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Long ago and far away, in the days before we knew anything about GMO, omegas, trans and saturated fats, oil was something for cooking, baking and eating - nothing particularly sinister.
But even with kugels oozing with grease, chicken soup with fat puddles on top, "gribbens and shmaltz," deep-fried sufganiyot (jelly-donuts) and potato latkas dripping oil, Jews have always known that fat is the culprit.
How so? Every war ever waged was basically for power/money, except for one. The war which the Greeks waged against the Jews over 2,000 years ago was waged for oil. Olive oil to be exact.
It wasn't Jewish money the Greeks were after. Had they been after our wealth, they would have emptied the Holy Temple. The furnishings of the Holy Temple today would be valued in the tens of billions of dollars. But the Greeks didn't strip the Holy Temple clean. They defiled it. They offered pigs as sacrifices on the altar. They erected statues of their gods and goddesses on the Temple grounds. And they opened the little bottles of pure olive oil that were used daily to kindle the seven-branched menora.
Weren't those Greeks dumb to leave the wealth but despoil the oil? No, they weren't so stupid. The Greeks were content to let the Jewish people live. They knew from looking at our first 2,000 years of miraculous existence that we could not be destroyed. And they were wise, so they accepted this fact. What they could not accept was that there is something higher than the mind, something more sublime than human wisdom, something greater than their gods and godesses who were no better than people save their supposed immortality.
All of this was symbolized by the purity of the olive oil. The Greeks did not totally destroy the oil for doing so would not have allowed them to realize their ultimate goal.
They defiled the oil by breaking the seals. And their message to the Jews was loud and clear: "Go ahead, use the oil now. Use the impure oil in your menora. For we don't believe that there is such a thing as purity. There is no such thing as spirituality. There is no such thing as an All-knowing, All-powerful G-d. Man is the apex, man's understanding is the utmost, man's physical prowess and power are the peak."
But the Jews refused to give in to the Greeks physically or spiritually. When the Holy Temple was recaptured by the famed Maccabees, they searched for a bottle of oil that still had the High Priest's seal. Having no other option, they were allowed to use the tainted oil. But this they would not do, for then they would have won the war but lost the battle.
Just as the Greeks made a statement by defiling the oil, the Jews made just as strong of a statement by refusing to use that oil. They cried out, "We believe that there is something higher than our own intellect, we believe in the all-powerful, all-knowing G-d, we believe that eventually good will prevail and that G-d will ultimately bring the time when everything will be totally pure, forever more."
The main custom of Chanuka - lighting the menora - revolves around oil, thus commemorating the miracle of the small bottle which lasted not one but eight days. Commemorating, too, the strength of the Jewish spirit.
But oil is significant for another reason, a reason which gives us additional insight into oil's message in our lives in general and the Chanuka miracle in particular.
Oil, like wine, symbolizes the secrets of Torah, the mystical aspects of Judaism. These formerly hidden concepts are becoming more revealed as we come closer to Moshiach's imminent arrival. For the Messianic Era will be a time when all of the Torah's secrets will be revealed for everyone to understand and grasp.
Until the moment comes when Moshiach is anointed with the sacred oil, however, it is imperative that each of us learns as much of the "oil" of Torah as possible, thus preparing ourselves for Moshiach's imminent arrival.
As we see from this week's Torah portion, Mikeitz, there are several essential differences between the dreams of Joseph and Pharaoh.
Joseph dreamt that he and his brothers were actively gathering sheaves of grain. Pharaoh, however, was merely a passive bystander, observing the events that transpired around him; any indication of human activity was absent.
Joseph's dreams were in the realm of holiness: G-d bestows His blessings on us as reward for our labors. A Jew has to work to be worthy of receiving them, just as Joseph was actively involved in binding the sheaves in his dream.
Joseph's dreams were characterized by an upward progression in holiness. In his first dream Joseph took individual sheaves of grain and bound them together to create a unified whole. This shows an ascent from separateness and division to a higher level of union and oneness.
The subject of Joseph's second dream also represents an ascent. After he had dreamt about earthly matters, sheaves of grain, he dreamt about the sun and moon, celestial matters.
Pharaoh's dreams, by contrast, were characterized by a downward progression. Pharaoh's first dream was about seven cows, the animal kingdom, but his second dream involved a lower category of life, ears of corn. Also, the dreams themselves were descending in nature. The seven healthy cows were followed by seven sick cows that swallowed them up; the seven robust ears of corn were followed by seven blighted ones.
