The Chofetz Chaim (Mishneh Berurah, siman 670) discusses why a seudah is not obligatory on Chanukah as opposed to Purim:
“On Purim the decree was to destroy and kill the bodies, which would have involved an end to feasting and rejoicing, not to destroy the souls. Even if [on Purim, the Jews] would have [rejected the Torah], God forbid, our enemies would not have accepted this from them as grounds for annulling the decree. Therefore, when Hashem delivered them from that decree, they instituted the day of Purim as a day for praising Him…through feasting and rejoicing.
“This was not the case with the story of [Chanukah. The Greeks] did not decree that they should be killed … but only that they should [reject the Torah]…. If the Jews…would have [complied], God forbid, the oppressors would not have asked more of them…. Therefore, the Sages only instituted these days as days of praise and thanksgiving alone.”
As Eliyahu Ki Tov puts it in The Book of Our Heritage: “Our battle on Chanukah was to save the light of God. Our physical salvation was only a secondary consideration. Hence, the festival of Chanukah, commemorated with the kindling of lights rather than with festivities, is meant to celebrate God’s continued presence in our midst.”
Which type of galus do we find ourselves in today? Is it more like Chanukah or more like Purim? It would seem relatively clear that we are in a galus that more closely resembles Purim, because our enemies are seeking to physically destroy us. Yes, there are tremendous spiritual challenges, and there are those in the government of Israel who are engaged in a concerted attack on the Torah and those who keep it, but in general we are not prevented from keeping the mitzvos.
What do Chazal say about the situation just before the advent of Mashiach?
“Rabbi Eliezer says, ‘If the Jewish people repent, they will be redeemed, and if not, they will not be redeemed. Rabbi Yeshoshua said to [Rabbi Eliezer]…‘they will not be redeemed? Rather, the Holy One, Blessed is He, will appoint a king over them whose decrees will be as harsh [as those of] Haman, and the Jewish people will repent’ ” (Sanhedrin 97b).
The unnamed great rabbi I quoted several paragraphs earlier says, “This is the explanation of everything that is befalling us. Things are explicit. Hashem appointed Yishmael to be that “melech whose decrees are as harsh as those of Haman, who will do things to us that will cause us to pray and for our tefillos ultimately to be accepted.”
* * * * *
We are twisting and turning, coming up with this new idea and that new idea. Some want to make peace with Yishmael and some want to ascend Har Habayis. But there is no way around what our sages have told us. And there is no way around the necessity for Torah, achdus, and tefillah.
Chazal said this thousands of years ago and the tragic thing is we keep trying to outsmart Chazal. But we have survived up to now only because we have lived by their words. When are we going to learn? When are we going to wake up? When are we going to take to heart the lesson that everything depends on us?
On a recent Shabbos morning I arose early and it was still dark as I sat at the table with some sefarim in front of me. The night sky always has some light in it. The nature of night is that the reflected light of the sun is always present or, if hidden, briefly hidden. That is the story of Chanukah. It begins in blackness and then the moon appears.