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The Fine Art of Chanukah Gelt

The Fine Art of Chanukah Gelt

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Over the past half-century, a large and creative industry has essentially reshaped the way we celebrate Chanukah. Of course, the mitzvah of lighting Chanukah candles for eight nights, the story of the miracle of the oil, and the age-old customsWhat is the educational value of money? have always been, and will remain, the heart and soul of Chanukah observance. However, a robust Chanukah industry has introduced light-up musical dreidels, electric menorahs, a gazzilion different latke recipes and the concept of Chanukah gifts.

To be sure, these developments have greatly enhanced our ability to communicate the holiday message and motivate many Jews to observe this important tradition. However, there is one important custom of Chanukah that has been largely forgotten over this time period: Chanukah gelt.

Gelt is Yiddish for money. For generations, parents would give money to their children on Chanukah. Not wrapped gifts or round, flat chocolates covered in silver or gold foil. Legal tender. Chanukah gelt. Mundane as it may seem, the gift of money expresses one of the most powerful lessons of Chanukah.

The name of the holiday of Chanukah commemorates the chanukat Beit Hamikdash—the restoration and rededication of the Holy Temple by the righteous Maccabees after it had been defiled and plundered by the pagan Assyrian Greek empire. Additionally, the word “Chanukah” is etymologically linked to the word chinuch, “education.” The various mitzvahs, customs and stories of Chanukah impart important lessons, especially for our children.

What is the educational value of money? Legal tender is extremely powerful. It is an indicator of social status. One who has lots of it is considered wealthy and successful. It has the potential to provide nutrition, warmth and security, and to generate much goodness and kindness. But money in the bank does none of the above. Its latent energy is only realized when it is actually used.

Every human being is a treasure trove of intelligence, sensitivity and talents. At birth,Legal tender is extremely powerful these powers are hidden and undeveloped. G‑d grants each of us the power to tap into our potential, develop those latent powers and unleash our unique abilities to make a positive impact on our world.

So as you sit by the glow of the Chanukah lights, consider this message of Chanukah gelt and hand your children some money. Allow them to discover this powerful dynamic that so strongly reflects their destiny as they grow and mature into the next generation of leaders and pioneers. Anything can be accomplished as long as their potential does not languish unused and unexpressed. Additionally, this is a golden opportunity to train them in the great mitzvah of tzedakah, charity.

And a word of advice to all children out there: Be sure your parents give you real money on Chanukah. Chocolate coins don’t count!

Based on a letter of the Rebbe, Igrot Kodesh vol. 28, 10,634.

Rabbi Levi Greenberg is the director of programming at Chabad Lubavitch of El Paso, Texas.
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