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by Izzy Greenberg
Imagine if you could experience your wedding day every day...
Chanuka offers a tremendous opportunity to meditate by the lights of the menora, and the flame of a candle makes a beautiful visual analogy for the experience of life on earth. If you stare into the flame of an oil lamp or candle, you become fixated by the flickering fire, the way the flame defies gravity in its graceful movements. It seems to want to fly away, pulling upwards as if inhaling a breath of fresh air, yet it remains anchored to the wick below. Each upsurge is followed by a corresponding retraction, followed by an even greater resurgence... until it seems as though the flame is going to burst forth off the wick and explode into a psychedelic sky scape. But then the flame is calm once again.
This is the ebb and flow of life.
Our Soul, the core of our being, is like a flame. It wants to always surge upwards, to disengage from the limitation of its wick, the body and the physical world that keep it grounded; it wants to engage in unbounded inspiration beyond what the body can contain, and return to its spiritual source. It reaches for ever-increasing extraordinary heights, reaching an ecstatic climax that puts it at the brink of bursting out of its bodily box. But at that very moment, the Soul comes down to earth against its will. It knows that the ultimate purpose is to make all that inspiration and ecstasy dwell down here in the physical world.
In this vein, we struggle for a lifetime, dancing on the fine line between our desire for otherworldly euphoria and our mission to plough through the rough earth and make this world a spiritual continent.
Without oil, the wick will quickly burn out, utterly consumed by the intensity of the flame. It is the oil that enables the two to coexist, and fuels the flame while it is attached to the wick. So, too, the oil of Torah, especially the way it is illuminated by the mystical teachings of Kabala and Chasidut, provides fuel for the Soul's fiery existence and enables it to perform its ultimate mission - to remain united with the body and be spiritual within a physical world.
The giving of the Torah 3,300 years ago was the wedding day of G-d and the Jewish people, and it is an event that is relived every time a Jew plunges into the wisdom of G-d. Every day presents us with the opportunity to experience the energy of our cosmic wedding day - exactly the way it was originally, and even higher - by experiencing the light of studying the inner dimensions of Torah.
May we have a Chanuka that is infused with spiritual pyromania, riding the waves of light to a future where our awareness of the Infinite will permeate the earth like the waters cover the sea - literally.
Izzy Greenberg, a writer, scholar and teacher, is the Creative Director of Tekiyah Creative and the editor of Exodus Magazine. To learn more and to read his writings, visit www.IzzyGreenberg.com
In the beginning of this week's Torah portion, Vayeishev, we read about Joseph's two dreams, both of which revolved around the same theme: that Joseph would one day rule over his brothers.
Next week, in Mikeitz, the Torah relates the two dreams of Pharaoh, which also shared a common message. There, however, the Torah tells us that the reason Pharaoh had two similar dreams was to emphasize that G-d was about to fulfill them imminently. No reason is given for the repetition of Joseph's dreams; we must therefore conclude that although the two dreams shared a common theme, each one alluded to a different matter.
Let us now compare and contrast the dreams of Joseph and Pharaoh in order to obtain a better understanding of them.
In Joseph's first dream his brothers' sheaves of grain were bowing down to his, alluding to the physical plane of existence - ("And behold, your sheaves placed themselves round about, and bowed down to my sheaf.") His second dream involved "the sun and moon and the eleven stars," alluding to celestial and heavenly matters. In other words, Joseph's second dream represented an ascent from the material realm to the realm of the spiritual.
Both of Pharaoh's dreams, however, referred to the physical plane. The first dream involved the animal kingdom (the seven cows), and the second dream pertained to the lower level of plants (the seven ears of corn). Neither of Pharaoh's dreams had anything to do with higher spiritual matters at all.
This underscores the essential difference between the Jewish people and the nations of the world. The Jewish people, even while leading a physical existence, are intimately connected with both worlds - the physicality of the material world and the spirituality of the World to Come.
In truth, this is the task of every Jew: to properly utilize both realms and turn them into one. Not only must the Jew's physical concerns not hinder his spiritual progress, his role is to harness the materiality of the world and transform it into spirituality, as Rabbi Shmuel, the fourth Chabad Rebbe, once explained to a group of young children: "The Jew's nature is that he eats in order to live; he needs to live in order to be a Jew and perform G-d's mitzvot." Because the Jew's underlying intent in all his physical concerns is spiritual, the material plane itself is successfully transformed, as the Baal Shem Tov declared: "Wherever a Jew's will is, that is where he is found."
