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Shabbat, November 30, 2013

Chanukah Day 3
Halachic Times (Zmanim)
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Jewish History

The forty days and nights of rainfall which covered the face of earth with water in Noah's time ended on Kislev 27 of the year 1656 from creation (2105 BCE. The flood itself lasted a full year, as related in Genesis 6-8).

Links: Chronology of the Flood; The Torah's account (Parshat Noach); The 40-Day Mikvah

On the 25th of Kislev in the year 3622 from creation, the Maccabees liberated the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, after defeating the vastly more numerous and powerful armies of the Syrian-Greek king Antiochus IV, who had tried to forcefully uproot the beliefs and practices of Judaism from the people of Israel. The victorious Jews repaired, cleansed and rededicated the Temple to the service of G-d. But all the Temple's oil had been defiled by the pagan invaders; when the Jews sought to light the Temple's menorah (candelabra), they found only one small cruse of ritually pure olive oil. Miraculously, the one-day supply burned for eight days, until new, pure oil could be obtained. In commemoration, the Sages instituted the 8-day festival of Chanukah, on which lights are kindled nightly to recall and publicize the miracle.

Link: The Story of Chanukah

Rabbi Chaim of Tchernovitz (1760-1817) was a disciple of the Maggid of Mezritch and of Rabbi Yechiel Michel of Zlotchov. He authored Be'er Mayim Chayim ("Well of Living Waters"), a commentary on Torah. Rabbi Chaim passed away on the 3rd day of Chanukah.

Link: More on Rabbi Chaim of Tchernovitz

Two years after his arrest and liberation in 1798 (see entries for "Kislev 19" and here), Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (founder of Chabad, 1745-1812) was arrested a second time; again, the charges were that his teachings undermined the imperial authority of the Czar. His second incarceration was less severe than the first; yet Chassidim mark the anniversary of his release on the third day of Chanukah with farbrengens (Chassidic gatherings) and the study of his teachings.

According to other versions of the story, the liberation occurred on the fifth day of Chanukah. Apparently the liberation happened in two stages.

Laws and Customs

This Shabbat is Shabbat Mevarchim ("the Shabbat that blesses" the new month): a special prayer is recited blessing the Rosh Chodesh ("Head of the Month") of upcoming month of Tevet, which falls on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week.

Prior to the blessing, we announce the precise time of the molad, the "birth" of the new moon. Click here for molad times.

It is a Chabad custom to recite the entire book of Psalms before morning prayers, and to conduct farbrengens (chassidic gatherings) in the course of the Shabbat.

Links: On the Significance of Shabbat Mevarchim; Tehillim (the Book of Psalms); The Farbrengen

Special prayers of thanksgiving -- Hallel (in its full version) and Al HaNissim -- are added to the daily prayers and Grace After Meals on all eight days of Chanukah. Tachnun (confession of sins) and similar prayers are omitted for the duration of trhe festival.

In commemorartion of the miracle of Chanukah (see "Today in Jewish History" for Kislev 25) we kindle the Chanukah lights -- oil lamps or candles -- each evening of the eight-day festival, increasing the number of lights each evening. Tonight we kindle four lights. (In the Jewish calendar, the day begins at nightfall; this evening, then, commences the 4th day of Chanukah).

IMPORTANT: Because of the prohibition to kindle fire on Shabbat, the Chanukah lights must be lit after after the Havdalah service marking the end of Shabbat at nightfall.

For a more detailed guide to Chanukah lighting (and additional Chanukah observances and customs) click here. For text and audio of the blessings recited before lighting, click here.

Daily Thought

Today’s Western society is built on the foundations of two cultures: the Jewish and the Greek. Both treasured the human mind. The Greeks reached the pinnacle of intellect at their time. But the experience of Mount Sinai had taught the Jew that there is something greater than the human mind. There is a G‑d, indescribable and inexplicable. And therefore, a world could not be built on human reason alone.

The idea annoyed the Greeks to no end. While they appreciated the wisdom of the Torah, they demanded that the Jews abandon the notion that it was something divine.

Ethics, to an ancient Greek, meant that which is right in the eyes of society. To a Jew, it means that which is right in the eyes of G‑d. The difference is crucial: Ethics built solely on the convenience of the time can produce a society where human beings are treated as numbers in a computer, or where the central value is the accumulation of wealth. At its extreme, it can produce a Stalinist Russia or a Nazi Germany.

A healthy society is one that recognizes that which is beyond the human mind. And a healthy society is a balanced one, whose soil nurtures human accomplishment but whose bedrock is the ethical standard of an Eternal Being.