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It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
by Rabbi Simon Jacobson
If we look closely at the details of Chanuka - the menora, the history, the number of flames - they can reveal the nature of our soul.
As the sun sets and the shadows of night descend, we kindle the menora creating light in the darkness. Listen carefully to the flames and they will tell you a story, a story that will empower you to live a more profound meaningful life, enabling you to rise up toward challenge and overcome difficulty. Sit near the flames and study them quietly.
"The flame of G-d is the soul of a person," says the Torah. As flames warm and illuminate their environment, so too you can use your soul to infuse life with warmth and light. Unlike other physical entities that are drawn earthward, the dancing flames flicker upward defying gravity. Likewise your soul, not satisfied with mere physical comforts, aspires up toward something beyond.
Chanuka isn't just about lighting up our own lives. By placing the menora in the window of your home or at your doorpost, you allow the light to radiate into the dark street, illuminating your surroundings. Chanuka reminds us of our ability and responsibility to effect the world and prompts us to shine light into the lives of others with daily acts of goodness and kindness. Just as a flame lights another without diminishing itself, so too by sharing yourself you become enhanced rather than diminished. Every day we must increase illumination of ourselves and our environment - each day adding another good deed, lighting an additional flame.
Chanuka tells yet a deeper story, a story that penetrates the darker shadows of our lives. The menora shines a tunnel back through time to the aftermath of a great victory in which a small band of Jews defeated the might of the Greek Empire. In amongst the debris of the desecrated Temple the Maccabees searched ceaselessly until they found a single sealed cruse of oil that miraculously burnt for eight days. When you are defiled, when your inner Temple has been desecrated and there is no oil to be found, you have the power to reach deeper inside and discover light. The soul always remains intact like a "pilot light." When you light your menora under such difficult circumstances, creating light in the darkest moment, that light can never be extinguished. The light that has dealt with challenge, that has transformed pain into growth, is a light that transcends nature and transforms darkness into light.
This power to transform darkness must come from a place beyond the conventional. We therefore light eight candles, the mystical number of transcendence and infinity, one beyond the number seven that represents the natural cycle. In order to pierce darkness with light, you can't just rely on the natural, you need to reach a deeper resource which is the eighth dimension.
These elements of Chanuka - the eight flickering flames, the miracle of the oil, the light shining into the dark street - beckon us to connect to the power of our soul. Our soul rises like a flame toward that which transcends itself, not only repelling darkness as is the nature of all light, but transforming the darkness into light.
Rabbi Jacobson is the author of Toward a Meaningful Life and founder and director of The Meaningful Life Center: www.meaningfullife.com
In this week's Torah portion of Mikeitz we read that Jacob reluctantly acceded to his sons' request that they be allowed to return to Egypt together with their youngest brother, Benjamin. The viceroy, whom they did not recognize as their brother, Josef, had ordered them not to return to Egypt for more grain unless they brought Benjamin. Jacob's reply to his sons was: "May G-d, Alm-ghty grant that the man have pity on you and release your other brother and Benjamin."
Jacob's fear and trepidation was greater than that of his children. Although they, too, were aware that this whole event had unfortunate undertones, as they themselves said, "We deserve to be punished because of what we did to our brother...that is why this great misfortune has come upon us," nevertheless, they looked upon it as a personal misfortune.
Jacob, however, saw this event as a continuation of his previous hardships. Jacob viewed all events that transpired with, or were related to, him as a "sign" and forerunner of events that will occur with later Jewish generations.
The tribes, however, were only able to view them in terms of a personal misfortune.
Since Jacob was on a far superior spiritual plane than the tribes, he was able to see these events as they transcended the boundaries of nature.
This closely relates to the festival of Chanuka. Although the events surrounding Chanuka actually came about through miraculous means, superficially one may think that these miracles were bounded by nature. One my be led to think so, because the salvation of the Jewish people and their deliverance from the hands of the Syrian-Greeks involved actual physical warfare.
In truth, the victory involved nothing less that miracles that completely went beyond the realm of nature. The reason for this is that the victorious Jews overcame vastly superior odds - "the mighty into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few..." (from the Chanuka Al HaNisim prayer).
Whenever a Jew engages in something, even if it seems to be completely within the realm of nature, he should not think that one's only response is the natural. His actions must always be preceded by prayer to G-d that he should succeed in his actions.
