The Giving Time


A Chanukah Story written by Tobias Vogelstein, First place winner of The Associated’s Writing contest in the Budding Authors Division (Ages 20-34) 

Happy Chanukah everybody. I hope you’re all looking forward to some awesome gifts tonight. I’m certainly anticipating sharing my gift of storytelling!  

But did you know that giving gifts on Chanukah is not actually a Jewish tradition?  

Woah, did I just blow your mind? Yeah, mine too.  

The actual time for giving gifts is on Purim, when an even more remarkable miracle occurred. 

So, how did this horrible misunderstanding come about?  

Well, I’m guessing it’s partly due to Chanukah’s close proximity to Christmas, and the evils of assimilation.  

Currently, Chanukah and Christmas, not to mention Kwanzaa, Three Kings Day, and Korean New Year now have so much in common with each other that you can’t walk past a house on December 26th without  seeing some  Latten American kid watching “Norwegian the lion King, and belching out the lyrics to ““Rudolph the Red Nosed meerkat 

So, should you be returning all those gifts you bought for the Jewish holiday?  

 The answer is a resounding NO!  

Why not?  

It would certainly save money.  

Well, Other than disappointing millions of boys and girls all over world, it’s because the act of giving is actually very spiritual. 

On Chanukah we give out “gelt”, which is the Yiddish term for money. This mainly serves to demonstrate how very important giving tzedaka (charity) is to our religion.  

It’s also convenient to use the coins for games of dreidel. Along with singing, dancing, and playing games, the giving and receiving gifts adds to the festive spirit of the holiday.  

There is also the name “Chanukah”, which shares a root with the word “chinuch”, meaning “to mold” or “to educate.” Education, especially of children, is the foundation of what we celebrate on Chanukah. We strive to educate children on the importance of the miracle of Chanukah.  

Even If we have to fry potatoes to do that.  

Actually, some of you may have heard that we eat food cooked in oil to commemorate the miracle of the Chanukah oil, but what about the cheese? 

Cheese you say? I don’t recall any cheese. 

On Chanukah, we eat cheese to recall the brave heroine Yehudis, who (in 164 BCE) helped save her people by slaying the vicious Greek general Holofernes with the help of a little cheese. Holofernes had brought the Jews of Bethulia to the brink of death by seizing the town’s only spring of water. The people grew desperate as they began to weaken from thirst. Then the beautiful Yehudis stepped forward and asked to see Holofernes. Taken by Yehudis’ loveliness and charm, Holofernes invited her to an al fresco banquet á deux. Yehudis declined to eat his food—it wasn’t kosher, after all—but she had brought her own, and a large wineskin to share with him. Charmingly, she plied him with salty cheeses; then, as he grew more and more thirsty, she offered him great quantities of wine to slake his thirst. When Holofernes fell into a drunken stupor, Yehudis borrowed her host’s sword and cut off his head. She calmly returned with it to Bethulia, where the stunned townspeople hung their oppressor’s head on their wall. 

When Holofernes’ soldiers found his body, they were so demoralized that they fled in panic. The town of Bethulia was saved, along with the rest of Israel. We can celebrate this victory by singing the traditional Russian Potato Song.   

“Sunday potatoes, 

Monday potatoes, 

Tuesday potatoes, 

Wednesday, potatoes! 

Thursday potatoes, 

Friday potatoes, 

Saturday, 

For a special treat 

What do we get to eat?  

Potatoes!” 

Even more important than eating fried food, playing with spinning tops, and singing “fierce crusaders who triumph against the odds, is educating children about why this holiday is so important to us. Which brings me to this week’s parsha.  

The story of Yosef Hatzaddik is one of the most celebrated yarns in the Torah. It has even been made into a Broadway musical, one so popular that even my local public high school decided to put it on; and no, I was not cast in that production.  

I am, of course, kidding. The real reason we read the Torah portion of Vayigash is this: before going down to Egypt himself, Yaakov sent his son Yehuda ahead of him to Goshen: “He sent Yehuda ahead of him to Yosef, in order to direct him to Goshen. This is not a coincidence, for it is specifically this verse which holds the secret to the Jewish survival throughout the long and bitter exile. As the Midrash explains, the reason Yaakov sent Judah ahead of the family was in order for him to set up a center of learning and spirituality before the whole family would arrive in Egypt.” 

Back in ancient times the Greeks closed the Jewish schools to prevent Torah learning. Today we embrace learning to remind us of our salvation. And where better than to find this nourishment than the Torah. Each story in the Torah teaches us a life lesson and is uniquely satisfying.  

When we tell these stories, we are acting as G-d’s messengers, passing the Torah’s wisdom along.  

So tonight, the first night of the festival of light, don’t just grab any dusty old thing out of your basement. Give it some thought. Something that will remind the person of the story of why you  got it for them, and over all allow us to reflect on the great miracle that G-d gave us! 


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