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Author Topic: The Power of Word  (Read 318886 times)
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Posts: 42462

« on: June 29, 2007, 07:27:14 AM »

The Power of Word
by Crafty Dog

Scientific Progress is achieved by REDUCING the number of principles
necessary to explain the physical world.  Spiritual Progress is this process
applied to the discernment of the essential principles by which to live.

Taking an understanding taken from The Church of Religious Science
and putting it into my own words: To the extent that a religion is true,
it can be reduced to a body of principles/rules which can be applied
scientifically.  An interesting thought this!

Of course, these principles/rules are never the exclusive purview of any one
group or discipline-- quite the contrary-- so it is no surprise that the
Pope should recently have stated that the God must be a god of Reason.
The Church of Religious Science and the Catholic Church may come from
different parts of the religious spectrum, but it seems they seek the same

In the story of my people, at the time of the creation of the Covenant, God
gave us the 10 Commandments.   Seems reasonable to think that the our God
thought these rules real important, as did later on the God of the

And, as time goes by, I begin to realize that I am still working on them.

So lets look at one of them, the one that speaks of not taking the Lord's
name in vain:

In Genesis, before the beginning there was nothing.  Into that nothingness
came the word of God. On each of the first six days, this is what happened:
"And God SAID let there be , , , , and it was so."  To create, God had only
to speak-- the Power of Word, the Crystallization of Thought.   Using his
word, he made us in his image and breathed the breath of life into us and
told us, once fruitful, to multiply.  By receiving the breath of life from
the Creator, we become part of the Creator.


This I think is the true meaning of the Commandment commonly translated
from the original ancient Hebrew though the Greek, the Latin, the various
permutations of English into "Thou shall not take God's name in vain."  It
is not that God cares whether we cuss, it is that we should take care to
we put the Power of our Word.

I would add an additional point: THIS WORD MUST BE EXPRESSED
IN POSITIVES, NOT NEGATIVES.  For example, God does not say
"No more darkness".  He says what he DOES want: "Let there be , , ,"
Similarly in our lives the idea is to express ourselves positively.  For
example, to say "Remember to , , ," instead of "Don't forget to , , ,"

To apply this to everything in one's life is a transformational experience.

One example of the creative power of word is Prayer.  Many people doubt
prayer.  They are good people; they pray for something; and then it doesn't

There is an old Jewish parable about this of the man who follows all the
detailed rules of the Torah.  He's a good man.  For many years he regularly
prays to God to win the lottery.  No lottery.  Finally he gets mad and
demands of God why, after his good life and his respect for God's rules,
does not God grant his prayer to win the lottery.

God answers, "Help me out. Buy a ticket."

We note in passing the idea that in this parable Man can and does argue
with God, but that is a discussion for another day.  For our purpose here,
the moral of this tale is that "Our Action must be Aligned with
our Prayer and our Word to Create its Reality".

copyright 2007 Dog Brothers Inc.
« Last Edit: June 29, 2007, 08:04:40 AM by Crafty_Dog » Logged
Posts: 9

« Reply #1 on: July 07, 2007, 09:38:42 PM »

Luk 6:45 NASB  "The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.

Truly, our words have power, the question is: to what use will that power go?

Posts: 6

« Reply #2 on: November 02, 2008, 10:17:47 AM »

Buddhism - Right Word , Right Thought , Right Deed

Cheers,  Thomas   rolleyes rolleyes rolleyes

BWA -  Buddhist With Attitude
« Reply #3 on: November 06, 2008, 09:04:56 PM »

"According to Jewish tradition, G-d gave the Jewish people 613 mitzvot (commandments). All 613 of those mitzvot are equally sacred, equally binding and equally the word of G-d. All of these mitzvot are treated as equally important, because human beings, with our limited understanding of the universe, have no way of knowing which mitzvot are more important in the eyes of the Creator. Pirkei Avot, a book of the Mishnah, teaches "Be as meticulous in performing a 'minor' mitzvah as you are with a 'major' one, because you don't know what kind of reward you'll get for various mitzvot. It also says, "Run after the most 'minor' mitzvah as you would after the most 'important' and flee from transgression, because doing one mitzvah draws you into doing another, and doing one transgression draws you into doing another, and because the reward for a mitzvah is a mitzvah and the punishment for a transgression is a transgression." In other words, every mitzvah is important, because even the most seemingly trivial mitzvot draw you into a pattern of leading your life in accordance with the Creator's wishes, rather than in accordance with your own.

But what about the so-called "Ten Commandments," the words recorded in Exodus 20, the words that the Creator Himself wrote on the two stone tablets that Moses brought down from Mount Sinai (Ex. 31:18), which Moses smashed upon seeing the idolatry of the golden calf (Ex. 32:19)? In the Torah, these words are never referred to as the Ten Commandments. In the Torah, they are called Aseret ha-D'varim (Ex. 34:28, Deut. 4:13 and Deut. 10:4). In rabbinical texts, they are referred to as Aseret ha-Dibrot. The words d'varim and dibrot come from the Hebrew root Dalet-Beit-Reish, meaning word, speak or thing; thus, the phrase is accurately translated as the Ten Sayings, the Ten Statements, the Ten Declarations, the Ten Words or even the Ten Things, but not as the Ten Commandments, which would be Aseret ha-Mitzvot.

The Aseret ha-Dibrot are not understood as individual mitzvot; rather, they are categories or classifications of mitzvot. Each of the 613 mitzvot can be subsumed under one of these ten categories, some in more obvious ways than others.

I don't mean to disagree with anything you said but I felt like it was missing some context.

« Reply #4 on: November 06, 2008, 09:20:53 PM »

"Whoever does not increase his  Torah (could be read as the whole of Jewish though )  knowledge , decreases it" Hillel Pirket Avot

You always  either growing or shrinking physically, intellectually, and spiritually.   You are either getting stronger or weaker.
Even the economy if you don't have inflation you have deflation

"If I am not for myself who will be for me? Yet, if I am for myself only, what am I? And if not now, when?"Hillel Pirket Avot

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« Reply #5 on: November 07, 2008, 05:17:11 AM »


Ignorant Jew that I am I somehow have found my path to be one of focusing on the Ten "Sayings"  wink  (I wonder if anyone other that you and similarly educated people will undertand the intending meaning here)-- and so I find your post quite interesting and pertinent to my personal path.  If you have the time and inclination to post further on the themes of the Ten Sayings and the 613 Mitzvots I would be very glad of it.

Thank you,
« Reply #6 on: November 08, 2008, 01:02:20 PM »

I need to do some thinking and reading on this topic .  I will respond in few days. 

« Reply #7 on: November 16, 2008, 09:21:36 PM »

A" Hebrew word for 'sin' is CHET.

'chet' actually means: missing the mark

So if we sin, it means we are not quite doing what we should. Maybe we are not being all that we can be, maybe we are not paying enough attention and care to our loved ones. Maybe we are not putting any effort into our relationship with G-d.

There is no 'original sin' in Judaism; we believe that all humans are born pure and innocent. Nor do we focus on sin in quite the same way that Christians seem to often. In Judaism nobody is expected to be 'perfect'. Only G-d can ever achieve 'perfection'.

We are just meant to try our best, to learn from our mistakes, and to be genuine and compassionate and fair in our dealings with our fellow human beings.

And of course, we try to uphold G-d's laws."

Judaism has a lot of laws for proper speach  and something that I work on frequently is Lashron Hara.

Lashon hara (or Loshon hora) (Hebrew לשון הרע; "evil tongue") is the prohibition in Jewish Law of telling gossip – negative disparaging but truthful remarks about a person or party.... It should not be confused with the prohibition of Motzei Shem Rah, slander, untrue remarks.
The main prohibition against lashon hara is derived from Leviticus 19:16: [1] "Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people; neither shalt thou stand idly by the blood of thy neighbour: I am the LORD."

There are cases where you are required to speak negatively in order to project others.

 Psalm 34:14 My God, guard my tongue from evil and my lips from speaking deceitfully is recited regularly in Jewish prayers and I find it really helpful.   
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« Reply #8 on: November 17, 2008, 11:00:28 AM »

My education continues-- thank you.  Looking forward to the next installment.
« Reply #9 on: November 30, 2008, 06:21:32 PM »

 A very  brief answer about my experience with Chabad.

One of the things I love about Chabad is that they make you feel the magic of Judaism.   They are scholarly but with an emphasis on the mystical spiritual side of Judaism.

Chabad is extremely friendly. If you attend something at  their place they make you feel like a part of the family.   When I grow up I want to be that kind host/friend.

I also got some excellent advice on the nature of Love from a Chabad Rabbi.

Love between  a brother and a a siters  is like water--  it flows

Love between man and woman is like fire -- it burns  sometimes higher and sometimes lower.   You have to be careful and put G-d in your relationship  that you don't burn each other up or that your fire does not go out.

« Reply #10 on: November 30, 2008, 06:23:31 PM »

What is our response to the massacre?
A response to the question "why?"

By Tzvi Freeman

Dear Rabbi Freeman,

I can't handle this. Here's a young couple with a small child who left their families to live in a strange land, just for the sake of helping build the Jewish community there. You know how many kids they saved from drugs and from prison? This is their reward? This is the protection G‑d gives them?


Dear S,

We're all in pain. We're all stunned. But you are asking questions you know you cannot answer. Why? How will that help anyone? What we need now is strength and courage. What we need now is to regather our forces and to rebuild.

We knew beforehand that we are at war with an enemy. We knew that the world needs to be healed, that it oozes with a venomous darkness, and that darkness will not sit passively as we steal away its dominion. We knew that the more we fight this darkness, the harder it will fight back. We didn't fool ourselves. We decided we will fight and we will win. That is why Gavriel and Rivky went where they went. They went not as tourists, but as fearless soldiers.

Once you are at war, you don't stop to ponder all over again—can we win? Is this worth it? Maybe they're worse than we thought? That's deadly. If you would rather stay home and enjoy comfort while the rest of the world sits out in the cold, you should have decided that a long time ago. Now you are out there on the field of battle, you have already awakened the bear from its den, now there is no turning back.

They are darkness. We are light. They storm the shores with death in their eyes. We come to teach compassion and acts of beauty. They carry assault rifles and grenades. We carry candles for Friday night, a Torah of wisdom, joy and beauty.

Are we to surrender before them? Are we to stop and cry and ask, "maybe we're fighting the wrong battle"?

On the Shabbat that we confirmed our worst fears, Chabad held a Shabbaton for over 40 people in Mumbai. A Chabad rabbi of another city in India came to host the event. We will not abandon the 5,000 Jews of Mumbai, nor the constant flow of Israeli backpackers needing guidance on their journey--we will work even harder now on their behalf. We will revenge the work of violence by doubling and quadrupling our works of peace and love. We will fill the world with light and wisdom and the spirit of darkness in men's hearts shall forever perish. They come with their guns and their might, with a god of destruction and terror, but we come in the name of the Eternal, the source of all life and healing. They and all memory of them will vanish from the face of the earth and our lamp will burn forever.

May the Almighty G‑d hear the cry of their blood from the earth and put an end to all sorrow. May it be very soon, sooner than we can imagine.
« Reply #11 on: November 30, 2008, 06:28:43 PM »

(The Rebbe spoke about the suffering in the world, and when he came to these words, began to choke and sob:)

If He is truly capable of anything,
then why can't He provide good without the bad?

And if His Torah contains the answers for all questions, why does it not answer this one?

There could be only one answer:

He does not wish us to know,
because if we knew
we might consent.

To love is to sigh at another's sorrow, to rejoice at another's good fortune.

To love is the deepest of all pleasures.

All this universe was made only for your journey. And all this universe was made only for the other guy’s journey. And for mine as well.

In our mind it is impossible. We are finite. When we put our minds to one idea, there is no room for any other. If one point is at the center, there is no center left for any other.

G-d is infinite. He can have as many points of focus as He wishes without diminishing the centrality of any of them in the slightest.

Each one of us is absolutely the most important thing in the universe.

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« Reply #12 on: December 01, 2008, 04:55:30 AM »

Thank you for that Rachel.

Here's this from the NYTimes today (Monday)

Chabad Movement Vows to Continue Work of Couple Killed in Attack
Published: November 30, 2008

For many Jews, they are homes away from home: Chabad Houses, welcoming outposts in foreign lands or across the United States, places to drop in to celebrate Hanukkah, Passover or weekly Shabbat dinners.

Almost always, the Chabad Houses are run by young couples, emissaries of the Chabad-Lubavitch denomination, a Hasidic faith with its headquarters in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, whose adherents believe that secular Jews ought to become more observant.

Two of those emissaries were killed when their Chabad House was among the buildings attacked by terrorists in Mumbai last week. In their deaths, the couple, Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg, 29, and his wife Rivka, 28, drew a spotlight on the Chabad faith (the terms Chabad and Lubavitch are used interchangeably) — and to the emissaries’ growing presence around the world.

The number of Chabad Houses has mushroomed in the last decade, and now more than 4,000 husband-and-wife couples run them in 73 countries.

In 2003, the Holtzbergs, newly married, opened the first Chabad House in Mumbai.

Chabad leaders are quick to stress that the emissaries, called shluchim in Hebrew, are not missionaries. They do not try to convert non-Jews to Judaism. Instead, their mandate is to act as “lamplighters” by reaching out to secular Jews, often stopping people on city sidewalks and asking, “Are you Jewish?,” and trying to persuade them to deepen their faith.

The Chabad faith emerged 250 years in Russia ago as a branch of Hasidism. In 1951, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson became the spiritual leader, or rebbe, and under him, outreach bloomed.

“They pioneered Jewish outreach, and they developed techniques now used by other Jewish denominations,” said Sue Fishkoff, a journalist and author of the book “The Rebbe’s Army: Inside the World of Chabad-Lubavitch.”

The Holtzbergs moved to Mumbai in August 2003. Mr. Holtzberg, who was born in Israel and had moved to Brooklyn in his teens, had nursed a dream of becoming a shliach emissary. He spent time as a student in the Chabad House in Bangkok, and helped open a house in south Thailand, according to Rabbi Yosef Kantor, who oversees new branches in Southeast Asia.

The region sees great numbers of Israeli and Jewish travelers, and the Chabad movement wanted to expand its presence there. The Holtzbergs, it was decided, were perfect for the Mumbai job. As a student, Mr. Holtzberg was noted as a nimble thinker and, according to Rabbi Zalman Shmotkin, a spokesman for the Chabad movement in New York, for advancing Talmudic concepts. Mrs. Holtzberg seemed at once endlessly calm and energetic, said people who knew her.

Jewish groups are often wary when a Chabad House opens in a new city, but the Holtzbergs forged harmonious relationships in Mumbai, Ms. Fishkoff said. The couple’s home in the Colaba neighborhood, a popular destination for tourists, quickly became a favorite among Jewish backpackers, who were attracted to its welcoming air, Jewish art and the shelves lined with row after row of religious books.

“We talked and argued politics, discussed economics, shared our personal stories,” Olga Daniella Bakayeva, a recent guest, wrote in a post on after the Holtzbergs’ deaths were reported.

A week before the terrorists attacked, the 25th annual International Conference of the Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries began in New York. Mr. Holtzberg chose not to attend: his eldest son, who was gravely ill with a congenital disease, was in an Israeli hospital, and Mr. Holtzberg wanted to stay close to home.

On Thursday morning, hours after the terrorist siege began, the Holtzbergs’ Indian nanny managed to escape with the couple’s other child, Moshe, who turned 2 on Saturday. It was not until Saturday night that terrible images from the Chabad House, known as Nariman House, began to trickle out: photos of a blood-soaked floor of a library strewn with red-stained pages of holy books.

Some of the dead, including Mrs. Holtzberg, were found wrapped in prayer shawls. Witnesses speculated that the rabbi had managed to cover the bodies before he was killed.

The Chabad community was seized with horror and shock. They had not been so maliciously singled out in at least 50 years, Mr. Shmotkin said.

“You think about those who were so selfless, they had no other life than spreading love and goodness,” Mr. Shmotkin said. “To have them cut down in this kind of way is really unfathomable.”

Yet within hours after the news broke about the Holtzbergs’ deaths, young Chabad couples from around the world stepped forward, offering to move to Mumbai and continue the movement’s work.

Chabad leaders said the Mumbai house would be certain to reopen.

Isabel Kershner contributed reporting from Jerusalem.

More Articles in World » A version of this article appeared in print on December 1, 2008, on page A11 of the New York edition.
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« Reply #13 on: December 03, 2008, 06:27:11 AM »

I post this here even though it is not on point to the subject of the thread because of the thread's discussion of the Chabad.

Jews of Mumbai, a Tiny and Eclectic Group, Suddenly Reconsider Their Serene Existence
Published: December 2, 2008

MUMBAI, India — The peeling turquoise facade of the colonial-era Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue in the heart of the city’s financial district has long been a tourist attraction, a reminder of the centuries of Jewish influence that have helped shape Mumbai and of the acceptance Jews have enjoyed here.

But after the terrorist attacks last week, Mumbai’s Jews are dismayed to find another building suddenly vying with the 124-year-old synagogue as a symbol of their presence: the charred remains of Nariman House, where gunmen killed Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg, his wife, Rivka, and four other Jews.

Although none of the Jews killed in the terrorists’ assault on Nariman House, the community center run by the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, were Indian citizens, the attacks have badly shaken Jews in India. Mumbai has about 4,000 Jewish residents, accounting for a vast majority of India’s Jewish population.

“This is the first time when a Jew has been targeted in India because he is a Jew,” said Jonathon Solomon, a Mumbai lawyer and president of the Indian Jewish Federation. “The tradition of the last thousand years has been breached.”

The origins of India’s Jews remain uncertain, but according to some accounts they may have come as emissaries from the court of King Solomon. They established communities and lived peacefully with Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and, later, Muslims. The absence of anti-Semitism throughout this history has been a source of pride in India.

“This is one of the few countries where Jews never faced discrimination and persecution,” said Ezekiel Isaac Malekar, a leader of the Jewish community in New Delhi.

Jews played a prominent role in several coastal cities, but nowhere more so than in Mumbai. Jewish merchants from Iraq, Syria and other Middle Eastern countries arrived in the late 18th century in what was then British Bombay and quickly established themselves as leading businessmen, opening textile mills and international trading companies.

Only about 200 of these so-called Baghdadi Jews remain in Mumbai, with the rest having immigrated to Israel, Britain and the United States. But their legacy endures: synagogues, libraries and schools, many of which serve Jews and non-Jews. They also financed the construction of several city landmarks, including the Flora Fountain and the Sassoon docks.

