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Devarim Deutronomy

December 12, 2014 - 20 Kislev, 5775

1350: Vayeshev

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Dedicated to the memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson N.E.

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  1349: Vayishlach1351: Miketz  

The Lessons from Chanuka  |  Living with the Rebbe  |  A Slice of Life  |  What's New
The Rebbe Writes  |  Today Is ...  |  A Word from the Director  |  Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened  |  Moshiach Matters

The Lessons from Chanuka

by Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburg

On the 25th of Kislev, we begin to celebrate the festival of Chanuka. Chanuka is one of the most beloved holidays among the Jewish people, yet few are aware of its inner meaning.

It is common knowledge that Chanuka commemorates the victory of the Jewish people over their Hellenistic oppressors and, in particular, the miracle that occurred in the Holy Temple: After the Greeks contaminated all the oil, a single cruse of uncontaminated olive oil was discovered, which in spite of its small size, miraculously produced enough oil to light the Menora for eight days, the amount of time needed to press and ship ritually pure oil to the Temple. But what is the deeper meaning of the war with the Hellenists and the miracle of the oil and what impact can it have on our lives today so many years later?

An in-depth evaluation of the events of Chanuka reveals that the war between the Jews and the Greeks was first and foremost a spiritual war . At odds were Torah and Greek philosophy - two entirely different conceptual schemes of human life. To fully understand the significance of the miracle of the oil, we have to see it in context of this battle of the spirit.

In Kabbala, oil symbolizes wisdom. The defilement of the oils by the Greeks represents the clouding of our original Jewish mode of thought by Greek philosophy, creating an unbridgeable gap to be opened between our intellect and our faith. The uncontaminated cruse of oil therefore represents a concentrate of pure Jewish thought that remained (and still remains) immune to the devastating influence of Greek philosophy. Just like the small quantity of oil in the cruse, this concentrate of Jewish thinking may seem at first small and inconsequential, but miraculously, it too can illuminate a great deal of human experience.

The sages explain that given the manner in which the Temple sanctuary was built, the Menora did not illuminate its inside, but rather most of its light was cast outside. In more spiritual language, they say that it is not G-d's sanctuary that needs light from the Menora, for G-d Himself is all light, rather it is the outside world that needs the light of the Menora. Thus, the Menora is the vessel that symbolizes the spreading of the word of God to even the farthest and darkest corners of humanity and human nature, while the oil that burns in it and emits the light symbolizes the type of wisdom that can be seen by everyone. In the time of the Macabbees, the oil that burned in the Menora was able to illuminate the world enough that there was no choice but to accept the presence of a ritually and theologically independent Jewish entity in the Land of Israel, an entity that survived for many years.

In the blessings on the Chanuka candles, we say: "for the miracles that you performed for our fathers, in those days - at this time." The message of celebrating Chanuka today is that what was true then is still true (and perhaps even more so) today. Though the success of the Macabbees led to the formation of an independent Jewish state in the Land of Israel, a state that remained intellectually and ritually unique in a sea of Hellenism and Greek philosophy, ultimately, from a secular perspective, it was the message of Greek culture that was triumphant on the global scale.

Still, the miracle of finding a cruse of pure, uncontaminated oil calls upon us today to search for the ancient Jewish wisdom that can shed Divine light and rectify the seemingly endless volumes of philosophy and science whose source lies in the ancient Greek tradition. This mysterious and pure flask of Jewish wisdom has the ability to reconnect humanity's intellect with its faith. When utilized correctly it sheds new light on every topic.

Excerpted from "Judaism and Science: The Lessons of Chanukah." To read the article in its entirety visit

Living with the Rebbe

At first glance, this week's Torah portion, Vayeishev, chronicles the circumstances leading to Joseph's appointment as second in command over Egypt, subordinate only to Pharaoh. Yet, upon examination, we find that Joseph's story is synonymous with the history of the Jews.

Joseph, the pride of his father, at the age of 17 is suddenly plucked from his secure environment, family, and his country. Sold into slavery and finding himself in a foreign land, he must now cope with the most adverse circumstances. Joseph is not to blame, for all this has come about through no action of his own.

