Baruch Hashem

Please print these Stories before Shabbos, so you can read them on Shabbos!

General George Washington and Chanukah
 

Israel Solomon was cold, but his mind was neither on the freezing winter of Valley Forge nor on tomorrow’s battle. He was trying to light his Chanukah Lights without waking anyone or attracting attention.

‘This could be my last Chanukah,’ he thought to himself as he blew into his hands to warm them up so he could hold the match. But as the fire caught the wick he suddenly felt different; he felt strangely warm and happy.

“Thanks for everything, G‑d!” He thought to himself “Thanks for everything!” And a few seconds later he was laying under the silent, clear, winter Pennsylvania sky making a blessing on the four small candles flickering in his miniature Menorah.

Suddenly he was brought out of his reverie; someone was standing at his feet!

“What is this!!? What are you doing, are you mad!!! Are you a spy!!?” He looked up and lost his breath; It was the Commander of the Revolutionary forces, General Washington himself, whispering angrily at him!

He sat bolt upright, not wanting to stand quickly for fear that the noise would wake someone. “No, No, General! G‑d forbid!!” he whispered. He slowly rose until he stood facing the General. “I am a religious Jew. I believe in G‑d and this is one of G‑d’s commandments. Believe me I’m not a spy. G‑d forbid, General Washington, G‑d forbid.”

The General couldn’t sleep; he had been concerned with the impending battle and was walking between the rows of his sleeping soldiers when he noticed the lights.

“What sort of commandment is this?” he had calmed down a bit and seemed to be almost interested.

“Over two thousand years ago we Jewish people were fighting a war very similar to yours, Sir.” Solomon felt himself filling with inspiration; the General was looking deeply into his eyes as though he was yearning for the answer. Solomon stood upright and looked powerfully back into Washington’s eyes, “General, the Jews won that war because we fought for the truth. We fought for freedom. We were outnumbered too, even more than you are now, maybe a hundred to one, but we won because we believed in G‑d, and G‑d helped us.”

Solomon felt as though he was connected to something infinitely certain. “And you will win tomorrow also, Sir! G‑d will help you just as He helped us and we will win!”

The General was silent for a moment, staring, examining incredulously the face of the Jew.

Finally he broke the silence and said. “You are a Jew. You are from the nation of prophets! I treat what you have said as a prophesy from G‑d Himself!” The General shook Solomon’s hand saluted, turned on his heel and continued his rounds.

What happened the next day is now history: Washington’s forces scored a telling victory over the British, which proved to be the beginning of total victory and eventually the independence of the United States of America from England.

But what is less known is that Mr. Solomon survived the war and returned to his home in Boston. One day, some two years after Valley Forge, he was sitting with his family around the dinner table when he heard a knock at his door. He rose, opened the door and was astounded to see standing there a contingent of ten very official-looking men led by none other than … the first President of the United States, President George Washington himself!

They entered, and the President was the first to speak. “We are here to present you with this. One of them stepped forward and took out a small expensive looking velvet box from his inside coat pocket. Mr. Solomon looked from one face to the other for some sign of what was going on. He slowly took the box, opened it and there was a golden medallion; he took it out and saw that on it was engraved a picture of a menorah inscribed with the words:

‘With admiration, General George Washington’

“Mr. Solomon, you don’t know what you did that night at Valley Forge.” The President continued. “ I couldn’t sleep that night because I was sure that we had no chance of winning. We lacked ammunition, we were outnumbered ten to one, and we didn’t even have sufficient food or bedding. When I saw the boys lying asleep in the freezing cold under those thin blankets I made up my mind …. to surrender.

But your lights and your prophecy changed all that. Mr. Solomon, if it wasn’t for you and your Menora, I don’t know if we would be standing here today as free men.”

 
Yehudis
One of the Great Stories & Heroes of Chanukah
 
The town of Bethulia, in the land of Judea, came under siege by Holofernes, a mighty Syrian-Greek general, at the head of a huge army.

