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Devarim Deutronomy

December 18, 2009 - 1 Tevet, 5770

1100: Miketz

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The Weekly Publication For Every Jewish Person
Dedicated to the memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson N.E.

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  1099: Vayeshev1101: Vayigash  

One Little Candle  |  Living with the Rebbe  |  A Slice of Life  |  What's New
The Rebbe Writes  |  A Call to Action  |  A Word from the Director  |  Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened  |  Moshiach Matters

One Little Candle

Chanuka! The Festival of lights. There's something special about the small flame shining in the darkness. Traditionally, we put the Menora ("Chanukia," some call it) at the doorpost or in a window so its light flows into the night.

It's a nice image - it certainly looks inspiring - seen from the outside, looking in at the Chanuka lights. But really, how much darkness can one little candle really push away?

Turns out, quite a lot. It's easy to forget in these days of electric lights, street lamps and massive night-time displays that make ball-fields as bright as day, just how effective one little candle can be. But that candle, when all the other lights are out, provides enough illumination to read, to see a step ahead, to recognize a friend, to find the fuse box - in short, enough light to push away an overwhelming darkness.

With all that, have we ever really looked at a candle, seen what it's made of?

These days most people use wax and paraffin. But in days gone by, it was olive oil that fueled the lamps and candles. Even today, many people prefer to use oil Menoras for Chanuka. A bit messy, perhaps, but Chanuka is, after all, an "oily" holiday, replete with traditional foods like potato latkes and sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts) to remind us of the miracle of the oil!

But what of the candle, or lamp? Let's consider what is it that provides us light.

First, there has to be something to hold the oil and wick - a lamp. (Even the wax candles are formed in a mold.) Next, there's the wick. Then there's the flame which consists of two parts: a darker colored flame that burns close to the wick and an outer flame. The inner flame actually burns the wick while the outer, lighter-colored flame provides the actual illumination. And finally, there's the fuel - the oil.

Each of these parts contributes to the physical illumination, the little light that pushes away more darkness than seems possible at first glance. And each part has a spiritual counterpart, for, as the verse says, "The soul of man is a lamp of G-d." In fact, Chasidic philosophy discusses the significance of each section of the candle at great length.

For now, though, let's look briefly at oil, so symbolic of Chanuka. After all, we celebrate the holiday because the Maccabees found one small jar of pure olive oil, with which to light the Menora in the rededicated Temple.

Oil, Chasidic teachings tell us, represents wisdom. And one of the essential qualities of wisdom - and oil - is selflessness or humility. One cannot be both arrogant and wise, as it says in the Mishna, "Who is wise? One who learns from everyone." True wisdom requires humility, the ability to put aside one's ego. And oil doesn't "stand apart," remaining superficial; rather it penetrates, penetrates deeply into the substance.

And that of course is one of the messages of Chanuka: the wisdom of Torah, the "oil of Judaism," should penetrate deep within us, and with that fuel we can light the "one little candle" within ourselves, and so illuminate the darkness - ours, and that around us.

Living with the Rebbe

The Baal Shem Tov taught, "In the place where a person wants to be, that is where he will be found." May we all be found together in the Holy Temple this Chanuka.

What is the reason for the Jewish people being in exile? What purpose has been served by almost two thousand years of suffering and hardship?

The answer to this age-old question is alluded to in this week's Torah portion, Mikeitz, in Joseph's explanation of his choice of name for his son Ephraim.

"The name of the second he called Ephraim," the Torah states, "for G-d has caused me to be fruitful ("hifrani" - from the same root as Ephraim) in the land of my affliction."

In other words, it is precisely through exile "in the land of my affliction" that Joseph became stronger. Likewise, the entire purpose of exile is to uncover the Jewish people's hidden strengths, bringing them to a higher level of perfection.

On a personal level, Joseph had attained the highest rungs of spiritual service, standing head and shoulders above his eleven brothers; in a certain sense, he was even superior to his father Jacob. Nonetheless, in order to attain the very highest levels, Joseph had to undergo exile "in the land of my affliction."

