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October 2021
Tishrei – Cheshvan 5782

The name of this month which follows a flurry of holidays is MarCheshvan. Mar—like maror-means bitter. It certainly lacks the drama of the preceding two months of Elul and Tishrei.

The sense of awe and anticipation that the Holy Days and festivals bring to us and the emotional depths of majesty, self analysis and joy that mark the previous months is no where to be found in MarCheshvan. There are no feasts or fasts in MarCheshvan.

The actual etymology of "MarCheshvan" may be the Akkadian word "waraḫsamnu," meaning "eighth month.” (Waraḫ is perhaps like the Hebrew "yare'ach" - moon. Samnu may be related to like the Hebrew "sh’mona" or eight.)

In the Bible, the eighth month is referred to by name only once, and is called "Bul" where it describes King Solmon's completion of the Temple in Jerusalem: I Kings 6:38: 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 it took seven years in building it.

Rashi explains that "bul" actually refers to mabul - flood, because this is the month in which the Great Flood occurred. Rashi might have given this explanation bul = mabul because Cheshvan/Bul is the month during which a special prayer for rain is added in the land of Israel, and during which, if there is no rain, special fasts were instituted to pray for rain.

Perhaps the rabbis realized that we need time to absorb the lessons of the past month. We need time to return to our everyday routines and find ways to put into practice the lessons and dreams of the past two months. It is as though God is saying to us, “Let Me see how you put the holiness and commitments that you promised into your daily lives.”

The tenets of Judaism teach us that the quality and achievements of life are measured in little mundane actions that are performed on a daily basis within our daily routines.

The month of MarCheshvan is therefore the laboratory where this test of daily living is measured and analyzed. It is, in some ways, a sterile environment as there are no special days that appear within its framework to influence our daily behavior.

Either way, have a sweet MarCheshvan!