The Talmud Shabbat 22b states that the year following recapturing, cleaning and purifying the Bet Hamikdash; and the miracle of the one day supply of oil for the menorah lasting eight days the sages fixed the eight days of Chanukah for people to:
- Light candles for eight days outside their homes as a reminder and advertisement of this miracle.
- Recite Hallel (Psalms of praise to God) in celebration of the rededication of the Bet Hamikdash, and the miracles of the successful battles against a superior, mighty enemy.
- Say Prayers of Thanksgiving – the extra paragraphs in the Amida and Birkat Hamazon thanking God for the miracles that he wrought for us.
There is no mitzvah to give money or presents. Or to eat various kinds of oily foods or to have a celebratory meal. All these customs were adopted in Europe in the middle ages.
Chanukah is one of the most spiritual and ephemeral holidays celebrating Jewish Spiritual Survival from the ravages of assimilation into a vastly so called 'superior’ hedonistic Greek culture. We do not celebrate the great military victory in itself, it was just the mechanism to obtain religious freedom so that we could serve our God. We celebrate a spiritual victory in a spiritual way. With songs of praise, prayers of thanks, and lighting candles. Spiritual celebration of a spiritual victory.
Unfortunately the real anti-assimilation message of Chanukah, which is especially relevant to our time period, is being lost in our multicultural melting pot anything goes world. Chanukah today is being celebrated in a much more materialistic way than our sages intended with the spiritual survival of the Jewish people and its importance being forgotten. Let us all get back to our roots.
Am Yisrael Chai!