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By Rabbi Simon Jacobson
If you look closely at Chanuka, the Menora, the history, the number of flames - the holiday can reveal the nature of your soul.
As the sun sets and the shadows of night descend, we kindle the Menora creating light in the darkness. Sit near the flames and listen to their story.
"The flame of G-d is the soul of a person," says the Torah. As flames warm and illuminate their environment, so too can you use your soul to infuse life with warmth and light. Unlike all 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 is not just about lighting up our own lives, though. By placing the Menora in the window 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 around us 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 en-hanced 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. 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. Amongst the debris of the desecrated Holy Temple the Maccabees searched until they found a single sealed cruse of oil that miraculously burnt for eight days. When one is defiled, when one's inner Temple has been desecrated and there is no oil to be found, one has the power to reach deeper inside and discover light. The soul always remains intact, like a "pilot light."
When you light your Menora under difficult circumstances, creating light in the darkest moment, that light can never be extinguished. Light that has dealt with challenge, that has transformed pain into growth, is 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 the soul. Our souls rise 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.
Chanuka empowers us with the ability to redirect our lives. Listen to the flames. Absorb the power of your flaming soul. Instead of battling darkness, emanate light; allow your gentle soul to speak to you and to others. And this light will naturally help dispel the shadows.
Rabbi Simon Jacobson is the author of Toward a Meaningful Life (William Morrow) and is director of The Meaningful Life Center. www.meaningfullife.com
As related in this week's Torah portion, Vayeisheiv, when Joseph went at his father's behest to check on his brothers in Shechem he met a man "wandering in the field," who was actually the angel Gabriel. In response to Joseph's question if he knew where they might be, the man replied, "They have departed, for I heard them say, 'Let us go to Dotan.' "
Rashi, the foremost Torah commentator, explains that with these words the angel was trying to warn Joseph to keep away from his brothers, who were intending to harm him. "They have departed" suggested "they have removed themselves from brotherhood," and "let us go to Dotan" meant they were looking for a legal way ("datot") to kill him. Nonetheless, Joseph ignored these veiled warnings and continued on his way.
Thus we see that in his desire to fulfill his father's request Joseph demonstrated true self-sacrifice, to the point that he was willing to endanger his life. Yet this in itself raises several questions: Jacob had asked Joseph to "go see the welfare of your brothers and the welfare of the flock, and bring me back word." If Joseph were to be killed by his brothers, he would obviously not be able to report back to Jacob.
Furthermore, what justification did Joseph have for endangering his life in order to fulfill the commandment of honoring one's parents, when it is not one of the three mitzvot a Jew is permitted to give up his life rather than transgress: idolatry, illicit relations and murder?
The great codifier of Jewish law, Moses Maimonides, explains that in certain circumstances it is indeed permissible to demonstrate this extreme level of self-sacrifice, even when it isn't "necessary": "If the person is tremendously great, pious and G-d-fearing, and sees that the generation is reckless [in observing that particular mitzva], he is permitted to sanctify G-d's Name and sacrifice his life for even a minor commandment, in order that the people see and take note."
Joseph was well aware that his brothers were lacking in the mitzva of honoring parents, which had been amply demonstrated by their behavior in the incident of Shechem as well as in their antipathy toward him. He thus resolved to fulfill his father's wishes at all costs.
The same dynamics are also evident in the story of Chanuka, which we are now celebrating. Strictly speaking, there was no need for Matityahu and his sons to risk their lives and engage in war against the Syrian-Greeks. Nonetheless, it was their willingness for self-sacrifice above and beyond the "letter of the law" that ultimately led to miracles and wonders.
In fact, in the merit of their deeds they found the "cruse of pure oil with the High Priest's seal," symbolic of the inner essence of every Jew, and merited "to institute these eight days of Chanuka to give thanks and praise to Your great Name."
Adapted from Vol. 35 of Likkutei Sichot
Enjoying Small Miracles in the Season of Miracles
by Jim Sollisch
Reprinted from the Cleveland Jewish News, Dec. 25, 1998
While bombs were falling in Iraq and the U.S. constitution was under siege in the House, something remarkable happened in my family. Peace and goodwill suddenly erupted among the children.
It was certainly more unexpected than the bombing of Iraq and almost as uncommon as the impeachment of a president. The children in our family happily gave up their Chanuka gifts and donated the money to charity. It was a reminder that yes, indeed, this is a season of miracles.
Like all real miracles, this was set up with some help from a higher power, in this case, the parents. Every year our family celebrates Chanuka with my sister-in-law's family and several cousins. A dozen or so kids, ages 5 - 15. We do a gift exchange with each kid getting two nice gifts.
A week or so before the party, my kids started listing all the things they wanted. They sounded a bit greedy, so I said, "OK, you've got your list. Now listen to mine." And I recited to them all the charities my wife and I had given time or money to this past year.
They were surprised. They had no idea about our involvement with these worthy causes. I realized that the concept of charity - tzedaka - is a very private one. In fact, one of the highest forms of tzedaka is the anonymous gift. But how could we teach our children by example if we hid the example?
