Talk about a disappointing ending. After a month of nonstop celebrating with little respite between the High Holidays and Sukkot, we have recently waved goodbye to the Hebrew month of Tishrei and jumped into Cheshvan, a month when we celebrate…absolutely nothing (except maybe our food coma recoveries).
After the spiritual and physical high of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the festivities of Sukkot, and the joy of Simchat Torah, Cheshvan seems a bit of an anticlimax. There are no holidays, no days set aside for rejoicing, and not even a single fast day for soul-searching contemplation. It’s no wonder that the month of Cheshvan is actually called Mar-Cheshvan or Marcheshvan by some, mar meaning bitter in Hebrew.
Sounds a bit familiar, no? It’s called “the first day of school after summer,” “that desk job waiting after vacation,” “the Tuesday following a three-day weekend,” “the Saturday night come the end of Shabbat.” It can go by tons of names, but the associated feeling remains one and the same: total disappointment.
But we’re talking about the Torah here, our instruction manual for meaning and how to get there. Why in the world would it arrange the months in such a way so that one is packed with awe, mindfulness, introspection, and joy, only to leave the next month festival-free and totally ordinary? How are we to understand this stark transition?
The biblical saying, “There’s a time for everything,” (Ecclesiastes 3:1) pretty much sums it up. We tend to view the heroic, extraordinary moments in life as the moments that define us as people or make our lives worth living. We live in a world where “TGIF” is as widespread as popcorn is at movie theaters. But what Cheshvan represents is the demand to appreciate the mundane, to find relevance in the ordinary, and to remain connected and joyous in the face of little to motivate you to do so.
Cheshvan is when the work is to be done. Sure, we can behave when we know the stakes are high. (Rosh Hashanah is judgment day after all!) And being positive and kind and happy isn’t so difficult when we’re having a good time. (Sukkot is eating lots of food with family and friends.) We all know there is no greater joy than helping out a friend after acing your last physics final or smiling at people walking by after a really amazing date. But what if your day was just “blah”…as most days are?
Life’s true tests are those we’re not aware of. It is the little, seemingly unimportant details that really define us. How will we live and interact in life’s unassuming moments? Will we motivate ourselves when there is nobody else to do so? Like the Monday after winter break, Cheshvan is a challenge. But it is not an anticlimax; it’s the very heart of the story.
Inspired by an article by Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld.