitzva], he is permitted to sanctify G-d's Name and sacrifice his life for even a minor commandment, in order that the people see and take note."
Joseph was well aware that his brothers were lacking in the mitzva of honoring parents, which had been amply demonstrated by their behavior in the incident of Shechem as well as in their antipathy toward him. He thus resolved to fulfill his father's wishes at all costs.
The same dynamics are also evident in the story of Chanuka, which we are now celebrating. Strictly speaking, there was no need for Matityahu and his sons to risk their lives and engage in war against the Syrian-Greeks. Nonetheless, it was their willingness for self-sacrifice above and beyond the "letter of the law" that ultimately led to miracles and wonders.
In fact, in the merit of their deeds they found the "cruse of pure oil with the High Priest's seal," symbolic of the inner essence of every Jew, and merited "to institute these eight days of Chanuka to give thanks and praise to Your great Name."
Adapted from Vol. 35 of Likkutei Sichot
A Lesson from the Lights
by Mina Gordon
Chanuka down under (in Australia) is a bit different than Chanuka in the Northern Hemisphere. Sunset is much later, and heat waves are more likely than snow drifts. The Chanuka message, however, remains the same. The giant Menoras, set up in public places by Chabad-Lubavitch around the world, help publicize the message that no matter how dark the night is and no matter how overwhelming things may seem, the light of Judaism will keep on burning. The eternal flame is to be found in every Jew, and the Menora's lights can help to reveal it.
Let me share with you Belinda's Chanuka story that she told me not so long ago. Though not raised in a particularly observant Jewish home, Belinda always took for granted that she would marry a nice Jewish boy when the time came. When she started looking in earnest, she found that it wasn't as easy as she had expected. After a while, being disillusioned, she agreed to date a young man who was not Jewish.
"It was in December, 2005," remembers Belinda. "We went to 'The Boulevard' in the Melbourne suburb of Ivanhoe, to see the decorative holiday lights. I noticed a couple of houses with no decorations, and wondered why they hadn't joined in the holiday spirit. I glanced down the driveway at one of the homes and from my position at the top of a hill, saw a sight that I'll always remember. Far off in the distance was a large Menora with lights shining brightly against the night sky. I stared as if mesmerized. I couldn't take my eyes off of it.
"The young man I was dating came over and asked me why I was standing there. 'There is no holiday display here,' he said.
" 'Look!' I said, 'Look down there! What do you see?' It took him a while until he found what I was pointing to. 'Oh you mean that. It's for the Jewish holiday, right?'
" 'It's a Chanuka menora,' I said excitedly. He shrugged and didn't seem to share my enthusiasm. That was the beginning of the end of our relationship. I thought about it. I at least know what Chanuka is, what a menora is. If I marry this fellow, will my children know even that? I thought about some of the discussions I had had recently with Rabbi Motty Liberow of Hamerkaz Shelanu in Elsternwick. I had spoke with him about this young man. It finally hit me that he was right in trying to discourage me from marrying him."
Belinda decided then and there to learn more about Judaism. And who knew, perhaps upping her level of Jewish observance would be the catalyst to help her find that elusive "nice Jewish boy"! Belinda got in touch with Luba Kornhauser at the Merkos-Women seminary in Melbourne, Australia, who tailored a learning program to Belinda's interests and timetable. Belinda enjoyed the classes and slowly began putting into practice what she was learning, one mitzva (commandment) at a time.
Chanuka 2006, at a MerkosWomen event, Luba Kornhauser's husband Eliezer spoke. "Think back to where you were last Chanuka, and where you are this year." Those words affected Belinda profoundly as she now understood that her experience the past Chanuka had been a turning point in her life. Where was she now? She was at a Shabbaton. On Saturday night she was planning to attend the Menora lighting in the City Square, watching the flames from close up, and listening to the Chanuka choir that had been organized specially for this event. What a contrast to the year before when she had viewed the menora only from a distance.
