Chanukah Gems - 5775

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Use one for your menorah lighting, another for the Chanukah party, and yet another for your Shabbos derosha or class. Each gem contains an inspiring Chanukah message with a fresh angle, peppered with anecdotes, humor and wit.

Enjoy a teaser of each of the gems below:

Chanukah’s Unsung Hero 
The story of Chanukah is one of the best known in Jewish history. We've been telling it for over two thousand years. Yet in spite of all the re-telling, there is an aspect of the story we often overlook. Ask anyone who the heroes of the Chanukah story are and the answer is almost bound to be: Matisyahu, Judah, his brothers, the Maccabees. They were, after all, the liberators who played significant roles in this historic epic. But there is one hero who is always neglected. He is…

Light Keepers or Light kindlers?
There’s a fascinating argument in the Talmud. What is the main mitzvah of Chanukah? The great sages of the third century disagreed. Some said, “הדלקה עושה מצוה ” — “kindling the Chanukah menorah.” Others said, “הנחה עושה מצוה ”— “placing the menorah where its lights can be seen by the public.” The lighting is merely a preparatory action. After a long debate, the sages agreed unanimously that hadlokah, lighting the Menorah, is the essential element of the Chanukah commandment, and the law follows this. What is the deeper meaning of this debate?...

The Butterfly Effect and Chanukah
At this time of year, if you see a home with candles glowing in the window, chances are that it's a Jewish family celebrating Chanukah, the Festival of Lights. The Chanukah candles in the window shine their radiance outward into the street. This represents the Jewish task to spread the light of morality and holiness — not only inside of our own homes, but also outward into the world. Our job is to light a candle in the darkness of a troubled world.

But the global problems out there are vast: terror, natural disasters, countries afflicted by poverty and disease. The tiny impact we can make feels inadequate to the sheer scale of these tragedies. There are overs six billion people on earth. We are like a snowflake in the vastness of this universe. How then can you and I make a difference?  To this, Chanukah has something important to say…

Judah the Maccabee at West Point
Judah the Maccabee, hero of the Chanukah story, was of course a masterful military leader. He was so skilled as a commander that there is a statue of him in the Military Hall of Fame at West Point, the most prestigious U.S. military academy. It is displayed along with the statues of Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, King Arthur and other great warriors. But…

Chanukah: A Celebration of Authenticity
For centuries, the Czech capital of Prague has been home to a renowned Jewish community. Today, in the heart of what was once the Jewish quarter there still stands a clock tower that serves as a symbol of the community’s unique heritage. At first glance, it looks like an ordinary timepiece, sporting a clock face that runs clockwise and has the familiar Roman numerals. Below it, however, is a…

The Miracle of Rededication
In Hebrew, the word “Chanukah” means “dedication.” The name reminds us that this holiday commemorates the re-dedication of the holy Temple in Jerusalem following the Jewish victory over the Syrian-Greeks. The Temple had been desecrated by the emperor Antiochus. He had a statue of Zeus erected in it, ordered sacrifices to be made to pagan gods on the altar. The Maccabees rebelled and won, rededicated the Temple, and lit the menorah. And ever since, we too celebrate the rededication and light a menorah in our homes.
But a rededication celebration seems a bit strange. There is no holiday in the Jewish tradition devoted to remembering the initial building and dedication of either the first or second Temples.  Why do we celebrate Chanukah, with song, prayers of thanksgiving, and with the lighting of the menorah, when the Temple was only restored to its former glory?...

A Small Town Can Change the World
The story of Chanukah reminds us that you don’t need to live in Jerusalem, although it is certainly a fine thing. You don't need a thousand members in your synagogue, although that is also a fine thing. You only need one dedicated person with sincerity and vision. The Maccabees had neither weapons nor numbers. But they had a double portion of the Jewish spirit that longs for freedom and G-dliness and is prepared to fight for it. Thedistinguished anthropologistMargaret Mead once said….

Chanukah: How to Deal with Snakes and Scorpions
In the Talmud, Rabbi Tanchum rules that: (Shabbat 22a) “נר של חנוכה שהניחה למעלה מכ' אמה פסולה
“Whoever lights a Chanukah menorah that is taller than thirty feet, has not fulfilled the mitzvah.”  A candle at this height cannot be seen by passersby, and therefore will not contribute to publicizing the miracle of Chanukah. The basic purpose of the menorah is to be a beacon for passersby to see, so that they will be stirred to the message of Chanukah.

In what seems like a very strange juxtaposition, this law is followed by another statement by Rabbi Tanchum concerning the famous Biblical story of Joseph and the description of the pit he was thrown into by his brothers. Why the insertion of this strange Biblical verse in the midst of a discussion of the festival of Chanukah? What connection does it have with the story and the laws of this holiday? The verse appears in a Torah portion that is always read the Shabbat of the week Chanukah falls. Does this seem to be a hidden link to Chanukah?...

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