When a Jew acts in this manner he merits to see the miracles that are clothed in the garments of nature, the miracles that totally transcend nature, and ultimately, the miracles that will be revealed with the coming of our Righteous Moshiach.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
"Hizzoner" and Two Menoras
by Rabbi Yosef Landa
I was listening to the radio the day Ed Koch passed away, when I heard a recording of the former New York City Mayor answering a reporter's question about how he would like his epitaph to read.
In his inimitable style Koch responded without missing a beat. "He was fiercely proud of his Jewish faith and he fiercely loved the City of New York," he said. I was totally impressed. Here was a wonderful manifestation of the "pintele yid," that inexhaustible Jewish essence which is at the core of every Jew. It was noteworthy, I thought, how Koch had mentioned his pride in his Jewish identity first, ahead even of his love for New York.
I recalled how over 30 years ago while serving as Mayor, Koch helped some of my fellow Jews in St. Louis - may G-d bless them and keep them - to learn an important lesson. Koch probably never knew what he accomplished that day, and I never had the opportunity to thank him for it. So I'll share the story here as my belated expression of gratitude to "Hizzoner" the Mayor.
Young, idealistic and inexperienced, my wife, Shiffy, and I had just moved to St. Louis a few months earlier to establish Chabad in this mid-size Midwestern Jewish community of about 50,000. One of our earliest community-wide projects was to erect a fifteen-foot Chanuka menora on the plaza of the St. Louis County Government Center. The county executive happily approved the menora display and even joined us for the beautiful lighting ceremony. The TV and news reporters were present and provided ample media coverage. We received many wonderfully supportive comments from the public, Jews and non-Jews alike, telling us how the menorah was a tasteful and fitting expression of Jewish celebration and pride, and of the religious diversity which is this country's blessed hallmark.
Much to our surprise and dismay, the menora display also encountered fierce opposition, which emanated largely from the professional leadership - well meaning, I am sure -- of an array of local Jewish establishment organizations. Their argument was ostensibly that they considered the placement of the menora on public property to be in violation of the constitutional separation of church and state. It was evident, however, that there also was an underlying unease with the forthright, unabashed public display of Jewishness which the menorah represented, and which many Jews in this conservative city, in the middle of America, were unaccustomed to at the time.
These were well-intentioned people who were firmly attached to what they perceived to be the Jewish community's sacred opposition to such displays. Some saw us as foreigners, "imports from Brooklyn" (that's how one writer referred to us in an op-ed), who had come to town to overturn long-standing, hallowed community norms. The county executive, to his great credit, remained firm in his support of the menorah display, and the entire community was abuzz over this controversy. The local Anglo-Jewish newspaper made it front-page news and editorialized against us, and word of the discord within the Jewish community even reached the general media. It was not a pleasant situation, to say the least.
A lot has changed since then. We have become good friends with many of the people who initially opposed us, and Chabad now enjoys deep and fruitful relationships with individuals and organizations from throughout the community. The public Menora has become a commonplace and accepted feature in many cities across the country. Moreover, in a couple of landmark rulings the U. S. Supreme Court gave its nod to this sort of "holiday display" on public property. Eventually American Jewish organizations came around to recognize that there exists a constitutional argument in support of such displays as well, namely the protection of our religious freedom and of free speech. But our story happened well before that.
It was the last day of Chanuka that year, and the iconic, big city Mayor Ed Koch happened to be in St. Louis to address the annual meeting of the local Jewish Federation which was held over a Sunday brunch at an upscale St. Louis hotel. Several hundred supporters were in attendance, including many of the professional and lay leaders who were heading the opposition to the menorah. Koch gave his speech, which of course had nothing to do with the menorah, and then proceeded to take questions from the audience. That's when one questioner took to the floor and asked Koch to explain how, as a Jewish mayor, he dealt with the issue of religious symbols on public property and, specifically, would the mayor be kind enough to share his own view about the placement of menorahs on public property.
An audible gasp went up from the audience. Someone had dared to bring up the embarrassing, unmentionable topic of the menorah display in the presence of this important guest. Then there was utter silence as the straight-shooting Koch responded in his typical direct and outspoken manner. "I have no problem whatsoever with having a privately-funded menorah on public property", he said. "I think it's absolutely wonderful. I'm proud to say that we have one in New York City at Fifth Avenue and Central Park" he continued.
