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Maimonides, Principles of the Faith, No. 12
Click here, to see pictures of the Rebbe
We are pleased to present, to the visually impaired and the blind, our weekly publication, Living With Moshiach.
In this week's issue, we once again highlight Chanukah in a special feature presentation.
The Jewish year that has just begun is the year 5758 since Creation. The Hebrew letters are Hei-Taf-Shin-Nun-Ches. Over a decade ago, in the year 5742, the Rebbe stated that the Hebrew letters for that year were an acronym for "This should be the year of the coming of Moshiach."
Since that time, the Rebbe has publicized a phrase describing the year according to the acronym of its Hebrew letters. This year has been designated by the Rebbe's followers as "Hoyo Tihei Shnas Niflaos Cheiruseinu" meaning "It surely will be a year of wondrous miracles liberating us (from the material and spiritual problems of our exile)."
It is our fervent hope that our learning about Moshiach and the Redemption will hasten the coming of Moshiach, NOW!
Rabbi Yosef Y. Shagalov,
Committee for the Blind
19 Kislev, 5758
Brooklyn, New York
Chanukah commemorates the miraculous victory of our people over the forces of darkness and assimilation that had threatened to extinguish the light of the Torah and mitzvot. It also reminds us that this victory was achieved through the efforts of a few, totally dedicated Jews, and that the victory was celebrated by kindling lights in the Sanctuary in Jerusalem with pure, undefiled oil, which gave us the meaningful mitzvah of the Chanukah lights.
About the Chanukah lights our Sages of blessed memory declared: "These lights shall endure and shine forever." Unlike the seven-branched Menorah, the lighting of which had to be discontinued when the Sanctuary was destroyed nearly 2,000 years ago, the lighting of the eight-branched Chanukah lamp--which was inaugurated some 200 years prior to the destruction--has continued uninterrupted ever since. It continues to be lit not only in the Holy Land, but also in the Diaspora, and not only in the Sanctuary, but in every Jewish home.
What are some of the eternal messages of these eternal lights of Chanukah?
One basic truth is that the destiny of the Jewish people is not determined by material and physical criteria, but by its spiritual strength derived from our G-d-given Torah and mitzvot. The victory of the greatly outnumbered and physically disadvantaged Jews over the many and mighty forces of the enemy clearly demonstrated that it is our spiritual strength that really counts--even in areas where physical superiority is usually decisive.
A further lesson is that Jewish strength begins at home. A Jewish home is an abode for the Divine Presence, very much as the Holy Temple in Jerusalem was in a collective sense. Both are included in the Divine command, "Make Me a Sanctuary that I may dwell within each one of you." This, too, is reflected in the Chanukah lights, for they must be lit in every Jewish home. The time and location of the Chanukah lights are also significant: "The lights are kindled when the sun sets--when 'darkness' falls outside." It is then high time to light up our homes with the sacred Chanukah lights that symbolize the eternal lights of Torah and mitzvot. The location--to be visible also outside--further indicates that the Torah and mitzvot must not be confined within the walls of the home, but must shine forth outside as well.
Yet another important lesson must be mentioned here: namely, that however satisfactory the observance of Torah and mitzvot may be on any given day, a Jew is expected to do better the next day, and still better the day after. There is always room for improvement in matters of goodness and holiness, which are infinite, being derived from the Infinite. This, too, is underscored by the Chanukah lights. For although all that is required to fulfill the mitzvah of candle-lighting on the first night of Chanukah is to light one candle, yet the next night of Chanukah it is required to light two candles. And when another day passes, even the higher standard of the previous day is no longer adequate, and an additional light is called for, and so on, increasing the light from day to day.
The Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson of Lubavitch, issued a call that "The time of our Redemption has arrived!" and "Moshiach is on his way!"
The Rebbe stressed that he is saying this as a prophecy, and asks us all to prepare ourselves for the Redemption, through increasing acts of goodness and kindness.
Let us all heed the Rebbe's call.
"Listen to the Chanukah lights," the Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, used to tell his chasidim. Each light has a unique tale and a profound message.
