THE SECRET OF CHESHVAN…MAR CHESHVAN
Part of an ongoing series entitled “Hidden Sparks Beneath the Surface”
By Elisheva Shira Tavor aka Betty Tabor Givin
At first glance, Cheshvan or Mar Cheshvan appears to be a month with no real significance for it is the only month with no special holidays. Yet like all the other months, it is part of a beautiful string of pearls, with each significant to the whole. It a gift from HaShem…one of many “sparks” beneath the surface.
But often we need to take a look backwards to see where we’ve been in order to get a fuller picture of where we are and what lies ahead. So let’s go back a bit past the previous month of Tishrei to the month that directly precedes it, the month of Elul.
Elul in Hebrew, spelled aleph, lamed, vav, lamed, can be read as an acronym for the beautiful line found in The Song of Songs 6:3 which reads “I am my beloved and my beloved is mine,”
ילִ וְדוֹדִי לְדוֹדִי אֲנִי,“transliterated as Ani l’dodi v’dodi li.” This verse is one of the most often used and quoted during Jewish wedding ceremonies. It often appears in the Ketubah which is the binding marriage contract between the bride and groom. This verse can also be interpreted to describe the relationship between G-d and His people. The Rabbinic sages teach us that in order to be truly ready to embrace the High Holy Days of Tishrei, we need time to gear up. The month of Elul gives us the time to do that.
What is its focus? The focus is about love and commitment (ani l’dodi v’ dodi li), symbolized by the two לִלִ lameds in the name Elul ל ו ל א and in the phrase associated with it, written in Hebrew as ילִ וְדוֹדִי לְדוֹדִי אֲנִי There is a beautiful teaching in Jewish tradition that says these two letters are back to back at the beginning of the month; and by the end of the month have come face to face to form a heart. The month of Elul is one in which the focus is on love for HaShem and love for one another, t’shuvah, repentance, return and forgiveness… a month of introspection…coming ‘face to face’ with ourselves, with one another, and with our Creator…it is a time of unlocking the chambers of the heart, layer upon layer, going deeper and deeper…carrying us into Tishrei where we celebrate and embrace the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and glorious Sukkot where we are cognizant of the Indwelling and the Protection of the Divine Presence both within us and surrounding us…it is a time where we are almost overcome by simcha, by pure joy!
Then comes Cheshvan, often referred to as Mar Cheshvan, the month with no special days on the calendar where are the hidden sparks beneath the surface that we can discover in this seemingly non-descript month? What are we to learn? How are we to live as we take a step back from the “High” of the “High Holidays,” holding fast to all the treasures we have unwrapped, and get back to the mundane? Cheshvan has a secret, but what is it and how do we connect to it?
We could speak about the flood and how HaShem sent it during this month of the year to cleanse the earth like a giant mikveh, or we could speak about Noach who is referred to as a righteous man before G-d in his generation, a man whose name means “comfort” in Hebrew; or we could speak of the promise of the rainbow and all it symbolized including turning the bitter, “Mar” into the sweet…but beyond all that, we can learn much from just the very name of the month, for chesh means silence… Listen…you can hear it…Che..SHHHHHHH…van…
Just as we needed a time to gear up in order to prepare for the Awesome High Holidays of Tishrei, we also need a time to wind down afterwards. In His perfect plan of ordering the times and the seasons, the days, the months and the years for our benefit, HaShem in His beneficent omnipotence gave us the month of Che…..SHHHHHHHH van…a month of quietness, of silence…a month of winding down.
Silence is an indication of tranquility. I Kings 19:11 speaks of the story of how Elijah discovered where Hashem was and how to connect to Him…first there was a mighty wind, then an earthquake, then fire; but HaShem was not in the wind; He was not in the earthquake nor was He in the fire. Where was He? He was in the still small voice… in the silent place, “the secret place of the Almighty,” spoken of so poignantly in Psalm 91 It is the quiet place, the hiding place referred to in Psalm 32:7. The good news is that it is available to all of us…that special place of comfort where we can dwell under the Shadow of His Wings.
When we cry out to HaShem, we are assured that He hears (Psalm 40:1). Think of the shofar…from our lips to G-d’s ears. Think of the different sounds emanating forth from it. The cries of the shofar are as different as are our cries to HaShem…a long wailing cry, a halting cry, a broken-almost panicked cry…SHEMA KOL AYEYNU! Hear our voice HaShem! Hear our prayer!
Prayer, depending on the mood of the one praying, has been referred to by Rabbi Menachem Mendel as “upright kneeling, silent screaming and motionless dance”…each a part of the emotional strata of the human condition at any given time…sometimes we are up and sometimes we are down.
Sometimes we laugh and sometimes we weep…sometimes outwardly and sometimes inwardly; but often we choose to hide these emotions, to lock them all up inside…both the joy and the pain. Yet at all times we are admonished to praise HaShem, our G-d and Creator for we know that He knows our hearts with all its ups and downs.
King Solomon puts this concept most eloquently -“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven”…”a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance;”….”a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;”(Ecclesiastes 3 verses 1,4,7)
When we cry out, we are promised that He hears (Psalm 40:1).Yet the deepest pain coming forth from our hearts is a voice that cannot be heard by the human ear…it is the silent screaming. When we let it all out and give it all to Hashem, we finally come to a point where there is no more resistance… there is a different kind of silence that comes…it is a silence that comes with peace and tranquility…King David says it best in Psalm 131:2,”Surely I have stilled and quieted myself, like a weaned child beside his mother; my soul within me is like a weaned child.”
There is a saying in Judaism which conveys this idea quite clearly. It is T’Shuvah Da’at which literally translated means “return to knowledge,” return to what you know… settle your mind and be at peace; for when you do, you will experience the awesome gift of T’shuv Da’at, a “settled mind!” Meditate on the words of King David: “When my cares within me were many, Thy comforts would cheer my soul.”(Psalm 94:17); “Thou hast made the most High thy habitation.”(Psalm 91:9).
This is the message of Che… Shhhh…Van, Mar Che Shhhh…Van. It can be bitter, mar, but it can also be sweet; it is a time to be stilled and a time to be quiet. Cheshvan is the 8th month according to the Biblical Calendar. The number eight is a unique number with a special significance. Following the number 7 which stands for completion, for Shabbat and rest…comes the number 8 which is indicative of a new dimension…beyond space and time…it takes us into eternity…into a New Beginning…like a weaned child…beyond his mother’s nursing…leading him into the secret place, the hiding place of the Almighty. It is the place where we can all come to discover more of those hidden sparks beneath the surface that our loving Creator has so graciously left for us to incorporate and enrich our lives.
With these thoughts in mind may we take time each day this month to just “be.” May we contemplate and listen so that we may connect to the silence that lies deep within us and let it carry us forward into the months ahead. Be still and know that I am HaShem” (Psa. 46:11) Make Him where you live and be blessed…Shalom!