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Devarim Deutronomy

November 29, 2013 - 26 Kislev, 5774

1298: Miketz

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Dedicated to the memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson N.E.

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  1297: Vayeshev1299: Vayigash  

Potatoes and Oil  |  Living with the Rebbe  |  A Slice of Life  |  What's New
The Rebbe Writes  |  Today Is ...  |  A Word from the Director  |  Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened  |  Moshiach Matters

Potatoes and Oil

by Rabbi Yisrael Rice

I have been asked to explain the inner meaning of many Jewish observances, but eating potato latkes (pancakes) on Chanuka has never been one of them.

After all, what is there not to understand? Take a bite, chew, and swallow. Repeat this several times until you have eaten six latkes too many.

Few have ventured into the deep mystical symbolism of the latke. But let me break with tradition.

I don't want to upset Jews in Idaho, but the operative ingredient in the potato latke is not the potato; it's the oil. (Proof: Israelis eat the sufganiya - a deep fried pastry, also known as a jelly donut.)

To make a long story short, after years of Greek oppression the Jews were miraculously victorious. When we entered our Holy Temple we found that everything was defiled. The services could not be performed until ritually fit materials were procured. One jug of olive oil was still sealed by the High Priest. There was enough oil to light the menora in the Temple for only one day, but a miracle occurred and it lasted for eight days.

So, in addition to lighting the special Chanuka menora for eight days, we indulge in potato latkes dripping in oil.

Why oil? Because oil, specifically olive oil, expresses the secret of Jewish survival. Olive oil is produced by crushing the olive. Even squeezing is not sufficient; this would produce mere olive juice. When the olive is crushed, the substance that floats on top is oil.

Kabalistically, this oil is a symbol of the essence of the Jewish soul. It may not be revealed at all times, but it is always there. This internal spiritual 'oil' fuels the flame of our soul. It is our immutable connection with G-d.

There are times in our lives when the olive is crushed. We are placed under immense pressures from within and without that challenge our Jewish observance. This was the story of Chanuka. A small courageous band of Jews took on the powerful Greek army who wished to obliterate our identity.

This did not make any sense. Compromise would have seemed a more effective route. We were outnumbered by far and had an inferior war apparatus. We could have gone underground with that which offended the Greeks.

What made us think we could pull this off? Nothing! It was not a rational decision.

So often we live our lives without taking into account who we really are. When someone challenges our very existence it forces us to take a serious look at who we are, what we are at our most essential point. We often compromise what we do or how we express ourselves. But we cannot compromise or change our essence.

This is the oil; it hides and is almost invisible inside the fruit. But when push comes to shove, when it is broken and crushed, the essence comes out, and it floats on top of all else.

We must always take time to explore and return to our true selves. If we do not, someone else will bring us back by challenging our existence.

Preceding the Chanuka story, the Greeks instituted stifling decrees against Jewish observance. This challenge to our essence called out the core spark of the Jewish people. Present in the depth of every soul, this is known as the "Pintele Yid" - the Essential Jewish Self.

Jewish survival prevailed and we were granted a miracle of oil. The Holy Temple was eventually destroyed, the seven-branched menora is no longer lit. But the Chanuka menora of eight branches continues to illuminate the long exile until we will once again light the menora in the Third Holy Temple.

Now, finish eating that latke before it gets cold!

Living with the Rebbe

Towards the end of this week's Torah portion, Mikeitz, Joseph's brothers return to Egypt and are invited into Joseph's royal abode. Joseph commands his steward to prepare a special meal for the guests: "Slaughter an animal and make ready..."

The Talmud explains that when Joseph said "slaughter an animal and make ready" it meant that the meat should be slaughtered and prepared according to the kosher laws. In other words, Joseph was ordering an obviously kosher meal for his brothers.

The fact that the Torah goes out of its way to make the point that the meal was kosher is significant, as this is not the first time a meal is mentioned in the Torah. Abraham made a celebration on the day Isaac was weaned: "And Abraham made a great feast on the day the child was weaned." Similarly, "And Jacob offered a sacrifice upon the mountain, and summoned his brothers to eat bread," and there are many other examples. Yet in none of these other instances does the Torah emphasize that the meal was kosher.

