Ask the Rov: I am planning a Chanuka celebration for my family but can’t settle on which night. Is there a particular night one should choose to hold their Chanuka celebration, and are there any halachos of a Chanuka seuda?
By Rabbi Chaim Hillel Raskin, Rov of Anash in Petach Tikvah.
While on Purim there is a mitzva to have a festive meal commemorating the miracle, on Chanuka the obligation is to express our thanks to Hashem by reciting hallel and v’al hanisim, not with a meal. The reason for the difference is that by Purim the decree was on our physical existence, thus we celebrate with a physical feast, but by Chanuka the decree was aimed against our spiritual wellbeing, thus we celebrate in a more spiritual way.
Although Shulchan deems festive Chanuka feasts “optional,” the Rama records the custom to hold seudos since they commemorate the rededication of the mizbeiach and are therefore somewhat of a mitzva. By singing songs of praise to Hashem—or discussing Torah thoughts—at the meal, it is certainly a seudas mitzva. Poskim emphasize that the festivity should be centered around Torah and not a vain party or card game.
The Rambam’s view, however, is that the days of Chanuka are “yemei simcha,” and the festive meals held during Chanuka are full-fledged seudos mitzva. The Rebbe said that just as by neiros Chanuka we perform the mitzva in the best way—“mehadrin min hamhadrin”—we should also be mehader to fulfill the Rambam’s opinion regarding feasts. Furthermore, being voluntary they express a greater level of joy, (like the joy of hakafos which is a custom). They also demonstrate how we can infuse holiness into a mundane thing like a meal.
Which night should one choose to hold a Chanuka celebration?
Some poskim write that it is praiseworthy to hold these seudos every day of Chanuka. Some write that it is especially auspicious to make one on Rosh Chodesh Teves, and others prefer the last day, Zos Chanuka.
It is customary to eat milchig foods at a Chanuka feast in commemoration of the miracle of Yehudis who fed dairy to the Greek general and slew him. Additionally, the overturning of the Greeks’ scheme to make the Jews forget the Torah is comparable to Matan Torah which we also commemorate with dairy foods.
Since the meal is not obligatory, one doesn’t repeat bentching if they forget v’al hanisim. Yet, it should be added as a “harachaman” at the end as indicated in the siddur.
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