Belinda continued studying and slowly increased in mitzva observance. She had learned enough about keeping the kosher dietary laws and observing Shabbat to know that these are fundamentals of Judaism. But oh, she was finding it so hard to make the commitment to be consistent with kosher and Shabbat.
Belinda decided to take the plunge. She booked someone to come to her home to make the kitchen kosher. "When the kitchen is finally kosher, I will keep Shabbat as well," she told herself. Due to unforeseen circumstances, the koshering was interrupted in the middle. "Oh well," thought Belinda, not too concerned, "I'll start keeping kosher and Shabbat a little bit later."
That week, in one of her classes at Merkos Women, Belinda learned that blessings are recited before eating food as a way of showing gratitude to G-d for sustaining us. Specifically, she learned about the blessing "mezonot," recited on non-bread items made of grains. At dinner time, she popped a non-kosher frozen pasta dinner into her not-yet-kosher microwave. There was a fizzle and a pop and then her microwave blew up."Strange! I just learned about the blessing of mezonot which is what I would have recited on this meal had it been kosher, and my microwave explodes! Ah. It's just coincidence."
On Friday, Belinda went to buy a new microwave. She came back after sunset. "I'll start keeping Shabbat properly when the kitchen is completely kosher" she promised herself. She opened her front door, and reached over to turn on the light. It flickered and went out. Shabbat morning, she went to the computer to check her email. As soon as she touched the mouse, the computer switched off. She threw up her hands in surrender, "Okay, I get the message. No more delays. I'm not putting off kosher and Shabbat any longer."
At about this time, she was introduced to her future husband. When he happened to mention that he had been in the choir that sang at the public Menora lighting in the city square, Belinda just smiled. And when he proposed to her on the fifth night of Chanuka, she felt that she had come full circle.
See You There
Be part of the Chanuka celebrations at the World's Largest Chanuka Menora at Fifth Ave. and 59th St. in NYC. Friday, Dec. 11, the menora will be lit at 3:40 p.m. Saturday night, Dec. 12, menora lighting will be at 8:00 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 13 - Thursday, Dec. 17, the menora will be lit at 5:30 p.m. On Friday, Dec. 18, the menora will be lit at 3:40 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 (718) 778-6000. For public menora lightings in your area call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center.
20th of Kislev 5732 (1971)
Greeting and Blessing:
I was pleased to receive regards from you through our mutual and esteemed friend Rabbi S.D. Raichik, who has written to me about his visit with you and your participation in the worthy cause, in which you also took in your children as partners.
In the light of what Rabbi Raichik has written to me about his acquaintance with you, I am confident that you will utilized your distinguished position, which brings you into personal contact with Jewish youth, to strengthen also their Jewish identity. To be sure, the courses which you teach are undoubtedly far removed from the religious and spiritual aspects of Jewish identity. However, it is surely unnecessary to emphasize to you that students generally look up to their professors not only as experts in their particular field, but also as persons and individuals who have accomplished a great deal in their life, and have attained high status.
Consequently, the views and ideas that a professor expresses, and especially his personal way of life and world outlook, directly and indirectly influence the students, and create in them a desire to emulate their professors. And even those who for one reason or another are rebellious inwardly recognize that the achievements of their professors should be emulated.
In the light of this, a professor in college or university has an extraordinary opportunity to benefit his students by word, and even more so, by example. Even if an extra effort in this direction may entail certain difficulties which are sometimes not imaginary nor magnified, but real - the thought of how much good a little extra effort might be, and how much it can be reflected and multiplied in the loves of the young people who so badly need guidance and inspiration, should make all such difficulties worthwhile.
Although the above has been written in general terms, with a view to disseminating Jewish values, etc., it is important to bear in mind the dictum of our Sages of blessed memory that "the essential thing is the deed," namely the actual Jewish experience in the daily life.