Holofernes was notorious for his cruelty in suppressing rebellions. When he captured a rebel stronghold, he showed no mercy to the men, women, and children sheltered there. Now he was determined to crush the rebellion of the town of Bethulia, whose inhabitants refused to recognize the oppressive rule of the Syrians.

The men of the beleaguered town fought bravely and desperately to repulse the repeated assaults by the superior enemy forces. Seeing that he couldn't take the fortified town by force, Holofernes decided to starve the inhabitants into submission. He cut off the food and water supply, and before long the town was indeed brought to the verge of surrender.

Hungry and thirsty and in utter despair, the townspeople gathered in the marketplace and demanded that, rather than die of hunger and thirst, they should surrender to the enemy.

Uzzia, the commander of the defense forces, and the Elders of the town, tried to calm the populace, without success. Finally they pleaded, "Give us five more days. If no salvation comes by the end of five days, we will surrender. Just five more days..."

Reluctantly the people agreed, and slowly they dispersed. Only one person, a woman, remained in her place, as if riveted to it, and she addressed Uzzia and the Elders, who had also turned to go. Her voice was clear and firm.

"Why do you test G‑d, giving Him five days in which to send us His help? If you truly have faith in G‑d, you must never give up your trust in Him. Besides, don't you know that surrender to Holofernes is worse than death?"

So spoke Yehudit, the noble daughter of Yochanan the High Priest. She was a young widow. It was several years since she had lost her beloved husband Menashe, and had devoted all her time to prayer and acts of charity ever since.

Yehudit was blessed with extraordinary charm, grace, and beauty, but she was particularly respected and admired for her devoutness, modesty and loving kindness.

Yehudit's words made a deep impression on Uzzia and the Elders.

"You are quite right, daughter," they admitted, "but what can we do? Only a downpour of rain that would fill our empty cisterns could save our people, but it is not the rainy season. We are all suffering the pangs of hunger and thirst. Pray for us, Yehudit, and perhaps G‑d will accept your prayers."

"We must all continue to pray, and never despair of G‑d's help," Yehudit said. "But I have also thought of a plan. I ask your permission to leave town together with my maid. I want to go to Holofernes."

Uzzia and the Elders were shocked and dismayed. "Do you know what you are saying, Yehudit? Would you sacrifice your life and honor on the slim chance that you might soften Holofernes's heart? We cannot allow you to make such a sacrifice for us."

But Yehudit persisted. "It had happened before that G‑d sent His salvation through a woman. Yael, the wife of Heber, was her name, as you well know. It was in her hands that G‑d delivered the cruel Sissera."

Uzzia and the Elders attempted to discourage Yehudit from such a dangerous mission, but she insisted that she be allowed to try. Finally, they agreed.


Yehudit passed through the gates of Bethulia, dressed in her best clothes, which she had not worn since her husband passed away. A delicate veil all but hid her beautiful face. She was accompanied by her faithful maid, who carried on her head a basket filled with rolls, cheese, and several bottles of old wine.

The sun had already begun to hide behind the green mountains when Yehudit and her maid wound their way toward the enemy's camp, their lips whispering a prayer to G‑d. Presently they were stopped by sentries, who demanded to know who they were and who sent them.

"We have an important message for your commander, the brave Holofernes," Yehudit said. "Take us to him at once."

"Who are you, and why are you here?" Holofernes asked, his eyes feasting on his unexpected, charming visitor.

"I am but a plain widow from Bethulia. Yehudit is my name. I came to tell you how to capture the town, in the hope that you will deal mercifully with its inhabitants..."