The Torah alludes to Joseph's exalted spiritual status in its statement that the brothers "recognized him not." According to Chasidic philosophy, Joseph's involvement in worldly matters was perceived by them as an obstacle to spirituality.

The brothers couldn't understand how a person could be worldly and serve G-d at the same time. Thus they deliberately pursued a life of contemplation; as shepherds, they were cut off from civilization and the demands of society. Never in their wildest dreams could they fathom how Joseph, second-in-command over all of Egypt, could remain connected to G-d and indeed surpass their level of service. The concept itself was too radical for them to grasp.

Joseph's superiority to his father is also reflected in the fact that he was punished for putting his faith in Pharaoh's butler, whereas when Jacob addressed his brother Esau as "my master," it was not considered a sin.

Jacob, despite his great spiritual attainments, was still subject to the limitations of the physical world and thus permitted to work within the natural order; Joseph, however, was above such constraints and therefore held to a much higher standard of behavior, according to which he should have placed his trust in G-d alone.

Nevertheless, we see that it was only through the experience of exile that Joseph was able to attain the very pinnacle of spirituality, paving the way and setting an example for his future descendants.

For just as the Jewish people merited to receive the Torah after the "crucible" of the Egyptian exile, so too will we merit the very highest revelations of G-dliness with the ultimate Redemption.

Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Vol. I

A Slice of Life

The "Lion of Zion"
by Dovid Efune

To witness the making of history is a rare occurrence. On the Saturday night of November 14, 2009 at the MGM grand arena in Las Vegas, I watched rabbinical student Yuri "Lion of Zion" Foreman become the first Israeli world boxing champion of all time and the first Jew since 1978.

Yuri executed a decisive and compelling victory against his Puerto Rican rival Daniel Santos, and in the words of HBO boxing commentator Larry Merchant, "He gave the best performance of his career when it mattered most."

It was about a year ago I met this fascinating, unique and inspiring young man.

Yuri is originally from Gomel, Belarus, where he grew up in abject poverty far removed from Judaism. He would sometimes sell goods on the black market to help his family earn a living. Following some unpleasant incidents, his mother took him to learn boxing so that he could protect himself from bullies at school.

After the fall of Communism, Yuri moved with his family to Israel, seeking a new and better life. As boxing is hardly a popular sport in Israel (it's not exactly encouraged by most Jewish mothers!) he found it difficult to pursue his passion and dream. Eventually, however, he found a way. "I went to the Arab gym. The first time I walked in, I saw the stares. In their eyes, there was a lot of hatred. But I needed to box. And boy, did they all want to box me."

After winning virtually every amateur championship in Israel, at the age of 19 Yuri moved to New York in an effort to take his boxing to the next level. He trained hard and progressed rapidly. Shortly after arriving in New York, Yuri began to feel the calling for deeper meaning in his life. He began to study and eventually practice Orthodox Judaism. He is now studying to become a rabbi under Rabbi DovBer Pinson at the Iyyun Institute of Downtown Brooklyn. Yuri describes Judaism as his "pillar of strength" that is his inspiration in whatever he does.

The Jewish pride that Foreman has brought to many of his fellow Jews is remarkable. As I exited the arena with Yuri that Saturday night, we were mobbed by fans who stopped to take photos and wish us "mazal tov!" It felt like a huge Bar Mitzva! The host of the event, world's biggest boxing promoter Bob Arum, was elated and he beamed with Jewish pride as he ran around the ring, speaking proudly of his Jewish heritage and saying how it has always been a dream of his to promote a Jewish champion.

Yuri addressed the press conference with his tzitzit swinging, thanking G-d first and foremost for the victory, mentioning Jewish law and Talmudic teachings. He quoted the dictum that says " a person can hope for a miracle but can't rely on one" and then quipped, "I didn't rely on any miracle for this fight."

Despite the fact that Yuri wasn't relying on miracles, he didn't train for the entire 25 hours before the fight, as it was Shabbat. He and his wife Leyla kept quite busy, however. They recited Psalms throughout the day, observing the Chabad custom of reciting the entire book of Psalms on the Shabbat that blesses the new month.