The Hebrew word Chanukah shares the same root as the word Chinuch--education. During Chanukah we focus our attention on matters affecting the Jewish education of children. For this reason it is also traditional to give Chanukah gelt to children after testing them on Jewish subjects.
Women played an integral role in Chanukah. The heroic stories of Chana and Yehudit are well known. Lesser known is the following tale:
If a boy was born to the wife of one who was hiding to avoid the decrees of the Greeks, the mother circumcised the child on the eighth day though the Greeks had forbidden circumcision.
Then she went up on the wall of Jerusalem and hurled herself and her child from the wall to certain death.
According to our Sages, she was thereby saying to her husband and brothers who had gone into hiding to escape war: "If you will not go out to fight, you will have neither children nor wives, and you will be annihilated.
"We will observe what is holy to us, not in hiding, but publicly.
"If you intend to save us, emerge from your caves, and fight against the enemy till you destroy him. G-d will be with you!" It was only after some women did this that Mattityahu and his five sons arose like lions.
There are allusions in the Torah to Chanukah, though the events leading up to the festival occurred much later:
"In the beginning, G-d created the Heavens and the earth...and G-d said, 'Let there be light...'." Light--ohr--is the 25th word in the Torah. The rededication of the Holy Temple and the relighting of the Menorah took place on the 25th of the month of Kislev.
When the Jews traveled through the Sinai desert, they stopped 42 times.
The 25th place where they encamped was Hasmona. Mattityahu, the head of the Hasmonai family, led the revolt against the Greeks.
The Sanctuary in the desert was completed on the 25th of Kislev, eight months after the Exodus from Egypt. But it was not dedicated until three months later. Jewish teachings explain that the 25th of Kislev was set aside for the future rededication of the Holy Temple by the Maccabees.
One of the greatest miracles of the oil that lasted for eight and not one day was the miracle of Jewish Faith. That the Jews did not despair from lighting the Menorah even the first day, though knowing that they would be unable the following day to fulfill the mitzvah of keeping a perpetual lamp burning, was in itself a great miracle.
Under the circumstances, it was permissible to use the impure oil found after the war to keep the Menorah lit. But the Jews insisted on using only undefiled oil, which was not obtainable for eight days. They were declaring: "We're not interested in the compromises that the Hellenists have been trying to sell us." For the decrees of the Greeks were intended to reduce the emphasis on the holiness and Divinity of the Torah.
Oil, upon which the miracle of Chanukah is based, is an interesting substance. It is not required for our day-to-day existence and is never served alone as a food. It is used to add flavor and is thus associated with pleasure. Oil is a metaphor for the inner teachings of the Torah--Chasidus. Study of Chasidus adds pleasure to our observance of mitzvot. Oil, like Chasidus, has the potential to illuminate. When we light a candle in a room, the contents of the room are revealed. Similarly, studying Chasidus serves to reveal not only more of our own personal potential and energy, but also helps to reveal the G-dliness in the world around us.
"In those days at this time." These words, recited on Chanukah, hint at an amazing Jewish mystical concept. The spiritual energy that was evident during a particular event is reinstated in the world on the anniversary of that event.
"At this time" we can draw on the energy of "those days."
The eight days of Chanukah are an auspicious time to wage spiritual battles against evil, impurity and corruption within and without. And certainly we will be victorious, as in those days.
The light created by G-d on the first day of Creation was not the light of the sun, moon or stars; those heavenly bodies were not created until the fourth day.
The light of the first day was a spiritual light, hidden when Adam and Eve sinned and which will be revealed for eternity in the Messianic Era. Within each Jew is a spark of this holy and eternal light that will ultimately be fully revealed within each of us, with the imminent revelation of Moshiach.
Through telling stories about great tzaddikim (sages), we bring the light of Moshiach into this world and push away much darkness and troubles. (Rabbi Nachman of Breslov)
Finding ourselves in the festive holiday of Chanukah, let us see what inspiring lessons we can take with us to guide us in these last moments of the darkest exile.
