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Do you remember when, with childish excitement, you planned out which color Chanuka candles from the blue-box-with-the-menora-on-the-front-and-maoz-tzur-on-the-back you would use on the first night? Blue for the first candle and white for the shamash, right? And on the second night it was red, white and blue, or yellow, blue and pink. Or did you prefer the primary colors?
Each night was a different pattern and the inevitable argument with siblings about who would get which color. And each night you sat near the burning candles, watching to see which one would be the last to burn out and mesmerized by their flames.
There were presents, candy-filled dreidles, chocolate Chanuka gelt, potato latkas and the story of the Jews vanquishing the persecutors, for once.
Yet, with all that, some of our fondest Chanuka memories, and Jewish memories for that matter, revolve around the Chanuka lights. And for good reason.
The Jewish flame--the soul--is likened to a candle: "The soul of a man is the lamp of G-d."
How is the soul similar to those little Chanuka candles we light each year? Unlike other matter, which because of the forces of gravity descends to the lowest possible place, the flame of a candle always ascends, continuously striving to unite with its elemental source. The flame does this even though by uniting with its source it would be extinguished.
The Jewish soul is an actual part of G-d. Its very nature compels it constantly to strive to unite with G-d, its Source. Though by uniting with G-d it becomes nullified, still it works toward this goal. Sometimes this takes place because of an awakening on the part of the person and sometimes it is like a "gift" from G-d, an arousal from Above that draws the soul ever closer.
Going from the esoteric to the scientific, try this little experiment. Though, as we mentioned before, the nature of the flame (and the soul) is to scintillate upward in an attempt to unite with its source, what if a larger flame is nearby, but not above, the candle? The flame of the candle, believe it or not, will actually bend in an attempt to unite with the larger fire!
This certainly attests to the power of the desire for the flame/soul to be one with its source. How, though, is this union achieved?
A flame coming from a wick remains ignited only if it has something to burn. In the analogy mentioned above, the wick is a person's body while the sparkling flame is the soul. Though the soul/flame is truly a part of G-d this in itself is not enough to allow the wick/body to burn continuously. It needs energy, and that energy is acquired through good deeds.
The Torah portion Vayeishev chronicles Joseph's trials and tribulations from the time he left his father's house and was sold into slavery until his eventual appointment to the position of second in command of the entire Egypt. But Joseph was more than just an individual, and his life showed the path that the Jewish nation would take. Indeed, Joseph's life closely parallels the life of every Jew, and by studying his story we can better understand our own mission in life.
Joseph began his life by enjoying the comfort of his father's household. The most beloved of Jacob's children, Joseph enjoyed a special relationship with his father. Not only did Jacob make him the famous coat of many colors, but he learned Torah with him day and night, while the other brothers were busy shepherding the flocks. For Joseph, this period was his happiest, both spiritually and physically.
This situation is analogous to the condition of the Jewish soul before coming into the body. A "veritable part of G-d," it exists on the highest plane, enjoying the proximity of only holiness and G-dly light. Even when the soul has descended into this world and is in the fetus, it still enjoys the luxury of learning the entire Torah before the baby is born.
But suddenly, Joseph's idyllic existence was interrupted--"Joseph was brought down to Egypt." Sold as a slave, his situation continued to deteriorate until he found himself a prisoner in Pharaoh's jail. Spiritually as well, Joseph could not have been in a worse situation. Plucked from the refuge of the tent of learning Torah, Joseph was dropped directly into the most corrupt and depraved civilization of his era.
This symbolizes the soul's dramatic descent into this world. No longer can it bask in G-d's glory--the soul finds itself trapped in a physical body, subject to its whims and fancies. It must endure the temptations to which the body is drawn, and overcome all sorts of trials. The soul longs to return to its source above.
Yet we learn that Joseph triumphed and attained an even higher position than he had enjoyed while in his father's house. Joseph was victorious spiritually as well, as the Torah calls him, "Joseph the Righteous," for despite his elevation to high office Joseph retained his purity and goodness. Joseph turned his descent to Egypt into triumph and ascent, emerging the master and ruler.
This then is the purpose of the soul's journey down into this world and its imprisonment within the body: Our task is to subjugate the Evil Inclination and conduct our lives according to the dictates of Torah. Overcoming the obstacles which try to prevent us from doing mitzvot enables us to attain greater spirituality than would have been possible had the soul remained above.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
A Chanuka Story
by Chana Sharfstein
It was just a postcard with a simple message, but to me it was a wonderful Chanuka present. My thoughts drifted back to the beginning of the fall term last September.
