Article

In Judaism giving is not just a hobby or part of society's trend of "giving back". Rather, it is a part of what makes us live, like energy, vitality, and oxygen, and it is what makes us happy. Therefore, denying the pauper the obligation to give, is like denying him the ability to live to and to be happy. This is also visibly true: constant givers - like teachers, hospital nurses, and clergy men and women - are almost always happy and 'full of life.' On the other hand, takers are often dissatisfied, frustrated, and upset.

Rabbi Allouche

Do you consider yourself a happy person? 

Whether you answered yes or no, I would beg you to first define the word happiness.

Most people think of happiness as “the experience of frequent positive emotion, such as joy, interest, and pride, and infrequent negative emotions, such as sadness, anxiety, and anger,” as Psychology Today once put it.

In Judaism, however, there are two types of happiness – one that comes and goes, and the other, comes and stays. They are defined by the two Hebrew words for happiness: “Osher” and “Simcha”.

Osher is happiness that we feel. If someone shares with us good news, for example, then we feel happy. Simcha, on the other hand, is happiness that we do. If we do good, such as visiting the sick, helping the needy, or making that phone call to share a good word with someone else, we become happy.

Osher and Simcha are also engendered differently. Osher – the happiness that we feel – relates to a passive state of being as it completely depends on outside circumstances. Therefore this type of happiness is fleeting. Conversely, Simcha – the happiness that we do – relates to an active state of being as it depends on our ability to get out of bed, roll up our sleeves, and do good. And this happiness thus remains forever, in us, and in the people we have positively affected.

Interestingly, Simcha, the happiness that we do, is also what turns us into G-d’s children.

“When you lend money to my nation…” In this verse, mentioned in this week’s portion, we encounter the commandment to lend and give money to the poor. But the Chassidic masters put a beautiful spin to it: The Hebrew words of this verse, “When you lend money to My nation,” can also be read as, “When you lend money, you are My nation.”

In other words, if we desire to G-d’s nation, we must concern ourselves with the lives of others. Sincere empathy toward our surroundings, unwavering conviction to reach out to those in need, and resolution and creativity to find a way to assist, is what makes us happy people in “G-d’s nation.”

I recall learning, many years ago, a bizarre law in the Code of Jewish Law: “Everyone is commanded to give charity. Even beggars must donate from the charity they receive.” But why? If the beggar donates some of the money he receives, he may not have anything left to eat!

Yet it is here that the Torah re-defines the virtue of giving. In Judaism giving is not just a hobby or part of society’s trend of “giving back”. Rather, it is a part of what makes us live, like energy, vitality, and oxygen, and it is what makes us happy. Therefore, denying the pauper the obligation to give, is like denying him the ability to live to and to be happy.

This is also visibly true: constant givers – like teachers, hospital nurses, and clergy men and women – are almost always happy and ‘full of life.’ On the other hand, takers are often dissatisfied, frustrated, and upset.

So next time you feel deflated, or you sense that your life has suffered a setback, give of yourself, and do good.

Without a doubt, you will then be able to respond with a full and honest heart: “I sure am a very happy person!”

Article

It is an undeniable truth: when we are in a sour mood, even the noblest causes become meaningless. Even the greatest gifts are dreadful. Even the liveliest ideas are dead. Why? because our bitter state paralyzes us and our vision, and fills us instead with all sorts of negativities. Conversely, when we are joyous, grateful, and in a positive state, we see positivity in others too.

Rabbi Allouche

Have you ever met a bitter person? Have you ever been exposed to disgruntled people, who so often blame the world for all of their troubles?

Without a doubt, we all have. And one wonders: For Heaven’s sake, why can’t they be happy? Why can’t they assume full ownership of their lives?

Only three days after the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea, the Israelites began to complain. They were tired and thirsty, and they could not quench their thirst with the water that they had found in a place called Mara, “because they were bitter (- Exodus 15:23).” So Moses, following G-d’s commandment, throws a tree in the waters, they turn sweet, and the Jews drink and rejoice. But how dare they complain? Where was their faith in the G-d that had just redeemed them from slavery in Egypt?