As if he hadn't said enough on the subject, the Mayor continued further. "Let me tell you what else we do in New York," he said. "The menorah is in Manhattan. The people who light the menorah are the Lubavitchers. They live in Brooklyn. So when they light the menorah in Manhattan late on Friday afternoon when it's getting close to Shabbos, we provide them with a helicopter and we fly them back to Brooklyn, so they can get home in time for Shabbos!"
Nothing more needed to be said. That was the end of the problem. While I'm sure most people in the audience didn't change their minds about the menorah display and the First Amendment just because of what Koch had said, he nonetheless succeeded to make everyone understand that good and decent people within the Jewish community can hold differing views on such matters. While doing so, he not only quieted a controversy regarding church-state separation, but more importantly, he let my fellow Jews in St. Louis see a wonderful first-hand example of real, unapologetic Jewish pride. He reminded them that there's no reason in this great country for anyone to hide their Jewishness as if it were contrary or inimical to american life and culture. And for that I am most grateful. Thank you, Mayor Koch.
Rabbi Landa is the director of Chabad of Greater S. Louis, in Missouri
Rabbi Menachem Mendel and Chana Leah Wilhelm have opened a new Chabad House at the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem, Israel. The new Chabad House will be open from 9:00 am to 10:00 pm.
Rabbi Shaya and Esti Spalter recently moved to Toronto, Ontario, where Rabbi Spalter is serving as the Youth Rabbi at Chabad on the Avenue and Mrs. Spalter is teaching in the preschool and Hebrew school.
Rabbi Aizik and Brochi Katzman recently arrived in Stoughton, Massachusetts, to open a new Chabad Center there. a fire destroyed the home of Rabbi Aizik and Mrs. Brochi Katzman.
Rabbi Avremi and Sheina Zippel will be moving sooon to Salt Lake City, Utah, to become the new Program & Youth Directors at Chabad of Utah.
Chanuka at the Nets
CTeen International (the Chabad teen youth group) and the Brooklyn Nets are once again collaborating to present Jewish Heritage Night at Barclay's Center on Sunday December 21, 5:30 p.m. Call 718-467-4400 x 340 or visit barclaysjewishHeritage.com for more information.
29 Tammuz, 5737
Greeting and Blessing:
This is to acknowledge receipt of your comments on "A Thought of the Week" on the subject of Torah study, wherein you take exception to the story of Hillel and the doorkeeper of the Bais Hamedrash [Study Hall], as related by our Sages and cited in the said "Thought."
Needless to say, in relating this story and including it in the Torah (meaning - teaching, instruction), the Sages did not intend to focus on the doorkeeper's conduct with a view to condemn him. The real purpose of the story is to bring out a two-pronged lesson, both for those who are in the category of the doorkeeper and those who are in the category of seeking admission to the house of learning, as pointed out in the said "Thought."
First of all, there are several points in the story which you have apparently overlooked:
It should be self-evident that the doorkeeper had no idea that his refusing to admit Hillel would result in any danger to him(Hillel).
It should also be self-evident that the charge of a (relatively small) fee for admission was necessitated by the need to defray the costs of maintaining the school. It only reflects the general state of poverty of Jewish communities in those days which could not afford to provide free tuition to advanced students. This can also be seen from the poor economic situation of Hillel himself.
It may be assumed that had Hillel sought assistance or intervention, he could have gained admission without imperiling his life. But in view of his character and extraordinary humility, as related in various places in the Talmud and as indicated in this episode itself, it was out of the question for him to accept charity or any special favor. He would only use his own hard-earned money for admission, and even if he could be admitted free, by way of a special "scholarship" as it is now called, it would be at public expense, which would not be acceptable to him.
A further mitigating circumstance is the fact that - insofar as the doorkeeper is concerned - is that Hillel had been paying the admission fee daily, prior to the incident. Undoubtedly, the doorkeeper did not know that Hillel was paying for it with half of his daily earnings, for true to his character, Hillel would surely not have boasted about it. It is therefore reasonable to assume that Hillel was well able to pay for his admission, but for some reason did not want to pay it on that particular day.