Moreover, the fulfillment of Pharaoh's dreams came about in a descending order. First came the years of plenty, which were followed by a famine of such magnitude that it was as if the years of abundance had never existed. Every detail connected with Pharaoh's dreams was marked by decrease.
Holiness, the realm of Joseph, is characterized by perpetual ascent: "One must always go up in matters of holiness." Holiness is eternal. Anything that is not holy, the realm of Pharaoh, does not endure, and will only deteriorate and dwindle until there is nothing left.
This contains a practical lesson for every Jew: If we want to merit G-d's blessings, we must work for them, as it states, "If someone tells you he has toiled and found what he was looking for, you may believe him." If a Jew expends the effort he will be more than amply rewarded, and in far greater measure than his actions warrant. The G-dly influence he receives will increase, in an ever-expanding manner.
If, however, a Jew wishes to benefit from G-d's blessings without effort, the influences he receives will be the same type as Pharaoh's: from a source other than holiness. But this type of influence will not last; it will continue to decrease until nothing remains of it at all.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Volume 3
A Modern Chanuka Miracle
Join me on a journey to Kaliningrad, Russia, to hear about a modern-day Chanuka miracle.
In September of 2011, Lena, a sophisticated young woman arrived at the office of Rabbi David Shvedik, Federation of Jewish Communities representative and emissary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in Kaliningrad. "Lena applied for a position as an English teacher at the local Ohr Avner Day school. But she had no teaching experience so we could not hire her.
"Lena told me that she had not worked in many, many months. She would be willing to take any job that we could offer," recalls Rabbi Shvedik. "I explained that the only other work we had was in our soup kitchen, setting and clearing the tables. She jumped at the opportunity."
Continues Rabbi Shvedik: "Curious as to what had brought her to us, I asked Lena if she had any Jewish connections. 'My lineage is a mixture of many nationalities, but none of them are Jewish,' Lena explained.
"One day, a few weeks into her job, Lena came into my office looking quite distraught. 'I have to be honest with you. I feel guilty working here! You are such nice people! Throughout my entire life, I grew up hearing the Jewish people constantly being demeaned and mocked. Even in my own home, I heard comments from my parents on a regular basis about how miserly and greedy the Jews are.
" 'I have been supporting my elderly mother for many years now. I lost my job months ago and we were able to live on the little bit of money I had put away. But the savings ran out and my mother's small pension is not enough to pay the rent and buy food.
" 'Suddenly I started hearing a "different tune" from my mother. Instead of cursing and insulting the Jews, she said, "Winter is coming soon. We will need to pay for rent and food! The Jews are good people. They never turn anyone away. They will help. Even when they have very little, they share what they have. If they cannot offer you a job they will at least offer you food."
" 'I was upset that my mother's change of heart was because she wanted to exploit the Jewish people. Although I had never subscribed to the prevailing anti-Semitic attitudes, I was ashamed to ask the Jews for help now that we were in need. That is why I was so happy that you were able to give me work, no matter how menial.'
"I listened as Lena unburdened herself. I told her that she is a good person, that she is doing a fine, honest job and that we are happy to employ her. I encouraged her to take home food from the soup kitchen at night for her mother. Lena left my office looking much calmer."
Kaliningrad has one of 45 FJC sponsored soup kitchens and one of 159 FJC sponsored educational institutions throughout the FSU.
One of the many programs at the Kaliningrad JCC is "STARS." STARS is a Jewish educational and social club for young adults. On the second night of Chanuka, STARS held a fun and informative event. Recalls Rabbi Shvedik, "I noticed that Lena had stayed late that night after work. She was sitting at the back of the room where the program was taking place. Half-way through the program, she hurried out.
"I didn't give it too much thought until the next day when Lena burst into my office. The words tumbled out. 'I left the Chanuka event, went straight home and confronted my mother. "Why when we were growing up did you always say such horrible things about the Jews but now that we are in need you have changed your tune? The Jews I meet today are generous, moral, educated people. The Jews of your days lived ethical, inspired lives despite persecution and hatred. And the Jews of ancient times, like the Maccabees, had the courage to fight for their beliefs and to make the world a brighter place!
