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by Rabbi Mendel Greisman
Those of us that remember life in the pre-internet era recall that back then using the dictionary didn't mean 'googling' a word definition, rather it meant opening an actual book found in every home; something we used regularly to check word definitions or spellings.
I'm not so old, but I remember life before the internet and my library includes a hardcover copy of the Oxford American Dictionary of Current English which I purchased in those days and I still enjoy skimming through it occasionally and learn new words.
Here are two entries from my dictionary:
On page 425: Ju-da-ism /Joodeeizem, -day-/ n. the religion of the Jews, with a belief in one God and on a basis in Mosaic and rabbinical teachings [there is a symbol over the oo in Joodeeizem which I cannot reproduce in this program.]
On page 862: Tra-di-tion /tredishen/ n. a custom, opinion or belief handed down to posterity, esp. orally or by practice.
So if one plus one equals two, the definition of "a Jewish tradition" would be: a custom, opinion or belief of the religion of the Jews, with a belief in one G-d and on a basis in Mosaic and rabbinical teachings that is handed down to posterity, esp. orally or by practice.
It is important to distinguish "a Jewish tradition" from a tradition of Jews. A Jewish tradition would have its origin in the "belief in one G-d," and have a basis "in Mosaic and rabbinical teaching."
So while eating Matzah ball soup may be a tradition of Jews, only eating Matzah on Seder night, after dark, can be labeled a "Jewish tradition;" and while dipping your latkes in apple sauce is a Chanukah favorite for many Jews, it is the lighting of the Menorah (with a live flame) that is the Chanukah Jewish tradition.
The traditions of Jews may change from generation to generation and will drastically vary by the geographical location of each community; Jewish traditions, however, have been practiced non-stop since Sinai. For me, an Ashkenazic Jew, a Shabbos table without Gefilteh fish is almost sacrilegious, my Sephardic friends never even heard of it; yet both of us will make Kiddush on a cup of wine at the beginning of our Shabbos meal, as Kiddush is a sacred Jewish tradition.
While traditions of Jews are great, it is only the Jewish traditions that withstood the tests of generational and geographical changes and challenges. Nearly 3,500 years later, they're alive and well and remain unchanged.
So let's embrace our Jewish faith and practice our Jewish traditions, as many as we can. This way, we will be able to talk not only about our Jewish grandparents but also of our Jewish grandchildren.
Born and raised in Jerusalem and educated at the Chabad Yeshivot in Crown Heights, Rabbi Mendel Greisman brings the holiness of Yerushalayim and the Jewish vibrancy of Brooklyn to Northwest Arkansas. With his wife, Dobi, they direct Chabad of Northwest Arkansas, a Jewish home that provides vital Jewish services to residents and visitors to the area. They have nine children.
In the Torah portion of Vayeishev we read about Joseph being put into a pit by his brothers, then being sold to passing merchants. They eventually bring him to Egypt, where he is sold as a slave to Potifar. In Egypt, Joseph was so capable and successful that Potifar put him in charge of his entire estate. The Torah tells us about Joseph, that he was "of beautiful build and beautiful appearance."
When Joseph was named by his mother Rachel, the verses reads: "She named him Joseph, saying, 'May G-d grant me yet another son.' " Chasidic teachings explain this verse to mean that Joseph's main purpose was to bring another - a person who didn't know G-d - into a relationship with Him.
What was the key to Jospeh's success? That he was "of beautiful build and beautiful appearance." This verse is understood allegorically, that Joseph's beauty was also spiritual. It is explained that "build" refers to the positive commandments and "appearance" refers to the prohibitions.
Joseph's success with other people was as a result of his being "of beautiful build and beautiful appearance." His beauty encompassed the "Do"s and the "Don't"s . His own character, his own self, was perfect in all areas of human activity.
We are all Josephs. We are all obligated to be a positive influence on the people we encounter, to help them come closer to G-d. In order to do this, we must first improve ourselves. First work on correcting yourself and then have an influence on others.
This doesn't mean that you have to be perfect in order to have an influence on others. If that were the case, then very few people would be able to affect those around them. However, we should at least be working on bettering ourselves. Otherwise, we will not be able to affect another positively, because people are intuitive and they can sense when someone is not genuine. And then we can have the opposite effect, G-d forbid, pushing them further away from G-d.
