Recently I was asked what the halakha is if a person forgot to make the brakhah of Shechiyanu when he or she lit candles on the first night. Should they make the brakhah when they light on the second night? The answer, somewhat surprisingly, is yes (SA OH 676:1). They should embrace this opportunity to see the new-ness in this mitzvah even if it had escaped their attention earlier.
This reflects a major theme of Chanukkah: hitchadshut, a word that can be translated as “renewal,” but more accurately means “discovering or creating the new in what is old.” The Maccabees purified and re-sanctified the Temple, rededicating it and making it new. Their revolt, fueled by their passion for the faith of their forebears, sparked a spiritual renaissance among the people who had been losing their faith and religion to oppression and assimilation.
We, today, find ourselves in need of hitchadshut. This need has been partly fueled by the numbness that has come in the wake of the coronavirus and the start-again-stop-again process of moving forward, but it has been with us for a good while. For many—for too many—the forms and practices of our faith no longer sufficiently inspire. Life, even religious life, often seems mundane and monotonous. People are not finding that spark that touches their souls.
Embracing hitchadshut can help us find that spark. This process won’t come from above. Like the story of Chanukkah, it starts with us. We must seek out that old flask of oil—in the Torah, in our religious practices, and in ourselves—and realize its potential, find its newness, find what can give us light, inspiration and meaning. We must embrace this new light, give it expression and increase it, from day to day and from night to night. Like the Maccabees, our religious leaders can help lead the way. They can re-sanctify and re-dedicate the old structures, making them once again sources of kedusha, community, and spiritual vivacity. So much of what we do at YCT is dedicated to this goal: creating leaders who can bring this hitchadshut to the broader community, helping and empowering others to find it within themselves.
My blessing to all of us this Chanukkah, and indeed for our lives, is that we should always be able to find the new that is in the old and to recite Shechiyanu, to say: “Thank you, God. Thank you for giving us life and thank you for giving us light.”