The first night of classes. I had been looking forward to this course in Spanish Literature and Culture because it sounded so interesting. Besides, it was my final course that would fulfill the license requirements for my job as an "English as a Second Language" teacher.
That very first night things went wrong. Professor Mendez appeared competent and interesting as he began his introductory lecture. I was surprised, however, that he was addressing us in English, since this was an advanced course. I raised my hand and questioned the professor on this point. The room grew uncomfortably still and then in a stern voice Professor Mendez sarcastically answered that he was sure we weren't advanced enough to be able to discuss history and literature in Spanish. This developed into a heated debate with everyone vocally taking sides, and of course I was viewed as the instigator. The feeling of antipathy that developed that night grew steadily stronger during the term.
When we had the midterm exam, the professor had his opportunity to pay me back. I prepared thoroughly, but he gave me a "B" and wrote a note explaining that I had misinterpreted a question; I had analyzed the material rather than summarized it. I was really furious but my family felt he probably was an anti-Semite, and anyway, my class discussions had certainly placed me in an unfavorable spotlight.
Just about that time a magazine arrived in which one of my stories had been published. It contained some cherished memories of the holidays from my youth. I brought the magazine to class to show some of my classmates. I had even planned to show it to the professor. That night, we had another disagreement which positively settled the issue. At the end of class I angrily rushed out of the room.
Halfway down the hall, and I'll never know why, I turned around and went back. The professor was there gathering his belongings. He looked at me in surprise and I showed him my article. He looked at it briefly, and then quite unexpectedly asked if he could take it home.
The following week, the professor asked me to meet him in his office after class. After we were comfortably seated, he began to tell me how much he enjoyed my article. "He probably found it unique," I thought. "This might be his first exposure to Jewish life."
My thoughts were suddenly interrupted. "It reminded me of my own youth," I heard him saying. "It was during World War II, and we celebrated the holidays in secrecy, each year not knowing if there would be another, each year in a different place."
It was a good thing that I was sitting for his next question really stunned me. "How did you figure out that I was Jewish?" he asked. Professor Mendez a Jew? I just couldn't believe it.
"My father changed our name during the War," he continued, "so we could escape to South America. We trained ourselves to appear non-Jewish. We carefully studied and imitated the native Spanish settlers." We sat and discussed Jewish life and Judaism for a while.
The following Tuesday afternoon, as I was getting ready to leave, one of my daughters presented me with a problem. She had received several Chanuka menoras in her school with the instructions to give them to someone who would not otherwise light Chanuka candles.
"You can give me a menora now," I told her. "And find some wrapping paper." When I left for class moments later I had a neatly wrapped menora in the bag with my books.
I remained after class and presented Professor Mendez with the gift. "Is it something special you baked or cooked?" he asked. I shook my head. "Please don't open it until you get home," I said. "And please read the material inside. No matter what, keep it and think about it carefully." As I left, I turned and called, "Happy Chanuka."
"Did you light the menora?" I asked at the next session. "No," he said, "I told you I am not observant. My life has changed drastically since my early years." He had placed the menora on his desk at home, but he had not been interested in lighting it.
"Why?" I asked. "Isn't it time that you took a stand? Light the candle to identify. There is no need to hide anymore. Come forward and find your real self."
"Perhaps some other time," he said. "Not now. But thank you anyway."
And now, a year later, he had sent me a postcard. I re-read the message, and again it filled me with joy. There were only four words in the short message, and that was all. "The candles are burning." And then, he had signed his name, Professor Mendez, and under it in small letters, Yehuda Mendelovsky.
There are many kinds of battles and victories. The heroism displayed by you, Professor Mendez, is comparable to the battle of the Maccabees of old. When we light our candles tonight, I will think of your new little lights, those tiny flames representing victory.
Reprinted with permission from Di Yiddishe Heim
Berkeley, Chicago, Tel Aviv and New York are a few of the locations where "Dreidle Houses" are presently open. The Dreidle House is where children can learn about the story of Chanuka--as told by Judah the Macabee, see olive oil being pressed and other Chanuka delights. In Manhattan, the Dreidle House--sponsored by Tzivos Hashem--is at Fifth Avenue and 44th Street. It's open Mon. - Thurs. from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., Sat. night from 8 p.m. to midnight, and Sun. from noon to 10 p.m. For more info call (718) 467-6630.
A special lunchtime Chanuka concert is slated for noon on December 2. The HAFTR Children's Choir will be the featured entertainment. The concert, which will include a special menora lighting ceremony and hot latkas, is free of charge. It will take place at Congregation Beth Sholom Chabad, 261 Willis Avenue in Mineola, Long Island. For more information call (516) 739-3636.