Today, most of Mumbai’s Jews have roots in a group known as the Bene Israel community, which claims to be descended from seven Jewish families who were shipwrecked on India’s shore while fleeing persecution in the Galilee during the second century B.C. Over the centuries, they adopted Indian language, dress and cuisine. Since India became independent, these Jews have often played influential roles in Indian society, including in government and Bollywood.

“We always felt we were Indians first and Jews second,” said Mr. Malekar, a Bene Israel Jew.

That sensibility has been shattered by the siege of Nariman House. “This attack has really shaken us up,” said a Jewish educator in Mumbai who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear for his safety. “If with such ease they could finish off the whole Chabad House — the property and the people — now we have to have a fresh look at our own security.”

Many Jewish institutions have remained closed this week as a security precaution. Jewish leaders said they might have to begin restricting access to synagogues and community centers. “Jewish institutions in India are soft targets,” Mr. Solomon said. “After being used to living fearless for so long we are going through a phase where we are debating with ourselves about being careful and whether we need to change our mode of existence.”

Heightening anxieties is the location of many of Mumbai’s synagogues, which are now in predominantly Muslim neighborhoods. Historically, relations between the two religious groups in Mumbai have been good.

“They live with us as brothers and in brotherhood we also live with them,” said Solomon Sopher, chairman and managing trustee of the Sir Jacob Sassoon and Allied Trusts, which manages several Jewish institutions, including a high school that was founded as a Jewish school but now enrolls mostly Muslims.

After the terrorist assaults, some Mumbai Jews said they were increasingly apprehensive about their Muslim neighbors.

Page 2 of 2)

Mr. Solomon said the attack convinced him of the need for India’s Jews to seek official recognition as a minority group. Such status confers privileges, including reserved places for admission to universities and for government jobs. More important, Mr. Solomon said, it would require the Indian government to protect the Jewish community from persecution. In the past, the Indian government has argued that there are too few Jews in the country to grant minority status.

Many Mumbai Jews said they had limited interaction with Rabbi Holtzberg and Chabad House, whose activities were focused on Orthodox Jews visiting from abroad and encouraging greater religious observance among young Israeli backpackers. Few Jews live in the Colaba neighborhood where Nariman House is, having moved to more affluent areas in northern and western parts of the city.

In addition, the Lubavitchers’ ultra-Orthodox practices are much stricter than the observance of most Mumbai Jews.

But Rabbi Holtzberg did preside over Sabbath services every Friday at the Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue. He also conducted religious study classes and helped supply the city’s more religious Jews with kosher meat.

Some Jews said the attacks were likely to foster closer ties within the city’s Jewish population, which in the past had been deeply divided between the Baghdadi community and the Bene Israel group, although those tensions were easing as the city’s Jewish population dwindled. Representatives from both Indian Jewish communities, as well as Chabad, mourned the Holtzbergs and the other Jewish victims from Nariman House at a memorial service on Monday.

Mr. Solomon, who described himself as a secular Jew, said he would be sure to visit the Chabad House when it reopens. A new rabbi, Dov Goldberg, has already been selected.

“Next time it opens, I will make it a point of going to show my solidarity with them,” Mr. Solomon said. “I suppose the same will go for many members of our community.”
« Reply #14 on: December 14, 2008, 10:21:30 AM »

   " It was the third day, in the morning, that there was thunder and lightning. A heavy cloud was on the mountain and there was a very loud sound of the shofar. All the people in the camp trembled. Moses brought the people toward God out of the camp. They stood at the foot of the mountain. The entire Mount Sinai was enveloped with smoke, for God had descended upon it in fire. Its smoke rose like the smoke of a furnace and the entire mountain trembled violently ... (Exodus 19:16-18)

God begins to give the Ten Commandments, but the Jews panic and beg Moses to ascend the mountain and accept the teachings on their behalf.

    Moses came and told the people all the words of God. The people responded with one voice and said, 'All the words that God has spoken, we will do.' Moses wrote down all the words of God. He arose early in the morning and built an altar beneath the mountain, and also twelve pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel. He sent youths of the Sons of Israel and they offered burnt-offerings, and sacrificed oxen as peace offerings to God. Moses ... then took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the ears of the people. They said, 'All that God has spoken, we will do and we will hear.' (Exodus 24:3-7)"

    Translation form

     We will do and we will hear.  The Jewish people (Jewish tradition has it that all Jewish souls were at Sinai) agreed to obey the Torah before they heard it or understood it.   In Judaism   your thoughts play a role but  it is  more important what you do that than what you think.  Action breeds understanding.

    If I want be charitable I don't need  to sit around thinking charitable thoughts.  I  should just give charity even if  I  would much rather spend the money  on  myself.   If you give enough charity  you will become a charitable person.  If I want to be a kind person , loving spouse  etc, I  should act the way you want to be.

    Actually my first martial arts class ( I am not currently studying) the instructor said fake it till you make it and it was very helpful advice. 
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« Reply #15 on: December 14, 2008, 02:40:42 PM »

Thank you for continuing my education once again Rachel.

This in particular caught my attention:

"The Jewish people (Jewish tradition has it that all Jewish souls were at Sinai) agreed to obey the Torah before they heard it or understood it."

VERY interesting.
« Reply #16 on: December 20, 2008, 11:00:19 AM »

Chanukah starts tomorrow night!

"Our sages advised... that a little bit of light banishes a lot of darkness, and that it takes only one small flame to kindle many others"
What Is Chanukah?

By Tzvi Freeman

"Did Chanukah happen years ago? Or is it happening now? Was there ever a time when it was not happening? The story of a little candle pushing away the monster of frightening darkness is ever-alive within each of us -- and in the world outside of us.

You might call it the cosmic mega-drama. Watch it happen at the dawn of each day and at every winter solstice, with every breath of life, every cry of a newborn child, every blade of grass that breaks out from under the soil, every flash of genius, every stroke of beauty, every decision to do good in the face of evil, to build where others destroy, to move humanity forward when others pull us toward chaos. All those and more are Chanukah.

Some History

You would have thought the Jewish people and the ancient Greeks would get along. After all, they had so much in common. Both valued wisdom and beauty. Many Greek philosophers even acknowledged a single, great Mind behind all the cosmos, similar to Jewish monotheism.

Well, they did manage somewhat -- at first. The Jews tolerated Greek rule from the time of Alexander of Macedonia. Many Jews studied Hellenist philosophy and King Ptolemy had the Jewish Torah translated into Greek. But when King Antiochus attempted to force Hellenism down our throats, we rebelled.

Antiochus forbade ritual circumcision. Mothers openly circumcised their infant boys in defiance. Antiochus forbade the keeping of the Sabbath. Jews were forced to leave Jerusalem so they could keep the day of rest holy. Antiochus forbade the study of Torah as a sacred text. Jews found ways to teach classes of children and adults in secret. When the Greeks raised up idols in the cities and towns and demanded that the Jews worship them, all-out war ensued.

It was the first time in history that a people had fought not for their country or their lives, but for their beliefs and their right to religious freedoms.

Problem was, the Syrian-Greek army was the most powerful in the world. Their soldiers marched in a compact formation of overlapping shields and long spears, almost invincible in those times. They had advanced weapons, were highly trained and even brought elephants to the battlefield. The Jewish resistance, on the other hand, began with a handful of brothers of the priestly class, calling themselves the Maccabees.

There were many acts of courage, but the Maccabees firmly believed that their victory came from Above. Eventually, they received a sign that it was so: When they took back Jerusalem and the Temple, they searched and found a single flask of undefiled olive oil -- just what was needed to light the sacred menorah. Although the flask held only enough for a single day, the light of the menorah miraculously burned for eight complete days, providing just enough time to prepare new oil. To the Jewish people, this was like a nod from Above, that, yes, He was with us all along.

Chanukah Insights:


Without miracles, we might come to believe that the laws of physics define reality. Once we witness the inexplicable, we see that there is a higher reality. And then we look back at physics and say, "This too is a miracle." The miracle of a small flask of oil burning for eight days was this sort of miracle.

Then there are those small miracles that occur every day. Those acts of synchronicity we call 'coincidence' because, in them, G-d prefers to remain anonymous. But when we open our eyes and hearts, we see there is truly no place void of this wondrous, unlimited G-d. These were the sort of miracles the Maccabees saw in their battles against the mighty Greek army.

    The Power of the Individual

Chanukah was a victory of few over many. Each Maccabee was a hero, essential to the victory.

One could think that, in those days, when the population of the world was so much smaller, a single individual would have more power to change the world. In fact, just the opposite is true. Technology and information has put enormous power in the hands of whoever wants it.

Just over fifty years ago, one madman came to the verge of destroying the world. His failure to develop atomic weapons on time is still inexplicable -- it can only be attributed to the great mercies of the One Above who takes care of His world and promised it would always stand. Today we have seen that not even an army is needed, nor warheads or missiles -- but only an obsessive will to destroy.

Such is the power of darkness.

A thousand times over is the power of light, of any one of us to transform the entire world to good. A small child kissing the mezuzah on the door of her house, an act of kindness asking nothing in return, a sacrifice of convenience to benefit another-each of these things are as bursts of light in the nighttime sky. True, they make less noise. Rarely are they reported in the daily news. But while darkness passes as the shadows of clouds on a windy day, this light endures, accumulating until it leaves no room for evil to remain.

    The Mind and Beyond

Today's Western society is built on the foundations of these two cultures: the Jewish and the Greek. Both treasured the human mind. The Greeks reached the pinnacle of intellect at their time. But the experience of Mount Sinai had taught the Jew that there is something greater than the human mind. There is a G-d, indescribable and inexplicable. And, therefore, a world could not be built on human reason alone.

The idea annoyed the Greeks to no end. While they appreciated the wisdom of the Torah, they demanded that the Jews abandon the notion that it was something Divine.

Ethics, to an ancient Greek, meant that which is right in the eyes of society. To a Jew, it means that which is right in the eyes of G-d. The difference is crucial: Ethics built solely on the convenience of the time can produce a society where human beings are treated as numbers in a computer or where the central value is the accumulation of wealth. At its extreme, it can produce a Stalinist Russia or a Nazi Germany.

A healthy mind is one that recognizes that there will always be wonder, because G-d is beyond the human mind. And a healthy society is a balanced one, whose soil nurtures human accomplishment but whose bedrock is the ethical standard of an Eternal Being.

Last Word

Some people are waiting for a final, apocalyptic war. But the final war is not fought on battlefields, nor at sea, nor in the skies above. Neither is it a war between leaders or nations. The final war is fought in the heart of each human being, with the armies of his or her deeds in this world. The final war is the battle of Chanukah and the miracle of light."

Here is one of my favorite Chanukah songs

Light One Candle

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Posts: 42462

« Reply #17 on: December 21, 2008, 12:47:48 AM »


That touched me.  Thank you.

« Reply #18 on: December 21, 2008, 10:18:03 AM »

Marc-- You are welcome  One of the things I love about Chabad is their ability to make you see the magic in everyday life.

"Natan (Anatoli) Sharansky was arrested in 1977 for his Zionist activism, his insistence on the right of Russian Jews to make aliyah to Israel. However he was accused of the much more serious crime of treason, for spying for the United States. He sat in prison from 1977 to 1986 including eight years in a Soviet prison camp in Siberia. After continuous public protest in the West, spear-headed by his wife Avital, Natan Sharansky was released in a spy exchange between the US and the USSR in 1986. After making aliyah and establishing a Russian immigrant party in 1996, he became Israeli Minister of Industry and Trade and later of the Interior.

His memoirs of the Soviet period are filled with sparkling anecdotes about the power of the few against the many -- the power that derives from "fearing no evil" and laughing in the face of oppression. The phrase, "fear no evil," is taken from the little book of Psalms, which he carried with him through his long imprisonment.

The holiday of Chanukah was approaching. At the time, I was the only Jew in the prison zone, but when I explained that Chanukah was a holiday of national freedom, of returning to one's own culture in the face of forced assimilation, my friends in our "kibbutz" decided to celebrate it with me. They even made me a wooden menorah, decorated it, and found some candles.

In the evening I lit the first candle and recited a prayer that I had composed for this occasion. Tea was poured, and I began to describe the heroic struggle of the Maccabees to save their people from slavery. For each zek [a prisoner in the Soviet Gulag] who was listening, this story had its own personal meaning. At one point the duty officer appeared in the barracks. He made a list of all those present, but did not interfere.

On each of the subsequent evenings of Chanukah I took out my menorah, lit the candles, and recited the appropriate blessing. Then I blew out the candles, as I didn't have any extras. Gavriliuk, the collaborator whose bunk was across from mine, watched and occasionally grumbled, "Look at him, he made himself a synagogue. And what if there's a fire?"

On the sixth night of Chanukah the authorities confiscated my menorah with all my candles. I ran to the duty officer to find out what had happened.

"The candlesticks were made from state materials; this is illegal. You could be punished for this alone and the other prisoners are complaining. They¹re afraid you'll start a fire."

I began to insist. "In two days Chanukah will be over and then I'll return this 'state property' to you. Now, however, this looks like an attempt to deny me the opportunity of celebrating Jewish holidays."
"A camp is not a synagogue. We won't permit Sharansky to pray here."    

The duty officer began hesitating. Then he phoned his superior and got his answer: "A camp is not a synagogue. We won't permit Sharansky to pray here."

I was surprised by the bluntness of that remark, and immediately declared a hunger strike. In a statement to the procurator general I protested against the violation of my national and religious rights, and against KGB interference in my personal life.

When you begin an unlimited hunger strike, you never know when or how it will end. Are the authorities interested at that moment in putting a swift end to it, or don't they give a damn? In a few weeks a commission from Moscow was due to arrive in the camp. I didn't know this at the time, but the authorities, presumably, were very aware of it, which probably explains why I was summoned to Major Osin's office two days later, in the evening.

Osin was an enormous, flabby man of around 50, with small eyes and puffy eyelids, who seemed to have long ago lost interest in everything but food. But he was a master of intrigue who had successfully overtaken many of his colleagues on the road to advancement. During my brief time in the camp he had weathered several scandals and had always managed to pass the buck to his subordinates. I could see that he had enjoyed his power over the zeks and liked to see them suffer. But he never forgot that the zeks were, above all, a means for advancing his career, and he knew how to back off in a crisis.

Osin pulled a benevolent smile over his face as he tried to talk me out of my hunger strike. Osin promised to see to it personally that in the future nobody would hinder me from praying, and that this should not be a concern of the KGB.

"Then what's the problem?" I said. "Give me back the menorah, as tonight is the last evening of Chanukah. Let me celebrate it now, and taking into account your assurances for the future, I shall end the hunger strike."

"What's a menorah?"


But a protocol for its confiscation had already been drawn up, and Osin couldn't back down in front of the entire camp. As I looked at this predator, sitting at an elegant polished table and wearing a benevolent smile, I was seized by an amusing idea.

"Listen," I said, "I'm sure you have the menorah somewhere. It's very important to me to celebrate the last night of Chanukah. Why not let me do it here and now, together with you? You'll give me the menorah, I'll light the candles and say the prayer, and if all goes well I'll end the hunger strike."

Osin thought it over and promptly the confiscated menorah appeared from his desk. He summoned Gavriliuk, who was on duty in the office, to bring in a large candle.

"I need eight candles," I said. (In fact I needed nine, but when it came to Jewish rituals I was still a novice.) Gavriliuk took out a knife and began to cut the candle into several smaller ones. But it didn't come out right; apparently the knife was too dull. Then Osin took out a handsome inlaid pocketknife and deftly cut me eight candles.
"During the prayer you must stand with your head covered and at the end say 'Amen.'" He put on his major's hat and stood.    

"Go, I'll call you later," he said to Gavriliuk. Gavriliuk simply obeyed orders. He was a fierce, gloomy man, and this sight must have infuriated him.

I arranged the candles and went to the coat rack for my hat, explaining to Osin that "during the prayer you must stand with your head covered and at the end say 'Amen.'" He put on his major's hat and stood. I lit the candles and recited my own prayer in Hebrew, which went something like this: "Blessed are You, God, for allowing me to rejoice on this day of Chanukah, the holiday of our liberation, the holiday of our return to the way of our fathers. Blessed are You, God, for allowing me to light these candles. May you allow me to light the Chanukah candles many times in your city, Jerusalem, with my wife, Avital, and my family and friends."

This time, however, inspired by the sight of Osin standing meekly at attention, I added in Hebrew: "And may the day come when all our enemies, who today are planning our destruction, will stand before us and hear our prayers and say 'Amen.'"

"Amen," Osin echoed back. He sighed with relief, sat down and removed his hat. For some time we looked silently at the burning candles. They quickly melted, and the hot wax was spread pleasantly over the glass surface of the table. Then Osin caught himself, summoned Gavriliuk, and brusquely ordered him to clean it up.

I returned to the barracks in a state of elation, and our kibbutz made tea and merrily celebrated the end of Chanukah. Naturally, I told them about Osin's "conversion," and it soon became the talk of the camp. I realized that revenge was inevitable, but I also knew they had plenty of other reasons to punish me.

Excerpted from Mr. Sharansky's book, Fear No Evil."

The first night of Chanukah is tonight!

Pass The Candle

I really like Michelle Citrin

« Reply #19 on: December 22, 2008, 08:33:59 PM »

It is not clearly known when the story which we are about to tell actually took place. The story first appeared in a very ancient book named after the heroine, Yehudit (Judith), and it was written in Hebrew. However, the original text was lost, and only a Greek translation remained, and not a very accurate one at that.

The story was retold in different versions. According to one version, it happened during the time of the Maccabean revolt against Syrian oppression, and Yehudit was a daughter of Yochanan the High Priest, father of the Hasmonean family.

At any rate, the heroic deed of Yehudit has inspired faith and courage in the hearts of Jews throughout the ages.

The town of Bethulia, in the land of Judea, came under siege by Holofernes, a mighty Syrian-Greek general, at the head of a huge army.

Holofernes was notorious for his cruelty in suppressing rebellions. When he captured a rebel stronghold, he showed no mercy to the men, women, and children sheltered there.

Now he was determined to crush the rebellion of the town of Bethulia, whose inhabitants refused to recognize the oppressive rule of the Syrians.

The men of the beleaguered town fought bravely and desperately to repulse the repeated assaults by the superior enemy forces. Seeing that he couldn't take the fortified town by force, Holofernes decided to starve the inhabitants into submission. He cut off the food and water supply, and before long the town was indeed brought to the verge of surrender.

