Are gifts meant for Chanukah?

Adam Kellner, Staff Writer

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To give or not to give? This question has been around for generations and has haunted me every time December rolls around. Should we give and receive presents on Hanukkah? Isn’t it just a response to Christmas and its tradition of exchanging gifts? Won’t presents just take away from the essence of the holiday?

Well, that’s what I always thought, and thus was somewhat opposed to the idea of Hanukkah presents over the past couple of years. However, once I decided to really look into the subject, I realized what an amazing minhag (custom) it is! To fully understand its glory, one must truly understand the holiday itself.

Unlike in most Jewish stories (Purim and Pesach for example), our enemy, the Greeks, tried to destroy our souls, and not just our bodies. The plan was quite simple and genius: slowly and surely, they would assimilate the Jews, forcing them to reject both the spiritual and physical aspects of avodat Hashem. They didn’t let us study Torah, keep Shabbat, or have a Brit Milah. Their goal was to wipe out the concept of the divine, and replace it with hellenism.

In order to defeat the Greeks, a physical victory would not be enough. We needed to educate the children so the Greeks’ tactics would not persuade them. As a result, the minhag of spinning a dreidel was born, emerging as a tool to study Torah in secrecy. The effort proved to be successful, and Am Yisrael rose victorious.

In order to shed more light onto the subject, take a look at the name of the holiday, Chanukah. The name comes from the word lechanech, to teach. The entire essence of the holiday is to teach that through education and Talmud Torah, Am Yisrael will always survive.

Now, to relate this all back to the original question, “To give or not to give?” The Rambam writes that in order to learn Torah, a child needs to be incentivized through gifts and rewards. He provides examples of giving children walnuts, figs and honey in order to inspire them to learn.

Therefore, it becomes apparent that the idea of gift giving actually fits perfectly within the message of the holiday. Giving gifts isn’t just a matter of “My buddy Chris got a present! Where’s mine?” It is a meaningful gesture to celebrate the triumph of Talmud Torah and to ensure its continuation from generation to generation.

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