The reason it does so here is two-fold: to emphasize how Joseph behaved toward his brothers and to teach us how to behave toward guests. To explain in more detail:

On the one hand, Joseph made believe he didn't know his brothers and spoke harshly to them. This was done to determine if they really regretted having sold him. On the other hand, Joseph kept dropping hints as to his own identity, so that his brothers would believe him when he revealed his secret.

To illustrate: When Joseph had Shimon detained, it was only "before their [the brothers'] eyes." As Rashi notes, "As soon as they left, Joseph took him out of prison and gave him food and drink." Surely later, Shimon told his brothers that he had been freed by Joseph. And that Shimon had been wined and dined by him suggested that Joseph was no stranger.

Later, at the banquet, Joseph continued to deliberately act in a manner that would arouse suspicion, seating the brothers in the correct order of their ages, till "they marveled at one another."

Interpreted in this light, when Joseph said "And slaughter an animal and make ready," his intention was to convey that he was aware of the laws of kashrut. This was yet another hint designed to make it easier for his brothers to accept the truth.

This story also contains a lesson in how a Jew should observe the mitzva of hospitality: Although Joseph was not sure that his brothers would even partake of the meal, he nonetheless spared no effort or expense. A host must always try to accommodate his guests in every way, even if it involves a substantial investment. Indeed, demonstrating extra love for our fellow Jew will nullify the reason for the exile, and will bring about the Final Redemption with Moshiach.

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, vol. 35 pg. 181

A Slice of Life

The Power of a Chanuka Stamp
by Rabbi Mordechai Hecht

It was Chanuka 2007, my first year as an emissary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in my home town of Forest Hills, New York. As I stood in line in the local post office waiting to buy some stamps, I noticed a woman at the counter was quite upset after learning that there were no more Christmas stamps. "What do you have then?" she asked, "We have first class and Chanuka ones," the clerk replied. "I don't want Chanuka stamps!" she responded. Immediately, the man in front of me shouted out "I'll take the Chanuka stamps, give me a whole bunch of them!"

Matt was a proud Jew! In public he did not care to proclaim his Judaism and his Jewish pride. And so I introduced myself, "My name is Mordechai from Chabad, nice to meet you." He replied emphatically, "I put on Tefilin every Friday with those guys on 108th Street and I put a few dollars in the pushkie" - referring to the charity box - "all the time."

Matt had had some downs in his life; through a difficult divorce and loss of his business. But my impression of Matt was that he was optimistic for the future. We would talk from time to time about life, business, the neighborhood and more. Matt often joined us for Friday night dinners in our Chabad Home and he enjoyed them very much.

One day Matt called and said, "The most frightening thing in my life happened to me." He told me that his next door neighbor, an elderly lady who he would check on quite often, was very ill. The other day she told Matt that she was not feeling well and he immediately called an ambulance. Before the ambulance arrived, she passed away right next to him in his hands. He said, "Rabbi, it was so scary. I feel so bad for her, and I don't know what to do, and I didn't know who to call, so I called you,."

Wow! After a few minutes of conversation I said, "Matt, I was always taught that the Mezuza serves as a protection not just for the home but for the well being of the people in it. Perhaps you might consider getting Mezuzas in your home to serve as protection and a little peace of mind."

"Rabbi," he began, "I know there are Mezuzas on our door but they are probably not kosher. Go ahead and get me two new Mezuzas - one for my door and one for the main door." When Matt came over the next day I explained to him how to put up the Mezuzas, and he gladly listened, leaving our Chabad Home on a mission.

A few weeks later Matt called. "Rabbi, you're not going to believe it. For years my mom was practically deaf in one ear and she suddenly started to get her hearing back! The doctors were astonished; they said that they had no medical explanation for it. Rabbi, I have no doubt that my mom got her hearing back because of the Mezuza. Thank you so much for what you've done."

"Not me, G-d!" I said. "But I am so glad that you told me this."

