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Chanukah

Rabbi Motti Grossbaum. Photo courtesy of The Stony Brookside Bed & Bike Inn

By Rabbi Motti Grossbaum

As we kindle the Menorah’s lights, we pay tribute to the heroes of long ago. The courage of the Maccabees (the small band of Jewish fighters who led the revolt against the Syrian Greek religious oppressors) and their refusal to surrender in the face of terrible and overwhelming odds blazed a trail for the survival of the Jewish people and the freedom to practice our faith.

As the Chanukah story goes, the Maccabees came into the desecrated Holy Temple but they could not find any pure oil with which to light the menorah. All the oil had been defiled by the Greeks. Miraculously, they found one small jug of pure, holy, undefiled oil, enough to illuminate the temple for one night. But as we all know; a miracle took place. The tiny jug of oil lasted for 8 nights.

Friends — every single one of us is a candle. We all have a jug of oil deep inside, which is our divine soul — a spark of G-d. We may at times feel that our oil is defiled — we are uninspired. But deep down, every one of us has a small jug of untouched pure oil that, when lit, can outshine any darkness inside and out.

So the question is asked, why is it that lighting candles is such a big part of Judaism?

Candles are lit by Jewish women every Friday at sunset for Shabbat, we light candles on every festival, and Chanukah is all about candles. What is the connection between candles and spirituality?

Jewish tradition teaches that there is something about a flame that makes it more spiritual than physical. A physical substance, when spread, becomes thin. Spirituality, when spread, expands and grows. When you use something physical, it is diminished. The more money you spend, the less you have; the more gasoline you use, the emptier your tank becomes; the more food you eat, the more you need to restock your pantry (and unfortunately, the heavier you become).

But spiritual things increase with use. If I use my wisdom to teach, the student learns, and I come out wiser for it; if I share my love with another, I become more loving, not less. When you give a spiritual gift, the recipient gains, and you lose nothing. This is the spiritual property that candles share. When you use one candle to light another, the original candle remains bright. Its light is not diminished by being shared; on the contrary, the two candles together enhance each other’s brightness and increase light.

We sometimes worry that we may stretch ourselves too thin. In matters of spirit, this is never the case. The more goodness we spread,  the more goodness we have. By making a new friend you become a better friend to your old friends. By having another child you open a new corridor of love in your heart that your other children benefit from too. By teaching more students, you become wiser.

My spiritual mentor and teacher, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, taught us that when we kindle the Chanukah flames, we should “listen closely and carefully” to what the candles are telling us. And this is what they are saying: Keep lighting your candles. There is an endless supply of light in your soul. You will never run out of goodness.

The Chanukah story happened so long ago – yet carries a timely message for us, even today.

Science has given us the greatest technologies and conveniences, yet it alone cannot free us from the moral and social challenges of our day. From gun violence and simmering racial tension, to corruption in politics, material pursuits alone do not lead to a happy and meaningful life.

Our children need a better diet than the value-system fed to them by Hollywood, the internet and mass media. They need, no, they want, inspiration, a noble cause to live for, a moral purpose that frames their pursuits and interests with meaning and direction.

Like the flames of the menorah, with a desire to make an impact and illuminate, and an ever-persistent desire to reach higher, we too can do the same, and be a beacon of light to all.

Rabbi Motti Grossbaum is director of programming and development at Village Chabad Center for Jewish Life & Learning in East Setauket.

Kate Keating and Austin Morgan in a scene from ‘Frosty.’ Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

The holidays are upon us and that means it’s time for “Frosty” to come to life at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport. Under the direction of Richard T. Dolce, the annual production, with a spirited cast of five adult actors, presents a lively show with song and dance that is perfect for its target audience.

Uber-talented Kate Keating reprises her role as Jenny, a young girl living in the town of Chillsville who loves the snow and loves winter. With the help of her mother, lovingly played by Courtney Fekete, Jenny builds a snowman who magically comes alive, and the duo are quickly best pals. Making his Engeman debut, Austin Morgan is a terrific Frosty and quickly connects with the audience, especially after he dances to “It’s Your Birthday.”

