For most people, their birthday is a primary annual highlight. They look forward to that day for days if not weeks and enjoy the attention, good wishes, gifts and even jabs that accompany it. However, while every birthday is special, some are a bit less exciting than others.
For example, summer birthdays can be a drag for kids who are away at camp and can’t celebrate with family and classmates. After all, there are few presents, those camp-ordered birthday cakes never seem to be all that good, and who really knows if the camp provided the right candles? They also make bnei mitzvah celebrations a challenge, as fewer friends and family members are typically around.
Hebrew birthdays that fall on fast days can also be tough, for all of the obvious reasons.
And then there are other calendar details that can impact personal celebrations, even if only in a subtle fashion. For instance, my Hebrew birthday, 2 Cheshvan, marks the day that we begin to recite tachanun again after a three-week hiatus, marking the end of period that began with Yom Kippur and ended with Rosh Chodesh. While that may not seem like a big deal (and it truthfully isn’t,) it does give me reason to think about the shift that transitions us out of perhaps the calendar’s most special and anticipated month in the entire Jewish calendar into the month that is the most uneventful and underappreciated.
As you know, Cheshvan is the only month in the Jewish calendar that boasts no significant dates (my birthdate notwithstanding, of course). In fact, it even carries the unusual and unflattering designation of “mar,” as in “Mar-Cheshvan.” (Even the mournful month of Av, in which we commemorate the destruction of both Jerusalem Temples, is not known as “mar” because it offers us a scheduled period of introspection and repentance.) Adding insult to injury, the name Cheshvan derives from “chashu,” which means silence (or low significance.)
Cheshvan also marks numerous calamities. Consider that in this month…
- The great flood in the days of Noach began.
- We commemorate the passing of our matriarch Rachel on the road to Beit Lechem.
- The wicked Yeravam led a rebellion against Shlomo’s son Rechavam and split the Jewish nation into two kingdoms: the Northern (Yeravam’s, called Israel, which was comprised of 9½ tribes and Southern (Rechavam’s, known as Judah, which included 2½ shevatim)
Moreover, the weather is not all that uplifting. It is in Cheshvan that the rain season begins in earnest. The temperatures start to dip and the leaves start falling from the trees. It is a time of deterioration, as the leaves wither and the earth begins to enter a state of deep hibernation.
So is there anything for us “Cheshvanites” and the rest of klal Yisrael to celebrate or at least focus on over the next thirty days?
As a coach, I would argue that the answer is a resounding yes. While Cheshvan cannot lay claim to much in terms of excitement, it does give us something that no other month can offer: a protracted period without interruption during which we can begin to gain some traction. During the quiet, more private time of Cheshvan we begin to become more introspective. With less to distract us, we can now focus on making the many improvements that we spoke of so often during Elul and Tishrei. As nature becomes less inviting we have less to distract us and more motivation to read, to learn, to think, to reflect and to take action.
In Israel (and to a large degree in the US and other countries as well) Cheshvan ushers in the rainy season. It is at this time that the nourishing rains fall that will provide the basis for future growth. Though no evidence of that growth will be seen for months, there is no question that this period is vital for the success of future crops.
The same holds true with our spiritual and behavioral realms. Rare are those who “acquire their world in one moment.” For most of us, the delicious harvest of newfound connection must first be preceded by an extended period of watering and other efforts. Now is just the time to start to make these happen.
We noted above that one seminal historic event that occurred in Cheshvan was the onset of the Flood. In fact, a precursor to the name Cheshvan was “Bul.” And in the eleventh year, in the month Bul, which is the eighth month, was the house finished throughout all the parts thereof, and according to all the fashion of it. So was he seven years in building it. (I Kings 6:38) Malbim explains that the name Bul comes from “mabul,” the Hebrew for flood.
However, the term mabul really derives from a root that means (amongst other things) to turn things over. Just as God “turned things over” in order to establish a new world order, a farmer must turn things over in order to plant a new crop. We, too, should use this time to overturn past obstacles and roadblocks and set ourselves along a new path of success.