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Hanna's Dvar Torah

Chanukah in New York

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I write to you from New York, where I spend Chanukah. The lighting of the Chanukiyah in the Rebbe’s synagogue, with hundreds of people singing Chnukah songs together is very moving… I went yesterday to the Rebbe’s resting place and prayed for our whole community, and especially for those who sent me their name and their mother’s name. I will go again on Monday, so whoever hasn’t sent me can still do it now.

These days, I study with my friends various topics related to Chanukah. I’d like to share with you two messages that especially speak to me:

On Sunday, we lit one candle of the Chanukiya (except the Shamash), and it was perfect. We did exactly what we were supposed to do. But if on Monday, we again lit only one candle, it would not be enough. Because an entire day has passed! We cannot stay the same. We need to change. To grow.

Then, why don’t we light the 8 candles from the start? This is because in order to grow and become better, we cannot do it all at once. It needs to be done step by step. If not, it will not last. But we cannot stay at the same level either.

The first message of Chanukah then is to always grow and improve.

But in order to light the Chanukah candles, we use a Shamash, the helping candle. Once we are done with lighting all the other candles, we put the Shamash in higher position. This is the secret of the Shamash and the second message of Chanukah: when we light up someone else and help him or her, we become ourselves higher and better. It’s worth it!

Shabbat Shalom and Chanukah Sameach!

Hanna

THIS was the turning point of the story - Vayeshev

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Joseph, son of Jacob, was in an awful situation. As a small child, he had lost his mother. At age 17, his brothers sold him as a slave to a convoy of merchants until he was finally sold in Egypt. The wife of his master plotted against him and had him sent to jail. It seemed that he could not get any lower… What could possibly change his situation?

The turning point of the story came when two servants of Pharaoh were thrown into jail with Joseph. One night, they dreamt strange dreams, and woke up very worried. Joseph noticed that something was bothering them and asked them what happened. When he heard of their dreams, he gave them an interpretation, and this interpretation proved true. Two years later, Pharaoh will also dream two strange dreams which no one will succeed to explain. Suddenly, the servant will remember Joseph and recommend him to Pharaoh as a dream interpreter, which will result in Pharaoh liberating Joseph and making him his viceroy.

Did you notice when was the turning point where good things started to happen? It was when Joseph, despite his personal troubles, didn’t forget that he was there for a purpose. When Joseph, even as he was going through difficult days himself, cared about other jail mates who were sullen one day. This is where his redemption started.

This story has a lot to teach us. First, how important it is to care for someone else. A small “good morning”, which doesn’t cost anything, can be very meaningful for someone else.

Second, what happens to us when we help someone else? Our own lives change and become full of meaning. This si the beginning   g of the redemption: the personal redemption of each individual and the collective redemption of the Jewish people with the coming of Mashiach, very soon.

As I‘m writing to you, I’m on the way to the airport to travel to New York, to the Rebbe, together with a few of my friends. There, we will study in the Rebbe’s synagogue and pray at his resting place. The Rebbe, who always cared for each person, physically and spiritually, and taught us to do the same. The Rebbe, who is not a simple rabbi, but the leader of the Jewish people.

I’ll be happy to pray for you as well. Please send me your Jewish name and the Jewish name of your mother (For example, Hanna bat Nehama)

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Chanukah!

Hanna

Why do we celebrate the Bar Mitsvah at age 13? - Vayishlach

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Kyle Taylor from London, 84 Countries [Creative Commons BY 2.0]  

A few years ago, there was a lot of debate in Israel about lowering the legal age for a driving license (from 18 to 16 and 9 months). Some thought that it is something positive, others said that 16-years old kids are still young.

What do you think? From which age can one be considered mature? From what age can we consider a child as someone responsible and trust his/her judgement?