The answer lies in the words of the verse: “They could not drink water.. because they were bitter.” What was bitter? Literally speaking, the waters were bitter. But Rabbi Menachem Mendel Morgenstern, the famed Kotzker Rebbe (1787–1859), offers a different take: the waters were undrinkable because “they” – the people, not the waters – “were bitter.” Indeed, a bitter person inhabits a bitter world. He can be presented with the world’s sweetest and most refreshing waters, but all he will taste is utter bitterness.

It is an undeniable truth: when we are in a sour mood, even the noblest causes become meaningless. Even the greatest gifts are dreadful. Even the liveliest ideas are dead. Why? because our bitter state paralyzes us and our vision, and fills us instead with all sorts of negativities. 

Conversely, when we are joyous, grateful, and in a positive state, we see positivity in others too. When we are in touch with our own shining souls, we sense the shining souls of others. When we are engaged in a genuine relationship with G-d, our appreciation of G-d within ourselves and within every person is far more palpable. To be sure, there are deficiencies in everyone; this is what makes them humans, not Divine. But when a person is only able to see stains in others, it is certainly a sign that this person needs his own cleansing.

French literature shares a delightful chronicle about a poor little bird that suffered terribly from the constant smell of a bad odor. The bird traveled the planet in search of a nice-smelling haven and pleasant-smelling friends but he failed. The poor bird could not find even one pleasant-smelling place and bird, in the entire world. Finally, the bird came to a stunning realization: the bad odor he had always smelled, emanated from… a rotten piece of an apple was stuck in his own nose! He removed it, and lived happily ever after.

So next time you’re feeling inexplicably distressed, bitter, negative and especially whiny, we may just need to look inward and ask ourselves if there is any “rotten piece of an apple” stuck within us too. We too must then muster the courage to remove it, and focus on the blessings in us and around us. 

A pleasant odor, sweetness, and true joy will then undoubtedly follow.

Article

Sometimes, the best way to deal with negative feelings, is not to deal with them. The best way to fight emotions that bolster despair is to engage in actions that bolster hope. The best remedy for a heart that feels threatened by darkness, is a Mitzvah, a positive deed, that reassures it with a Divine light.

Rabbi Allouche

It has always amazed me.

After 210 years of slavery in Egypt, G-d “hears the cry” of His people, and sends Moses to bring about ten plagues about the Egyptians and free them from their bondage. In this week’s portion, the redemption of the people of Israel finally begins. 

But what about the emotional state of all of these slaves? What was God’s plan? Did he ask Moses and his co-leaders to provide them with intense therapy after so many years of slavery and trauma? Did he offer them any psychological treatments? 

Of this, we don’t hear a word. But why this insensitivity to the people of Israel? Surely, they needed some sort of emotional support and psychological treatment?  

The reason, I believe, shares a powerful truth: G-d and Moses were not being indifferent to the emotional state of their people. Instead, at the brink of their exodus, they focused on that which was vitally needed: actions, not feelings. Moving forward and focusing on the future, instead of standing still and analyzing the present. 

Because, sometimes, the best way to deal with negative feelings, is not to deal with them. The best way to fight emotions that bolster despair is to engage in actions that bolster hope. The best remedy for a heart that feels threatened by darkness, is a Mitzvah, a positive deed, that reassures it with a Divine light.

So Moses tells his nation to put their feelings aside, offer a pascal lamb, eat it with their “cloak tucked into their belts, and their sandals on their feet. and their staff in their hands,” ready to march forth toward redemption. Sure enough, their anxiety vanishes, their trauma, dissipates, and their confidence is regained. 

The lesson is poignantly clear: at the end of the day, our actions, not our feelings, define who we are. We may experience all sorts of moods, but at the end of the day, it is a person’s deeds that mold his life. A smile, a helping hand, a generous act can mold us and our lives infinitely more than the emotions of our hearts. In the words of Victor Hugo, the 19th Century French poet: “Our acts make or mar us – we are the children of our own deeds.”

This applies to our Jewish lives too. For how many of us deprive ourselves of the gift of a mitzvah, just because we are scared? How many of us are reluctant to get involved, just because we are intimidated? How many of us are hesitant to move forward in our spiritual journey, with study, prayer, or a good deed, just because we are not “feeling it”?

So, if our feelings are holding us back with all sorts of excuses, we should just march forth, and do good.