In other words, working on yourself is not only a personal endeavor, but it also has its effect on your surroundings and acquaintances. Working on yourself takes on a whole new significance. By working on yourself, you positively influence the world around you. And if you don't work on yourself, it is not just hurting you, but the world around you as well.
If we work on ourselves, and we start to see the world as good and there to help us, we will surely be successful in our personal service to G-d, and we will have a tremendous effect on the people and the world around us. We will uncover the G-dliness that is the essence of everything as it says, "the world will be filled with the knowledge of G-d like the waters cover the sea." May it happen soon.
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 Bassy Frankforter-Pekar
Ed.'s note: This piece was written 3 years ago. The author now lives with her husband, airforce chaplain Rabbi Levy Pekar, and their daughter, in Okinawa, Japan serving the Kadena Air Base.
It was trepidation and an overwhelming fear of the unknown that accompanied me on my visit to Danbury Federal Correctional Institute. I was entering uncharted territory, a place that has most typically been visited by men; I was walking into a prison to share some Chanuka joy and light.
We were warned of the strict rules regarding clothing and were told not to wear green and khaki, the colors of the prison garb all inmates had to wear. We had to quickly change outfits before we began the drive up to Danbury, scrupulously steering away from these colors. Throughout these preparations, the thoughts and worries ran through my mind, endlessly taunting me with numerous doubts and reservations. What do I say? What do I do? Am I really qualified to bring light to a prison, a place seemingly so destitute and devoid of any spark? What does it mean to bring light, to illuminate a place of total darkness?
We think of light as a given, as a right we are entitled to. We tend to take it for granted until it's not there, until we are thrown suddenly into a cold and enveloping darkness. We tend to take light for granted, yet it's the darkness we fear. It's darkness that causes us to stumble, to fall into a pit of uncertainty and doubt. It's darkness that tests us, that forces us to draw on our innate light and the strength we receive from G-d. And it's this darkness we illuminate with the Chanuka candles; it's the light of the Menora, and all that it represents, that we hoped to fill the prison with.
When we think of prisons we think of orange jumpsuits and barbed wire, of strict rules, high security, and a complete lack of freedom. However, we neglect to truly see the small shafts of light that shine through, the flickering flames that continue to burn brightly. My visit to the prison allowed me to see these embers, to truly reflect on the tremendous strength and pride existing in these dark confines.
The women who were sitting around the table with me were women filled with Jewish pride and a strong Jewish identity. They were eager to hear words of Torah, to light the Menora and share their thoughts on the meaning of light. They were eager to share these experiences with fellow women, with young women, volunteers from the Aleph Institute, who drove up from Brooklyn just to see them.
When these women heard we volunteer with Aleph they were quick to thank us, to thank Aleph, for the support they receive, and they hoped for more opportunities to learn Torah. They viewed their surroundings as a temporary situation, a place which, although often depressing, can be filled with light and laughter and life. They shared with us how they bring light into such a place by lighting Shabbat candles each week, fasting on Yom Kippur, and keeping Passover as best they could.
They shared with us their experiences, both the ups and the downs. They told us of the often conflicting Friday night schedule and how during the winter, when Shabbat comes in early, they have to choose between lighting candles and joining the services or making it to the cafeteria in time for dinner. They shared with us their stories from home and spoke of their mothers and their children.
They shared with us their plans following their release and their excitement to return home and resume their lives. One woman lives in Brooklyn, and she was excited with the possibility of meeting us in the streets of the city once she returns. And when we left we didn't leave empty-handed, we were armed with the meaningful and heartfelt blessings of the women we met.
The strength they find within themselves is an incredible lesson that can be found in the candles of the Menora, and it is a lesson that has stayed with me long after I left the prison walls. With each night of Chanuka we increase in light, and these women were doing what they could to increase the light within themselves and the prison. The embers were burning strongly, small flames not easily snuffed, flickering candles which continue to share and to increase as we spread the light we find in Chanukah, the Festival of Lights.
To find out more information about visiting incarcerated Jews contact the Aleph Institute aleph-institute.org or your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center.