In Judaism, the coming of age of boys happens at age 13 – the Bar Mitzvah. (Girls typically mature earlier, this is why the Bat Mitzvah happens at age 12). Why specifically at this age? There are 2 opinions:

For the first opinion, it has its origin in the story of Shimon and Levi (second and third sons of Jacob), in this week’s Parasha Vayishlach. Shchem, the son of a local ruler, fell in love with their sister Dina and took her against her will. When her brothers Shimon and Levi heard about it, they took their weapons and went to save her. The Torah, when recounting this story, calls them “men”, even though Levi was only 13 years old at the time. From this, we conclude that according to nature, kids at this age are mature enough to understand a situation and act accordingly.

According to the second opinion, there is no logical explanation to why age 13 was chosen. It is one of the laws that G-d taught to Moses without telling him the why.

The Bar Mitzvah is the day where the Jew becomes obligated to keep G-d’s commandments (until then, it was the parents’ responsibility). The question is not only why age 13 was set but what is the right way for someone to start fulfilling the Torah and the Mitzvot.

According to the first opinion, we start with commandments that we can comprehend with our human mind. Once we get used to it, we can go on to fulfill also the commandments that we cannot understand.

The second opinion tells us the exact opposite: keeping the Mitzvot is based on obedience, which is higher than human logic. We can (and must) study in order to understand the Mitzvot, but the basis of our keeping them is not our understanding.

Yet, even the first opinion agrees that keeping the Mitzvot requires obedience, which is higher than our logic and our understanding. Shimon and Levi put themselves in great danger, something that was not logical…

Only when we have the obedience, this dedication to G-d which is higher that our finite mind, coupled with understanding can we serve G-d properly.

Let’s think about a Mitzvah which is difficult for us to comprehend and try to keep it, at least once during this week. For instance, avoid mixing meat with dairy products may be a good idea. In this way, we will bring Mashiach now!

Shabbat Shalom,

Hanna

Prayer, what is it? - Vayetse

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Once, the president of the USA came to visit the Prime minister of Israel. In the ministerial office, the American president remarked a special phone, and asked what it is. The Israeli answered that it’s a phone used to speak to G-d. The American then said he also has such a phone, but uses it rarely, because it is so expensive. The Israeli smiled: “I speak as much as I want. Here, it’s a local call.”

In this week’s Parasha Vayetse, Jacob, on his way from Israel to Charan, dreams about something unusual. In his dream, he sees a gigantic scale standing on the ground while its top reaches the sky. On this ladder, Jacob saw angels going up and coming down. According to our Sages, this was a changing of guards. The angels that were accompanying Jacob in Israel went back to the Heavens, while other angels came down to accompany him abroad.

I don’t know what your dreams are about, but the ladder of Jacob’s dream concerns us all. Every day, we have the opportunity to climb this spiritual ladder through prayer. Prayer is like a ladder, like a bridge uniting the material world with G-d. Think about it a little. You and I, simple mortals, can communicate and speak with G-d Himself! G-d, Who wants to hear from us, because we are His children, even if we don’t always succeed in doing the right thing. G-d, Who is all-powerful and can give us whatever we need and wish for. G-d, upon Whom everything depends.

There is a saying that a parent always wants to give, but he cannot always do it. A king can give, but he doesn’t always want to do it. In various prayers, we refer to G-d as “our Father and King”, because He always wants to give us the best and always can do it. But sometimes, He knows that what is best for us is not what we ask for…

It’s important to remember that G-d is not an ATM machine and that prayer is not a shopping list. Its is a daily opportunity to speak with G-d. Naturally, when a child speaks with his or her father, s/he asks him for what s/h needs. But this is not the only thing they speak about.

We can talk for hours about how extraordinary prayer is, this direct communication with G-d. But the most important is to take advantage and utilize this opportunity. There are the written prayers, that help us to express ourselves correctly and follow the proper order: praise, requests, thanks. But there are also the spontaneous prayers that come directly from the heart. G-d loves both.

Let’s decide this week to pray every day. We can start our day with Modeh Ani, and/or start it with the Shema Israel, and/or dedicate a specific moment to speak with G-d directly from our heart.

May our biggest prayer, the coming of Mashiach, be fulfilled now!

Shabbat Shalom,

Hanna

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