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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.
According to Kabala, this oil symbolizes the essence of the Jewish soul. It may not always be revealed, but it is always there. This spiritual oil fuels 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 considering who we really are. When someone challenges our 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, eat that latke before it gets cold!
It is not coincidental that the Torah portion of Mikeits is read close to Chanuka and that the portion revolves around Joseph. What does Joseph have to do with Chanuka? And what can we learn from Joseph and Chanuka to help us through difficult times?
In the story of Chanuka, there were miraculous victories. Strong fell into the hands of the weak, many into the hands of few, etc. But when the Talmud tells us what Chanuka is all about, it tells us only about the miracle of finding the pure oil and that it burned for eight days. When Chanuka was established as a holiday, only one mitzva (commandment) was ordained - to light the lamps of the Menora.
Why is there no mention of the great victories? And why isn't there a mitzva to have a meal like on Purim?
The question is, what do you choose to focus on? In the story of Chanuka, the Greeks did not want to hurt us, they didn't want to fight with us. What they wanted was for us to put ourselves before G-d. The only mitzvas that they took issue with were the ones that we were not given a reason for except that G-d commanded it. In other words, the Greeks wanted us to do Jewish things that we enjoyed and that made sense to us, not because G-d wanted us to.
We went to war because we wanted to put G-d first, which in essence, is what being a Jew is all about. To focus on the war or on a meal, would take away from the message of Chanuka. The most spiritual thing we have in this physical world is light, and lighting the menora sets our focus on the spiritual and G-d.
This now brings us to Joseph. He was hated by his brothers, sold into slavery, and thrown into jail on false charges. He was an orphan, alone, in a foreign land. Yet you don't get the feeling that Joseph was depressed or down at all. He seems positive, able to rise above and succeed in every situation.
How was Joseph able to stay positive? Joseph's paradigm was the key to his positive outlook. Joseph saw himself as part of G-d's plan, he saw every situation as part of the plan. When you perceive the world from this perspective, every difficulty, hardship and challenge is nothing more than part of G-d's plan and therefore positive. To Joseph, it was all about G-d.
Our perspective is the key to our happiness. When we only see ourselves, we are stuck with the difficulties, the pain, the hurt, the anguish, the suffering, etc. However, when it is about G-d, and you see everything as part of G-d's plan, every situation is seen as an opportunity. The crazier and stranger the situation, the more meaning could be found in it. Instead of being knocked down by the difficulty, you are uplifted. We are happiest and strongest when we are the way Jews are meant to be, focused on G-d.
Through making our lives about G-d, we will merit the end of all the difficulties and darkness. Like Joseph who became the viceroy of Egypt, we too will be on the top. Like the miracles of Chanuka, we will have the ultimate miracle, the coming of 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.
by Nosson Avrohom
"Salt Lake City, Utah, has dynamic emissaries of the Rebbe, the Zippels," shares Rabbi Boruch Kaplan of Israel. "In addition to their activities with the local Jewish community, Rabbi Benny Zippel works with Jewish youth in restricted educational programs designed for youngsters who have broken the law, as opposed to putting them behind bars.
"The schools have a fair share of Jewish students. Over the years, Rabbi Zippel has established contact with the schools. He visits on a regular basis and conducts programs for the Jewish kids there.
"A Jewish girl in one of these institutions was extremely rebellious. After one particular escape attempt, it took the police several days to locate her and return her to the institution. The administrators and counselors decided that the school was no longer an appropriate place for the girl. She would be sent to the local prison. When the girl's mother heard the decision, she appealed to them but it was too late.
"Suddenly, she remembered that she had once heard her daughter speak about Rabbi Zippel. With nowhere else to turn, she decided to contact him.
"She told Rabbi Zippel everything that had happened to her daughter. 'All of my efforts have failed; maybe you can succeed where I didn't!' Rabbi Zippel listened, empathized with her plight, and offered his assistance. 'I will plead your daughter's case to the school administrators with whom I am well acquainted. But I have a request.'
" 'What is it?' the mother asked. 'If it's money, I'll write you a check now for whatever you ask.'
