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Thursday, 13 December, 2012 - 8:14 am

Ah what a time of year, Chanukah!  The smell of Latkes, the cool crisp air, the light of the Menorah shining in the window!  And for many - presents!

Chanukah is what has become called a minor holiday.   Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Passover and Shavout are the major ones with many Biblical obligations and prohibitions making it much like Shabbat.  Chanukah and Purim are in a category of their own.  We go to work and really but for the unique Mitzvot of the holiday it is very much the same as any other day.  In more recent years as the world around us has become more colorful with lights on houses, displays in the lawns, and the endless sales all advertised with the greed, red and white we the Jewish people have embraced some of those gift giving traditions as well.

I'm not the preachy type, but perhaps we should look at the special light of the Menorah and the contrast to the vast lights around us particularly during this season.  We pride ourselves with the knowledge that our little light represents something far more powerful than all the wattage contained in the many bulbs around us.  Well then, perhaps if we looked at the giving tradition of the holiday of Chanukah, we would see its power too.

The giving tradition of Chanukah is giving Chanukah Gelt.  Not the chocolate type, but real money.  For many the tradition was to give gelt once during the Chanukah.  The Chabad Rebbes would have a "latke uvent" (latke evening) on the fifth light of Chanukah where their families would gather, eat latkes, and share stories.  The Rebbe would give gelt to the family on the evening.  Our Rebbe encouraged that we should give Chanukah gelt every night of Chanukah, to all in our immediate sphere of influence, spouses, children and employees.

Why the big deal with money?  Chanukah means dedication.  It represents the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem that had been desecrated by the Greek Hellenist Armies.  The Temple was an edifice made of stone, wood and gold all transformed into objects of holiness.  In a similar vein our Jewish lives are about taking the material world around us and dedicating it to holiness.  Money itself can often times be overlooked as a means to an end.  As the means to purchasing the material which is then transformed into holiness. 

Chanukah gelt represents taking the actual vehicle and by using it in the act of a Mitzvah or fulfillment of a tradition the money itself becomes holy.  Furthermore, we teach the children through this and dedicate them to our Jewish values and tradition.

The Rebbe added an element to this.  The Rebbe would give two coins, one for the child to give to charity and the other to do as he/she pleased.  In this manner the child became owner over the money felt the pride in giving away their money to a worthwhile cause but also benefited from the money.

So this Chanukah as we gather around the small but powerful light of our Menorah, let's reignite the tradition that is uniquely ours, the giving of Chanukah gelt!

Happy Chanukah!  

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

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