This weeks Parsha is Parshas Mikaitz. It is also Shabbos Chanukah, as well as Rosh Chodesh Teves. In the course of the Jewish calendar year, there are two Rabbinical holidays that we mark in our calendar: Chanukah and Purim. When we celebrate Purim, our celebration is marked by a festive meal, with the wildest partying that we have all year. Jewish children wait all year for this chance they have to release their energy and rejoice in a way that is not done all year. When we celebrate Chanukah, we find our celebrations much more subdued and toned down. The is considerable discussion in the scholarly works of Jewish law (halacha) as to whether there is in fact any mitzvah at all to have festive meals on Chanukah. Those who do encourage them explain reasons for doing so – either to mark the dedication of the alter, or other factors. Jewish law tells us that if we do make festive meals on Chanukah, we must make certain to include in them some form of singing praise to Hashem, or words of Torah. Why is it that Purim we are instructed to celebrate with a meal that is itself a mitzvah to enjoy, while on Chanukah there is no such mitzvah?
The commentaries point to a very basic difference between the holidays of Purim and Chanukah. At the time of the Purim story, the decree against the Jews was to annihilate them physically. It made no difference to Haman whether a Jew was observant or not. He wanted to physically destroy the Jewish people and kill every single Jew. A true for-runner of the Nazis, yimach shmam, he had his “final solution”. All he cared about was killing Jews. When we celebrate, we are celebrating our physical survival. Therefore, we celebrate in a physical way – with a feast that is second to none. On Chanukah, on the other hand, the Greeks didn’t care to annihilate us physically. If we would adopt their ways they would have been very happy to leave us alive and well. Indeed, unfortunately many Jews did forsake the ways of the Torah and adopt the ways of the Greeks. As we know, the Hellenist movement of Jews who forsook the Torah and adopted Greek culture and the Greek way of living was a strong and powerful force in Israel at the time. The war that the Macabees waged was against these Hellenists as much as it was against the Greeks. When we celebrate, we are celebrating our spiritual survival. We thank Hashem for the ability to be observant Jews, to study Torah, keep Shabbos, do mitzvohs. Therefore, our celebration must take on a spiritual dimension – whether it be the singing of Hallel, songs of thanks to Hashem for saving us, or other ways of connecting to Hashem.
This idea certainly gives us food for thought. If our focus Chanukah is on a spiritual plane, then our thoughts in these days can’t be limited to the heroics of the Macabee soldiers on the battlefield. We must reflect on what they were fighting for, and decide if we are living up to their expectations. If the Macabees would meet us today, what would they say to us? Would they be comfortable and proud of us, and laud our daily routines in life? Or would they be a little disappointed with our conduct? This is certainly a bit of thought that we can contemplate as we light the Chanukah menorah on this holiday. Let us make sure that we are living our lives in an way that would make the Macabees happy to know that we are the descendants who it was worth fighting and giving their lives for.