Rabbi Yossi's Blog

Welcome to Rabbi Yossi's Blog; where you can expect to find thoughts on current events, Torah learning and Jewish spirituality. And of course, some good Jewish humor.

Chanukah is not minor

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I always find it amusing that there are those who insist on referring to Chanukah as a “minor Jewish holiday.” Of course, they’re not wrong - it is a post biblical holiday after all. However, the need to emphasize it always strikes me as strange. It’s true that if we were to compare Chanukah and Passover, Passover is more significant. But today is not Passover, it is Chanukah. So today, Chanukah is more important than Passover.

Chanukah has so much relevance, especially today when the world seems so dark. You may know that I was born and grew up in Australia; this weeks news with the terror attack in Sydney is especially unsettling. The need for more light is all the more underscored when we look around the world at what is happening in Pakistan, Syria and other places.

Most people recognize the need to be a guide and a light for their immediate family, perhaps for their coworkers too. Chanukah teaches us that we must also illuminate the outside; those who are distant from us and from light. And it’s not enough to illuminate and be satisfied with our accomplishment so far, we must grow and continue to add in our illumination and it’s reach.

The name of the holiday, Chanukah, is derived from the word Chinuch, which means inauguration; Chanukah commemorates the reinauguration of the Holy Temple after its defilement by the Syrian-Greeks. The same word, Chinuch, is the Hebrew term for education. Chanukah is about initiating and educating our family in the ways of Torah and holiness.

There is so much significance connected to Chanukah, much more than latkes and dreidels. Let us spend the next few days, the second half of Chanukah, applying these messsages in our day to day life.

Please note: Tonight is the fourth night of Chanukah, the Chanukah candles need to be lit prior to the Shabbat candles at 4:28pm. Click here to learn more about Chanukah candle lighting tonight and every night of Chanukah. Please reply to this email if you still need a Menorah and/or candles.

Chanukah Wonderland was an amazing success - thanks to all our volunteers! Click here to read more and here for a first selection of pictures.

Is the Rebbe greater than Moses?

Credit: Wikimedia Commons 

“Who do you think is more important, Moses or your Rebbe?” he asked. Without a moments hesitation the Chassid replied, “The Rebbe, because without him I would never have known about Moses.”

Today (and yesterday) is a special holiday on the Chabad calendar. Known by it’s date on the Jewish calendar, Yud Tet Kislev, it is referred to as the “Rosh Hashanah for Chassidus,” the “New Year” for the teachings of Chassidus.

Chassidus teaches us how to serve Hashem with joy; Chassidus teaches us the significance of every Mitzvah, and Chassidus teaches the value of every single individual Jew.

Chassidus is not an addition to Judaism; it helps focus our attention on primary Jewish teachings. It inspires us to live a more engaged Jewish life and it guides us how to refine and elevate our character.

It is due to this holiday that we know about the Torah and it’s value, and application in our daily life. It is due to this holiday that we are here in Folsom and had the opportunity to meet you. It is therefore an important time to celebrate.

Let us say “L’chaim” and commit to engage even more in Jewish life and learning. Our involvement will inspire our family, and others in our life, to further engage in their precious Jewish heritage.

“If not us, who? If not now, when?”

Missing garbage bags

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As you may know, this week our family was blessed with a wonderful new addition; a precious new baby boy. For the past few days I have been “holding down the fort” single handedly. (Well, almost; I have the help of six very involved children). Here’s the thing, when Goldie is home and in control, everything miraculously appears in it’s place at the right time. We never run out of the random basics in the house and everyone is happy.

Last night, when I suddenly realized that I had no more garbage bags, I realized once again how much happens here beneath the radar. Often it’s the littlest and most insignificant items that are really important and I’m very lucky that Goldie usually ensures that they’re all in place.

If you’ve read my emails before you know that I manage to relate everything to the weekly Torah portion - and this is no exception. This week we read about Jacob finally heading home to the land of (then) Canaan. During his more than 20 years away he had grown into a large family and accumulated immense wealth (both physically and spiritually).

Along the way he is informed that his wicked brother Esau still hates him and is heading toward him with a powerful army. Jacob hopes for the best and sends gifts of goodwill to his brother; but prepares for the worst and organizes his camp for war.

The night before the dramatic encounter, the Torah relates a peculiar event: Jacob was crossing a river and assisting his family to do so too. Everyone was safely across when he realized that he had left some small jugs back on the other side. So he headed back to get them and ended up encountering an enigmatic “man,” who turned out to be Esau’s guardian angel, who wrestled with him the entire night.

Now, why would Jacob, who is extremely wealthy and is in the midst of tense battle preparations, decide to cross back over the river for mere jugs? He certainly could easily have ordered a few replacements on Amazon (or the ancient equivalent)?

Perhaps Jacob understood something that I finally came to realize last night; the small things are not so small. I don’t usually think about garbage bags, but when I needed them and they we’re not there, I suddenly realized their importance.

Not to compare Jewish observance to garbage bags. However, we often downplay the importance of doing mitzvot the proper way. Does it really matter if I light Shabbat Candles at precisely 4:25pm tonight (in Folsom/EDH)? What if I can’t get home until my usual 6:00pm? Do I really have to tie the tefillin in a particular manner? Isn’t the intention most important?

Jacob appreciated the value of even the seemingly small details, he understood that serving G-d is intentional and deliberate; everything has it’s purpose. When we approach life as truly and inherently valuable, we realize that our actions and choices have to be purposeful. Even the seemingly insignificant actions hold value and are part of the plan.

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