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"Listen to the Chanuka lights," Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn used to tell his chasidim. Each one of them has a unique tale and a profound message.
The Hebrew word "Chanuka" shares the same root as the word chinuch-education. During Chanuka we focus our attention on matters affecting the Jewish education of children. For this reason it is also traditional to give "Chanuka gelt" after testing children on Jewish subjects.
2) Women played an integral role in Chanuka. The heroic stories of Chana and Yehudit are well known. There were lesser known Jewish women, as well, who inspired their husbands "to fight against the enemy until you will destroy him." As the Midrash says, "Every generation is redeemed because of the righteous women in the generation." (Yalkut Shimoni, Ruth 606).
3) There are allusions in the Torah to Chanuka, though the festival occurred much later:
"In the beginning, G-d created the Heavens and the earth... and G-d said, 'Let there be light...' " Light - ohr - is the 25th word in the Torah. The rededication of the Holy Temple and the relighting of the Menora took place on 25 Kislev.
The Sanctuary in the desert was completed on 25 Kislev, eight months after the Exodus from Egypt. But it was not dedicated until three months later. Jewish teachings explain that 25 Kislev was set aside for the future rededication of the Holy Temple by the Maccabees.
4) One of the greatest miracles of the oil that lasted for eight and not one day, was the miracle of Jewish faith. That the Jews did not despair from lighting the Menora even the first day, though knowing that they would be unable the following day to keep a perpetual lamp burning, was in itself a great miracle.
5) Under the circumstances, it was permissible to use the impure oil found after the war to keep the Menora lit. But, the Jews insisted on using only undefiled oil, which was not obtainable for eight days. They were declaring: "We're not interested in the compromises that the Hellenists have been trying to sell us." For the decrees of the Greeks were intended to de-emphasize the Divinity of the Torah.
6) Oil, upon which the miracle of Chanuka is based, is not required for our day-to-day existence. It is used to add flavor and is thus associated with pleasure. Oil is a metaphor for the inner teachings of the Torah - Chasidut. Chasidut adds pleasure to our observance of mitzvot. Oil, like Chasidut, has the potential to illuminate. When we light a candle in a room, the contents of the room are revealed. Similarly, studying Chasidut serves to reveal our own personal potential and energy as well as to reveal the G-dliness in the world around us.
7) "In those days at this time." These words, recited on Chanuka, hint at an amazing Jewish mystical concept. The spiritual energy that was evident during a particular event is reinstated in the world on the anniversary of that event. "At this time" we can draw on the energy of "those days." The eight days of Chanuka are an auspicious time to wage spiritual battles against evil, impurity and corruption within and without. And certainly we will be victorious, as in those days.
8) The light created by G-d on the first day of Creation was not the light of the sun, moon or stars; those heavenly bodies were not created until the fourth day. The light of the first day was a spiritual light, hidden when Adam and Eve sinned and which will be revealed for eternity in the Messianic Era. Within each Jew is a spark of this holy and eternal light which will ultimately be fully revealed within each of us, with the imminent revelation of Moshiach.
In this week's Torah portion, Vayeishev, Joseph has two dreams that he shares with his brothers. In the first dream, "We were binding sheaves in the midst of the field, when my sheaf stood up and remained upright, then your sheaves encircled my sheaf and prostrated themselves before it." In the second dream, "The sun, the moon, and 11 stars were prostrating themselves before me."
The dreams seem to convey the same message. The difference is that the second dream has the addition of the sun and the moon, representing Joseph's father Jacob and his step-mother Bilha. Why couldn't there have just been one dream, the second one?
There must be something unique in the two dreams that can teach us life-lessons.
Joseph's first dream was on earth, his second was in the celestial sphere. This teaches us that a Jew must always strive to go higher and reach beyond the level that he is on.
The two dreams convey the same idea, but one is on earth symbolizing the physical, and the other in the celestial sphere symbolizing the spiritual. This means that we should make the physical and spiritual the same. How do we do this? By connecting to G-d so much in our mundane lives that our physical becomes like spiritual.
In Joseph's first dream, he and his brothers were working in the field, because holiness can only be attained through work and effort. There is no free lunch, no bread of shame. Only after the work, do they reach the higher levels in his second dream.
In Joseph's first dream they are on earth, in the field. The field, according to Jewish mysticism, symbolizes chaos and fragmentation; every stalk in the field is separate, coming out of its own personal spot of earth.
Our job is to make bundles out of the separate stalks, to make unity of the fragmentation. Meaning, the G-dly soul comes down into the body and animal soul. The nature of the body and the animal soul is to go their own way, following any base pleasure that suits them at the moment, in other words, chaos and fragmentation. Our job is to unite them to follow G-d's will.
What happens next is that they bow to Joseph. "Joseph the Righteous," is the head of the generation. Just as the head guides the body, the head of the generation leads the Jewish people.