A little later Matt called back. "My mom asked if you could get her a Mezuza for her bedroom."

From Chanuka stamps to Tefilin and charity, to Mezuzas and honoring his mother, Matt was a true and concerned Jew who not only believed, but also practiced what he believed. He was a man with a big heart and an open mind.

A few weeks later, which happened to be almost a year after Matt and I first met, he called. "Rabbi, we need to talk." After asking what the matter was, all he could say was that we had to talk. When I told him I would come over, he said not to bother. A couple of days later, his sister called, "Matt is in a coma." Over the next few weeks, we visited Matt to pray at his bedside and performed acts of kindness in his merit. After being hospitalized for only a few weeks, Matt passed away from pneumonia. My wife and I were shocked; we had only just started to get to know Matt. It was clear G-d had other plans for him.

At the funeral, it seemed as though the entire Italian mob was present. I soon learned that these guys were Matt's friends. I shared with them the story you have just read, and everyone was very moved. People were shocked to hear a side of Matt they had never known, including his mother and sister.

After the funeral, I started to get calls from family members wishing to make donations in Matt's memory, and I had an epiphany. Matt's story was all about good deeds, but the Mezuza was at the epicenter of it all. I suggested to a family member that we make a fund for Matt - A Mezuza fund - and that perhaps the family could put together $1,800 to create it in his memory.

The relative explained that such an amount would be a stretch, but she would get her family on board in contributing. Over the next few days, a few checks came in totaling $500. That was very nice, but it was not the $1,800 I had "epiphanied."

Two weeks later, our doorbell rang. When I got to the door no one was there, but I saw an envelope in the mailbox. At first I noticed the address was wrong, and it had been reposted three times. Being that it was a Sunday, I knew the mailman hadn't dropped it off. I opened the envelope and was shocked and elated to find an $1,800 check made out to Chabad of the Gardens, Forest Hills from Matt's sister.

I picked up the phone to tell her how glad I was that we would be able to perpetuate Matt's memory in such a special way. When I began to thank her for the money for the fund, she asked, "Which fund?" I said, "The Matt Colwes Mezuza Fund that we spoke about!" Confused, she replied that she did not know what I was talking about. I told her that I had discussed the fund with her cousin. She explained that she had not heard about the fund: "I just knew that Matt was enthusiastic about you and Chabad and I wanted to contribute and say 'thank you.' "

The previous night, my wife and I had had a serious conversation about the general direction of our work. I had pitched the idea of the Matt Colwes Mezuza Fund explaining how the Mezuza is not only such an easy mitzva, it is also such a great way to meet people and one of the Mitzva Campaigns of the Rebbe, so why not start there? And now we had the resources to establish the Fund and it had arrived at just the right moment!

The Matt Colwes Mezuza Fund is now the Matt Colwes Mezuza and Tefilin Fund and is stronger than ever. The fund has provided hundreds of Mezuzas and Tefilin to dozens of people in our neighborhood and to others throughout the New York area.

All of this because of the Chanuka Stamp - a piece of paper worth less that 40 cents at the time and less than a square inch in diameter!

This article is dedicated to Moshe Duvid Ben Devorah (Matt) obm.

What's New


The Young Israel of Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, recently celebrated three milestones: the beautiful renovation of the synagogue, the rededication of the community after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, and the completion of a new Torah Scroll. Rabbi Efraim and Chani Zaltzman, rabbi and rebbetzin of the Young Israel, are also the Directors of Chabad of Kingsborough.

This past week marked the grand opening of the Chabad Jewish Center in Hillsboro, Oregon, led by Rabbi Menachem and Chaya Rivkin.


There are still plenty more nights to join the celebrations at the World's Largest Chanuka Menora at Fifth Avenue and 59th Street in New York City (or your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center).

  • Friday, Nov. 29, lighting at 3:45 p.m.

  • Sat. night, Nov. 30, menora lighting at 8:30 p.m.

  • Sunday, Dec. 1 - Wed., Dec. 4, menora lighting at 5:30 p.m.