" 'My mother was silent for what seemed like an eternity. And then she began to cry. And through her tears I heard her say the following: "Your grandmother, my mother, was a Jew! She lived through the war, through persecution and humiliation because she was a Jew. And she promised herself that her children and her children's children would never suffer for being Jews. So she raised us as non-Jews. And she instilled in us a bitterness toward all things Jewish so that we would never be associated with or associate with Jews."
" 'I was stunned by my mother's revelation! I had visited my grandmother in Chernigov, Ukraine, many times as a youngster. I had never imagined that she was a Jew, that my mother is a Jew, that I am a Jew!' "
Rabbi Shvedik immediately sent a request to the registry office in Chernigov to verify that Lena's grandmother, who had since passed away, was registered as a Jew. Before the day ended, they received a response that affirmed her Jewishness.
The next night, at 7:00 p.m., Lena finished cleaning the dining room of the soup kitchen. She had helped serve 100 of Kaliningrad's elderly or indigent Jewish men and women. She went into the ladies room with a small bag she had brought with her to work. She emerged a little while later wearing a beautiful turquoise dress, her hair neatly brushed, her cheeks glowing and her eyes twinkling.
Lena was attending the Chanuka Menora lighting at the Kaliningrad JCC. It would be her first time celebrating Chanuka. It would be her first time attending a Jewish event as a proud Jew. Rabbi Shvedik calls it "a modern-day Chanuka miracle."
This past year, Lena has been sharing with her mother everything she learns at the STARS events and other programs she attends at the JCC. And her mother has agreed to come to a Chanuka event this year!
"My joy will be complete," Lena says, "when my mother steps into a Jewish building for the first time in her life. That will be a true Chanuka miracle, a real victory for the Maccabees."
Rabbi Shmuel and Chaya Mushka Schtroks recently moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where Rabbi Schtroks will serve as the Rosh Yeshiva of the Chabad Yeshiva. Rabbi Yechiel and Rikky Gluckowsky have established a new Chabad House in the Science Park of Ness Tziona, Israel. The Science Park houses many large high-tech companies, research institutes, developing scientific businesses, and more. Rabbi Yona and Esti Grossman have arrived in Fargo, North Dakota, to establish a new Chabad House to serve the 500 Jews in the state. Rabbi Mendy and Sara Alevsky have moved to Cleveland, Ohio to establish Chabad at Case Western Reserve University.
7th of Teves, 5740 
Following our brief personal meeting, I take this first personal opportunity after Chanukah to convey to you my feelings in connection with your warm response and generous contribution towards the latest Lubavitch Project in our Holy Land. I was both gratified and impressed by the spirit of your response. For, since I characterized the project as a seemingly "Wild Project," your response in fulfillment of a "Wild Thought," as you described it, is truly a response in kind.
The term "wild" in this context can best be explained in terms of the teachings of Chanukah, when the project was announced.
It is significant that the Chanukah Menorah has eight lights, although it reflects the miracle of the oil which occurred in connection with the rekindling of the Menorah in the Beis Hamikdosh [Holy Temple], which had only seven lamps. As explained in our sacred sources, there is an inner symbolic significance in the number seven versus eight. Seven represents the natural order, since G-d created the world in six days and rested on the seventh, thus completing the natural order in seven days and imbuing it with the holiness of Shabbos. Eight, on the other hand, represents the supra-natural, the extraordinary.
Thus, the seven-lamp Menorah, corresponding to the seven days of the week, symbolized the natural world order, which is geared to, and must be perpetually illuminated by, the light of the Torah and Mitzvos [commandments] during each and all of the seven days of the week. Chanukah, on the other hand, recalls a very extraordinary situation in Jewish history, when the Jewish people faced a crucial challenge that threatened them not with physical, but with spiritual extinction, to be engulfed by the pagan Hellenistic culture that had swept the world at that time. The danger was all the more insidious because it happened while the Jewish people were in their own land, the Holy Land, and the Beis Hamikdosh was in existence; and the enemy did not aim to destroy the Beis Hamikdosh nor put out the Menorah, but "merely" to contaminate them with their own ideas and mores.
This extraordinary situation therefore called for an extraordinary response in terms real Mesiras Nefesh [self-sacrifice].
Hence Chanukah is celebrated for eight days, and the lighting of eight lights, in a manner of increasing them in number and brightness each night of Chanukah until all the eight lights of the Chanukah Menorah shine brightly on the eighth night of Chanukah.