In the days of Mattityahu, the Jews took action against the Greeks in the natural manner, but with absolute faith in G-d. Hence, they did not engage in calculations as to how great the odds were against them in terms of physical power and numbers. Rather, with faith and fortitude, they gathered the people together under the rallying cry, "Whoever is for G-d, is with us."
This was the basis and raison d'etre of their battle: the glorification of G-d's name, without any thought of personal gain or glorification.
Although they were weak and few in number, the Jews of that time were spiritual giants, possessing complete and absolute faith in the Creator of the World. It was this faith that ultimately led to their military victory and the spiritual victory over the repressive decrees of the Hellenists.
Similarly, our Sages have taught that in the merit of the Jews' tremendous faith in G-d and in the coming of Moshiach we will be redeemed from this final, dark and bitter exile.
The Rebbe, the Mattityahu of our generation, has sounded the clarion call, "The time of our Redemption has arrived!" and "Moshiach is on his way!"
Although in comparison to the nations of the world the Jewish people are few and weak physically, we nonetheless reach the highest spiritual heights, for we stand atop the shoulders of the spiritual giants of all generations.
Thus, for the glorification of G-d's name and G-d's name alone, let us rally as one behind the Rebbe's call to publicize the message that the Redemption is imminent, to learn more about it, to increase in mitzvot in general and acts of goodness and kindness, and to get ready to welcome Moshiach.
One of the reasons that the festival is referred to as Chanukah is because the Holy Temple was rededicated--after it had been cleansed and purified from the Greek idolatry --on the 25th of Kislev. The Hebrew word for "dedication," chinuch, shares the same root as the word Chanukah. But chinuch does not only mean dedication. It also means "education."
Chanukah is an appropriate time to think about education: our Jewish education and the education of Jewish children, whether ours or other people's.
Jewish education must be like the cruse of oil found in the Holy Temple even after the Holy Temple had been defiled by the Greeks. The cruse of oil used to relight the Menorah was pure and unsullied. Its seal was not broken by the Greek invaders; they were not able to taint it with their cynicism and disdain for that which is holy.
Jewish education must be pursued in a similar manner. Whether it's learning to read Hebrew (at the age of five or fifty), finding out the whys and wherefores behind the many beautiful customs and rituals, learning the weekly Torah portion in-depth, or assiduously studying the more esoteric aspects of Jewish teachings, it should be pursued with an open mind, an open heart, and with purity of spirit.
What better time than the Festival of Lights to dedicate ourselves to Jewish education at all levels.
Yehudit, beautiful Yehudit, daughter of Yochanan the High Priest. Her self-sacrifice for her people knew no bounds. She could not stand by quietly as young Jewish girls were forced to spend the night before their wedding with the enemy governor. Quietly, stealthily, gracefully, Yehudit penetrated the enemy camp, endangering her own life, and brought back a prize for those who were not as brave as she--the grisly head of the Syrian General Holofernes.
Chana, brave Chana, mother of seven sons. She taught them to love G-d and the Torah--more than life itself. "Foolish woman. Tell your sons to bow down to the idol so that they may live," the soldiers told Chana. But Chana knew that her definition of life was different from that of the pagan soldiers. Her sons would die in this world sanctifying G-d's name, but they would live forever in the World to Come. She whispered encouragement to each son. "Remember that the L-rd is one, there is no other." Not one son, from the oldest to the youngest, bowed to the idol. "Abraham, you were ready to sacrifice one son. But I, Chana, a simple, Jewish woman, sacrificed seven," cried out Chana as her youngest child was killed before her eyes.
Heroines now? Yes, Jewish women of today can be heroines. Heroines who, in their own way, are as brave as Yehudit and Chana. How? Like Yehudit, Jewish women can stand up to the prevalent morality that has become accepted though it is not at all acceptable. They can say, "This is immoral, not in keeping with true Jewish values. I will fight it and I won't succumb to it, even if others greater, stronger and braver don't have the courage to resist."