Hungry and thirsty and in utter despair, the townspeople gathered in the marketplace and demanded that, rather than die of hunger and thirst, they should surrender to the enemy.

Uzzia, the commander of the defense forces, and the elders of the town, tried to calm the populace without success. Finally they pleaded, "Give us five more days. If no salvation comes by the end of five days, we will surrender. Just five more days..."

Reluctantly the people agreed, and slowly they dispersed. Only one person, a woman, remained in her place, as if riveted to it, and she addressed Uzzia and the elders, who had also turned to go. Her voice was clear and firm.

"Why do you test G-d, giving Him only five days in which to send us His help? If you truly have faith in G-d, you must never give up your trust in Him. Besides, don't you know that surrender to Holofernes is worse than death?!"

So spoke Yehudit, the noble daughter of Yochanan the High Priest. She was a young widow. It was several years since she had lost her beloved husband Menashe, and had devoted all her time to prayer and acts of charity ever since.

Yehudit was blessed with extraordinary charm, grace, and beauty, but she was particularly respected and admired for her devoutness, modesty, and loving kindness.

Yehudit's words made a deep impression on Uzzia and the Elders.

"You are quite right, daughter," they admitted, "but what can we do? Only a downpour of rain that would fill our empty cisterns could save our people, but it is not the rainy season. We are all suffering the pangs of hunger and thirst. Pray for us, Yehudit, and maybe G-d will accept your prayers..."

"We must all continue to pray, and never despair of G-d's help," Yehudit said. "But I have also thought of a plan. I ask your permission to leave town together with my maid. I want to go to Holofernes..."

Uzzia and the Elders were shocked and dismayed. "Do you know what you are saying, Yehudit? Would you sacrifice your life and honor on the slim chance that you might soften Holofernes's heart? We cannot allow you to make such a sacrifice for us."

But Yehudit persisted. "It had happened before that G-d sent His salvation through a woman. Yael, the wife of Heber, was her name, as you well know. It was in her hands that G-d delivered the cruel Sissera..."

Uzzia and the Elders attempted to discourage Yehudit from such a dangerous mission, but she insisted that she be allowed to try. Finally, they agreed.

Yehudit passed through the gates of Bethulia, dressed in her best clothes, which she had not worn since her husband passed away. A delicate veil all but hid her beautiful face. She was accompanied by her faithful maid, who carried on her head a basket filled with rolls, cheese, and several bottles of old wine.

The sun had already begun to hide behind the green mountains when Yehudit and her maid wound their way toward the enemy's camp, their lips whispering a prayer to G-d. Presently they were stopped by sentries, who demanded to know who they were and who sent them.

"We have an important message for your commander, the brave Holofernes," Yehudit said. "Take us to him at once."

"Who are you, and why are you here?" Holofernes asked, his eyes feasting on his unexpected, charming visitor.

"I am but a plain widow from Bethulia. Yehudit is my name. I came to tell you how to capture the town, in the hope that you will deal mercifully with its inhabitants..."

Yehudit then told Holofernes that life in the beleaguered town had become unbearable for her, and she bribed the watchmen to let her and her maid out. She went on to say that she had heard of Holofernes's bravery and mighty deeds in battle, and wished to make his acquaintance. Finally she told Holofernes, what he already knew, that the situation in the besieged town was desperate, that the inhabitants have very little food and water left. Yet, she said, their faith in G-d remained strong, and so long as they had faith, they would not surrender. On the other hand, she added, before long, every scrap of kosher food would be gone, and in desperation they will begin to eat the flesh of unclean animals, and then G-d's anger will be turned against them, and the town will fall....

"But how will I know when the defenders of the citadel will begin to eat unkosher food, as you say, so that I can then storm the walls and capture the city?" the commander of the besieging army asked.

"I had thought of that," Yehudit answered confidently. "I have arranged with the watchmen at the city's gates that I would come to the gate every evening to exchange information: I will tell them what's doing here, and they will tell me what's doing there."

Holofernes was completely captivated by the charming young Jewish widow who had so unexpectedly entered his life and was now offering him the key to the city. "If you are telling me the truth, and will indeed help me capture the city, you will be my wife!" Holofernes promised. Then he gave orders that Yehudit and her maid were to have complete freedom to walk through the camp, and anyone attempting to molest them in any way would be put to death immediately. A comfortable tent was prepared for the two women, next to his.

The two women, veiled and wrapped in their shawls, could now be seen walking leisurely through the armed camp at any time during the day and evening. Fearful of the commander's strict orders, everyone gave them a wide berth. Soon they attracted little, if any, attention. Yehudit could now walk up to the city's gates after dark, where she was met by a watchman.

"Tell Uzzia that, thank G-d, everything is shaping up according to plan. With G-d's help we shall prevail over our enemy. Keep your trust strong in G-d; do not lose hope for a moment!"

Having delivered this message for the commander of the defense force of the city, Yehudit departed as quietly as she had appeared.

The following evening she came again to the city's gate and repeated the same message, adding that she had won Holofernes' complete confidence.

In the meantime, Holofernes, having nothing special to do, spent most of his time drinking, with and without his aides. When he was not completely drunk, he would send for Yehudit. She always came to his tent in the company of her maid. On the third day he was already getting impatient.

"Well, gracious Yehudit, what intelligence do you bring me today? My men are getting impatient and demoralized doing nothing; they cannot wait to capture the city and have their fun..."

"I have very good news, general. There is not a scrap of kosher food left in the city now. In a day or two, famine will drive them to eat their cats and dogs and mules. Then G-d will deliver them into your hands!"

"Wonderful, wonderful! This surely calls for a celebration. Tonight we'll have a party, just you and I. I shall expect you as my honored guest."

"Thank you, sir," Yehudit said.

That evening, when Yehudit entered Holofernes' tent, the table was laden with various delicacies. The general was delighted to welcome her and bade her partake of the feast. But Yehudit told him she brought her own food and wine that she had prepared especially for that occasion.

"My goat cheese is famous in all of Bethulia," Yehudit said. "I'm sure you'll like it, General."

He did. And he also liked the strong, undiluted wine she had brought. She fed him the cheese, chunk after chunk, and he washed it down with wine. Before long he was sprawled on the ground, dead drunk.

Yehudit propped a pillow under his head and rolled him over on his face. Then she uttered a silent prayer.

"Answer me, O L-rd, as You answered Yael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, when you delivered the wicked general Sissera into her hands. Strengthen me this once that I may bring Your deliverance to my people whom this cruel man vowed to destroy, and let the nations know that You have not forsaken us..."

Now Yehudit unsheathed Holofernes' heavy sword, and taking aim at his neck, she brought the sword down on it with all her might.

For a moment she sat down to compose herself. Then she wrapped up the general's head in rags, concealed it under her shawl, and calmly walked out and into her own tent.

"Come quickly," she said to her maid, "but let's not arouse suspicion."

The two veiled women walked leisurely, as usual, until they reached the gates of the city. "Take me to Uzzia at once," she said to the sentry.

Uzzia could not believe his eyes as he stared at the gruesome prize Yehudit had brought him.

"There is no time to lose," she told the commander. "Prepare your men for a surprise attack at dawn. The enemy's camp is not prepared for it. When they run to their commander's tent, they will find his headless body, and they will flee for their lives..."

This is precisely what happened.

The enemy fled in confusion and terror, leaving much booty behind. It was a wonderful victory, and it was the G-d-fearing and brave daughter of Yochanan the High Priest, the father of the Hasmonean family, that saved the city of Bethulia and all its inhabitants.

PS22 Chorus MAOZ TSUR Chanukah Song

A longer more traditional version
Maoz Tzur Medley - miami boys choir - hanukkah

« Reply #20 on: December 23, 2008, 06:33:22 PM »

This article was written in 2004

An American Jewish soldier of Iraqi descent lights the Menorah in Saddam Hussein's palace.

Banu hoshekh legharesh -- "We have come to banish darkness." Thus begins a famous Chanukah song, and no phrase better encapsulates the holiday's deeper meanings. This year, as a United States soldier serving in Iraq, I and several of my colleagues lit a Chanukah lamp and uttered those words in a place that had never before heard them: the former presidential palace of Saddam Hussein, in the capital city of a new and free Iraq.
One is hard-pressed to imagine a holiday whose themes are more resonant with the events unfolding here: A spectacular military victory, the defeat of a despot, the re-sanctification of what had been desecrated. Truly, the banishment of darkness.

Chanukah commemorates the rededication of Jerusalem's Temple in 165 BCE. Israel was then ruled by Syria's Hellenist king, Antiochus IV, a brutal megalomaniac who gave himself the title Epiphanes -- "god manifested." In a campaign of merciless persecution, he murdered members of the priesthood, outlawed Jewish rituals, and desecrated the Holy Temple.

The priestly Maccabee family led a daring revolt and defeated the Hellenist armies. After recapturing the Temple, Jewish partisans rededicated the place by kindling its sacred Menorah. To this day, Jews celebrate the relighting of that ancient Menorah, to remember the victorious freedom fighters whose courage stemmed from an abiding faith that God will cause good to triumph over evil, and light to banish even the darkest of hours.

For too many years, the people of Iraq have suffered horrors that defy imagination. Like Antiochus, Saddam thought himself to be like a god, or at least like those demigods of Mesopotamian history, Nebuchadnezzar and Hammurabi, with whom his boundless vanity inclined him regularly to equate himself. "Epiphanes" indeed -- Saddam dispensed licentious pleasure and horrible pain, life and death, with the nonchalance of one who thought himself above humanity itself.

I myself have seen some of the evidence of his horrors, and I am sickened by them. I have met Iraqis who lost their closest relatives to Saddam's killing machines. I have walked the halls of the decadent monuments he built for himself while his people wasted away for want of food and freedom. I have visited Saddam's execution chambers at the notorious Abu Ghreib prison. I saw the ceiling hooks that were used to torture prisoners. I saw the prison's infamous "medical wing," used for human experimentation. And most shattering of all, I saw the desperate messages scratched on the walls of hideous cells next to the death chambers. Some of those messages appear to have been scribbled in excrement.

I shuddered as I imagined the suffering endured by the forgotten victims of that terrible place -- the excruciating physical pain, the agony over loved ones left behind, the devastating sounds of executions conducted only a few feet from their cells. I could almost hear the screams of torture and soft whimpers of despair echo along the walls' unforgiving concrete.


Perhaps I am especially prone to feel empathy for Iraq's prisoners of conscience, for my grandfather was one of them. He and other leaders of the once large Iraqi Jewish community were arrested, paraded through the streets in leg irons, and summarily jailed. But my grandfather was comparatively fortunate, for he was imprisoned many years before Saddam took the country to new depths of depravity. And after serving the prison sentence given him, my grandfather was released.

Many of Saddam's prisoners were not so lucky. Many Iraqis unfortunate enough to be deemed ethnically or religiously undesirable, or who displayed the intolerable audacity of free thought, entered Saddam's prisons with the knowledge that they would never again see their loved ones. And in the twisted reality of the former Iraq, they may well have hoped never again to see their loved ones, for Saddam's regime was known to torture children in front of their parents. Whereas my grandfather was able to assuage his suffering by rejoining the people he loved most in this world, the victims of Saddam's apparatus of death could only console themselves by scrawling desperate messages on the walls of their cells.


It is the defeat of this sort of profanity that Chanukah celebrates. It was Antiochus' consummate ungodliness -- all the more so when contrasted with the sacred Temple worship that he prevented and defiled -- that the Jews succeeded in vanquishing. But what can be more ungodly, what more profane, than torture, mass murder, and genocide? Such evil had been a staple of life in Iraq. But not any more. We have come to banish darkness.

This Chanukah in Baghdad, in a large and lavish building, the gentle glow of a Chanukah lamp shimmered throughout a cavernous room. One of the objects caught in its radiance is a gilded chair that used to serve as the tyrant's throne, and the palace in which it sits used to be the capital building of his reign of terror. Today, the chair is empty, and the palace houses the apparatus of Iraqi reconstruction.

As my colleagues and I remember the Maccabee bravery of yesteryear and the re-sanctification of the Temple, we pray also for the brave and indefatigable people of Iraq, who day by day are rekindling their flames of hope and re-sanctifying their great land. They are banishing the darkness, and we wish them Godspeed.

A version of this article originally appeared in The Miami Herald.

Author Biography:
Elan S. Carr, an attorney, is a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserve. He led the Chanukah observance in Baghdad using a lamp donated by a Jewish Iraqi artist.

This video is about a different group of soldiers and took place in 2006

This article is  from 2007

Celebrating Chanukah in Baghdad
By · December 7, 2007

BAGHDAD (JTA) – In some ways, this year’s Chanukah in Baghdad seemed just like Chanukah any other year.

Everyone gathered around the menorah outside. I spoke about the meaning of the holiday for us, in Baghdad today.

A few people laughed as I pointed out some of the parallels between the Maccabees of old fighting for their just cause and the work the United States is engaged in every day here in Iraq.

Just like my other Chanukahs in Iraq, I couldn’t help but notice that most of those gathered for the menorah lighting were well armed. Each was in uniform and carrying an M-16, M-4 or M-9, all with ammunition, ready for action if needed.

We said the blessings over the lights and sang together under the inky night sky.

People lingered over “Maoz Tsur,” singing “Rock of Ages” in English. Lighting took a while, as one soldier worked at getting a kerosene lantern filled with olive oil to light because kerosene wasn’t available. The clear flame burned brightly, and we each admired it before going inside for latkes, dreidels and more festivities.

I had spoken in part about the cause of religious freedom and how the values of pluralism in America mean that we, as soldiers, are allowed to practice our own religion even while fighting halfway around the world.

I also spoke of how our sages teach that even a small candle can push away a great deal of darkness. Each one of those soldiers gathered around the menorah is a candle, and it is the light of loving kindness that they can show each other, even in difficult circumstances, which will carry them through their deployment here. The light they bring into the world will make a difference wherever they are.

Inside the dining facility, everyone loaded up on latkes with applesauce and drank eggnog. Small groups formed around the tables, and we listened to music and talked.

One officer told me there was a $40,000 cash bounty on his head, as well as on those of everyone on his team. In order to keep the bounty from going higher, he tries not to advertise his Jewishness.

A young soldier told me proudly that he originally is from Israel and was only in Baghdad for a few days. Fortuitously he had seen the Chanukah flyers we had posted all over Camp Taji.

Another soldier told me how glad his mother was that a rabbi was in Baghdad now, even though he would be heading home in a month.

Others talked about the meaning Chanukah held for them or of memories from back home. Holiday cheer seemed to improve even the taste of the latkes.

After the evening’s program ended and the decorations were taken down, a small group stayed behind singing “I have a little dreidel.” Somehow, amid all the celebration, we had forgotten this Chanukah standard.

Before drifting off in twos or threes, many of those who came exchanged e-mail addresses, and we all promised to try and meet again before the end of the holiday.

Most Jewish soldiers spend their holidays on their own, with little around them to remind them of home or their Jewish identity.

The “local” paper, Stars and Stripes, carried a picture on the front page I had taken earlier in the day of the 12-foot menorah as it was being set up. Later, a soldier wrote to the paper from his remote outpost in Iraq to say how much it meant to be reminded of Chanukah.

The opportunity for Jewish soldiers to gather together, just as they might back home, is valued very highly here in this distant land.

A small community of Jews has been meeting here all year long thanks to the efforts of Capt. Stephen Schwab, who led a weekly Friday-night service and organized holiday gatherings with the help of a small group of regulars.

Schwab remarked that this Chanukah was the largest gathering of Jewish soldiers he had seen in his 14 months deployed.

While each of us can bring light into the world, the light we bring seems so much brighter when we can come together. For our group of soldiers serving at Camp Taji in Baghdad, the lights this Chanukah burn bright.

Rabbi David Goldstrom is a U.S. Army chaplain stationed in Iraq.
« Reply #21 on: December 23, 2008, 06:45:49 PM »

 I find most Hanukkah albums are either sweet or kitschy  or a little of both but somewhat lacking. I really  like this album it has power to it. 

Joy to the world

"Many have remarked in the past about the dearth of decent Hanukka songs, in contrast to the abundance of Christmas songs. This year, Erran Baron Cohen, in conjunction with New Line Records, has released a CD that he hopes will rectify this situation, entitled Songs In The Key Of Hanukkah.

"I remember as a child listening to some recording of Israeli children singing; it was slightly difficult to listen to," explains Baron Cohen. "I thought it would be an interesting challenge to try to make a record that was worth listening to, especially for adults."

The project took off at a party for the release of the Borat film (for which Baron Cohen had written the score) when Baron Cohen met the president of New Line Records, Jason Linn, who had recently sought in vain for a Hanukka record that was not kitsch in nature.

The disc features both original material, written specifically for this release by artists such as Israeli star Idan Raichel, and reworkings of old favorites. "Total transformations" is how Baron Cohen, who acted as cowriter, producer, instrumentalist and backing singer, labels them.

Regarding the reworkings, he says that he "loves to bring new and old together, and take the tradition somewhere else," but he still found it a "challenge."

He gives the example of "Dreidel," and even offers a short, almost sarcastic rendition. "You know, 'Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, I made you out of clay?' I thought it was one of the most depressing, awful pieces of music I'd ever heard. It seemed to have absolutely no scope."

With Jules Brookes's assistance, however, he feels that he has succeeded in "making it into something great."

Another testament to Baron Cohen's ability to adapt the traditional songs is the fact that "Maoz Tzur" (which he dubs "the anthem of Hanukka") and "Rock of Ages," which have a common melody, emerge as "completely different songs."

He was keen to include the latter, whose lyrics, written by Marcus Jastrow in the 19th Century, are a loose translation of the Hebrew hymn Maoz Tzur. This is because he felt that "its words are very powerful. They examine the heavier issues, such as the oppression and tyranny that feature in the story of Hanukka."

Meanwhile, it was very important to him to represent more than just the Western, Ashkenazi tradition. So he researched other communities' traditions in order to represent their music on the CD, but not always with success. "I was desperately trying to find Moroccan Hanukka music, until I discovered that there was none, as they had left Israel before the story actually happened."

There are, however, two songs hailing from the Ladino tradition ("Ocho Kandelikas" and "A La Luz De La Vela"), performed by Yasmin Levy, who, in Baron Cohen's opinion, possesses "one of the great voices around: we were very lucky to work with her."

INTERMINGLED WITH these recognizable songs are the originals, which comprise songs in both English and Hebrew. Some of these are based on the traditional tunes, such as "Spin It Up," which is based on "Sevivon," and "Hanukkah Oh Hanukkah," which combines a klezmer treatment of the familiar melody with a Yiddish rap from American artist Y-Love.

