The Missing Holiday by Moshe Zharnest

(2004/5765) Chanukah is discussed very little in the Mishnah or
Gemara. Many often ask, “Why is Chanukah mentioned so
briefly throughout the Gemara when there is a whole Masechta
on Purim?” To answer this question, we must first explain an
issue with the Gemara.
The Gemara starts its discussion of Chanukah by asking
simply, “What is Chanukah?” As Rashi explains, it is wondering
what miracle we celebrate on Chanukah, and why it was
originally established. But why would the Gemara ask that
question at all? It is certainly not the typical kind of question the
Gemara raises! The Gemara raises this question because in the
times of the Amoraim, the fundamentals of Chanukah were not
clear. Why were the fundamental issues pertaining to
Chanukah’s origins so uncertain during the Amoraic period?
One possible explanation is that Rabi Yehuda HaNassi (who
authored the Mishnah) was a descendant of David (see Shabbat
56a), and we know that after the Chashmonaim defeated the
Syrian-Greeks, they took the kingship over Am Yisrael, which
was supposed to stay within the family of David. Since the
Chashmonaim assuming the role of king was wrong (as the
Ramban states in his commentary to Breishit 49:10), Rabi
Yehuda HaNassi did not emphasize it, so the details regarding
the Chanukah story were not so well-known during the time of
the Amoraim. It is possible that because of these reasons,
Chanukah does not appear often in the Mishnah or Gemara.
Another suggested answer for our original question is
that even though the fundamentals were clear and Chanukah
was adequately stressed, the Mishnah was written very close to
Churban Bayit Sheni. Therefore, people still felt the trauma of
the destruction, so they did not want to write very much about it.
Not wanting to sadden people, the authors of the Mishnah and Gemara did not deal with Chanukah at length. Perhaps
they also did want a repeat of the Bar Kochva rebellion at
that time, which modeled itself after the Chashmonaim’s
miraculous victory against the Syrian-Greeks.
Even though the Gemara devotes relatively little
attention to discussing the laws of Chanukah, the Rambam
did stress them in his Mishnah Torah. He writes that
whoever is obligated in the law of hearing the Megillah is
obligated to light Chanukah candles. He also states that
Chanukah is an opportunity to praise God, and in fact one
is required to sell the clothes off his back to make sure he
has enough oil for the eight days. This sounds like an
extreme statement, but the Maggid Mishnah explains that
the Rambam gets this idea from Pesach. One must sell
his clothing to make sure he has enough for the four cups
of wine on Pesach. The Rambam believes that just as one
must go to the extreme for that Pirsumei Nissa, so, too,
one must to do so for the Pirsumei Nissa of Chanukah.
Thus, even though it is hardly mentioned in the Gemara,
Chanukah is an extremely important holiday. It
demonstrates our praise to God, and must not be
neglected! Thus we are indebted to the Rambam for
restoring Chanukah to its original glorious luster.

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