Meanwhile, several blocks away, my sister-in-law was having almost the same conversation with her kids. A plan was hatched. This year, each kid would get a small token gift - a $10 gift certificate to a toy store. And they would get to give away all the money we adults didn't spend on additional, more expensive gifts.
It was a great plan. Now we just needed to explain it to 12 consumer-happy little American capitalists. I expected a reaction similar to what the Republicans gave Clinton.
That's when the actual miracle started.
The children listened attentively as each adult told them about a charity he or she had worked for or donated money to this past year. Then we broke the kids into two groups, gave each group half the money in $10 bills, and envelopes bearing the names of the charities we had just talked about.
They set about distributing the money as earnestly and as seriously as any foundation board.
My prediction was that they'd split the money evenly among the charities and call it a day: five minutes, max. Instead, they debated, empathized, did math and an hour later they were still going at it. In fact, several kids had taken out their own money and added it to some of the envelopes.
We adults watched in awe and wonder. It was the best Chanuka any of us had ever had. We received the only gift any parent wants: children as good and as pure as you dreamed they'd be when you looked over their cribs and watched them sleeping long ago, when you were as innocent in the ways of parenting as they were in the ways of the world.
LIGHTING UP THE DARKNESS
Bringing the light and hope of the Chanuka holiday to Israeli soldiers, whether on remote military bases or in the center of the country, has been an outreach program of Chabad-Lubavitcher Chasidim in Israel for decades. This year will be no different, though perhaps our prayers will be even more fervent that we finally merit to greet Moshiach who will usher in the era of world peace that we long await.
WORLD'S LARGEST MENORA
Be a part of the Chanuka celebrations at the World's Largest Chanuka Menora at Fifth Avenue and 59th Street in New York City. The menora will be lit on Thursday, December 21 at 5:30 p.m.; Friday, Dec. 22 at 3:38 p.m.; Saturday night, Dec. 23 at 8:00 p.m.; Sunday, Dec. 24 - Thursday Dec. 28 at 5:30 p.m. On Saturday night, a Chanuka Parade of cars, vans and mobile homes topped with menoras will travel from "770," Lubavitch World Headquarters, to the lighting in NYC. On Sunday there will be live music, free latkas and Chanuka gelt for the children. For more info call the Lubavitch Youth Organization at (212) 736-8400. For locations of public menora lighting in your area call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center.
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, 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 Yiddish-keit [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.
25 Kislev 5761
Prohibition 276: not being deterred by fear from rendering a just verdict
By this prohibition a judge is forbidden to be deterred by fear of a vicious and wicked evildoer from giving a just judgment against him. It is derived from the verse (Deut. 1:17): "You shall not be afraid of the face of any man."
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
The Festival of Chanuka teaches us many lessons about how to live our day-to-day lives. In particular, the way in which we perform the mitzva of lighting the Chanuka menora contains lessons for our Divine service.
Even after the Holy Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed the mitzva remains in force and continues. In fact, the Chanuka candles are eternal, and will never be abrogated. There are three important aspects to this mitzva, which actually has a long-reaching effect on the entire year:
The mitzva to kindle the Chanuka lamps is connected to the concept of light and illumination;
The number of lights increases from day to day; and
The menora is placed at the entrance to the house, so as to allow its light to illuminate the outside darkness.
The nature of light is limitless and without boundaries. It reaches out from its source and can travel great distances. Nothing can prevent it from illuminating or change its essence.
A Jew's service of G-d should also be performed in this manner, without limits and without alterations. There is nothing in the world that has the power to prevent a Jew from serving G-d or deter him from his holy path.
In the same way that every night of Chanuka we add another candle, a Jew must never content himself with whatever spiritual achievements he has already attained. Like the lights of the menora, we must always strive to increase in Torah and mitzvot.
Lastly, as we learn from the placement of the Chanuka menora, no Jew is ever an "island." His connection to other Jews and his obligation to bring them the light of Torah and mitzvot extends not only to his family and acquaintances, but to every single member of the Jewish people. No Jew is ever "outside" the fold, in the same way that the very purpose of the menora is to illuminate even the outer recesses of the world.
Have a Happy Chanuka, and best wishes on this Festival of Light.
And the vine had three branches (Gen. 40:10)
As explained in the Midrash, the "vine" is an allusion to the Jewish people, as it states in Psalms (80:9): "You have brought a vine from Egypt." In the same way that wine is described as "bringing joy to G-d and man," so too does every single Jew possess this quality of "wine": an innate love for G-d, inherited from his ancestors, that enables him to rejoice in the L-rd.
The chief butler did not remember Joseph, and forgot him (Gen. 40:23)
While "not remembering" Joseph indicates a passive, unintentional action, "forgetting" refers to the chief butler's deliberate attempt to dismiss him from his mind. His failure to remember Joseph was purposeful.
The Chanuka Menora
According to the Talmud (Shabbat 22a), "The Chanuka lamp is placed on the left side [of the doorway] and the mezuza is placed on the right." Affixing a mezuza to the doorpost is the obligation of the person who lives there; it is therefore placed significantly on the right (and dominant) side of the entrance. The menora, by contrast, whose main function is to publicize the Chanuka miracle to others, is placed on the right side as one exits the house.