" 'Money is not the problem,' Rabbi Zippel chuckled. 'My request is that you accept upon yourself to do a mitzva, something that will surely assist me in my efforts to help your daughter.'
" 'What mitzva?' she inquired. Rabbi Zippel proposed that she begin lighting Shabbat candles.
"The woman listened, but declined. 'I have my principles. I won't do something that I don't believe in. I wasn't educated that way.' Rabbi Zippel didn't argue with her. It was Wednesday. Before concluding the conversation, he asked her to reconsider his suggestion. He said that he would call back on Friday.
"Meanwhile, the rabbi didn't waste time. He had conversations with the school administrators, and he succeeded in convincing them to let her stay in her current program and not transfer her to prison.
"On Friday, Rabbi Zippel called back the girl's mother. The first thing she told him was that she had already decided she would begin lighting Shabbat candles. 'You should know,' Rabbi Zippel said, 'you have succeeded in helping your daughter. The institution has agreed to give her another chance.' The mother was overjoyed.
" 'Do you know how and when you are supposed to light the candles?'
" 'No,' she replied. 'I'd be happy if you could send me a brochure with the information. Next week,' she promised, 'I'll light the candles.'
" 'Why not light today?' the rabbi asked.
" 'How? It's Friday afternoon. I don't have candles, and I've never lit Shabbat candles before.'
"The rabbi asked for her address - Calabasas, California. He immediately called the Rebbe's emissary in nearby Agoura Hills, Rabbi Moshe Bryski, asked him to contact the woman, to give her Shabbat candles, and to explain how to fulfill the mitzva. Rabbi Bryski agreed and promptly called the woman. The woman was stunned. 'You Lubavitchers are really stubborn. Why is it so important to you that I do something that brings you no reward?'
"Rabbi Bryski said that his reward is her reward, and it eventually will be the reward of the entire Jewish People. When he asked for her address, she replied, 'I'm not at home right now.'
" 'Where are you?' Rabbi Bryski asked.
" 'Far from my house,' she said. 'I'm at a gas station in Agoura Hills. Does that help you?'
" 'At which station?'
"She gave the name of the station.
"Rabbi Bryski was astounded! 'I live across the street! Turn to your right, I'll be waiting for you...'
"When she came across the street, Rabbi Bryski was waiting for her with the Shabbat candles. She said, 'There is a G-d and He cares for me!'
"The rabbi told her about the mitzva of lighting Shabbat candles, its meaning, and the tremendous benefit it carries for her as an individual and the Jewish People as a whole. The woman promised that she would light Shabbat candles each week.
"This is the first part of the story. The second part happened a few years later. During a round of lectures I gave in the U.S.," recalls Rabbi Kaplan, "I came to the Chabad House at Boston University, run by the Posners. Rabbi Shmuel Posner had organized a gathering and I was the guest speaker. Among the many ideas I shared, I told them the above story.
"I wanted to illustrate the need for mutual responsibility. One Jew shows concern for another Jew, even though there has been no previous acquaintance. I made it clear to the students that the fact that we are Jews establishes an unbreakable connection between us. The evening concluded, and I continued along my lecture tour.
"One day after Chanuka, my phone rang. 'I have more to tell you about that story of the woman lighting Shabbat candles,' Rabbi Posner said. 'The story now has a connection with Chanuka candles!'
"It turns out that one of the students attending the gathering at BU had taken the talk to heart. He decided to make certain that one of his good friends would light Chanuka candles. He called his friend and asked him where he was. The friend said that he was currently staying in a hotel in Toronto, Canada.
" 'And what about lighting the menora?' he asked.
" 'Nothing will happen if one year I don't light,' the friend replied. When the BU student urged his friend to light, the young man said, 'Even if I wanted to light the menora, where could I get a menora now, and how could I find out what the blessings are?'
"Inspired by the Shabbat candles story, the student quickly ran to Rabbi Posner and asked if there are emissaries in Toronto. Rabbi Posner replied in the affirmative, and then proceeded to locate the closest emissary. He called the rabbi and gave him the hotel's address. The rabbi brought the young man a menora, candles, and an informational Chanuka brochure.