BE A PART OF IT
The World's Largest Chanuka Menora stands proudly at Fifth Avenue and Fifty-Ninth Street near Central Park in Manhattan (all 32 feet and 4000 pounds of it). The schedule for candle-lighting at that location is: Dec. 1, 3:00 p.m.; Dec. 2-5, 5:30 p.m.; Dec. 6, 3:34; Dec. 7, 8:00; Dec. 8, 5:30.
THE MIRACLES OF CHANUKA
From a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
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 mitzvot, since the Torah and mitzvot are infinite, being derived from the Infinite. I mention this here apropos of the mitzva of the Chanuka lights, especially in relation to one particular aspect which, at first, appears quite puzzling.
I am referring to the fact that although Chanuka recalls many miracles and wonders, the main event for which Chanuka was instituted was the miracle of the cruse of oil, the one and only one that was found in the Beit Hamikdash (the 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 Altar, but for fuel in the Menora 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 Chanuka festival, the Sages declared that the crucial aspect was the miracle of 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 these miracles are also emphasized in the prayer of "V'al Hanissim." Nevertheless, it was the miracle of being able to light the Menora 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 mitzvot, as symbolized by the Chanuka lights, there must be absolute purity and holiness. It is not for the human mind to reason why, and what difference it makes, etc.
To carry the analogy further, it is the purpose of the central Holy Temple to illuminate and bring holiness and purity into the individual "Holy Temple"--i.e., every Jewish home and every Jewish person, which is also the obligation of every Jew toward his fellow Jew, in accordance with the mitzva of "love your fellow as yourself." But special precautions are necessary that the Holy Temple itself be illuminated with the purest, sanctified oil, so that even the High Priest, if he should happen to be impure, could not enter the Holy Temple, much less kindle the Menora.
May G-d grant you success in the spirit outlined above, truly reflecting the spirit of the Chanuka lights, lighting ever more candles and increasing their glow from day to day.
P.S. One of the essential messages of Chanuka is the need to preserve the purity of the Torah and mitzvot, especially in the education of our children, for the miracle of Chanuka occurred with the cruse of pure and undefiled oil.
Why the custom of giving Chanuka gelt?
The word "Chanuka" has two meanings. It means "dedication," for on the 25th of Kislev the Holy Temple was rededicated, and "education." Concerning the second meaning, it was customary to test children on their Torah knowledge during Chanuka and give them gelt, or money, as a reward.
As we all know, we light one candle (in addition to the shamash) on the first night, two on the second, three on the third, etc.
Although when we light one candle on the first night we have completely fulfilled the mitzva to the utmost perfection, lighting one candle on the second night is not sufficient. On the second night we must light two candles to fulfill the mitzva properly. On the third night, two candles are not adequate, though on the previous night they were, and so forth for each consecutive night of Chanuka.
The lesson that we can learn from the mitzva of Chanuka candles can serve us well not just during the eight-day festival, but during the entire year and our whole life as well.
The Chanuka candles teach us that our observance of mitzvot should be in an ever growing, steadily increasing measure. One day I do a mitzva--I put a penny in a tzedaka (charity) box. A few days later I am continuing to put a penny in the tzedaka box. But, in addition, when I awaken in the morning I thank G-d that I am alive. And so it continues, every few days adding a new mitzva, or being more exacting in the mitzvot I already perform. Like the Chanuka candles, we grow steadily stronger each day.
And when we do this, we will also be like the Chanuka lights in another way--we will be spreading light, like a true light among the nations, all over the world.
Rabbi Shmuel Butman
The evening had finally come, an end to another busy day in the market, and the merchants all prepared to close their stalls. The perfume seller, an unpleasant fellow in the best of times, was especially disgruntled tonight.
He had had another bad day. Few people had set foot in his shop, and when they did, they almost all left without having made even the smallest purchase. He poured all the perfume he had on display back into the large casks, put his meager profit of one coin into his pocket, and closed up his shutters for the day. As he was about to leave, he saw his neighbor, an oil merchant, also setting off for home. My neighbor, he thought bitterly, has all the luck. So many customers flock to his shop that he has even had to hire another worker to serve them. Then, an evil thought entered his mind.
Tonight, he thought, I will come back to my shop when no one is in the market, and I will drill a hole in the wall that separates our shops. Then I will be able to spy on my neighbor whenever I wish. He wasn't even sure at that moment what use he would make of this peephole, but an idea was germinating in his jealous mind.