World's Largest Menora
Be part of the Chanuka celebrations at the World's Largest Chanuka Menora at Fifth Ave. and 59th St. in New York City. The menora will be lit on Sunday, December 22 - Thursday, December 26 at 5:30 pm. On Friday, December 27 the Menorah will be lit at 3:45 pm and on Saturday night, December 28 at 8:30 pm. On the eighth night of Chanuka, Sunday December 29 it will be lit at 5:30 pm. On both Sundays there will be live music, free latkes and Chanuka gelt. For more info call the Lubavitch Youth Organization at (718) 778-6000. For public menora lightings in your area call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center.
New Emissaries and Center
Rabbi Shmulik and Chaya Berkowitz have just established a Chabad Center in the Turks and Caicos Islands, with a base in the main Island of Provo as well as in Grand Turk. Their first event will be a public Menora Lighting. They will be establishing a Hebrew School, providing Minyanim, Shabbat meals and holiday programs.
15 Kislev, 5738 [November 25, 1977]
To All Jewish Detainees, Everywhere
G-d be with you -
Greeting and Blessing:
In connection with the forthcoming days of Chanukah, I extend to each and all of you prayerful wishes for a bright and inspiring Chanukah, coupled with the fulfillment of your hearts' desires for good in every respect.
Chanukah brings a meaningful 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 is as follows:
The special Mitzvah pertaining to Chanukah is, of course, the kindling of the Chanukah Lights, which must be lit after sunset - unlike the Shabbos candles which must be lit before sunset; and unlike also the lights of the Menorah that were kindles in the Beis Hamikdosh even earlier in the day.
The meaningful message which this emphasis on kindling the Chanukah Lights after sunset conveys is:
When a person finds himself in a situation of "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 despair, G-d forbid, but 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, and it will soon be superseded by a bright light, which will be seen and felt all the more strongly through the supremacy of light over darkness, and by the intensity of the contrast.
And this is the meaning of lighting the Chanukah Lights, and in a manner that calls for lighting an additional candle each successive day of Chanukah - to plainly see for oneself, and to demonstrate 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 steadily grows in intensity. And if physical light has such quality and power, how much more so eternal spiritual.
What has been said above pertains to our Jewish people as a whole, as well as to each individual Jew, man or woman, in particular. The conclusion that follows from it is, that though our Jewish people is still in a state of Golus (Exile), and "darkness covers the earth," a time when "nations rage and peoples speak vain things," etc., there is no reason to get overly excited by it; 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 be, and will bless them with Hatzlocho 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 Geulo (Redemption) which is fast approaching.
Similarly in regard to each individual, those who find themselves in a state of personal Golus - there is no cause for discouragement and despondency, G-d for bid; on the contrary, one must find increasing strength in complete trust in the Creator and Master of the Universe that their personal deliverance from distress and confinement is on its speedy way.
All the more so when this trust is expressed in a growing commitment to the fulfillment of G-d's Will in the daily life and conduct in accordance with His Torah and Mitzvos - of which the Mitzva 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 Mitzvos, "for a Mitzvah is a lamp and the Torah is light," - illuminating it in an increasing measure from day to day, to bring about the fulfillment of the prophecy: "The people wailing in darkness (of the Golus) will see a great light" - the light of the Geulo.
With blessing for Hatzlocho and good tidings in all above,
MATITYAHU means "gift of my G-d." Matityahu was a priest in the Holy Temple and the father of the five Hasmonean brothers, Judah "the Maccabee" the most famous among them. He encouraged the uprising against the Selucid/Greek rulers and the Hellenization of Jewish life. Matityahu is a variant of Matitya, who was a contemporary of the Jewish leaders Ezra and Nechemya (Ezra 10:43, Nechemya 8:4)
MILKA means "queen." Milka (Gen. 11:29) was the wife of Nachor (Abraham's brother) and grandmother of Rebecca. Another Milka was one of the five righteous daughters of Tzelafchad (Num. 26:33).
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
The Festival of Chanuka, which begins this Sunday evening, teaches us many lessons about how to live our day-to-day lives. In particular, the way in which we perform the mitzva (commandment) 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:
1) The mitzva to kindle the Chanuka lamps is connected to the concept of light and illumination; 2) The number of lights increases from day to day; and 3) 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.
Best wishes on this Festival of Light!