Jen Casey is the villain Ethel Pierpot, who wants to make Chillsville warm and snow-free so she can build a new factory. Her weather machine starts to make everything melt, including Frosty. With the help of the audience, Ethel Pierpot’s plan is foiled and, after a thrilling chase scene through the theater and an intense snowball fight, the machine is turned off.

From the very beginning the theatergoers become part of the show, thanks to the efforts of the narrator, Michael Verre, who guides the audience through the story with comedic genius. Verre draws the most laughs as he goes from being bundled up for winter to wearing less and less each time he makes an appearance on stage to demonstrate how warm Chillsville is getting.

Asking a full house last Sunday how to stop Ethel Pierpot from turning Frosty into a puddle of water, Verre received some creative suggestions, including have Frosty “go to a new town where there’s plenty of snow,” “put Frosty in an ice cream truck” and “reverse the machine to cold.” At the end of the show, all the children are asked to wish for snow to keep Frosty from melting and are rewarded for their efforts.

There was magic in the air at the Engeman Theater that morning — yes, a snowman came to life and, yes, it snowed inside the theater. But even more magical than that were the priceless expressions of joy, excitement and wonderment on the faces of the children in the audience.

Meet the cast after the show for pictures and autographs. An autograph page is conveniently located at the back of the program.

Take your child or grandchild to see “Frosty” and let them experience the magic of live theater. They will love you for it.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport, will present “Frosty” through Jan. 3. Tickets are $15 each. For more information, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

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By Rabbi Sharon L. Sobel

When I was growing up, Hanukkah was literally a “festival of many lights!” As the oldest of six children, my parents gave each one of us our own chanukiyah. (Note: A menorah is any multibranched candelabra. A chanukiyah is a menorah specifically designated for Hanukkah. It has nine candle holders: one for each of the eight nights of Hanukkah, plus one for the “shammash” — the helper candle that is used to light the other candles.)

Every morning during Hanukkah, each of us would carefully choose which color candles we were going to light that night. My mother placed a table in front of one of our living room windows with all of the chanukiyot (plural form of chanukiyah) circled strategically around. The mitzvah — the commandment — of Hanukkah is to publicize the miracle. Hence the directive to light the candles in a window. My siblings and I loved watching all those candles burn and glow!

I have a collection of many beautiful and unique chanukiyot now. But the one I still use every year on Hanukkah is the one I used growing up, the one I inherited from my mother. It is not beautiful, but it takes me back to my childhood, it reminds me of my mother and helps make me feel as if she is part of my Hanukkah celebration, even though she is no longer alive. That feeling helps the flame of my candles glow even more brightly.

It is no accident that Hanukkah, our festival of lights, occurs during December. These are some of the darkest days/nights of the year: We are approaching the winter solstice. Once again, Hanukkah reminds us that during the darkest time of the year, we human beings have the power to kindle lights against the darkness. We have the power to brighten the lives of others.

For those who celebrate Hanukkah, let me suggest that we can make the flames of our own Hanukkah candles burn even more brightly by dedicating at least one of the nights of our own Hanukkah celebration to a family tzedakah (social justice/charity) project instead of giving gifts to each other. The word tzedakah comes from the root tzedek — which means “justice” and “righteousness.” We don’t simply give tzedakah because it makes us feel good, but rather out of our sense of responsibility to God and to taking care of others in the world around us.

There are a number of different provisions for tzedakah outlined in the Jewish tradition. They all center around one basic principle: No matter what form our tzedakah takes, we must make sure that we never compromise anyone’s dignity, honor or self-respect. In fact, the highest form of tzedakah is when we can help someone to help themselves, so that they will no longer be dependent upon the help of others.

This year, may the light of the Hanukkah candles ignite the spark of justice, passion for human rights and freedom for all.

Chag Urim Sameach! May you have a Happy Festival of Lights!

Rabbi Sharon L. Sobel is the Rabbi at Temple Isaiah in Stony Brook.