Adapted by Maayan Chai from Likutei Sichot, volume 3
By the Chanuka Lights
By M. Bloch
We were crowded around the large menora. My father sang, while my mother and I, wrapped in dark, festive chadors, served refreshments of white sweet cakes naan berenji, and wide cups of hot, Persian tea.
"You are still here," my mother smiled sadly. "Do you remember we blessed you last year that this year, you should light the menora in Israel with Miriam?" (My sister had moved to Israel a decade before).
Tehran, 1986. Khomeini's police ruled with an iron fist. Harsh laws encompassed all of life. A woman caught without a veil was taken to the police station where she was cruelly beaten. Executions were daily occurrences in Iran in those years.
Although there was, and still is, anti-Semitism, it had nothing to do with keeping Torah, or at least not where I lived. My parents' home was very religious. My mother regularly studied Torah and did not allow us to eat anything not prepared at home.
My father and brothers studied medicine and then specialized in pharmaceuticals. I had a good job as a secretary. But under Khomeini, all Jewish employees were fired. I unsuccessfully tried to find another job.
Eleven months passed. I was already 30 years old and still unmarried. We had tried for three years to get a visa for me for Israel. My older brother took matters into his own hands. On a Friday, a month before Chanuka, he said, "Farida, you're leaving now!" He had gotten me into a group of Jewish boys whose families had hired professional smugglers.
I hastily parted from my family. My brother paid the smuggler and entrusted him with a large sum of money that I had saved up for an apartment in Israel. I was given a little suitcase with a few items of clothing and valuable jewelry.
We arrived in a small village close to Shabbat where a Jewish family hosted us. At midnight, two jeeps screeched to a halt near the little house and armed smugglers urged us to get in. The jeeps raced off until we arrived at another village home.
After Shabbat, the guides returned with village clothes for us. I was given long pants with a long, dark dress to wear over them and a black chador.
We got back into the jeeps and they drove furiously into the desert. The road wound around and eventually the guides said that we would continue on foot. We were forbidden to utter a sound. Our guides pushed forward, followed by the boys and then me. A few hours later I heard steps behind me and a hand grabbed my arm. "Who are you?" I jumped in fright.
"I heard there is a woman in the group and I came to help you, so you don't fall." He took my suitcase and held my arm. At a certain point, I looked around me and discovered that we were alone. "We lost them," said my escort with a smirk, "and now, come with me. Otherwise, I'll hand you over."
I sat down on the hard ground. I raised my hands heavenward and said, "Either You send someone to help me or may the earth swallow me like Korach." The man stood there and described the jail in hair-raising terms and what awaited me there. "Come, let's go," he said and I again said my prayer.
Around one o'clock, I heard footsteps. It was an Iranian drug smuggler who was secretly making his way just like us. "What's a woman doing here?" he asked, shocked. I told him.
Apparently, something touched this tough fellow and he grabbed me and somehow, I was back with my group. But without my precious suitcase. "Now you will walk next to me," said the guide.
We arrived at the border between Pakistan and Iran at 7 a.m.. Four smugglers were waiting for us. One said, "We didn't believe a woman could make it on the harsh, dangerous journey. How did you manage?" I remained silent in my exhaustion.
We arrived at a small Pakistani village in the evening. They put us in the horses' stable (with the horses) and left us there until we would continue.
Later, ripe with the smell of manure we boarded jeeps that took us to a nearby village where, finally, we ate, drank and slept.
Four days later, they packed us into a small vehicle, under the seats and hidden under thick blankets. At night, we arrived in a town close to the center of Pakistan. Early the next morning, the guides announced that we were going to the UN office to arrange passage to the center of Pakistan.
At least at the UN office, all went well. They arranged our documents to the center of the country where we stayed at a hotel paid for by the Jewish Agency. On our first day there, I had a terrible headache and a fever. The boys took me to the "clinic," a tent made of curtains, filthy and swarming with flies and other creatures. I lay there for three weeks, weak and dazed.
After three weeks, they were able to arrange our tickets to Zurich. When we arrived at the Swissair counter to buy tickets for Israel, each of us took out the money that the guides had given us when we parted from them. With great anguish, I noticed that the boys were holding my checks, my life savings that my brother had innocently given to the guides to hold. I didn't say a word. The money was not enough. We stood there, an odd-looking group, apparently wanting to travel but without any luggage.