Witnessing Yuri's genuine humility in searching for G-dly purpose in his talents is a great inspiration to many, and with his new status as world champion his influence and reach grows rapidly. Following the fight, there were stories in many of the world's major news outlets.

For many Jews, Yuri's success at bridging the secular world with Torah observance renews their Jewish pride and encourages them to re-discover their roots.

The well wishes and congratulation left on his Facebook fan page provide a window to the immense feelings of pride Yuri brings to Jews of all backgrounds: "I am so proud after watching your fight; it brings tears to my eyes. Mazal Tov!" wrote a Jew from the UK. "I am so proud! Every Jew should be." wrote an admirer from Portugal. "Was watching the fight live from Israel at 5 a.m. You made me feel so proud man!!!! Keep it up!!!!" posted another fan.

It's interesting to note that many of Yuri's supporters compare him to the heroes of the Chanuka story - the Maccabees. "MAZAL TOV!!! YOU'RE THE CHAMP! FIGHT LIKE A MACCABEE!!!" posted a fan from Brooklyn. And this from Portland, Maine, "Good luck Yuri. You are the Maccabbi of our time."

Yuri's story is special because it smashes stereotypes and blasts away some common misconceptions. There are many Jews who are of the opinion that Orthodox Judaism conflicts with contemporary perceptions of success and that to live a committed Jewish life is to cut off ones wings in exchange for reserved seating in heaven.

But in truth, living a lifestyle that combines the past and the present, taking our rich history and vibrant soul and applying it to daily living, connects us with something bigger than ourselves and should only act as an ongoing source of inspiration in maximizing our unique individual gifts and talents.

Fusing the physical and the spiritual and striving to strengthen one with the other is a basic principle of Jewish philosophy. Our task is to uplift the physical world by engaging our surroundings and utilizing it all in the effort to make this world a better place.

As we tackle the challenges of day-to-day living and thriving, in one way or another, we are all fighters, whether conquering an industry or hustling to scrape together a living. Sometimes our challenges are physical and sometimes psychological:our inhibitions and fears. Often life's greatest battles are fought within.

Yuri Foreman has shown many the value of balance, and that leading a life of committed values can bring the inner strength fostered by a relationship with G-d that inspires unprecedented success.

Dovid Efune is the director of the Algemeiner and the GJCF and can be e-mailed at

What's New

News from the FSU

News synagogues and Jewish Community Centers in the former Soviet Union continue to open or undergo major renovations at an incredible rate. In Baku, Azerbaijan, a new synagogue will be erected on the site of the city's old synagogue that had fallen into disuse. A new Jewish Community Center in Bratsk, Russia (Irkutsk region) recently opened. The Jewish community negotiated with the city government to obtain a location and then went into high-gear to turn the facility into a comfortable place for all of the city's Jews. In Khmelnitsky, Ukraine, the Jewish Community Center just celebrated its reopening after a monumental reconstruction project.

The Rebbe Writes

In the Month of Kislev,
In the Days before Chanukah, 5739 [1978]
To the Sons and Daughters of our people Israel who are, at present, in Correctional Institutions,

Greeting and Blessing:

With the approach of Chanukah, bringing blessing to all our Jewish people, I extend to each and all of you prayerful wishes for a bright and happy Chanukah. This is also to acknowledge receipt of your letters, and to respond to the request of many of you for a word of encouragement and hope. For various reasons it is impossible to reply to each one individually, which you will surely excuse.

The Mitzvah (commandment) of kindling the Chanukah Lights is unique in that it becomes due immediately "after sunset," prior to the other observances connected with Chanukah (special prayers, etc.). This pointedly emphasizes the concept of "light" in human life in general, and in a time of crisis - "after sunset" - in particular.

Although man was, of course, created to be free in all his affairs, with freedom of will and freedom of action, including personal freedom in the ordinary sense, without being subjected to external constraints even for a short period of time - the real bright light in human life is the ability to see the right path in life, and follow it faithfully in terms of daily conduct, filling it with all that is bright and good, in a state of consistent inner peace and tranquillity.

This has to do, and is dependent upon, a person's world outlook, including a full measure of Bitachon (trust) in G-d, the Creator and Master of the world, which has to be expressed in appropriate conduct, in actual practice, for the essential thing is the deed.

