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, HanukkahThe holiday which celebrates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem following its conquest by the Syrians in 165 BCE. The holiday is celebrated by lighting candles in a hanukiyah oon each of eight nights. Other customs include the eating of fried foods such as latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiot (jelly donuts), playing dreidl (a gambling game with a spinning top), and, in present day America, gift giving.
Sheni (the second Hanukkah), modeled on Pesakh Sheni as set forth in Numbers, Chapter 9. Designed in response to pleas from some unable to bring the PassoverPassover is a major Jewish holiday that commemorates the Jewish people's liberation from slavery and Exodus from Egypt. Its Hebrew name is Pesakh. Its name derives from the tenth plague, in which God "passed over" the homes of the Jewish firstborn, slaying only the Egyptian firstborn. Passover is celebrated for a week, and many diaspora Jews celebrate for eight days. The holiday begins at home at a seder meal and ritual the first (and sometimes second) night. Jews tell the story of the Exodus using a text called the haggadah, and eat specific food (matzah, maror, haroset, etc).
offering on its original date, Pesakh 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 matzahThe unleavened bread eaten on Passover that recalls the Israelite's hasty escape from Egypt when there was no time for the dough to rise. Matzah is also considered the "bread of our affliction," eaten while we were slaves.
on Pesakh Sheni. It is said that in Hasidic circles some rebbes would conduct a tishLit. Table (Yiddish) A festive meal that combines teaching Torah and telling jokes. At a traditional wedding, a groom’s tisch is held, during which the groom attempts to teach words of Torah while his friends interrupt with songs and jokes. Today, some brides hold a tisch as well, and some couples hold one together.
with four cups of wine, matzah, and bitter herbs, in the manner of a sederLit. Order. The festive meal conducted on Passover night, in a specific order with specific rituals to symbolize aspects of the Exodus from Egypt. It is conducted following the haggadah, a book for this purpose. The mystics of Sefat also created a seder for Tu B'shvat, the new year of the trees.
. 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. Pesakh 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 HashanahThe Jewish New Year, also considered the Day of Judgment. The period of the High Holidays is a time of introspection and atonement. The holiday is celebrated with the sounding of the shofar, lengthy prayers in synagogue, the eating of apples and honey, and round challah for a sweet and whole year. Tashlikh, casting bread on the water to symbolize the washing away of sins, also takes place on Rosh Hashana.
, 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 Pesakh 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 ShavuotShavuot is the holiday fifty days after Passover and commemorates when the Israelite liberation from Egypt culminates with the giving of the Torah. Traditionally, Jews study in an all-night study session, eat dairy products (one interpretation is that the Torah is like milk to us), and read both the Ten Commandments and the Book of Ruth.
? 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 Pesakh 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 getA writ of divorce. Traditionally, only a man can grant his wife a get. Liberal Jews have amended this tradition, making divorce more egalitarian.
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.