We will be doing ourselves a favor that we, and the world, will surely benefit from, to eternity.

Article

If Pharaoh could demonstrate such resilience for such an evil cause, how much more resilience must we demonstrate for good causes? No matter the challenges that life may thrust upon us, regardless of the difficulties we may experience, we cannot be deterred from fulfilling the purpose of our existence, by actualizing our inner talents, following the ways of our tradition, and doing good for good's sake.

Rabbi Allouche

“Who is wise? He who learns from everyone,” Ben Zoma, the Mishnaic Sage, teaches.

Indeed, every person possesses a spark of wisdom to share. Every creature of G-d has a Divine element that shines.

But if that is true: what can be learned from Pharaoh – the evil dictator who drowned Jewish baby boys, and enslaved our people with unfathomable cruelty?

In a powerful statement, the Kotzer Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Morgenstern of Kotzk, revealed the answer:

“In truth, I admire Pharaoh,” he told his students. “The plagues kept coming, they became worse and worse, yet he never gave up. Furthermore, Pharaoh knew that, ultimately, he would be defeated. How can you overcome our Almighty God? Nevertheless, he persevered, with remarkable consistency.”

The message is profound: Pharaoh knew that his cause was lost. He further knew that refusing to ‘let the Jewish people go’ would bring upon him and his country utter destruction. Yet, he persevered with unwavering strength and unshakeable conviction.

This begs the question: If Pharaoh could demonstrate such resilience for such an evil cause, how much more resilience must we demonstrate for good causes? No matter the challenges that life may thrust upon us, regardless of the difficulties we may experience, we cannot be deterred from fulfilling the purpose of our existence, by actualizing our inner talents, following the ways of our tradition, and doing good for good’s sake.

This idea may also explain an astonishing phenomenon of nature. A cheetah can reach a maximum speed of 70 miles per hour, in less than four seconds. Gazelles, the cheetah’s favorite meal, can reach a maximum speed of 45 miles per hour, in just over five seconds. So why can’t cheetahs catch gazelles, each time they spring toward them? If they run faster than they do, they should be able to capture them with ease! Yet, they don’t.

The answer is telling: Cheetahs often fail to capture their prey because they don’t have Pharaoh’s drive. They give up too quickly. After approximately 50 seconds of sprint-running, they are exhausted, and they give up. Gazelles, on the other hand, can run fast for a very long period of time. True; they don’t run as fast. But their run, at a high-speed, is consistent. Their effort is resilient. And their instinct to survive and escape, elevates them about life’s daily challenges. And that is why they, more often than not, triumph.

Each and every one of us is called upon to be gazelles, not cheetahs; active participants in life, not passive spectators. We are summoned to take a stance for G-d and do everything in our power to better our surroundings, especially when evil so threatens it. We are asked to be lights unto our surroundings and unto the nations, and agents of kindness and goodness in our world.

So next time your mind is filled with doubt, and you ask yourself, “why should I get out of bed today?” or, “why should I come out of my comfort zone and make an effort to go to that event, or do this good deed, or smile at that person?” – remember Pharaoh and his relentless drive.

And know that G-d will await patiently – as He did with the Jewish people – until you respond with a committed heart, and an active hand, to actualize your purpose, and turn every moment into a Divine experience.

Article

If you wish to become a leader, it is your actions that count, not necessarily your character. Life is not about what you feel; it is about what you do. You may be the most brilliant person, an Ivy League graduate, and a multi-talented prodigy with a spirit of heaven, but if your inner gifts and talents cannot translate into earthly actions, that better our world, your personality and leadership skills are futile.

Rabbi Allouche

Did he go to Harvard or to Yale? What kind of character did he have? Which friends did he surround himself with? Who were his role models that helped shape his vision and destiny?

Amazingly, no one knows. When it comes to describing who Moses was as a child, and what type of education he received, the Torah remains mysteriously silent.

Instead, the Torah introduces Moses — the person who is to become our nation’s most important leader of all times — with a single action that he performs at the age of 20: “And Moses grew up, and he went out unto his brethren,” (Exodus 2:11). There, the Torah explains how Moses demonstrates his unconditional love toward a Jewish slave and saves him from imminent death.

