2015-12-02 / Features

Chanukah

A Spiritual Holiday

There have been many times that oppressive nations have sought to destroy the Jewish people, who were miraculously saved from their designs. Upon two of these occasions, the rabbis saw fit to establish an annual holiday commemorating the miraculous salvation, providing an opportunity to remember Hashem’s (the Lord's) kindness and thank him for saving the nation. These holidays are Purim and Chanukah.

Description of how Chanukah is observed note that although it is permissible, and has even become customary, to have a festive meal in honor of Chanukah, this custom is not part of the observance of Chanukah, as originally ordained by the rabbis. Instead, Chanukah is observed in a more spiritual way, with expressions of thanks and praise of Hashem. This is in contrast to the holiday of Purim, when a meal, and the exchange of gifts of food are intrinsic to the rabbinically instituted observances of the day.

The Levush, or Law, explains this incongruity as follows: Purim commemorates the time that Haman, minister to King Achashverosh, enacted a decree calling for the extermination of the entire Jewish people. Had the Jews agreed to renounce their religious practices, and adopt the customs of the nation amongst which they resided, the murderous Haman would not have been satisfied, and would still have called for annihilation of the Jews. Thus, when Hashem miraculously caused Haman’s fall from power, and the subsequent salvation of the Jews, it was a salvation of their physical beings. Their spiritual existence was never in danger. The most appropriate way to express thanks to Hashem for saving physical beings is by demonstrating the freedom to enjoy the physical gifts he has provided.

The oppressive acts of Antiochus and the Syrian Greeks, were of a different nature. Had the Jews agreed to abandon their own customs and beliefs, and become integrated into the Greek lifestyle, they would have been left alone. Their oppressors sought only to destroy them spiritually. And so, when Hashem granted Mattisyahu and the Hasmoneans victory over the Syrian Greeks, he was preserving the spirituality of the Jewish nation. Appreciation for this gift, the opportunity to serve Hashem and recognize him as the one God, is best acknowledged through spiritual expressions of Hashem’s praise.

All holiday-related activities on Chanukah should carry this significance with them. Jewish people are called on to take the opportunities granted to praise Hashem and reaffirm commitment to Him. Indeed, as is shown by Purim, even a meal, a normally mundane activity, can take on a new meaning when done with the proper intentions and thoughts. While observance of Chanukah is mainly of a spiritual nature, this holiday and all observances connected with it, whether physical or spiritual, should be a point of inspiration to carry through until the next holiday which celebrates physical salvation, Purim.

Story source Rabbi Yitzchok Pacht

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