On Sunday there will be live music, free hot latkes and chocolate Chanuka gelt. For more info call the LYO at (718) 778-6000.

The Rebbe Writes

Freely translated

Chanukah, 5724 [1963]
To the Participants in the
20th Annual Testimonial Dinner of the
Beth Rivkah Schools for Girls

Greeting and Blessing:

This year's Annual Dinner, coming just a few days after Chanukah, will surely find all the participants amply imbued with the spirit of the Festival of Lights. The Beth Rivkah Dinner offers an excellent opportunity to translate this inspiration into action.

The message of the Chanukah Lights contains three basic points which are applicable - in an immediate and practical way - to the crucial problems of our day:

The Chanukah Lights (symbolizing the light of the Torah and Mitzvoth [commandments]) have to be kindled after dark. This indicates that one should not be discouraged by the prevailing "darkness" outside, for even a little light of Torah and Mitzvoth can dispel a lot of darkness.

The Chanukah Lights are required to be kindled in such a way that their light should be seen outside. This indicates that it is not enough to illuminate one's own home with the light and warmth of Torah-true Yiddishkeit [Judaism], but that it is necessary to spread it also - outside, in the neighborhood and in the community at large.

The Chanukah Lights are kindled in a growing number each night of Chanukah, teaching us to make a steadily growing effort to spread the light of the Torah and Mitzvoth, and that these efforts contain in themselves the assurance of ever-growing success.

Our Sages of the Talmud declare that the Mitzvah of the Chanukah Lights must be shared by the women no less than by the men, because women also contributed to the miraculous deliverance "in those days at this season." The Jewish women are particularly credited with the self-sacrificing determination to safeguard the sanctity of the Jewish home and the chastity of Jewish womanhood.

Nowadays, more than ever before, Jewish girls must be educated and trained to carry on their historic role in the preservation of the Jewish way of life and the preservation of our people. It is precisely for this purpose that the Beth Rivkah Schools for Girls were founded by my saintly father-in-law twenty years ago. I hope and pray that everyone will realize the personal responsibility and privilege to support the Beth Rivkah Schools in a growing measure, all the more so as such support is also a channel to receive G-d's blessings with increasing abundance, in all one's needs, materially and spiritually.

With the blessing of utmost success,

Eve of Chanukah, 5732 [1971]

Greeting and Blessing:

This year's Annual Dinner significantly takes place on the last night of Chanukah, when all the eight Chanukah lights are kindled.

One of the fundamental teachings of Chanukah in general, and of the eight day of Chanukah ("Zos Chanukah") in particular, is that all things of "light", as described by the words "Ner Mitzvo, v'Torah Or - A Mitzvo (commandment) is a lamp, and Torah is light," should be constantly on the increase. Even when it appears - and it may actually be true - that everything possible to brighten the daily life has been done, it is still necessary to do more the next day. This is what we learn from the Mitzvo of Ner Chanukah. For, although upon lighting one candle on the first night of Chanukah, one has fully complied with the Mitzvo of Ner (lights) Chanukah, it is nevertheless necessary to kindle two candles the following night, and so on, adding one candle each succeeding night.

Moreover, having fully complied with the Mitzvo of the Chanukah lights for seven consecutive days, thus including each of the seven days of the week, each day having its own particular significance - there must not be any slackening of the good work. On the contrary, it is yet necessary to add one more candle on the eighth night of Chanukah.

It is well known that the Yom Tov Chanukah is connected with the dedication ("Chanukah") of the Holy Temple, as we say in the special Chanukah prayer: "... and then Your children came to the oracle of Your House... and kindled lights... and instituted these eight days of Chanukah" etc.

We have already had occasion to emphasize that each and every Jewish home must serve as a "sanctuary," a "home" for the Divine Presence, a bright home, illuminated with the light of the Torah and Mitzvoth.

Today Is ...

