Countdown to Chanukah 30
It is the custom that women do not do any work while the candles are burning. Shulchan Aruch 670:1 The Maharil and the Bach rule that this custom applies to men as well.
The reason that the custom began with women is that the “Miracle happened through the actions of women. (See Mishna Berurah and Kaf HaChayim) This is a little strange: A woman, Judith, fooled and then killed one of the main Syrian-Greek generals. She played an important role, yet we cannot minimize the roles of Matityahu, Yehudah and the Chashmonaim. They were willing to stand up to the most powerful army in the world and fight for their faith. They were the few, pure, weak and righteous, we praise in Al Hanissim. The prayer does not even mention Judith specifically, or any of the women who “brought the miracle about.”
Judith certainly delivered a mighty blow to the invading armies, but she successfully inspired the fighters with hope. Chanukah was a battle based on hope and faith.
Judith did even more. She copied Yael’s execution of the mighty Sisera. She brought a biblical story to life for people who were fighting for their faith. She sent them a message that theirs, was a battle of Biblical proportion, and that they would merit the same level of Divine deliverance as the armies of Devorah and Barak.
Chanukah is a rabbinic holiday. It is a celebration of people who understood that although we may not live in biblical times with open miracles and earth shattering messages from the Almighty, we can reach for such an existence by acting on our faith alone.