Security became suspicious and came over to us. They tried communicating with us in every language except Farsi. Someone finally identified the Hebrew I tried to speak and contacted the Jewish Agency. The Agency took care of tickets and kosher food for the flight and informed our families of our arrival.
What I mainly recall from our arrival was women without veils and my sister hugging me tightly, refusing to let go, and whispering over and over, "I knew you would arrive safely. The Rebbe promised."
We sat down in her lovely living room. We sipped cups of sweet, Persian tea and wordlessly gazed upon the dancing flames of my brother-in-law's menora.
Then she explained. When three weeks had gone by since I had left home and there was still no news of me, my worried sister wrote a letter to the Rebbe. The Rebbe promised that there was nothing to worry about, that I was on my way and would arrive shortly in good health. I calculated and realized that this took place while I was sick and my life was in danger.
Till today, when I look at the Chanuka menora, I am reminded of my long journey, which is still not completed. The final stop will be lighting the menora in the third Holy Temple, may it be immediately.
Reprinted from Beis Moshiach Magazine
World's Largest Menora
Be part of the Chanuka celebrations at the World's Largest Chanuka Menora at Fifth Avenue and 59th Street in New York City. Wednesday, November 27 and Thursday, November 28, the menora will be lit at 5:30 p.m. Friday, November 29, the menora will be lit at 3:45 p.m. Saturday night, November 30, menora lighting will be at 8:30 p.m. Sunday, December 1 - Wednesday, December 4, the menora will be lit at 5:30 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 visit chabad.org
15 Kislev, 5738 (1977)
To All Jewish Detainees, Everywhere
G-d be with you -
Greeting and Blessing:
In connection with the forthcoming days of Chanukah, I extend to each and all of you prayerful wishes for a bright and inspiring Chanukah, coupled with the fulfillment of your hearts' desires for good in every respect.
Chanukah brings a meaningful 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 Chanukah is as follows:
The special Mitzvah [commandment]pertaining to Chanukah is, of course, the kindling of the Chanukah Lights, which must be lit after sunset - unlike the Shabbos candles which must be lit before sunset; and unlike also the lights of the Menorah that were kindles in the Beis Hamikdosh [Holy Temple] even earlier in the day.
The meaningful message which this emphasis on kindling the Chanukah Lights after sunset conveys is:
When a person finds himself in a situation of "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 despair, G-d forbid, but 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, and it will soon be superseded by a bright light, which will be seen and felt all the more strongly through the supremacy of light over darkness, and by the intensity of the contrast.
And this is the meaning of lighting the Chanukah Lights, and in a manner that calls for lighting an additional candle each successive day of Chanukah - to plainly see for oneself, and to demonstrate 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 steadily grows in intensity.
And if physical light has such quality and power, how much more so eternal spiritual light.
What has been said above pertains to our Jewish people as a whole, as well as to each individual Jew, man or woman, in particular.
The conclusion that follows from it is, that though our Jewish people is still in a state of Golus (Exile), and "darkness covers the earth," a time when "nations rage and peoples speak vain things," etc., there is no reason to get overly excited by it; 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 be, and will bless them with Hatzlocho [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 Geulo (Redemption) which is fast approaching.
Similarly in regard to each individual, those who find themselves in a state of personal Golus - there is no cause for discouragement and despondency, G-d for bid; on the contrary, one must find increasing strength in complete trust in the Creator and Master of the Universe, that their personal deliverance from distress and confinement is on its speedy way.
All the more so when this trust is expressed in a growing commitment to the fulfillment of G-d's Will in the daily life and conduct in accordance with His Torah and Mitzvos - of which the Mitzvah of kindling the Chanukah 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 Mitzvos, "for a Mitzvah is a lamp and the Torah is light," - illuminating it in an increasing measure from day to day, to bring about the fulfillment of the prophecy: "The people wailing in darkness (of the Golus) will see a great light" - the light of the Geulo.