The lesson in this introduction is profound: if you wish to become a leader, it is your actions that count, not necessarily your character. Life is not about what you feel; it is about what you do. You may be the most brilliant person, an Ivy League graduate, and a multi-talented prodigy with a spirit of heaven, but if your inner gifts and talents cannot translate into earthly actions, that better our world, your personality and leadership skills are futile.

Judaism, at its very core, has never been big on emotions. My dear mentor, world-scholar, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz once told me: “Only two people truly care about your emotions – your mother, and maybe, your shrink. But seven billion people will care about your actions in this world. So, rather focus on the latter.”

Interestingly, our Torah also, in most cases, avoids describing emotions. And beyond its many stories, the vast majority of its commandments too are focused on deed alone. It’s not that emotions don’t count. They too are important. But we ought to use them as channels to good actions, as means to the goal, and not as the goal itself. And if our emotions cannot take us anywhere, we must still be able to continue to do our duty, and achieve our goal of making the world better. Life is too important. It ought not be interrupted by of emotions.

I am reminded of this important lesson each time I attend a funeral. Interestingly, most eulogies emphasize the actions of the deceased person, much less than his feelings. And it begs a question: Wasn’t the deceased, like all other human beings, presented with challenges that fueled his emotions? What of his temper, his doubts, his ego, his desires? What of his ambiguous times in which he was overcome by sadness and depression? Of this, you don’t hear a word.

Perhaps, this is because humanity understands that after all said and done, it is our actions that define us; not our inner sentiments. In the words of Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel teaches in the Ethics of our Fathers (1:17): “What matters most is the deed.”

Victor Hugo, the 19th Century French poet, once wrote: “Our acts make or mar us – we are the children of our own deeds.”

Hugo was right: at times, it is best to put our feelings aside and become the children of our deeds. And a generous act will reverberate in the world infinitely more than an emotion, no matter how spiritual it may be.

So, have you performed any Mitzvahs and good deeds yet today?

B”H

Friday, Tevet 6, 5780 – January, 2020

Our Dearest Nina Rivka,

6,338,880 minutes. 105,648 hours. 4402 days.

That’s how many minutes, hours, and days have passed, since we last hugged you so strongly, so tearfully, so passionately. I’ll never forget that magical day. Mommy and I rushed to the Paradise Valley hospital in Scottsdale, and after so many prayers, so many swirling emotions, and so much pain and effort (mainly on Mommy’s end!), your tiny, pure, innocent and delicate being emerged onto planet earth. As we hugged you tightly for the first time, our eyes were tearing with joy. After four beautiful boys, we were blessed with you, our radiant princess, and our hearts were dancing with gratitude. Our souls were set aflame with jubilance.

Today, our beloved daughter, Nina Rivka, as we hug you so tightly as you become a Bat Mitzvah, and a fully-fledged adult, chassida, and mentsch, we feel the exact same.

It’s strange. These two distinct days are diametrically opposed. Then, on the day of your birth, you were so small. Today, you are such a giant. Then, you were facing life and all of its fluctuations. Today, life is facing you. Then you were developing your wings. Today, you are spreading them far and wide, to continue to soar to the heavens.

Still, our hug, then and now, felt the very same. And the reason, I believe, is telling: The circumstances of your birth and your Bat Mitzvah day, are certainly different. But our parent-child relationship is not. The oneness of our being, the strength of our bond, the fervency of our love, is beyond the grasp of any confrontational force, even if the latter includes geographical distances. Nothing – indeed, nothing – can ever menace the interconnectedness of our souls, that were woven so perfectly by G-d Himself.

A few days ago, as we observed you preparing your Bat Mitzvah video, your speeches, and your Mitzvah projects, our minds floated to an impossible place:

Did we do a “good-enough” job to lead you to this day and to equip you with all the tools that your adult life will now require? The answer, only G-d knows. Still, our dear daughter, below is another daring attempt to empower you with some ideas as you embark on this journey called life, in which you will undoubtedly continue to grow, shine and succeed, from strength to strength, to become a woman of G-d and His people, and an agent of wisdom and goodness to each and all:

1. Dream Big

Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp. Or what’s a heaven for?” Robert Browning, an English poet, once wrote. He was right: Don’t hesitate to place the bar of your dreams, very, very high. Even if it seems ‘too’ high. For it is our dreams that make us who we are.

