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As Rabbi C. Sees It
Rabbi Chaiton's smile greets us each morning - a great way to start the day! So we are thrilled to share some of his thoughts and ponderings here with you.
Chanukah commemorates the victory of the few over the many, light over dark, purity over adulteration, of spirituality over materiality.
More than twenty-one centuries ago, the Holy Land was ruled by the Seleucids (Syrian-Greeks), who sought to forcefully Hellenize the people of Israel. Against all odds, a small band of faithful Jews defeated one of the mightiest armies on earth, drove the Greeks from the land, reclaimed the Bet Hamikdash in Jerusalem and rededicated it to the service of Hashem.
When the Jews went to light the Bet Hamikdash’s - Holy Temple menorah - the seven branched candelabrum, they found only a single jar of olive oil that had escaped contamination by the Greeks; miraculously, the one-day supply burned for eight days, until new oil could be prepared under conditions of ritual purity.
To commemorate and publicize these miracles, the sages instituted the festival of Chanukah. At the heart of the festival is the nightly chanuki’ah lighting: a single flame on the first night, two on the second evening, and so on till the eighth night of Chanukah, when all eight lights are kindled.
When discussing the instituting of the Chanukah menorah the Talmud says: Our Rabbis taught: The precept of Hanukkah [demands] one light for a man and his household; themehadrin- diligent kindle a light for each member of the household.
The extremely diligent, mehadrin min hamehadrin — Beth Shammai maintain: On the first day eight lights are lit and thereafter they are gradually reduced;, but Beth Hillel say: On the first day one is lit and thereafter they are progressively increased. - Talmud - Mas. Shabbath 21b
It is the common practice for everyone to observe this mitzvah on the level of mehadrin min hamehadrin. - Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 671:2.
The message of Chanukah is very clear. If we did one good deed yesterday, let us try to increase and do more today. Like the Chanukah candles, we are meant to add light every day. We should always aspire to increase our level of Torah and Mitzvot. Realizing that yesterday when we did our best and reached our potential that was perfect by yesterday’s standard. Today, as perfect yesterday was, it is not good enough. Today we have to go a do our best, a new best all over again.
on Monday December 10, 2012 at 08:25AM
Having just celebrated a month of Holy Days the real work is ahead of us. How do we take the awe of Rosh Hashanah, the intensity of Yom Kippur, the joy of Sukkot, and the celebration of Simchat Torah and have it inspire us for an entire year?
I would like to wish a wonderful and beautiful Sukkot.
The Sukkahreminds of "clouds of glory” which surrounded us and shielded us from the dangers and discomforts of the desert. May Hashem shield and protect us this entire year.
The Arbah Minim - The Four Kinds, represent the various types and personalities that comprise the community of Israel, whose intrinsic unity we emphasize on Sukkot. May we only experience unity, harmony and peace this year.
Sukkot is also called Zman Simchateinu - the Season of our Rejoicing. May our lives be filled with joy this entire year.
Fun – what a simple word. It is easy to explain yet it is difficult to define. An activity that one person would find fun, someone else would consider “work” or even worse boring. A five mile hike that you might enjoy, your friend might say requires too much effort and sounds like too much work. Today you might say it is fun to sit in front of a TV and watch movies, tomorrow it would not interest you. The meaning of fun is very subjective.
The very epitome of family fun would perhaps be a visit to Disney Land. The first few days it is exciting with so much to do! We can imagine that a few weeks of forced fun would sour the entire experience. Even the “happiest place on earth” would soon become boring.
The Talmud tells a story of a king visiting the country side. He comes across a farmer loading his hay onto wagons and humming a pleasant tune. The king sees how happy the farmer is and how merry the tune is. The king decides to hire the farmer to pitch hay in the royal palace, share his joy with the king and, on top of it all, to be handsomely paid. The farmer agrees. Daily a pile of hay is placed in the throne room and as the king goes about his business in the background, the farmer is working and singing. After a few days the farmer lost all interest in the work. When asked by the king, "What happened, in the field and in the palace you were doing the same work?" The farmer replied, "In the field I was not just doing work, I was accomplishing something, here my work was meaningless.”
As parents and teachers we often hear students and children saying that school is not fun. The real question is: Should school be fun? Do we want to spend all our days in a Disney Land environment or meaninglessly pitching hay? School, as life, needs to be filled with fulfilling tasks. Children need to feel that each day they accomplish something. They are growing emotionally, intellectually, and socially. They learn to gain satisfaction from doing a job well, facing a challenge and overcoming it, and to look at life with a new understanding as they grow as a person.
During this month of Shevat we celebrate Tu b’Shvat the Rosh Hashanah L’eilanot – the New Year for Trees. Today in the midst of the winter the sap begins to flow and new life revitalizes the tree. The buds we will not see for two or three months, its fruits we will not eat for almost six months. Yet we celebrate the New Year for trees today, when the tree begins to face new challenges and overcomes them and when the tree begins to grow in a way in which we will not see immediate gratification.
