Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, Laws of Chanukah 139:1-4
1) “…One should give an abundance of charity on Chanukah because these days are propitious for rectifying blemishes on one’s soul through charity, especially if one gives to poor people who learn Torah.”
Through giving charity, it is possible for a person to break his unhealthy desire for money. This avariciousness, which has the power when unchecked to overwhelm a person completely, is actually symbolized by the ancient Greeks. We can see this alluded to in the verse, “Tavati b’yavein metzulah”—“I have sunk into a deep mire.” The word yavein (the mire of the lust for money) can also be read Yavan (Greece). Although this world is full of many beautiful things, as soon as a person places a coin or his hand in front of his eye, he isn’t able to see anything at all. Similarly, if a person’s entire existence is focused on pursuing money or ego-driven pleasure, he cannot see the light of spirituality and holiness.
In addition, giving charity draws down the light of Providence upon the giver, and it happens middah k’neged middah—measure for measure. The giver demonstrates his trust in Hashem to provide for his needs despite the fact that he is sharing some of his material wealth. This reliance on Providence draws the light of Providence down upon the giver. This is one way to understand the significance of the light of the menorah—it represents the light of Providence. Especially when things are dark and we cannot fathom the ways of Hashem, the illumination of Providence lights up the darkness. The miracle of the menorah fills us with the vision that especially when things are difficult, during the depth of a spiritual winter, Hashem is always right here with each and every one of us.
2) “We do not fast on Chanukah…”
The Mekor Chaim, zt”l, explains that the main purpose in fasting is to overcome one’s base physical nature, since this is the source of all evil. On Chanukah, however, the negative within us is subdued when we are open to receive the spiritual illumination that descends. Since the negativity inside of us has already been mitigated, there is no point in fasting. If, on the other hand, a person is not open to the illumination of Chanukah, then fasting is a waste of time in any case. As Rebbe Nachman, zt”l, explains, such fasting could be compared to carefully scrubbing a torn sack. Although it may get clean, the holes will remain and prevent its proper use. If one wishes to achieve holiness during Chanukah, he will accomplish far more by focusing on the supernal influx that flows down during those precious days. Reb Nosson, zt”l, writes that the days of Chanukah (and Purim) were established to strengthen those who are so spiritually ill that they lack the energy to accomplish anything at all. Similarly, during the long winter of our exile we sometimes feel that we are making no progress spiritually. Through the light of Chanukah, Hashem shines into each of us individually to help us understand that we should not give up trying because everything we do is precious in the eyes of the Creator. This is one reason why the custom among Ashkenazim is for everyone to light their own menorahs—because the light shines into us all. At the root of the concept, this certainly includes women and girls. The Chasam Sofer zt”l, explains why it is that we do not find that in our time women and girls light for themselves. When the sages originally made the enactment to light, it included women. Since the original mitzvah was to light outside, however, no woman tried to do this mitzvah l’mehadrin; it was not considered befitting honor of a woman to go out in the early evening. Even in our time when most people light indoors, the custom has remained the same. The Maharshal and the Elya Rabba explain the reason differently. Since most get married and the original enactment was for a man and his wife to light one candle, there is no reason for a girl under the age of bas mitzvah to light, since eventually she will not need to light. It was never customary for girls to light for themselves between the age of bas mitzvah and marriage, since they tended to marry young in any case. Even though in our times many women marry later than they used to, the custom hasn’t changed.
3) “Although it is permitted to perform work on Chanukah, the custom is that women do no work while the candles are lit (that is, the minimum obligation of time—half an hour)… The reason why women in particular are strict about this is because of the decrees of the Greeks specifically about women… Also, the miracle of redemption happened through a woman…”
The Mekor Chaim, zt”l, explains why the Greeks enacted decrees specifically against women, and why the miracle of redemption happened specifically through a woman.
We find in the Zohar Hakadosh that the kingship of Antiochus represents the concept of orlah, the foreskin, which is cut away during circumcision. The orlah acts as a filter that prevents a man from grasping holiness. For this reason, a Jewish man who maintains his foreskin and does not submit to circumcision is liable to the Divine punishment of kares. His orlah keeps him powerfully tied to worldly pleasure that lacks a connection to the Source.
This is why the Greeks forbade circumcision, the observance of Shabbos, and the declaration of the new month. These three mitzvos are diametrically opposed to the concept of orlah. Shabbos is the opposite of orlah because on Shabbos we delight in worldly pleasures for the sake of heaven. The truth is that there is no mitzvah to overeat on Shabbos, as the Shelah Hakadosh writes. However, the Arizal explains that even if a person overindulges on Shabbos, the food is still elevated to the Source. Rosh Chodesh is also the opposite of orlah since it is a time of arousal to the spiritual renewal found in sincere repentance. This is the opposite of the orlah’s power to blind a person from the holiness that is to be discovered within the physical world. And circumcision itself is, of course, the complete eradication of the orlah.