And 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)
They hated him and couldn't speak peaceably with him. (Gen. 37:4)
The main part of every controversy is that the quarrelers don't speak to each other; neither one wants to listen to the other. If people really knew how to speak and listen to one another, they would come to realize that in most cases, there is nothing to fight about.
(Rabbi Yonasan Eibishytz)
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)
How then can I do this great evil and sin against G-d? (Gen. 39:9)
As Rashi explains, gentiles as well as Jews were forbidden by G-d to commit licentious acts. Being that the prohibition thus applied to Potiphar's wife as well as to Joseph, would it not have been more correct for Joseph to say "we" instead of "I"? In truth, however, Joseph was referring to himself. His piety was such that he refused to speak directly to her; even one word alluding to something they shared in common was abhorrent.
Life in the Siberian work camps was generally difficult for the Jewish prisoners, but during the holidays it was even more so, because it was nearly impossible to perform the mitzvot (commandments) of each holiday under those terrible conditions.
Reb Asher Sosonkin was exiled to Siberia for the "crime" of spreading Torah throughout Russia. Even under the harsh conditions of the work camp, he did his best to continue to observe the Torah and mitzvot. In the camp with Reb Asher was a Jew by the name of Nachman Rosemann. He had been brought up in an observant home, but when he grew up he became an ardent communist, rising in the ranks of the Russian army. After serving in the army, he was arrested for illegal business dealings, and was sentenced to 25 years of hard labor in Siberia.
It was there in the work camp that Nachman felt a renewed interest in Judaism, and this led him to befriend the devout Reb Asher. Nachman was determined to learn all he could from Reb Nachman, and to do the mitzvot as carefully possible.
Chanuka was approaching, and Reb Asher asked Nachman to get a tin can to use as a menora, in order to fulfill the mitzva of kindling the Chanuka lights. Reb Asher emphasized that it should be small, so that their activities wouldn't be noticed by any of the labor camp officials.
"On Chanuka we celebrate a tremendous miracle, the triumph of the small Jewish army over the enormous Greek army. It is the victory of the spiritual over the physical. To simply make a menora out of an old can wouldn't properly honor this holiday. I'm going to order a beautiful menora!" Nachman proclaimed.
Reb Asher was amazed at his determination. Nachman found a prisoner who happened to be a tinsmith and paid him several rubles to make a beautiful menora. He did this knowing that if the authorities found out, he would be punished severely. And on the day before Chanuka, Nachman approached Reb Asher with a big smile. In one hand he held a menora, and in the other hand he held a bottle filled with oil.
On the first night of Chanuka, Reb Asher and Nachman placed the menora by the door post of their barrack and prepared a cotton wick. The other prisoners watched curiously as the two men commenced this "dangerous" act. Reb Asher recited the three blessings over the lighting of the menora, and lit the wick with tears of joy and gratitude.
They continued to light the menora in this way until the fifth night of Chanuka. Just as Reb Asher and Nachman had lit the menora, an armed guard appeared at the entrance of the barracks, announcing roll call. The prisoners were stunned. Roll call had never been announced at that hour before! The other prisoners told Reb Asher and Nachman that someone must have reported them, which would explain the unusual roll call. They advised the two men to hide their menora in the snow, before the officer arrived. They refused to bury the menora.
When the officer entered the barrack, everyone stood still, anticipating the worst. After the officer finished counting the prisoners, he noticed the menora.
He stared at it for a moment, and then he asked Reb Asher, "Five?"
"Five," replied Reb Asher, confused.
The officer nodded his head, and without another word, turned and left the barracks. The prisoners were shocked. They were all wondering the same things: Who was the officer? Why did he come to them at such an unusual hour and ask about the candles?
Reb Asher was sure that the "officer" was none other than the Prophet Elijah.
"When she gave birth there were twins... he called his name Peretz, and afterwards his brother...and he called his name Zerach" (Gen. 38:27-30) Peretz is the direct ancestor of King David and Moshiach. The Midrash notes that "Before the first enslaver of Israel (Pharaoh) was born, the ultimate redeemer of Israel (Moshiach, descended from Peretz) was already born." G-d thus brought about the cure before the affliction. The "light of Moshiach" that was created with the birth of Peretz gives the Jewish people the strength to "break through" (the meaning of the name Peretz) all the obstacles until Moshiach is revealed.
(The Rebbe, Parshat Vayeishev, 5751)