"This really is a new concept in Jewish music. We set out to create a great album which we can all enjoy, instead of feeling slightly embarrassed."

Originally intended for a grown-up audience, Baron Cohen reports that it gained popularity among younger listeners: notably his three children, who are "loving it. We realized that it is also a family album, for a lovely family festival."

The wide variety of styles and artists represented on the record resulted in a recording process that was somewhat out of the ordinary. Baron Cohen met with Brooklyn-based Y-Love in Berlin for convenience's sake, and in August flew out to Israel to record "Relics Of Love & Light" with Idan Raichel and Avivit Caspi.

He speaks positively of his time recording in Tel Aviv, and despite a hectic schedule "still managed to have a good time; there's some great food over there."

He looks forward to the next time he has a chance to work in Israel.

The eclecticism that permeates the compilation is reflected in Baron Cohen's own musical background. After attaining a music degree in London, he joined a klezmer band, and more recently has been touring with his band Zemer, which "fuses Jewish, Arabic and drum and bass influences."

He was recently involved in writing the score for the movie, Borat, in which his brother Sacha Baron Cohen starred and which brought him some awards and a heightened profile. In addition, he is "imminently" to begin work on his brother's next movie, to be based on the fictional character Bruno. "I enjoy lots of different things," shrugs Erran.

Meanwhile, Sacha has been quoted as saying, "Even if he wasn't related to me, this album is so damn good that I'd want to make him my brother."

The brothers seem to be in agreement on this point: "[This record] is a great present," declares Erran. "Every family should have at least one copy, if not more."

  I like this song but it is not my favorite of the album  it is just the only one on youtube.

You can listen to part of the rest of the songs  at amazon

One of my favorite songs  on the album is Ocho Kandelikas. Rock of ages and Maox Tzur were excellent.

 Here is a different version  of Ocho Kandelikas.
« Reply #22 on: December 24, 2008, 03:01:48 PM »

Chanukah Lights Dancing
by Dr. Jackie Yaris
Chanukah's tiny lights brazenly face the night's bitter challenge, transforming fear into a soft caress of hope.

There is perhaps nothing as cold and terrifying as a midwinter night. Even the moon, usually low and welcoming, takes its retreat. It and its minion of stars glare angrily in the distance, the white light offering no respite. I think it is because of the intensity of the darkness that I have always found the candles of Chanukah so intriguing. Their tiny lights brazenly face the night's bitter challenge, and victorious, transform the harsh edge of fear into a soft caress of hope. Bathed in the candles' magical hue of triumph, the eight nights of Chanukah have always been a special time for me.

Oddly enough, none was more special than the one I spent as an intern on the oncology ward. It was December, six months into my internship, and I was bleary with exhaustion and staggering toward January -- my much awaited vacation. I remember thinking how apropos it was that during the darkest month of the year, I would be seeing patients dealing with probably the bleakest time of their lives. To alleviate some of the inherent gravity of the ward, the staff had attempted to infuse it with holiday cheer -- but the fluorescent lights had jaundiced even the brightest Xmas tree and Chanukah menorah, and all appeared sickly greenish.

After a few weeks of seeing so many tragic cases, and so much suffering, and now completely convinced that everyone I knew had an as-of-yet undiagnosed cancer lurking within them, my outlook became morose and depressed.

Until I met Claire.

A 57-year-old woman, she had been admitted for a two week course of chemo. Cancer has a nasty habit of revisiting its previous victims -- often with a far more lethal type, and two months earlier Claire had been diagnosed with a rare, aggressive blood cancer, just eight years after successful treatment for bone cancer.

These stark facts defined her medically, but they did not at all describe the whirlwind that was Claire.

When I walked in to her room, I was heartily greeted by a bright-eyed woman, wearing an orange turban, gigantic hoop earrings, and a huge smile.

"Hello! My new doctor!" she exclaimed and proceeded to fill me in on all the medical details she knew I would be asking. Clearly, she had been through this before.

"But now, tell me about you," she smiled.

I was surprised. Understandably, patients in similar situations are typically reeling, and by necessity focus inward. But not Claire; she radiated outward with such genuine interest that I started talking. As I did, I noticed the myriad of photos that had already begun to fill her walls -- of old people, young people but always with Claire, grinning widely, lighting up the center. Somehow, in such a short time, she had managed to transform the drab, antiseptic hospital room to a place of color and warmth.

Over the next few weeks, I gravitated to her room. I met her husband of 35 years. A successful law partner, he was her perfect foil -- serious where she was light, reserved where she was effervescent -- always the straight man to her joke. But his devotion sparked in his eyes, and it was obvious how much he needed her. His taut jaw only slackened when he spoke to her, the warm loving tones reserved only for her.

Her large group of friends was also very involved. I especially related to her two grown kids -- both in fledgling careers, her daughter with a young family back east, their drawn faces made it clear how torn they were between their many responsibilities and their hearts that were breaking.

When I became a doctor, I did it to give. I think Claire was the first patient to make me realize how much I would receive, and also, how much I would care. I marveled how even through pain and fear, she seized life vehemently. She lit up her bleak circumstances, and in so doing challenged me to assess my own. Her strength, wisdom and poise, and many others since her, has forever humbled me to the incredible radiance of the human spirit.

I will never forget my last night on call that month -- it happened to be the first night of Chanukah. When I went to visit Clare, she sat in a darkened room, transfixed by the plastic bulbs on the hospital's sterile menorah, sitting on the windowsill. "What a pathetic imitation," I thought as I glanced at the menorah.

But Claire was thrilled. "I've always loved Chanukah candles. They are so hopeful."

Only then did I notice how even the dim bulbs reflected on the window and seemed to glitter with the city lights beyond. She continued in a low voice, "You know, I wasn't supposed to make it last time..."

I did know that. Her oncologist told me that it was practically a miracle she had survived the first cancer, and that he was shocked at how well she was responding to this treatment. "These past eight years have been such a gift. We've traveled ... I've gotten to know two grandkids..." Her voice wavered a bit. "I'll make it again, I know it."

My throat caught, so all I could do was nod.

"Come look at these new pictures," she brightened as she picked them up from her bedside. "Can you believe it? My husband planned a 35th wedding anniversary party -- he bought everyone these wigs so I wouldn't be alone."

I looked and saw many of the people I recognized -- all laughing and wearing rainbow clown wigs. "A bunch of old, serious people in these silly wigs... We danced until one in the morning!" Claire shook her head, tears glistening in her eyes. "It was so ridiculous! But, oh, how we danced ..." her voice trailed off.

And there we sat, into the night, looking at pictures of dancing clowns, lit by the weird orange blush of a plastic menorah.

The next day was the start of my vacation month. Claire was scheduled to leave as soon as her infection-fighting white blood cells had risen.

Four weeks later, after my vacation, I walked into the ICU for my next rotation. I blanched when I saw Claire's name on the board.

With dread, I looked through her chart -- my worst fears were realized. Her white blood cells had never rebounded, and left susceptible, she contracted one of the most deadly infections: fungal pneumonia. She had been in the ICU for three and a half weeks, in a coma for the past two, and was now on full life support. Fluid filled both her lungs, her kidneys had failed, and her liver was beginning to deteriorate.

I glanced over at her room and saw her husband, crumpled against the doorway for support. His clenched jaw and gaunt grey face made evident the horror of the past month, as he watched her, biting his lip. When I went to her room, he barely looked up, and shook his head. As I looked in, even I was shocked. Her room which once reverberated with laughter and light was now eerily quiet, save for the rhythmic wheeze of the ventilator. Bloated, bald and pale, she was completely still except for the forced ventilations. I gulped when my eyes fixed on the one bit of color in the room -- a picture of the laughing, rainbow-wigged dancers, taped to an IV pole.

Her husband whispered, "It's not working... the next time her heart stops, we're not going to resuscitate her. It's... it's time..."

I knew that with multi-organ failure like she had, it wouldn't take long, and it didn't. The next day her heart started to fail. When it gets into trouble, the heart sends out electrical signals of distress and the heart monitor's once dependable heartbeat line quivers uncertainly. After I saw that on the screen, I went in to tell the family it was happening, but they already knew and surrounded her bed telling her how much they loved her. I went back to the monitor. As a physician, there is nothing more surreal than watching a monitor as a patient dies. It is at once completely detached, yet also startlingly personal. As it gets more fatigued, the heart's line quivers more and more frequently, until, spent, the heart fibrillates its final goodbye, the line twitches furiously and then nothing ... the line goes flat and that's it.

I went in to her room to pronounce her dead. Even before I put my stethoscope on her silent chest and felt her cool pulseless wrist, I knew the spirit was out of her body. I shivered, however, when I realized I could feel her sweet essence still lingering around us.

I hugged the family and left.

Even now, over ten years later, on the first night of Chanukah, after the latkes are eaten and the presents are opened, I sit in a darkened room and watch as the candles burn down. I strain to hear the tiny "sss" as the last wisp of smoke fills the air with its sweet burnt essence. The best part, though, is right before the candles succumb and are still lit. I am amazed that as they face the coming darkness, perhaps in spite of it, they glow so brilliantly. And that even as they approach the very end, they continue to flutter and dance. And, oh, how they dance.

Author Biography:
Jackie Yaris is a physician practicing internal medicine in Beverly Hills, Ca. She is also a wife and the mother of three young children

Swinging ---Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah

My Menorah

« Reply #23 on: December 25, 2008, 11:59:43 AM »

I thought I would take a brief break from Chanukah today.
"Each week in synagogue, we read (or, more accurately, chant, because it is sung) a passage from the Torah. This passage is referred to as a parshah. The first parshah, for example, is Parshat Bereishit, which covers from the beginning of Genesis to the story of Noah. There are 54 parshahs, one for each week of a leap year, so that in the course of a year, we read the entire Torah (Genesis to Deuteronomy) in our services. During non-leap years, there are 50 weeks, so some of the shorter portions are doubled up. We read the last portion of the Torah right before a holiday called Simchat Torah (Rejoicing in the Law), which occurs in October, a few weeks after Rosh Hashanah  (Jewish New Year). On Simchat Torah, we read the last portion of the Torah, and proceed immediately to the first paragraph of Genesis, showing that the Torah is a circle, and never ends. "

This weeks torah portion is  Mikeitz Genesis 41:1-44:17

"Joseph's Wisdom

By Yosef Y. Jacobson

Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, has two dreams, we learn in this week's Torah portion. In the first, Pharaoh sees himself standing over the Nile River,

And, behold, there came up out of the River seven cows, handsome and fat of flesh and they fed in the reed grass. And, behold, seven other cows came up after them out of the River, ugly and lean of flesh and stood by the other cows upon the bank of the River. And the ugly and lean cows ate up the seven handsome and fat cows. (Genesis 41:1-4)

In the second dream, Pharaoh sees seven thin, shriveled ears of grain swallow seven fat ears of grain.

None of the wise men of Egypt can offer Pharaoh a satisfactory interpretation of his dreams. Then, the "young Hebrew slave," Joseph, is summoned from the dungeon to the palace. Joseph interprets the dreams to mean that seven years of plenty, symbolized by the fat cows and fat grain, will be followed by seven years of hunger, reflected by the lean cows and the shriveled ears. The seven years of famine will be so powerful that they will "swallow up" and obliterate any trace of the years of plenty.

Joseph then advises Pharaoh how to deal with the situation: "Now Pharaoh must seek out a man with insight and wisdom and place him in charge of Egypt. A rationing system will have to be set up over Egypt during the seven years of surplus," Joseph explains, "in which grain will be stored for the upcoming years of famine."

Pharaoh is blown away by Joseph's vision. "Can there be another person who has G-d's spirit in him as this man does?" Pharaoh asks his advisors. "There is none as understanding and wise as you," he says to Joseph. "You shall be over my house, and according to your word shall all my people be ruled; only by the throne will I outrank you."

Joseph is thus appointed viceroy of Egypt. The rest is history.

Three questions

The Biblical commentators struggle with three major questions concerning this remarkable story.

A) It is difficult to understand how following his interpretation of the dreams, Joseph proceeded to give Pharaoh advice on how to deal with the impending famine. How is a newly liberated slave not afraid to offer the king of Egypt, the monarch who ruled a superpower, unsolicited advice? Pharaoh summoned Joseph from the dungeon to interpret his dreams, not to become an advisor to the king!

B) It is obvious from the narrative that Pharaoh was actually awestruck by Joseph's solution to the problem. But one need not be a rocket scientist to suggest that if you have seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine, you should store food during the time of plenty for the time of hunger. What's the genius in Joseph's advice?

C) Pharaoh also was amazed by Joseph's interpretation of the dreams themselves, which none of his own wise men could conceive. But Joseph's interpretation seems simple and obvious: When are cows fat? When there is lots of food. When are they lean? When there's no food. When is grain fat? When there is a plentiful harvest. When is grain lean? During a time of famine. So why was Pharaoh astonished by Joseph's rendition of his dreams? And why could no one else conceive of the same interpretation?

Uniting the Cows

During a Shabbat address in 1973, the Lubavitcher Rebbe presented the following explanation:

The dream experts of Egypt did indeed conceive of Joseph's interpretation to Pharaoh's dreams -- namely, that seven years of hunger would follow seven years of plenty. Yet they dismissed this interpretation from their mind because it did not account for one important detail of the dream.

In Pharaoh's first dream, he saw how the seven ugly and lean cows that came up after the seven handsome cows "stood near the other [fat] cows upon the bank of the River." In other words, there was a moment during which both sets of cows coexisted simultaneously, and only afterward did the lean cows proceed to swallow the fat cows.

It was this detail of the dream that caused the wise men of Egypt to reject the interpretation that Joseph would later offer to Pharaoh and compelled them to present all types of farfetched explanations.

For how is it possible that plenty and famine should coexist? Either you have fat cows alone or you have lean cows alone, but you can't have them both together! The seven years of famine cannot be present during the seven years of surplus.

This is where Joseph's brilliance was dazzlingly displayed. When Joseph proceeded to tell Pharaoh how to prepare for the coming famine, he was not offering him unwelcome advice on how to run his country; rather, the advice was part of the dream's interpretation.

Joseph understood that the coexistence of the two sets of cows contained the solution to the approaching famine: During the years of plenty Egypt must "live" with the years of famine as well as though they were already present. Even while enjoying the abundance of the years of plenty, Egypt must experience in its imagination the reality of the upcoming famine, and each and every day store away food for it. The seven lean cows ought to be very much present and alive in people's minds and in their behavior during the era of the seven fat cows.

Conversely, if this system was implemented in Egypt, then even during the years of famine the nation would continue enjoying the abundance of the years of plenty. The seven fat cows would be very much present and alive even during the era of the seven lean cows.

This is what impressed Pharaoh so deeply about Joseph's interpretation. To begin with, Pharaoh was struck by Joseph's ingenious accounting for that one detail of the dream that had evaded all of the wise men of Egypt.

But what thrilled him even more was Joseph's demonstration of the fact that Pharaoh's dreams not only contained a prediction of future events, but also offered instructions on how to deal with those events. The dreams did not only portend problems, but also proffered solutions.

Do you need G-d? Do you have a real friend?

The wisdom of Joseph's presentation to Pharaoh becomes strikingly clear when we reflect upon the spiritual message behind the story. For as we have noted a number of times, the stories of the Torah describe not only physical events that took place at a certain point in history, but also detail metaphysical and timeless tales occurring continuously within the human heart.

All of us experience cycles of plenty and cycles of famine in our lives. There are times when things are going very well: We are healthy, successful and comfortable. Often during such times we fail to invest time and energy to cultivate genuine emotional intimacy with our spouse, to develop real relationships with friends and to create a sincere bond with G-d. We feel self-sufficient and don't need anybody in our lives.

Yet when a time of famine arrives, when a serious crisis erupts (heaven forbid) in our lives, we suddenly feel the need to reach out beyond ourselves and connect with our loved ones and with G-d.

But we don't know how. Because when we do not nurture our relationships and our spirituality during our years of plenty, when the years of famine confront us, we lack the tools we so desperately need to survive the crisis.

This is the essence of Joseph's wisdom: You must never detach the years of plenty from the years of famine. When you experience plenty, do not let it blind your vision and desensitize you from what is truly important in life.

The priorities you cultivate during your "good times" should be of the kind that will sustain you during your "bad times" as well."

I really like this interpretation because it so much harder to grow and and change when things are going well but so necessary. 

Poor Poor Pharoah/Song of the King from  Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat with Donny Osmond.

Chinese Food On Christmas

« Reply #24 on: December 26, 2008, 07:18:23 AM »
Hope in Hell_
by S. B. Unsdorfer

We had been helped by God, even in this forsaken little camp at Nieder-Orschel.

Excerpted from The Yellow Star by S. B. Unsdorfer

After having survived the horrors of Auschwitz, Simche Unsdorfer was transported to Nieder-Orschel and put to work making aeroplane wings for the German Luftwaffe. It is in this camp that the following story took place.

When writing the little diary in which I entered the Hebrew dates and Festivals, I discovered with great delight that Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, the festival on which we commemorate the recapture of the Temple from the mighty Greeks by a handful of faithful Jews, was only a few days ahead. I decided that we should light a little Chanukah lamp even in Nieder-Orschel, and that this would go a long way towards restoring our morale.

Benzi was immediately consulted because he had become the most reliable and trusted person in the block. Even those at the other two tables came to Benzi to settle their quarrels, which were mostly about the distribution of their rations. Benzi would stand no arguments at his own table. He cut every loaf into eight portions and shared it out indiscriminately. He who complained, received the smallest portion. "If you are dissatisfied," Benzi would shout angrily, "go and join another table, where they have scales and judges." Nobody ever left our table.

Benzi was enthusiastic about my idea. "Yes, we should get a Chanukah light burning," he said. "It will boost our morale and lighten the atmosphere. Work on a plan, but be careful."

Two problems had to be overcome: oil had to be "organised" and a place had to be found where the lighted wick would not be seen. The was no lack of oil in the factory, but how could we smuggle even a few drops into our barrack in time for Monday evening, December 11, the first night of Chanukah?

We knew, of course, that Jewish law did not compel us to risk our lives for the sake of fulfilling a commandment. But there was an urge in many of us to reveal the spirit of sacrifice implanted in our ancestors throughout the ages. We who were in such great spiritual as well as physical distress felt that a little Chanukah light would warm our starving souls and inspire us with hope, faith and courage to keep us going through this long, grim and icy winter.

