The Torah portion of Miketz is usually read on Chanukah. There are various allusions in the Torah portion for the holiday of Chanukah. One of them is that when Yosef was preparing the meal for his brothers, he told his son (Gen. 43:16) וטבח טבח והכן (and slaughter an animal and prepare it). The last letter of טבח and the letters of והכן spell חנוכה (Chanukah). This alludes to the meals that one customarily eats on Chanukah (see O.C. 670:2). In addition, the gematriyah (numerical value) of וטבח טבח is 44, which is the total number of candles we light on Chanukah including the Shamash. (Elihayu Rabbah on O.C. ibid, 10.)
This article will focus on the custom that some have to eat dairy foods on Chanukah.
Dairy on Chanukah
The Rama writes (O.C. 670:2), “Some say that one should eat cheese on Chanukah because the miracle happened with milk which Yehudit gave to the enemy.”
The Kol Bo (a 15th century work of Halacha whose author is unknown) writes (in the laws of Chanukah), “Women are obligated in the Chanukah candles… Some say that this is because it was through a woman that the great miracle happened. Her name was Yehudit. As the Midrash says, Yochanan, the Kohen Gadol, had a very beautiful daughter whom the king of Greece desired. She gave him a dairy dish to eat so that he became thirsty. She then gave him wine, and he became drunk and fell asleep. She took his sword and cut off his head and brought it to Yerushalayim. When the Greek army saw that their strongest man had been killed, they fled. For this reason, it is customary to eat dairy dishes on Chanukah.”
Rashi (on Shabbat 23a) tells us there had been a decree that before any bride marry her husband she must be with the Greek general first. And it was through a woman (presumably the abovementioned Yehudit) that the miracle occurred which saved the Jews from this decree.
The Ran (on ibid) also mentions that Yehudit gave cheese to the enemy before killing him.
A Different Version
A slightly different version of the story is recorded in the sixth chapter of Megillat Ta’anit. There it tells how, as a result of the Greek decree that brides must spend one night with the Greek rulers, the Jews began to make weddings in secret. The sign to know there was a wedding taking place was if one saw candles lit during the day. That meant there was a wedding taking place there. The secret code to know that there was a brit milah (which had also been outlawed) was if one heard the sound of a millstone grinding. This symbolized the grinding of the herbs which were used to treat the wound of the brit milah. When the daughter of Matityahu, son of Yochanan Kohen Gadol, was getting married (apparently this wedding could not be conducted secretly), the Greek general demanded that she be given to him first. Her brothers became incensed and rose up in battle and defeated the Greeks.
Another Midrash records that the name of the daughter of Matityahu in the story was Chana. According to this Midrash, she protested being given to the Greek general by publicly exposing herself at her wedding party and exhorting her brothers not to allow her to be abused. This moved her brothers to take action and begin the revolt.
Since the name and the details in this story are different, it may have been another story.
How Much Dairy?
Some say (Ohr LeTziyon vol. 4 chapter 41) that one should have a dairy dish every day in order to emphasize that one is doing this to commemorate the miracle. Alternately, one should make an unusual dairy dish in order to show that this is connected to the miracle of Chanukah.
The question has been asked, why commemorate this miracle by eating dairy? Perhaps we should drink wine instead?
I have found several explanations for this matter.
It has been suggested that perhaps Yehudit brought only cheese to the general in order to make him thirsty. To quench his thirst, he drank his own wine and fell asleep. For that reason, we commemorate the miracle with dairy which was what Yehudit personally provided (Achila BeHalel by Rabbi Reuven Melech Schwartz, page 29).
The Benei Yissachar (on Chanukah) points out that the Greeks wanted to do away with the Torah and Mitzvot. When we defeated them, we were once again able to dedicate ourselves to the Torah. As such, it is appropriate that we eat dairy since in many ways milk alludes to the Torah and the giving of the Torah. These ways are explained by the commentaries in the context of why we eat dairy foods on Shavuot. Many of those explanations can be applied here as well.