A lesser individual would have surely succumbed to bitterness, depression or indifference. But Joseph realized that he must deal with the reality which presented itself. As the servant of Potifar, he fulfilled his duties to the best of his ability. It soon became apparent even to Potifar that it was in Joseph's merit that his household enjoyed its material blessings.

This, then, is the task of every Jew: No matter how adverse the circumstances, each Jew must live up to his full potential and fulfill his duties to the best of his ability.

But how was Joseph repaid for his loyalty? He was thrown into prison! Why? Because he refused to betray his master by succumbing to the advances of the master's wife. Not only didn't Joseph's honesty and integrity bring him any positive benefits, these very qualities caused him to be incarcerated. Was Joseph discouraged? Did he reject his lifestyle and renounce his high standards? Joseph's response to adversity was to continue in the same path, acting honestly and in good faith. Eventually his behavior and virtue drew the attention of his jailers.

This is the history of the Jew as well: No matter how depraved and corrupt his surroundings, he remains undeterred from his faith in G-d and His Torah.

When Joseph noticed that two of his fellow inmates, Pharaoh's chief butler and chief baker, were distressed for some reason, he rushed to their aid, without thought of rejoicing at their misfortune or of taking revenge for the role they played in his downfall. Joseph could not bear to see people in need, and so he immediately offered his assistance. He was able to bring them relief by interpreting their respective dreams.

In return, Joseph did not ask for monetary payment or special treatment. He merely requested that the chief butler mention his name to Pharaoh when he was freed, which he didn't do. In his unbending faith in the goodness of man and in ultimate justice, Joseph believed that fairness would prevail if only Pharaoh was presented with the facts.

This theme has been played out time and again in Jewish history. Joseph learned the hard way that this world is full of lies and deception. Yet when he later found himself in a position of almost unlimited power, he refused to exact revenge on those who had harmed him. This is not the way of the Jew. Joseph faithfully used his office to steer the Egyptians and the whole world from potential catastrophe during the years of famine, enacting, for the first time, the historic role the Jews have played during their exile among the nations.

Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

A Slice of Life

The Part of Me that is Forever Chabad
by Paul Shaviv

On Sunday I was a guest at the closing dinner of the annual Chabad 'Kinus Shluchim 5775 - 2014'. This took place in a huge hangar-like space in the Brooklyn dockyards that had been transformed into a hi-tech event hall for the occasion. (There is a good eight-minute video by Hillel Engel on YouTube.) More than five thousand people sat down for dinner.

There were two main speakers - one was Yuli Edelstein, the Speaker of the Knesset, who spoke brilliantly about his time in the Soviet jail, and his early contacts with Chabad in Soviet Russia. The other was a UK Chabadnik from Wimbledon (home of the tennis tournament), Rabbi Dubov, who spoke at length but was hugely entertaining, and at times very moving.

It was hugely impressive. There are just under 3,000 Chabad families serving as 'shluchim' [emissaries] in eighty countries all over the world - from Tashkent to Tasmania, in many African countries, in China, S. Korea, and everywhere you can think of, including 49 US states. No other Jewish presence comes close to this.

The theme of the Kinus was 'The Rebbe is with you on your journey'. It was clear that the spiritual presence of the Rebbe was electrically and tangibly alive for all of these shluchim. It is the belief that they have a spiritual partner as their immanent support that gives them the ability to live and work in total physical and spiritual isolation. That, I have to assume, is the secret of a Rebbe and his Chasidim.

Think what you will of Chabad, the Rebbe, or Chassidim in general, but it is undeniable that the Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson personally inspired and inspires the existence and promotion of Jewish life for thousands, or hundreds of thousands of Jews who would otherwise be totally lost. On campuses, in communities, as individuals - Chabad is there for them, with unbounded love, "one Jew at a time, one mitzvah at a time". Many other Jewish groups and streams look totally desiccated by comparison. What interested me too were some of the items that got huge applause - the IDF, Israel, battling Antisemitism. Support for Israel and Israelis was unequivocal. The future, my friends, might belong to them......

