The minhag in Klal Yisrael is that when one completes learning a mesechta, a seder of mishnayos, or some other important piece of knowledge, we make a seudas siyum (as we will IY”H be doing during our Melaveh Malkah on February 11, 2017). The reason for this is because we have completed a mitzvah that takes a long time.
So too, at the completion of other mitzvohs, we make a seuda. The Shem Meshmuel tells us that possibly the seuda of Shabbos is a celebration of the completion of the world’s creation. As he continues this thought, he expresses his wonder as to why we do not have any obligation to have a seuda on Chanukah. On all of the other Yomim Tovim we have an obligation for a seuda, and even on Purim we are obligated to feast. The only holiday that is an exception to this is Chanukah. The Shulchan Aruch states that it is optional to have a seudah, but the Rama immediately suggests that we “upgrade” it to a “seudas mitzvah” through saying over divrei torah, or through Hallel and Hoda’a. This is quite perplexing! If one should have a festive meal, the Shulchan Aruch should state this as an obligation; if it is only optional, why should it be mentioned and then given a suggestion on how to “upgrade” it to a full fledged seudas mitzvah.
He answers this by telling us that this is exactly the point of the celebration of Chanukah. We do not celebrate our independence from the Greeks, nor do we celebrate our not being persecuted. Rather, we celebrate the opportunity to pursue our religious pursuits. How do we celebrate that? By “upgrading” the mundane to a mitzvah. True freedom is when a person can elevate and utilize that which he has to make it more meaningful and holy.
As Chanukah comes to a close, and we think about the seudos that we had or those that might still be awaiting us we should take stock of what we are really celebrating. Are we celebrating that we took advantage of our opportunities of these eight days to elevate and en’lighten’ ourselves?