We find the same thing in other aspects of Torah and Jewish life. For example, the dedication of the Mishkon [Sanctuary] and the Mikdosh [Temple], because the idea of a House of G-d, a House for the Divine Shechinah [Presence] within the confines of a measured and limited space, is most extraordinary, as King Solomon, the builder of the first Beis Hamikdosh, expressed it: "Surely, the earth and all the heavens cannot contain You, yet this House will!"
This also the inner significance of Shemini Atzeres, the Eighth Day (following the seven days of Succos), which is the culmination and retention of the Divine service of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the essence of which is Teshuvah [repentance] - that extraordinary Divine gift whereby a Jew breaks through all natural limitations, both within and without, and rises to the highest degree of spiritual achievement.
In all these instances (and others too numerous to mention here) the number eight is not just one more than seven, or an additional twenty-four hours, it symbolizes the extraordinary, the supra-natural and Infinite, as distinct from the ordinary and natural, hence limited, as symbolized by the number seven.
continued in next issue
Yehuda HaMaccabee (Judah) was the third son of Matitiyahu, a Kohen who lived in the village of Modiin. In 167 b.c.e. Matitiyahu and his sons started a revolt against the Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV Epiphanes. After his father's death, Yehuda assumed leadership of the revolt in accordance with his father's wishes. The First Book of Maccabees praises Yehuda's military talent. The name Maccabee is an acronym for Yehuda's battle-cry, the verse (Ex. 15:11) "Mi kamokha ba'elim Hashem - Who among the gods is like You, O G-d?"
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
An important part of most Jewish holidays is the holiday meal, when it is a commandment to eat and drink. Chanuka, however, is primarily celebrated by saying special prayers and lighting the menora. This is how we commemorate the miraculous victory of the small Jewish army overpowering the mighty Greek war machine and the jar of pure oil miraculously keeping the Temple candelabra lit for eight days.
Our Chanuka observances are more "spiritual" because the victory of Chanuka was a victory of the spirit. The Greeks wanted to make the Jews forget the Torah and transgress the Divine commandments. Thus, it is fitting to celebrate the holiday with less emphasis on food and more emphasis on spiritual activities.
The difference between other holidays and Chanuka can be better understood by comparing water, bread and wine - foods served at holiday meals, with oil - used for the Chanuka lights.
Water, bread, wine and oil are all metaphors for the Torah. Water and bread are the staples of our everyday existence. In contrast, wine is not a daily necessity, it contributes an element of pleasure to our existence. Oil is not required for our day-to-day existence and is never served as a food in its own right. It is used in small quantities to add flavor to other foods. Thus, it too, is associated with the quality of pleasure.
Water and bread are metaphors for the concepts of Torah that are necessary in order to know how to observe the mitzvot properly. Like bread and water, this knowledge is necessary for our very existence. In contrast, wine and oil are metaphors for the inner dimensions of Torah, the study of which adds pleasure and vitality to our observance of the Torah and mitzvot.
Taking this a step further, there is a difference between oil and wine. Wine is drunk as a beverage, while oil it not. In regard to the symbolic meaning of the two, wine refers to the inner dimensions of the Torah that can be perceived by a sensitive eye. In contrast, oil refers to the deepest secrets of the Torah, those that transcend revelation. And Chanuka is associated with these deepest levels of Torah.
And they did not recognize him (Gen. 42:8)
The Talmud (Chagiga 16a) explains that there are three things that cause a person's eyesight to dim if he looks at them, one of which is a "Nasi," a prince. Concerning a Nasi, the Torah states (Num. 27:20), "And You shall put some of Your greatness upon him." As Joseph was the Nasi and leader of Egypt, his brothers refrained from looking directly at his face, and therefore failed to recognized him.
(Sichot Kodesh 5727)
And let my name be called on them, and the name of my fathers (48:16)
Jacob blessed his grandsons, Menashe and Ephraim, by expressing his wish that they grow up to be a source of pride to the family. When, G-d forbid, children do not follow in their parents' footsteps and stray from the proper path, the grandparents and parents are ashamed that the children bear their name. Jacob blessed his grandsons that they should be worthy of being called the descendants of Abraham and Isaac.