I was invited to the Kinus by my (young) friend, Rabbi Didy Waks, who with his wife, Devorah, and two very young children is just opening Chabad on the campus of Hamilton College in upstate New York. He will do well.

At the Kinus, I had the enormous pleasure of meeting my old friend and teacher Rabbi Shmuel Lew, from London, England - now a senior, beloved and respected figure in Chabad worldwide. It is, I realized, exactly fifty years since we first met. This story illustrates the power of Chabad.

In 1964, as a 14-15 year old, I was running a Jewish youth group ('Jewish Youth Study Groups') in a large, gloomy synagogue in Golders Green. The Jewish community in the UK in those years was deadly - demoralized, semi-Victorian, stultified and without any spark or direction. We were all expected to quietly assimilate. I had read in the local Jewish newspaper something about a new organization called 'Lubavitch' that had opened up in London.

I called them, explained who we were, and asked them to come and speak. We fixed a date. (Years later, Rabbi Shmuel Lew - maybe Rabbi Faivish Vogel - told me that it was the very first 'cold call' invitation that Lubavitch ever received from an Anglo-Jewish organization.)

Come the appointed Sunday evening, at 8:00PM I went outside to the synagogue entrance to wait for the 'guest speaker'. We didn't really know what to expect. What did a "Lubavitcher" even look like? After a few minutes, a small white van came slowly round the corner. It stopped. It looked as though it might seat three or four people at most. The doors opened and six, maybe eight bearded, hatted figures piled out. To this day I do not know how they all crammed into that small van. We greeted them and they came singing and clapping into the room where we met.

As reserved, polite English boys and girls we didn't quite know what to do. A "Rabbi Lew" introduced someone who he said would speak -- Rabbi Berel Baumgarten, the 'Rebbe's shaliach" [what on earth did that mean?] to South America, who was passing through London. But fifty years later I remember what he said, because it blew me away completely. "The Rebbe told me to go to South America and spread Yiddishkeit [Judaism]. So I packed a suitcase with tins of tuna and boxes of matzah, and I took a plane to Argentina. I got off at the other end and looked around, wondering what to do next....." I cannot describe the impact of those words on me. The idea that someone would 'get on a plane' to an unknown destination with the single intention of spreading Yiddishkeit was like a revelation. Not only was it mind-blowing; it was inspirational. There were people in the world who really cared about the survival of Judaism and Torah!

I didn't become a Chabadnik, but I have spent my entire professional career in Jewish education, eventually heading the two largest and most important mainstream Jewish schools in North America - TanenbaumCHAT in Toronto, and Ramaz in New York. A part of that choice, a part of that career and a part of that inspiration, belongs to Berel Baumgarten.

Paul Shaviv was born and educated in London, and has lived in Israel, Australia, Canada and the USA. For 14 years he was the Director of Education at TanenbaumCHAT, the Community High School in Toronto; since 2012, and until the end of this school year, he is the Head of School at Ramaz in New York. He has written "The Jewish High School: a complete management guide" and is a frequent writer, lecturer and commentator on Jewish education, Jewish history and Jewish life. In 2010, he was the recipient of the Max M. Fisher Award for Excellence in Jewish Education.

Lightly edited for publication, with the author's agreement.

What's New

World's Largest Menora

Be part of the Chanuka celebrations at the World's Largest Chanuka Menora at Fifth Avenue and 59th Street in New York City. Tuesday, Dec. 16 through and Thursday, Dec. 18, the menora will be lit at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 19, the menora will be lit at 3:45 p.m. Saturday night, Dec. 20, menora lighting will be at 8:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 21 - Tuesday, Dec. 23, the menora will be lit at 5:30 p.m. On Sunday there will be live music, free hot latkes and chocolate Chanuka gelt. For more info call the Lubavitch Youth Organization at (718) 778-6000. For public menora lightings in your area visit


The name of the author of the article Tefilin and the Rock in issue 1248 Slice of Life was inadvertently misspelled. His name is Scott Davis (not David).