Benzi, Grunwald, Stern, Fischof and I were in the plot. We decided to draw lots. The first name drawn would have to steal the oil; the third would be responsible for it and hide it until Monday evening; the fifth would have to light it under his bunk. I was drawn fifth.

Grunwald, who was to "organise" the oil, did his part magnificently. He persuaded the hated Meister Meyer that his machine would work better if oiled regularly every morning, and that his could best be arranged if a small can of fine machine oil was allotted to us to be kept in our toolbox. Meister Meyer agreed, so there was no longer the problem of having to hide it.

On Monday evening after Appell, everyone else sat down to his much awaited portion of tasteless but hot soup, while I busied myself under the bunk to prepare my Menorah. I put the oil in the empty half of a shoe-polish tin, took a few threads from my thin blanket and made them into a wick. When everything was ready I hastily joined the table to eat my dinner before I invited all our friends to the Chanukah Light Kindling ceremony. Suddenly, as I was eating my soup, I remembered we had forgotten about matches. I whispered to Benzi. "Everyone must leave a little soup," Benzi ordered his hungry table guests, and told them why. Within five minutes, five portions of soup were exchanged in the next room for a cigarette. The cigarette was "presented" to the chef, Joseph, for lending us a box of matches without questions.

And so, as soon as dinner was over I made the three traditional blessings, and a little Chanukah light flickered away slowly under my bunk. Not only my friends were there with us, but also many others from the room joined us in humming the traditional Chanukah songs. These songs carried us into the past. As if on a panoramic screen, we saw our homes, with our parents, brothers, sisters, wives, and children gathered round the beautiful silver candelabras, singing happily the Maoz Tzur. That tiny little light under my bunk set our hearts ablaze. Tears poured down our haggard cheeks. By now, every single inmate in the room sat silently on his bunk, or near mine, deeply meditating. For a moment, nothing else mattered. We were celebrating the first night of Chanukah as we had done in all the years previous to our imprisonment and torture. We were a group of Jewish people fulfilling our religious duties, and dreaming of home and of bygone years.

But alas! Our dream ended much too soon. A roar of "Achtung" brought our minds back to reality, and our legs to stiff attention. "The Dog" - that skinny little Unterschaarfuehrer - stood silently at the door, as he so often did on his surprise visits, looking anxiously for some excuse, even the slightest, to wield his dog-whip. Suddenly he sniffed as loudly as his Alsatian and yelled "Hier stinkts ja von Oehl!" ("It stinks of oil in here!").

My heart missed a few beats as I stared down at the little Chanukah light flickering away, while "The Dog" and his Alsatian began to parade along the bunks in search of the burning oil.

The Unterschaarfuehrer silently began his search. I did not dare bend down or stamp out the light with my shoes for fear the Alsatian would notice my movements and leap at me. I gave a quick glance at the death-pale faces round me, and so indeed did "The Dog". Within a minute or two he would reach our row of bunks. Nothing could save us...but suddenly...

Suddenly a roar of sirens, sounding an air raid, brought "The Dog" to a stop and within seconds all lights in the entire camp were switched off from outside. "Fliegeralarm! Fliegeralarm!" echoed throughout the camp! Like lightning I snuffed out the light with my shoes and following a strict camp rule, we all ran to the open ground, brushing "The Dog" contemptuously aside. "There will be an investigation...There will be an investigation," he screamed above the clatter of rushing prisoners who fled out into the Appell ground. But I did not worry. In delight I grabbed my little Menorah and ran out with it. This was the sign, the miracle of Chanukah, the recognition of our struggle against the temptations of our affliction. We had been helped by God, even in this forsaken little camp at Nieder-Orschel.

Outside, in the ice-cold, star-studded night, with the heavy drone of Allied bombers over our heads, I kept on muttering the traditional blessing to the God who wrought miracles for His people in past days and in our own time. The bombers seemed to be spreading these words over the host of heaven.

This was of my favorite songs as a child
The Latke Song by Debbie Friedman
« Reply #25 on: December 27, 2008, 12:38:09 PM »

The Night the Rebbe Danced the Kazatsky

My Zayde was a storyteller, especially on Chanukah. High on the list of "Zayde's Ten Biggest Hits" was The Tzadik of Zomzach. "Tell us the story of the Tzadik," we grandchildren chorused.

He couldn't resist. Although the tale had many variations, it always began the same: "Once there was a peasant and a Rebbe in the village of Zomzach. The peasant was only a peasant and I'll tell you about him later, but the Rebbe -- he was the Tzadik of Zomzach. That's what they called him. Visitors, petitioners, followers from the entire district paraded through his court. Infertility? Halachic questions? No job? A sour stomach? An unmarried daughter? Go tell it to the Sage of Zomzach. We Jews, you know, don't really need an intermediary. But if your Malka was unmarried, thirty-nine, and had a small wart on her forehead, why not let the Rebbe offer a short prayer so Zalman, the tailor, might suddenly be captivated by small warts. It couldn't hurt.

Now in this same village of Zomzach, that was glorified by the presence of the Rebbe and Zalman the tailor, lived Mendel the peasant, his wife, and a seven-year-old daughter. As poor and hungry they were as the crows who pecked in the winter fields of dried corn stalks. Their total possessions would have fit on a one-horse wagon. They were drowned in poverty because Mendel, believe it or not, was a kazatzky dancer. That's what he did. He had a nature, shall we say, like the butterfly, not the industrious honeybee. For weddings, bar mitzvahs, birthdays, anniversary parties, he danced the Cossack kazatzky. His pay was a sack of flour, maybe a chicken, a handful of copper coins.

And as though their life wasn't bleak enough, their only child -- the seven-year-old Miriam, a beautiful child with vivid red hair -- was bedridden. She hadn't walked since her 5th birthday. And it was this misfortune that provoked the strange, unexplained, events at Zomzach.

"But why am I telling you this?" suddenly blurted out Zayde. "You've heard it a dozen times. You know what happened." He turned away to light his pipe.

He knew we would plead. And we knew because he loved to tell the story that he would continue.

"So, on Chanukah," he went on, "the wife said to Mendel, 'Go to the Rebbe -- ask for a blessing for Miriam. It's Chanukah, the Rabbi won't deny you. It couldn't hurt, you know. And God knows we can't send for the doctor in Cracow'.

'But I have no gift,' said the kazatzky dancer. 'And you know everyone who asks the Tzadik of Zomzach for a prayer on Chanukah brings something. A token that the Rebbe gives to his students.'

'Go!' said the wife. 'Pick some flowers from the fields. Find a colored stone. Anything. Just go!'

Soon, there he was at the Holy man's holiday court shouldering his way through a crowd of admirers and petitioners. He stood in front of the Tzadik of Zomzach - who listened attentively to his plea: that he should pray for the sick child who hadn't walked in many months.

Here, Zayde paused. "You know what happened. Why should I continue? Let me drink my tea." But a roar of protest from us kids reinspired the storyteller.

So he continued, "As Mendel humbly stood at the Rebbe's table, he thought, I have no gifts; but nobody, nothing, including a whirling Chanukah dreidle, can spin like me. I'll bet the Rebbe would enjoy my Cossack kazatzky -- the one where I hop on one foot, kick straight out with the other with my arms folded tightly across my chest.

And that's what he did. And the onlookers picked up the beat of his flying feet. They clapped, they roared with approval. Who could do the kazatzky like Mendel? No one, including the Cossacks who guarded the Czar himself.

The Rabbi clapped, too. As he clapped he looked heavenward and his lips moved as though in prayer. And before you could say "Judah Maccabee" the Alte Rebbe had leaped the table, joined hands with the peasant and whirled around the room with him. "God wants the heart," he cried over and over.

The spectators grinned and clapped and whistled with delight. Ah, that was their Rebbe. And what a heart he had. But soon their smiles turned to astonishment. THERE WERE THREE FIGURES in the circle. And one of them was a small red-haired girl!

We listeners screamed, "Zayde, Zayde, tell us how she danced".

"How she danced? How do you think she danced? She had the kazatzky gene in her blood."

She was magnificent. Naturally quicker than the Alte Rebbe, she kept up with her father. But when the dance was completed, only the Tzadik of Zomzach and Mendel the Peasant was seen.

And when the peasant arrived home, Miriam standing erect beside her mother, met him at the door. She smiled at her father. Then quickly, she dropped into the traditional kazatzky position. Three quick spins brought joy to his heart. They hugged."

"It's not true," said my older brother. "It's what they call a 'Zaydemeiser' in Yiddish. Or a 'Tall Tale' in English."

"All I know," said my grandfather, "is that MY Zayde, who was there the night the Rebbe did the kazatzky, told me the story every Chanukah.

Adam Sandler Chanukah Song

South Park Dreidel Song
« Reply #26 on: December 28, 2008, 09:23:58 AM »

Tonight is the last night of Chanukah and tomorrow is the last day.

Women at War
A Chanukah Lesson

By Chana Kroll

The hall was packed. This was no ordinary wedding, but the wedding of the daughter of one of Jerusalem's most prominent families. Leaders in the still quiet, non-violent rebellion against the Greeks, they were respected and loved by Jews throughout the Land of Israel. Not to mention, as priests in the Temple, the family had been looked up to for generations.

Amidst the elegant flowers, soft music, and the conversations of the guests, the bride suddenly stood up, walked to the center of the room, placed her hand on her chest, and tore open her gown.

Shocked, angry, and embarrassed, her brothers rose to drag her from the room. But she stood firmly in place and addressed the room: You who are so zealous that you would kill me, are not zealous enough to protect me from the hands of the Greek governor who will come here to assault me tonight.

Did you not learn from Shimon and Levi, the brothers of Dina who, though only two men, killed the entire city of Shechem for her sake? Place your faith in the One Above, and He will help you."

Her five brothers declared their willingness to go to war, and were answered by a voice descending from the Holy of Holies promising victory.

In her eyes, it was a story of the struggle for political freedom The story of the Maccabees' brave revolt is a familiar one not only to Jews but to most non-Jews as well. I can still remember my second grade music teacher in public school giving a brief account of the miracle of the oil before teaching the whole class "Rock of Ages.” What was left out of her account were all the details about what the Jews were really fighting for. In her eyes, it was a story of the struggle for political freedom and fit in quite nicely with news accounts of Sakharov, Mandela, and others struggling for personal and national liberty.

As I grew older, and became more involved with Judaism and the Jewish community, details seeped in. Initially, the Greeks treated the Jews with greater respect than they had treated other peoples they conquered. Alexander the Great had seen the High Priest, Shimon the Righteous, in a dream and when Shimon went out to meet his approaching army, Alexander knelt before him and pledged never to harm Jerusalem or the Holy Temple.

Years passed. Alexander and Shimon the Righteous both passed away. Some Jews became quite infatuated with Greek culture. But the more they imitated the Greeks, the less respect the Greeks had for us. They began to mock Judaism and enact laws against it. First, they locked up the synagogues and schools. People prayed and studied in one another’s homes.

Then, the Greeks passed a law that all Jews had to write a sentence stating they had no portion in the G-d of Israel on the horns of their livestock and on their doors. The Jews sold their livestock and removed the doors from their homes.

The Greeks passed a law outlawing circumcision. The Jews made up secret signs through which they announced circumcision ceremonies, and guests risked their lives to go wish the new parents Mazal Tov.

The Greek soldiers started assaulting Jewish women The Greeks outlawed Shabbos, the celebration of the New Moon, and Torah study. Jews hid in caves and continued to observe all three. The Greeks found hundreds of ways to try to stamp out Judaism. Jews found hundreds of ways to quietly rebel and to remain what they had always been. Then the Greek soldiers started assaulting Jewish women. The governor made a decree - unfortunately a common one in ancient cultures - called prima nostra, "first rights." The governor would kidnap and assault every bride on her wedding night.

And then the Jews went to war.

The victory we celebrate on Chanukah is a victory on many levels. It is a victory of the few over the many, of light over darkness, of Jewish continuity in the face all those who had sought or would seek to wipe out Judaism and Jewish history.

The Jewish people - men and women - defied every Greek law with enormous self-sacrifice, yet it was largely by and for the sake of Jewish women that the Maccabees were led to declare war.

The decisive moment occurred when one Jewish woman looked her brothers in the eye and told them, "You cannot let this happen to me." It was a war, first and foremost, for sanctity - the sanctity of the Temple, the sanctity of Torah, and the sanctity of every human being.

Among the many miracles we acknowledge and commemorate as we kindle the lights of the menorah, we also acknowledge the simple truth of every woman's sanctity and her right to personal safety and dignity.

It's a detail well-worth remembering.

The Madoff Madness

Honor and dishonor in the Jewish community.

It's very hard for many people to have a happy Chanukah this year.

It's not just because the world economy is in meltdown and we are frightened more and more by our dwindling bank accounts and impoverished pension plans. It's because the very meaning of Chanukah today seems to be in jeopardy.

The Maccabees may have won a long time ago, but in the age of Bernie Madoff madness the spiritual victory of the Jewish people over the values of Hellenism and Greek culture remains highly doubtful.

Chanukah, unlike Purim, doesn't celebrate the physical survival of Jews in the wake of a genocidal threat. It commemorates our ability to preserve Judaism at a time when the world around us worshiped totally different ideals. The symbol of the holiday is oil because unlike other liquids, oil does not mix with water but maintains its own identity and rises to the top. So too, the Jewish people did not assimilate.

When confronted with a culture that worshiped the holiness of beauty, the heroes of Chanukah maintained their allegiance to the beauty of holiness. The Greeks claimed that beauty is truth. The Jews insisted that only truth is beauty. The Greeks glorified the physical. The Jews insisted the spiritual has greater importance. The Greeks sanctified the gymnasium and the marketplace. The Jews worshiped the Temple and the house of study. The Greeks idolized wealth. The Jews venerated values.

To those who ask how could the Bernie Madoff scandal have happened, the answer can only be that for far too many Jews today the Maccabees were wrong and the Greeks were right. Given a choice between assimilating with a conspicuous consumption culture that proclaims "he who dies with the most toys wins," or a more modest lifestyle circumscribed by Torah and mitzvoth, the tragedy is that so many Jews opted for the former.

It wasn't too many years ago that Michael Douglas won an Oscar for best actor in the movie Wall Street. In the film Douglas played the role of a fiendishly avaricious stock market speculator. To thunderous applause, in one of the climactic scenes of the film, Douglas tells his adoring audience, "There's a new law of evolution in corporate America. Greed is good." Strangely enough, that seemed to strike a chord among some of the very people who gave the world the Ten Commandments that concluded with the powerful divine edict, "Thou shalt not covet."

Due Diligence?

To understand the Bernie Madoff scandal, it completely misses the mark if we focus our attention solely on the one man who engineered this incredible Ponzi scheme. It isn't shocking, after all, to discover that con men can still be found in our midst. What needs to be analyzed is how it was possible for so many financially astute businessmen, as well as organizations committed to prudent investment policies, to fall victim to the seductive lure of a phony who promised returns that the investors themselves recognized as "too good to be true."

Why were they all willing to assume a level of risk that simply didn't make sense? The answer undoubtedly is because our society was making it clear that it was far more risky not to make outrageous returns on your money, not to have a billion dollars if you only had half a billion, not to be super super wealthy if you are only in the to be pitied category of just the super wealthy.

When being just rich isn't enough, the rich have to risk everything to maintain their social standing.

So where does the real blame lie? Bernie Madoff was taking advantage of a social reality created by us, by our organizations, and yes even by our charities. Honor in Jewish life has all too often been meted out only by the measure of financial, rather than personal, worth. Only the millionaire could become a macher, and only the close-to-billionaire could dream of becoming a major Jewish leader or honoree.

Tell me who your heroes are and I will tell you what you worship, goes the old adage. When scholars are given positions of prominence we can conclude that study represents a prime value. When the wealthy are the only ones allowed on the dais of communal leadership we are making clear what we hold dear as our priority.

Ask our young people today what they want to be when they grow up. If they respond, "to be successful," probe a little further and ask what they mean by that. More often than not they will smile and say, "That's simple; I want to make a lot of money." And why are they so materialistic? There is no wonder about that. It is because we have shown them that that is the ultimate way in which we will evaluate their success. Just look at the role models we offer them as the ones worthy of our respect and admiration.

So our best and our brightest have been going off to Wall Street instead of to professions of communal service, to the banks instead of to the rabbinate, to the marketplace instead of to the meeting places of teachers and scholars. And when they make their first big bundle they'll realize it isn't enough by far. And that's when they will become fair game for the next Bernie Madoff.

Catalyst for Change

Every crisis, it's been said, has within it a seed of blessing. The Madoff scandal, with its 50 billion dollar immediate loss and its ripple effect that may well be equally cataclysmic, must serve as a catalyst for change if we are to imbue it with any meaning. The Madoffs of the world must be deprived of their greatest strength -- the power given to them by a Jewish world that has succumbed to values foreign to our faith and antithetical to our tradition.

We must relearn the powerful lesson captured in the story told by the Dubner Magid, one of our most famous storytellers. He described a father in a little shtetl taking his child to the cheder to learn. It's 6:30 in the morning, bitter cold outside. Father and son are huddled together for warmth. All of a sudden they hear music, a loud fanfare, the sounds of a procession in the distance. People are coming to look, leaving their homes, shouting, "The poretz [the Polish nobleman] is coming!" Suddenly from a distance they see a beautiful carriage approaching pulled by a team of magnificent horses. Right near them the carriage stops. No sooner does the servant open the door than out steps the poretz, dressed in all his finery, oozing of opulence, bedecked in jewelry and the costliest of garments. And the Jewish father, seeing this, gives his child a little tug and says, "Take a good look my child. Because in case you don't learn Torah, that's what you're going to look like!"

As we conclude the festival of Chanukah, we have to identify again with Matisyahu and the Maccabees. It was they who looked at a world tempted by the materialistic visions of Hellenism and warned their fellow Jews that if they traded their holiness for the empty rewards of hedonism, that's what they would look like. And we too, if we make the mistake of choosing gold over God as priority, will be easy victims lying in wait, doomed yet again to Madoff mania.

Ma Oz Tzur by Pharoah's Daughter

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« Reply #27 on: January 01, 2009, 06:54:50 PM »
« Reply #28 on: January 01, 2009, 09:21:31 PM »

Marc-- I really liked that video it was very powerful

If you have questions about what some of the words mean--- the original article has hyperlinks to translation. 
This week Torah Portion is  Vayigash Genesis 44:18-47:27

Do You Have a Father?

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveichik

Related by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveichik in a lecture at the Lincoln Square Synagogue, New York, May 28, 1975.

"I recall an experience from my early youth. Let me give you the background of that experience.