How else? Like Chana they can remind their children or others around them, "The way of the world is not our way. We are here to sanctify ourselves, to brings holiness into the mundane, to bear witness to the fact that G-d is one."
And, they can get in touch with their true selves, with what it means to be a Jewish woman, with what has characterized Jews in general and Jewish women in particular for millennia--we are compassionate, modest, kind, believing, giving, loving, caring.
The word Chanukah means dedication. What better time than the holiday of Yehudit and Chana for Jewish women the world over to rededicate themselves to exploring the ancient definition of Jewish womanhood!
The town of Bethulia, in the land of Judea, came under siege by a huge army with Holofernes, a Syrian-Greek general, at the head.
The men of Bethulia fought bravely and desperately. Holofernes cut off the food and water supply and before long the town was on the verge of surrender.
Uzzia, the commander of the defense forces, and the Elders of the town pleaded with the townspeople not to surrender: "Give us five more days to find some type of solution."
Reluctantly the people agreed. All except one. "Why do you test G-d? If you truly have faith, you must never give up your trust in G-d. Besides, don't you know that surrender to Holofernes is worse than death?" So spoke Yehudit, the daughter of Yochanan the High Priest. She was a young widow blessed with extraordinary grace and beauty. Yehudit's words made a deep impression on Uzzia and the Elders.
"What can we do?" they asked her. "Pray for us, Yehudit, and maybe G-d will accept your prayers."
"I have thought of a plan. I want to go to Holofernes," said Yehudit.
Uzzia and the Elders were shocked. "Would you sacrifice your life on the chance that you might soften Holofernes's heart?"
But Yehudit persisted and after much discussion Uzzia and the Elders agreed to let Yehudit try.
Yehudit passed through the gates of Bethulia, dressed in her finest clothes. She was accompanied by her faithful maid, who carried a basket filled with rolls, cheese and several bottles of wine.
Before they were able to enter the enemy camp they were stopped by sentries, who demanded to know who they were and who sent them.
"We have an important message for the brave Holofernes," Yehudit said. "Take us to him at once."
"Who are you, and why are you here?" Holofernes asked, his eyes feasting on his unexpected, charming visitor.
"I am Yehudit, a plain widow from Bethulia. I have come to tell you how to capture the town, in the hope that you will deal mercifully with its inhabitants."
Yehudit told Holofernes what he already knew, that the situation in the besieged town was desperate, that the inhabitants have very little food and water. Yet, she said, their faith in G-d remained strong and so long as they had faith, they would not surrender. Before long, however, in desperation they would begin to eat non-kosher animals. Then G-d's anger would be turned against them and the town would fall.
"But how will I know when this takes place?" asked Holofernes.
"I have made arrangements with one of the watchmen at the city gates to tell me of the circumstances in the city," answered Yehudit confidently.
Holofernes was completely captivated by Yehudit. He gave orders that she and her maid were to have complete freedom to walk through the camp, and anyone attempting to molest them in any way would be put to death immediately.
Each evening, Yehudit walked to the city's gates and told the watchman that everything was going as planned. "The people must keep their trust strong in G-d," she told the watchman.
By the third day Holofernes and his men were getting restless. When Yehudit entered Holofernes's tent with her ever-present maid, he asked her, "What intelligence do you bring me today?"
"I have very good news, General. There is no kosher food left now. In a day or two, famine will drive them to eat the mules and dogs. Then G-d will deliver them into your hands!"
"Wonderful," said Holofernes. "This calls for a celebration. Tonight we'll have a party. Just the two of us."
That evening, Holofernes welcomed Yehudit into his tent. He offered her some of the delicacies with which the table was laden.
"I have brought my own food and wine prepared specially for this occasion," Yehudit said. "My goat cheese is famous in all of Bethulia."
Holofernes liked the salty cheese and the strong wine. Before long, he was sprawled on the ground, totally drunk.
Yehudit uttered a silent prayer and unsheathed Holofernes's heavy sword. Taking aim, she brought the sword down on his neck with all her might. She concealed the general's head in her basket and then calmly walked to her own tent.