The Rebbe Writes

20th of Kislev, 5725 [1964]

I received your letter, in which you write about some individuals who are trying to discourage you from the fulfillment of the Mitzvoth [commandments] with hiddur [enhancement].

Surely, with your background, it is unnecessary to emphasize to you that the reason Jews observe the Mitzvoth is because G-d commanded them to do so and not, G-d forbid, to find the approval of other people. If some difficulties arise, at one time or another, it is necessary to look at them as a challenge and a test of one's devotion and adherence to the Torah and Mitzvoth, as the Torah itself forewarns us, "For G-d tests you, to know if you love G-d your G-d, with all your heart and with all your soul." It is only a pity for those who choose to act as the distracting agencies, to make it more difficult for a fellow Jew, whereas this test and agency could just as well be carried out through others, while they could, on the contrary, serve as an encouragement, instead of a discouragement, for their fellow Jew.

It is surely also unnecessary to remind you that the first of all the four parts of the Shulchan Aruch [Code of Jewish Law] begin with the imperative, "One should not pay attention to the scoffers," indicating that this is a basis for the whole of the Shulchan Aruch.

As we are soon to celebrate the days of Chanukah, it is well to remember that the events of Chanukah emphasize the self-sacrificing devotion of Jews to the Torah and Mitzvoth. What they had to contend with in those days at this time was not a prohibition to study Torah in general, or to observe the Mitzvoth in general, but to study Torah as G-d's Torah, and to observe the Mitzvoth which are specifically beyond human reason (chukim).

This is why the text in "v'al hanisim [and for these miracles]" says, "L'hashkichom Torasecho [to forget Your Torah]," etc. It was when the Jews were absolutely determined to adhere to G-d's Torah and Mitzvoth at all costs, that the miracle for Chanukah took place,

Wishing you an inspiring Chanukah,

In The Days of Chanukah, 5721 [1960]

To the Participants at the Annual Celebration "Achei Temimim," Massachusetts

Chanukah recalls the critical period in Jewish history when a ruthless and overpowering enemy made an attempt to suppress G-d's Torah and Mitzvoth and the Jewish way of life. But there was a handful of Jews, faithful to the Torah and Mitzvoth to the point of real self-sacrifice, who turned the tide and rekindled the true faith and the observance of Torah and Mitzvoth. Thus, with G-d's help, the few were victorious over the many, and the physically weak over the strong, bringing a great and everlasting salvation for our people.

The message of Chanukah is especially important for us here and now. We are fortunate to live here in a country where there is freedom of worship. Jews do not have to risk their lives to study the Torah and observe its sacred commandments. Nevertheless, the number of the faithful is, sad to say, by no means adequate; Jewish children attending a Yeshivah and receiving a full and kosher education are still not in the majority. But these few are destined to rekindle the light of the Torah and Mitzvoth in the hearts and homes of many.

However, in order to accomplish this task, a spirit of dedication and selflessness is necessary, something of the Mesiras Nefesh [self- sacrifice] of the Hasmoneans "of those days at this time."

I hope and pray that each and every one of you will rededicate yourselves to the sacred cause of spreading the light of Torah and Mitzvoth, upon which our very life and existence depends. One of the activities in this direction is to make every effort to maintain and enlarge the capacity of the Lubavitcher Yeshiva "Achei Temimim" in your community.

I trust, moreover, that you will do so in an ever-growing measure, as symbolized by the candles of Chanukah which we light each day of Chanukah in steadily growing numbers.

May G-d bless you all and send you a growing measure of light and happiness into your personal lives and into your homes and families, materially and spiritually.

Today Is ...

23 Kislev

The three days before Shabbat are a preparation for Shabbat. The Zohar says about Shabbat that "from it are all days blessed." "All days" refers to the six days of the week on which G-d conferred a general blessing - "G-d will bless you in all you do." The blessing of Shabbat is for the days preceding it and the days following it. The preparations for Shabbat begin Wednesday, and are announced by the brief l'chu n'ran'na of three verses.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This week begins Chanuka, when we celebrate the miracle of the small Jewish army's victory over the powerful Greek war machine. Just as importantly, it is the miracle of a small cruse of oil, enough to last for one day, remaining lit for eight days until new oil could be procured. Our Sages in the Talmud describe the miracle of the oil as follows:

"During the occupation of the Holy Land by the Greeks, the latter entered the Inner Sanctum of the Holy Temple and defiled all the oil there. When the Hasmoneans defeated them, one cruse of oil was found, however, which had not been touched by the Greeks. It contained oil sufficient for one day only. The menora was rekindled and the oil miraculously lasted for eight days."