I was then about seven or eight years old. I attended a cheder (Jewish School for small children) in a small town on the border of White Russia and Russia proper. The town was called Khaslavichy; you certainly have never heard of it. My father was the rabbi in the town. I, like every other Jewish boy, attended the cheder. My teacher was not a great scholar but he was a Chassid, a Chabadnik.

The episode I am about to relate to you took place on a murky winter day in January. I still remember the day; it was cloudy and overcast. It was just after the Chanukah festival, and the Torah portion of the week was Vayigash (Genesis 44:18-47:27). With the end of Hanukah ended the little bit of serenity and yomtovkeit (holiday spirit) that the festival brought into the monotonous life of the town's Jews.

As far as the boys from the cheder were concerned, a long desolate winter lay ahead. It was a period in which we had to get up while it was still dark and return home from the cheder with a lantern in the hand of each boy, because nightfall was so early.

On that particular day, the whole cheder, all the boys, were in a depressed mood -- listless, lazy, and sad. We recited, or I should say chanted mechanically, the first verses of Vayigash in a dull monotone. We were simply droning the words in Hebrew and in Yiddish. So we kept on reading mechanically: Then Judah approached him [Joseph].... My lord has asked his servants, saying: "Have you a father, or a brother?" And we said to my lord: "We have an old father, and a young child of his old age..." Permit me to use the interpretation of the Targum Yerushalmi of the words yeled zekunim ("a young child of his old age"), namely a talented boy, a capable, talented, bright child. "We have an old father, and we also have a talented little child."

The boy, reading mechanically, finished reciting the question: Ha-yesh lachem av? Do you have a father? and the reply: Yesh lanu av zaken ve-yeled zekunim katan, We have an old father, and a young child of his old age. Then something strange happened. The melamed (teacher), who was half-asleep while the boy was droning on the words in Hebrew and Yiddish, rose, jumped to his feet and with a strange, enigmatic gleam in his eyes, motioned to the reader to stop. Then the melamed turned to me and addressed me with the Russian word meaning "assistant to the rabbi," podrabin. Whenever he was excited he used to address me with this title, "assistant to the rabbi." There was a tinge of sarcasm and cynicism in his using the term, because this Chabad chassid could never forgive me for having been born into the house of Brisk which represented the elite of the opposition to Chassidism. Although I must say that I cannot accept responsibility for this fact because it was an accident of birth.

Then he said to me: "What kind of question did Joseph ask his brothers, Ha-yesh lachem av? Do you have a father? Of course they had a father, everybody has a father! The only person who had no father was the first man of creation, Adam. But anyone who is born into this world has a father. What kind of a question was it?"

I began, "Joseph . . ." I tried to answer, but he did not let me. Joseph, I finally said, meant to find out whether the father was still alive. "Do you still have a father," meaning, is he alive, not dead?

If so, the melamed thundered back at me, he should have phrased the question differently: "Is your father still alive?"

To argue with the melamed was useless. He began to speak. He was no longer addressing the boys. The impression he gave was that he was speaking to some mysterious visitor, a guest who had come into the cheder, into that cold room. And he kept on talking. Joseph did not intend to ask his brothers about avot d'isgalyim. I later discovered that this was a Chabad term for parenthood which is open, visible. He was asking them about avot d'iscasin, about the mysterious parenthood, the hidden and invisible parenthood. In modern idiom, I would say he meant to express the idea that Joseph was inquiring about existential parenthood, not biological parenthood. Joseph, the melamed concluded, was anxious to know whether they felt themselves committed to their roots, to their origins. Were they origin conscious? Are you, Joseph asked the brothers, rooted in your father? Do you look upon him the way the branches, or the blossoms, look upon the roots of the tree? Do you look upon your father as the feeder, as the foundation of your existence? Do you look upon him as the provider and sustainer of your existence? Or are you a band of rootless shepherds who forget their origin, and travel and wander from place to place, from pasture to pasture?

Suddenly, he stopped addressing the strange visitor and began to talk to us. Raising his voice, he asked: "Are you modest and humble? Do you admit that the old father represents an old tradition?

"Do you believe that the father is capable of telling you something new, something exciting? Something challenging? Something you did not know before? Or are you insolent, arrogant, and vain, and deny your dependence upon your father, upon your source?"

"Ha-yesh lachem av?! Do you have a father?!" exclaimed the melamed, pointing at my study-mate. I had a study-mate who was considered a child prodigy in the town. He was the prodigy and I had the reputation of being slow. His name was Isaac. The melamed turned to him and said: "Who knows more? Do you know more because you are well versed in the Talmud, or does your father, Jacob the blacksmith, know more even though he can barely read Hebrew? Are you proud of your father? If a Jew admits to the supremacy of his father, then, ipso facto, he admits to the supremacy of the Universal Father, the ancient Creator of the world who is called Atik Yomim ('He of Ancient Days')."

That is the experience I had with the melamed. I have never forgotten it."

« Reply #29 on: January 03, 2009, 01:29:39 PM »

Coalition Forces

 Almighty God on High, omnipotent King, look down from Your Sanctified Abode, and bless the valiant soldiers of the Coalition Forces who risk their lives to protect the welfare of all Your creation.

    Benevolent God, be their shelter and fortress, and to not allow them to falter. May harmony dwell in their ranks, victory in their battalion. Fill their hearts with faith and courage to thwart the evil schemes of our enemies and to abolish every rule of evil.

    Protect them on land, in the air and in the sea, and destroy their adversaries. Guide them in peace, lead them toward peace, and return them speedily to their families alive and unharmed.

    Grant us true peace in fulfillment of the prophecy: "Nation shall not lift up sword against another nation, nor shall they learn war any more."

    Let all the inhabitants of the world know that Dominion is Yours, and Your name inspires awe upon all that You have created. May this be Your will, and let us say, Amen.

Israeli Soldiers

He Who blessed our forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob -- may He bless the fighters of the Israel Defense Forces, who stand guard over our land and the cities of our God, from the border of the Lebanon to the desert of Egypt, and from the Great Sea unto the approach of the Aravah, on the land, in the air, and on the sea.

May the Almighty cause the enemies who rise up against us to be struck down before them. May the Holy One, Blessed is He, preserve and rescue our fighters from every trouble and distress and from every plague and illness, and may He send blessing and success in their every endeavor.

May He lead our enemies under our soldiers' sway and may He grant them salvation and crown them with victory. And may there be fulfilled for them the verse: For it is the Lord your God, Who goes with you to battle your enemies for you to save you.

Now let us respond: Amen.

Text courtesy of
« Reply #30 on: January 10, 2009, 03:48:14 PM »

This weeks Torah portion is Parshah Vayechi Genesis 47:28-50:26

A little long but I thought the comments on leadership were really interesting.  

Spirituality vs. Leadership

By Yosef Y. Jacobson

One dark night outside a small town, a fire started inside the local chemical plant and in a blink it exploded into flames. The alarm went out to the fire departments from miles around. When the volunteer fire fighters appeared on the scene, the chemical company president rushed to the fire chief and said, "All of our secret formulas are in the vault in the center of the plant. They must be saved. I will give $50,000 to the fire department that brings them out intact."

But the roaring flames held the firefighters off. More fire departments were called in as the situation became desperate. As the firemen arrived, the president shouted out that the offer was now $100,000 to the fire department who could bring out the company's secret files.

From the distance, a lone siren was heard as another fire truck came into sight. It was the nearby Jewish rural township volunteer fire company composed entirely of menchen over the age of 65. To everyone's amazement, the little run-down fire engine passed all the newer sleek engines parked outside the plant... and drove straight into the middle of the inferno.

Outside the other firemen watched as the old timers jumped off and began to fight the fire with a performance and effort never seen before. Within a short time, they had extinguished the fire and saved the secret formulas.

The grateful president joyfully announced that feat he was upping the reward to $200,000, and walked over to personally thank each of the brave, though elderly, fire fighters.

The local TV news reporters rushed in after capturing the event on film asking, "What are you going to do with all that money?"

"Well," said Morris Goldberg, the 70-year-old fire chief, "The first thing we are going to do is fix the brakes on that lousy truck!"

The Final Conversation

This week's Torah reading tells the story of Jacob's final conversation with his children. With profound vision, moving prose and astonishing candidness Jacob speaks to each of his sons, heart-to-heart, just moments before he is about to pass on to the next world.

"Come and listen, sons of Jacob; listen to your father Israel," Jacob begins. Then he addresses Reuben, his oldest son, with razor-sharp words:

    "Reuben, you are my firstborn, my power and the beginning of my might, foremost in rank and foremost in power. Water-like impetuosity -- you will not be preeminent, for you went up onto your father's bed; onto my couch and defiled it."1

Reuben the firstborn, the rabbis explain, should have been entitled to priesthood ("foremost in rank") and kingship ("foremost in power"). The Jewish priests and kings should have emerged from Reuben. But Reuben forfeited these privileges and they went instead to his brothers Levi and Judah, respectively. (Aaron's family of priests came from Levi; the Davidic dynasty of kings came from Judah). Reuben remained the firstborn, "my firstborn," with many of the privileges conferred by Jewish law on a firstborn (3), but he lost the priesthood and kingship.2

Reuben's Error

What was Jacob referring to when he spoke of Reuben "ascending on his bed"? The midrashic tradition3 offers two interpretations.

This first takes us back to a disturbing scene that transpired after Rachel's death, some 47 years earlier.

    "So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath, that is, Bethlehem. Over her tomb Jacob set up a pillar, and to this day that pillar marks Rachel's tomb. Israel moved on again and pitched his tent beyond Migdal Eder.

    "While Israel was living in that region, Reuben went and lay with his father's concubine Bilhah, and Israel heard of it."4

Rashi, following Talmudic tradition, insists that this passage is not to be understood literally and illuminates the backdrop behind this incident. When Rachel died, Jacob, who usually resided in her tent, moved his bed to the tent of Bilhah, her handmaid. For Reuben, Leah's oldest son, this was an unbearable provocation and a slap in his sensitive mother's face. It was bad enough that Jacob preferred Rachel to her sister Leah, but intolerable that he should prefer a handmaid to his mother. He therefore removed Jacob's bed from Bilhah's tent to Leah's.5

Almost a jubilee later, in his final moments, Jacob reminds Reuben of this episode and attributes his firstborn's loss of potential greatness to it. "Water-like impetuosity," Jacob declares, "you will not be preeminent, for you went up onto your father's bed; onto my couch and defiled it."

Reuben's Mandrakes

The midrash presents yet another meaning to Jacob's words, "For you went up onto your father's bed; onto my couch and defiled it." It takes us a back to another dramatic incident that occurred around ten years before the one just discussed.

"During wheat harvest," the Bible relates, "Reuben went out into the fields and found some mandrake plants, which he brought to his mother Leah (the commentators6 explain that mandrakes were considered both an aphrodisiac and fertility drug). Rachel said to Leah, 'Please give me some of your son's mandrakes.' But she said to her, 'wasn't it enough that you took away my husband? Will you take my son's mandrakes too?' Rachel said, 'Therefore, he shall lie with you tonight in return for your son's mandrakes.'" Indeed, Jacob spent the night with Leah instead of Rachel.7

Reuben, in other words, was the indirect cause for a relocation of his father's bed for one night.

A Child's Sensitivity

What is fascinating about both of these tales is that they sketch a portrait of a remarkably sensitive and noble child. Reuben's heart goes out for his mother's plight. As the firstborn son of Leah, he seems to carry alone the burden of his mother's relative lack of appeal in Jacob's eyes. In fact, his very name, Reuben, meaning, "see, a son," was bestowed upon him by his mother, "because G-d has discerned my humiliation, for now my husband will love me."8

In the earlier episode, Reuben, as a young lad out in the field, is thinking of his mother's anguish and hoping that, with the aid of the mandrakes, Leah will be able to win Jacob's complete affection. In the latter episode following Rachel's death, Reuben can't bear the pain caused to his mother by Jacob's placing his bed in Bilaha's tent.

It is indeed true that in both of these instances Reuben's hastiness and impetuosity had negative consequences. In the incident with the mandrakes, had he waited until Rachel left Leah's tent, his gift to Leah might have prevented the bitter row that erupted between the two sisters--the only feud between them recorded in the Bible--and would have not created confusion in Jacob's sleeping arrangements. In the second instance, too, had Reuben broached the issue directly with his father or with Bilhah, instead of taking the matter into his own hands and moving his father's bed, the issue may have been resolved in a more dignified manner.

Still, it is clear that the motivation--in contrast to the end result--of both of these actions was pure and reflected profound moral concern. Why did he deserve to forfeit the priesthood and royalty?

Judah the King

Our dilemma becomes more disturbing upon considering who, of the eleven other sons of Jacob, received the gift of royalty in lieu of Reuben. It was the fourth son, Judah.

Here are Jacob's final words to Judah:

    "A lion cub is Judah; from the prey, my son, you elevated yourself. He [Judah] crouches, lies down like a lion, like an awesome lion, who will dare rouse him? The scepter shall not depart from Judah; nations will submit to him until the final tranquility comes."9

The message is clear. Just as the lion is the "king of the beasts,"10 Judah is destined to be the king of the nations. Indeed, Judah became the ancestor of Israel's greatest king, David. Since David, royalty among the Jewish people belonged to Judah's tribe.11 The messiah himself, we are told, will be a descendent of Judah.12 Even our very name, "Jews" or, in Hebrew Yehudim, or in Yiddish, Yidden, is derived from the name Judah, or Yehudah. It was Judah who conferred his identity on the people.13

Why Judah? Jacob presents the reason in eight words: "From the prey, my son, you elevated yourself." Judah was potentially a man of prey, a lion, a devourer; yet he succeeded in elevating himself from this terrible characteristic. Judah transformed himself.

Why did Jacob view Judah as a potential man of prey? Rashi, quoting the midrashic tradition, focuses our attention to two rather unforgettable incidents about Judah that transpired nearly four decades earlier.14

The Joseph Drama

The first, of course, is when Joseph, on instruction of his father, pays a visit to his brothers, who are shepherding Jacob's flock in the city of Shechem.

The brothers, who despised Joseph deeply, see him approaching from afar. They realize that with no one to see them, they can kill Joseph and concoct a tale that will be impossible to refute. Only Reuben protests. The biblical text states:

    "Reuben heard and saved him [Joseph] from their hands. He said, 'Let's not take his life'. Reuben said to them: 'Don't shed any blood. Throw him into this cistern here in the desert, but don't lay a hand on him' -- intending to rescue Joseph from his brothers and bring him back to his father."15

It is interesting to note that the Torah rarely described people's inner drives. In this instance, however, the Torah makes an exception, revealing to us Reuben's true motivations: He wished to save Joseph.

As the story continues, the brothers agree to Reuben's suggestion. They throw Joseph into an empty well and they sit down to eat a meal. In the midst of the meal they see an Arab caravan traveling to Egypt. Here, for the first time, we encounter Judah's voice:

    "Judah said to his brothers, 'What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover his blood? Let's sell him to the Arabs and not harm him with our own hands. After all -- he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.'"16

The brothers consent. Joseph is sold and brought to Egypt as a slave, where, 13 years later, he will rise to become the viceroy of Egypt.

« Last Edit: January 10, 2009, 03:51:47 PM by Rachel G » Logged
« Reply #31 on: January 10, 2009, 03:49:27 PM »

Reuben's Fasting

Reuben was not present during the sale. "When Reuben returned to the cistern," the Torah relates, "and saw that Joseph was not there, he tore his clothes. He went back to his brothers and said, 'The boy is gone! And I, where can I go?'" The brothers dipped Joseph's tunic in blood, and presented the tunic to Jacob, who exclaimed: "My son's tunic! A savage beast devoured him! Joseph has surely been torn to bits!"17

Where was Reuben during the sale of Joseph? The text is obscure, but it does offer a glimpse: The brothers sold Joseph while in the midst of a meal. The Torah, perhaps, shared with us this irrelevant detail in order to hint to us the reason for Reuben's absence. Reuben left the scene because he could not eat with his brothers. Why?

Rashi, again quoting the midrashic tradition, says that Reuben had been dressing himself in sackcloth and fasting ever since he rearranged his father's beds after Rachel's death. Although the incident with the bed occurred nine years earlier, Reuben was still seeking ways to repent. Therefore, he did not join his brothers in their meal and was not present during Joseph's sale.18

A Tale of Two Personas

Now, we come to understand Jacob's final words to Judah: "From the prey, my son, you elevated yourself." Rashi explains, that when Jacob stated, upon discovering Joseph's blood-drenched tunic decades earlier, "a savage beast devoured him [Joseph]," he suspected that Joseph fell prey to Judah's hands. When Jacob learned the truth, that instead of letting Joseph die in the well Judah actually persuaded his brothers to sell him into slavery, Jacob, in appreciation, conferred upon Judah the crown of royalty, assuming the position taken from Reuben.

This is a deeply disturbing comment. Reuben is the only older brother of Joseph who attempts to save him and return him to his father. The Torah, as mentioned above, is unusually clear about Reuben's virtuous intentions. "His plan," states the Torah, "was to rescue Joseph from his brothers and bring him back to his father." Judah, in stark contrast, merely substitutes Joseph's death from starvation with a life sentence of slavery. Judah does not even consider liberating Joseph!

The moral contrast between Reuben and Judah is even more striking when we reflect on the wording employed by Judah to persuade his brothers to sell Joseph. "Judah said to his brothers, 'What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover his blood? Let's sell him to the Arabs and not harm him with our own hands. After all--he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.'"

This, let's face it, is a speech of monstrous callousness. There is no word about the evil of murder, merely pragmatic calculation ("what will we gain"). At the very moment he calls Joseph "our own flesh and blood" he is proposing selling him as a slave!

The moral paradox embodied by Jacob in his final moments, as he moves the gift of kingship from Reuben to Judah, is nothing less than astonishing. In the very episode for which Judah is rewarded the gift of royalty (because he "elevated himself from prey"), Reuben stands head and shoulders above Judah in his nobility, compassion and sensitivity. Yet it is Reuben who loses the crown to Judah!

The Tamar Drama

As we recall, in addition to the Joseph drama, the Midrash and Rashi present a second meaning in Jacob's final words to Judah, "From the prey, my son, you elevated yourself." According to this interpretation, Jacob was alluding to the event that took place between Judah and his daughter-in-law, Tamar.