Yehudit then told Holofernes that life in the beleaguered town had become unbearable for her, and she bribed the watchmen to let her and her maid out. She went on to say that she had heard of Holofernes's bravery and mighty deeds in battle, and wished to make his acquaintance. Finally she told Holofernes, what he already knew, that the situation in the besieged town was desperate, that the inhabitants have very little food and water left. Yet, she said, their faith in G‑d remained strong, and so long as they had faith, they would not surrender. On the other hand, she added, before long, every scrap of kosher food would be gone, and in desperation they will begin to eat the flesh of unclean animals, and then G‑d's anger will be turned against them, and the town will fall....

"But how will I know when the defenders of the citadel will begin to eat unkosher food, as you say, so that I can then storm the walls and capture the city?" the commander of the besieging army asked.

"I had thought of that," Yehudit answered confidently. "I have arranged with the watchmen at the city's gates that I would come to the gate every evening to exchange information: I will tell them what's doing here, and they will tell me what's doing there."

Holofernes was completely captivated by the charming young Jewish widow who had so unexpectedly entered his life and was now offering him the key to the city. "If you are telling me the truth, and will indeed help me capture the city, you will be my wife!" Holofernes promised. Then he gave orders that Yehudit and her maid were to have complete freedom to walk through the camp, and anyone attempting to molest them in any way would be put to death immediately. A comfortable tent was prepared for the two women, next to his.

The two women, veiled and wrapped in their shawls, could now be seen walking leisurely through the armed camp at any time during the day and evening. Fearful of the commander's strict orders, everyone gave them a wide berth. Soon they attracted little, if any, attention. Yehudit could now walk up to the city's gates after dark, where she was met by a watchman.

"Tell Uzzia that, thank G‑d, everything is shaping up according to plan. With G‑d's help we shall prevail over our enemy. Keep your trust strong in G‑d; do not lose hope for a moment!"

Having delivered this message for the commander of the defense force of the city, Yehudit departed as quietly as she had appeared.

The following evening she came again to the city's gate and repeated the same message, adding that she had won Holofernes' complete confidence.

In the meantime, Holofernes, having nothing special to do, spent most of his time drinking, with and without his aides. When he was not completely drunk, he would send for Yehudit. She always came to his tent in the company of her maid. On the third day he was already getting impatient.

"Well, gracious Yehudit, what intelligence do you bring me today? My men are getting impatient and demoralized doing nothing; they cannot wait to capture the city and have their fun..."

"I have very good news, general. There is not a scrap of kosher food left in the city now. In a day or two, famine will drive them to eat their cats and dogs and mules. Then G‑d will deliver them into your hands!"

"Wonderful, wonderful! This surely calls for a celebration. Tonight we'll have a party, just you and I. I shall expect you as my honored guest."

"Thank you, sir," Yehudit said.


That evening, when Yehudit entered Holofernes' tent, the table was laden with various delicacies. The general was delighted to welcome her and bade her partake of the feast. But Yehudit told him she brought her own food and wine that she had prepared especially for that occasion.

"My goat cheese is famous in all of Bethulia," Yehudit said, "I'm sure you'll like it, general."

He did. And he also liked the strong, undiluted wine she had brought. She fed him the cheese, chunk after chunk, and he washed it down with wine. Before long he was sprawled on the ground, dead drunk.

Yehudit propped a pillow under his head and rolled him over on his face. Then she uttered a silent prayer.

"Answer me, O L-rd, as You answered Yael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, when you delivered the wicked general Sissera into her hands. Strengthen me this once that I may bring Your deliverance to my people whom this cruel man vowed to destroy, and let the nations know that You have not forsaken us..."

Now Yehudit unsheathed Holofernes' heavy sword, and taking aim at his neck, she brought the sword down on it with all her might.

For a moment she sat down to compose herself. Then she wrapped up the general's head in rags, concealed it under her shawl, and calmly walked out and into her own tent.

"Come quickly," she said to her maid, "but let us not arouse suspicion."

The two veiled women walked leisurely, as usual, until they reached the gates of the city. "Take me to Uzzia at once," she said to the sentry.