In our Torah, all of our heroes dreamed big: Avraham dreamed of changing the world by teaching humanity about G-d and monotheism. Yosef dreamed of becoming a royal king. Moshe dreamed of leading our nation into Eretz Yisrael, our holy and promised land. They each faced the harshest of challenges, but they never stopped dreaming. That is what made them the greatest of the greats. And that is what will make you the greatest of the greats too.

2. Work Hard

Your great-grandfather, Sassi Pinchas Allouche and his wife, Nina for whom you were named, used to repeat a one-liner which has now been engraved in the consciousness of our family: “We must achieve today, much more than we did yesterday, and much less than we will do tomorrow.”

I have no doubt that you too, Nina Rivka, will follow his calling. At times, you will certainly be tested. Life is filled with challenges. But it is the people who work relentlessly hard to go forward, that eventually succeed, beyond measure.

3. You Can Be Your Greatest Friend or You Can Be Your Greatest Enemy

When I was your age, our dear Rabbi and mashpia, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, or “Rav Adin” as we like to call him, once called me aside and asked me: “Do you know what my greatest obstacle is?” Before I was able to utter a word, he replied: “It is me, Adin,” he said. “And the same goes for you. The greatest obstacle to you, Pini, is Pini. Once you will learn to master yourself, you will not have any problems in mastering the world.”

It was the best advice I had ever received. And it makes sense: each of us, as you know possesses a G-dly soul and an animal soul. It’s simple: the G-dly soul wants us to do good. The animal soul wants us to do animalistic things.

Both the G-dly soul and the animal soul talk to us throughout the day. That’s how G-d made us. But almost always, you will know and feel deep within you, which voice you ought to listen to. Here’s a tip: The G-dly soul will almost always lead you toward Mitzvot and good actions. Conversely, the animal soul doesn’t want you to engage in doing good. If you’re unsure which voice you should listen to, you can always ask me, Mommy or a teacher of yours that you trust.

And as Rabbi Steinsaltz taught, if you can follow your G-dly soul and control the animal one, you too will see that you will be able to master the world.

4. You Are Greater Than What You May Think. You are indeed an “Eshet Chayil”

The holy Chassidic Rebbe, Rabbi Aharon of Karlin, once said that “the greatest tragedy of life, is when a prince stops believing that he is a prince, and a princess stops believing that she is a princess. They then settles for less because they think they are less.”

How true. I know that, sometimes, we doubt ourselves, and our ability to make a real difference.

Remember that line in The Lion King, when Mufasa tells his son Simba, whose territory and royalty had been robbed from him by a vicious uncle: “You have forgotten who you are and so have forgotten me. Look inside yourself, Simba. You are more than what you have become. You must take your place in the Circle of Life.”

Today, Nina Rivka, as you take your place in the Circle of Life, you too must never forget to look inside yourself. There, you will always find your Divine soul with its infinite potential, and endless treasures. You are indeed a princess. Or, in the words, of King Solomon you are an Eshet Chayil, a woman of strength.

People may lure you into doing dumb things, just because “everyone does them.” Life may throw at you all sorts of challenges. But always remember that you were born to be G-d’s princess, and that He has given you all of the power and skills to be royal, and act royally, in every place, at every moment, with every person.

5. No, Don’t “Pursue Happiness”

Just Fulfill Your Purpose, and Happiness Will Come To You

Viktor Frankl, one of my favorite authors, once wrote: “Don’t aim at happiness…You have to just let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long-run, happiness will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it.

Indeed, happiness happens, not when you pursue it, but when you fulfill your unique purpose in life. If you live every moment fully, and seize every opportunity that is presented to you, then you will be happy.

Here’s a little secret: As a Rabbi, my main goal in life is to make people happy by supporting and encouraging people to stay true to themselves, to their Jewish identity, to their Divine souls. Sadly, too often, I see people become that which they are not. And it pains me. Some become doctors when they really wanted to be lawyers. Some become racing business-men when they really wanted to be settled family-men. And some turn into a pathetic version of their neighbor instead of a version of their true selves. So they become sad.

