Marcheshvan: A Holy Month of No “Holy Days”

By Rabbi Betsy Forester

We have just begun the Jewish month of Cheshvan. After an intense series of holy days and the special Shabbatot during and around them, we now fall into a month completely devoid of holidays. But let us not delude ourselves about the holiness of the days of the month. Personally, I find Cheshvan to be quite holy.

We often refer to this month as Marcheshvan. While scholars agree that the etymology of Marcheshvan relates to its Babylonian origins, for centuries, the Jewish people have attached two opposing meanings to the name Marcheshvan. In Hebrew, “Mar” means “bitter. Some would say that a month without holidays must be bitter indeed. But “Mar” also means “Mr. or Sir” and is used in an honorific way to indicate respect and positive regard. From that perspective, Marcheshvan indicates that this is a month deserving of unique honor. Why do you suppose that would be?

Consider what we did in the month just past. We allowed the shofar blasts to awaken our souls, examined our hearts, renewed our lives, made promises and commitments, and connected with family and friends. We made time to be present to ourselves, to each other, and to the Eternal One.

Taking the time to observe the holidays took planning and dedication, but getting back to our regular routines seems to happen by itself. We don’t even think about returning to everyday life. It just happens, as before.

Therein lies the opportunity Marcheshvan offers. Look around: in the natural world, things are preparing for dormancy or hibernation. Winter crops are beginning to germinate, waiting for their blanket of snow. In its time, life will burst forth in renewed exuberance, but for now, a whole lot of recreation is incubating. Dormancy generates rebloom. Marcheshvan, a dormant month with no holidays to capture our attention, draws our attention inward to remember and begin to actualize the intentions that we planted in our hearts over the past month. Marcheshvan is when we coax those intentions to take root in the day-to-day routines of our lives.

Nothing could be more sacred.

Rabbi Betsy Forester joined Beth Israel Center as their spiritual leader in 2018. She is a master teacher and religious leader skilled at helping people build meaningful lives through transformative Jewish experiences rich in authenticity, depth, empowerment, intellectual rigor, sacredness, and joy.

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