Throughout the Jewish year, we adjust certain phrases in our daily prayers for specific occasions and times. In this time of Chanukah, we add specific insertions to celebrate the festival: Al HaNissim (regarding the miracles), “BiMei” (in the days) and Hallel (praise).
For each insertion or exchange in Jewish prayer, there are laws for its accidental omission or late remembrance. Forgetfulness is human. We’ve all forgotten our keys, where we put things and why we walked into a room; but we also forget the more important things in life – to be grateful, to be mindful and to care for our relationships with others. It is hard to give people another chance when they hurt us (particularly when they don’t realise), when they forget a life milestone or important occasion; and often, things become very black and white. “You’re right or you’re wrong”; “I’ll give you one chance and not one more.”
However, in focusing on forgetfulness, we forget its opposite: remembrance. It is easy to take many things for granted – access to basic facilities, education, employment and loved ones. Quite simply, we often take the positive and our blessings as a given. It is only when things go wrong that we either complain and ignore what was good or we begin to appreciate what we had.
Chanukah gives us a unique eight days to recall what we have forgotten. In the dark, wintery northern hemisphere, the Chanukah candles are a source of warmth and soulful light. Yet, significantly, we are not allowed to use them for any purpose (such as light to see or read) other than simply appreciating what they represent. It is perhaps even more so in the late summer evenings of the southern hemisphere, where it is easy to forget in the later, more distracted evening hours, that one learns to remember. Only after it is nightfall are we allowed to light the candles and our chance remains until the sun begins to rise. When things look bleak and we have forgotten the positive, we need to remember the light; but we do have some time. Each night, each candle more, brightens our darkened world.
When we exchange phrases in our prayers, there is almost never an opportunity not to return to say it again. As we proceed through life, we have a chance to return and restart. We have the opportunity to return to gratitude, to request and to acknowledge that what we take for granted is not in fact a given. We see this reflected in certain additions which, if forgotten or omitted, require the Shemoneh Esrei to be repeated. It is only after a full 30 days that we are allowed to assume that we have not forgotten the new insertion.
G-d gives us time to forget and remember. When we remember to light the Chanukah candles, we light not only the candles but kindle remembrance of what matters. Even if we forget the most precious values and people in our lives, we always have the chance to re-appreciate and to remember. There is always a chance of return and we only need take it. When we suddenly realise that we have forgotten the specific change in our prayers, we have the chance to remember the words, but also what they mean.