Nina Rivka, Mommy and I know that you are truly special and unique. G-d created only one Nina Rivka in the entire world. And He wants you to be YOU the YOU that possesses a shining Jewish soul that yearns to follow Hashem’s Torah and do His Mitzvot, and the YOU that is blessed with so many special talents and skills – from the brilliance of your intellect, to the vastness of your compassionate heart, to your amazing artistic talents and many other skills, to your willingness to run to do a Mitzvah, no matter its degree of difficulty. And if you actualize your YOU fully, your life will be filled with blessings, and happiness will then come to you, and never leave you.

6. Ok, One Final Idea

Ok, here’s one final idea. Perhaps, this idea is the most important of all: Know that Abba and Mommy are always here for you, with endless and unconditional love. And if you ever need an ear to listen to you, a heart to feel you, a soul to shine upon you, Abba and Mommy are always, always available for you.

One of my favorite songs growing up, was an Israeli song composed by Arik Einstein, titled “Ouf Gozal / Fly Away Young Bird.” It is a riveting song about an older bird, singing to his young chicks, soon after they departed from his nest:

My little birds have left the nest

Spread their wings and flew away

And I, an old bird, remain in the nest

Really hoping that everything will be alright.

I always knew the day would come

When we’d have to part

But now it came to me so suddenly

So what is the wonder that I am a bit concerned.

Fly, little bird

Cut through the sky

Fly to wherever you want

Just don’t forget

There’s an eagle in the sky

Be cautious…

Our dearest, dearest daughter, Nina Rivka, we say to you too: fly, cut through the sky. Soar to the highest, most spiritual of heavens, in the ways of our Torah, Mitzvot and Chassidout.

And continue to bring us, the Rebbe, Rav Adin, Sidi Bahe, Nina for whom you are named, and all of your surroundings, abundant Nachat and pride, always.

ישימך אלוהים כשרה רבקה, רחל ולאה, יברכך ה’ וישמרך, יאר ה’ פניו אליך ויחונך, ישא ה’ פניו אליך וישם לך שלום

With endless love,

Abba & Mommy

This afternoon, Jews worldwide will continue to celebrate Chanukah, with the lighting of the 6th candle of Chanukah, alongside the lighting of the Shabbat candles that are lit each and every Friday. 

But here’s an interesting question: what if we discover, at the last minute, that we only have one candle in our home? Should we use it to light the Shabbat candle or the Chanukah one? Interestingly, Jewish law states that, although Chanukah candles are ‘highly important’, we should designate this single candle as a Shabbat candle, and not a Chanukah one.

The reason is moving. In the words of Maimonides: “The Shabbat light takes precedence because it symbolizes peace in the home. And our responsibility toward creating peace in the confines of our home is greater than our responsibility toward creating peace in the world.”

Maimonides’ words ring true, especially in our day and age, in which many are so passionate to “create peace in the world,” that they forget to “create peace in the confines of their own homes.” They will be the first ones to fight against bigotry, sexism, and racism, and G-d bless them for that. But are they willing to invest just as much energy toward fighting against their bad tempers, and their animalistic inclinations? Can they exercise self-control, not just other-control? Can they ensure that their light shines inward, not just outward? 

My dear mentor, world-renowned scholar – Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, once advised me, so poignantly: “Know that the greatest obstacle to me, Adin, is me. The greatest obstacle to you, Pinny, is you. But once you learn to master yourself, you will not have any problem in mastering the entire world.”

Indeed; Judaism has forever placed the home above the battlefield, family harmony above military victories, and the purity of innocent children above the might of decorated army-commanders. 

Don’t get me wrong: it is important, even vital, to better our world, each in our own way. Doing a Mitzvah for the other, not just for the self, and involving ourselves in “Tikun Olam projects” and other forms of social-aid initiatives are essential to the peace and success of our society. But we also ought to remember that our light needs to shine inward, not just outward, and that “our responsibility toward creating peace in the confines of our home is greater than our responsibility toward creating peace in the world.”

And so, as we continue to kindle our lights of Chanukah toward the public streets of our neighborhoods and cities, let us not forget to also illuminate our own homes too with the fire of our souls. Let us use these festive times, to connect and re-connect to the members of our household, with peace, harmony, and unconditional love. 

 Our unobstructed light, emanating from within, will then shine forth, bright and far, to eternity. 