When the "sun goes down"
By Jewish law, the proper time to kindle the Chanuka menora is "when the sun goes down," i.e., as soon as it begins to get dark outside and the shadows increase. Metaphorically speaking, this is also the Jew's purpose in the world: to illuminate the world's darkness with the G-dly light of his Divine soul. And there is nothing to fear, as even a small candle can dispel much darkness.
November 1945. The streets of Lvov (Lemberg) were swarming with refugees from all over Russia. Many of them, including several thousand Jews, had arrived hungry and penniless. Everyone, without exception, was looking for a way to cross over the border.
As the Second World War drew to a close, thousands of Polish citizens who had fled to Russia in the last days of the war were now trying to return home. Because the special Russian-Polish commission in charge of issuing exit visas was centered in Lvov, the city soon became terribly overcrowded.
Some Russian citizens, including Jews, had managed to obtain forged Polish passports, and succeeded in escaping the Communist oppression. This, of course, was not an easy thing to do, and it was also very dangerous. The forged documents were extremely expensive. Moreover, the Russian secret police, the N.K.V.D. (forerunner of the K.G.B.) was constantly on the lookout for counterfeit passports. Anyone caught with forged documents was severely punished. It was also against the law to remain in Lvov more than one day without official permission. Those who had been lucky enough to survive thus far could only hope and pray that the commission would grant them a visa.
Eliezer R. was a young Jew who had made his way to Lvov from Bukhara. When, in the course of his wanderings, he had met a group of Jewish youths who had banded together for support, he had quickly joined them. In Lvov they rented a tiny apartment, where they all lived together while awaiting their visas.
Unfortunately, before they even arrived in the city it was learned that the special Russian-Polish commission was no longer accepting applications. To the thousands of refugees with nowhere else to turn it was a terrible blow.
But Eliezer and his friends would not give up hope. After discussing the matter at great length they concluded that there was only one solution, even though it seemed to be a long shot...
For some time a rumor had been circulating among the refugees that the N.K.V.D. officer in charge of visa applications, Boris Sapokvini, was Jewish. It was also said that he was a very warmhearted individual, who went out of his way to help his Jewish brethren...
Boris Sapokvini worked in the N.K.V.D. headquarters at 3 Lenina Street. Whoever wanted an exit visa went to him first; if the application was approved, it was then forwarded to the commission at 10 Dombrovsky Street.
Everyone was well aware that the rumor was only speculation. But without any viable alternative, Eliezer and his friends decided to forge ahead with their plan.
The next night, Eliezer and another young man went to the N.K.V.D. headquarters. In exchange for a bribe, the watchman gave them several applications (though the date for their submission had passed), and the home address of Boris Sapokvini. They hurried back to their apartment and filled out the forms.
The following morning Eliezer and his friend were waiting on the sidewalk when Sapokvini left for work. As always, the officer's uniform was impeccable, his hair carefully coiffed. Despite the cold the two young men were drenched in sweat, terrified by the risk they were about to take. After taking a deep breath they blurted out, "We represent ten young Jews who wish to leave Russia. Please help us, for otherwise we will all commit suicide."
Boris Sapokvini gave no sign that he had heard them and continued walking. But a few yards later he stopped and spun around. "No! It's already too late. And who told you about me, anyway? How did you get my address?" The N.K.V.D. officer was clearly furious.
A full minute passed as Sapokvini scrutinized the two young men. Then, in a whisper he asked them, "Do you have the exit forms?" With a trembling hand Eliezer held them out. The officer stuffed them into his pocket and said quietly, "Eleven o'clock tonight. In my office," and walked on.
That evening, which happened to be the first night of Chanuka, Eliezer went to Sapokvini's office by himself. The officer quickly locked the door after Eliezer was inside. The two men sat on opposite sides of the desk and looked at each other. Suddenly, two tears rolled down the Russian's cheeks.
As if wishing to unburden himself, Sapokvini began to tell Eliezer the story of his life, which quickly verified the rumor that he was Jewish. He also revealed that he had successfully enabled thousands of Jews to leave the Soviet Union.
In the slight pause that followed, Eliezer reminded the officer that it was the first night of Chanuka. Startled by the news, Sapokvini checked the windows to make sure the blinds were drawn and walked over to the glass bottle in the corner that contained an emergency candle in case of electrical failure. Striking a match, he lit the wick and began to sing the Chanuka blessings.
Two days later, Eliezer and his friends crossed over the border and arrived safely in Poland. Eventually Eliezer made his way to Israel, where he lives today. According to reliable information, Sapokvini's activities were eventually uncovered and he was put to death before a firing squad, but not before he had saved the lives of thousands of his brethren.
Every Jewish person is obligated to yearn daily for the rebuilding of the Holy Temple. Now that we light Chanuka candles in memory of the miracle which occured in the Holy Temple, we place the Chanuka menora in the doorway of our homes facing outward - like a person who stands waiting at the door for one who will bring the tidings of our redeemer's arrival, speedily in our days, Amen.
(Eliyahu Kitov, Book of Our Heritage)