Beit Midrash

  • Shabbat and Holidays
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To dedicate this lesson

Mar Cheshvan


Rabbi Berel Wein

This new month that follows the holiday laden month of Tishrei is quite different in mood and pace of life. It certainly lacks the drama of the preceding two months of Elul and Tishrei, the sense of awe and anticipation that the holidays always bring to us and the emotional depths of majesty, self analysis and finally joy that mark the previous months. In fact, Mar Cheshvan is the only month of the Jewish year that has no special days, neither feast nor fast, (though there is a custom of fasting for three days within that period to "atone" for frivolity during the holidays - a custom no longer universally observed) that occur within its time frame. It is so to speak, a month of rest after the rigors and tensions and efforts of the two preceding months. It is as though the Jewish destiny has seen fit to give us a month off, a time to return to ourselves and our daily lives, to place into daily practice the great lessons afforded us by the challenges of the two previous months. It is as though God says to us, so to speak, "My children, let Me see how you put into your daily lives the holiness and commitments that you accumulated during the months of holidays and the preparation for them." The tenets of Judaism teach us that the quality and achievements of life are measured in the small things, in the mundane acts that are performed on a daily basis within our daily routines. The month of Mar Cheshvan is therefore the laboratory where this test of daily living is measured and analyzed. It therefore is so to speak a sterile environment as befits a laboratory testing area and there are no special days that appear within its framework to influence our daily behavior.

The month has a title to it. It is not merely the month of Cheshvan. It is Mar Cheshvan. The word "mar" has a number of different interpretations. It is usually interpreted here as meaning drops of water. The month of Mar Cheshvan hopefully serves as the bountiful introduction to a plentiful rainy season here in Israel. We hope that our prayer for rain recited on Shmini Atzeret/Simchat Torah has been accepted and graciously answered. We currently are suffering from a shortage of water. Our lakes and aquifers are dangerously close to being empty and so we implore Heaven in the month of Cheshvan to send us Mar - many millions of drops of water to nourish our soil and sustain our agriculture. In effect we are stating that this month should be called "watery" Cheshvan. The word mar is also a title of respect. It is used often and regularly is the Talmud to refer to great personages and sometimes to the editor of the Talmud itself. It is a term of honor and even affection. It is granted to this month of Cheshvan due to its singular place in the year’s calendar, being so closely associated with the great months of holiness and holidays that preceded it. In effect it is now called "sir" or "mister" Cheshvan, a special title of respect and honor to accompany a month that otherwise some may have allowed to pass unnoticed on the yearly calendar.

The Hebrew word "mar" also means bitter or disappointing. We describe foods with a bitter taste as being "mar" or "marir" or on the night of the Pesach Seder as being "maror." Though this is certainly not the main intent of the word as it appears in conjunction with the month of Cheshvan, since we never wish or even express descriptions of a bitter month, nevertheless there is a tinge of sadness and letdown associated with the advent of this month. It is difficult to climb down from the highs of Tishrei and its inspirational holidays, family gatherings, beautiful and meaningful synagogue services and a generally special atmosphere. How to climb down gracefully and successfully from such a spiritual and emotional high is not always an easy or smooth exercise. It requires some sort of long range perspective. To be able to live a balanced life one must attempt to limit one’s highs and lows, to be less volatile and much more steady in one’s view of life and one’s behavior. So a little taste of disappointment even of some bitterness is to be expected and dealt with properly. And this is also part of the message of this month of Mar Cheshvan.
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