And this is largely up to the person himself, regardless of circumstances. For it is a matter of common knowledge that there are people who, considering their external circumstances, should be content and happy, yet they are not; while there are those whose external circumstances are just the opposite, yet they are at peace with themselves, are cheerful, and are strong in their confidence that the external circumstances will also change for the good very soon, the kind of good that is manifest and obvious.

Moreover, and this, too, is an essential point, this very confidence and feeling hastens and brings closer the day when the undesirable circumstances will be over and done with, if not all at once, at least gradually, and in a satisfactory manner in all respects.

I am strongly confident that the Almighty will bless each and every one of you in your needs and will fulfill your hearts' desires for good, particularly - to regain your freedom, in the good and proper way; freedom from all constraints and distractions, including full personal liberty in the ordinary sense,

And, at the same time, true inner freedom in the spirit of the Festival of Chanukah and the Chanukah Lights, which are kindled in increasing numbers and getting ever brighter from day to day.

May G-d grant that the message of Chanukah and of the Chanukah Lights should serve as a guiding light for all our Jewish people, and for you in particular even in your present situation.

To increase and spread the light of the Torah and Mitzvos ("for a Mitzvah is a candle, and the Torah is light") in all aspects of Yiddishkeit [Judaism], and G-d, on His part, will increase His blessings to each and every one of you, and all yours, both materially and spiritually.

With blessing for a bright Chanukah, illuminating all the coming days throughout the year,

A Call to Action

There's Still Time!

All those who has not yet fulfilled the custom to distribute Chanuka gelt (money)should immediate resolve to make up for this custom; to snatch their opportunity in the last days and hours of Chanuka or in the days following Chanuka - the sooner the better!

In memory of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg and the other kedoshim of Mumbai

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

What does Chanuka have to do with Moshiach and the ultimate Redemption? A lot! Everything is connected to Moshiach and the Redemption. In fact, the Lubavitcher Rebbe stated clearly that it is natural for a person who is involved every day in yearning for the coming of Moshiach to look for a connection to Moshiach's coming in every event or concept which he encounters.

This also applies to Chanuka. And since we are in the days of Chanuka it is appropriate to look at the Festival of Lights with "Moshiach eyes."

Since the Chanuka miracle took place in the Holy Temple, its commemoration arouses an even greater yearning for the era when the menora will be kindled again in the Third Holy Temple.

Similarly, there is a connection between the above and this week's Torah portion, Mikeitz.

When a Jew hears the name Mikeitz, because he is constantly yearning for Moshiach's coming, he immediately associates it with the word "keitz" which refers to the time for Moshiach's coming. And on Shabbat, when the Haftorah is read and he hears the vision for the Menora mentioned, he once again immediately associates it with the menora of the Holy Temple.

Let us all join together on Chanuka this year in the lighting of the Chanuka menoras, large and small, public and private. And as we light the menora let us envision ourselves watching the lighting of the rededicated menora in the Third and Eternal Holy Temple.

Thoughts that Count

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.

(Torah Ohr)

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)

And behold, seven other cows...I never saw any like these (Gen. 41:19)

"A person is only shown the innermost thoughts of his heart," our Sages explain. Our nighttime dreams are a reflection of the thoughts we have during waking hours. Pharaoh was therefore surprised by his dream, for he had never seen, in real life, cows with such an emaciated appearance.

(Reb Yitzchak of Volozhin)

It Once Happened

Most of the people of the shtetl of Roshvenitz were very poor, but, being Chasidim, poverty could not detract from their joy of life, as it was derived from their Rebbe, the great Rabbi Avraham Yaakov of Sadigora.

In those days, traveling to the Rebbe was not an easy undertaking. It cost far more than most of them could afford, and so they established a special fund to pay the traveling expenses of one person. Each Jewish family would contribute to the communal pot, and when a special occasion would arise, a raffle would be held. The winner would travel to the Rebbe as an emissary of the community.

At the Rebbe's court, the representative was given a private interview with the Rebbe who would question him about the state of his Chasidim in the little village. But that wasn't all. When the emissary set off, the Rebbe always presented him with a pure, silver coin. These coins became the property of the community and were its prized treasure.