If the Greeks wished to prevent the Jews from lighting the menora, why did they merely defile the oil and not destroy it? The Greeks did not want to prevent the rekindling of the menora. Rather, they wanted the menora to be rekindled, but with defiled oil. They purposely left a supply of defiled oil in the Inner Sanctum - rather than in its regular storage place - to make it easily available for this purpose.

Moreover, they actually wanted to bring about the rekindling of the menora, in its holy place in the Hechel, whence it should spread its light everywhere as before, except that its light should come from oil that had the Greek "touch."

The battle of the Greeks was not merely a physical battle but a spiritual battle as well. The Greeks were willing to recognize the Torah, or even accept it, as a work of profound philosophy and wisdom, provided it was considered a human creation. It was not the suppression of the Torah that they desired, rather, they strove to deny its Divine origin.

The insistence of the Maccabees to use only pure, consecrated oil was the visible symbol of the holiness of the Jewish way of life.

May we rekindle the lights in the Holy Temple this very Chanuka and celebrate the holiday of light in a world illuminated with the light of Moshiach - may it be now.

Thoughts that Count

And he said, I seek my brothers (Gen. 37:16)

When a Jew prays, he should try to connect his personal requests to the needs of the Jewish people. For example, when praying for the recovery of an ill person, we say, "May G-d show you mercy, along with the rest of the ill of Israel." Joseph prayed to be saved together with his brethren.

(Ohr HaTefila)

And we will say, An evil beast devoured him (Gen. 37:20)

If the brothers' intent was to ease their father's pain over Joseph's disappearance, what possible benefit could there be in telling him that he had been eaten by an animal? Rather, the brothers realized that Jacob would suspect them in Joseph's death, the thought of which would be even more painful than the loss. Telling him an animal was responsible would remove any trace of suspicion.

(Ma'ayanot HaNetzach)

Reuben said...Throw him into this pit...that he might deliver him out of their hand to return him to his father (Gen. 37:22)

According to the Talmud (Shabbat 21), the pit was full of snakes and scorpions. Nonetheless, Reuben felt it would be the safer alternative for Joseph, as animals have no free will, and G-d would surely protect him. The brothers, by contrast, might very well decide to kill him. Reuben sought to remove Joseph from the control of entities with free will, and "return him to his Father"-place him under the direct mercy of his Heavenly Father.

(Otzar Chaim)

When the brothers threw Joseph into the pit full of snakes, they were alluding to his having committed the sin of lashon hara (slander), the punishment for which is being bitten by a snake. "If the serpent bites because no one has uttered [a charm], there is no advantage in the man who can use his tongue" (Ecclesiastes 10:11).

(Siftei Kohen)

It Once Happened

Once there lived a wealthy Jewish forester named Yosef. Yosef was very kind and generous. He understood that G-d had blessed him with great wealth so that he could help others, and he was always ready to give to the poor. Not only did he give them money, he gave them jobs. He was happy that by employing his fellow Jews, he could enable them to support their families.

As Yosef's wealth increased, so did his charitable deeds. One day, a group of Jews from a nearby village came to see him. "We've come to ask you to help a needy bride and groom," said one of the group, Yonah the shoemaker. "They are both orphans, and there is no one to help them. They're getting married on Chanuka, and they haven't any money."

"How much money do you need?" asked Yosef.

"One thousand rubles should be enough," said Yonah.

Yosef went to his desk and took out a packet of money. He counted 1,000 rubles and handed it to Yonah with a smile. The villagers were stunned. They thought that Yosef would give part of the amount, and expected to collect the rest from others. They could not thank Yosef enough.

