DECEMBER 19-20, 2003 25 KISLEV 5764
"And for your people, Israel, You brought about such a great victory and redemption as if it occurred this very day" (Al Hanisim)
On the holiday of Hanukah we read a special portion in the Amidah prayer called Al Hanisim. In it we are told of the great victory that Hashem brought about through the heroic deeds of the Macabees. It tells us that the victory was so great that it remains with us as if it occurred this very day.
Rabbi David Kaplan quotes a writer of a secular Israeli newspaper, who asks a question that speaks to each and every one of us. As I mentioned, the Al Hanisim describes the victory as if it happened today. The writer posed the following question: "Imagine that the battle between the Macabees and the Greeks was taking place today. The Macabees stand for prayer, Torah and general devotion to Hashem. The Greeks champion the cause of culture, sports, entertainment, immorality and the pursuit of pleasure. The Macabees were most likely to be found in the Bet Midrash studying, while the Greeks were hanging out in clubs or outside caf?s." The he posed the question, "If they went to war today, whose side would you be on? Who would you like to see emerge victorious?" The article went on to point out that the average secular Jew celebrates Hanukah, but he is much more closely aligned with the Greeks than with the Macabees.
A secular Jew can have an identity crisis on Hanukah. However, is it limited to the
secular Jew? We know that religion is a slow and hopefully steady process in growth, towards serving Hashem in a perfect way. Perhaps there is a little too much Greek in all of us. Even more sobering is the thought of how do our children see us. You can always sense enthusiasm in other people. A teenager who was struggling with religion told his counselor that his struggle began at home. He always heard about Torah and fear of the Almighty. But, when the neighbor drove up in a beautiful new car, the reaction was amazing. His father's eyes glowed when he spoke about the new car, but his eyes didn't glow when he spoke about religion! That's when the son knew what was really important to his father.
Life in the service of Hashem is demanding. We are good, especially in comparison to the rest of the world. We can improve. Let's utilize Hanukah to rekindle our enthusiasm for Torah and misvot. Let our children see that we have a very clear answer to the writer's question - an answer that would make the Macabees proud to have us as their descendants. Shabbat Shalom and Happy Hanukah. Rabbi Reuven Semah
One of the most famous questions in halachic literature deals with the lighting of the Hanukah menorah. We all know that we celebrate Hanukah for eight days because when the Jews rededicated the Temple and were looking for pure olive oil to light the Menorah, they found a jar containing oil to last for one night, and miraculously, it burned for eight. The obvious question is: If so, the miracle was only seven days, being that there was already enough oil for the first day!
Hundreds of answers have been offered. Among them: 1) Winning the war was one miracle; 2) The finding of the oil should be remembered; 3) Each night only one-eighth of the oil was used up, so it was a miracle for eight nights, etc. A latter day sage, upon seeing all the answers being debated, commented that this fact itself, that the Jewish people are asking and answering about an event that happened more than 2000 years ago, is a miracle and should be celebrated, at least with an extra day of Hanukah. In all other cultures, holidays are purely symbolic, to remember fleetingly, and if "properly" observed, may cause a hangover. In Torah Judaism, everything that we do has a reason, and our lives therefore are filled with meaning. It is this vibrancy with Torah that has kept us going throughout the ages, while the Greeks, the Romans and other empires faded away into oblivion.
As we stand around the menorah and fulfill this beautiful misvah, let us rededicate ourselves to the ideals that the candles represent, by joining in the activities of the synagogue, thereby meriting His Divine Presence to dwell in our midst, Amen. Happy Hanukah. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka
Question: Why should the oleh cover the Sefer Torah with a kerchief while he is reciting the blessings?
Answer: So it will be clear that he is not reading the blessings from the Sefer Torah. (Excerpted from Siddur Abir Yaacob, published by Sephardic Press)
"Why do you appear so downtrodden today?" (Beresheet 40:7)
Let's recreate the scene. Yosef had been languishing in prison for a crime he did not commit. After ten years, two of Pharaoh's servants were sent to the same prison as Yosef. Soon after, these two servants both had a troubling dream on the same night. On the subsequent morning, Yosef noticed that they were both in a state of distress, and asked them what was troubling them. When they related their dreams to Yosef, he explained to them the interpretation of the dreams. Three days later, true to Yosef's prediction, the butler was freed from prison. Two years later, when Pharaoh had dreams that needed to be interpreted, the butler recommended Yosef, who was then brought before Pharaoh.
Think for a moment about Yosef's state of mind when the butler and baker had their dreams. Here is a man who had enormous potential, who had been sold by his brothers and taken from his father's home, and had thus far served ten years of an unjust sentence with no end in sight. Given these circumstances, it would have been entirely justified if Yosef had been so immersed in self-pity that he wouldn't even notice anyone else's suffering, much less have any sympathy for them. But not Yosef. No matter what he was going through in his own personal life, he continued to reach out to others in support. His unwavering belief that everything comes from Hashem enabled him to withstand his own suffering, and continue to help others in need.
What would have happened if Yosef did not ask them why they were distressed? Most likely, they would not have told Yosef their dreams. If that's so, then the butler would not have known about Yosef's ability to interpret dreams and would not have recommended him to Pharaoh. How would Yosef have ever gotten out of prison? We see that these four words of concern changed the course of Yosef's life.
Question: When things are not going well for you, are you able to put your own problems aside and help other people who are having a rough time? How much do you actually pay attention when someone is telling you his problems?
This week's Haftarah: Zechariah 2:14 - 4:7.
The usual haftarah reading for Parashat Vayesheb is from the prophet Amos, where it makes a reference to the sale of Yosef by his brothers. However, we read a special haftarah this week in honor of the holiday of Hanukah.
This haftarah speaks of the time when the Menorah of the Second Bet Hamikdash was inaugurated. The prophet Zechariah is shown a vision of a golden Menorah, complete with a bowl of oil and two olive trees to ensure that the supply of oil will never run out. An angel explains to Zechariah that the vision symbolizes the fact that Hashem provides for all of man's needs.
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