Fulfillment may not give us “fun”, it may not give us instant gratification, it may not be easy, but it will give us fruits with the seeds to succeed in life.
And that is how Rabbi C. sees it.
on Thursday January 26, 2012 at 11:02AM
Chanukah is often referred to as the "Festival of Lights". It's true that we light the Chanukiyah (Chanukah menorah) each night but does this name really reflect the meaning of these days? Really, the Yevanim (Greeks) wanted the lights of the Menorah to shine. They wanted a "secular" religion to flourish. Yes a religion, but one based on human understanding, a human centered approach to life, religion, morals and ethics.
But what does Chanukah really mean?
Chanukah means “dedication” or “induction.” Following the victory over the Greeks, the Maccabees rededicated the Bet Hamikdash (Holy Temple) and its altar, which had been desecrated and defiled by the invaders. The word Chanukah can also be divided into two: Chanu—they rested, and Kah—which has the numerical value of 25. On the twenty-fifth day of the Hebrew month of Kislev the Maccabees rested from their battle, and triumphantly marched into the Bet Hamikdash - the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, ready to rededicate it to the service of Hashem (G-d).
The word is also related to Chinuch loosely translated as "education" but there are differences, subtle but important differences. In most cases education focuses on the skills to make a living, imparting knowledge, content and skills from the teacher to the student. Imparting information is but a small and rather simple component of a Chinuch education.
Chinuch involves learning to understand life itself. A true Chinuch based education consists of teaching children that they have an uncompromising responsibility to live by a Divine Code of morals and ethics. A life with the recognition of G-d and the mission that we are charged with -- refining ourselves and sanctifying our world - Tikkun Olam.
In short, Chinuch is an education for life, it is the development of a moral self that distinguishes between right and wrong and never loses sight of its responsibilities towards G-d and man.
This has a particular connection to Chanukah. On Chanukah we do not celebrate our physical freedom from the Yevanim (Greeks), in fact the Greeks remained in Israel for many years afterwards.
In his record of the Chanukah events, Maimonides writes: “The Greeks laid their hands upon the possessions of Israel.” The Greeks invaded the possessions of Israel in the same spirit in which they defiled the oil in the Bet Hamikdash (Holy Temple). They did not destroy the oil; they defiled it. They did not rob the Jewish people; they attempted to infuse their possessions with Greek ideals—that they be used for egotistical and impure ends, rather than for holy pursuits.
The occupying Greek forces were determined to force Hellenism upon the Jews, at the expense of the ideals and commandments of the holy Torah. After the Greeks were defeated it was necessary to re-educate the Jews—to reintroduce a large part of the population to Torah values. Thus the strong link between Chanukah and education.
Appropriately, during Chanukah it is customary to give gelt (money) to children, to teach them to increase in tzedakah (charity and good deeds). Chanukah gelt celebrates the freedom and mandate to think beyond yourself and to act in a way that channels material wealth toward spiritual ends.
This year to celebrate a true Chanukah, consider an everlasting Chanukah gift of Jewish Pride, Identity, Unity and People-hood and help "educate" your child not to think of their egotistical self but to help make the world a better place. This Chanukah give your child just one extra dollar, to be used to purchase a letter in a Sefer Torah (Torah Scroll).
A Sefer Torah has over three hundred thousand letters in it each and every Jew, our sages tell us, has a letter in the Torah. A missing or unreadable letter in a Sefer Torah invalidates the entireSefer Torah. But when all the letters are there together, the Torah is one, whole, indivisible.
When every Jewish child buys a letter in the Sefer Torah written especially in the name of all Jewish children, no greater unity can exist. The one indivisible Torah unites the one indivisible people. Teach your child that Chanukah is about our commitment to the morals and ideals as established in our Torah and tradition and not the material.
This year, in addition to however you celebrate Chanukah, reaffirm your commitment to Chinuch, an education based on our traditional values by acquiring a letter in the Children's Sefer Torah being written today in Yerushalayim (Jerusalem). The effects of this gift will last longer than the wrapping paper of most other gifts.
It is new, it is fresh and everybody is excited about it. What is it? It does not make a difference. Children always want a new toy, they can whine and beg and … until they get what they want. It does not make a difference that a day or two later they are “bored” with it. Our tweens and teens can (very successfully) convince us why they must have the latest in fashions or be signed up for latest, most popular after school activity. Despite the fact they may have a closet full of perfectly good clothing ( – not. I would just “die” if I was seen in public in that.)
In reality our children learn from and master this skill by watching the best. That is us. We also need the latest and shiniest. Whether its a new car, the hottest in electronic gadgetry, or the newest whatever status symbol. Despite the fact that in a few weeks the technology is old and outdated by the latest “new and improved”. By the way would a company admit that their previous model was “old and inferior”?
