The Hidden Meaning of Cheshvan


BP Illustration by Eva Suissa

Initiative: Cheshvan is a month where we proactively search for meaning in our lives and a connection to G-d.

By Tali Schlacht, 11th Grade

There are still a few days left in the month of Cheshvan, so there’s still time to learn from it, and specifically from its name: Mar-Cheshvan, as the month is referred to by the Gemara along with Rashi, Rambam,and Ibn Ezra. The word mar has multiple definitions, one of which is “bitter.”

The classic explanation is that we call the month ‘bitter’ because it contains no chagim, or holidays. There are not only no days of simcha, or happiness, but there are also no sad days. Tisha B’av is sad and occurs in the month of Av, also called Menachem Av; menachem meaning comfort. The month of Av has a bitterer feel to it than Cheshvan does, yet Cheshvan is considered bitter instead of Av. This month seems very dry and empty, with neither simcha or sadness.

Reb Shlomo Carlebach, a Chasidic Rabbi known for his singing and personal warmth who died in 1994, looks at the word mar backwards – as ram, meaning elevated. How could a month without any chagim possibly be elevated?

The month of Cheshvan follows the eventful month of Tishrei, when we experienced a rollercoaster of religious experience. We sat in synagogue for many hours on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur reflecting on the past year. Next came the more joyous holiday of Sukkot where we ate many meals outside, with beautiful weather in the Sukkah. We ended the month with Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, when we had an excessive amount of happiness.

Then we reach Cheshvan and there’s nothing.

Ramcheshvan, as Carlebach sees it, is a month when specialness is hidden. This makes it a time to take the inspiration from Tishrei and apply it to our everyday lives. There are no chagim to help us connect, it all comes from us. We get the chance to jump back into routine, and recognize the joys of day-to-day life – to live in the moment and appreciate the little things, instead of merely waiting for our next vacation or chag.

Following Carlebach’s teaching, we can use these last days of Cheshvan to identify and experience the many brachot – blessingswe have in our lives, and appreciate those smaller things that we often don’t recognize. In Tishrei we had many chagim which helped us work on our connection with Hashem. During Cheshvan, with no chagim, we can push ourselves to have this connection on our own, creating an even stronger relationship.

We can turn Cheshvan’s bitterness into brachot, and the month doesn’t have to be seen as bitter.