Now for the lessons of this story:
Insofar as those who are in the category of the doorkeeper, those in charge of admission to a Yeshiva or similar institution, they should bear in mind that Torah study is a matter of life for a Jewish boy and girl and should seek every possible means to make it available to each and every Jewish boy and girl. Even if there may be a doubt that a particular applicant might be trying to evade paying for tuition, no child should be turned away; nor should any applicant be made to feel embarrassed in any case of hardship. Unfortunately these principles have not always been fully observed in admissions to some Day Schools and Torah institutions in the present time.
And for those who are in the category of seeking admission to Torah learning, the lesson is that nosacrifice should be too great when it comes to Torah study. Even those who have been learning Torah every day, and it is a question of missing just one day (as in the case of Hillel), the same sacrifice should be made not to miss even a single day of Torah-study.
There is surely no need to elaborate further on the above.
To conclude on a more personal note - seeing your interest in Torah-study, as is evident from yourannotations, I am confident that you realize its underlying principle, which is - as our Sages define it - "learning for the purpose of practicing," for "the essential thing is the deed," namely, the fulfillment of the mitzvos [commandments] in the daily life and conduct. This includes, of course, the mitzvah of v'ohavto l're'acho komocho [to love one's fellow like himself], the Great Principle of our Torah, which makes it the duty and privilege of every Jew to work for the dissemination of the Torah and mitzvos to the utmost of one's ability, both by "words coming from the heart" and, even more effectively, by showing a living example.
The campaign of the Greeks was aimed to "make them forget Your Torah and violate the decrees of Your will"; as the Midrash puts it, (the Greeks demanded) "Write...that you have no share in the G-d of Israel." It was a war against G-d. "Let them study Torah," the Greeks implied. "Let them practice the justice-mitzvot and the 'testimonial' observances. But they must not mention that the Torah is G-d's Torah and the mitzvot are the decrees of His will. Torah and mitzvot must be severed from G-dliness."
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Friday evening we will be lighting both Chanuka and Shabbat candles. These are two types of lights which play a significant part in Jewish life. A third type of light significant to Jewish life was the seven-branched menora that was lit daily in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
It would be interesting to compare the differences between these three types of lights:
The Shabbat candles sit proudly on the Shabbat table. The Temple menora's place was also inside, in the inner sanctuary of the Temple. But the Chanuka lights are kindled in a place where their light can be seen from outside.
The Shabbat candles must be lit before sunset. The Temple menora was lit even earlier. But the Chanuka lights are lit after sunset (except on Fridays when they must be kindled before the Shabbat lights so as not to desecrate the Sabbath).
Finally, of all three types of lights, only the Chanuka lights increase each day.
The lesson of the Chanuka lights is manifold but clear. It is not enough to light up one's home (like the Shabbat candles), or even the synagogue or Jewish school (like the Temple menora) with Judaism. Every Jew has the responsibility to be a shining light to the outside, to one's social and business environment, too.
In addition, it is especially when it is already dark outside - after sunset - when conditions are not as favorable, that we must kindle the lights of Judaism. At that time, in times like ours, it is not sufficient to kindle the same number of lights each time, as with the Temple menora or Shabbat lights. We must increase our light, as with the Chanuka candles. This is accomplished through the ever-steady increase of Torah and mitzvot.
Suddenly, seven fat, handsome cows emerged from the Nile... Then, just as suddenly, seven other cows emerged after them, 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)
Pharaoh sent and summoned Joseph, and they rushed him from the dungeon... And Pharaoh said to Joseph, "See, I have set you in charge over all the land of Egypt" (Gen. 41:14-41)
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 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.
(Sichot Kodesh, 28 Kislev, 5750)
They bowed before him...and he made himself strange (Gen. 42:6,7)
It was not out of malice that Joseph didn't want his brothers to recognize him immediately. On the contrary, it was because of his great love for them that he tried to postpone the moment of truth for as long as possible, for he knew his brothers would surely be humiliated to see how his dreams had been fulfilled.
(Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev)
by Menachem Zeigelbaum
A small wooden house stood on the side of the steep mountain as though hiding in its shadow. As far as the eye could see, were the majestic Carpathian Mountains. The Divine creation was visible in all its glory.
A young couple lived in this house. They had married only a few months before, and now they were building their lives quietly and peacefully.