With blessing for Hatzlocho and good tidings in all above,
Judah the Maccabee (Yehuda HaMaccabi) was one of the five sons of Mattathias the Priest (Mattisiyahu the Kohen) from the city of Modiin in Israel. Judah was called "Maccabee," a word composed of the initial letters of the four Hebrew words "Mi Kamocha Ba'eilim Ado-shem - Who is like You, O G-d." On his deathbed, Mattathias enjoined his sons to follow the advice of their oldest brother, Shimon in general matters and Judah in waging war. Judah was considered one of the greatest warriors in Jewish history.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Friday (Nov. 22) is the 19th of Kislev, the "New Year of Chasidut." It was on this date in 1799 that Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the first Chabad Rebbe, was released from imprisonment. That this important day falls in such close proximity to Chanuka means that there must be some connection between the two festivals.
Along these lines, in a letter written in the 1940s, the Rebbe explains the important role that the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) played in the Chanuka miracle of the oil.
The Talmud relates about the miracle of Chanuka that the small jar of oil which the Jews found was sealed with the signet-stamp of the High Priest. In order to prove that the oil was pure and had not been defiled by the Greeks, it is sufficient to know that the seal of the jar was unbroken. What lesson can we learn from the emphasis that the seal bore the stamp of the High Priest?
When darkness - material and spiritual -threatens, G-d forbid, to engulf our nation, and there are forces who wish to emulate the Greek attempt "... to make them forget Your Torah and take them away from the laws of Your will..." then there is only one way to ensure that there will remain a jar of pure, undefiled oil with which to kindle the menora: By sealing the jar with the stamp of the Kohein Gadol - a person who (as Maimonides describes it) "dwells in the Sanctuary all day and does not leave its precincts except only to go home at night or for an hour or two during the day."
The Greeks reached the Sanctuary of the Holy Temple. They destroyed the altar. They defiled the Menora. But the small jar of oil which lay hidden, "guarded" by the High Priest, remained whole and untouched. From it were kindled the Menora lights which, for thousands of years, of Chanuka lights have commemorated.
In every generation, even when the Holy Temple has not yet been rebuilt, there is a "High Priest" of the Jewish people who "dwells in the Sanctuary all day and does not leave its precincts except only to go home at night or for an hour or two during the day." In the times of Rabbi Shneur Zalman it was he.
May we imminently see the menora in the Third Holy Temple kindled by the High Priest, even before the commencement of Chanuka.
And Joseph was brought down to Egypt (Gen. 39:1)
"He reigned over them," the Midrash relates, explaining that the word "brought down" is linguistically related to the word "reign." As proof of this, the Midrash cites a verse about Moshiach, "And he shall reign from sea to sea."What is the connection between Joseph's descent into the cesspool of ancient Egypt, and the rule of Moshiach? The Jewish history of exile actually began when Joseph was brought down to Egypt, and, as the prototype of all other exiles to follow, its true purpose was the elevation and ascent of the Jewish people which would follow its suffering. The objective of our present exile is likewise the coming of Moshiach and the ultimate Redemption.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
He asked the officers of Pharaoh...Why do you look so sad today? (Gen. 40:7)
While in prison, Joseph was assigned the task of managing the daily affairs of the prison. Wasn't inquiring after every sad and depressed prisoner beyond the call of duty? And wasn't it natural that these former high-ranking members of the royal staff would be saddened to find themselves reduced to such a sorry state? Joseph truly believed that every person should always be joyous, simply because he was created by G-d - the essence of goodness. When Joseph saw his unhappy fellow prisoners he wanted to help them. Joseph's one small action brought about his own release from prison, his appointment as second in command over all of Egypt, and saved the entire world during the years of famine that followed.
And the vine had three branches (Gen. 40:10)
As explained in the Midrash, the "vine" is an allusion to the Jewish people, as it states in Psalms (80:9): "You have brought a vine from Egypt." In the same way that wine is described as "bringing joy to G-d and man," so too does every single Jew possess this quality of "wine": an innate love for G-d, inherited from his ancestors, that enables him to rejoice in the L-rd.
As the Chasidic Movement grew in popularity and expanded, opposition to its teachings and practices increased. Particularly in the scholarly circles of Lithuania, opposition became fierce and eventually involved the secular authorities. Some of the leaders of Chasidism even left for the Holy Land. Rabbi Shneur Zalman prepared to do likewise, but instead returned to Lithuania to spread the Baal Shem Tov's doctrines there.