This Sunday evening, December 22, Jews worldwide will be celebrating the first of the eight days of Chanukah, by kindling their Menorahs, playing the dreidel, and eating delicious donuts and latkes.  

While Chanukah also celebrates the miraculous victory of the few yet righteous Maccabees over the many yet wicked Greeks, the kindling of our Menorahs commemorates the miracle of the Menorah’s olive oil burning for eight days instead of just one day. 

The story is well known. When the Maccabees came to rededicate the Temple in the year 164 B.C.E., they found a single cruse of oil still intact. With that single cruse of oil, they lit the Temple’s grand menorah. The oil was sufficient for only one day, yet, miraculously, it burned for eight days. This is why Chanukah is celebrated for eight days.

But why do we focus only on the miracle of the Menorah? Why is the military victory almost ignored in our Chanukah celebration (with the exception of its mention in the special prayer of “V’al Hanissim” which is added in our daily ‘Amidah’ and ‘Grace After The Meal’ prayers)?

Perhaps, the reason is rooted in the centrality of light in Judaism. Indeed, ever since the first day of creation when G-d uttered the words “let there be light,” Judaism has been obsessed with spreading G-d’s light to our world. Thus it is no coincidence that Judaism has chosen to, yet again, focus on the miracle of the Chanukah lights over the military miracle. For these lights embody our vocation and our very raison d’etre. 

And so, as we gather together to light our Chanukah Menorahs, from this coming Sunday evening, December 22, until (and including) Sunday evening, December 29, I humbly submit to you eight very brief yet eternal life-lessons that we may draw from our shining Chanukah-lights, which will hopefully help us connect us and re-dedicate us to who we are, and we were born to be: 

1. Our Chanukah candles are unfazed by darkness and any other opposing force. Instead of focusing on the darkness that they are fighting against, they are focused on the Divine light that they are fighting for. Indeed, the only way to overcome darkness fully is by lighting the lights of our souls, one light at a time, one Mitzvah at a time.

2. Our Chanukah candles are only “bodies of wax.” They only become true candles, when they kindle their wicks with fire. The same can be said about human beings. We are only bodies, of flesh and blood, until we kindle our spiritual wicks and bring light to a person in need, and healing to a broken spirit. 

3. Our Chanukah candles must sacrifice their wax in order to continue to shine bright. Indeed, light is produced by self-sacrifice. It is not enough to talk the talk. We must also walk the walk, give of ourselves, and invest all of our resources in order to create light and make a positive and lasting change in our part of the world. 

4. Our Chanukah candles are proud of who they are and what they are called to do. They have no second-thoughts, third-thoughts, and four-thoughts. They stand tall, with conviction and determination, and are unintimidated by any challenge along the way. And so must we. 

5. Our Chanukah candles may produce a small light. But that small light dispels a lot of darkness. We too may say to ourselves that, in the face of the world’s darkness, our light is too small, and that the Mitzvahs we desire to do are insignificant. But our Chanukah candles prove that our small lights too can triumph and dispel much darkness.

6. Our Chanukah candles unite the past, present, and future. And while they remind us of the miracle of Chanukah some two thousand years ago, they also illuminate our lives in the present, and teach us and our future generations invaluable lessons on our imperative duty to shine bright and far. We too ought to be deeply rooted in our past. Yet, we must also focus on illuminating the present, and ensuring that our light and the light of our Divine values permeate our children and shine on into the future. 

7.  Our Chanukah candles do not feel threatened by other lights. Quite the opposite, they feel bolstered and empowered by the lights that join them. Unfortunately, the same can’t always be said about human beacons of light, who are filled with insecurity and jealousy when faced with other people who also strive to bring light to humanity. Yet we ought to remember that when lights join together, our personal lights are not diminished; rather, they are increased. They are not dimmed; rather, they shine brighter than ever. 

8. Our Chanukah candles continue to live on, long after they are gone. Although light may be physically extinguished, its spiritual impact of warmth and love forever remains in the lives of the people it illuminated. That is the power of light. The same applies to people of light. Although they may pass on, they continue to live on in the hearts of the people they have touched, and most importantly, in their actions. In the words of the Talmud (Berachot 18a): “The righteous, in their death, are called living.” And so, will you, and your light, also live forever? 