Tamar, we recall, had married, in succession, Judah's two elder sons, both of whom had died, leaving her a childless widow. Judah, fearing that his third son would share their fate, withheld him from her, thus leaving her unable to remarry and have children, since the levirate laws of marriage at the time held that when a husband died and left a childless widow, she was bound in marriage to either her brother-in-law or her father-in-law.19

Once she understands her situation, Tamar disguises herself as a prostitute. Judah encounters her and they are intimate with each other. She becomes pregnant. Judah, unaware of the disguise, concludes that she must have had a forbidden relationship and orders her to be put to death by burning. At this point, Tamar, who, while disguised, had taken Judah's seal, cord and staff as a pledge, sends them to Judah with a message: "The father of my child is the man to whom these belong." Judah now understands the whole story. Not only has he placed Tamar in an impossible situation of grass widowhood, and not only is he the father of her child, but he also realizes that she has behaved with extraordinary discretion in revealing the truth without shaming him. (It is from this act of Tamar's that we derive the rule that "one should rather throw oneself into a fiery furnace than shame someone else in public."20)

Judah admits he was wrong. "She is right!" he exclaims. "It is from me [that she has become pregnant]." Tamar's life, of course, is spared. She soon gives birth to twins, Peretz and Zerach, the former becoming the ancestor of King David.

This, then, explains the meaning behind Jacob's words, "From the prey, my son, you elevated yourself." Judah was a "man of prey" who sentenced Tamar to death. Yet at the last moment he confessed his guilt and rescued Tamar and her unborn twins from death. Because of this he was conferred with the power of kingship.

One Moment vs. Nine Years

This interpretation, too, is disturbing. Both Reuben and Judah commit serious wrongdoings. Reuben intervenes in his father's intimacy; Judah sentences an innocent pregnant woman to death. Both confess their guilt and take full responsibility for their wrong actions. But in this instance again, it is Reuben who surpasses Judah on two counts.

Firstly, Judah almost caused the destruction of three innocent lives, while Reuben merely relocated intimate furniture. Secondly, Judah admitted his guilt and that was it. Reuben, on the other hand, for at least nine years after his sin, was fasting every day in repentance!

We encounter here what appears as cruel cynicism at its finest. The act for which Judah receives the endowment of royalty--his readiness to confront his wrongdoing and acknowledge his guilt--is performed by his brother Reuben with far more depth and diligence. Yet it is Reuben who loses his potential greatness to Judah.

Furthermore, if Reuben has been fasting and repenting all this time for his mistake in tampering with his father's bed, why did this not suffice in having the royalty restored to him?

Reuben: A Spiritual Profile

Yet upon deeper reflection, it is precisely in this entire complex tale that we may encounter Judaism's perspective on the function and meaning of genuine royalty and leadership.

Reuben, throughout Genesis, displays moral dignity, sensitivity and gracefulness that surpasses Judah. Reuben, obviously, is a person who works on himself. He challenges his instincts, habits and emotions. He seems to possess a frail ego. We do not notice a tinge of pompousness or arrogance in this human being. He is always thinking about somebody else. When he is in the field, his thoughts are with his mother and her plight. When Rachel dies, his thoughts, again, are with his mother. When Joseph is kidnapped, his heart is with his younger brother and father. Finally, for nine years he fasts and dons sackcloth in order to cleanse his ego, his sins, his faults.

Yet, Reuben's greatness is also his flaw.

If we examine every single episode recorded about Reuben we discover an astonishing commonality. In each of them, his noble intentions come across in delightful splendor; his sensitivity to injustice is nothing short of remarkable; his willingness to work on himself and his faults is legendary. Yet in all of them, the other person--the outsider, the victim--never ends up actually gaining from Reuben's kind intentions.

Leah, instead of enjoying her mandrakes, ends up in a bitter row with her sister. By moving Jacob's bed, instead of creating a more affectionate ambiance between Jacob and Leah, Reuben ends up offending his father deeply and not helping his mother's situation in the slightest. In the Joseph story, Reuben's actions have Joseph placed in an empty well, where he can easily die from starvation or venomous serpents.

Finally, Reuben's fasting and repenting for nine years is what actually causes him to be absent while his brother's sell Joseph into Egyptian slavery. While Joseph lay helpless in a well, Reuben went off to pray, meditate and repent. Had he remained, he might have actually rescued Joseph before he was sold.

The Contrast

At last, a pattern emerges. Reuben is consumed with his personal daily battle for transcendence. Reuben is a great man, but he is not a leader. He is a spiritual giant, but he is not a rebbe, a king, a shepherd to his people. Reuben ought to remain the firstborn son, with all the great status involved, since he might be morally superior to his brothers. But he has not proven worthy of become a genuine leader.

Now, let us draw the contrast with Judah's profile.

In both episodes--the sale of Joseph and the relationship with Tamar--Judah does not display the dignity or sincerity of his brother Reuben. Judah's actions leave him personally wanting, but they produce concrete and tangible benefits to the victims in need of help. As a result of Judah's words to his brothers, Joseph is not allowed to die in the well and is left to live as a slave. As a consequence of Judah's confession, Tamar and her unborn children are saved from death. Judah does not reside in the richness of his own inner space; he is present in the flames of the outsider. Reuben's intentions were greater; but Judah made a real impact on people's lives.

Of course, Judah must learn from his errors and grow to become a deeper and finer human being, which he does. Years later, when Joseph's younger brother Benjamin is about to be taken as a slave, Judah offers himself instead. Judah experiences a metamorphosis.

Reuben too, learns from his errors, rectifies them and discovers deeper and greater horizons of truth. But in the final analysis, Reuben is a great, moral spirit; Judah is a king. The difference? Reuben sees his spiritual work as the epicenter of his universe; Judah knows that the bottom line of life is not who you are, but how your decisions and behavior affect the fate of other people. For Reuben, even at his highest moments, the zenith of life consists of man's confrontation with his own tension and darkness. Judah, in contrast, even at his lowest moments, knows that life in its ultimate expression is about touching and embracing the otherness of a stranger.

And that is what it means to be leader.21

1.    Genesis 49:3-4.
2.    Rashi to Genesis 49:3-4; Midrash Tanchumah (Buber edition) Vayeizei 13; Agadas Berieshis section 48. Cf. Rashi to Genesis 35:23; 29:32. This does not contradict Chronicles 1 5:1, see Rashi ibid. and Likkutei Sichot vol. 15 p. 444 and references noted there. Other sources are of the opinion that Reuben also forfeited his firstborn status, see Midrash Rabbah Berieshit 98:4; 99:6; Tanchumah Vayechi 9; Targum Unkelus, Targum Yonatan and Targum Yonatan Ben Uzeiel to Genesis 49:3-4; Agadat Bereishit section 82.
3.    Midrash Rabah, Bereishit 98:4.
4.    Genesis 35:19-22.
5.    Rashi on verse; Talmud, Shabbat 55b.
6.    See The Living Torah (by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan) in footnote to Genesis 30:14 for a detailed commentary and references on the subject.
7.    Genesis 30: 14-16.
8.    Genesis 29:32.
9.    Genesis 49:9-10.
10.    Talmud Chagigah 13b.
11.    See Maimonides' Laws of Torah Study 3:1; Laws of Kings 1:7-8. Cf. Maimonides' fascinating commentary to Genesis ibid.
12.    Maimonides' Laws of Torah Study 3:1; Laws of Kings 11:4.
13.    See Midrash Rabbah, Bereishit 98:6.
14.    Rashi to Genesis ibid. from Midrash Rabbah Bereishis 98:7.
15.    Genesis 37:21-22.
16.    Ibid. verses 26-27.
17.    Ibid. verses 29-33.
18.    Rashi on Genesis 37:29, from Midrash Rabbah, Bereishit 84:19.
19.    Genesis 38; see Nachmanides' commentery to verse 8.
20.    Talmud Sotah 10b; quoted in Rashi to Genesis 38: 25
21.    This essay is based on an address by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, delivered on Shabbat Vayechi 5730 (December. 27, 1969) and published in Sichot Kodesh 5730 vol. 1 pp. 322-332; Likkutei Sichot vol. 15 pp. 439-446. A number of the ideas and rendition of biblical narratives presented in this essay were culled from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks' Covenant and Conversation, Vayigash 5763 and Vayeishev 5764.
« Reply #32 on: January 10, 2009, 07:28:30 PM »

Each person has his own animal inside. The point is not just to quieten that animal, but to take advantage of its power.

A goat, for example, is easily domesticated and doesn't care to hurt anyone. But did you ever see a goat plow a field?

An ox, on the other hand, may kick and gore -- but that is only a sign of the tremendous labor it is capable of.

Each person has his own animal inside. The point is not just to quieten that animal, but to take advantage of its power.

A goat, for example, is easily domesticated and doesn't care to hurt anyone. But did you ever see a goat plow a field?

An ox, on the other hand, may kick and gore -- but that is only a sign of the tremendous labor it is capable of.

From the wisdom of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, of righteous memory; words and condensation by Tzvi Freeman.
« Reply #33 on: February 16, 2009, 06:35:55 PM »

The first creation was Time. It began and it will end and then it will be no more. Each breath, each tick, each beat of the heart comes only once. None will ever repeat itself precisely. Every instant of life is a raw but precious stone, beckoning, saying, "Unleash my potential, unlock my secret, do with me something to reveal my purpose of being! For I am here only this one time, and then never again."

And so that is our primary mission: To elevate time and make it holy.
« Reply #34 on: March 04, 2009, 08:25:29 PM »

Does Judaism Have an Essense?
God's First Questions

In the hour when an individual is brought before the heavenly court for judgment, the person is asked:
# Did you conduct your [business] affairs honestly?
# Did you set aside regular time for Torah study?
# Did you work at having children?
# Did you look forward to the world's redemption?
— Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a

Note that the first question asked in heaven is not "Did you believe in God?" or "Did you observe all the rituals?" but "Were you honest in business?" Unfortunately, despite many texts that insist on the primacy of ethics, most Jews associate being religious solely with observing rituals. Throughout the Jewish community, when one asks, "Is so-and-so a religious Jew?" the response invariably is based on the person's observance of ritual laws: "He (or she) keeps kosher, and observes the Sabbath; he is religious" or "She does not keep kosher or observe the Sabbath; she is not religious."

From such responses, one could easily conclude that Judaism regards ethical behavior as an "extracurricular activity," something desirable but not essential.

The above passage unequivocally asserts that ethics is at Judaism's core; God's first concern is with a person's decency.

The second question concerns Torah study, for Judaism teaches that through studying Torah, a person learns how to be fully moral (see Chapter 50), and how to be a part of the Jewish people.

Third comes having children (those who are childless can adopt). Rabbi Irving Greenberg notes that raising a family fulfills the "covenantal obligation to pass onthe dream and work of perfecting the world for another generation."

Fourth is hoping for and working toward this very perfection. The first three questions address "micro issues," matters that would be sufficient were Judaism exclusively addressed to the individual. But Jews also are part of a people and a broader world, and Judaism imposes upon the Jewish people the obligation to help bring about tikkun olam, the repair (or perfection) of the world. In a frequently quoted passage in the Ethics of the Fathers (2:21), Rabbi Tarfon teaches: "It is not your obligation to complete the task [of perfecting the world], but neither are you free to desist [from doing all you can]."

One final thought about this talmudic passage: When a Jewish baby is born, the prayer offered expresses the hope that the child will be able to respond affirmatively to the first three questions:

May the parents rear this child [son or daughter] to adulthood imbued with love of Torah and the performance of good deeds, and may they escort him [or her] to the wedding canopy.

This prayer is recited in the synagogue (or at another naming ceremony) for a girl, and at the boy's circumcision. My friend Rabbi Irwin Kula notes that the fourth question is alluded to through the kisei eliyahu, the chair of Elijah, that is set up at every circumcision. In Jewish tradition, Elijah is the prophet who will usher in the world's redemption.
Other Biblical and Rabbinic views of what matters most to God

Both the Bible's prophets and the greatest figures of talmudic Judaism have also expressed the view that ethical behavior is God's central demand of human beings:

He has told you, O man, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you:

   1. Only to do justice,
   2. to love goodness,
   3. and to walk modestly with your God.

— Micah 6-8 (eighth century B.C.E.)

Thus said the Lord: Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom; Let not the strong man glory in his strength; Let not the rich man glory in his riches. But only in this should one glory: In his earnest devotion to Me. For I the Lord act with kindness, justice and equity in the world; For in these I delight.

— Jeremiah 9:22-23 (sixth century B.C.E.)

Jeremiah, like Micah, enumerates three types of behavior that give God pleasure: in his case, kindness, justice, and equity.

It happened that a certain heathen came before Shammai [he and Hiltel were the two leading rabbis of their age] and said to him, "Convert me to Judaism on condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot." Shammai chased him away with the builder's rod in his hand. When he came before Hillel, Hillel converted him and said, "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor: this is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary; now go and study."

— Babylonian Talmud, Sbabbat 31a (shortly before the beginning of the Common Era)

That Hillel, one of the greatest figures of talmudic Judaism, was willing to convert a non-Jew on the basis of his accepting this ethical principle surely proves that ethical behavior constitutes Judaism's essence (in the same way that Protestant fundamentalists would insist on a would-be convert's acceptance of what they see as Christianity's essence, that Jesus Christ was the son of God who died to atone for mankind's sins). As Hillel remarks of this ethical principle, "this is the whole Torah." Significantly, Hillel instructs the man to start learning Torah, for only by studying this "commentary" will he be able to carry out Judaism's teachings.

A century after Hillel, Rabbi Akiva, the greatest scholar and teacher of his age, reiterated the primacy of ethics in Judaism:

"Love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18)-this is the major principle of the Torah.

— Palestinian Talmud, Nedarim 9:4 (second century C.E.)

Jewish Wisdom: Ethical, Spiritual, and Historical Lessons from the Great Works and Thinkers by Joseph Telushkin,+Shabbat+31a+business&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=21&gl=us&client=firefox-a

I find this  interesting and fighting because  consistent  ethical behavior is  so  much harder  than checking  off items  on a spiritual to do this. 
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« Reply #35 on: March 05, 2009, 01:05:30 AM »

Thank you Rachel.  I like this one too.

Reminds me of a Jewish joke about an old man who has spent his life following all the little rules as specified in the Torah.  Every he prays morning and evening for God's assistance, but his life his for excrement.  His wife a shrew, his sons bums, the daughters unmarried etc etc.  Imagine a good Jewish joke well told here.

His neighbor is everything he is not.  Follows virtually none of the rules, never prays, etc and his life is great.  A beautiful wife who loves him, many children and grandchildren, all of them happy and productive, etc etc.

Finally one day as the old man is praying once again asking for help, he gets mad and angrily demands an explanation from God for all this.  He runs through the list of what he has done and how much he has prayed to God and contrasts his neighbor and their respective results.  In conclusion he shouts "God!  I want to know why!"

God answers him.  He says "Because you noodge (sp?) too much."

« Reply #36 on: March 12, 2009, 05:58:08 PM »

Real Gain
Nothing you have acquired is real unless you worked for it. If you were born a nice guy, the niceness isn't yours. If you started off not so nice, and now you do a little better, that's Divine.

The Aura

By Tzvi Freeman

Each of us builds our own prison or our own palace.

Every conscious thought, every utterance of our lips, every interaction of ours with the world leaves its imprint upon an aura that surrounds each of us and stays with us wherever we go. All life, all blessing, all that is transmitted from Above must pass through that aura. Even if it be the greatest of blessings, the aura may distort it into ugly noise. Or it may resonate and amplify it even more.

An aura of beauty attracts beauty. An aura of love attracts love. An aura of life and joy attracts unbounded light.

Only you are the master of that aura. Only you have the permission and the power at any moment to transform your thoughts from the ugly to the beautiful, your words from bitter to sweet, your deeds from death to life.

And so too, your entire world.

Focusing Your World ( This really reminded me of the post that started this thread)

By Tzvi Freeman
Our advantage as human beings lies in our power to speak, to articulate a nebulous world into meaningful words and phrases. G–d spoke and the world came into being. We speak and bring it into focus.

Our words are the camera that determines reality: According to how we focus, so our world will be. With a small breath of air, we determine whether it is beauty that sprouts from the earth, or monsters growing as large as our imagination.

True, there is a time for all things--even a time to speak in negative terms, to make clear that something is wrong and needs correcting. But there is a caveat to negative words. For if they do not reach their goal, their bitterness still remains.

Speak good words, kind words, words of wisdom, words of encouragement. Like gentle rain upon a dormant field. Eventually, they will coax the seeds beneath the soil to life.

Life in Words

By Tzvi Freeman

Plants live in a world of earth, water, air and sunshine. Animals live in a world of the body and its senses. Human beings live within a world of their own words.

The sages called us "the speaking being," saying our soul is filled with words. When our words leave us, our very being goes out within them. We conquer with them. We declare our mastery over Creation with them. Our words tell us that we exist.

For us, nothing truly exists until we find a word for it. All our thoughts of every object and every event are thoughts of words. Our world is a world not of sensations and stimuli, but of words.

Build your world with precious words. Fillyour days with words that live and give life.

Memorize words of Torah and of the sages. Have them ready forany break in your day. Wherever you go, provide that place an atmosphere of those powerful words.

edited to fix a bad cut and paste job.
« Last Edit: March 12, 2009, 10:27:42 PM by Rachel » Logged
« Reply #37 on: March 14, 2009, 03:36:02 PM »

Many of the posts in this thread are from Chabad's daily dose which I receive by email so it is slightly harder to  properly give credit.  If you want to sign up  for daily dose here is the link or they located on

This is a little bit different from the posts I  normally put here. It is from  Gretchen Rubin's blog --The Happiness Project.  It has a lot of very practical advice about how to be happy/ a better person.

"I’ve studied happiness over the past few years, I’ve learned many things that surprised me. Each day for two weeks, I’ve been debunking one “happiness myth” that I believed before I started my happiness project. Yesterday I wrote about Myth No. 7: Doing "Random Acts of Kindness" Brings Happiness.

Happiness Myth No. 8: You’ll Be Happy As Soon As You…

We often imagine that we’ll be happy as soon as we get a job/make partner/get tenure/get married/get that promotion/have a baby/move. As a writer, I often find myself imagining some happy future: “Once I sell this proposal…” or “Once this book comes out…”

In his book Happier, Tal Ben-Shahar calls this the “arrival fallacy,” the belief that when you arrive at a certain destination, you’ll be happy. (Other fallacies include the “floating world fallacy,” the belief that immediate pleasure, cut off from future purpose, can bring happiness, and the “nihilism fallacy,” the belief that it’s not possible to become happier.) The arrival fallacy is a fallacy because arriving rarely makes you as happy as you expect.

