This week, as we celebrate Chanukah, we present excerpts of a letter from the Rebbe in which he explains why we give our children Chanukah Gelt, from the archives of the Rebbe’s trusted secretary Rabbi Nissan Mindel.
By the Grace of G-d
Excerpts from a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Chanukah, 5733
WHY CHANUKAH GELT?
The custom to give Chanukah gelt to children which, like all Jewish customs, is part of our Torah and Torah life, has to do with a with a meaningful educational experience.
Chanukah, as the name indicates, is especially important as an educational festival, for the word is derived from the same root as chinuch – “education” – which in turn also means “dedication,” for the two are inseparable.
Chanukah teaches us many things. Basically, it recalls the wonderful victory of the “weak” and outnumbered loyal Torah-Jews led by the Hasmonean family of Mattisyohu and his sons over the forces of darkness which attempted to alienate Jews from the G-d-given Torah and mitzvos. The highlight and climax of the miraculous victory was the purification of the Beth Hamikdosh and the miracle with the sacred oil, a small quantity that continued to feed the light of the menorah for eight days, until new pure oil could be prepared.
One of the basic lessons which Chanukah teaches us is to purify and rededicate our personal Beth Hamikdosh – for every Jew is a Sanctuary for G-d’s presence – and to keep the light of the Torah and mitzvos burning in it, to light up our daily life and our surroundings. We take heart from the Miracle of Chanukah in the knowledge that G-d has given us the ability to overcome all difficulties, whatever the odds may be, in our determination to remain loyal to Him and His Torah and mitzvos.
Now, what does all this have to do with money and Chanukah gelt?
Money is generally regarded has a very important thing and desirable. The Hebrew word for money, kesef, actually means something highly desirable. Money makes one rich; without it one is poor. But what is it that makes money so important and desirable? Money, in itself, is not something we can enjoy as food, or make clothes from, or use as building material for our home. It is what you do with the money that makes it important, because money can buy and provide all our needs. Moreover, with money we can do many mitzvos such as tzedoko, to help other needy people, to enable needy children to receive an adequate Torah education, etc. Money kept in a box is quite useless.
There is another kind of “riches” – the great treasure of capacities and qualities with which G-d endows each and every child: intelligence, feeling and the ability to do and accomplish things. Obviously, G-d desires to see these capacities to be put to good use and the fullest use. A Jewish child has to use his intelligence to study and understand the Divine Torah to his fullest capacity; he has to express his feelings in love for G-d, His Torah and the Jewish people, and in love of all things that should be loved; while the opposite feeling should be expressed in avoiding all things that should be shunned and rejected. This is why Torah chinuch is so vital, for it provides the knowledge of what is good and the incentive to do good all the time. If a child uses all these G-d-given gifts as G-d desires him and her to use them, then they are truly rich.
It is wonderful to know that every Jewish child, boy and girl, without exception, can be truly rich, which is not the case with ordinary money. For in the case of ordinary money, a person has seldom a choice; however much a person may desire to be rich, it is not entirely up to him. But in matters of the spirit and good deeds, every Jewish child, without exception, can be rich, even very rich. This is entirely up to him and her. If they keep their G-d-given capacities locked up in their brain and heart – these are quite useless. It would, moreover, be an insult to G-d to let His wonderful gifts go to waste.
So when the Jewish boy and girl receive their Chanukah gelt, the message that goes with it is this: just as you would not lock away the money, but would use it, all of it, to buy something good and useful, so use the “Chanukah gelt” that G-d has given you the fullest advantage and use it in the spirit of Chanukah – to keep your Beth Hamikdosh pure and holy and keep the light of the Torah and mitzvos burning in it, lighting ever more lights and increasing their glow from day to day and spreading the light all around you. And don’t be discouraged by the “darkness” outside, for G-d has given you the power to overcome all difficulties and you are bound to win.
Needless to say the same message applies to the giver of the Chanukah gelt, for chinuch, Torah-true education, has no age limit or time limit. Moreover, the giver of the Chanukah gelt, the parents, has the additional personal responsibility for their children’s Torah education. Hence, they have to show a shining living example that the children could proudly emulate. Then both the parents and children can be sure of the promise, “G-d enlightens the eyes of both of them,” and each and all will be “a wonderful example to many.”
The above letter is from The Letter and the Spirit by Nissan Mindel Publications (NMP).
These letters were written originally in English and were prepared for publication by Rabbi Dr. Nissan Mindel, whose responsibility it was the Rebbe’s correspondence in English and several other languages.
We thank Rabbi Shalom Ber Schapiro, who was entrusted by his father-in-law Rabbi Mindel with his archives and who is Director of the Nissan Mindel Publications (NMP), for making the Rebbe’s letters available to the wider public. May the merit of the many stand him in good stead.