Higher or Lower?

Chanukah and Purim are similar in many ways. Let’s try to understand why that is.

Other Jewish holidays—Passover, Shavuot, Sukkot, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur—are special days, similar to Shabbat. We call them Yom Tov. All types of work are prohibited, other than that which is necessary for preparing food.

Chanukah and Purim, on the other hand, are regular weekdays with no work restrictions. On Chanukah, a Jew is permitted to go to work. (On Purim, it’s a little more complicated. See chabad.org/648695.)

Chanukah and Purim are also different because they are not mentioned in the Five Books of Moses. Both were instituted later, and subsequently accepted by the entire Jewish community.

That would seem to make Chanukah and Purim somewhat less significant than the Yom Tov holidays.

Yet, on the other hand, Chanukah and Purim also have a major advantage over the other holidays: They last forever. We’re told that the spiritual light of the messianic era will be so great that the light and celebration of all the holidays will become insignificant—except for the celebration of Purim and the light of Chanukah.1

That seems a little paradoxical. Are these days more important or less important than the Yom Tov holidays?

What’s in a Holiday?

Questions like this are best answered by looking inside, into the soul of the holidays. Why does the Torah forbid us to work on a Yom Tov?

A Yom Tov, like Shabbat, is a day where a special sort of divine energy enters our world. On Passover, it’s the energy that made the Exodus possible. On Shavuot, the energy of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai is replaying. On Rosh Hashanah, the energy that initially brought the universe into existence re-enters. On Yom Kippur, it’s an energy of divine forgiveness. On Sukkot, divine love and protection shines.

The Torah instructs us how to be in tune with the dynamics of those days. The first step is to avoid work. To work means to invest yourself within the mundane, physical world, manipulating and creating from within it. That interferes with the energy of the day, directing it into the channels where it doesn’t fit—something like making noise out of music.

Chanukah and Purim also have their special energy—only from a much higher place.

The Greeks had defiled all the olive oil in the Temple—symbolizing the divine wisdom that shines on a Yom Tov. But the Maccabees reached deep within their conscience to find a yet higher divine light, an inner wisdom that transcends logic and reason. Because by logic and reason, they had no chance against the legions of impenetrable Greek phalanxes, archers and elephants. But they followed this inner wisdom that told them they had no other choice.

Ever since then, in the light of the Chanukah candles glows a light that has been hidden since the beginning of the universe, a light of consciousness entirely beyond anything we could comprehend.

Since we have no way to comprehend this light, ceasing work won’t help us to be in touch with it. On the other hand, being such a powerful, intense form of light, it reaches much further than the light of Yom Tov, so that it is manifest in the everyday world, waiting for us there to uncover it.

Purim is similar. The energy of Purim is beyond anything we can know—so we connect to it by creating happiness that is “beyond knowing.”

So it’s really no puzzle that work is permitted on a day when such a transcendental energy shines. On the contrary, these days are so special, their energy can reach down into our everyday world and everyday activities and make even that shine. As King Solomon taught, “In all your ways, know G‑d.”

See Derech Mitzvotecha, Ner Chanukah.