Late that night the perfume merchant returned to his shop in the darkened market. He took out a small hand drill and chiseled an almost imperceptible hole in the wall which separated him from the oil merchant. By now his devious plan had fully developed in his mind; he knew exactly what he would do. It only remained to find an opportune moment to strike, and that occurred the very next day.
Dusk fell in the shouk and the shutters of the shops were closed one by one. The perfume seller approached his clandestine hole in the dividing wall between the two shops, and sure enough, he saw what he had anticipated. There was his neighbor, the oil merchant, tallying up his daily profit. He took the pile of shining coins of all denominations, put them into a red handkerchief and into his pocket. He blew out his lamp, closed his door and went out into the dusk. No sooner had he emerged than the perfume merchant ran past him screaming, "Help! Help! Thief! This man has stolen all my money which I was wrapped in my red handkerchief". People came running from all directions, and soon the gerdarmes surrounded the shocked oil seller and had him bound in chains. He loudly protested his innocence, but shortly he found himself locked in a dark cell.
The arrest and trial of the Jewish oil seller was all the talk of the town. Emotions ran high as the people divided into factions, pro and con the merchant, and they had even laid bets as to the outcome of the trial. Who was telling the truth? It seemed impossible to tell. In just a few days, the high court, with the Sultan sitting at its head would meet to hear the arguments of the accused and the accuser, but although the Sultan had reviewed the matter in his mind many times over, he still was full of indecision. Who would guess that a small Jewish boy would be the one to solve the mystery and bring the light of truth to bear on the final outcome of the trial.
It came to pass that the day before the trial, the Sultan was out strolling through the streets trying to clear his mind in preparation for the difficult deliberations ahead. He overheard childish voices saying: "Yes, let's play the perfume seller and the oil seller." "I'll be the judge," said one small boy.
The Sultan stood out of sight waiting to hear this play being enacted by the group of Jewish children. The little judge questioned both merchants, and each vigorously insisted on the truth of his claims. Finally, the child called for silence and made the following pronouncement: "Have the court clerk bring in a bowl of boiling hot water and place the coins in the bowl. If oil rises to the top, it will be apparent that the money belongs to the oil seller; if the water becomes perfumed, we will know that the perfume seller is telling the truth."
The Sultan, amazed by the insight and intelligence of the Jewish child, hurried back to his residence, confident that he now had a fool-proof approach for the forthcoming trial.
The court room was packed with eager spectators, anxious to see the fascinating spectacle. The presentations of both sides were complete, and the crowd awaited the decision of the court. The Sultan suddenly made a strange request--he called for a bowl of boiling hot water. When it appeared, he took the money in question, and one by one dropped the coins into the bowl. Then he called the members of the court to come and see the result. Hundreds of tiny beads of oil were swimming on the surface of the water, and the outcome of the proceedings was no longer in question. The oil seller was released, and his erstwhile accuser was put into chains.
Go now and see if it is well with your brothers (Gen. 37:14)
When Jacob sent Joseph to look for his brothers, he enjoined him to see only that which was "well"--the goodness and positive qualities they had. In such a way would the brothers maintain their unity.
(Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Pshischa)
Reuven returned to the pit, and behold, Joseph was not in the pit (37:29)
Reuven's absence allowed the other brothers to sell Joseph; had Reuven been present, he would not have permitted them to do it. And where was he? Rashi says Reuven was preoccupied with fasting and perfecting himself. Because he was concerned only with himself, Joseph was sold and the whole series of events was set in motion that would lead to our forefathers' exile in Egypt. An important lesson is learned: One must not be concerned solely with his own perfection to the exclusion of others. We must always have our fellow Jew in mind and truly love him, lest he be ignored in his time of need.
He asked the officers of Pharaoh...Why do you look so sad today? (40:7)
While in prison, Joseph was assigned the task of managing the daily affairs of the prison. Wasn't inquiring after every sad and depressed prisoner beyond the call of duty? And wasn't it natural that these former high-ranking members of the royal staff would be saddened to find themselves reduced to such a sorry state?
Joseph truly believed that every person should always be joyous, simply because he was created by G-d--the essence of goodness. When Joseph saw his unhappy fellow prisoners he wanted to help them. Joseph's one small action brought about his own release from prison, his appointment as second in command over all of Egypt, and saved the entire world during the years of famine that followed.
(Lubavitcher Rebbe, Shlita)
The Hebrew letters of the word "Moshiach" have the numerical value of 458. The word "shaliach" (emissary) is ten less--448. When one uses the 10 powers of his soul--wisdom, knowledge, understanding, kindness, strength, beauty, endurance, majesty, foundation, sovereignty--in the observance of mitzvot, he becomes an emissary for bringing Moshiach.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)