The Ben Ish Chai writes (parshat VaYeshev) that the work חלב (milk) stands for the three mitzvot which the Greeks sought to abolish: The ח stands for the first letter in חודש (month), for they tried to abolish Rosh Chodesh. The ל stands for the third letter in מילה (Milah – circumcision), for they tried to suppress Brit Milah. The ב stands for the second letter of שבת (Shabbat) which they also attempted to abolish.
It has been pointed out (Mishnat Yaakov vol. 3, Siman 670) that the word גבינה (cheese) can be an (out-of-order) acronym for נס גדול היה בימי יוונים – a great miracle happened in the days of the Greeks.
According to the Kabbalists (Rabbi Menachen Azariah of Pano in his Sefer Hagilgulim, Ot Yud, entry Yael), Yehudit was a reincarnation of Yael (see below) who gave milk to Sisera to make him sleepy and kill him. In order to tire him out, she sinned with him. But since her motive was to save the Jewish people, she is given credit for this sin as if it were a mitzvah. Despite this, her soul needed rectification. She was therefore reincarnated in Yehudit who also killed an enemy general in similar circumstances but did so without sinning. In terms of recalling the miracle of Yael, the precursor of Yehudit, it is most appropriate to have dairy as in her case she only gave milk to Sisera and not wine.
It is noteworthy that when recounting the miracle of Yehudit, the Levush (Siman 670) only says that she gave him cheese and milk and makes no mention of wine at all.
Elevating the Sparks
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichov explains (in Kedushat Levi, Derushim LeChanukah) that sometimes the tzaddikim (righteous people) of the generation must perform actions that appear to be sinful in order to elevate the divine sparks that are trapped in the unholy forces. For example, Gideon and Elijah, the prophet, brought sacrifices outside of the sanctuary (Mishkan and Bait HaMikdash) in order to sanctify the name of G-d. This is because the Jews at that time were steeped in idol worship and to extricate them from this sin, the tzaddikim needed to perform an action that resembled idol worship (the pagans would sacrifice on altars in various places). See Judges 6:19 and Kings I, chapter 18.
In the time of Devorah, the prophetess, the Jews were not serving idols but were sinning in other ways. Their salvation was brought about through the actions of Yael who was able to kill the Canaanite general Sisra after tiring him out through an action which is considered sinful (see Judges 5:26 and 27). This (apparent) sin is what enabled the Jews of that time to be extricated from their sins.
At the time of Chanukah, many Jews had sinned and were following the Hellenistic ways. Yehudit was able to elevate these Jews by pretending to perform a sinful action. (In fact, she didn’t sin at all. But by willingly going to the Greek general, she appeared to be ready to sin.) Through this action it became possible to extricate many Jews from their sins.
Why a Woman?
The Kedushat Levi (on Chanukah) explains why we recite the blessing of שעשה ניסים… בזמן הזה (who did miracles for our forefathers in those days at this time) on Chanukah and Purim but not on Pesach. He writes that the words הזה בזמן indicate that the miracle is within the framework of time and within nature. This is appropriate as both the miracles of Purim and Chanukah were (besides the miracle of the oil) not supernatural, whereas the miracles of the exodus were completely supernatural and beyond this world. This is why the miracles of Chanukah and Purim were performed through women since Kabbalisticly women are considered to be the recipients (since they carry the baby and have their spiritual source in Malchut – the Divine attribute that “receives” the Divine light from the other attributes) and they therefore represent this world in that it “receives” from G-d.
May we again experience miracles like they had in those days, in our time!
 There are many more details of this story told in the sefer Chemdat HaYamim. There are various opinions as to whether or not this book is an acceptable Torah source.
In addition, in the apocryphal book of Judith a similar story is told about a woman who killed a Babylonian general by the name of Helipurni. This account doesn’t match with the Midrashim quoted by the various Rishonim.
 Otzar Hamidrashim quoted in Ohr HaGanuz Chanukah by Rabbi David Cohen, page 15
 It is also noteworthy that the Megillat Ta’anit begins by saying that it was a Roman decree but then goes on to discuss the Greeks. If it was, in fact, a Roman decree, it would place this event after the Chanukah story. Indeed, the Aruch HaShulchan (660:8) writes that the miracle of Yehudit happened after the Chanukah story.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom, a happy Chanuka, and a Chodesh Tov!