GOOD MORNING! Hanukah is coming soon! For me it's my favorite holiday. After we light the candles, we sing Maoz Tzur, eat jelly donuts, tell stories, have quizzes about Hanukah -- all in the light of the Hanukah candles. Memories are made up of a collection of precious moments. Hanukah has provided me with many!
I heard the following story years ago when I lived in Israel and to the best of my knowledge it is true. Before the USSR let the Jews leave for Israel, Jews used to hire a guide to smuggle them out of Russia. One Hanukah a group of Jews were playing "cat and mouse" with a Soviet army patrol as they approached the border. When the guide thought they had lost the patrol, he announced an half-hour break before continuing the trek. One of the escapees, hearing the "magic" number of "one-half hour" -- the minimum time a Hanukah candle must be lit to fulfill the mitzvah -- pulls out his menorah, sets up the candles, says the blessing and starts to light the candles. The other escapees immediately pounce upon him and the Menorah to put out the candles -- when the Soviet patrol moves in and completely encircles them.
The head of the army patrol speaks: "We were just about to open fire and wipe you out when I saw that man lighting the Hanukah candles. I was overcome with emotion; I remember my Zaideh (grandfather) lighting Hanukah candles .... I have decided to let you go in peace."
Hanukah starts Friday night, December 3rd. The candles should be lit before sunset and before the Shabbat Candles. (By the way, he should not have endangered their lives by lighting the candles.)
Q & A: WHAT IS HANUKAH AND HOW DO WE CELEBRATE IT?
There are two ways which our enemies have historically sought to destroy us. The first is by physical annihilation; the most recent attempt being the Holocaust. The second is throughcultural assimilation. Purim is the annual celebration of our physical survival. Hanukah is the annual celebration of our spiritual survival over the many who would have liked to destroy us through cultural assimilation.
In 167 BCE the Syrian-Greek emperor, Antiochus, set out to destroy Judaism by imposing a ban on three mitzvot: The Shabbat, The Sanctifying of the New Month (establishing the first day of the month by testimony of witnesses who saw the new moon) and Brit Mila (entering the Covenant of Abraham through Torah -- ordained circumcision). The Shabbat signifies that G-d is the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe and that His Torah is the blueprint of creation, meaning and values. Sanctifying the New Month determines the day of the Jewish holidays. Without it there would be chaos. For example, if Succot is the 15th of Tishrei, the day it occurs depends upon which day is declared the first of Tishrei. Brit Mila is a sign of our special covenant with the Almighty. All three maintain our cultural integrity and were thus threats to the Greek culture.
Matityahu and his 5 sons, known as the Maccabees, started a revolt and three years later succeeded in evicting the oppressors. The victory was a miracle -- on the scale of Israel defeating the combined super-powers of today. Having regained control of the Temple in Jerusalem, they wanted to immediately rededicate it. They needed ritually pure olive oil to re-light the Menorah in the Temple. Only a single cruse of oil was found; enough to burn for just one day. However, they needed oil for eight days until new ritually pure olive oil could be produced. A miracle occurred and the oil burned for eight days.
Therefore, we light Hanukah candles (or better yet, lamps with olive oil) for eight days. One the first day, two the second and so forth. The first candle is placed to the far right of the menorah with each additional night's candle being placed to the immediate left. One says three blessings the first night (two blessings each subsequent night) and then lights the candles, starting with the furthermost candle to the left. The menorah should have all candles in a straight line and at the same height. Ashkenazi tradition has each person of the household lighting his own Menorah. Sefardi tradition has just one menorah lit per family. The blessings can be found on the back of the Hanukah candle box or in a Siddur, prayer book. The candles may be lit inside the home. It is preferable to light where passersby in the street can see them -- to publicize the miracle of Hanukah. In Israel, people light outside in special glass boxes built for a menorah or little glasses with olive oil and wicks.
The tradition to eat latkes, potato pancakes, is in memory of the miracle of the oil (latkes are fried in oil). In Israel, the tradition is to eat sufganiot, deep-fried jelly donuts. The traditional game of Hanukah uses a dreidel, a four-sided top with the Hebrew letters Nun, Gimmel, Hey, Shin (the first letters of "Nes Gadol Haya Sham -- A Great Miracle Happened There." In Israel, the last letter is a Pay -- for "here.") In times of persecution when learning Torah was forbidden, Jews would learn anyway. When the soldiers would investigate, they would pull out the dreidel and pretend that they were gambling. The rules for playing dreidel: Nun -- no one wins; Gimmel -- spinner takes the pot; Hey -- spinner get half the pot; Shin/Pay -- spinner matches the pot!
Portion of the Week
On the trip back to Canaan, Jacob meets his brother Esau; Jacob wrestles with the angel; they arrive in Shechem; Shechem, the son of Chamor the Hivite, (heir to the town of Shechem) rapes Jacob's daughter, Dina; Dina's brothers, Shimon and Levy, massacre the men of Shechem; Rebecca (Rivka) dies; G-d gives Jacob an additional name, "Israel," and reaffirms the blessing to Avraham that the land of Canaan (Israel) will be given to his descendants; Rachel dies after giving birth to Benjamin (Binyomin); Jacob's sons are listed; Isaac dies; Esau's lineage is recorded as is that of Seir the Horite; lastly, the succession of the Kings of Edom is chronicled.
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Before encountering his evil brother, Esav, Jacob divided all that he had into two camps. The Torah states, "And (Jacob) said 'If Esau will come to one camp and smite it, the remaining camp will be saved' " (Genesis 32:9). What lesson do we learn from Jacob's action?
Rashi, the great commentator, tells us that Jacob had three strategies to deal with the threat from his brother:
- he sent gifts to appease him
- he prayed for Divine assistance
- he prepared for war.
Rabbi Yeruchem Levovitz points out that Jacob did not rely on his righteousness; he made every humanly effort possible. The forefathers kept to natural laws in dealing with life situations. After all, the laws of nature are the Almighty's laws (He did set up the universe!). This is our goal -- to do all that is in our power, but to realize that our success ultimately depends upon the Almighty.