For, Judaism is a way of life that is not relegated to several days in the year, specific holy days, or even Shabbos [the Sabbath], but embraces the entire Jewish life each and every day. It is for this reason that the Torah and Mitzvoth [commandments] are referred to as "our life," indicated that it must be continuous and uninterrupted, just as life must be continued and uninterrupted. Herein the Jewish religion radically differs from any other religion in that it is not something additional to a person, but is intimately the person himself, for a Jew and the Torah and Mitzvoth are inseparable.
Much more could be said on this subject, but I trust the above will suffice. I will only conclude that inasmuch as we are about to celebrate the festival of Chanukah, when we will be lighting the Chanukah candles in growing numbers from day to day, indicating the need to spread the light of the Torah and Mitzvoth in a growing measure, since it is written, "A Mitzvo is a lamp and the Torah is light," thereby illuminating the Jewish soul of which it is said, "A lamp of G-d is the soul of man" - may this be so with you and me and all our people.
With esteem and blessing,
Show Concern for Others
We should show our concern for others by providing our fellow Jews with the necessities required to celebrate the holidays of the month of Kislev with joy and happiness. Similarly, they should have the means to fulfill the custom which the Rebbes of Chabad-Lubavitch followed of giving Chanuka gelt (money) to the members of their household.(The Rebbe, 2 Kislev, 5752-1992)
In memory of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg and the other kedoshim of Mumbai
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
The Festival of Chanuka, which begins this Friday evening, teaches us many lessons about how to live our day-to-day lives. In particular, the way in which we perform the mitzva (commandment) of lighting the Chanuka menora contains lessons for our Divine service.
Even after the Holy Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed the mitzva remains in force and continues. In fact, the Chanuka candles are eternal, and will never be abrogated. There are three important aspects to this mitzva, which actually has a long-reaching effect on the entire year:
The mitzva to kindle the Chanuka lamps is connected to the concept of light and illumination;
The number of lights increases from day to day; and
The menora is placed at the entrance to the house, so as to allow its light to illuminate the outside darkness.
The nature of light is limitless and without boundaries. It reaches out from its source and can travel great distances. Nothing can prevent it from illuminating or change its essence.
A Jew's service of G-d should also be performed in this manner, without limits and without alterations. There is nothing in the world that has the power to prevent a Jew from serving G-d or deter him from his holy path.
In the same way that every night of Chanuka we add another candle, a Jew must never content himself with whatever spiritual achievements he has already attained. Like the lights of the menora, we must always strive to increase in Torah and mitzvot.
Lastly, as we learn from the placement of the Chanuka menora, no Jew is ever an "island." His connection to other Jews and his obligation to bring them the light of Torah and mitzvot extends not only to his family and acquaintances, but to every single member of the Jewish people. No Jew is ever "outside" the fold, in the same way that the very purpose of the menora is to illuminate even the outer recesses of the world.
Have a Happy Chanuka, and best wishes on this Festival of Light.
And he made him a coat of many colors (Gen. 37:3)
Chasidic philosophy explains that the coat was symbolic of a particular aspect of G-dliness (makif - which "envelops" creation like a garment) that is drawn into the physical world. Jacob bequeathed this ability only to Joseph, as he was the only one of the 12 brothers who was capable of accepting it. The brothers' jealousy of Joseph was, in actuality, envy of his superior spiritual abilities, which was later expressed on a more mundane level.
(Torat Chaim, Bereishit)
And they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him (Gen. 37:4)
The main component of all controversy is the absence of dialogue, the unwillingness to listen to what someone else has to say and understand it from his perspective. If people would really know how to talk to each other, most of the time they would discover that they have nothing to argue about.
(Rabbi Yonatan Eibeschitz)
And he was in the house of his master the Egyptian...and he was there in the prison (Gen. 39:2, 39:20)
The phrase "and he was" ("vayehi") is used to indicate something that is consistent and without change. Joseph was the same righteous person in Potiphar's home as he was in prison, for "the righteous person is the foundation of the world" regardless of circumstance.