Ravina ben Rav Huna was the head of the Yeshiva Academy in Sura, Babylonia, one of the two main centers of Jewish scholarship outside of Israel from the times of the Amoraim through the Geonim. Ravina was the co-editor, together with his teacher Rav Ashi, of the Babylonian Talmud. Ravina's father died when he was quite young and he was educated by his mother. Ravina's passing on 13 Kislev, 475 ce marks the end of the Talmudic period and the closing of the compilation of the Talmud.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

We have already kindled the first lights of Chanuka. The literal meaning of Chanuka is "inauguration" or "dedication." Chanuka celebrates the purification and rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, after its defilement by the Greeks.

Whenever we celebrate a Jewish holiday, the same spiritual forces that came into play thousands of years ago are reenacted, as we say in our prayers, "In those days and in our times." During Chanuka, we are imbued with an extra strength to renew and rededicate the spiritual "Holy Temple" that exists within each of us. Today, the enemy is the Evil Inclination and the difficulties of the exile, which threaten to "defile the oil" and "cause us to forget Your Torah." On Chanuka, our eternal bond with G-d is reinforced and fortified.

"Chinuch," which is also translated as "education," means becoming accustomed to something new. Whenever we embark on a new course, we need extra strength and incentive to succeed. For example, it is a Jewish custom that when a Jewish boy is brought to "cheder" for the first time, we throw candies at him and tell him they are from the angel Michael. The candies make the child happy, and instill in him the desire to learn. After the Holy Temple was defiled, an extra measure of holiness was required. The self-sacrifice of the Jewish people for the sanctification of G-d's Name provided this extra spiritual power that allowed the Temple to be rededicated and renewed.

The miracle of Chanuka involved light, which is symbolic of an intensification and increase in Torah and mitzvot, as it states, "For a candle is a mitzva, and the Torah is light." On each day of Chanuka we light an additional candle, increasing the illumination in the world. Indeed, this is a Jew's mission each day: to successfully utilize the strength we derive from Chanuka to rededicate ourselves to Torah and mitzvot, in an ever-increasing manner.

May the lights of Chanuka culminate in the light of the era of Moshiach, when "the night will shine like the day; darkness will be as the light."

Thoughts that Count

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)

And when they had eaten them up, it could not be known that they had eaten them (Gen. 41:21)

Evil exists in the world only by virtue of the small spark of G-dliness hidden deep within. "It could not be known that they had eaten them" - this spark is so deeply embedded that it is impossible, on the surface, to discern it at all.

(Sefat Emet)

Suddenly, seven fat, handsome cows emerged from the Nile... Then, just as suddenly, seven other cows emerged, very badly formed and emaciated. (Gen. 41:18-19)

Pharoah's dream, in which he dreamt of two opposites, is like the exile. In exile we are faced with opposites all the time. One minute we pursue eternal, spiritual goals and the next minute we want things that are mundane and transitory. When the Redemption comes we will no longer feel this dichotomy. We will see how the purpose of everything in the world is purely for holiness and G-dliness.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)

Chanuka - The superiority of the "shamash"

The "shamash" candle, the one which is used to light all the others, is not part of the mitzva itself. Yet it is precisely this candle which is placed, by Jewish custom, above all the others in a position of honor. We learn from this that a person who lights the "candle" of another Jew, who shares his enthusiasm and love of Judaism with another until he, too, is touched and "ignited," elevates his own spirituality as well.

(Likutei Sichot)

It Once Happened

The followers of Rabbi Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezritch, awaited his entrance into the synagogue for the lighting of the Chanuka menora on the first night of Chanuka. For the past few years, Reb Zushe, one of the Maggid's greatest disciples, had been honored with lighting the shamash candle. Reb Zushe would then hand it to the Maggid who lit his menora from it. But Reb Zushe was nowhere to be seen and the chasidim wondered if his absence was the reason the Maggid had not yet lit the menora.

Minutes, then hours ticked by, as the chasidim waited for their Rebbe to emerge. Finally, at about midnight, the Maggid emerged from his room and walked towards the menora. As if to himself, the Maggid said quietly, "Reb Zushe will not be with us tonight. We will light the menora now."

The Maggid honored another of his chasidim with the privilege of kindling the shamash for him, the blessings were chanted and the one, solitary wick was lit. Then all of the holy assemblage joined together in singing the traditional Chanuka hymns.