After doing all of this work, we still find ourselves in the field. So we need to rise higher; not to ignore the physical, but to turn our physical into spiritual. The second dream is in the celestial sphere, when we reach a loftier spiritual state.
This work of uniting the fragments and making our physical into spiritual is not as difficult as you might think. We are told that even a small amount of effort is considered tremendous in G-d's eyes. So our little effort goes a long way.
With a little bit of effort from all of us, we will be well along the way to bringing Moshiach. May he come now!
Adapted by Rabbi Yitzi Hurwitz from the teachings of the Rebbe, yitzihurwitz.blogspot.com. Rabbi Hurwitz, who is battling ALS, and his wife Dina, are emissaries of the Rebbe in Temecula, Ca.
How I Lit the Chanuka Lights
by Menachem Zeigelbaum
Reb Mordechai Chanzin, a Lubavitcher chasid, was arrested three times in his life. The first time he was imprisoned for ten years, the second time for five years, and the third time for six years. Altogether, he spent 21 in Soviet labor camps and various exiles.
He suffered tremendously but his spirit was strong. With the power of his faith and his great stubbornness, he managed to survive. One day, one of the jailers got angry at him and wanted to kill him. The man had already taken out his revolver but R' Mordechai was not frightened. He went over to him, looked him in the eyes and pointed at his forehead and said, "Here, shoot here at my Jewish forehead."
Amazingly, the jailer immediately lowered his gun and R' Mordechai's life was spared.
Throughout the years in the labor camps he kept Shabbat and ate only kosher, which entailed much hardship.
R' Mordechai loved to relate stories of his time in Russia. He considered it a sort of will and testament to bequeath to future generations. However, the following story he considered like a mitzva to tell, because of a promise that was made.
As Chanuka approached, a group of young bachurim in the Siberian labor camp met to come up with a plan. How would they light the menorah despite the danger involved? Someone promised margarine; threads were plucked from clothing for wicks, and a receptacle to put the margarine and wicks in was found somewhere.
Mordechai was the oldest of the 18 young Jewish men in that camp. They decided that in the middle of the night they would gather to secretly light the Chanuka lights. Mordechai was honored with the lighting and in an emotion-laden voice he recited the blessings.
As he stood and looked at the flame through his tears, the door of the shack suddenly burst open and NKVD officers barged in. They roughly pushed the 18 young men into a small, dark cell.
The first to be put on trial was the oldest of the group, Mordechai. The "trial" was nothing but a sham, a performance, with the sentence determined beforehand.
Even though Mordechai was familiar with the mendacities of the communist system, he was surprised to hear the judge announce that he was accused of planning a rebellion. The basis for the accusation was the kindling of lights in order to signal their location to the enemy.
The courthouse was not large. On one side of the room was the judge's chair and the accused was seated facing the judge. In a severe tone, the judge read the accusation. He concluded by saying that the sentence for these crimes was death. Did Mordechai want to defend himself?
Mordechai got up. His heart was pounding. "Does the sentence apply only to me or also to the rest of the group?"
The judge gave him a withering look. "On the entire counter-revolutionary band," he replied coldly.
Mordechai looked around him. Until now, he had tried to look indifferent but now he knew that not only his fate was on the scale, but also the fate of his fellow Jews. He burst into tears. He felt that it was because of him that this happened since he was the oldest and had taken responsibility for all of them.
Mordechai stood there and sobbed while the judge sat and looked at him. Mordechai, who was emotional by nature, could not restrain himself. All the pain that had been bottled up in him burst forth.
"Come here," said the judge.
Mordechai approached the judge's desk. The judge began asking him about his family, their names and occupations and other personal details. Mordechai answered all the questions while he continued to cry.
When the judge finished asking his questions he got up and began pacing. He repeated all the names he had just heard.
"What do you have to say in your defense?" asked the judge as he suddenly stopped his pacing.
Mordechai mustered his courage and said, "We are Jews and we lit the lights to fulfill the mitzva of lighting Chanuka lights. That is why we gathered together."
"You lit Chanuka lights?!" the judge asked in surprise. He seemed to be moved by this. "What do you say ... Chanuka lights?" He asked this again and again. He looked very moved and seemed to be struggling internally.
After a moment, he motioned to the two soldiers who were in the room to step outside. After they left, he said, "If you lit Chanuka lights, then I will show you how Chanuka lights are really lit."
The judge lit the oil lamp on his desk and began to burn all the prosecution's files that were on his desk. His hands trembled and he seemed to be in a rush to put the papers in the fire as though he was afraid that he might reconsider. "Here, this is the way to light the Chanuka lights. See? This is the way to light Chanuka lights!" He did not stop until every last paper was consumed.
Then he took the ashes and threw them out the window. The Siberian wind scattered them. Very quickly, nothing remained of the files.
Then the judge pressed on a button and the door opened and the soldiers came back in.
