According to the Maharam MiRottenburg (Tur; Orach
Chaim, Simon 670), there is no obligation of mishteh
vesimchah — of having a festive meal on Chanukah.
The Bach, in order to explain the opinion of the Maharam,
writes that the primary reason for the harsh decree against
Klal Yisroel was because of hisrashlus
be'avodoh, a laxity in our commitment to serve Hashem.
Chazal therefore require us to celebrate Chanukah through
hallel and hodo'oh — praise and
Chanukah is a time for purity and pure ruchniyus. The
festive celebrations that take place during Chanukah are
optional and not obligatory. This is the halacha as
found in the Shulchan Oruch. The Rema adds that if
celebrations do take place during Chanukah, it is customary
to sings songs of praise. By so doing, the festivity becomes
a seudas mitzvah.
The Bach explains that since Klal Yisroel lost their
interest and devotion to the avodoh in the Beis
Hamikdosh, the avodoh and the Beis Hamikdosh
were taken away from us by our foes. Only after Klal
Yisroel was chozer beteshuvoh and gave their lives
for the avodoh, did Hashem bring about their salvation
through the Kohanim, those who actually did the avodoh
in the Beis Hamikdosh. Hence, the miracle was made
specifically through the lights of the Menorah —
because the Kohanim were moser nefesh; they risked
their lives to restore the avodoh in the Beis
This is why, according to the Maharam MiRottenburg, as the
Bach writes in his conclusion, on Chanukah we are obligated
"only in hallel and hodo'oh which is avodoh
shebelev." When our hearts weakened, Hashem put our
hearts to the test. When we passed the test, Chazal obliged
our hearts to sing out in praise and gratitude. This is all
When we slacked off in our commitment to avodoh
— to ruchniyus — we had to reinforce
our ruchniyus. Hence, very appropriately, we express
our thanks through hallel and hodo'oh —
through ruchniyus. Celebrations of eating and drinking
are outside the spirit of the miracle of Chanukah.
The Bach includes in his explanation of the Maharam
MiRottenburg a reference to the ner tomid and the
lighting of the Menorah. Our foes deliberately set out to
destroy specifically these mitzvos because they represent the
eternity and purity of the avodoh. These are mitzvos
of ruchniyus, and the miracle of Chanukah is a miracle
of ruchniyus. Our celebration is thus a celebration of
A nes ruchani is recalled and publicized with
ruchniyus. A celebration embellished with food and
drink— like Purim — would not be in harmony with
the main lessons we learn from the nes of Chanukah.
The whole point of Chanukah is to celebrate the victory of
ruchniyus over gashmiyus. Thus, according to
the Maharam MiRottenburg, the pleasures of food and drink are
out of place.
An avodoh of hallel and hodo'oh is
required. Our hearts must be moved by something
ruchani, because our hearts must reach the proper
madreigoh of gratitude and appreciation for the nes
of Chanukah; the victory of ruchniyus over
Quoting the Levush, the Mishnah Berurah (Orach
Chaim 670, s.k. 5) adds some more details to the
Bach's explanation: "If Klal Yisroel would have
submitted to them; if they had allowed themselves to be
conquered, to pay tribute and to accept the pagan faith of
the Greeks — chas vesholom — they [the
Greeks] would not have wanted anything else. However,
HaKodosh Boruch Hu strengthened Klal Yisroel
and they triumphed; therefore [the celebration of
Chanukah] was established for only hallel and
The Mishnah Berurah continues, saying that the Greeks
wanted us to reject our faith. We refused to obey them and so
Hashem helped us. Their plan failed and we were victorious.
Therefore we are thankful to Hashem and we praise Him that He
did not abandon us and that He allowed us to continue to
serve Him. Our situation was so desperate, that mesiras
nefesh was the only proper response.
Once we were willing to risk our lives, then Hashem came to
our aid. As a result of our mesiras nefesh we were
privileged to all the miracles that we mention in al
Hanissim: the tremendous victory of the weak over the
mighty, the few over the many, the tehorim over the
temei'im, the tzaddikim over the
reshoim, and the bnei Torah over the
Hashem saved us because of our mesiras nefesh and
because of mesiras nefesh we regained the
avodoh. We regained the Beis Hamikdosh.
It was a miracle!
Can we really imagine the odds that we faced? Can we
logically understand the extent of what had to take place?
There were many miracles. How could the weak defeat the
mighty and the few triumph over the many? We were few, very
few. We were outnumbered, outmatched, we had no allies
— the odds were not just against us. Al pi derech
hateva we were doomed — chas vesholom.
It was not just a problem that called for a solution,
although many of us saw it that way: just submit, capitulate
and eventually chas vesholom, assimilate. Those of us
who saw the truth had to face huge invading armies, armies
that were seasoned and fully equipped with the most advanced
weaponry of the time. We stood up for Hashem and His honor.
Hashem saved us.
Throughout our history there have been many battles and wars.
Were we ever the most powerful? Did we ever have the upper
hand? The Torah testifies, "Not because you are the most
numerous of all nations did Hashem desire you and choose you;
for you are the smallest of all nations" (Devorim
We are always outnumbered. The lone lamb has always been
surrounded by seventy wolves. Boruch Hashem, our
Shepherd never sleeps, never slumbers. However great the odds
were against us, Hashem comes to our rescue. True, it was a
miracle, but what was so special about the nes of
Chanukah? What was the miracle all about?
Chanukah was a time when Hashem did more than save us. True,
the war was won, but the real miracle was not that we were
alive. The real miracle was that we, because of our
mesiras nefesh, were zoche to ruchniyus
— avodas Hashem. This is the nes of
Mesiras nefesh means to put aside all physical
concerns and considerations. It is impossible to achieve and
grow in avodas Hashem as long as we are predisposed to
the body, to the guf. As long as we want to pamper the
guf we cannot achieve ruchniyus. A desire for
physical comfort is the antithesis of ruchniyus.
People are moser nefesh for all sorts of things.
Mesiras nefesh means that we let nothing stand in our
way of achieving our goal.
We find it very easy to be moser nefesh for physical
goals. In contrast, when it comes to ruchniyus we find
it very difficult to be moser nefesh. If we do not
have a proper understanding of why we should be moser
nefesh for ruchniyus, how can we ever expect to be
moser nefesh and how can we ever expect to achieve
This is why it is so very important to know and remember
these words of Chazal: "This is the derech of Torah:
Eat bread with salt and drink water in measure. Sleep on the
ground and live a life of deprivation, and in Torah you shall
toil. If you do this, you are fortunate, and it is good for
you: you are fortunate in Olom Hazeh, and it is good
for you in Olom Habo" (Ovos 6:4). Chazal are teaching
us the truth about life and its purpose.
Chazal are teaching us the way we should lead our lives.
Chazal are telling us what we should be moser nefesh
for; and they are teaching us the splendid outcome of our
efforts as long as we take their words and guidance to heart.
The nes of Chanukah was a result of our willingness to
be moser nefesh for avodoh, for
ruchniyus. Hashem saved us because we were willing to
risk our lives to serve Him. Chanukah was a renewal of our
relationship with Hashem, and on Chanukah the best way of
expressing this relationship is through hallel and
Everything we achieved on Chanukah was through mesiras
nefesh. During the miraculous time of Chanukah nothing
stood in the way of our desire to renew our relationship with
Nothing should stand in our way of expressing our
gratefulness and appreciation to Hashem, not even mishteh
vesimchah. Our avodoh should be pure. It should be
Chanukah is a time for mesiras nefesh not
indulgence. Mesiras nefesh for avodas