As they left, Yosef said, "Remember to invite me to the wedding. I want to participate in the great mitzva (commandment) of rejoicing with the bride and groom."

Some weeks later, Yosef travelled to Danzig where he had to collect payment from a number of his customers. He expected to be away for at least three weeks and told his family regretfully that he did not think he would be home in time to kindle the menora with them on the first night of Chanuka.

Yosef's stay in Danzig was blessed with success. Not only did he collect over 40,000 rubles, he signed on many new customers. He finished up his business more quickly than expected and was delighted that he would be able to surprise his family and arrive home in time to light the first Chanuka candle.

Yosef purchased a ticket for the train ride home and entered a car that was not too crowded. He sat down, closed his eyes and dozed off. Suddenly, he heard voices whispering next to him. Opening his eyes, he saw two men sitting across from him, eying him suspiciously.

Yosef's heart skipped a beat as he thought, "They are planning to rob me!" Yosef quickly got up. He went from one car to the next, until he came to a car that was packed with people. He looked for an empty place, and sat down.

"Thank G-d, I managed to escape from those men just in time!" he said to himself. The car was crowded with farmers and peasants. Yosef felt much safer surrounded by people.

The train sped on its journey. Gradually it grew dark outside and all the passengers fell asleep, except for the wary Yosef. Suddenly, he noticed the two strangers standing at the doorway of the car. Yosef opened his bag and took out the gun that he always carried. He made sure the men could see that he had it. The men quickly disappeared. Yosef realized his suspicions were right.

For the remainder of the trip, Yosef stayed alert. He prayed to G-d to protect him, pledging to give charity even more generously when he returned home safely. When Yosef got off the train, he went over to a policeman, handed him several rubles, and asked him to escort him home.

When he finally arrived at home, Yosef breathed a sigh of relief. But no one was home. He realized that his family and servants were all still in the city as they had not expected him to arrive until later in the week. "What a shame," Yosef thought to himself as he began preparing the oil and wicks of the menora for the first night of Chanuka, "after all my efforts to get here, I am still alone."

Yosef placed the 40,000 rubles in his safe. Then he retraced his steps back to the family's silver menora, recited the blessings with much joy and watched the first light of Chanuka dance with delight.

All was still in the house. Yosef sat by the candles for a while, and then took out a book and began to study. The stillness was shattered by the sound of splintering wood. Yosef jumped up and saw his two "travel companions" from the train bursting through the front door.

Brandishing guns, the thieves demanded that Yosef open up his safe and empty it out for them. They then tied him up with heavy rope and threw him on the ground. Yosef prayed to G-d, knowing that his life was in grave danger.

Suddenly, sounds of voices and musical instruments could be heard from outside. The music kept getting closer and louder. The thieves turned pale, and began looking for a way to escape, but it was too late.

From outside they heard happy shouts. "Reb Yosef. Open up. We've come to bring you to the wedding." The villagers marched through the open door. They saw Reb Yosef lying tied up on the floor and then they saw the thieves. They pounced on the villains, and easily overpowered them.

Yonah the shoemaker untied Reb Yosef. "We came to bring you to the wedding, as you asked," he said. "And look at this!"

"You saved my life!" Yosef exclaimed.

"Surely your mitzvot (commandments) of endowering a bride, looking after orphans, and the desire to rejoice at a wedding saved you," said Yonah.

The villagers escorted Reb Yosef to the wedding with much joy. As Yosef watched the happy dancing, he thanked G-d for all the miracles, the wonders and the salvation that had just occurred for him.

Adapted from the Tzivos Hashem Newsletter

Moshiach Matters

In principle, the measure of blessing and success we receive from G-d is directly dependent on our Torah study and observance of mitzvot, as it states, "If you will go in My ways... and I will cause the rains to fall in the proper time." In other words, the spiritual light and abundance created by our service is transformed into material blessing in the physical world. At present, however, not all of this spiritual light becomes physically revealed. Only in the Messianic era will the light that is reflected below perfectly mirror its spiritual counterpart.

(Hemshech Tav-Ayin-Reish-Beit, Vol. 3)

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