The next morning, just as the Maggid and his chasidim were finishing the services, Reb Zushe walked in. Weary from traveling, Reb Zushe shuffled over to his customary place and dropped down on the bench. His friends came over and gave him a hearty welcome. One of them reported, "The Rebbe waited a long time for you last night. What happened?"

"After we light the Chanuka menora tonight," promised Reb Zushe, "and with the Rebbe's permission, I will tell you what happened."

All of the chasidim gathered around the Maggid's menora on the second night of Chanuka. After the Maggid lit the menora they eagerly listened to Reb Zushe's story:

"As you all know, immediately after the High Holidays, it is my custom to travel throughout the small villages and hamlets near Mezritch. I go from town to town, speaking with the adults and teaching the children about the wonders of our heritage. I also speak to them about how G-d loves each and every single Jew and that they are all important to Him. I tell them about our Rebbe and explain some of the Rebbe's teachings.

"Each year, I plan my schedule so that I can return to Mezritch in time for Chanuka. Yesterday, I was on my way back to Mezritch when a terrible snowstorm started. I pushed on through the storm, though many times I felt I could not continue. Knowing that I would soon be back in Mezritch near the Rebbe was what kept me going.

"The storm worsened and I soon realized that I would have to stop and rest a bit before continuing, if I wanted to make it to Mezritch at all. And so, I stopped at the home of Yankel in a village not too far from Mezritch. By this time it was already quite late in the afternoon. I pounded and pounded on the door until finally, someone called out, 'Who is it?'

"'It is I, Reb Zushe,' I said loudly.

"Yankel's wife opened the door. She looked absolutely terrified as she bid me inside. I noticed that the children, too, looked frightened.

"The poor woman burst out, 'Yankel left the house early this morning to gather firewood. He promised he would come back early, for even then he saw we were in for a terrible storm. It is late already and still he has not returned,' she wailed.

"For a split second I hesitated. If I went into the forest now, who knew if I would come out alive? But I knew I had no choice. I put on my coat and scarf once again and set out toward the forest.

"I passed a few rows of trees when I saw the upright form of a man covered with snow. Only his face was visible in that white blur. I saw right away that it was Yankel, and I thought for sure that he had frozen to death. But when I came very close, I noticed to my surprise, that he was still breathing. I brushed Yankel off and tried to warm him up.

"Somehow I managed to drag and carry Yankel back to his house where his wife and children greeted us with cries of joy. With my last ounce of strength I deposited Yankel on the bench near the stove and fell to the floor myself. Miraculously, Yankel's wife was able to "thaw" him out. She brought us a bottle of strong mashke which we drank eagerly to warm our insides. At about midnight we felt sufficiently strong enough to stand up and light the Chanuka menora. As we said the prayer, 'who made miracles for our ancestors, in those days at this time," we knew without a doubt that G-d had made a miracle for us now, too.

"As soon as the sun rose in the morning I set out for Mezritch and arrived when you saw me this morning."

Reb Zushe finished his story. The Maggid looked deeply into Reb Zushe's face. "Know, Zushe, that in Heaven they waited - as it were - to light the Divine Chanuka menora until you lit the menora together with Yankel. In the merit of your saving a Jewish soul from death, the Heavens awaited you."

Moshiach Matters

Chanuka was founded on the miracle of the oil, and oil is cited in the verse in Psalms, "I have found David, My servant; with My sanctified oil I have anointed him." David's descendent, Moshiach is called thus in reference to "ha'm'shicha b'shemen - the anointment with oil." From Moshiach will come the complete revelation of the oil of Torah (the secret secrets of Torah), for he will teach "the secret of the reasons [underlying the commandments]and its hidden mysteries" (Rashi). The concept of redemption is especially preeminent on Shabbat Chanuka, for Shabbat is connected with redemption - as underscored in the "Song of the Day" for Shabbat: "A Psalm, a song for the Future Era, for a day that is entirely Shabbat (rest) and tranquility for all eternity."

(The Rebbe, Shabbat Mikeitz, 5752-1991)

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