Chanukah and Purim are often talked about together. It is true that in both holidays the Jews were miraculously saved from their would-be destroyers, yet the two could not be more different.
In an essay by my Rebbe, HaRav Avigdor Nebenzahl shlit”a, he quotes the Bach who sheds light on the distinction between the two holidays. The Bach points out that on Purim, we celebrate by eating and drinking, while on Chanukah, we celebrate by lighting candles, saying hallel, and reading Torah. Why do two seemingly similar holidays have such different means of celebration? He answers that on Purim, Haman HaRasha sought to destroy us physically, therefore, it is befitting that our celebration be one of great physical enjoyment with food and drink. On Chanukah, the Chashmonaim were engaged in a spiritual war, and thus, the way we celebrate is through doing additional mitzvot.
Rav Nebenzahl quotes his rebbe and chavrusa, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l, who points out that in the story of Purim, Haman wanted to eradicate the Jewish people, and built a special gallows to hang Mordechai. Therefore, in the al hanissim for Purim, we thank Hashem for intervening with Haman’s evil plot and hanging Haman instead. Chanukah is different. It wasn’t only that the Greeks wanted to kill us—what was even more important to them was that the Jewish people be rendered spiritually paralyzed. As the al hanissim prayer states “lehashkicham toratecha uleha’aviram michukei retzonecha”, “to stray from Your torah and to stray from the statutes of Your will”. What better way to celebrate winning this spiritual (and physical) war than by not only learning Torah, but living Torah!
Finally, Rav Nebenzahl quotes his rebbe Rav Yechezkel Sarna zt”l. When Rav Sarna would speak to school children around Chanukah time, he would ask them if they thought the Chashmonaim were strong orweak. Overwhelmingly, the children would answer that the Chashmonaim had to be strong. After all, they beat the entire Greek army! At that point, Rav Sarna would point out to them that in al hanissim it says “masarta giborim b’yad chalashim” that Hashem “delivered the strong into the hands of the weak.” Although the Greek army was significant in size and stature compared to the Chashmonaim, when you are fighting againstHashem and His torah, your efforts will be futile.
An important message can be learned from the story of Chanukah that is applicable to Jews from Bangkok to Birmingham while we are engaged in spiritual battles of our own. There are times when we are grappling with our yetzer hara and it seems as if our efforts are all for naught. We know we’re going to fall, so we think to ourselves “why bother puting up a fight?” When we cave to that mentality, it is as if we are looking to uproot all that the Chashmonaim fought so valiantly to preserve. Just as Hashem gave the chalashim (weak ones), the power to overcome a severe onslaught and probable defeat, he too will give us the strength to overcome all of the problems that we go through in our lives. All we have to do is reach out to Him.
Willie Balk is an alumnus of Central East NCSY and is the Regional Advisor Coordinator for Seattle NCSY. He is a graduate of YU’s Syms School of Business and is a second year semicha student at Yeshiva University.