With you shall Israel bless...May G-d make you as Ephraim and Menashe (48:20)
In the previous verses Jacob had said, "Ephraim and Menashe shall be to me as Reuven and Shimon." Despite the fact that Ephraim and Menashe were born in exile and were educated in Egypt, a land not conducive to Torah learning and Judaism, they were still as righteous and pure as Reuven and Shimon, who grew up in more enclosed and insular surroundings in Jacob's household.
And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt for 17 years (Gen. 47:28)
When the third Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel, was a child, he learned a commentary on this verse that these 17 years were the best years of Jacob's life. This surprised the boy, and he went to his grandfather, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, to find out how it was possible that the years spent in such a spiritually corrupt and abominable land could have been Jacob's best. Rabbi Shneur Zalman replied: Before Jacob descended into Egypt, he sent an emissary to establish yeshivot and places of learning. Whenever and wherever a Jew learns Torah, he cleaves to G-d and achieves a true and meaningful life. Furthermore, precisely because Egypt was such an abominable place, the holiness and spirituality Jacob attained there shone that much brighter against the dark and evil background of his surroundings.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
A huge group was gathered on the other side of the large table and looked in the direction of their rebbe, Rabbi Avraham Wienberg, the Slonimer Rebbe (1804 - 1883). He stood opposite the wicks in the Chanuka menora, meditating and contemplating, for an unknown reason not yet ready to kindle the Chanuka lights.
Hundreds of Chasidim stood in awe and with great respect, watching their Rebbe as he stood preparing for this mitzva (commandment). They waited with bated breath for the glorious moment when he would take the wax candle in his hand and begin reciting the words of the Chanuka blessings.
Minutes, which seemed like hours, passed and then the Rebbe began chanting the blessings. He infused each word with kabbalistic intentions, and each chasid there was able to hook into the holiness of the moment according to his own level.
"Help me, deliver me!"
The dreadful cry tore through the hearts of all those gathered there and awakened each person from his reverie. Everyone looked in the direction of the voice.
The Rebbe, his face aflame with the holiness of the moment, also turned his head in the direction of the voice toward the end of the synagogue. There stood a women with her hands outstretched toward the heavens, crying with a bitter heart.
It became clear that this woman was not one of the wives of the chasidim gathered there. In fact, she had no connection to the Rebbe or the Chasidic lifestyle. "Who is she?" some murmured.
The distraught woman lived with her family in this town. Her husband was a wealthy and well-respected businessman who had never in his life entered this Chasidic synagogue. He and his friends were among those who laughed at the Chasidic lifestyle and customs.
For many years the couple had not been blessed with children. When their son was finally born they were already much older. Their happiness knew no bounds. He was always given the best of everything, though he was not especially spoiled.
On the eve of Chanuka the young boy fell ill. The doctors came to his bedside and cared for him with devotion. But they could not help him. To everyone's horror his fever rose from day to day. Tonight, his situation worsened. The boy lost consciousness and the doctors who were standing around his bed raised their hands in hopelessness.
The father of the child was pacing around the house in agony and bitterness. But his mother could not stand seeing her son's suffering any longer and left the house. Suddenly she began walking quickly. Toward what or where or whom she knew not. But her feet seemed to have a mind of their own, and before she knew it she found herself in front of the Slonimer synagogue just as the Rebbe was preparing to kindle the Chanuka lights.
"Rebbe, help me," cried the woman in a voice that echoed throughout the entire synagogue.
"Tell her not to worry," the Rebbe said quietly to someone. "She should go and return home. She should ask her husband to add to her son's name the name 'Matitiyahu' [Matithias]. And in the merit of that great tzadik - father of the Macabbees - who gave up his life for the Jewish people and the Holy One, the sick child's life will be lengthened. And another thing, when the child is fully recovered, his father should bring a pidyon nefesh ("redemption offering") of chai - life - 18 coins which will be given to charity in the Holy Land."
The following day, at about the time when the Chanuka candles were being lit, a new face was seen in the Slonimer synagogue. It was the father of Matitiyahu, who had brought to the Rebbe 18 rubles, a pidyon nefesh for his son who was fully recovered.
In the Haftara of Chanuka we read (Zecharia 4:8): "Hear now, Yehoshua, High Priest, behold I am bringing My servant, Tzemach." The commentators Radak and Ibn Ezra note that the numerical equivalent of "Tzemach" is the same as that of "Menachem," one of the names of Moshiach. Thus, the prophet is prophecizing about the coming of Moshiach. The Targum states uniquivocally that this verse refers to Moshiach.