This is not only about our “stuff’, this includes our attitude. Think about Day One of the big family trip; compare it to Day Twelve – everyone getting a little antsy, impatient with each other. Are you ready to turn around and go back home? Guests walk in the front door and everyone is so cheerful. How many days until we look forward to their leaving?
We could say the same thing about the Jewish calendar and Holy Day schedule. One month is filled with many chagim (holy days) and the next month Cheshvan (which we just entered) is “chagimless”. We go from the awe of Rosh Hashanah to the solemnity of Yom Kippur to the joy and festivity of Sukkot to the climax of rejoicing on Simchat Torah to the plain everyday life of Cheshvan.
In reality Cheshvan is the true month in which we affirm our commitment to Hashem (G-d). It is easy to be inspired and filled with awe and joy when we are surrounded by awe and joy. During the chagim when we feel close to and moved by spirituality we can make the everyday into a holy day. The real challenge is to take those feelings, which inspired us during the month of Tishrei and carry it over to the rest of year. To make a regular day into a holy day, to elevate the mundane and make it kodesh (holy) and special, that is the message of Cheshvan and that is our challenge. When it is dark, overcast and raining outside (all day) to bring the light and joy of life and Judaism into our lives is the message of Cheshvan.
This month, Cheshvan is the time to build a genuine relationship with Hashem - G-d and our own spirituality specifically in our everyday lives. Please share with us one way you make the everyday into a Holy Day by commenting below or emailing me directly.
And that is how Rabbi C sees it.
on Tuesday November 1, 2011 at 10:44AM
When you ask people about the Chagim (Holy Days) of the month of Tishrei many will mention either Rosh Hashanah (Head of the Year) or Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) or both. Some may include Sukkot (Tarbernacles) and some may even mention Simchat Torah (Rejoicing of the Torah). Very few people will mention let alone be aware of the chag (holy day) Shemini Atzeret.
Shemini Atzeret comes at the end, the eighth day, from the beginning of Sukkot. Many might think of it as the eighth day of Sukkot but it is a very distinct and separate chag. It has its own set of practices. We do not use the lulav (palm branch) and etrog (citron), we may eat in the sukkah (booth) but do not say a sukkah brachah (blessing), and we introduce the chag with a shehchayanu (seasonal blessing of renewal) as we do at the beginning of each chag. The Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 4b) tells that Shemini Atzeret is its own chag in six different ways.
But what is Shemini Atzeret all about?
Rashi, the foremost Torah commentator explains Shemini Atzeret in the following way. Hashem (G-d) is like a king who hosts a festival for his ministers and important people of the realm. For a whole week he wines, dines, entertains them and spends time with them. When the celebration is over and people are leaving the King asks his children to stay at least one extra day so he can spend some extra personal time with them.
Likewise throughout the week of Sukkot offerings would be brought in the Bet Hamikdash (Holy Temple) together with prayers for rain which included an abundant crop and sustenance in general for all of humanity. Shemini Atzeret, an extra day was added, a single offering was brought. It demonstrates Hashem’s love for Klal Yisrael (the community of Israel), an extra day, for a more intimate celebration.
The new year offers many opportunities for us to go out into the world and accomplish so much inspired by the chagim. Let us reflect on the message of Shemini Atzeret. Not to forget the special intimate time we should be spending with our children and spouses, and dedicate time each day for one-on-one with each child according to their needs.
Please share with me some ways you begin to spend this quality, and quantity time with your family.
And that is how Rabbi C sees it.
on Monday October 17, 2011 at 04:05PM
Land lines, radio, HAM, CB, cell phones, email, internet, twitter, blogs, wikis, kindle, there are so many ways we can communicate both the written and the oral word.
But what is the point of communication? Is it to transfer information from Point A to Point B, from me to you? Or is it to truly connect two people or connect people with ideas?
Our Chassidic masters tell us that the month of Elul (which we are in now) is compared to time when the “King is in the Field”. A whole year it is difficult to get an audience with the king, and even then there are many preparations and protocols involved. Not something within the easy grasp of the common person. However, when the “King is in the Field” he is easily accessible by everyone. Anyone can approach him; the king receives them all with a smiling face and he is predisposed to grant all requests. The peasant behind his plow has access to the king in a manner unavailable to the highest ranking minister in the royal court when the king is in the palace. Here the king connects with his people.
Communication is about connecting. Elul, when we prepare for the month of Chagim – Holy Days, we prepare to connect with Hashem – G-D. In school the teacher’s job is not to be the “guardians of the information”. Teachers know something that students don’t and the teachers transfer the information to students. Teachers communicate and connect with students; they connect students with the learning experience. They guide students to make their own discoveries about their world, community and their identity.
This month let us reflect on how we communicate. Are we connecting with others? Are we connected to ourselves? The way we communicate, does it reflect who we are? Are we a mentch? Is it done with Kavod (Respect)?
And that's how Rabbi C sees it.
on Wednesday September 14, 2011 at 09:11AM