Editors’ Note: You may have been wondering why your life has been void of Jewish holidays lately. The month of Cheshvan just ended and now we’re looking forward to Hanukkah but Cheshvan is very different from any other month in the Jewish calendar. Elaine Berger of HaNegev shares with us all of this month’s unique qualities and the change we can make to our lives.
If you’re like me and your Jewish knowledge isn’t the most refined (which should be everyone, because Jews are never finished learning), then you probably didn’t know that the Hebrew month of Cheshvan is also referred to as Marcheshvan.
“But Elaine,” you’ll think to yourself as you read this, “the prefix mar sort of sounds like maror from Passover.” You’re absolutely correct! Cheshvan has the reputation of being the “bitter” month of the Jewish year, just like how maror represents the Israelites’ bitterness during their slavery in Egypt.
“But why is it so bitter?”Glad you asked! (Even though I asked myself and now I’m pretending that I didn’t just pretend that you asked me but anyhow…) Cheshvan has NO holidays. Not one. All of the autumn holidays (Rosh Hashanah through Simchat Torah) fall during Tishrei, and Chanukah doesn’t begin until Kislev.
“Okay, so what? Does a lack of holidays really make Cheshvan ‘bitter’?” Well, yes. And no. Let’s break it down.
Cheshvan is a biblically relevant month: it marks Rachel’s yahrzeit, as well as the beginning of the great flood in Parshat Noach, which we read only a few weeks ago. Bitter? Check. Depressing? Check.
But it is my personal philosophy that every negative experience brings positivity. Yes, Rachel’s death was sad, but one could argue that Joseph may have been treated even worse by his brothers if his mother, who Jacob favored, had still been around as he grew. And yes, the great flood was disastrous, but because God wiped out all of the unjust, the flood prevented our world from being an even worse place today than it already is. And who can forget about the first rainbow?
Yes, from bitterness came positivity. But Cheshvan also has some pure positivity of its own. First, it is a sort of resting period after so many high holiday festivities. It’s sort of like chofesh, but instead of occurring at USY conventions, it occurs in the entire Jewish kehilah (community), and who doesn’t love chofesh? It is also said to be the time that the Moshiach will return to inaugurate the Third Temple.
My favorite part of Cheshvan, however, is the opportunity to change. After a month filled with inspiration and self-reflection from all of the holidays, after repenting for our sins and celebrating our traditions, we have the chance to change how we act as the new year kicks off.
Maybe you made an intention or resolution for the new year. Maybe you made five. Cheshvan is the time to turn those intentions into realities, so take advantage of this not-so-bitter-after-all month. I hope you took advantage of Cheshvan!
Elaine Berger is a senior from HaNegev USY. She is from KUSY in Atlanta, Georgia. She is currently serving as regional Religion/Education Vice President.