Why? Because usually by the time you’ve arrived at your destination, you’re expecting to reach it, so it has already been incorporated into your happiness. You quickly become adjusted to the new state of affairs. And of course, arriving at one goal usually reveals a new goal. There’s another hill to climb.

In fact, working toward a goal can be a more powerful source of happiness than hitting it – which can sometimes be a letdown. It’s important, therefore, to look for happiness in the present, in the atmosphere of growth afforded by making gradual progress toward a goal (technical name: pre-goal attainment positive affect).

When I find myself focusing overmuch on the anticipated future happiness of arriving at a certain goal (as I often do), I remind myself to “Enjoy now.” If I can enjoy the present, I don’t need to count on the happiness that is -- or isn’t -- waiting for me in the future. The fun part doesn’t come later, now is the fun part.

So the arrival fallacy doesn’t mean that pursuing goals isn’t a route to happiness. To the contrary. The goal is necessary, just as is the process toward the goal. Nietzche explained it: “The end of a melody is not its goal; but nonetheless, if the melody had not reached its end it would not have reached its goal either. A parable.”

My former boss, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, has launched a wonderful site, Our Courts, a fantastic new resource about civics for students and teachers. There's a great video of Justice O'Connor explaining the site -- I was laughing as I watched, because it so captures her personality. My favorite line: "The Founders of our Constitution and our government created three equal branches of government. Like super heroes, each branch of government has special powers, but each one also has certain weaknesses." "

« Last Edit: March 16, 2009, 05:38:52 AM by Rachel » Logged
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« Reply #38 on: March 16, 2009, 01:20:53 AM »


You clerked for O'Connor?!?  shocked
« Reply #39 on: March 16, 2009, 05:37:34 AM »


You clerked for O'Connor?!?  shocked

No, not me! -- Gretchen Rubin clerked  for O'Connor. I  never  even went to law school. I am going to add quotes to whole post so it is more clear.
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« Reply #40 on: March 16, 2009, 10:42:48 AM »

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« Reply #41 on: March 17, 2009, 11:02:49 AM »

In Your Hands
By Tzvi Freeman

Meditate on a single pool left by the tide and all the life it holds. On a single leaf and all the genius within it. On all the forests of the world, all its seas, and all the life of the skies.  Then meditate that all this He has entrusted in our hands. And each person must say to him or herself: "All this He has placed in my hands alone."
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« Reply #42 on: March 18, 2009, 09:50:02 AM »

Without End
By Tzvi Freeman

Ask the wise men of many cultures, and they will tell you that all is temporal, all will pass, there is nothing in this world to cling to, only to transcend.

Ask a sage of the Torah and he will tell you it is not true. The vanities of time, the failures of life, they all pass as clouds on a windy day, but truth lives forever.

This is the meaning of the thirteenth of the thirteen principles of our faith, the belief that those who lived true lives will live again, in a real and corporeal way. It is a rejection of temporalism, a confirmation that there are things in the world that really matter, that have endless meaning and absolute purpose.

Whenever a G-dly act is performed, all involved are elevated beyond time. Save a life--you are Noah saving the entire world. Feed weary travelers--they are the angels coming to visit Abraham and Sarah. And Abraham and Sarah are hosting them with you.

In fact, all those who had truth in their lives are here with us today. It is only that we are so much a part of this river of time, we cannot lift our heads to see above it.

Only when the falseness of the world will be ripped away and all is elevated to a place of truth, then we shall all see each other, together once again.
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« Reply #43 on: March 19, 2009, 10:49:01 AM »

What Lies Inside
By Tzvi Freeman

Within each thing we behold, the moshiach dwells, like the embryo waiting to break out of its egg. In the rhythm of a dandelion shivering in the breeze, in the eyes of the children we raise, in the goals we make in life, in the machines we use and the art we create, in the air we breathe and the blood rushing through our veins.

When the world was made, the sages say, the moshiach was the wind hovering over all that would be.

Today, those who know to listen can hear his voice beckoning, "Do no let go of me after all these ages! For the fruit of your labor and the labor of your holy mothers and fathers is about to ripen."

The listening alone is enough to crack the shell of the egg.

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« Reply #44 on: March 20, 2009, 09:57:25 AM »

The River Up
By Tzvi Freeman

When the Divine Light began its epic descent—a journey that conceived worlds lower and lower for endless worlds, condensing its unbounded state again and again into innumerable finite packages until focused to a fine, crystallized resolution—it did so with purpose: to bring forth a world of continuous ascent. Since that beginning, not a day has passed that does not transcend its yesterday.

Like a mighty river rushing to reach its ocean, no dam can hold it back, no creature can struggle against its current. Even we, its voyageurs, cannot turn back. We must only move on with the river, on in its relentless ascent to the sea.

We may appear to take a wrong turn, to lose a day in failure—it is our delusion, for we have no map to know the river's way. We see from within, but the river knows its path from Above. And to that place Above it is drawn.

We are not masters of that river— not of our ultimate destiny, not of the stops along the way, not even of the direction of our travel. We did not create the river—its flow creates us. It is the blood and soul of our world, its pulse and its very fibers.

Yet of one thing we have been granted mastery: Not of the journey, but of our role within it. How soon will we arrive? How complete? How fulfilled? Will we be the spectators? The props? Or will we be the heroes?

That is all. And that is all that counts.
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« Reply #45 on: March 26, 2009, 10:36:14 AM »

By Tzvi Freeman
When the soul awakens, it descends like a fire from heaven. In a moment of surprise, we discover something so powerful, so beyond our persona, we cannot believe it is a part of us. Or, better, that we are a part of it.
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« Reply #46 on: April 01, 2009, 12:14:21 AM »

G-d's Question
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By Tzvi Freeman
Before He brought forth the cosmos out of nothingness, He structured in His thought how all things would be. Even then, He struggled with it, pondering, "Should it be? Or should it not?"

Then He created all things according to that thought, and out of all things of that creation He formed Adam. And within Adam He placed this struggle, and Adam became a living being.

Since then, it is in our hands: Should there be a world? Or a desolate chaos? Is G-d's creation worth His making it?
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« Reply #47 on: April 01, 2009, 05:54:30 AM »

Half A Redemption
Appreciating the Process
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by Shalvi Weissman
It takes me a while to get into preparing for Passover. It's not that I don't like cleaning. Sometimes I can be a little neurotic about cleanliness and order. I think that on Passover everyone else gets about as nuts as I am the whole year. So why is it that every year as Passover approaches I'm a bit reluctant to get caught up in it? Maybe because Passover is only half a redemption.

I'm not being a heretic. Moses himself felt the same way. When G‑d spoke to Moses at the burning bush and told him that he was to go and redeem the Jewish people, Moses didn't want to go. The Torah commentator, Rashi, says that they argued about it for a full week! 1

If he could not complete the job, why be the one to start it?G‑d told Moses that He would be with him and take care of all of the details, but it would seem that Moses was worried about something else. He responded, "Please my L-rd, send them through whomever you will send."

Moses saw that he wouldn't be the one to bring the Jews into the Promised Land. Not only that, but Moses saw that this would not be the final redemption. Why take them out of this exile just to send them into another? If he could not complete the job, why be the one to start it? Send the guy who can do the whole thing!

Passover is a celebration of what could be considered a moot point. What good does it do me to get out of one prison if I'm in a worse one now? Yes, at the time it was a wonderful thing, but what relevance does it have to me now?

Consider this: in the Holocaust memorial museum in Israel, Yad VaShem, there is a Passover Haggadah that was written on scraps of paper that concentration camp inmates had collected. A group of people sat together and tried to piece it together from memory. They succeeded in writing a complete Haggadah. Imagine the Seder that they had that year. Four cups of wine? Three matzas? Beautiful sparkling silver, china and crystal? Clearly not. Probably most of them would have died if they even attempted to refrain from eating the meager bread that they received for that week. Yet they went to great lengths to celebrate the Seder to the best of their ability. Why? What did they have to celebrate? Their freedom? Hardly. Then what?

The Haggadah itself addresses this. The narrative portion of the Haggadah opens with the statement, "This is the bread of affliction which our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt… This year we are slaves, next year we will be free."

What did they have to celebrate? Their freedom? Hardly.How's that for an opening line at the celebration of the festival of freedom? Jewish, eh? From there we go on to speak of our lowly, idol-worshipping roots as a nation. G‑d promised us great things, but first we would have to pay the price of being foreigners and slaves in Egypt. G‑d Himself promised Abraham exile at the same time that He promised he would become a "great nation". Couldn't He have come up with an easier, nicer way? We are told the details of how hard it really was in Egypt, until finally we cried out to G‑d and He redeemed us. The details of the plagues and miracles follow, and we end with praise to our Creator, our Redeemer.

One of these songs of praise is rather strange- Dayeinu:

"If G‑d had led us through the sea on dry land, and not drowned our tormentors, it would have been enough. If G‑d had brought us to Mt. Sinai and not given us the Torah, it would have been enough. If He had given us the Torah and not brought us into the Land of Israel, it would have been enough."

Really? Unusual for a people known to kvetch! What would have happened if we had gotten through the sea and the Egyptians had not been drowned? According to the Midrash,2 we came out of the sea on the same side where we had entered. Indeed, what would have happened if we had come out, only to find ourselves standing face to face with our enemies? Or if we had not received the Torah? We are told that had we not received the Torah, the whole world would have returned to tohu vavohu- void and nothingness.3 Would that really have been enough? If we had received the Torah, which is full of the commandments that can only be fulfilled in the land of Israel, yet had never gotten there, how can we possibly say that it would have been enough?

I like things that are complete, full, finished, accomplished. It is very hard for me to find satisfaction in a job not quite done. Process has always been an issue. As soon as I find out I'm pregnant I want the baby already. Of course, as soon as it's born, I want to see it grown up. Though I haven't gotten to that stage yet, I am sure that once the child grows up I will worry about who s/he will marry, and a few months after the wedding, I will wonder when children will come. Life is about process, and Passover is a celebration of process. Hence my issue with Passover.

I'm not writing this just to kvetch or to procrastinate cleaning my kitchen cabinets. I guess I'm trying to process my issue with process.

Life is about cycles, growth, and change. As much as we constantly try, who can claim to have gotten "there," wherever "there" is? Even when we reach the end of the life cycle, we are in a process. When a soul reaches the next world, it wishes to continue to ascend, either on its own merits, or the merits of students and children left behind. 4

Even after Mashiach comes, even in the next world, we will continue to grow and progress in ways that we can't even imagine in our current state.

Every stage of the game is important, not because it is getting us to completion in the usual sense, but because each step is an opportunity to find completion by connecting to our Creator in that moment.

Passover is a big celebration. We could say that upon leaving Egypt, a nation was born. Without being born one can't grow up, but is the whole goal of birth to grow up? Birth itself, even the birth of a life that will be as filled with pain and struggle as that of the Jewish people, is something to celebrate. It is a huge accomplishment! It is a moment of joy, of coming from constriction to expansiveness. It is an awesome opportunity to connect to G‑d. As long as we see birth only as a means to get to some other goal, we can go through life always wanting to be somewhere else, never feeling gratitude and connection in the present.

Each moment is a success if it is used to build on our past successes in order to reach higher, so that we can connect spiritually in a higher and greater way than we ever have before.

Reb Nosson of Breslov understood this idea well when he explained one of the reasons we say a blessing on two loaves of challah on Shabbat. We have something whole. In order to eat it, we must make it no longer whole. The fact that we cut the challah in order for it to fulfill its purpose does not mean that it is no longer whole in terms of its purpose in creation. So we cut one challah while leaving the other whole before us as a reminder that we haven't lost anything – the wholeness still exists.

Life is about process, and Passover is a celebration of processMany people are disappointed to find that when they try to bring themselves closer to G‑d, their lives get harder. In the physical world, when you graduate from one level to the next you get pomp and circumstance. No one frets too much that it's harder in college than it was in high school. It's a challenge, and it means that you have progressed. In the spiritual world, when a person goes up to the next level, there is no graduation ceremony – not even a pat on the back. So how do you know that you've reached the next level? It's harder! When this happens we often think that we have failed in some way, but when you fail a grade you repeat it. When you succeed spiritually it is bit like the game Tetris- the obstacles start flying at you faster and more furiously, but it's a good sign. Just take it as a spiritual pat on the back.

It seems that we had something whole, and now it's broken, but the lesson is that really now it's just different. What needed to be done was done, and you have moved on.

If G‑d had brought us to Mt. Sinai and not given us the Torah, we would still have been amazing. We stood before the mountain as one person with one heart. What an amazing experience. Three million people were completely united in their desire to come close to each other and to G‑d! The experience was precious! Same thing with the splitting of the sea. When we walked through the water on dry land, it was clear to each and every one of us on a personal level that our Creator was with us, that He could do anything, and wanted to use His power to invest in our relationship. That in and of itself is really something, no matter what comes next.

So this is why we spend so much time talking on Seder night. It's possible to look at all the miracles and still say, "Very nice, but where does this get me now?"

We need to personalize all that happened. G‑d did miracles for me. I was in trouble. I called out. G‑d answered.

After having experienced redemption from Egypt, no matter what our circumstances may be, we know that we are redeemable and that we have a Redeemer who is unstoppable- when He deems the time right. Nothing is keeping Him from taking us out of all of the dark and narrow places of our lives. Until that happens, we know that all of the exile that we are experiencing is just a springboard for the redemption that is to come.

If we come to that realization on Seder night, then we can see that there is no difference between the bread of affliction and the bread of freedom. They are one and the same. It's all part of the process.

So I guess I'll go start my kitchen cabinets now. After all, that too is part of the process.

1.  Rashi on Exodus 4:10.
2.  Me'am Loez, on the Torah portion Beshalach.
3.  Rashi on Genesis 1:31
4.  Likkutei Moharan II 7
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« Reply #48 on: April 01, 2009, 06:03:37 AM »

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By Tzvi Freeman
The entire cosmos climbs upward.

The elements move upward to grow as living things.

Those growing, living things rise upwards, consumed by creatures that swim, run, fly, love and fear.

Animals, too, may be elevated into the realm of a conscious being that acts with enlightened mindfulness.

And this intelligent being, to where can s/he rise?

To the ultimate fulfillment of intellect, a place that existed before Mind was born, a place without constriction or borders.

This is the act of doing good for the sake of good alone.
« Reply #49 on: April 05, 2009, 11:09:56 AM »

The Holocaust Bride
by Helen Zegerman Schwimmer

The true story of a worn-out parachute, resurrected as a magnificent wedding gown.

Lilly Friedman doesn't remember the last name of the woman who designed and sewed the wedding gown she wore when she walked down the aisle over 60 years ago. But the grandmother of seven does recall that when she first told her fiance Ludwig that she had always dreamed of being married in a white gown he realized he had his work cut out for him.

For the tall, lanky 21-year-old who had survived hunger, disease and torture, this was a different kind of challenge. How was he ever going to find such a dress in the Bergen Belsen Displaced Person's camp where they felt grateful for the clothes on their backs?

Fate would intervene in the guise of a former German pilot who walked into the food distribution center where Ludwig worked, eager to make a trade for his worthless parachute. In exchange for two pounds of coffee beans and a couple of packs of cigarettes, Lilly would have her wedding gown.

For two weeks Miriam the seamstress worked under the curious eyes of her fellow DPs, carefully fashioning the six parachute panels into a simple, long-sleeved gown with a rolled collar and a fitted waist that tied in the back with a bow. When the dress was completed she sewed the leftover material into a matching shirt for the groom.

Marked for Extermination

A white wedding gown may have seemed like a frivolous request in the surreal environment of the camps, but for Lilly the dress symbolized the innocent, normal life she and her family had once led before the world descended into madness. Lilly and her siblings were raised in a Torah observant home in the small town of Zarica, Czechoslovakia where her father was a Torah teacher, respected and well-liked by the young students he taught in nearby Irsheva.

He and his two sons were marked for extermination immediately upon arriving at Auschwitz. For Lilly and her sisters it was only their first stop on their long journey of persecution, which included Plashof, Neustadt, Gross Rosen, and finally Bergen Belsen.

Four hundred people marched 15 miles in the snow to the town of Celle on January 27, 1946 to attend Lilly and Ludwig's wedding. The town synagogue, damaged and desecrated, had been lovingly renovated by the DPs with the meager materials available to them. When a Torah scroll arrived from England they converted an old kitchen cabinet into a makeshift ark.

"My sisters and I lost everything -- our parents, our two brothers, our homes. The most important thing was to build a new home." Six months later, Lilly's sister Ilona wore the dress when she married Max Traeger. After that came Cousin Rosie. How many brides wore Lilly's dress? "I stopped counting after 17." With the camps experiencing the highest marriage rate in the world, Lilly's gown was in great demand.

Across the Ocean

In 1948 when President Harry Truman finally permitted the 100,000 Jews who had been languishing in DP camps since the end of the war to emigrate, the gown accompanied Lilly across the ocean to America. Unable to part with her dress, it lay at the bottom of her bedroom closet for the next 50 years, "not even good enough for a garage sale. I was happy when it found such a good home."

Home was the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. When Lily's niece, a volunteer, told museum officials about her aunt's dress, they immediately recognized its historical significance and displayed the gown in a specially designed showcase, guaranteed to preserve it for 500 years.

But Lilly Friedman's dress had one more journey to make. Bergen Belsen, the museum, opened its doors on October 28, 2007. The German government invited Lilly and her sisters to be their guests for the grand opening. They initially declined, but finally traveled to Hanover the following year with their children, their grandchildren and extended families to view the extraordinary exhibit created for the wedding dress made from a parachute.

Lilly's family, who were all familiar with the stories about the wedding in Celle, were eager to visit the synagogue. They found the building had been completely renovated and modernized. But when they pulled aside the handsome curtain they were astounded to find that the holy ark, made from a kitchen cabinet, had remained untouched as a testament to the profound faith of the survivors. As Lilly stood on the bimah once again, she beckoned to her granddaughter, Jackie, to stand beside her where she was once a bride. "It was an emotional trip. We cried a lot."

Two weeks later, the woman who had once stood trembling before the selective eyes of the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele returned home and witnessed the marriage of her granddaughter.

The three Lax sisters -- Lilly, Ilona and Eva, who together survived Auschwitz, a forced labor camp, a death march and Bergen Belsen -- have remained close and today live within walking distance of each other in Brooklyn. As mere teenagers, they managed to outwit and outlive a monstrous killing machine, then went on to marry, have children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren -- and were ultimately honored by the country that had earmarked them for extinction.

Reprinted with permission of the Jewish Press.
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