The battle continued over the next twenty years. After the passing of the saintly Gaon of Vilna, the strongest oppositional figure, strife erupted again more fiercely than ever. This time the focus of opposition was Rabbi Shneur Zalman, due in part to the great strength the movement had gathered under his leadership. But perhaps the strongest reason for the violent feelings was the publication of his seminal work, the Tanya. A special committee was formed with the express purpose of destroying Chasidism. It was decided to use the power of the central government in Petersburg to this end, and the Rebbe was accused of treason. Since the Rebbe had established a fund for aiding the indigent of the Holy Land, which was then under the sovereignty of Turkey and an enemy of Russia, the opponents accused him of disbursing funds to a foreign power. They also added the charge that in his teachings he denigrated the importance of kingship.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman was arrested and driven in the dreaded "Black Mary," a special vehicle reserved for the transport of the worst criminals, to the frightful Fortress of Petropavlovsk where he was detained for 52 days. He was endlessly interrogated regarding the charges and other matters of the Jewish faith in which the government interested itself.
The interrogators were greatly impressed by the strength of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, who preserved his composure in the most trying of circumstances, and answered their inquiries with extraordinary wisdom. Even in matters totally divorced from the trial proceedings, the gentile prison officials were able to see the great saintliness of their prisoner. Once, the Rebbe was interred in a room which was pitch back, as dark in the day as in the night. His only source of light was a small lamp. One day, at about two o'clock in the afternoon, the Rebbe was told that the time was already past midnight and he should go to sleep. "Right now," the Rebbe retorted, "the time is two hours and five minutes past noon."
The astonished jailers asked him how he could possibly know that, to which he replied: "Every day is illuminated by the 12 forms of the letters of the Ineffable Name (Tetragrammaton), while the night is illuminated by the twelve forms of the Name denoting G-d's Lordship. By experiencing these various forms I know how to distinguish between the day and night, and between one hour and the other."
During the term of the Rebbe's imprisonment, the Chief of Police had discussed the case with the Czar, telling him that he perceived the prisoner to be a saintly individual who was the victim of false charges stemming from jealousy and hatred. The Czar became curious to meet such an extraordinary person and decided to draw his own conclusions. He disguised himself as an ordinary clerk of the court and went to see the Rebbe for himself. But as soon as he entered the cell, the Rebbe rose and uttered the blessing which is recited before royalty. The disguised Czar asked him in surprise why he stood and appeared to accord him such great honor, as he was a mere clerk.
The Rebbe replied, "For you must be the Czar! Our Sages teach us that 'sovereignty on earth is similar to the sovereignty of the Heavens.' Just as the fear of G-d is great, so too, did I experience an unusual sense of awe when you entered, such as I have never felt before any other official. I therefore concluded that you must be the Czar." The Czar left convinced of both his saintliness and innocence.
Throughout his terrible ordeal the Rebbe never doubted his salvation. When the time came for the Rebbe to be brought to court for an important interrogation, he was led from his underground cell out into the cold night air. He was seated on the deck of a ferry which was to bring him across the river to the Imperial Court. The Rebbe suddenly saw emerging from behind a cloud the sliver of a new moon. He turned to the officer who was escorting him and requested that the boat be stopped so that he might utter a brief prayer - Kiddush Levana - which is said when the new moon is sighted. The officer replied that it would be impossible, but the words had hardly left his lips when the boat stopped of its own accord. The Rebbe recited the Psalm which precedes the blessing, and the boat continued across the river. A few seconds later the Rebbe repeated his request to halt the boat. The officer replied that he would heed the request, but wished that the saintly rabbi give him a blessing. This the Rebbe did, writing the blessing on a piece of paper, and the attendant stopped the boat while the Rebbe completed the blessing on the new moon. The court officer rose to a prominent position and kept the note inscribed with the blessing in an ornate golden frame which was passed as an inheritance to his descendants.
On the nineteenth of Kislev in the year 1799, Rabbi Shneur Zalman was vindicated, declared innocent of all charges and released from prison.
The first day of Chanuka includes the potential for all the subsequent days (since the cruse of oil lit on the first day had the potential to burn for seven days). Indeed, for this reason, the School of Shammai maintain that eight candles should be lit on the first day. The School of Hillel maintain that even though the potential for all eight days exists, since only one day has actually passed only one candle is lit. According to this opinion, eight candles are not lit until the eighth day. Both opinions represent legitimate spiritual perspectives. Shammai's opinions has particular relevance at present for in the Messianic era, we will follow Shammai. However, it is questionable whether we will follow Shammai at the beginning of the Messianic era or whether the changes will come in stages.
(The Rebbe, the eve of Chanuka, 5750-1989)