" 'This was the best Chanukah I ever had,' he later told his friend in Boston."
Adapted from Beis Moshiach Magazine
Rabbi Moshe and Sheina Luchins are moving to Mequon, Wisconsin. The Luchins will serve the Directors of Community Engagement at Chabad of Wisconsin. Rabbi Mendel and Chani Liberow will be opening a new Chabad Center in Morgan Hill, California. Living in the northern part of S. Jose, home to the majority of the city's 7,000 tech companies, the Liberows will be reaching out mainly of young professionals and Israeli expats in the tech industry.
The world is chaotic and unpredictable. How should we respond? We've tried protest, panic and despair. Let's rise above our fixation with the daily crises to discover what joy can achieve! In New Joy by Gitty Stolik, we tune into authentic joy, to uncover its many dimensions and layers, each bringing us closer to its essence. It's time to discover joy in its full glory. Targum Press.
Chanukah, 5733 
Greeting and Blessing:
I duly received your letter of Nov. 28 from Jerusalem, and may G-d grant that all the matters about which you write should get ever brighter, in keeping with the spirit of the Chanukah Lights increasing in number and brightness from day to day.
As has been often said before, all matters of Torah are an inexhaustible source of lessons and inspiration for our daily life, especially when they take the form of practical Mitzvoth [commandments], since the Torah and Mitzvoth are Infinite, being derived from the Infinite (En Sof). I mention this here apropos of the Mitzvah of Ner [lights of] Chanukah, specifically in relation to one particular aspect which, at first, appears quite puzzling.
I am referring to the fact that although Chanukah recalls many miracles and wonders, the main event for which Chanukah was instituted was the miracle with the cruse of oil, the one and only that was found in the Beth Hamikdosh [Holy Temple], that was intact and undefiled by the enemy, which was then kindled and which lasted for eight days, until new, pure and holy oil could be prepared.
What is puzzling about it is that the oil was not required for human consumption, nor for the consumption of the Mizbe'ach (Altar) but for fuel in the Menorah to be burnt in the process of giving light. It would seem, at first glance, of no consequence, insofar as the light is concerned, whether or not the oil had been touched and defiled, for, surely, the quality and intensity of the light could hardly be affected by the touch?
Yet, when the Talmud defined the essence of the Chanukah festival, the Sages declared that the crucial aspect was the miracle with the oil. Not that they belittled or ignored the great miracles on the battlefields, when G-d delivered the "mighty" and "many" into the hands of the "weak" and "few", for those miracles are also emphasized in the prayer of V'al Hanissim ["For all these miracles"]. Nevertheless, it was the miracle of being able to light the Menorah with pure, holy oil, without any touch of uncleanliness, which gave rise to the Festival of Lights.
The obvious lesson is that in the realm of the spirit, of Torah and Mitzvoth, as symbolized by the Chanukah Lights, there must be absolute purity and holiness. It is not for the human mind to reason why, and what difference does it make, etc.
Much more could be said on the subject, but it will suffice to lend further weight to our conversation during your visit here, when the point was made how most vital it is that the right person should head the institution which Divine Providence has privileged you to establish in the Holy Land and even holier City of Jerusalem, as a center for the dissemination of Yiddishkeit [Judaism] in its purity. The purity and holiness of the oil must be ensured.
To carry the analogy further, it is the purpose of the central Beth Hamikdosh to illuminate and bring holiness and purity into the individual Beth Hamikdosh - i.e. every Jewish home and every Jewish person, which is also the obligation of every Jew towards his fellow Jew, in accordance of the Mitzvah of "v'ohavto lre'acho komoicho" ["love your fellow Jew as yourself"]. But special precautions are necessary that the Beth Hamikdosh itself should be illuminated with the purest, sanctified oil, so that even the Kohen Godol [high priest], if he should happen to be impure, could not enter the Beth Hamikdosh, much less kindle the Menorah.
