This year’s rare confluence of two annual celebrations, one religious and one secular, garnered much attention and sparked a huge burst of creative energy. For those of us “living in two civilizations” Thanksgivukkah was the perfect storm of a holiday. But now that the last of the pumpkin sufganiyot are gone, the sweet potato latkes with cranberry sauce have all been eaten, and the menurkeys have been put away, the post-holiday blues are starting to set in.
A few curmudgeons proclaim relief at never have to hear the word again, but most of us are already missing Thanksgivukkah with its many lights and delights. We’re worrying about what we’ll do during the long nights of late December while our neighbors celebrate the birth of their messiah. How can we compete when our gifts have already been given, and perhaps already forgotten? What can we do to light up the dark winter nights?
Wise Jews have set to pondering this question, consulting the sources and debating options. And now a solution has emerged that’s grounded in Biblical precedent. It calls for the introduction a new festival, Hanukkah Sheni (the second Hanukkah), modeled on Pesach Sheni as set forth in Numbers, Chapter 9. Designed in response to pleas from some unable to bring the Passover offering on its original date, Pesach Sheni responded to the needs of those who were ritually impure or away on a distant journey. It was celebrated on the 14th of Iyar, a month after the original date.
Some contemporary Jews commemorate this tradition by eating matzo on Pesach Sheni. It is said that in Hasidic circles some rebbes would conduct a tish with four cups of wine, matzo and bitter herbs, in the manner of a seder. More recently, the last Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Schneerson, connected this time with the themes of spiritual growth and second chances.
The Passover story is seen as metaphor for each of us leaving our personal spiritual enslavement, departing from our previous state to reach a higher level. Pesach Sheni teaches us that it is never too late to return in tshuvah, repentance, and re-engage with the task of working to become that best version of ourselves. Following several months behind the the High Holidays, Hanukkah Sheni is well-placed for revisiting the intentions we took on at Rosh Hashanah, and the progress we have (or haven’t) made against them. It’s a good time for renewing commitments and getting back on track.
While Pesach Sheni lasted for only one day, Hanukkah Sheni would be celebrated for the full eight, an important miracle associated with the new holiday. The observance would include eating two latkes and lighting two menorahs each night.
Many questions remain unanswered. Should a counting of days between the two Hanukkahs be introduced in the manner of the sefirat haomer between Passover and Shavuot? Will children expect two gifts every night? When a night of Hanukkah Sheni falls on Dec 25, does one eat latkes, Chinese food or both? Much remains to be determined.
What is clear is that Hanukkah Sheni offers an opportunity for teaching and learning of text around Pesach Sheni, about how the Jewish calendar works, around how ritual is developed, etc. Most importantly, it reminds us that life offers second chances, and encourages us to renew the pursuit of spiritual growth at the darkest time of the year.
So start to get ready now by marking your calendars for the evening of the 25th of Tevet, December 27, 2013. And be sure to pick up a couple of boxes of candles while they’re still on sale—before the word gets out about Hanukkah Sheni.