"Take all the young men," he said authoritatively, "and disperse them wherever you see fit so that they don't encounter one another. They are despicable enemies. Don't shoot them because they aren't even worth a bullet."
After the soldiers left, the judge said to Mordechai in a tremulous voice, "I am a Jew and I ask you to tell future generations how I lit the Chanuka lights."
In 1956, after Khrushchev rose to power, hundreds of thousands of prisoners were pardoned. Mordechai Chanzin's name was also cleared of all wrongdoing and he was allowed to return home.
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. Sunday, Dec. 2 through Thursday, Dec. 6, the menora will be lit at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 7, the menora will be lit at 3:45 p.m. Saturday night, Dec. 8, menora lighting will be at 8:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 9, 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 chanukah.org
15 Kislev, 5738 (1977)
In connection with the forthcoming days of Chanukah, I extend to each and every one of you my heartfelt wishes for a bright and inspiring Chanukah, coupled with the fulfillment of your hearts' desires for good in every respect.
Chanukah brings a 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 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 Sabbath candles, which must be lit before sunset, and unlike the lights of the Menorah in the Holy Temple, which were kindled even earlier in the day.
This emphasis on kindling the Chanukah lights after sunset teaches that, if a person finds himself in a situation akin to "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, G-d forbid, despair. 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, soon to be superseded by a bright light which will be seen and felt all the more strongly by the intensity of the contrast.
This, then, is the meaning of the kindling of the Chanukah lights, done in a manner which calls for lighting an additional candle each successive day of Chanukah - demonstrating plainly to oneself and 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 grows steadily in intensity! And if physical light has such power, how much more so eternal spiritual light.
All of this pertains to the Jewish people as a whole, as well as to each individual Jew, man or woman, in particular. Although the Jewish people is still in a state of Exile, and "darkness covers the earth," a time when "nations rage and people speak vain things," etc., there is no reason to be overwhelmed; 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 are, and will bless them with 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 Redemption which is fast approaching.
...even a little light dispels a great deal of darkness - how much more so a light that grows steadily in intensity! And if physical light has such power, how much more so eternal spiritual light.
Similarly, in regard to individuals who find themselves in a state of personal Exile - there is no cause for discouragement and despondency. On the contrary, one must have complete trust in the Creator and Master of the Universe, that personal deliverance from distress and confinement is speedily on the way.
Furthermore, one will draw increasing strength when this trust is expressed in a growing commitment to the fulfillment of G-d's will in daily life and conduct in accordance with His Torah and Mitzvoth - 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 Mitzvoth, "for a Mitzvah is a lamp and the Torah is light" - illuminating it in increasing measure from day to day, to bring about the fulfillment of the prophecy: "The people walking in the darkness of Exile will see a great light" - the light of the Redemption.
ARIEL means "lion of G-d." Ariel was a leader who served under Ezra the Scribe. The feminine form is Ariella.
ASNAT is from the Aramaic meaning "thornbush." She was the wife of Joseph (Gen. 41:45) and mother of Menashe and Efrayim. According to the Midrash, she was the daughter of Joseph's sister Dina. It can also be spelled Osnat.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Sunday night we will kindle the first light of Chanuka, the literal meaning of which 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 the service of the Jew throughout the year: 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."
Jacob dwelled in the land of his father's sojourn (Gen. 37:1)
Jacob was able to dwell in peace even when forced to contend with Esau's mighty armies. It was not until jealousy and hatred broke out among Joseph's brothers over a seemingly insignificant issue - the coat of many colors - that the period of enslavement of the Jewish people in Egypt began. We learn from this that contention and strife among brothers has the potential to cause far greater damage than even the most powerful outside enemy can inflict.
And he made him a coat of many colors (Gen. 37:3)
Chasidic philosophy explains that the coat was symbolic of a particular aspect of G-dliness (makif - which "envelops" creation like a garment) that is drawn into the physical world. Jacob bequeathed this ability only to Joseph, as he was the only one of the 12 brothers who was capable of accepting it. The brothers' jealousy of Joseph was, in actuality, envy of his superior spiritual abilities, which was later expressed on a more mundane level.
(Torat Chaim, Bereishit)
What profit will it be if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? (Gen. 37:26)
The fact that we will be forced to conceal our deed indicates that it is wrong. "Wherever secrecy exists - thievery exists."
(Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk)
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."
he 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."
The Chanuka lights teach us that a Jew must not permit himself to be overwhelmed by the darkness outside, but must make the light of Torah and mitzvot (commandments) shine forth and illuminate everything. That light must shine forth "outside," for even a little light dispels a lot of darkness. In the merit of the Chanuka lights and the application of their lesson, we shall speedily experience the messianic redemption, of which it is said, "He has set an end to the darkness" (Job 28:3). "Arise! Shine! For your light has come, and the glory of G-d is shining forth over you!" (Isaiah 60:1)
(Living with Moshiach by Rabbi J Immanuel Schochet)