And the L-rd was with him, and the L-rd caused all that he did to prosper in his hand (Gen. 39:3)
In principle, the measure of blessing and success we receive from G-d is directly dependent on our Torah study and observance of mitzvot, as it states, "If you will go in My ways... and I will cause the rains to fall in the proper time." In other words, the spiritual light and abundance created by our service is transformed into material blessing in the physical world. At present, however, not all of this spiritual light becomes physically revealed. Only in the Messianic era will the light that is reflected below perfectly mirror its spiritual counterpart.
(Hemshech Tav-Ayin-Reish-Beit, Vol. 3)
And on the vine were three branches (Gen. 40:10)
According to the Midrash, "the vine" is symbolic of the Jewish people, as it states in Psalms (80:9), "You have brought a vine from Egypt." For just as wine "brings joy to G-d and man," so too is there an aspect of love for G-d hidden within every Jew - an inheritance acquired from our forefathers.
Life in the Siberian work camps was generally difficult for the Jewish prisoners, but during the holidays it was even more so, because it was nearly impossible to perform the mitzvot (commandments) of each holiday under those terrible conditions.
Reb Asher Sosonkin was exiled to Siberia for the "crime" of spreading Torah throughout Russia. Even under the harsh conditions of the work camp, he did his best to continue to observe the Torah and mitzvot. In the camp with Reb Asher was a Jew by the name of Nachman Rosemann. He had been brought up in an observant home, but when he grew up he became an ardent communist, rising in the ranks of the Russian army. After serving in the army, he was arrested for illegal business dealings, and was sentenced to 25 years of hard labor in Siberia.
It was there in the work camp that Nachman felt a renewed interest in Judaism, and this led him to befriend the devout Reb Asher. Nachman was determined to learn all he could from Reb Nachman, and to do the mitzvot as carefully possible.
Chanuka was approaching, and Reb Asher asked Nachman to get a tin can to use as a menora, in order to fulfill the mitzva of kindling the Chanuka lights. Reb Asher emphasized that it should be small, so that their activities wouldn't be noticed by any of the labor camp officials.
"On Chanuka we celebrate a tremendous miracle, the triumph of the small Jewish army over the enormous Greek army. It is the victory of the spiritual over the physical. To simply make a menora out of an old can wouldn't properly honor this holiday. I'm going to order a beautiful menora!" Nachman proclaimed.
Reb Asher was amazed at his determination. Nachman found a prisoner who happened to be a tinsmith and paid him several rubles to make a beautiful menora. He did this knowing that if the authorities found out, he would be punished severely. And on the day before Chanuka, Nachman approached Reb Asher with a big smile. In one hand he held a menora, and in the other hand he held a bottle filled with oil.
On the first night of Chanuka, Reb Asher and Nachman placed the menora by the door post of their barrack and prepared a cotton wick. The other prisoners watched curiously as the two men commenced this "dangerous" act. Reb Asher recited the three blessings over the lighting of the menora, and lit the wick with tears of joy and gratitude.
They continued to light the menora in this way until the fifth night of Chanuka. Just as Reb Asher and Nachman had lit the menora, an armed guard appeared at the entrance of the barracks, announcing roll call. The prisoners were stunned. Roll call had never been announced at that hour before! The other prisoners told Reb Asher and Nachman that someone must have reported them, which would explain the unusual roll call. They advised the two men to hide their menora in the snow, before the officer arrived. They refused to bury the menora.
When the officer entered the barrack, everyone stood still, anticipating the worst. After the officer finished counting the prisoners, he noticed the menora.
He stared at it for a moment, and then he asked Reb Asher, "Five?" "Five," replied Reb Asher, confused. The officer nodded his head, and without another word, turned and left the barracks. The prisoners were shocked. They were all wondering the same things: Who was the officer? Why did he come to them at such an unusual hour and ask about the candles?
Reb Asher was sure that the "officer" was none other than the Prophet Elijah.
In Psalm 132, verse 17, King David writes, I have set up a lamp for My anointed." This refers to the kindling of Chanuka lights, which is a preparation for the revelation of Moshiach.
(Rabbi Nochum of Tchernobel in M'Ohr Einayim)