Uzzia could not believe his eyes as he stared at the gruesome prize Yehudit had brought him.

"There is no time to lose," she told the commander. "Prepare your men for a surprise attack at dawn. The enemy's camp is not prepared for it. When they run to their commander's tent, they will find his headless body, and they will flee for their lives..."

This is precisely what happened. The enemy fled in confusion and terror, leaving much booty behind.

The Fifth Night


One of the legendary soldiers in the Lubavitcher Rebbe's army of teachers and activists who kept Judaism alive in Communist Russia in the darkest years of repression was Rabbi Asher Sossonkin, who spent many years in Soviet labor camps for his "counter-revolutionary" activities. In one of these camps he made the acquaintance of a Jew by the name of Nachman Rozman. In his youth, Nachman had abandoned the traditional Jewish life in which he was raised to join the communist party; he served in the Red Army, where he rose to a high rank; but then he was arrested for engaging in some illegal business and sentenced to a long term of hard labor in Siberia.

Rozman was drawn to the chassid who awakened in him memories of the home and life he had forsaken. With Reb Asher's aid and encouragement, he began a return to Jewish observance under conditions where keeping kosher, avoiding work on Shabbat, or grabbing a few moments for prayer meant subjecting oneself to near-starvation, repeated penalties and a daily jeopardy of life and limb.

One winter, as Chanukah approached, Reb Asher revealed his plan to his friend. "I'll get a hold of a small, empty food can — the smaller the better, so it'll be easy to hide and escape notice. We'll save half of our daily ration of margarine over the next two weeks, for oil. We can make wicks from the loose threads at the edges of our coats. When everyone's asleep, we'll light our 'menorah' under my bunk...."

"Certainly not!" cried Nachman Rozman. "It's Chanukah, Reb Asher, the festival of miracles. We'll do the mitzvah the way it should be done. Not in some rusty can fished out from the garbage, but with a proper menorah, real oil, at the proper time and place. I have a few rubles hidden away that I can pay Igor with at the metal-working shed; I also have a few 'debts' I can call in at the kitchen...."

A few days before Chanukah, Nachman triumphantly showed Reb Asher the menorah he had procured — a somewhat crude vessel but unmistakably a "real" menorah, with eight oil-cups in a row and a raised cup for the shamash. On the first evening of Chanukah, he set the menorah on a stool in the doorway between the main room of their barracks and the small storage area at its rear, and filled the right-hand cup; together, the two Jews recited the blessings and kindled the first light, as millions of their fellows did that night in their homes around the world.

On that first night the lighting went off without a hitch, as it did on the second, third and fourth nights of the festival. As a rule, the prisoners in the camp did not inform on each other, and their barrack-mates had already grown accustomed to the religious practices of the two Jews.

On the fifth night of Chanukah, just as Reb Asher and Nachman had lit five flames in their menorah, a sudden hush spread through the barracks. The prisoners all froze in their places and turned their eyes to the doorway, in which stood an officer from the camp's high command.

Though surprise inspections such as these were quite routine occurrences, they always struck terror in the hearts of the prisoners. The officer would advance through the barracks meting out severe penalties for offenses such as a hidden cigarette or a hoarded crust of bread. "Quick, throw it out into the snow," whispered the prisoners, but the officer was already striding toward the back doorway, where the two Jews stood huddled over the still-burning flames of their candelabra.

For a very long minute the officer gazed at the menorah. Then he turned to Reb Asher. "P'yat? (Five?)" he asked.

"P'yat," replied the chassid.

The officer turned and exited without a word.


The Missing Rabbi
.
The followers of Rabbi Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezritch, awaited his entrance into the synagogue for the lighting of the menorah on the first night of Chanuka. For the past few years, Rabbi Meshulam-Zusha of Anapoli, one of the Maggid's greatest disciples, had been honored with lighting the shamash (“attendant”) candle. Reb Zusha would then hand it to the Maggid who lit his menorah from it. But Reb Zusha was nowhere to be seen! The chasidim wondered if his absence was the reason the Maggid had not yet lit the menorah.