Article

The message is profound: We each possess two identities. On the one hand, we are "Jacobs." And as Jacob's life was filled with tribulations, our inner Jacob too struggles, fights and is called to battle the evil "Esaus" of our lives, including our inner demons, impulsions, and temptations.

Rabbi Allouche

What is your name?

Jacob, our forefather, would have had a tough time answering this simple question.

In this week’s portion we read that, after wrestling with an angel, Jacob’s name is changed to “Israel.” Yet, after this name-change, the Torah, from time to time, still calls him “Jacob.”

The same applies to the name of our Jewish nation. At times, the Torah calls the Jewish people, “the congregation of Jacob” or “the seed of Jacob”; other times, we are called “the children of Israel.” So who are we? What is our real name?

The message is profound: We each possess two identities. On the one hand, we are “Jacobs.” And as Jacob’s life was filled with tribulations, our inner Jacob too struggles, fights and is called to battle the evil “Esaus” of our lives, including our inner demons, impulsions, and temptations.

But we also have moments in which we are “Israels.” And just as the first Israel, who triumphed over evil and became one with His Divine calling, we too have times in which we connect to our deepest self, assume our Divine roles and become G-d’s beacons of light and bastions of hope in our dark and broken world.

To always be an “Israel,” is, perhaps, impossible. Most of us remain both Jacobs and Israels throughout our lives, alternating between these two identities.

But the goal is to have more “Israel” moments than “Jacob” moments. And the objective is to invest all of our energies and efforts toward unleashing our Divine soul, and all of its light; actualizing our infinite potential; realizing our G-d given talents and skills; and engaging in uninterrupted deeds of goodness and kindness, even when our Jacob-like mentality and mood may seek to disrupt us.

At times, we may see ourselves as struggling “Jacobs” destined to live a life of hardships, from within and from without. Our minds may then be conquered by despair. We may even say to ourselves, “this is the way we were born, and this is the way I will always be.”

But our confining Jacobs can be altered; our narrow perspectives can be changed. And if we can just re-ignite our Israel, our flame of G-d within, and engage relentlessly in Mitzvahs, and in good deeds, we can rise beyond all of life’s challenges, and bask in the light of G-d and in the grace of His embrace.

So, have you unleashed your Israel yet today? Have you performed a Mitzvah? Have you risen above and triumphed over all that may be pulling you down?

Imagine a complete stranger approaches you in the street, and after offering a brief greeting, he begins to criticize your every move.

How would you react? Would you respond emphatically or just ignore him? 

Well, that stranger is Jacob, in this week’s Torah portion (Genesis 29). Upon arriving to the city of Haran, he encounters a group of shepherds and immediately rebukes them for taking a break and not working: “You should be out in the fields, still grazing with your sheep, instead of slacking off, and taking a break!”

Oddly enough, the shepherds react cordially, explaining to Jacob, that they are simply waiting for other shepherds to arrive. Not only are the shepherds not bothered by Jacob’s words, but they actually take the time to offer an excuse and justify their behavior. Wow! What did he say in order to elicit such a dialogue? What was his secret of communication?

The answer lies in one word: When Jacob initially approaches the local shepherds, he addresses them as… brothers. Listen to his words: “And Jacob said to them: “My brothers! Where are you from?” (Genesis 29:4). Had he greeted them and said, “Hey, you lazy workers, get back to work,” their response would have undoubtedly been different. But Jacob called them ‘brothers!’ with a sincere heart, and that made all the difference.

How true. If we can’t love others, we can’t rebuke them. If we can’t see the other as a brother or a sister, we can’t criticize him or her. Our words of critique will simply not penetrate.

As a Rabbi, I witness this phenomenon on a regular basis. “Rabbi! My wife is really making horrible mistakes,” someone shared with me this week. “I keep on telling her to fix them, but she only gets angrier with me.” Or conversely, a woman might complain: “My husband is really lazy, and as much as I try to reproach him nicely, he just blows up, leaves the room, and disappears for 2 hours.” Parents also come begging: “I am observing my children making terrible choices, but they reject all my advice. Can you please talk to them for us?”

Every case is surely unique, and this advice may not apply to all. But, at times, all that is lacking is this brotherly approach of love. And if we can first love them unconditionally, treasure them, and compliment them, then, they will surely listen.