What do Hanukkah and Jewish Luck have in common? To me, they both represent the great do-over.
And here’s why.
As I learned in Hebrew School in the dark ages of the 20th century, the Maccabees couldn’t celebrate Sukkot because they were fighting Antiochus’s army for their lives. (to check, see II Maccabees 10:6-7). The Maccabees saw Hanukkah as a do-over of Sukkot, hence the eight days. Some of you may be familiar with the idea of a second Pesah that’s prescribed in the Torah in case you had to miss Pesah in the month of Nissan. In Jewish Luck, both Alla and Vera seek a do-over of their lives under the Soviet system and they take complete charge of their economic makeover with great success. They also are focused on ensuring their children’s lives are replete with opportunities that were denied to them.
I like this idea of the do-over. As we learn from the Torah, people make mistakes and then they have the ability to learn from those mistakes. As the USSR demonstrated, regimes also can be a mistake. There are a lot of regrets as we make our way through Genesis—and attempts at reconciliation and remediation. Some of the remedies are extreme such as Shimon and Levi’s revenge upon the town of Shechem. Some of the remedies are heartbreaking like Joseph’s reconciliation with his brothers. As we continue through the Torah, the scale of the mistakes grows. Instead of a single person making a bad choice, we encounter an entire nation that complains, kvetches, and even builds a giant animal idol at the very time Moshe is bringing them Ten Commandments, including one that forbids building and worshipping an idol. But there is till the chance for t'shuvah--forgiveness and improvement.
In out liturgy as well as our history, we are constantly asking for forgiveness and to turn back the hands of time—or the sands of time in the pre Timex time. (see the daily Amidah and s’lah lanu avinu…) Before we place the Torah back in the ark, we sing hadesh yamenu kek’dem (renew our days as of old). We want to erase today and return to yesterday.
Judaism does not doom us if we make a mistake or take a misstep. Both Vera and Alla learned from every mistake and every misconception. They are still learning despite their success and can admit their foibles along with their strengths. I greatly admire that trait common to both of them.
I will be thinking of Alla and Vera as I light the very short candles that stand so straight and tall. These candles, as the song says, are dakik—thin, but powerful. Their flames can make us press the pause button on our daily routines and draw our attention to what is eternal and remind us of the changes we want to make to remove darkness from the world and bring a little more light. That’s real power.
What can we do-over to enhance our own lives and bring more light into our lives?
It’s a question we can all ponder. Meanwhile, enjoy your Hanukkah celebration and if the latkes or sufganiyot don’t come out on the first try, just try a do-over! We have eight nights to get the frying just right!