Minutes, then hours ticked by, as the chasidim waited for their Rebbe to emerge. Finally, at about midnight, the Maggid emerged from his room and walked towards the menorah. As if to himself, the Maggid said quietly, "Zusha will not be with us tonight. We will light the menorah now."

The Maggid honored another of his chasidim with the privilege of kindling the shamash, the blessings were chanted and the single, solitary wick was lit. Then all of the holy assemblage joined together in singing the traditional Chanuka hymns.

The next morning, just as the Maggid and his chasidim were finishing the services, Reb Zusha walked in. Weary from traveling, Reb Zusha shuffled over to his customary place and dropped down on the bench. His friends came over and gave him a hearty welcome. One of them reported, "The Rebbe waited a long time for you last night. What happened?"
"After we light the Chanuka menorah tonight," promised Reb Zusha, "and with the Rebbe's permission, I will tell you what happened."

All of the chasidim gathered around the Maggid's menorah on the second night of Chanuka. After the Maggid lit the menorah they eagerly listened to Reb Zusha's story:

"As you all know, immediately after the High Holidays, it is my custom to travel throughout the small villages and hamlets near Mezritch. I go from town to town, speaking with the adults and teaching the children about the wonders of our heritage. I also speak to them about how G‑d loves each and every single Jew and that they are all important to Him. I tell them about our Rebbe and explain some of the Rebbe's teachings.

"Each year, I plan my schedule so that I can return to Mezritch in time for Chanuka. Yesterday, I was on my way back to Mezritch when a terrible snowstorm started. I pushed on through the storm, though many times I felt I could not continue. Knowing that I would soon be back in Mezritch near the Rebbe was what kept me going.

"The storm worsened and I soon realized that I would have to stop and rest a bit before continuing, if I wanted to make it to Mezritch at all. And so, I stopped at the home of Yankel in a village not too far from Mezritch. By this time it was already quite late in the afternoon. I pounded and pounded on the door until finally, someone called out, 'Who is it?'

"'It is I, Reb Zusha,' I said loudly.

"Yankel's wife opened the door. She looked absolutely terrified as she bid me inside. I noticed that the children, too, looked frightened.

"The poor woman burst out, 'Yankel left the house early this morning to gather firewood. He promised he would come back early, for even then he saw we were in for a terrible storm. It is late already and still he has not returned,' she wailed.

"For a split second I hesitated. If I went into the forest now, who knew if I would come out alive? But I knew I had no choice. I put on my coat and scarf once again and set out toward the forest.

"I passed a few rows of trees when I saw the upright form of a man covered with snow. Only his face was visible in that white blur. I saw right away that it was Yankel, and I thought for sure that he had frozen to death. But when I came very close, I noticed to my surprise, that he was still breathing. I brushed Yankel off and tried to warm him up.

"Somehow I managed to drag and carry Yankel back to his house where his wife and children greeted us with cries of joy. With my last ounce of strength I deposited Yankel on the bench near the stove and fell to the floor myself. Miraculously, Yankel's wife was able to "thaw" him out. She brought us a bottle of strong hard liquor which we drank eagerly to warm our insides. At about midnight we felt sufficiently strong enough to stand up and light the Chanuka menorah. As we said the prayer, 'who made miracles for our ancestors, in those days at this time," we knew without a doubt that G‑d had made a miracle for us now, too.

"As soon as the sun rose in the morning I set out for Mezritch and arrived when you saw me this morning."

Reb Zusha finished his story. The Maggid looked deeply into Reb Zusha's face. "Know, Zusha, that in Heaven they waited—as it were—to light the Divine Chanuka menorah until you lit the menorah together with Yankel. In the merit of your saving a Jewish soul from death, the Heavens awaited you."