I imagine most of you have by now been forwarded some email about the convergence of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving this year. Yes, it is true that the first night of Hanukkah this year is the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving and it is also true that this will not happen again for another 79,000 years or so. This strange phenomenon has captivated many American Jews and non-Jews alike and brought many unaffiliated families out of the woodwork – perhaps because it reflects the intersection of our Jewish and American identities.
So why are we able to celebrate Thanksgivukkah this year? The Jewish calendar began as a lunar calendar. However, our sages realized that the lunar calendar is only 354 days and that when juxtaposed with the 365 solar calendar, the Jewish holidays would move around. Some of you may have noticed this with Islamic holidays like Ramadan which moves throughout the year and will sometimes be in the summer and other years in the spring or winter.
Therefore, the great sage Hillel II created a lunar/solar hybrid that adds a leap month (Adar) 9 out of every 16 years in order to put the calendar right again. We will have a leap month in March this coming year and the holidays will all seem late again (i.e. Passover this year isn’t until late April) but until that time, Hanukkah is earlier than it has been in a long time.
So what can we learn from this juxtaposition besides a great recipe for turkey latkes. It is interesting to note that the first celebration of Hanukkah was actual a delayed Sukkot celebration. We read in the book of 2 Maccabees (10:5-7):
The sanctuary was purified on the 25th of Kislev, the same day of the same month as that on which foreigners had profaned it. The joyful celebration lasted for eight days, like the Feast of Tabernacles [Sukkot] and then they recalled how, only a short time before they had kept that feast while living like wild animals in the mountains and caves. So carrying garlanded wands and flowering branches, as well as palm fronds [lulav] they chanted hymns to the One [God]…
The Jews were unable to celebrate Sukkot, the Jewish harvest festival, months earlier because they were hiding out, fighting a war and thus could only celebrate now, after they had reconsecrated the Temple in Jerusalem. So Hanukkah is really just a second Sukkot. Suddenly, the Hanukkah/Thanksgiving connection becomes so much deeper.
Sukkot and Thanksgiving are both holidays for giving thanks – specifically giving thanks for the bounty of the land. Sukkot and Thanksgiving both remind us about sharing our resources with others. Just as the Native Americans shared their harvest and knowledge with the Pilgrims, so too we are commanded at Sukkot to leave the corners of our fields for the poor among us. Just as the Pilgrims and Native Americans sat together at one table, we are commanded on Sukkot to welcome the stranger into our Sukkah to eat with us.
As some of you know, we have been exploring the idea of starting a hunger relief initiative at our congregation. We are now working on starting a neighborhood farmers market/food pantry to help alleviate the problems of access to fresh healthy food in our immediate neighborhood.
If you are interested in being involved in thinking about a possible hunger relief initiative at this congregation, please come speak with me or be in touch by email (email@example.com) or phone (215-627-6747 x19)
If we can learn anything from Thanksgiving and Sukkot, it is that we should be grateful for the bounty which God has bestowed upon us and we should share our bread with the less fortunate.
Hanukkah is known as the festival of lights. As the days become shorter and darkness descends upon us, we are commanded to fill our lives with light. And to share that light with all those around us. If we can learn anything from Hanukkah, it is that as Jews, we should be light unto the nations, moving out beyond our walls to help those in need.
May this Hanukkah/Thanksgiving/Delayed Sukkot season remind each of us about our duty to spread light into the dark places and to feed the hungry in our neighborhood.