The wife was called Rachel and the husband was called Yisrael. When he became the Rebbe of the Jewish people, he was called Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov. Despite his youth, his appearance and demeanor reflected profound wisdom and understanding. His eyes always radiated joy, and his face bespoke a deep tranquility.
His young wife Rachel was content, and this was despite the fact that she hardly ever saw her husband. Throughout the week, Yisrael left home and walked through the forests that covered the Carpathian mountains. He would leave Sunday morning and return Friday afternoon, before Shabbat. Rochel was happy because she knew her husband was an outstanding tzadik, a holy man. Most people didn't know this. She knew, though her husband hid it from others. The time for his greatness to be revealed to the world had not yet arrived.
It was the height of winter and snow fell and covered all in its white blanket. It was almost Chanuka, the holiday of light, joy, and warmth.
On Sunday Yisrael went out as he usually did. Before leaving, he said to Rachel, "With G-d's help, I hope to return with nightfall of the first night of Chanuka in order to light the menora. But if, G-d forbid, I tarry and don't come till night, don't wait for me. Light the menora yourself so as not to delay this great mitzva (commandment)."
The days passed quickly. In a few minutes it would be nightfall and the first Chanuka light would be lit in all Jewish homes. Yisrael had set out to return home much earlier but his progress home had been slow. Though dusk was approaching, the light of the joy of a mitzva illuminated his visage.
Yisrael's high boots sank deeply into the snow. The thick stick cleared the path before him. A fur hat, like the peasant farmers wore, was on his head. The bitter cold and the piercing mountain winds whipped his face.
The forest paths disappeared and the tangle of branches became ever thicker. Yisrael found himself walking in circles, but he maintained his trust in G-d.
The hour grew late and the time for lighting the menora had long since passed. Yisrael so wanted to light the menora at the proper time. He knew that each year, at the time that the menora is lit, the "hidden light," the light of Moshiach, is revealed. But something, some force, seemed to block Yisrael's way.
A strange heaviness took hold of Yisrael. He found it difficult to continue walking against the howling wind. He finally sat down on a rock that stood among the trees. Yisrael sat there, exhausted. Another two minutes went by and he fell asleep. The shrieking wind and the sound of the trees branches moving above awoke him from his slumber. To his surprise it seemed to him that he could see a figure approaching.
Yisrael saw a figure in white, holding a large candle, walking towards him. The figure came closer and he could see a tall, distinguished looking Jew with a white beard framing his shining face.
"Who are you?" asked Yisrael.
The man smiled and said, "I am Matityahu the Priest from Modiin, a Hasmonean."
Yisrael blinked his eyes and the man was no longer nearby but far, far ahead. He quickly got up in order to follow the man with the candle. The flame danced on, the winds powerless to extinguish it. Yisrael walking without knowing how much time had elapsed, until he finally began to recognize his surroundings. He noticed some familiar signs, roads that he had frequented. In another few minutes, he identified the paths that led to his house.
From a distance, he could see a tiny flame in the window of his house. A pure flame that had been kindled by his wife. Despite the severe cold, she stood in the doorway, outside the house, wrapped in her heavy coat and fur hat. She was relieved and overjoyed to see her husband finally approaching. It was long past midnight and she had been worried.
Yisrael looked right and left, but there was no trace of the man who had led him home.
A few minutes later, the Baal Shem Tov was standing in front of his tin menora. He prepared the wicks, poured the oil, and with lofty, mystical intentions, he recited the blessings. When he finished reciting the poetic songs that follow the lighting, dawn began to break over the snowy Carpathian Mountains.
Reprinted from Beis Moshiach Magazine
Chanuka is the only Jewish festival that begins on the 25th day of the month, during the period of the waning moon. Each night, as the moon becomes smaller, we light more flames to illuminate the darkness. As we light the seventh candle, the darkness around us seems impenetrable. And then what happens? Our Chanuka lights beat the darkness. On the eighth night, when all our lights are burning and the darkness outside is still very deep - the moon reappears. We have brought light out of darkness. The new month of Tevet is proclaimed, and the moon, which represents the Jewish people, begins to increase in size. Thus, Chanuka is the quintessential festival of exile. Chanuka begins in darkness and ends in light, just as our present exile began in darkness and will end in light.
(Roy S. Neuberger in Eclipses, Red Moons and Chanuka)