May G-d grant you Hatzlocho [success] in establishing the said institution in fullest accord with G-d's will, in the spirit outlined above, truly reflecting the spirit of the Chanukah lights, lighting ever more candles and increasing their glow from day to day.
With prayerful wishes for the utmost Hatzlocho in all above, and
P.S. The enclosed copy of my general Chanukah message has an obvious bearing on some of the points touched above.
ZMIRA is from the Hebrew meaning "song" or "melody." ZEVULUN means "to exalt" or "to honor." Zevulun was the sixth son of Jacob and Leah. A partnership was set up between Zevulun and his brother, Yisachar. The tribe of Yisachar were full-time students of Torah while the Zevulunites, who were merchants, provided them with financial support. This relationship continues today, as exemplified by business people who support Torah study.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
What does Chanuka have to do with Moshiach and the ultimate Redemption? A lot! Everything is connected to Moshiach and the Redemption. In fact, the Lubavitcher Rebbe stated clearly that it is natural for a person who is involved every day in yearning for the coming of Moshiach to look for a connection to Moshiach's coming in every event or concept which he encounters.
This also applies to Chanuka. And since we are in the days of Chanuka it is appropriate to look at the Festival of Lights with "Moshiach eyes."
Since the Chanuka miracle took place in the Holy Temple, its commemoration arouses an even greater yearning for the era when the menora will be kindled again in the Third Holy Temple.
Similarly, there is a connection between the above and this week's Torah portion, Mikeitz.
When a Jew hears the name Mikeitz, because he is constantly yearning for Moshiach's coming, he immediately associates it with the word "keitz" which refers to the time for Moshiach's coming. And on Shabbat, when the Haftorah is read and he hears the vision for the Menora mentioned, he once again immediately associates it with the menora of the Holy Temple.
Let us all join together on Chanuka this year in the lighting of the Chanuka menoras, large and small, public and private. And as we light the menora let us envision ourselves watching the lighting of the rededicated menora in the Third and Eternal Holy Temple.
Pharaoh said to his servants: Can we find such a one as this, a man in whom there is the spirit of G-d (Gen. 41:38)
Why would Pharaoh think that warehousing grain before an impending famine requires "a man in whom there is the spirit of G-d?" Rather, Pharaoh understood from Joseph's words that he was not merely unusually wise, but spoke with the "spirit of G-d." Accordingly, implementing the storage and distribution of the grain could only be accomplished by such a person. How did Pharaoh come to recognize Joseph's qualities? In relating his dream to Joseph, Pharaoh had deliberately changed certain details. Joseph, however, interpreted the dream according to its true nature, rather than according to Pharaoh's slightly altered account.
(Marganita D'Vei Meir)
Jacob lived in the land of Egypt for 17 years (Gen. 47:28)
When the third Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel, was a child, he learned a commentary on this verse that these 17 years were the best years of Jacob's life. This surprised the boy, and he went to his grandfather, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, to find out how it was possible that the years spent in such a spiritually corrupt and abominable land could have been Jacob's best. Rabbi Shneur Zalman replied: Before Jacob descended into Egypt, he sent an emissary to establish yeshivot and places of learning. Whenever and wherever a Jew learns Torah, he cleaves to G-d and achieves a true and meaningful life. Furthermore, precisely because Egypt was such an abominable place, the holiness and spirituality Jacob attained there shone that much brighter against the dark and evil background of his surroundings.
With you shall Israel bless...May G-d make you as Ephraim and Menashe (Gen. 48:20)
In the previous verses Jacob had said, "Ephraim and Menashe shall be to me as Reuven and Shimon." Despite the fact that Ephraim and Menashe were born and educated in Egypt, a land not conducive to Torah learning and Judaism, they were still as righteous and pure as Reuven and Shimon, who grew up in more enclosed and insular surroundings in Jacob's household.
Pesachya could never get used to it. Every year, he would go to the shelf, take down the family Menora, and place it carefully in his suitcase. Then, with a bitter sigh, he would say to his wife, "So I won't be with you and the children for Chanuka once again this year. What can I do. I must be in the forests to supervise the wood-cutting."