It was a month before Chanuka and a special meeting was called. The villagers twittered with anticipation of this unexpected event. Finally the caretaker of the shul began to speak: "My dear brethren, we have called you here tonight to discuss the matter of the holy coins of our beloved Rebbe. We have merited to amass many coins, and we have decided to give them all to a G-d-fearing silversmith who will make from them a most beautiful menora."

Excitement rose as the congregants murmured their approval to one another. "The beautiful menora, we will put in our study hall, and each Chanuka we will sell the honor of lighting it to the highest bidder. This money will help pay for the many needs of our community - food and medicine for the sick and poor, dowries for needy brides, salaries for the teachers." The congregants were all very excited, and each of them dreamed about the beautiful silver menora made from the Rebbe's holy coins.

The first night of Chanuka arrived and every corner of the shul was packed tight. At the southern wall stood the Chanuka menora, a masterpiece of the silversmith's art - intricate in design, glowing, and sparkling in the lamplight.

The bidding began, and then rose quickly. It wasn't long before the poor and average homeowners were outbid, leaving only the wealthy to continue the contest. In the end, Reb Lipa, a wealthy wood merchant won the honor. With great emotion he approached the menora. He recited the three blessings, and ignited the wick.

This scene was repeated each night of Chanuka. The same bidding, the same enthusiasm, and in end, the same result: one of the wealthy congregants always emerged the winner.

The poor people of the shtetl realized that the coveted honor would never fall to one of them. They had to content themselves with watching the lighting and answering "amen" to the blessings.

One of them, however, couldn't accept the situation. Reb Baruch, the blacksmith, was a Chasid to the core of his soul. His love for his Rebbe filled his entire being, and he was heartbroken that he couldn't light the menora even once. Chanuka passed and once again life's dreary sameness returned to the inhabitants of the little shtetl.

But for Baruch the blacksmith life was different. He had a mission which filled his nights and days. He began to work a little extra every day, and he hoarded every penny he managed to scrape together - all this for his much longed-for Chanuka lighting. Months went by and he managed to amass a tidy sum.

A month before Chanuka his wife took ill. When all the old remedies failed to cure her, a doctor was summoned from the big city. The doctor's fee was tremendous and the medications very costly. When G-d blessed his wife with a complete recovery, Reb Baruch's entire hard-earned savings were gone.

Chanuka arrived and Reb Baruch was inconsolable. He had come so close to attaining his heart's desire, and now it was lost.

As the nights of Chanuka passed by, Reb Baruch watched the successive lightings with a pained heart. Finally, the eighth and final night came. The bidding was frenzied, and the poor looked on as their wealthy brethren bid astronomical sums for the honor. Reb Baruch felt that his heart would break.

Suddenly all was still. All eyes focused on the figure ascending the bima. Could it be Reb Baruch, the blacksmith!? With tears running down his face, he turned to the crowd: "My dear friends, this is the second year that I have yearned with my whole soul to kindle the holy menora. All year I saved, but then my wife became ill. G-d has granted her a complete recovery, but my savings are gone. Believe me, my brothers, I cannot continue; my soul is expiring from longing. So, I am making you a proposition. My house is very small - worth about 300 crowns. I am giving it to the community. I will continue to live in it, but as a tenant of the community. Accept my plea and restore the soul of a poor blacksmith."

Reb Baruch's heartfelt words touched everyone. Tears flowed freely, and a great roar came up from the crowd. "Reb Baruch has won the bidding!" was heard from every corner. When he rose to kindle the silver menora, there was not one heart which did not tremble at the sight of the flame that burst forth and rose up from the soul of Reb Baruch, the blacksmith.

Moshiach Matters

The Jewish people is presently in the dungeon of a harsh and bitter exile; for many years we have been bound and fettered by its shackles. But just as Joseph, in this week's Torah portion, went directly from confinement to rulership, so, too, our whole nation will speedily leave the prison of exile and simultaneously ascend to the status of royalty with the full and Final Redemption.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, 28 Kislev, 5750-1989)

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