"Come quickly," she said to her maid. The two women walked leisurely, as they had done for the past few nights, until they reached the gates of the city.
"Take me to Uzzia at once," she said to the sentry.
Uzzia could not believe his eyes as he stared at the gruesome prize Yehudit had brought him.
"There is no time to lose," she told the commander. "Prepare your men for a surprise attack at dawn. When Holofernes's men run into his tent and find his headless body, they will flee for their lives."
That is precisely what happened. The enemy fled in confusion and terror. And it was the brave and G-d-fearing Yehudit who saved the city.
We have a tradition on Chanukah to eat dairy foods in remembrance of Yehudit's heroic act.
Potato latkes. Dreidels. Judah the Maccabee. Judith the Heroine. The Chanukah menorah. Blue cardboard boxes of all different colored candles. Chocolate Chanukah gelt. The songs, "Maoz Tzur" and "I had a little dreidel..." Clay menorahs made in Hebrew school.
Chanukah is made of memories and for memories. Taste the latkes and jelly donuts. See the candles burn brightly in the menorah. Hear the singing of the blessings over the menorah. Touch the letters engraved on the dreidel: nun, gimmel, hay, shin, "A Great Miracle Happened There."
Chanukah is a special time for family, friends and children. Chanukah is a Jewish holiday celebrating the victory of the weak (militarily) over the mighty, the few (in number) over the many.
Chanukah is a celebration of the rededication of the Holy Temple after it had been defiled--but not destroyed--by the Greeks. For the Greeks did not wish to destroy the Holy Temple nor the Torah; they wished only to defile them. The Greeks attempted to lessen their holiness, their uniqueness, their impact on our Jewish lives. "We too, have wisdom," they declared. "We, too, have gods. We, too, have holidays. Know that your Temple is like our temples. The wisdom of your Divine Torah is like our man-made wisdom. There is nothing particularly holy about them."
So what do you say to a child who wants a "Chanukah bush," or who wants a photograph with Santa?
The easiest response might be: "They have their holiday and we have ours--Chanukah."
That response might be on the verge of being P.C., but it's certainly not C.P.--Chanukah Perfect. You see, as soon as we start comparing Chanukah with the 25th of December, or when we try to turn Chanukah into the Jewish equivalent of that day, it is as if we are handing over a victory to the "Greeks."
Celebrate Chanukah in the true spirit of the holiday--not as a consolation or a competition --but as an opportunity to prove in our own lives that the ancient battle and victory over the Greeks was not in vain.
Light the Chanukah menorah each night of Chanukah and watch Jewish pride grow as the numbers and strength of the Chanukah lights increase.
Let the lights of the Chanukah menorah--and all of the beautiful and unforgettable Chanukah traditions, customs, mitzvot and memories--add their pure, holy light to the world until the G-dly light is revealed in all its glory in the Third and Eternal Holy Temple.
. . . and May this Festival of Lights
bring Blessings upon You and All
Your Loved Ones for Happiness,
for Health, and for Spiritual and Material
and May the Lights of Chanukah
Usher in the Light of Moshiach and a
Better World for All of Humankind.
Jewish Women and Girls Light Shabbat Candles
For local candle lighting times:
consult your local Rabbi, Chabad-Lubavitch Center, or call: (718) 774-3000.
For a free candle lighting kit:
contact your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center.
For a listing of the Centers in your area:
In the USA, call: 1-800-Lubavitch (1-800-582-2848).
Friday, Dec. 26, Erev Shabbat Parshat Mikeitz:
Saturday, Dec. 27, Shabbat Parshat Mikeitz:
1. The Shabbat candles must be lit 18 minutes before sunset. It is prohibited and is a desecration of the Shabbat to light the candles after sunset.
2. Rosh Chodesh Tevet is on Monday, Dec. 29, and Tuesday, Dec. 30.
Laws of Shabbat Candle Lighting for the Blind
Shabbat Candle Lighting Blessing
"Let There Be Light" - The Jewish Women's Guide to Lighting Shabbat Candles.
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