"Maybe this year will be different," his wife had said, for this past summer Pesachya had received a special blessing. It had been quite unexpected. Pesachya was paying his yearly visit to Rabbi Sholom Dov Ber of Lubavitch.
"Pesachya," the Rebbe had said quietly, "no doubt it is hard for you to be away from home at Chanuka time. This year, be sure to take along a supply of big candles. May the Al-mighty bless you with a bright Chanuka, and give you much success in the business too." Pesachya was astonished, speechless. It was as if the Rebbe had looked into the hidden areas of his heart to discover that old pain.
The Rebbe had spoken very naturally, but his words were puzzling. As Pesachya dutifully went to purchase "the big candles," he wondered what the Rebbe really had in mind.
When Chanuka came, Pesachya remembered the Rebbe's instructions. Every morning he rose early to study and pray. Then, before leaving the cabin, he would check to make sure that he had the right number of candles with him to light that evening.
One morning, Pesachya awoke a little later than usual. Hurriedly he bundled himself up, and ran down the forest path. Suddenly he realized that he had forgotten the Chanuka candles. Another delay, he thought. Maybe he should leave them until later. No. Better go back and get them.
Despite the late start, the day turned out well. Finally, as it grew dark, Pesachya dismissed his workers and began to trudge toward his lonely cabin.
"Stop Jew!" said a gruff voice, sending a chill of fear down his spine. Pesachya looked up, as a rough band of woodsmen laid hold of him, the tallest brandishing a large axe.
"Robbers! Help!" he cried, but no one heard a sound. One grabbed him from behind. Another stunned him with a blow. "Don't fight or we'll kill you!" they said. Roughly they search him, taking his jacket and his money belt. Then with a shove, they threw him down on the dark road.
Pesachya's head pounded as he heard a voice say, "Hold him steady. Let's get it over with."
"Wait, wait!" cried Pesachya desperately. "Don't kill me, Please. Spare my life. I beg you. I have a wife, children. Mercy!"
"Quiet!" a voice growled. "You can forget about them."
"Master of the World," said Pesachya to himself, and cried out the Shema Yisrael prayer.
Suddenly he remembered the candles. "Wait, listen," he begged. "If these are my last minutes, let me at least light the candles for the holiday of Chanuka."
"All right, if that's your last wish. But make it quick," the robbers said.
With trembling fingers, Pesachya took out the candles and stuck them in a mound of snow by the roadside. With tears streaming down his face, he recited the blessings, and kindled the tall candles.
As he watched them he thought of his family, his poor children, so many miles away. The he remembered the way the Rebbe had looked at him that last summer, and his mind was full of the vision of his holy face.
Suddenly he heard a shout. "Stop where you are, all of you." The forest was bristling with armed men. "You're all under arrest."
The duke's private soldiers rushed forward, grabbing the robbers, and holding them at gunpoint.
"At last we'll make these woods safe," said a man dressed in warm furs, whom Pesachya recognized as the wealthy duke, owner of the forest.
"You...you saved my life," cried Pesachya. "How did you find me?"
"Why, your candles," said the duke. "We noticed them from the main road as we rode by. They led us right to you. They're for your holiday, aren't they?" the duke said curiously. "It just shows, a bit of religion never hurts, does it?"
Pesachya smiled gratefully. "I..I can never thank you enough." And as he spoke, his eyes filled with a look of wonder, as he realized at last what the Rebbe had meant.
Reprinted from The Moshiach Times magazine.
On Shabbat Chanuka, we read the Haftara of Zecharia. There we encounter the prophet Zecharia's vision of a golden seven-branched Menora. An angel interprets the meaning of this vision: "This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel [descendent of King David, one of the protagonists in the building of the Second Temple], 'Not by military force and not by physical strength, but by My spirit,' says the Lord of Hosts." Meaning that Zerubbabel's descendent, Moshiach, will have no difficulty in his task, it will be as simple as lighting a menora.
(Haftara in a Nutshell)