The Jewish woman represents the Shechinah, the Divine presence, which is the opposite of the orlah and its deadening effect on one’s spiritual existence. This is why it is only through marriage that a man can come to true completion. The orlah is a blemish that distances one from completion. This is why the Greeks made decrees to destroy the sanctity of Jewish marriage (the removal of the possibility of privacy), and this is also why the miracle was specifically through a woman. Yehudis subdued those who represent the klippah of orlah just as marriage to a G-d-fearing woman subdues this force of negativity within a man. Jewish marriage is how one comes to overcome the seemingly grossly material reality that we live in by discovering the true spiritual identity of all that is material. Reb Nosson explains further that as long as a Jewish man is connected spiritually through marriage to a Jewish woman, it is clear that he will not fall completely!
All oils may be used for the Chanukah lights. However, olive oil is the preferred way to do this mitzvah since that is the oil with which the miracle occurred in the Beis Hamikdash.”
What is the significance of the miracle occurring through olive oil? Reb Nosson of Breslov writes in his Likutei Halachos that just as oil is the “splendor” of the olive—the highest expression of its innate qualities—so too are the Jewish people the splendor of creation. Hashem takes pleasure in the Jewish people above all His works. The Greeks felt that they were the chosen people. For this reason, they wanted to obscure our special status as the Am Hanivchar by polluting us spiritually. Through the intervention of the righteous Matisyahu and his followers who are similar to the flask of oil which remained protected from being polluted by the evil influences of the Greeks, the splendor which Hashem takes from every Jew was revealed and the Greeks were defeated. This is one way to understand why the miracle occurred specifically with the oil. The “small flask” of those who are faithful to Torah and mitzvos will miraculously endure forever as the chosen people.
Although Hashem takes pride, so to speak, in the Jewish people no matter what, generally this pride only lasts as long as we are at least connected to those who remain unpolluted with false beliefs. Such a connection prevents us from falling away from Torah-true beliefs entirely. One who is exposed to false beliefs and won over to them, however, forfeits his status as a part of the chosen people. The reason for this that Hashem takes pride in each and every Jew only as long as he or she feels exalted by being Jewish. This is not some sort of ethnic or cultural pride. One must be proud to be a member of the chosen nation, gifted by G-d with a unique mission, responsibility, and the means to accomplish it. One who doesn't feel this pride is very disconnected from the essence of the Jewish people. As we say in the blessings of the Torah: “He who has chosen us from among all the nations...” Let us take pride in our Jewish identity so that Hashem will take pride in us!
Spirit of the Law: Chanukah #5
(Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, Hilchos Chanukah 139:5)
“If one lights in an earthen vessel, it becomes ‘old’ [after a single use]. Since it is blackened and disgusting, it may not be used for another night. Therefore, one must have a menorah of metal [since less porous substances like glass or metal can be cleaned if they get full of soot and oil].”
The Shulchan Aruch explains that one has two options if an earthen vessel is the only one available. One can either use a new one each day of Chanukah, or put the blackened vessel into the oven and reconstitute it into a new vessel through the agency of high heat which will burn away the accumulated filth.
The Mekor Chaim, zt”l, defines a vessel as an object that is designed to hold something else. Our limbs are the vessels that hold the nefesh, our souls. An earthen vessel represents a limb that is imperfect. Pottery cannot be koshered and it porosity makes it absorb more of what cooks in it than other vessels. This represents the part of a person that still requires a lot of refinement. This might be the tongue of the slanderer, the heart of the cruel person, or the hand of the one who strikes his friend. This can also refer to a particular organ that serves as the “abode” of a negative character trait.
For example, anger is said to be “seated” in the liver and depression in the spleen. The present halachah regarding the use of an earthen vessel parallels the situation of a person who tries to correct a fault by paying attention to how damaging the trait is and praying for help to uproot it. We “illuminate” the limb by working on the particular problem which is aroused by that limb or which that limb enables. However, this only works for a while—which parallels the fact that the earthen vessel can only be used once. After a while, this form of spiritual work tends to get stale. It is somewhat discouraging to work on a particular area for a time and to still feel as though one is getting—which parallels the blackened and repulsive state of the earthen vessel after having been lit for a night.
In such a case, one has two choices. The first is to work on a different area that requires attention. Since my realization of the damage this other trait does is fresh for me I don’t feel discouraged working on this new trait for a new period of time. Such “switching” is represented by the use of a fresh vessel for the next night’s lighting. The other choice is to place the new trait “in the oven.” That means “firing oneself up” about how important it is to change and receiving a new injection of energy by realizing every effort made to change a bad trait is very precious to Hashem. In this way, one “reconstitutes” the vessel and renews it, so that it is possible to continue the spiritual work without feeling “blackened” and disgusted with oneself.
The Vilna Gaon, zt”l, said about the hardest traits to overcome: “One who is stubborn will succeed!”
 Tehillim 69:3
 Likutei Halachos, Hilchos Aveidah U’metziah 3:8
 Likutei Moharan I:133
 Likutei Halachos, Hilchos Shluchim 3
 Likutei Moharan I:17
 Chiddushei Shabbos 21b
 Maharshal 85; Elya Rabba 671:2, end of subsection 3.
 Mekor Chaim 670:1
 Likutei Halachos, Hilchos Bechor Beheimah Tehorah 4:26