Question: Is it mandatory or a Mitzvah to hold feasts during Chanukah as it is on Purim?
Answer: The Rambam, in the beginning of the laws of Chanukah, writes: “During the Second Temple Era when the Assyrian-Greek kingdom enacted harsh decrees against the Jewish nation and attempted to abolish their religion and they did not allow them to observe the Torah and Mitzvot. Hashem eventually had mercy upon them and saved them. The Hashmonai family overpowered them and defeated them. They then appointed a king from the Kohanim and the kingdom returned to the Jewish nation for over two-hundred years, until the destruction of the Second Temple. As a result, the Sages of that generation enacted that these eight days be marked by joy and praise and candles are lit every night at the entrances of the houses.”
Our Sages enacted to engage in copious praise and thanksgiving on Chanukah, but not in feasting and merriment as is the case on Purim. Many Acharonim ask why the Sages did not command us to feast on Chanukah as they did on Purim?
Indeed, Hagaon Harav Shlomo Kluger infers from the words of the Rambam who writes that these days are marked by “joy” that there is a Mitzvah to upgrade one’s meals on Chanukah. He is quite perplexed why none of the other Acharonim mention the Rambam regarding this matter. The Maharshal actually preceded him on this topic and writes that according to the Rambam, there is a Mitzvah to hold festive meals during Chanukah. Nevertheless, most Rishonim maintain that there is no Mitzvah of feasting and merriment during Chanukah. Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch (Chapter 670) rules likewise. We must therefore try to understand why, in fact, the Sages did not enact feasting and merriment during the days of Chanukah.
The great Turei Zahav offers a wonderful answer and writes that the miracle on Purim was publicized, for the decree to annihilate the entire Jewish nation hovered above them and Hashem saved them from certain death by sabotaging the plot of the wicked Haman. This calls for great feasting and merriment to mark the miracle. Regarding Chanukah, however, although the salvation during Chanukah certainly came from Hashem as well during the war against the Greeks, nevertheless, this miracle was not as well-known and people only became aware of the miracle with the lone canister of oil that lasted for eight days and only then did the miracle become publicized. This is why the Sages enacted praise and thanksgiving during these days, for the physical salvation paled in comparison to the spiritual one, for the Jewish soul was in much more danger than the Jewish body. It is for this reason that they made a commemoration of the much more publicized miracle of the oil through praise and thanksgiving, for this was the wish of Hashem. Maran Ha’Chida writes likewise in his Sefer Machazik Beracha.
In summary, Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch writes, “The increase in festive meals during Chanukah is merely optional, for the Sages did not establish these days for feasting and merriment.” The Rama adds, “Some say that increased feasting is somewhat of a Mitzvah, for these days marked the inauguration of the Altar. It is customary to sing songs of praise and thanksgiving at these meals, at which point it will become a feast of a Mitzvah.” Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l also writes in his Chazon Ovadia- Chanukah (page 16) in the name of several Rishonim and Acharonim that there is somewhat of a Mitzvah to hold feasts during Chanukah and one should speak words of Torah and fear of Heaven, in which case it will become a feast of a Mitzvah.
Hagaon Ben Ish Hai (Parashat Vayeshev) writes that one should feast more on Shabbat Chanukah than other Shabbatot of the year.