Food For the Soul
Chanukah begins Sunday evening, November 28, 2021 and continues through Monday, December 6, 2021. This 8-day festival of lights commemorates the Maccabees’ victory over the Seleucids (Syrian-Greeks) who ruled over the Holy Land in the second century BCE. Like many of our holidays, Chanukah celebrates our survival as a people. This survival is truly remarkable considering the millennia of discrimination, forced conversion, torture and murder that we have endured.
Over time, assimilation to the ways of other countries and cultures threatened our survival, also – and continues to. In fact, the Maccabees’ victory represents our victory over the forced assimilation to Greek culture.
Today we are blessed to live in a land where open display of our faith won’t land us in prison. But whether we carry ourselves proudly as Jews or downplay our identity at Christmas parties, anti-Semitism is on the rise. In the Chanukah spirit, don’t be afraid to stand up for what’s right. Judah Maccabee and his band faced daunting odds, but that didn’t stop them. With a prayer on their lips and faith in their heart, they entered the battle of their lives—and won. We can do the same.
Chanukah is unique in that its primary mitzvah is observed in public. It’s not enough to be a Jew at heart, or even at home. Chanukah teaches us to shine outwards into our surroundings with the G‑dly glow of mitzvahs and good deeds.
For the full Chanukah story and practices, visit Chabad.org.
Who lights the Menorah?
Unlike Shabbat candle-lighting, which is the obligation of the woman of the house, men and women alike are obligated to participate in Chanukah menorah lighting. In some families, the head of the household lights the family menorah while everyone else listens to the blessings and answers, “Amen.” In many other families, all members of the household, including children, light their own menorahs. Either way, it is important for everyone to be present and involved when the Chanukah miracle is festively commemorated.
Mind Over Matter
Hold on tight!
Sometimes it is necessary to plunge to the lowest point. In the life of an individual or of a community, there can be jarring events which threaten to shake the person from his or her seat. Gradually, one comes to terms with the new situation and makes a step forward. The challenge is to keep sitting firmly on the swing, holding on tight as it goes through what seems like the lowest point, with faith in G-d that soon it will reach the exalted heights. Chanukah also expresses this pattern. Jews had reached the depths of assimilation to Greek culture and idolatry. It began as something voluntary among wealthy Jews, and then became enforced by government decree on everyone. The sacred Temple was defiled, and Jewish study and observance were banned. It was the lowest point on the swing. Then, miraculously, the Maccabees gathered together, defeated the Syrian-Greek troops and restored the Temple where the miracle of the oil took place; heralding a return to Judaism. Thus again the swing soared upwards. Whatever happens, hold on tight!
Adapted from an article by Dr. Tali Loewenthal
Spread your light
Think of each person you meet as a candle that you must ignite with the light you hold. How will you know that you have succeeded? When he sets others alight with his own flame.
That is why we must enlist every soul we light. Not only because we need a whole army of lamplighters to light up the world, but because no person is meant to only receive and not give.
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Have I Got A Story
Answering the call
A few weeks ago, a friend invited my family for Shabbat dinner. On the table, I noticed a highly unusual item. Alongside the delicious food and beautiful dishes was a live walkie-talkie placed close to the father. My friend’s husband is a volunteer for Hatzalah, a Jewish volunteer ambulance service that provides emergency pre-hospital care. As a paramedic, he is on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, providing life-saving assistance. The Torah permits (actually, commands) us to break the laws of Shabbat to save lives.
My friend told me that her husband often gets called in the middle of the night, occasionally, a few times a night. Sometimes, just as he is falling into a deep sleep, he’ll need to jump out of bed again. As the only paramedic in the area, he averages two to three calls every Shabbat.
Though her husband has a full-time job and is the father of a busy household of many children, including a toddler, he still finds time and energy for this holy work. My friend (who also works) and her children are incredibly proud of him. The kids speak passionately about his activities even though it means that their father might leave a family celebration, and that each of them has to pitch in more to help. The family understands the precious mitzvah of saving lives, and knows that their encouragement and support enables him to do it.
In the Parsha Vayeishev, Joseph’s brothers sell him as a slave. While deliberating what to do with him, the brothers decide to throw him into a pit. “The pit was empty; there was no water in it.” (Gen 37:24). If the pit was empty, isn’t it obvious that there was no water in it? The Talmud (Shabbat 22a) learns from this unusual wording that although there was no water in the pit, there were scorpions inside.
The Chassidic masters comment on this passage: The mind and heart of man are never empty. If there is no life-nourishing “water,” there are “snakes and scorpions in it.”
In our lives, we need to be busy with something meaningful. Our minds and hearts are not empty vacuums; they will quickly fill. “Water” refers to Torah and its nourishing teachings. If our minds are occupied with Torah teachings—and our hearts and schedules are jam-packed with good deeds—there won’t be any space for negativity to creep in.
Not all of us need to be like my incredibly selfless friend, on call day and night saving lives. But as I left my neighbor’s home, I realized that despite how busy we all think we are, how much fuller our schedules can actually become.
Let’s find something positive that we feel passionate about and let’s work on filling up our days (to the brim!) with meaningful acts.